Going to Church for the First Time

May 22

We wandered to the imposing door as we watched the couple in front of us get met at the door. I turn to Ruth and whisper “he’s turning them away”. After a brief interaction they are granted entry. We tentatively approach the elderly guardian at the portal. 

In uncertain French Ruth boldly states “We are here for the mass”. 
“Are you sure?  Lots of people say that they are here for the mass but get up after ten minutes and wander around” replies the keeper of the door.

We nervously exchange glances and search for words in an unfamiliar lexicon. “Yes, we’re definitely here for the mass”. 

“Well if you have problems just go to the back”. 


We enter the darkened medieval nave and find a hard and narrow pew on which to place our posteriors. The gate keeper says ‘the back’ so how far are we allowed to approach the holy of holies?  Half way seems appropriate. There is no indication of what may happen next.  No card. No screen. Ruth texts me a link to some wording in a strange and foreign tongue. A bell chimes. An organ booms. I look at the strange words. I wonder how I got here. Perhaps the sentry was right. There’s nothing for me here.

This morning we went to church at The Basilica of Saints Nazarius and Celsus in Carcassonne. As a priest it was a fascinating look into how daunting it is to go to church for the first time. We have only been learning French for a couple of years so don’t have the language to understand what is going on. At the door we were met with questions we didn’t quite understand at an imposing doorway about whether we were worthy of entrance.  There was nothing to indicate what would happen during the service. Fortunately we know the shape of the liturgy and how to find rudimentary wording online.

It was a lovely service and I think I understood about a third of the sermon and my theological French is improving vastly.  But I’m a priest and I found it daunting to gain access to the building, much less the worship.  Medieval Carcassonne is a phenomenally touristy place but there must be ways to engage occasional visitors with the worship of the church. 

Much to ponder about how we invite people into the presence of God.

Hospital in the Nave

May 20

We’ve just been around the L’Hotel-Dieu in Beaune for a look around. I’ve been a couple of times in the past. I was struck by the large church in which the nave was used as a hospital for hundreds of years. All being treated within eyesight of the alter.

It’s interesting to see that this religious community were still treating people until 50 years ago. A reminder of what the church has done and what it can do when it sets its mind to it.

This is a photo of the posher smaller bit for people deemed worthy. It was much easier to photograph.

C’est la vie!

Sanctum – An Emerging Gathering

May 11

This is the second year for Sanctum.  “What is sanctum?” I hear you ask.  Sanctum is an “Emerging Sacramental gathering of practitioners and dreamers to worship, recharge, share ideas, pray and support”.  A place for people on the edges to meet.

9th August 2016 2pm
11th August 2016 2pm

at The Community of the Resurrection Mirfield


As alt:worship practitioners there is little around in the way of support so Sue Wallace (transcendence), Edward Green and I put our heads together and decided to come together each year at Mirfield to share good practice, to pray and worship together and dream dreams together.  Last year was very organic with people with lots of experience of being part of Emerging Church gatherings, people who have always wondered what it was about and were thinking of exploring new ways of worshipping in their context and everything in between.

Mirfield is a newly ordered worship space that is perfect for the high tech and the low tech.  As a place that is used regularly for sacramental worship, there is space to use all of the senses as people explore their creativity using the traditions of the church.

Check out the site and BOOK!


A Short Essay on Friendship

Apr 16

Well hopefully no one will read this. And if you do, don’t tell them. But…

As I grow older I have discovered what friendship means. I thought I knew but apparently I didn’t. I can pinpoint a few key moments but in the last 36 hours things have crystallised:

Friendship is spending a couple of hours talking about the hardships you face via Skype and listening to the hardships your friend faces. And hearing. And listening. And laughing. And joking. And saying “maybe next time we Skype we could do it at 10pm with a glass of whisky?”

Friendship is sitting around a table with a takeaway and saying out loud “this is just us picking up the conversation we were having six months ago, now we’re 200 miles apart, without missing a beat”. Didn’t even skip. 

Friendship is answering the question “where do you want to go in this sprawling metropolis where all things are possible?” with “I don’t mind. I’m here to see you”. So we’re off to Mecca Bingo. My choice. Didn’t expect that did you‽ 

Friendship is a constant messenger ping coming from your pocket letting you know that “I want to go to this gig with you” or “I think that you will love this song” or “you need to say this to your bishop*” or “come and play this song on Thursday night at jam night, it’ll be a right laugh!!” Ping. Ping per per ping ping. 

Friendship is that… We are fond of the silliness. We are. Sometimes words can’t express the love that you have for a friend but “we are fond of the silliness” will let that loony know how much he means to me. Yeah. I said loony. That’s what mates do. 

Friendship is being held up to be the best person that I can be. And I fail all the time, but I have the best friends in the universe. And friendship is also seeing people you love becoming the best that they can be. Friendship is holding people up when they feel like falling down – heck, my guys hold me up to be more than I can be all of the time. 

Friendship is forming community with people whether they are in the here right now… or constrained by family commitments and the bounds of space and time. Friends are there for you. 

Geography is annoying. 

Friends are intimate connections that transcend the bounds of Google maps estimated arrival time. 

*trust me it really was nice stuff. 

