Thursday, 30 June 2016

Unexpected Consequences

Anyone who spends a while with sincere Christians will become aware eventually that praying for someone, and especially telling them that you will pray for them, is not always without a certain agenda. It can often provide a psychological gloss for resentments and hostility, and a means of avoiding dealing with them. What you find yourself doing is praying that the other person will change their mind, fall in line with your agenda, and do what you would prefer they did. 

Of course this kind of praying is hopeless. If you're genuinely going to pray for someone, you must make an effort to understand where they're coming from, enter into their thinking, and desire the best for them regardless of what may have gone on between you and them, leaving the exact outcome to God.

Our doctrine tutor at college once said that he strove not to slag off any politician who he hadn't prayed for, a statement which has always remained with me. I do mention the Government and Opposition in my prayers, at least in general terms if rarely calling to mind individuals within them. However, at the moment I find it especially hard to be charitable, especially to the two posh boys who have plunged this country and more obliquely the rest of the world into chaos by pursuing the feud they began in the playground forty years ago. So I have done my best to pray for Mr Cameron and Mr Johnson over the last couple of days, aware, as they presumably are, of the colossal effects of the gamble they have, from their different directions, both taken.

And now the careers of not one but both of them are apparently over. Both have lost the game; both are humbled by failure - at least outwardly. I will say only that this puts a very strange complexion on my prayers.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Backwards and Forwards

In 1991/2 I lived in Leicester while doing my Museum Studies degree. God, Leicester was a dump. It was a post-industrial zombie city scattered with bits of Victorian civic largesse. I didn’t realise how much of a dump it was because a) I was naïve and b) the whole of Britain was pretty dumpish a generation ago.

In October I went back to visit the King and meet a friend I’d not seen in 20 years. The city has altered so much I couldn’t even recognise the street pattern. It’s full of neat squares, big plate-glass stores, and cafes spilling onto the street. It feels happy and vibrant. Even the Narborough Road looks smart. Leicester is ethnically diverse and culturally and economically active. This means it is part of the ‘spiritual London’, and accordingly voted to Remain. Of course some things have been lost in the change, but they have been replaced by much that is positive.

A century and a bit ago ordinary people knew where they stood. Large parts of Britain derived their identity from heavy industry – not just their economic identity, but their cultural and psychological identity as well. Even though that sort of activity mainly employed men, women were involved in it, and had a sense of self invested in it. This life was often extremely disagreeable, but pride and self-respect could be derived from surviving its very hardness. In agricultural districts the cultural experience was slightly different – less monochrome and with the realities of class division blunted and obscured by the longer history and tradition of that way of life. The basic economic facts were similar, though, self-respect being derived from work and the communal experience built around it.

Just to remind myself that this is a blog written by a clergyman, the Church also had varying roles in these different but parallel cultures. In rural or small-town communities the parish church mediated the relationships around it, provided a focus for communal self-expression which could, in theory, be accessed by different classes and social groups, and sometimes was. In newer, urban settings, its presence was more missionary and ideological, more concentrated on generating specifically Christian identities rather than communal ones, however much the Church may have wanted to create organic parishes along the old lines.

All that is gone. The kind of industry that generated communal identity and individual self-respect is never coming back, and the rural communities rooted in the experience of producing food are irrevocably disrupted. Nostalgia for that lost world is psychologically and politically harmful, as is the failure to deal with the grief arising from its dissolution, a grief which in England and Wales has gone largely unacknowledged and unprocessed (the Scots seem to have done rather better at redefining themselves). Grief left unprocessed expresses itself in pathological forms, as I think we saw last week.

The result of the referendum is at least partly a revolt against modernity, against the self-assurance of the Spiritual London that’s done moderately well out of the new arrangements of the world, out of globalisation and its attendant phenomena. The problem is that there is no other option that stands a chance of generating a better life for anyone.

