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Much mozy-ness

Computer crash illustration

I switched on the laptop this morning to work on my essay and found that some pesky Microsoft bug-ridden mess that they call roaming profiles had gone wrong and left me with a nice clean My Documents file and no files in it. It had apparently removed the lot.

I blogged a few weeks ago about Mozy and man, am I grateful right now that Pickers put me in touch with this little service and that I have been using it. While I lost my morning of essay writing, I thankfully haven’t lost any of my documents and it’s been relatively easy this evening to get everything back in place and back to normal.

If you haven’t yet started making use of Mozy or a service like it, I thoroughly recommend you do so. Especially if you are in the midst of essay writing like me and need a computer crash and a lost essay like a hole in the head. There is even an extra bonus if you go to their site and sign up via this link – if you do, we’ll both get a bit of extra space free of charge.

Williams and women

Rowan Williams

Following up the controversy the other week about Rowan Williams’ comments on women, he was interviewed on Sunday for the BBC’s Sunday Programme. It’s worth listening to in order to hear his own views on what he said (or didn’t say) and for the fact that he apologises to female clergy for any offence he caused. Gracious, brave and unequivocal. If only our politicians could learn from that kind of approach.

You will need RealPlayer on your computer to listen to the interview.

In other news, there has been some academic research into the impact of women clergy that has been published and is attracting media attention. I am sure it’s very interesting but, once again, I must make slight narky criticism of our press. They’ve reported it as if women are given the crappy jobs in the church because they are women. I can’t say whether the academic research ignores the contributing factors (and it’s just the press’ reporting at fault) but it’s not as simple as that.

The women currently in ministry include a fair proportion who are unpaid (which they describe as ‘the dregs’) because of their situations in life. They went into ministry in order to become non-stipendiary. While it’s not unknown for people to switch, you have to declare during the selection process what you are offering for – full-time stipendiary or otherwise. It’s not that you come out of theological college and get told – “oh, by the way, here’s your parish and there’s no money to pay you”.

They also note that women tend to get the parishes that need the most attention (again something they interpret as ‘the dregs’… the ones needing the most care, the most ‘nursing’ as the media put it). Perhaps that’s a natural outworking of where their interests and gifts lie? Again, to consider some facts related to which parish you go into – we all as ordinands get a choice. You don’t get assigned somewhere and told to lump it, it’s a joint decision between you, the Bishop, the diocese and ultimately you can say no. To give the impression that women just get told to go and do the crappy jobs for no pay is a gross exaggeration.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am sure that the Church of England still has a long way to go. I am sure there are far better qualified people to comment on women’s ministry than me. I am sure that there are some women priests who are at a disadvantage which is grossly unfair and ultimately illegal… but to portray it as some kind of institutional endemic culture is very unfair.

Thanks and praise from miserable offenders

Term is starting to wind up now at Ridley Hall. Although we don’t finish for another fortnight, lectures are starting to finish and essay writing becomes de rigeur (if it hasn’t been already). On Friday, we had our last ‘Life & Service’ lecture of the term which is basically a sort-of catch-all pastoral ministry and practical stuff type course that continues throughout our two years. In the second half of this term, I’ve had the considerable pleasure of listening to Chris Cocksworth, our Principal and former member of the Liturgical Commission, teach us liturgy and eucharistic liturgy in particular.

For a bit of spice, we’ve also had lectures from Tim Lomax, a fellow ordinand at Ridley and current member of the Liturgical Commission who has written a couple of books already (!) and doesn’t have a web site yet but piggin-well should. I even stood up a couple of weeks ago at Chris’ request and said a bit about Visual Liturgy.

Before I came here, I used to sit in meetings with various members of the Liturgical Commission and other ‘great and the good’ types when I was working for CHP and listen to them lamenting about the standards of liturgical education and training in the theological colleges. Indeed, one of my big reasons for wanting to attend Ridley Hall is because Chris was here and I knew that if any college was going to get decent liturgical training on its agenda, Ridley was it.

I’m very pleased to say that I’ve not been disappointed. It’s been great, my appetite has been whetted for getting into some more creative planning myself, and I really hope that there are more liturgical lectures to come. It’s been interesting watching some of my fellow ordinands travel a journey with me from liturgical ignorance (I know it sounds harsh but I am sure they would agree) to a place where we are genuinely engaging and genuinely trying to figure out how we can plan and lead services in the future that do honour to our liturgical Tradition (with a big T) and yet are re-invented and make sense in a missional way for the society and culture in which we will work.

