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Stebbing, Great Dunmow, Essex, United Kingdom
The occasional blog of an Anglican priest in rural Essex

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Xmen special separated at birth

2 old blokes who mumble

2 blokes with nasty tempers and lovely sideburns

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

My first commission!

Julian Mann, over at Cranmer's Curate has kindly posted an article I wrote about why I am still an Anglican. It can be found here, but perhaps you'd be kind enough to comment on this blog to enable me a better response.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives and I decline

I started to watch this film late last night; couldn't stay awake but wish I'd recorded it. Idiocracy is a bit like Wall-E except with people not robots - it also has mountains of rubbish and green plants in the denoument. If I'd watched the whole thing I might have been better prepared for "Let us be human" week 2, which was very stimulating stuff. Thanks Sam!

Actually, check out these REM lyrics from 1985 and feel that shiver down your spine (unless they've been reading the same stuff ...)

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Ready to let go of the steering wheel

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Especially after 1100 miles of driving! We went to Scotland on Easter Day and returned last Sunday - a typical vicar's week off after the festival.
Above is a shot of Fingal's cave, on the Island of Staffa. We went there on a boat trip which also took in seals and puffins. We landed on Staffa and were able to walk into the cave, and hear the weird sound of the waves.
The weather was truly great - sunshine every day, so we were able to go on several long walks, crabbing trips and the like, as well as visiting the local farm to see newborn lambs (aaaah! etc).
It always takes me about 3 days of a holiday to switch off from work, but Easter, though busy, was all good - a total of 222 people in church over three services on Sunday which is over 10% of the population of the benefice (fair play to the statisticians, some were family visiting for Easter). Generally the events of Holy Week had gone down well and had not detracted from the appeal of coming on Sunday too, as I have observed in other parishes in the past. I'm an empty tomb preacher on Easter Sunday because I am a crucifixion preacher on Good Friday. Can't understand why people get hot under the collar about which is most important; you need both!

Monday, 20 April 2009

My first prize

Just back from a fab week in sunny Scotland (no irony!)

so loads of catching up to do. Will just take time to thank Rachel for my award!

see you later

Friday, 10 April 2009

...was Crucified for me

In this benefice we mark Good Friday with a walk across the benefice, tracing the passion narrative from Gethsemane to the tomb of Jesus in four acts of worship, one in each Church. this year we started at 9am at Lindsell, with a reflection on the arrest, from Matthew 26, then set off for Stebbing.

We arrived early at Stebbing, allowing time for people to take in the all-age
stations of the cross which will be in the church over the whole weekend. The
youth group had also installed and illuminated in red a 12 foot high wooden
cross which left one with a powerful impression. The worship centred on a
dramatisation of Matthew 27, ending with a children's DVD depicting the
soldiers' mockery. I then led the congregation in an active prayer, inviting
them to come and touch the cross and pray silently for those who suffer. After
the service we had a relaxed lunch in the sunny churchyard before setting off for
At this point inthe procedings the timing went awry; even though we left Stebbing before the advertised time (and so some people missed us) we still arrived at Great Saling late and in dribs and drabs so several people missed the third service including me, as I was in the churchyard "looking for angels" with my 6 year old daughter. However, I am confident the service was based around a quiet meditation on the crucifixion, from Matthew, Luke and John. I was getting stressed about the timing cock-up, but then I reflected that on the first Maundy Thurday/Good Friday every moment was totally chaotic as Jesus went from the garden, to and from his trials, and to the cross. We read it as flowing smoothly in the gospel accounts but, other than a resolute Christ at the centre of the vortex, it must have been as if a hurricane hit the city. In any event, slightly late, we departed for the last leg of the journey to Little Saling

The two Salings are very close; it's only about a 25 minute walk, but for those who did all 12 miles the tea and hot cross buns were very welcome. The final service, focussing on Jesus' death and burial, was very moving, quietly reflective, and with some good hymns. I was left turning over a new thought in my mind. Did Joseph of Arimathea give up his family grave out of pure devotion to Christ, or because he was expecting him to rise? Was he one who actually got the message about "and I will rebuild it in 3 days" etc. He is always characterised as a secret believer and bracketed therefore with Nicodemus; did he actually understand that he wouldn't be giving up the family plot forever? Just a thought.

