reviewing life

It’s been a wee while, but various questions people have asked of late have prompted a post, combined with a need to be reflective as my Episcopal review looms!

“Do you regret the move, after all the palava of the Women Bishop’s stuff and now the Gay Bishops headlines?”  has been asked in a variety of guises.  The answer is a resounding “NO!” – I have no regrets in moving south, despite much of the ridicule and bad press of the church, especially over the last 3 months.

Firstly – to put the record straight – Women Bishops have not been rejected by the Church of England Synod, but one form of legislation was voted down in one house of Synod, and therefore the motion to pass that piece of legislation fell – a form of legislation which gave concession to the “traditionalists” at both ends of the high/low church spectrum.  It hurt – greatly.  But as the issue of “how” lumbers on, I know we will get there, and probably with less concession than was offered.   As for the gay bishops stuff – a 15 month moratorium was lifted.  The status quo of the situation that existed when I moved here has returned.  I dont like it, I have no idea how it will be “policed or monitored”  –  I find the attitude which says we can dictate what two consenting, comitted and loving adults can do in their own bedroom to be extremely arrogant and distasteful, and damaging to those relationships and damaging to the church’s understanding of love.

No Church is without its controversy or its ridicule – and the bigger the church, the greater the controversy appears, and the ridicule is likewise magnified.    The church also has a reponsibility to speak against those things which damage the image of God’s love in creation, and often as a corporate body we dont get it right, or we challenge those things which seem inconsequential to the majority outside of the church.  It is not the role of the church to “please all people”, it is the role of the church to serve people by sharing God’s love.  Life is messy, and sometimes we get too caught up in the mess to see beyond it – this is as true of the Church as it is of individuals.  Unsurprising really, for the Church is the gathering and the structuring of those messy lives.

Its hard to believe I’ve been here 2 1/2 years already.  And I’ve found that being part of the CofE has opened up doors and vistas, opportunities for community and social engagement which were previously closed to me.  I’ve had fun, and flourished in the supportive (yes, really!) atmosphere of not only the team, but of this diocese.  Despite all its faults and frailties and frustrations, I have come to love and appreciate this dysfunctional and vast Church machine and all that it does and continues to do in the lives of so many people.

As part of the Curate supervision (yup, I’m supervising a Curate, and she is scarily good!), I’ve been reading “Ministry without Madness” by Gordon Oliver and I was struck by the descriptions or indicators of “madness” the minister may experience:

  • an increasing sense of disintegreation (feeling in pieces)
  • distorted perceptions of reality – often regarding other peoples motives
  • a sense of dislocation – being out of place
  • a fear of being misunderstood, unheard – feeling isolated  without hope of relief
  • feeling demotivated
  • feeling overlooked or undervalued – left in the loneliness of not knowing how you are regarded by those in oversight.

In my previous post, prior to being signed off – all of these were my reality.  It was messy, difficult and souldestroying.  I have no wish to hurt anyone reading this who may be associated with my previous job – there are those of you who were a joy to work with, and extremely supportive (both congregation members and colleagues in other charges – you know who you are and I love you for it!), but I found much of my previous job unsupported and unhealthy.  There was an extremly large dose of denial from all directions (including myself) about the situation I was in, and a distinct lack of help and support in dealing with it.  As I began to recover a sense of equilibrium and get back to a place where I could work and could begin looking for other opportunities, it became quite clear that I needed once more to be in a team, and do something quite different.

And it has been different. Varied, vibrant, supported and supportive.And now those descriptions by Gordon Oliver no longer resemble the reality I inhabit, and more importantly, they (or the fear of their return) are no longer shaping my hopes for the future.

Before you get to thinking that I’m stuck in some kind of fantasy where reality= all was bad, then I moved, now all is good; not everything has gone to plan, not every adventure of this ministerial life has had rosey tints and a wonderful outcome.  But thats ok – its been ok to fail, look back and learn without internalising it or being defeated by it.  That has been a huge lesson to learn.