At the same time, we’ve also just finished up a three week stint in Chapel of using The Book of Common Prayer exclusively. I am sure that the Prayer Book Society would be very proud. Both Tiffer and Mary have blogged about this elsewhere. When I first became a Christian and had various sporting commitments on Sunday mornings, the only service I could attend was the 8.00 a.m. BCP service that my home church did each week. I must admit I loved it and there was even something about the taste of their Communion wine which has stuck with me since as being the best ever.

However, I’ve not really had much reason before to get into the BCP Morning Prayer service so it has been an interesting experience and it’s all good practice for what comes after college, since I firmly believe in providing a range of services and liturgical styles to reach the widest possible group of people. In contrast to our liturgical lectures with Chris though and this may just be me imagining things, and in spite of the fact that Morning Prayer is something we all have to attend, have numbers been going down and down over these last three weeks? Hmmm.

Dear Santa…

Image of a child writing

It’s less than a month to my birthday and just a week or so after that Christmas will be upon us. When I was growing up, I used to despise the fact that my birthday was right on top of Christmas. Inevitably, you always ended up getting a bit of a raw deal compared to others who had their birthday a good way away from the Christmas period. My presents seemed to be a merger of the two events… roughly equivalent to 1 and 1/2 times a set of prezzies compared to the two sets that other people got. At least, it always felt like that.

These days I’m still not much of a birthday fan but my reasons are entirely different. As an adult, birthdays have been pretty depressing in the past. The onset of time just reminds me how little I have done with my life, how much remains on my great wishlist of things to do, places to visit, people to see.

However, I turn 33 this year and for once I feel quite settled about it. Whether I will feel the same in just over a fortnight’s time we’ll have to wait and see. However, the fact that I am now on my way to being ordained… that I have found my vocation and am actively involved in preparing for it… things feel much smoother. I know where I am going and what I am here to do. There is a lot less restlessness in me… or rather that restlessness has a sense of direction to it all now.

Anyway, if anyone feels so inclined, you see what I am wishing for this birthday and christmas by looking at my Amazon wishlist. What can I say… I’m not proud! Buy me something! 🙂

Reading between the headlines

Rowan Williams

This time last week, I was in my usual spot sitting at the feet of Professor David Ford and Professor Jeremy Begbie in my Christology lectures. I cannot tell you how good it is… those in the know may have heard their names but plenty of people in Christian circles haven’t. They should have. The lectures are thought provoking, challenging, deeply spiritual and layered on so many levels that it just feels good to be there learning from them. I digress however…

Last Thursday, Jeremy conducted a lecture on the Christology of Rowan Williams. Fascinating it was too. Of course, like always with people who are still alive, I wonder what Rowan himself would have made of it had he been present. Nevertheless, Jeremy sifted some common threads in our Archbishop’s life and work and helped us build a more rounded picture of the man.

Yet again, the papers are full of rabid headlines (example from the Times which admittedly is one of the better articles published) today apparently concerning the Archbishop’s comments and doubts about the ordination of women. Given my lectures last week, I am quite happy to read those reports and dismissively say “Pfft”.

As Jeremy was explaining to us last week, Rowan’s theology is marked by some very interesting strands. Firstly (says Jeremy), Rowan is suspicious of comprehensive, systematic theologies. He feels we cannot contain God, we cannot prevent God from being free. He is concerned that we never become so concerned with our own dogma, that we end up worshipping it rather than the person to whom it should point.

This also applies for Williams to the concept of ‘God in time’. He has a suspicion of closure, he is concerned that theology tries to ‘freeze’ God. He likes to keep questions alive. It’s not that he doesn’t want answers, but he is very wary of answers that kill off the question in every age. He knows that the church must form doctrine and theology but does not believe it should do so in such a way that it does not “keep alive the impulse that animates such formulae – the need to keep the church attentive to the judgement it faces and the mission committed to it” to quote Williams himself.

Secondly, Jeremy said, Rowan always wants to question the idea that the theologian can stand apart from the world; to see how things really are and then to describe reality. Theology is done by people with particular concerns and particular perspectives and that has to be always borne in mind. Jeremy noted in Williams’ work a twitchiness about powerploys and tends to reminds his readers of those in history who have used God to oppress and subjugate. It links up again with the freedom of God and not trying to contain Him. Orthodoxy, he believes, should be disturbing… a challenge, it should make us feel uneasy, not safe. Williams is concerned that the more God becomes functional to the legitimising of ecclesiastical order, it will stifle God’s ability to challenge and disturb us.