The weather had been fab all day, but as we left the church at the end of the final service the rain came. Given that last year the rain and wind were constant, freezing and horizontal most of the day, this was felt to be a good result!

Thursday, 9 April 2009

So with the ransomed we ... (titter ye not)

Went to Chelmsford Cathedral today. Pretty good going - once in 2 years and now twice in a week! It was the Maundy Thursday Chrism Eucharist and renewal of ministerial vows. Since Bishop John of Chelmsford is retiring in August, this was his last go, and so it was an emotional time for him. He preached on cheap grace vs free grace, since today is the anniversary of the execution of Dietrich Boenhoeffer.

This got me thinking a lot, especially about the difference between us knowing Christ and his knowing us. Bp John was right, I think, to put the emphasis on Christ knowing us, because this puts in counterpoint the way that lots of Christians and Churches put God in a box and make him be and do what they want, (Cheap grace) not what he wants (free grace).

I suppose I was watching out for this following the recent discussion at Elizaphanian (go to the comments section) about worship, plus also because of stuff going on here, but +John's words resonated for me; it's not that I don't believe in the importance of knowing Jesus personally, but I do think too many people regard worship as entertainment for them, rather than an offering to God. Yes, some worship can be crap, but the definition of that crapness (?word) is not merely based on whether or not I like it.

I for example have posted before about how I generally don't go in for Cathedral worship, and today was no exception, but because as I just said, it was John Galdwyn's last go, it was special. It was the only time I've ever agreed with people when they clapped the sermon (although that act in itself deconstructed the sermon by showing us all seeing it as entertainment for us!) In thinking about how we at Stebbing relate to the wider community there is a growing sense that our model of church is broken; we are stuck in the mindset that people are going to come to us and join in our fun (cheap grace), instead of looking to go out with the gospel and get involved where the rest of the community are (free grace, under God's inspiration and guidance). Watch this space for more on that as "Our Vision" develops.

You can take the boy out of Salisbury, but you can't take Salisbury out of the boy; a big highlight today was spotting Martin Court, who had followed me as curate in Blandford Forum, and is now the Vicar of St Chad's Chadwell Heath. He and I therefore both began our ministry in a place where Maundy Thursday was a three-line whip, write a grovelling letter to the bishop if you can't be there type service. This will explain to you why I haven't been for the last 2 years!
The service today was pretty much the same as back in the old country, but in a smaller and slightly less formal environment. Although I was a bit taken aback it was kind of nice, more real, to have the oil sitting on gopack tables in Ikea jugs and the bishop wearing a pink Madonna style mic on his ear/cheek. I also though it was great that there was the offer of prayer for healing and anointing with oil. It was a bit of a faff to queue for the oil but at least I met some new people along the way.

On another tack, here's a joke to liven up your (otherwise holy and devout of course) day

Knock Knock
Who's there?
I done up
I done up who?

I wondered what the smell was!

Monday, 6 April 2009

beauty for ashes love for hate

I have been promising you photos of Little Saling Churchyard for a while and finally today the sun the camera and the flowers were all in the right place at the right time!

Saturday, 4 April 2009

we built a wall we built the pyramids

And another thing from today - for Sam

O Comforter draw near ...

I'm just back from the ECHT day at Chelmsford Cathedral. It was great to meet Sam there, and share a bit of real time face to face, among the 200 odd people who poured into the Cathedral.
But the day was more than networking - there was an excellent address from Gareth Tuckwell, the Chief Executive of Burrswood, which (in embryonic form) I copy below with his permission. He did ad lib a bit with illustrations. Gareth also led a themed group.
There were four other themed groups run by Anthony Rose, Hugh Balfour & Team, Roger Matthews and Paul Harcourt & Team. Some of these were recorded but I as yet don't know where they'll end up.
It was one of those days when, because I'm organising stuff, and taking part in the worship, I couldn't really engage until it was well underway, but the fact that the worship was led partly by people from our church here in Stebbing gave me a real lift. I really rather like the fact that ECHT is the German word for Genuine!