What is our economic life for? Classic liberal political economy describes it in terms of providing the means for people to express their choices; more brutally put, making money. A socialist might contend that people ‘choose’ more or less the same sorts of goods – work, health, security, rest, interaction with other human beings, a roof over one’s head. It’s not rocket science. The test of an economy is how well it provides people with those things. As to what type of economy, I rather made my peace with capitalism as a result of coming to see it less as a means of providing material prosperity as such than of generating solutions to problems, and here you can again, boring though it may be, detect the influence of Tim Harford on my thinking.

In Leicester and places like it you have an active, thriving commercial and cultural life which provides human beings with opportunities to get together, discover more about each other, and do creative things, things from which they derive their sense of self as much as from work alone. Bringing diverse people together within a capitalist economy makes it more likely that they will find solutions to the common problems they face. Even in an economy which is as desperately skewed towards financial services as the British economy is, that activity, no matter what you might think of it, helps to generate the stuff that really does make a difference to people’s lives, which is why the half-a-million-plus souls who work in the City and Canary Wharf (half a million plus! I had no idea it was that many until two days ago) are actually quite important to us all.

A commercial life that facilitates human creativity and interaction, and a capitalism that generates ways of solving human problems, is the only game in town. It's the only viable and humane future. It develops a more complicated sort of human selfhood than did the old world, but it’s just as capable of producing humane, loving individuals. We need a political life that works to make this more likely and spreads its benefits to those who have been left out of them, and a national narrative that describes what’s happening in a way people can grasp.

Some Dismal Science

My economist friend Dr Abacus responded to my previous post in such an interesting way that I thought I would present their comments, before I make my next grandiose statement.

"I agree that many people have gotten little out of the last forty years - but that isn't entirely for want of politicians trying. Labour created the national minimum wage, and spent a fortune on tax credits. They also hugely increased pensioner benefits. The coalition raised the tax allowance, to try to change the distribution of income. They also spent a fortune on pensioners, so that today - for the first time in history - you are less likely to be poor as a pensioner than as someone of working age. The current govt has announced big rises in the minimum wage - by almost 50% by the end of the parliament. 

"I agree that this doesn't recreate the jobs that once existed. Mechanisation can be brutal to livelihoods, as machine breakers have known throughout history. The Luddites, those who broke the new cotton machinery; containerisation destroyed the port jobs and self-driving cars will destroy the livelihoods of many Pakistani and Bangladeshi minicab drivers, as well as white working class London cabbies. (Note that the benefits of these changes are often the poorest - cheap clothes matter most to those with least money). I think we could go further to redistribute income. But bringing back the pride of earning a good income is tougher. It was easier 1900-1960, because in that era technology replaced skilled labour with unskilled - skilled bootmakers replaced by machine operators. This was tough on the few, but created well-paid jobs for the many. Since then we have had the reverse, with technology destroying low skill high pay jobs (train drivers are left, not many others). We don't know why technology has changed from being skill-replacing to skill-biased, but it has, and this has affected all of the developed world.
"I think Labour did try to help people through the dislocation of economic change. The deal was that rather than have a something for nothing welfare state, benefits would be much more generous to those in work, and crucially would be paid through the tax system to the main earner. So they would look and feel like earnings. The idea was to create some of the dignity of labour that comes from being able to provide for your family. You work, you get the self-respect. Furthermore, they deregulated the labour market so that pretty much anyone who wanted to work, could work. Very different to continental Europe, and to the US (where the indignity of being poor is called food stamps, and is explicit).

"Now that didn't work, but that was the plan. And it wasn't a bad one, compared with either the US or continental model. But it still wasn't good enough."

I thought this look back at the recent history of government's attempts to approach the dislocations whose results have been revealed in the referendum was enlightening. My beef with the political class is that they haven't proved capable of helping disadvantaged communities to work through those dislocations psychologically and culturally, as well as financially, a thought which will lead into my next set of musings. Perhaps that's not a realistic request to make of politicians and the media, but it seems instructive that although I'm a moderately well-informed person I have never thought of the actions of the Blair-Brown administration in the terms Dr Abacus describes; and if I haven't, it wouldn't be a surprise if the people intended as their beneficiaries haven't either. 