Especially Prayer Dice

Apr 11

As we have journeyed together through lent as a community at Holy Nativity, people have been asking how we can grow as disciples.  One thing I keep being asked about is prayer.  There is a universal truth about all people who believe;  every single one of us thinks we’re rubbish at praying.  By listening to what people are asking I have been developing different ways of helping people to pray.  So during the parade service yesterday morning, we made giant prayer dice.  And this is how we did it.

Last week I went to eBay and bought 50mm wooden craft blocks.  You can buy as many or as few as you need and as we’re a small community I bought enough for everyone in the congregation.

The scouts handed them out to everyone.  As we passed them around we talked as a congregation about what prayer is.  I led the conversations and asked what we would like to pray about.  As the conversation progressed we wrote them onto the dice.
We came up with:

Friends, Family, Ourselves, Thanksgiving, Saying Sorry, The World

Then I asked about how to begin a prayer.  As a congregation we discussed names for God.
And then we talked about the word “especially”.  We talked about how if we rolled our dice and prayed “Father I pray for the world.  Especially I pray for…” it opens up into a whole conversation.  And then we discussed the importance of listening to the other side of the conversation during prayer.  What is God saying to us about those places in the world we’re praying for?  What is God saying to us about the homeless people in Halifax?  What is God saying back to us in the conversation we started with a little block of wood about our family and friends?

And that’s how we do sermons together at Holy Nativity.

Why I am a Priest and Why People are Important, Even Me

Mar 11


On Monday a colleague posted an article on Facebook entitled “Why pastors shouldn’t work more than 40 hours a week – and why most do”. It was a good article in and of itself but the thing that interested me more was the visceral reaction people had to it on Facebook; most especially, the priests.

I will put this into my context so that you understand where I am coming from. I am a priest. I work in a parish. I pastor people. I go to people’s homes, the church, the hospital, the school, the council offices, the crematorium and the pub. I do many things including leading both public worship and private prayer. I also sit in my office with this laptop. I update the website. I write reports for the Annual General Meeting. I write letters to the bishop and fill in forms for the local council. I go to governors meetings at school and I sit with the local housing association and discuss issues we’re facing as a community. I attend training sessions on safeguarding. I clerk. I am after all a “clerk in holy orders”. Being a clerk in holy orders involves a certain amount of “clerking”. And all of this is stuff I have done in the last four days. On top of this I am a workaholic. And that makes me a bit of a hypocrite but hey ho, I’m half way through writing this now. I will often work 13-15 hour days and I will often work on my day off. Heck, I’m working right now on my day off. And I’m about to visit my best mate where we will talk all day about church and dream dreams and have visions. This is my life. A vocation. A calling. For me with the current retirement arrangements, a 38 year marathon rather than a four year sprint.


Back to the visceral reaction the Facebook iPriests had to the concept of “working hours”. When people were confronted with the idea of “working hours”, most reacted with the concept of “vocation vs job”. People said things like “if you want a job, go work at ASDA”. “This isn’t a job, it is a life”. “This isn’t a job, it’s about being there”. “When something happens I will be there”. “It is pastoral”. The trump card was always “pastoral work”.

“I have a duty and a joy to visit people in hospital and if it is my day off then I will lose my day off”.

Yes. I totally agree. But I have a question. Why is pastoral work always at the end of the list?  Why is this a skewed priority? People are important. Pastoral work isn’t something that should be an add on. God cares about people. People are important. It’s something we believe as a church. And forgive my Yorkshirism as I use it for emphasis:

People are importanter than paper and pixels.

If this is what we believe as a church, why have so many placed priority on the clerking and website editing? How has pastoral work been consigned to time off? How has pastoral work been prioritised over and above family? How has pastoral work become the poor relative who is demanding that we never see a spouse or parents? If you ask the people I pastor, they will tell you that I will move heaven and earth to be there. I will be there on my “day off”. I will be there when I have to drive two hours to get there from visiting my brother. I will cancel the Christmas Eve service to get there (actually happened this year). People are importanter than paper and pixels. People are importanter than my day off. People are importanter than a church service. And I am a person. I am people with my wife and parents and grandparents and friends.

I have wonderful church wardens. If I could bottle them and send them to you I would. And they make sure I don’t break. I am a person. I may be a shepherd in this field but I am also a sheep, and they pastor me. They make sure I am eating properly. They make sure that I get time to play my guitar – not necessarily on the day an emergency happens but on a random Tuesday afternoon instead. And they make sure that this guy in his thirties makes it to retirement without burning out. Thank God for them. I do each and every day.

We believe in Sabbath. God commanded it no less. The Egyptians had made the Israelites into slaves and whipped them until they got the straw to build their pyramids. But God is different. God is holy. God is set apart. “Have a Sabbath”. Time for God, time for family, time for friends, time to put the straw and bricks down and look after yourself. Time for me to play silly scales and make squealy noises on the guitar. Time to eat dinner with my wife. Time to visit my mum and dad. Time to sit and do nothing. And I call that Sabbath “Friday”. Not a day that is so legalistic that if the phone goes I won’t arrive at the hospital if I am needed. Not a day that can’t become “Tuesday afternoon instead” if it needs to be. A state of mind where my wife, the church wardens and God make sure that this priest, pastor and minister makes it to the end of the marathon.