Anyway, here's Gareth's address ...

PS Sam I hope that looks better

READING : Acts Ch 3 vv1-10 Ch 4 vv 5-14
This morning we come together:
To celebrate, to give thanks, to experience a fresh encounter with Jesus as He reaches out to meet us at the point of our need. We look to His healing touch on our lives.
We come to share and learn together and maybe to reflect at this important landmark in time as we seek to live out God’s call to heal, at such a time as this.
I sense we are here too, to rededicate ourselves to a sense of mission and to a vision of the local church as a healing community that is so relevant as we approach the second decade of the 21st century.
We live in times of emptiness, dislocation, fragmentation and inner pain when communities are crying out for healing and restoration, both to our individual personhood, to humanity, and to society as a whole. If we can grasp that vision for our local communities then new doors of ministry will open up for each one of us as we go about our daily lives.
Thanks to the passion, commitment, vision and dedication of certain people here today, the Essex Christian Healing Trust has become a focus for teaching and Christian ministry that is trusted, sort after and centred on the Gospel truths that we hold to.

We are, I think, at an important point in the history of the Trust and the development of ministry. We look back to the many amazing initiatives and people used of God as the twentieth Century unfolded. From the Guild of St Raphael, the Guild of Health, the Divine Healing Mission, the Order of St Luke and the founding of Crowhurst and Burrswood, to the ministry of people such as James Moore Hickson, Dorothy Kerin, Brother Bill and George Bennett. Then came the remarkable report of the Archbishop’s Commission just over 50 years ago that focused on the roles of the Church and of the medical profession in healing sick people. We then move on to the exciting days of the 1970’s, the Fountain Trust and the fresh move of the Holy Spirit amongst us, to the founding of the Acorn Christian Healing Foundation and latterly, to the birth of the New Wine Ministries across the country. The ministry of Bishop Morris and Anne Maddocks inspired us all and their translation to Heaven has left us bereft, yes, but also the more determined to build on their example and teaching. As we move forward we give thanks for all we can draw on and all that has gone before. To be radical means to draw from our roots, so radical we will surely be.

You have doubtless come with expectation and a belief that Jesus heals today. You are the ones who can take this belief out into your churches, into your communities. You are the ones who are called to be radical and to reach out in new ways. As we reach out in ministry to one another, to those around us, so we will receive healing and transformation in our own lives.

Let’s look at a vision of the local church as a healing community.
The task of earthing this vision in the reality of our local congregations is not an easy one. There will be problems, disappointments and frustrations. Slowly, we come to appreciate that all of us are wounded; we are all in need of healing and forgiveness.

Individually and corporately we will continue with the reality of brokenness and healing, and the discipline and love required to sustain us on our healing journey. This journey is both an inward one, into our own life with God and others, and an outward one that draws us into mission in response to human pain.

Let’s look at the New Testament reading from Acts Chapter 3 and 4 and follow Peter and John on their busy afternoon.
They gave time in the rush of the day
They are obedient to The Holy Spirit, expectant that The Kingdom of God will break through
They brought the presence of Jesus
Time, Obedience, Presence…. A T O P list for ministry!

Let’s look first at giving time:
Peter and John were hurrying to afternoon prayers – it was almost 3pm and they were probably running late as many of us do. They were just about to enter the temple courts when they were stopped and asked for money. I think I might easily have walked on, thinking to myself that I don’t give money to beggars. I would probably have avoided looking the man in the eye so as not to engage him when I was running late. Surely it is more important for me to be seen to be at prayers on time! Giving money is sometimes the quickest, easiest and perhaps least costly thing to do. I would be telling myself that he would be there tomorrow.

We hurry along in our instant, emailed, fast fixed, electronic age, setting our own priorities as we go. We are too busy to think about finding stillness at the centre of our being and pausing to listen to our Heavenly Father. How had Peter and John learnt about the ministry of interruptions? I guess they watched Jesus day by day and saw how He set His heavenly Father’s priorities by the moment.