Sunday, 26 June 2016

The Two Englands and Where to Go

The first four paragraphs below were originally posted in another well-known social media forum, aware of how a lot of my chums were feeling.

Lots of people I know are hurting a great deal. The result of the referendum feels like a kick in the teeth to nice, liberal, modern individuals, made all the more bitter because of the nature of those who have persuaded a majority of the UK to administer that kick. It feels like a rejection of the kind of world most of the people I know have lived in most of their adult lives, a world of aspiration towards kindness, inclusivity, and broadening experience of what it means to be human, a world in which national boundaries have little role to play. We feel rejected and left out.

Try to take a while to imagine, in turn, what it might feel like to have been left out of that nice, modern, perhaps stressful, but pretty prosperous liberal world in the first place. To have spent forty years watching your communities and families being devastated by economic change over which you have had no say and no control, removing the ways of life which, however hard and unsatisfactory, generated self-respect and identity. Forty years in which the political leaders of ‘your sort of people’ have shown themselves neither capable of nor interested in describing the real causes of your distress in ways that make sense to you. When finally, finally, given the chance to express how hurt and angry you feel, it’s understandable if you turn not against the forces which have really changed your world and removed your landmarks, which are vast and unnamed, but against things, against people, you can see and identify.

We who are part of the ‘spiritual London’, a land of fluid race and gender, a realm of digital identity and opportunity, have benefited greatly from those forty years. Our lives are freer and richer than they would otherwise have been. We have friends who hail from many different parts of the world and who move around freely across borders, we cook complicated meals from cosmopolitan cookbooks. Even those of us who came from the working classes in the first place are long since separated from those backgrounds by education, work, and relationships. The paradox is that, although many of us think of ourselves as liberal, lefty people, we’ve benefited from the same globalising capitalism which has laid waste swathes of this and other countries and left lots of other people behind. They don’t have the same experiences we have, the same relationships we have. For us (even when we don’t really like the way it works) the EU represents all the good things we have; for others, it epitomises all the things they’ve had stolen from them.

What happened on Thursday tips everything into the melting pot – political parties, allegiances, economies, the EU itself. It’s a moment of great danger, but not without hope. I think it’s vital that we start building a national narrative that somehow can include both the beneficiaries of the massive social changes that have engulfed our land and those alienated by them. But who can do it? Where can we find them? Is anyone really interested in doing it, or will we fritter away the opportunity in delusion and mucking about?


The role of clergy, I told the poor, unsuspecting folk of Swanvale Halt this morning, is perhaps to try as best we can to interpret these two uncommunicating blocs of experience to one another, and reduce the risk of demonisation and barbarism. Not easy to pull off, though, even if anyone's listening.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Something In The Air

Recently I decided that I don't pay enough attention to the important institutions of the parish and make myself available to them, with the exception of our Church school. So yesterday I called in at the old people's Day Centre not to do anything in particular beyond seeing who was around and what was happening. I found Audrey, the manager, in her office in a mood to complain.

"You should have been here a minute ago. I was having to deal with a group of very rude people. They came in to complain about the annual trip to Eastbourne, that they didn't know about it."

"But you don't organise that, and everyone knows it happens every year. And there's still three weeks to go."

"I know! And they were so hostile. There was no call for that. I don't know, everyone seems so bad-tempered at the moment. There isn't a lot of community spirit about."

Well, I wonder why that should be, just at this point in time. I find myself subscribing to a kind of spiritual version of miasma theory: that big events in which everyone is involved, or a community is involved, and the things that are said about them, do have an effect on the way people behave towards one another. Put like that it seems absurd that we should think any differently. Human beings do not, however much they may tell themselves they do, live their lives in a succession of discrete boxes separated by reason. When they get annoyed about one thing, they're likely to get more annoyed about others than they would otherwise be.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Praise, Indeed

‘Numbers at Shimley had slipped a bit by the time I left, I think people were just bored with me’, said Derek, the retired hospital chaplain who comes to say Mattins with us every now and again, recalling his days as a parish priest thirty years ago.