It means that in much of Williams’ books, media interviews, sermons and more… there is always a tendency to doubt, to qualify, to present every side of the argument. You might even describe it as a fear of closure. Some commentators see in Williams’ work a hesitancy, because of the dangers of needing to qualify the whole time.

With that in mind, read The Times article again and perhaps even look at the Lambeth Palace press release issued today that criticises the way in which his comments have been reported.

Apart from the fact that he has been misquoted by some in the last day or so, there is a tendency in Williams’ own method that doesn’t seem to sit well with many both inside and outside the church… those that feel to express doubt, to express openness to other avenues is in some way a major problem.

Williams is not in favour of a return to an all-male presbyterate. He makes that much clear in his press release and, to be honest, if you read the interview with Jeremy Begbie’s thoughts in mind… it’s pretty clear in the interview as well. Personally, I like our Archbishop’s openness in his theology. I like the fact he doesn’t want to try and put God in a box. I like his humility in admitting that we have to do our theology (and by that I am referring to all theology, not women in ministry in particular) in the knowledge that maybe, just maybe we might get it wrong sometimes and therefore should be humble enough to listen to our brothers and sisters in Christ and allow God to correct us where such correction is necessary.

Show me the money

Jerry Maguire

I do wonder sometimes about the wisdom of the Church of England in its various guises. Before we got here to college, we had a meeting with the person in charge of finances at the diocese. We were encouraged to apply for grants from a number of bodies to supplement the money that we would be given by both the diocese (the lion’s share) and the central church bodies (a little bit extra).

I dutifully did so and applied to several different bodies. I even found a few that were not recommended on the official “list” of possible grant-making bodies. I spent a fair amount of time in the summer filling in forms, organizing references and completing the various bodies’ requirements.

This weekend just gone I heard back from two of those bodies. They had both decided to give us a grant… not huge, but not insignificant either. As I had been instructed in the summer, I told the diocese of the results. It turns out that because the grants were not ‘specified’ for particular things, the diocese reduces what they give us by the same amount that we received from these other bodies. In other words, we are no better off. All my efforts have achieved is to save the diocese a few quid.

When I told the diocese, the person responsible there was really pleased. She commented ‘Congratulations – I can’t remember the last time I had an ordinand receive grants!’ To be perfectly honest, I am not surprised if whenever someone gets a grant, the diocese takes it straight back off them again!

Now I know I do okay in what I get as an ordinand. It’s not a kings ransom – in fact it’s a bit basic and with my wife a full-time mum and not earning, it can get tight at times. However, it also is reasonable and they don’t leave us bereft on the streets or starving or something. Those grants could have made such a difference and it’s gutting (to be honest) to have my efforts actually get us no better off.

Talking to others around college, some try to get each grant “specified” for something like books to try and prevent the diocese nabbing it. Some simply don’t tell their diocese if they do get a grant from elsewhere. I can understand why they might do that (much easier) but, at the same time, I don’t particularly want to do anything that might put financial integrity into question.

Looking at the bigger picture, there are some plusses. I appreciate that my training isn’t cheap and the Church of England is investing a serious amount of money in me. Being able to put something back is a good thing… but surely they’d find ordinands far more ready to look for other sources of funding if there was something… some kind of small incentive to actually make it worth our while? Even getting 10% of the total would have been a blessing.

Now…  I need to get in touch with those other bodies I applied to and see if they can “specify” any grants they might be thinking of sending me before the diocese snaffle those as well.

For an audience of One

Screengrab from Evening Prayer, 08 November

So having spent about four or five hours on Monday evening and a further hour or two yesterday planning, trying to be creative, failing, and then settling on a fairly bog standard Common Worship structure, hunting for images and then putting together a Powerpoint file, I led Evening Prayer for the first time in Chapel this evening. As well as my good self and my laptop, I was joined by one of my fellow ordinands who has some responsibility for the evening services and (after a swift text on her mobile) her husband! Together, the three of us said Evening Prayer together.