Just think back to Luke 8 and how Jesus had that little matter with the pigs and then when he returned he found a crowd around him. Then Jairus came and fell at his feet pleading saying, “My only daughter of 12 is dying, please come and heal her”. Being a doctor I would probably have thought I could sort this one in my own strength and I would have hurried over to Jairus’ daughter pushing my way through the crowds, paying no attention to those who might wish to interrupt my mission. Yet you read that right then Jesus was touched by a woman who had been subject to bleeding for 12 years. Jesus listened to her. He gave her time. He healed her. It’s so easy to miss out on the opportunity our Heavenly Father has prepared for us.

So first they gave time. Secondly, they are obedient.
We read that they are ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ and clearly stepping out in faith. They obeyed the nudge of the Spirit in stopping and engaging the crippled man. How often do we miss opportunities because we don’t recognise our Father’s voice? We fail to obey the voice of the one who loves us most. We put our own priorities first.

One time I allowed myself to be obedient to the nudging of the Spirit, that inner voice, was when I was sitting with Dorothy. She had prayed and prayed in her weakness and distress as her cancer advanced. She felt that God had not listened. She had watched her husband die before her of cancer. Her son was having business difficulties and was keeping at a distance only because he loved her. As I sat beside her she was lying in bed with her hand on an enlarging liver. “Tell God how you feel”, I said. She cried, “Why have you abandoned me?” I replied, “Now you are with Jesus on the cross.” “Thank you,” she said, “I’ll stay with Him – that helps so much.”

We go forward in obedience; we live out the gospel alongside the one who is sick and wounded. We aim to dwell in God’s house and yet to be at home in the houses of those we visit.

Lastly, they brought the presence of Jesus. Time, obedience and the presence of Jesus…a TOP prescription for our ministry!

We read that when the Sanhedrin ‘saw the courage of Peter and John and they realised that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.’

Remember Moses carrying the tablets down Mount Sinai. We read that “His face shone for he had been with the Lord”. We truly want to enter into God’s presence for the one we love. In the Old Testament, remember, the priest could not enter into God’s presence for the people without sacrifice. There is no separation between sacrifice and worship. Offering sacrifice was their worship. The first time the word ‘worship’ is mentioned is in Genesis 22. God said to Abraham, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac whom you love, and offer him as a sacrifice for me”. Abraham turned to his servant saying, “I and the lad will go yonder and worship”. Worship is what we do with our lives as well as what we do with our lips. The route to worship is in sacrifice, offering our lives again to God. “I am available Lord”. Worship sensitises us to the word of God and tunes us into the Holy Spirit’s wave length. It increases our love for Jesus and we become more sensitive to the one we love. (illustration)

What we need is not a new form of ministry but an ever more intimate relationship with Jesus himself. In many ways, health, which in the Greek, shares the same word as salvation, is a spiritual issue. Those in loving harmony with God and neighbour not only survive tragedy best, whatever their economic situation, but grow stronger in the process.

When the late Henri Nouwen awoke from an operation following an accident he had sustained, and realised that he was not yet in heaven but still alive in the world, he had an immediate awareness of being sent: sent to make the all-embracing love of the Father known to people who hunger and thirst for love, but often look for it in wrong relationships and places where it cannot be found.

He then understood how ‘making known’ is not primarily a question of words, arguments, language and methods.
What is at stake is a way of being in the truth that tries less to persuade than to demonstrate. It is a way of witness, of bringing the presence of Jesus. We belong to God but give ourselves to people.

In our communities we will encounter those whose body, mind or spirit are broken by social injustice, the misuse of power, unhealthy relationship and lifestyle, individualism, materialism and false spirituality. Many people needlessly suffer. Yet at times it seems that some people are born without any choice but to suffer; remember the man ‘crippled from birth’. But an encounter with Jesus Christ, our healer, reminds us and them that the meaning and purpose of life are found in Him alone–he brings the gift of life to all who choose to receive it.