‘Perhaps that’s what’s happening here’, I suggested with a certain degree of ruefulness, calling attention to the gentle slide in attendance at Swanvale Halt over the last two years after five of gently rising support since I arrived. Derek clearly decided it was time to be supportive.

‘It seems to me that what you’re providing here as a church is a traditional model of doing things which is about thoughtful preaching, well-prepared liturgy, working with people pastorally, and faithful, dedicated prayer, and it’s good. It’s doing things properly, about consistency and faithfulness. It’s not exciting, it’s often dull, it’s hard work. But it’s what will keep the Church going when all the flummery has gone, and in the end it doesn’t matter how many people are there. That’s not what’s important.’

That was a summary of what he said, anyway. It’s all very well, and appreciated for its kindness. But in the end the bills have to be paid and you have to have at least sufficient people to provide that thoughtful preaching, well-prepared liturgy, and so on. All this is true, but can easily become an excuse for not challenging ourselves. 

Sunday, 19 June 2016


What on earth could I say at Assembly at the infants school tomorrow? Last time I happened to meet one of the children with his parents in the café and as a result of that conversation decided I'd talk about going to the beach, but that hasn't happened this week. Eventually, as I read a book to clear my distracted mind while cooking Sunday lunch, I thought: books! I will speak about books, leading into talking about what the Bible is and what it means to religious people. I looked back at my old assembly plan notes and discovered that I did this about five years ago. I must have gone through exactly the same thought processes then. It was a bit like the occasion, many years ago, when I found my own name in the visitors' book of a church I had no recollection of ever having been to before.

'Oh, it's been a long day', Trevor sighed on Friday as he sat in my kitchen with a cup of tea. 'When did you get up?' I asked. 'About twelve,' he said. 'It's 3.30,', I pointed out. 

Friday, 17 June 2016

Death and After

Police officers at the scene in BirstallAnyone who becomes known to people they haven’t met runs the risk of becoming a lightning-rod for hate and disturbance. A pop singer is shot dead in the USA; an MP in a small Yorkshire town. Rarely this happens to clergy too, although when they are killed – unless it’s as a result of the kind of random event that could befall anyone – it tends to be by someone they have met and dealt with. I sometimes wonder whether that might happen to me one day, though it doesn’t seem very likely.

You can’t stop unbalanced people being overcome by hate, and attaching it to a particular figure. You can make it harder for them to do anything very damaging with that hate. To kill someone with a knife you have to be very lucky, or really to know what you’re doing, and most unbalanced individuals don’t; guns make it so much easier.

The character of the individual who dies, or the context, makes a difference to what happens afterwards. Years ago Phyl Saville, the President of the Priest’s House Museum Trust in Wimborne where I used to work, was stabbed on her way to church one Sunday morning. It always felt to me as though her gentle, tough, serene faith had already reached out to defuse the evil of her death long before it had taken place. Other deaths are surrounded by revenge and resentment and as a result the hatred escalates. Only lives lived after the pattern of the Cross – whether by religious people or not  – can absorb evil and transform it into hope.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

St Catherine in Dorset: Holy Wells and Wishing Chapels

Of course, I have every interest in seeing wells of St Catherine everywhere, but when I finally get going with The Holy Wells of Dorset (which curiously I’ve never done, apart from a brief gazetteer for a learned journal many years ago) I’ll have to grapple as honestly as I can with the conundrum of whether she does or doesn’t have a well dedication in the county. Once upon a time the first stop for any holy well enthusiast was RC Hope’s The Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, an 1893 compendium of all sorts of bits and pieces gleaned from local histories, journals, and magazines. In his Dorset section we find:

On a certain day every year the young women of Abbotsbury used to go up to the Norman chapel of St. Catharine, Melton Abbey, where, after drinking the water of the Saint's well, they made use of the following invocation:
A husband, St. Catharine.
A handsome one, St. Catharine.
A rich one, St. Catharine.
A nice one, St. Catharine.
And soon, St. Catharine."

