Tuesday, 15 July 2014


It gives me a huge amount of pleasure to title this post just Bishops. Not Female Bishops, not Women in the Episcopate. But Bishops.

The process has been long, with many meanderings along the way. It has been hard for proponents and opponents. It has I suspect been especially hard for women in the catholic movement who owe their understanding of the faith and discovery of vocation in some part to those opposed to their ordination. Some of those conversations are still happening. I had one today.

For me something remarkable has come out of the heartache and the debate. Bishops are important. Not important as managers, not important as public functionaries, not important as leaders, but important as the hands and feet of the Apostles.

Circumstance made Presbyters.

Apostles made Deacons.

But Jesus, in breathing on the Apostles, Jesus made Bishops.

Bishops are not vicars with a better hat, but the foundational blocks of the church's ministry. They inspire, they send, they break new ground, they discern, they ordain, they teach, they serve. And I reckon we need more not less of that in the church.

It is going to take some time for gender to become invisible in the House of Bishops. It is going to take some time for gender to become invisible amongst the Lords Spiritual. It is going to take some time for gender to become invisible amongst diocesans, assistant and suffragan Bishops.

So in the mean time why not make some more?

There are ministry team leaders, missioners, academics and many others who could share in the ministry of the diocesan Bishop, just as retired Bishops and those who are no longer overseeing an area or diocese do already. Amongst them gender could be invisible, and any suggestion that female candidates do not have the experience for the jobs of highest responsibility would be avoided.

I am sure that this is all legally impossible. I am sure that the time it would take to create that many bishops would be too long to make a difference. I am sure it could detract from the invisibility of gender becoming real amongst diocesans.

But it would benefit the mission and ministry of the church.

And it is not just Bishops who can dream dreams.

Monday, 12 May 2014

On Fire 2014

On Fire is a small Christian Conference held at High Leigh during the week. It attracts around 160 people from a wide range of backgrounds and ages, although its timing and history mean that there are a large number of people over 45, and fewer people of working and child rearing age.

What is unique about On Fire Mission is that it is "a network dedicated to promoting Charismatic renewal blended with the riches of Catholic spirituality." In short it is Anglo-Catholic and Charismatic (and inclusive in terms of orders.) You may wonder why On Fire hasn't adopted Bishop Paul Bayes strap line of (Anglican) Charismatic Catholic and Missional, but On Fire as a movement and conference attracts people from a wider range of backgrounds.

And it is a movement that is changing. This is my second year at On Fire, and this year the worship had a more modern feel. There were still some older chorus' and songs, but the worship team had made an effort to use newer songs from the last 10 years. Charismatic Catholic worship works when there is a natural flow between songs, spoken liturgy, prayer time and opportunity for spiritual gifts and ministry. And this On Fire does exceptionally well.

The theme this year was Blessed and Broken, with Charles Whitehead (Roman Catholic Charismatic) and Russ Parker (Acorn Healing Trust) speaking. However the changes in the worship programme were perhaps more important than the (excellent) speakers.

I had the opportunity to lead morning prayer in a way that respected the structure of the office,but also allowed space for all to pray, whereas in the past formal and informal morning prayer sessions had been separate. My morning prayer reflections were based on the lectionary readings. On Tuesday the role of Mary in the coming of Christ and Holy Spirit. On Wednesday the closeness of God in the wilderness and the opening of eyes. On Thursday the intimacy of the Body and us all being a part of Christ. Unplanned and unintended these themes came out in talks and ministry on each day.

On Wednesday afternoon a remarkable Eucharist in the round was offered, put together by Fr. Mund and presided at by some of the 'younger' Priests. Then on Wednesday evening  Mthr. Bev Mason led us in a service of reconciliation at which Russ preached. The atmosphere at the conference changed from that point towards reconciliation, peace and inner healing. I spent Thursday in a bit of daze, missing all of Russ's sessions (discs to come - On Fire doesn't offer downloads of talks yet!) and Exposition and Benediction in the afternoon. Thursday night Bishop Paul Bayes presided at the Eucharist and spoke and the spiritual atmosphere changed again. Charismatics speak of a heaviness, or weight, or in more Catholic terms there was the same presence that you may find at a holy shrine or place.

This year there was somewhat less body ministry in terms of words or pictures, but prayer ministry was central. If you are used to loud enthusiastic prayers given for individuals On Fire can be a bit of a shock. People are prayed for calmly and quietly. Some people do fall, weep, or respond in other very human ways, but no fuss is made. This year also saw the statue of Mary moved from a corner to the side, due to a large cross needing to be moved as it was blocking one projection screen. Although unintentional this resulted in some free devotion. In Charismatic Catholic theology Mary is recognised as the Holy Spirit's spouse, so filled with God that when she greeted Elizabeth she too was filled with Holy Spirit! This had been my reflection at Morning Prayer on the first day, and I too found myself journeying with Mary into a deeper encounter with the Spirit.