No regrets. No fear.

its been a while….

Was asked about blogging recently, and that reminded me I had long-neglected a bit of randomness.

Life moves on a pace, parish life goes from busy to manic and back to busy, but I love it.

I miss the simplicity of the Scottish church – the hierarchy and the church machine in England are so much bigger and more public.  At times it is wearing to be part of it, at times painful.  But i am here, and despite the media reportage of what the hierarchy says or does, God is here too

Finally done it!

It was recommended years ago by friends, and suggested by the Ministry Development Officer in Glasgow before I moved last summer, and i have finally done it!

Retreat with the Northumbria Community was fantastic, and left me wondering why i had delayed so long.  4 days at Acton Home Farm (the new “Nether Springs” mother house for the community) made the 600 mile round trip worthwhile, to say the least.

Being immersed in  celtic prayer & “new” monasticism was a wonderful experience: being surrounded by God in the daily pattern of worship, work, solitude, community & study; the day punctuated by bell peals marking the beginning of prayer and for communal meals; periods of splendid isolation on Alnmouth beach, and the presence and wisdom of a retreat leader who looked into me and affirmed what he found, pushed me in interesting directions and guided my reading and meditation. (Thanks P!)

I went with my own agenda, with lots of questions to answer – the ones i’ve been struggling with regarding the transition from Scotland to England and the meaning of being “priest” in this context.  God had other ideas however, and my own agenda fell into insignificance as we talked and prayed around the journey of the last couple of years – into the wilderness and back again.  We explored those crossroads moments and the directions taken, seeing God’s hand in them, using the bad and affirming the good.  And we looked to the future – to where God may be leading.  Twas good stuff.  and I am thankful.

Father, bless the work that is done,
and the work that is to be.

Father, bless the servant that I am,
and the servant that I will be.

(from the Felgild Compline, Celtic Daily Prayer)


over the last couple of weeks, more and more opportunities for community ministry have come my way – chance encounters with local authority figures and local agencies, more formalised “community networking events” opening up huge possibilities for the church, and also affirming what the church is already doing in this place.

Some of this has been fantastic- opportunities to be innovative and think beyond individual remits, to look at how we can collaborate in care & service with those who live in this community. Some of it unfortunately has been the more bland “this is what we do and nothing is going to change that”. unfortunately for the conservative thinkers and the organisational dinosaurs – their budgets will change it, whether they like it or not.

The truth is, stuff needs to change. local government agencies need to work across boundaries and remits in order to develop a more realistic, financially viable and whole-person centred service. And the church needs to be involved in that, to value what is, and to help form what can be, rather than providing “Christian” versions of stuff that works. to surround the good with thankfull and hopeful prayer, and to aid in the changes to the stuff that doesn’t.

I despise the “Big Society” agenda pushers and hobby-horsers, finding much of the political language of it distatestful and occasionally downright dishonest. But language of co-operation, collaboration, of seeking to work with and talk with people (rather than “at” or “for”) seems a good thing, regardless of financial climate and budget cuts. One of the biggest hurdles will be getting past the institutional barriers of information sharing, whilst still maintaining privacy and dignity of the individual – but that is starting and it is good!

rest well, brave man of God

Bishop Derek Rawcliffe passed away early in February.  He’s a retired bishop of my old Diocese (Glasgow) who had been most recently living in Yorkshire.

He was a bit of a controversial bod by all accounts while he was Bishop  (I wasnt in the diocese during his episcopacy) – he made for challenging and uncomfortable times.  After his retirement and settling in England, he came out on national TV.  Brave man.

I havent been able to find anything on the SEC or Glasgow and Galloway website which would acknowledge the news.  but i was today directed (Via Lesley’s blog) to an article in the Times – well worth a read!

Rest peacefully +Derek

wordy collusion…

There are times when we say the wrong thing. I’ve been extremely angry and dismayed this week at one person for using language I have great objection to  (the event and the culprit will not be divulged, so don’t ask!)