Of course the oddity that springs immediately to the attention of anyone who knows Dorset is the confusion between Abbotsbury and Milton Abbas, places which both have chapels of St Catherine, though only the Milton one is Norman in origin. It’s only at Milton, too, that one finds a well – or rather one finds a 1950s street called Catherine’s Well, rather than any actual watery site. On the old OS maps there’s what looks like a pond at the end of the lane that will one day become Catherine’s Well, but it doesn’t have a name.

Where did RC Hope get his information? He knew very little about the wells of the southern counties, especially, and often relied on bits and pieces of information sent to him. A few years ago the estimable Jeremy Harte (author of English Holy Wells: a Sourcebook) spotted where the Abbotsbury reference had come from (although in that book even he doesn’t include the whole citation). In September 1873 ‘C.W.’ wrote to the literary journal Notes & Queries as follows:

"WISHING WELLS. Can any of your readers help me to the words of the formula or charm used at the Wishing Wells of the West of England? I have heard it repeated, but can only recall the last two lines, when the young lady sums up the qualifications she wishes to find in her future husband thus:
“And rich, St Catherine,
And soon, St Catherine!” "

C.W. had to wait a fortnight for a reply. Mr Gulson of Teignmouth offered in October:

"At a recent meeting of the Archaeological Institute in Dorset, a party visited the little Norman chapel of St Catherine at Milton Abbey, where the Rev CW Bingham told us of the legend to which CW refers. On a certain day in the year the young women of Abbotsbury used to go up to St Catherine’s Chapel, where they made use of the following prayer … Mr Beresford Hope, who at these gatherings is always equal to any emergency, modestly proposed that all gentlemen and married ladies should retire from the chapel, so as to afford the young ladies present the opportunity of using so desirable a prayer."

Ho ho. You can see how this has become garbled into Hope’s account, either directly by him or by some other correspondent with no clear idea of the distinction between Abbotsbury and Milton Abbas. However, it’s peculiar that a well appears in Hope's version at all: although CW’s original query was made in the context of wishing wells, there is no mention of a well directly in Mr Gulson’s reply, still less a Saint’s well. Who added that?

The plot thickens further when we turn, as we should on such occasions, to JS Udal’s authoritative Dorsetshire Folklore of 1922. Here the author quotes The Bridport News of February 1886 itself quoting The Family Herald of September 1865, and an account therein of the Archaeological Institute’s visit to Dorset that year, to which Mr Gulson referred. This time the trip is reported as having been to Abbotsbury, not to Milton Abbas at all, although the wording is so precisely similar to the Gulson account that both he and Udal must have had the same printed words in front of them – which is most strange, given that Mr Gulson implies that he was there but clearly can’t give the correct venue. ‘A very similar custom seems to have prevailed at Milton Abbas’, Mr Udal goes on, and later on cites Rev H Pentin’s Memorials of Old Dorset (1907) in support, with a couple of rhymes which differ rather in form from the Abbotsbury one, suggesting an independent origin.

What’s going on here? Jeremy Harte suggests that Hope’s record in Legendary Lore gave rise to the well-name at Milton Abbas. Certainly neither Udal nor Pentin seem to show any awareness of Hope’s book, and neither of them mention a well, so the Catherine’s Well name hasn’t come via them or any Dorset source we know about.

In the merry world of folklore study we rather blithely refer to the idea of the transfer of motifs, but that somewhat obscures the necessity of having someone to transfer them. This can happen by accident when people misremember a story they’ve heard from somewhere else; when they overinterpret some evidence before them in the light of evidence from elsewhere; or when they tell fibs. In the case of the Dorset St Catherine traditions, my guess is that there were genuine, independent wishing traditions associated with both chapels, and if they are linked, it’s a linkage which goes back beyond our records of them. As for the well, it would make sense if it had arisen from the combined misunderstandings or misrepresentations of RC Hope and whoever his Dorset informant was; but anyone actually based in Dorset would have known that Abbotsbury and Milton Abbas aren’t the same, and that the former’s spinsters are highly unlikely to have toiled all the way to the latter to wish for a husband.