Of course, you all know that today in the lectionary, we celebrate the Saints and Martyrs of England. I did a straightforward kind of CW: Evening Prayer service but with a focus on the English nation and praying for our nation and praying for the spread of the gospel in England. I did wonder if I had marketed it well. On the noticeboard, I put the usual notice and added ‘Saints and Martyrs of England’. I guess evangelicals don’t tend to “do” saints and martyrs so maybe I’d have been better to say something else.

In one sense, it was a little frustrating to put in that much time for three people (including me) but on the other hand, I didn’t mind it at all. It was actually quite a relief not to have my efforts on display to a crowd and it was a good chance to ‘practice’ in a safe environment with friendly supportive faces. Before we began, I closed my eyes for a moment and had a wry smile between myself and my God.

It went well, I think, although it’s a weird thing for me at the moment whereby it’s still hard to connect with God yourself when you are so focussed on doing a good job of leading others. Maybe that won’t change… I hope it will.

Riches hidden in secret places

Ali Gomaa, Grand Mufti

In our readings at Communion this evening, we heard from Isaiah 45 about King Cyrus… described by the prophet as the Lord’s anointed, God says to Cyrus ‘I call you by your name’ even though ‘you do not know me’. A man from outside the nation of Israel chosen by God to do His will.

I had a bit of a Cyrus moment myself only an hour or so earlier in the day.

Ridley Hall is playing host this coming month to three young Islamic scholars who are staying with us and engaging in a cultural exchange. Essentially the idea is that they learn about Jesus Christ from Christians and also learn about our society while they are here. Pretty cool. As part of their opening day, we were also enjoying the presence of the Grand Mufti of Al-Azhar University, Cairo which I blogged about earlier.

In the evening lecture that the Grand Mufti gave to us here at Ridley, we were given the chance to ask questions. Since no-one wanted to kick off the questions, I thought I would. I asked the Grand Mufti a question roughly to this effect – “Many of us will be going to minister in situations around England in which our communities will have many Muslims. What advice would you give us as to how we can best reach out to our Muslim neighbours and build bridges with them?”

Imagine my surprise when the Grand Mufti thought for a moment and responded… (and I remember this bit verbatim) “Hold fast to the teachings of Jesus Christ. If you do this, you will be welcome amongst Muslims and you will build bridges”.

I don’t know what I expected him to say but I didn’t expect to be exhorted to be more like Jesus.

Finding God in our society

Ali Gomaa, Cambridge University

Today has been a very interesting day. I’ve not had the chance to blog much this week between preparing a Communion service with my fellow students for next Thursday and preparing a sermon for this Sunday (whilst also trying to keep up with studies)… but I couldn’t let today pass by without comment!

Today, Cambridge University and Ridley Hall respectively were hosts to lectures by Sheikh Ali Gomaa, the Grand Mufti of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt. Dr Gomaa is, by all accounts, one of the foremost Islamic scholars in the world and a man of great influence and power across the Middle East.

He gave a lecture at the university at lunchtime today and then participated in a further lecture here at Ridley Hall later on. At the University lecture, he repudiated Islamic extremism and terrorism as not being the true way of Islam. He spoke so strongly as to say such extremists are not Muslims at all. I am hoping and hunting around for the text of his lecture online so that I don’t do him a dis-service in how I report what he said but thus far I’ve not found it.

One thing that really struck me in his address was his call for the current tensions and debate to include a theological element. I hope I am not misrepresenting him but I understood him to have said that governments, economists, commentators, the media have no hope of truly understanding what is going on unless they are prepared to take on board the fact that many of the protagonists look at the world through theological eyes. If God is not part of the discussion, they have no hope of understanding. Already, their search for peace is disadvantaged.

For me, it resonated strongly with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s words last week. Returning from China and arriving into the storm of the Jack Straw-veil debate, the Archbishop warned that when people try to talk about whether the UK should become a truly ‘secular society’ where religion and talk of God is totally excised from the structures of power and public debate, they may not know what they are truly asking. He writes:

‘This [i.e. the UK] is a “secular” system in the sense that it does not impose legal and civil disabilities on any one religious body; but it is not secular in the sense of giving some kind of privilege to a non-religious or anti-religious set of commitments or policies. Moving towards the latter would change our political culture more radically than we imagine.’

I hope that their words reach those who truly need to listen. For those in politics and other spheres of influence where they would much rather religion was part of the discussion at all, tough luck – God is not someone of whom you can be so easily rid.