I was also blessed to have Charles and Russ both pray for me. Charles because I hope I too can continue to cross denominational boundaries as he does. And Russ, because I had no idea what it was about his words and ministry that left me sleeping through most of Thursday, but I wanted to be certain I was not offended. These opportunities are not always available at larger conferences.

The conference ended as it always did with commissioning and anointing with oil. Although the ministry in the conference had been more inward, On Fire never forgets that it is a Mission, and the Holy Spirit is given for the whole world, not just experiences of God at High Leigh.

When much of the Charismatic movement is dominated by ministries under 45, with far too many vanishing from church leadership towards 50, On Fire values the Dreamers of Dreams. Some do struggle with a new middle aged generation being part of the conference. I did my best to mix and I know I upset one person by live tweeting a sermon, whilst others could not believe I was old enough to be ordained (I turn 40 next year!). Yet on the last day someone stood and spoke prophetically about how encouraging it was to see more middle aged and young people at the conference, and encouraged us to keep tweeting.

On Fire is a deeply refreshing place that I commend - next year the conference is from 20th-23rd of April and a new website with details of other events will be at http://www.onfiremission.org.uk/ soon.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

#rev & #gogglebox

Well I has to ask the question. What is Gogglebox? I had heard people talking about it, and @revkatebottley is on it - so it popped up on twitter. From what I have picked up it involves people watching other people watch TV from the last week.

From the last week.

This intrigued me - because I don't consume video this way. Yes I watch the news and some topical panel shows (funny or not). But I don't watch a lot of broadcast TV. When we sit down on the sofa we connect to one of the little boxes and watch Netflix, and sometimes iPlayer, and sometimes bought media streamed via Plex, and sometimes we sit with friends queuing up interesting, funny, new and old clips from YouTube. A whole lot more social than just watching TV.

I admit it. I might swing by 4OD for a hit of Coach Trip (in case you think popular culture is entirely dead to me), and from time to time we channel surf, or watch an old episode of the Simpsons.

But it cannot be escaped that broadcast TV is a fading media. The idea of watching TV when it is on rather than when we want it served up to us is slowly dying. For TV channels this means tough questions - do TV companies look to internet only delivery before Netflix and Amazon corner the market or does Broadcast TV hold on to a nostalgia market? The BBC seems to have a foot in both camps.

Which brings me to Rev. Just as the #revsforrev hashtag was spreading more and more Revs were going off Rev. Arguments varied - a profound lack of encounter with God, an ecclesiastical version of the Brittas Empire without the jokes, a covert liberal plot to undermine signs of growth in the Church of England - or all three.

I now suspect that Rev. is simply nostalgia.

Much the same as All Gas and Gaiters and The Vicar of Dibley were in their generation. I love All Gas and Gaiters, but clergy of an earlier generation hated it because it was comedy based on a shape of ministry that was passing away. I enjoyed Dibley too - until I found myself in a small rural Parish - or 7. The final episode in this season of Rev. nails it home. The model of faith and ministry shown in Rev. is no more tenable than that presented in these previous series.

Sorry but it has had it and it is over.

Rev. may yet redeem itself. It may help the wider culture realise that this is not how church is and what it is about. Some of the congregation St. Saviours may start squatting in the Vicarge forming a New Monastic community, or find themselves worshipping in the school. Adam may come back profoundly renewed and transformed.

I wonder if Netflix would be interested in buying the show?

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Ten more commandments: How to save the Anglican church

My take on Peter Stanford’s list in the Independent.

1. Stop obsessing about sex and gender

And start obsessing about good sex instead. Our society is in a mess about sex and sexuality. Let's have more positive engagement with what lifelong loving covenant sacramental relationships might look like. An illustrated course on the Song of Solomon as part of the Pilgrim course perhaps? And no I am not kidding.

2. Pick on a subject that matters

Yes the poor are important. But last time I checked the CofE has been all over the press in its support for the poor. So why not make the subject Encounter with God - how we can meet with God and grow in faith?

3. Break that link with the state

The CofE is an Apostolical church that just happens to be a state church. But I wonder how much law and effort it would take to unstitch all that. We may be more than a 'best boat to fish from' but this is not a boat to be burned lightly. But that doesn't mean we can’t emphasize our Apostolical foundation above and beyond our historical state connection.

4. Beef up the role of the ABC

And beef up local ministry too - it needs to go all the way down the line - which may mean some serious pruning of stuff that isn't working. Leadership in the CofE can be extremely difficult for lay and ordained ministry, and can be shipwrecked by all a small number of people. We need to renew our understanding of lay ministry and find effective ways of ensuring that Clergy, Lay Ministers PCC members and Church Wardens love God and his people.

