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Oh Rowan, say it ain’t so

Archbishop Rowan Williams

Last Friday morning, as increasingly I tend to do, I opened the news apps on my iPad rather than buying a daily paper and groaned.

The top ‘trending’ topic was that Archbishop Rowan Williams had announced his intention to step down at the end of this year. There had been rumbles for a while within church circles but I guess I was ignoring the rumours in the hope that the rumbles were wrong.

Already, various reviews and ‘obituaries’ of his ten years as Archbishop are starting to emerge both in print and online and, inevitably, they all make enormous play of Read more

Like this really helps the debate

Screengrab from Guardian website, 05 March 2012

Tonight I had to really think. As a priest, is it okay to swear on my own blog? Do I have a rule against swearing? Have I ever sworn before on this blog?

I have no idea, to be honest, to any of those questions but I find myself sorely tempted to start swearing this evening after reading a big pile of garbage being served up like cold school dinner over on the Guardian website today.

Apparently, they say, church schools shun the poorest pupils. No doubt, there will be more weeping and gnashing of teeth by secularists (or perhaps just triumphal cries) while the middle classes tut knowingly. But before you absorb too much of this headline, let’s drill down a bit into the article.

First off, there is the fact that the journalists seem not to know the difference between a ‘faith school’ (set-up to educate kids and propagate that particular faith) and a ‘church school’. Clearly, these journalists hadn’t read (or had forgotten) Read more

Hurrah for the Archbishops’ Council

From the Church of England website

Regular readers will know how I’ve sometimes argued that the national Church could be doing much more to enable mission in this country by doing things that realistically can only be done nationally (examples here and here).

Last year, I went along to the Weddings Project launch (at that time serving in a church that conducts very few weddings) and was hugely encouraged to see such an excellent project come to fruition. Nationally, the church had engaged with engaged couples, married couples, churches and vicars, listened carefully and produced good resources that would enable clergy to do their jobs much, much better and create a far greater sense of connection to the couples coming to us to marry.

Now that I’m in a situation with significantly more weddings to handle, I am very glad of the work they did and I continue to use it gladly.

I thought at the time that they really ought to do the same with baptisms and funerals, so imagine my delight recently when I read they are going to do just that.

“The Archbishops’ Council has invested in two projects which will enhance the Church of England’s national ministry at the moments of birth and death. Like the successful Weddings Project, another idea of the Archbishops’ Council, the new team will commission independent research to find out what people in England really want from a church service after a baby is born or when someone they love dies. The twin projects will run concurrently until 2016.”

It seems to me that, particularly with baptisms, there is often a huge disconnect between what the families think they are doing when they come to have a baptism/christening and what the church thinks is going on. At the moment, we are frequently missing each other. In spite of all my best efforts to bridge the gap, for many families it simply isn’t working or (in perhaps more often) it isn’t working for me. I can’t wait to see what they can come up with to try and help.

However, I think the Church ought to be prepared for some radical news which could even impact on some of the very essence of what the Church of England considers itself to be and what Canon Law says. Of the three (marriages, funerals and baptisms), baptism is the one that has huge import theologically and where that theology is so disconnected to the world around us something has surely got to give?

2016 can’t come soon enough. If you need any guinea pigs, project team, I’m here and ready to help!!!

Why use five words when you can use five hundred?

Bishop of London portrait

There’s some interesting liturgical development afoot for the Roman Catholic church. The publication of the new Roman Missal takes me back about ten years to my days at Church House Publishing and the publication of Common Worship. No doubt, around the country right now, there are Catholic priests and congregations either trying to weigh up whether to buy new books, manage their own booklets or see how long they can get away with doing nothing; just as Anglican Vicars did ten years ago.

Anyway, I’ve been struck by sheer verbosity this weekend as I’ve followed this news.

The thing that really got my attention was the Bishop of London’s pastoral letter to his clergy in which he takes 2,500 words to say the following:

  • Dear Clergy, when you were ordained and again when you were licensed to your current post, you promised to use ‘only the forms of service which are authorised or allowed by Canon’;
  • The Roman Missal is not an authorised text in the Church of England (neither the old one or the new one);
  • So, my more Catholic friends, don’t be thinking this new book gives you a license to play games with the liturgy. Read more

Revving down?

A still image from the first episode of Rev

One of the great pleasures of televisual entertainment in the last twelve months was the BBC sitcom ‘Rev’. Regular readers will know how much I enjoyed the last series.

As of last night, we are two episodes into the much anticipated (at least in this house) series two.

I find myself trying to comment on the episodes so far and feeling a bit like Solomon stuck between his two warring women.

On the one hand, the series has continued to do its excellent homework and provide a contemporary portrait of life as a clergyman in the 21st century with considerable accuracy and no small degree of humour.