There are several points about this tangled story which are hard to believe. Although RC Hope wasn’t the most careful compiler of folklore, it stretches credulity to imagine that he can have been so credulous or so careless as to make the well up by mistake. Did someone else concoct it? Looking at the root accounts in Notes & Queries, again, it seems to require something more than just error: something close to a deliberate untruth. Would a Blandford Rural District Council apparatchik in the early 1950s really have known or cared enough about Hope’s book to name a street after a well that isn’t even explicitly named in its pages? But could it be even conceivable that a holy well concocted by a mistake or an actual fib coincidentally did exist?

Monday, 13 June 2016


Last Thursday was the Bishop's Study Day, an opportunity for clergy from across the diocese to gather at a big church in a location with good transport links and marvel anew at how weird their colleagues are. Our previous bishop used to source a variety of speakers for these events, some of whom were more insightful and/or interesting than others. Our new bishop clearly feels it's part of his responsibilities to tell us what he thinks instead, so we got a couple of hours of him talking about 'Leadership styles' (what else do evangelical commentators ever think about?) 'in the ministry of Jesus', interspersed with the usual 'breaking into small groups' to talk about whatever it was he'd been discoursing on in the previous half hour. Thankfully I was sat next to Marion our curate so that wasn't painful. The bishop occasionally digressed into discussing some of his own experiences which was actually rather engaging, but for the most part it was the kind of thing any secular management guru could, and would, have told us. Christians so often dupe themselves into thinking they're saying anything very distinctive.

Marion had just bought the bishop's book on David and Goliath, and showed it to me with something of a wince. I have not, but it makes me reflect whether this phenomenon is a typically and perhaps exclusively evangelical habit - to take Bible stories and try to draw little moral lessons from them, or indeed big lessons, in areas of life to which they have strictly very little relevance. I did bad-temperedly fulminate about this tendency as 'building Jewish folk stories into vast structures to guide our behaviour, a bit like basing your life on Hansel & Gretl', which was only slightly an exaggeration. It hardly ever results in anything very startling, because, it occurs to me, the radical nature of what God has done in his relations with human beings is only visible in the vast sweep of the Biblical narrative and in the context of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, not this kind of infants-school assembly approach to the spiritual life. 

The great mercy of the Study Day is that it isn't a Day any longer, but now just a morning, which, even if it's going to be repeated later on in the year, makes it much more palatable!

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Two Cheers

Dear me, at various churches in the Deanery there are manifold celebrations of the Queen's birthday taking place this weekend, although I must say that at Chapter this week I did detect a certain degree of reluctance to be quite as gung-ho about it as doubtless some Surrey parishioners would like to be. At Swanvale Halt our suggestions were gradually diluted until they amounted to a cake after tomorrow's Mass, provided by one of the churchwardens. Whether it turns out to be corgi-shaped, I'm not sure. They could be bunting, we have some in a box somewhere. 

I have carried out my threat to do a little display about the significance of the Coronation and its liturgy and am quite pleased with how it worked out - pointing out the similarities between it and ordination, and the anointings of baptisms and confirmations, the vows and rings of weddings. The point is not so much that 'the Queen is just like the rest of us', as that we, in God's eyes, are Royal.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

A Need for Peace

Image result for european referendumImportant insights don't always come out of our local Chapter gatherings, but yesterday we fell to talking about the upcoming referendum. Charles, curate at a church not far away, was born in Nigeria and served a while at Glasgow's Anglican Cathedral. He was there during the Scottish Referendum campaign, and was reminded of his own native Biafran struggle for independence from the rest of Nigeria. 'The Sunday after the result, I was so surprised by the depth of emotion people felt, no matter which side they'd been on', he said. 'People in the cathedral were in tears. We need to be prepared for that this time. There have been so many lies told in the campaign, and so much personal nastiness, on both sides. There will be a need for reconciliation.'