5. Treat the Anglican Communion as a religious equivalent of the Commonwealth

In other words ignore it and look closer to Europe, where other churches are facing the same challenges as the CofE. We should draw on success stories amongst our own ecumenical partners in the UK too – which churches are growing and why?

6. Offload the property empire

No-one is going to want to take on half the medieval church buildings in the UK. But we do have some valuable property, especially in central London, including Church House and some Clergy Housing. Let’s sell it off and invest it in mission and ministry, even if it is more appropriate property. A review of Church housing nationwide could result in more equality, more suitable housing for modern clergy families, and maybe some thoughts about how best to support (and benefit from) retired clergy.

7. Get out of state schools

And get into Free schools & Academies. Western schooling has its roots in Christian Monasticism, let’s embrace it, de-emphasizing faith requirements for getting into CofE schools but ensuring that each Church school is a community of disciples learning to follow Jesus. Establish ordination routes for Christian headteachers and treat this as an important pioneer role in the Church.

8. Get some better PR (i)

Rev is profound. But it continues the lie of the magically self-sustaining parish. In other words it is Dibley for Guardian Readers. Forget TV - Youtube is a better way for the CofE to communicate to a wider audience.

9. Get some better PR (ii)

I like Richard Coles very much. I am not sure he would want to be a Bishop. But I would love to hear more from pioneers from all traditions – especially working in challenging areas, urban or country.

10. Get some better PR (iii)

We canonize too quickly. Let’s learn patience and remember that even the greatest ministers of the Gospel have feet of clay. And let us not be ashamed to say so.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Unfurling the Sails

A minister capsized and sunk his little sail boat. He was thrashing around in the water when another yacht sailed up.

"Jump in, we'll save you" - they yelled.

"No" cried the drowning man, "God will save me".

Treading water, soon a motor boat came along side.

"Jump in, we'll save you" - they shouted.
"No" cried the drowning man, "God will save me".

Growing tired the man continued to tread water, until a fishing boat came alongside.

"Jump in, we'll save you" - they called.

"No" cried the drowning man, "God will save me".

Finally the man almost exhausted a helicopter came overhead.

"We came to rescue you" yelled the pilot.

"No, God will save me" was the response again.

The man’s strength gave up eventually. And as he crossed the Pearly Gates, he ran straight to Jesus.

"I placed my faith in you, and you let me drown?!

""Hey!" said Jesus.” I sent three boats and a helicopter".

Jesus Said: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

If you have ever been sailing you will know that the wind is very important. The wind dictates how fast you can go, and in what direction. Although modern sailing yachts can sail very close to the wind, it is not long ago that the sailing ships were far more limited.

You went with the wind or you didn’t go at all.

For the early Christians the ship was a symbol of the Church. They drew from the imagery of Noah’s ark being a safe place of salvation, and from the stories of Jesus and the disciples on the Sea of Galilee. In times of persecution it must have felt like they were in a mighty storm, calling out to Jesus to calm the waves.

And where is the ship of the Church today?

When I was young we used to sail in a small yacht from Kent to Calais. The first time my father came into Calais harbour we found ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time in the path of a cross channel ferry. Grabbing the VHF my dad made the call:
“Calais harbour, Calais harbour, this is yacht Gypsy Dawn – where would you like us, over”

After a few moments of silence the reply came back.

“On ze bottom”

Less people come to church now than they used to. We are surrounded by a culture that values so many others things higher than faith and life with God. Even if we don’t subscribe to the idea that the western Church is a persecuted minority in the midst of a bitter culture war – and I don’t – it can still sometimes seem that the wider church is heading to ‘ze bottom’. A sinking ship.

But I do not believe the Church is sinking. Certainly not here at All Saints, where God is at work in so many lives from so many different backgrounds. We are a Christian family born of water and Spirit through our baptism.

And Jesus says: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

If the church is to continue to grow and thrive in the future we must be open to the wind of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not an optional add on in the Christian life. The Holy Spirit is active in our baptism, in our confirmation, in our communion.  The Holy Spirit is active in our study of the bible, in our worship, in our prayer. The Holy Spirit is active in different forms of spiritualty, prayerbook, celtic, catholic, liberal, traditional and contemporary.

But sometimes we may need to ask God to make us more aware of how the Spirit is blowing. Sometimes we may need to be honest and unfurl our sails.

As we come to Communion this and every Sunday morning was ask for the Spirit to meet with us.

Especially today where we have space for healing. There is also space to come and ask to become more aware of the Spirit in our lives.

To unfurl our sails a little more.