We all do it, and we all live with the consequences of our words.  Even I have been known to, on occasion, open my mouth and put my foot in it as they say.  Not just a foot – but swallow both feet whole and chew the legs off somewhere below the knee.  Usually the comedy of the event is enough to limit damage.

The last time I did this spectacular feat of verbal cannibalism was at a party long ago (yes wine was involved), a housewarming for 2 young chaps who had made the commitment to live together (and are now in a civil partnership).

The evening was swimming along nicely as was my liver, thanks to one young chap in particular (not the host).  He and I had been talking for much of the evening, and thanks to his neverending bottle of white, my glass was never more than half empty.  Under such circumstances my sense of humour can be sharp and fast, responsive one-liners,  but I have never intentionally been offensive or hurtful.

We’d gone to sit out in the garden for a smoke (it was a warm night) and I lifted the crumpled packet of ciggies from my pocket.  I offered my smoking companion the contents of the box – he lifted a scruched-up sorry excuse for a cigarette,  looked at it, and commented “Ali darling, that is SOOO bent!”  we both laughed, and quick as a flash, before my brain could engage “aye, so are you hen! Gonna look at it or light it?” Realisation dawned that these words were coming from my mouth, and mortified, I looked at him intending to apologise for such a crass comment. He was too busy curled on the floor in the pains of extreme laughter.  I too crumpled, and we hugged each other, giggling like kids.  As we laughed and hugged some more the stunned faces around us, and the “I cant believe she said….” resounded round the garden.  No smirks, no collusion, but plenty of shock, and relief when the realisation hit that my comment had been received with the humour it had been made.

Despite the excellent conversations following that moment, with this chap and others, about relationships, God and faith  I have looked back on that night and my comment with a mix of guilt and humour  – words can cause pain and my words had the potential to be harmful. It was only the grace of their “target” which made it otherwise.  It would have been so easy for the others there to collude in, ignore or avoid what had been said – but the shock and the challenge was a tangible entity.  And I’m glad.

I’m glad I live in a world where I have friends and colleagues willing to make a challenge even to  humour if it steps over the line into prejudice, or appears to do so.  I’m extremely relieved that the attitude of “we’re all friends here so it doesn’t matter” is becoming less and less of a reality and prejudiced language is increasingly unacceptable.  Increasingly so, but still present.  and I long for the day when we not only no longer “say the wrong thing” but carry the internal wranglings of our prejudices.  All are equal, all are loved, and no words, no thought process, no prejudice held will ever change that reality.  May the reality and realisation of that change our prejudices.


been spending a lot of time on facebook of late, much to the neglect of random wafflings.

its such an easy way to stay in touch with friends and family I no longer see as much as I used to (moving 400 miles does that to a person!), but i am conscious of the limits of FB – I only add people I know* , so the conversations are largely pally, catchup or wanders into the downright bonkers.  I miss waffling and ranting on here – expressing my thoughts, insights, ups and downs; i miss the depth of conversation which can appear here even with those i speak to regularly through other means; and i miss the buddies who commented here but aren’t on FB  (you know who you are!).

so i’ll be back from time to time – whether courting controversy, being utterly & completely waffly and random, thinking aloud or having a good old fashioned whinge.  do join in 🙂

*apart from the 2 (yes, only 2) fb friends i havent yet met, but have conversed with on lots of occasions and who are trusted friends of those i know.   I’m looking forward to chatting with them  over a glass of vino or 2 at some point in the future.

Church and Community

the campaign for the Iceni project moves on apace – an article from todays evening star:

Myself, Canon Paul Daltry (Minister for community engagement), Councillor Jane Chambers (Mayor of Ipswich) Brian Tobin (Director and co-founder of Iceni), Councillor Inga Lockington (former Mayor, and Iceni Trustee) and Revd Angela Oakey-Jones, (curate @ Rushmere)  having a round table meeting, stragtegy planning and organising ourselves as emergency fundraisers.  The push is on to save this most vital organisation, and to have it flourish in new and challenging areas of support for the service users.