He is absolutely right. No matter what happens on June 23rd (and no matter what God would prefer to happen, if he has any preference), there is actually an act of reparation required. I certainly feel that, whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter, there has been deep and profound evil abroad which can't simply be left. What we do - exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and a time of prayer, perhaps - remains to be seen, but this poisoning of the spirit requires we do something.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Fitting Faces

One of the aims I have in this blog is, occasionally, to shine light on some of the more arcane processes of the Church of England, and the business of how clergy arrive in their positions is one of the more unnecessarily reticent of them (let's not say secretive). When an ordinand is in training, it's normally assumed that the diocese which sponsored their training will find a place for them to 'serve their title' as a curate, which in Guildford diocese should take no fewer than three years and no more than four. Dioceses have some constraints acting on how many ordinands they can support and place, which are a mixture of the financial and of trying to preserve a balance of ecclesiastical flavour across the area; ordinands deemed surplus to requirements are 'released' to look for work elsewhere. This commonly happens in dioceses such as Oxford or London which historically have produced more ordinands than they can place once their training is over. Occasionally somebody is 'released' because they are actually completely unsuitable for anything and their sponsoring diocese doesn't want them around, although the training process has been tightened up in recent years to avoid duds getting that far. I have heard this phenomenon charmingly referred to as 'throwing dead cats over the wall'.

Our ordinand-in-training, Debbie, has been 'released'. She only learned this after trying for three weeks to get some kind of information from the training department as to what should be happening to her, suddenly aware that some of her colleagues had training parishes already sorted out. She had a brief, uninformative email from the diocese saying they had 'no place' for her, without any hint of help finding a position somewhere else, or an explanation why. Her training institution, Sarum College, is up in arms about this as it's not the first of their graduates this has happened to. Our curate, Marion, recalled exactly the same fate befalling one of her echelon; meanwhile, as she and other curates have noted, the diocese seems perfectly happy to import ordinands from evangelical colleges such as Wycliffe or Trinity Bristol at the same time as telling non-evangelical ordinands that they aren't required. The training department hasn't seen fit to inform me, as Debbie's training incumbent, about this decision at all. 

Is Debbie perceived as a 'dead cat' to be thrown over the wall, or does she simply not fit the bill the diocese, or a certain bit of it, thinks it wants? I and I daresay Sarum College as well will be trying at least to get some answers. 

Friday, 3 June 2016

A New Little Task

I have been wondering for a while about having an ongoing task to return to whenever time weighs heavy on my hands hem-hem (more likely when I haven't got the mental or physical energy to tackle the things which will have to occupy my attention eventually). It does me good to have a Project. Last year I exasperated several people and intrigued others by forcing myself to preach a year-long series of sermons based on the Revised Anglican Catechism. It was a surprise to many that such a thing existed; my thinking was that it would allow me actually to talk about a variety of topics which the iron constraints of the lectionary don't often permit, and to deal more with doctrine and belief rather than spirituality in the narrower sense. Some of the congregation members who found the series valuable asked whether I would put the twenty-or-so 'sermons', if that's what they were, into a book format and though I fought shy of doing so - I may be prepared to talk about my interpretation of the doctrine of the Anglican Church, but am less confident about writing it down - I now think this might be worth doing. The exercise made me think more about how classic ideas and theological positions make sense, or don't, in the contemporary world, so having it all in a more permanent form which can be referred to could be helpful. It will divert me from vestment websites, anyway. Probably.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016


It is half-term. 'The boys are in the porch again', our Lay Reader Lillian told me before Mass began yesterday. 'They're not supposed to be, are they?' 'No, they're not', I confirmed, and then we listened to the rain pouring down outside the church, pummelling the garden where the raised beds had only just been planted with new shrubs and swilling round the pavement. Neither of us had the heart to tell them to go out into that. 'I'll tell them they can stay until it eases off', Lillian went on, 'Not that it helps that we keep making exceptions for this and that'. 

I thought about my strictures banning certain young individuals from the vicinity of the church due to the disruptions they bring in their wake. How could an exception be made without making it? 'Once mass is over I will go out the back way', I concluded,  'So I will neither have seen them nor spoken to them. I won't even know whether they're there.'

Lillian gave me a look.