On the other hand, I find myself a bit cheesed off at opportunities missed and a bit of laziness in the laughs. Read more

Is blogging a bad idea for clergy?

A picture of a Bible with a computer mouse attached

David Keen is someone who has re-engaged with blogging in both a prolific and thought provoking way. Well worth following. So many of his posts recently have been bookmarked by me in order to come back to later; it’s almost getting to the point of not being able to cope!

I was struck recently by one of his posts on a subject that is close to my own heart – blogging clergy and subsequent difficulties in them finding work.

Although I think it is unfair to talk about specific people, I have come across (at least online) most of the people he mentions who have been ordained but now find themselves in secular employment.

It would be easy to make a rough and ready calculation and decide that blogging as a priest equals future difficulty in finding work. As I’ve recently discovered in firstly aiding my ‘title’ church through an interregnum and then going into a new incumbent level post myself, one of the first things that the Parish Reps did in both places was ‘google’ the applicants.

It’s not as simple as that, however. For most of the cases that David mentions, other things were going on as well. I can imagine that, for some, blogging just made globally public what was already going on locally. In other cases, other perceived difficulties alongside the blogging were probably more valid concerns. Read more

Unwrapping the sacred bundle

A picture of Rafiki carrying his sacred bundle from the Lion King

Just over a month into my new ministry and I thought I’d write about some of the lessons learnt so far.

In just my third week, I had the chance to attend a conference for new incumbents run by CPAS called The Buck Stops Here. In some ways it was more a course about leadership and business management than it was for new incumbents, but there was useful stuff along the way.

One of the things I picked up at that conference was the notion of the Sacred Bundle. Every church has a sacred bundle of things which, like Rafiki in The Lion King, they carry around with them and which represent their history and their way of doing things. The only problem for new incumbents is that you don’t know what’s in the sacred bundle. It could be anything. Read more

Advice for Ordinands

Fr Simon Rundell posted some interesting advice for ordinands which I found both interesting and resonant with my own experience, so I thought I’d share it here too.

Fr Simon clearly comes from somewhere higher up the candle from me in some of his perspectives (I guess the Fr gives it away), but it’s still good stuff for those lower down. Food for thought.

I liked the ‘don’t try to say everything in one sermon’ tip which as I look ahead now to a role as Priest-in-Charge with no fixed end date feels a lot more do-able than it does when you’re a Curate.

I was also reassured to hear him say ‘if you don’t feel “one day they’ll work out I’m a fraud” that is the day to stop’. I often feel like that and was glad to find I’m not the only one! Curiously something that most clergy don’t admit to each other… even though we probably all feel it.

Great advice not least the last line: ‘Love God, even when ministry feels the loneliest place in the world’.

Rt Rev Douglas Coupland please step forward

A cartoon representation of a faceless Generation X Bishop

In the course of my recent efforts to complete my Masters dissertation, I noticed something interesting. You might not have noticed it but in 2009 a quiet, unannounced seachange began in the House of Bishops. It was nothing to do with women or homosexuality. Nope. It started amongst the Suffragans when Paul Williams (Kensington) became the first.

Since then Jonathan Frost (Southampton) joined him in 2010 and Jonathan Baker (Ebbsfleet) has arrived in 2011 to join an exclusive club that is only going to get larger and larger. It probably won’t be long before a diocesan Bishop joins the group and, depending on how you draw your boundaries, Mark Sowerby (Horsham), Mark Rylands (Shrewsbury) and John Holbrook (Brixworth) might also be eligible to join.

What is this mysterious group that seems to cross churchmanship lines and theological traditions? Well, all those Bishops were born in the 1960s and Williams, Frost and Baker are most definitely the first entrants into the House of Bishops from the so-called “Generation X”.

The exact boundaries of a generation are always a bit fuzzy, but following Sara Savage and friends in Making Sense of Generation Y, Generation X are those Read more

Synod, wedding fees and the other side of the story

A photo of a pretty church building and a pretty wedding!

In my previous post on this blog, I had a go at Synod for rejecting the proposals for wedding fees since it allows some churches, some not too far from me, to continue taking advantage of couples with exorbitant prices.

Since then, I’ve not had any public comments but I’ve had a few private emails from clergy colleagues who have been wise to give me another side to the story. They have made me think further and I want to share some of that thinking here.

As with all things, there are always (and at least) two ways to look at a situation and I guess much of people’s engagement with this particular debate depends on where you stand. I currently work in a fairly non-descript, sixties church building that is relatively easy to heat, isn’t falling down, but also does few weddings. One of the reasons we do very few is because a very pretty medieval church nearby absorbs them all (with some hefty fees to match).

However, if you are working in a very old church, or one that is very large in size (either of which could make it difficult to heat) you might read this debate differently Read more