As we accept that healing comes through seeing The Kingdom of God breaking through into our world, we are faced with a challenge in our congregations. We have to ask:

1. Do we give time and rejoice in a ministry of interruptions? Is my congregation a fellowship of love, learning obedience to God in their every day walk with him? Is it one where people have time to bring the presence and love of Jesus that opens the door to healing? Have I a role in ministering that love?
2. Is it a fellowship of worship, emphasising the reality of God as revealed in Jesus Christ, which through the ministry of word and sacrament will bring people into a healing and living encounter with Jesus? Am I able to help support the worship in a deeper way?
3. Is my congregation a fellowship of reconciliation, eliminating needless social and psychological tensions that so often harm relationships and prevent healing? Are there relationships I need to put right?
4. Is it a fellowship of prayer that enables the Holy Spirit to move in power? Is my prayer life a priority?
5. Is the healing ministry seen as part of the normal life of the Church, proclaiming the truth that Jesus heals today? If not, am I ready for when I am asked to help take it forward?
Now perhaps, we see the areas of local involvement that we are called to.
Health is not an individual achievement but a Community responsibility. Maybe only those who share in the brokenness of others can really discover the meaning behind being whole. We discover that healing is a responsibility of the whole congregation. Healing is about being restored in body, mind, spirit, emotions and relationships, to live as God intends for us. Healing will happen amidst suffering, amidst death and dying, for they are but part of the journey of life.
Each member of our congregation is vital to the healing mission of the church as we learn to give time, to be obedient and to be in touch with the presence of Jesus within each one of us.

One man with AIDS wrote, “I regard myself as on a journey with trials and tribulations, with darkest despair and also with hope, with laughter and happiness. My hope is that those around me can sit with me, be alongside me as I struggle and grow”.

The challenge of the healing community is to stay alongside and enable growth even
if death approaches, whilst continuing to offer praise and thanksgiving for those who receive, perhaps a more visible but no more important healing touch from Jesus who meets us at the point of our need.

Scripture says that faith is the presence of things hoped for but not always seen. Building healing communities is an act of faith. We cannot always see where our efforts will lead us. It is costly to give ourselves without reservation but that is what is required to transform the life of ordinary church congregations into healing communities. Human effort is not enough. We need God’s Spirit blowing His breath of life into our midst.

Maybe that is what we ask of God as we are sent out to find our place in the making-whole movement of God. As he shows each one of us how to participate in creating a healing community within our own churches, so we will discover along the way that Jesus is there alongside, as we make time for him.
Jesus enters into the pain of those we are alongside; He enables us to stay with the suffering and yet to be expectant of healing as we see the power of the Holy Spirit at work.

It is right, I believe, to be challenged by the words spoken by Jesus in the synagogue, after he was baptised by John and had emerged from his time of temptation in the desert. He quoted from the prophet Isaiah. Let me personalise this passage as we seek to know our mission under God.
“God has chosen me and sent me to bring good news to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to announce release to captives and freedom to those in prison. God has sent me to proclaim that the time has come when He will save his people”.

Jesus read those words, not only to outline his mission and ministry on earth, but also to give direction to the outworking of the Christian gospel down the centuries. God would use each one of us, in our humanity, in our vulnerability, in our inadequacies, to be part of enabling healing communities to be born. Healing communities point to the coming of his Kingdom. They are what we go out from here to work towards.

Let us hold before us a vision for this Diocese in which healing communities are the way of life for the Christian church, as we practice the ministry of interruptions, give time to those God sends across our path, are obedient to those nudges of The Holy Spirit that we pretend not to recognise, and grow in our love relationship with Jesus as others see that we are in tune with His heart beat, walking closely with Him. Let us look to the Living Lord Jesus and know that His heart is to bring healing as we minister in His Name.

Let us pray:
Father God, as each one of us receives from you today; we ask that you would do with us as you wish. Work with us, in us and through us to bring glory to your name and healing across this land. In His name we pray. Amen

Thursday, 2 April 2009

You've set this captive free

Well I never watch Eastenders so was mightily surprised to spot, when I turned on the TV just now (to read on the red button about a trillion dollars), Vila from Blake's Seven playing the vicar at a wedding.

I thought that would be the most bizarre thing I saw today but then I saw this from the Ugley Vicar which just takes the biscuit. (s'pose I should h/t Rachel but she may not thank me for it!)

I always thought that chorus "I give you all the honour", when it got to "And I worship you, I give my life to you .. " sounded like the middle bit from the theme from Blake's 7.