Sunday, March 16, 2014


On Friday I made my Lenten pilgrimage to Canterbury.

I write that as if it's a regular thing. Actually, I've only ever been the the Mother Church of Anglicanism once before in my life, in 1988, the summer after graduation. I remember nothing of the experience except the friends who shared the journey.


This time I was going to see another friend receive an honour from the Archbishop, and it was a joy to drive down from Oxfordshire through the spring sunshine knowing that I would see Tory Baucum and his family at the other end.

Tory has featured on this blog before. We first met back in 1990, when he was curate at the cathedral in little Rock, Arkansas, and I was travelling around the US before I began my ordination training at Wycliffe Hall. We met by chance, and became good friends. Through the years, that friendship has stood the test of time, and I have been privileged to lecture for Tory at Asbury Seminary and to visit him at Truro Church in Virginia where he is now Rector.

Tory is a godly man.

I want that to stand loud and clear as a statement in its own right. In Tory I always see a man who loves the Lord and loves to lead people to the Lord and loves to bless the church. He has found himself on more than one occasion in the midst of difficult circumstances and in that place has always sought to be a man of peace, speaking truth and love with integrity. That's not easy; but his life is a truer witness than my words.

Tory and I don't agree on everything; that hardly matters. I love his heart, and I love him as a dear friend - it is a privilege to know some people, and I count Tory in that category. If I had to agree with someone in order to cherish their friendship, I'd be both far poorer and even more foolish than I am. Tory's wisdom has made me stop, think, re-assess, and wonder many times.

In the mess of US Anglican politics, he takes it in the neck from every side because his church is a member of the conservative ACNA, not the official TEC grouping, but he has taken time to pray with and become friends with the TEC Bishop of Virginia (for whom I also have a deep regard). It is this ability to seek reconciliation without losing integrity that brought Tory to Archbishop Justin's attention.

Justin has appointed Tory as a Canterbury Six Preacher, a company of six preachers that are linked with the foundation of the Cathedral, and who have the honour of being commissioned to share in the work the Archbishop sees as being vital to his own ministry. Justin is keen that we Anglicans re-discover the ability to 'disagree well', and has installed Tory as a Six Preacher to indicate how vital this is, and to demonstrate a very visible model of how it might be done.

Justin has been criticised for the appointment; Tory has been criticised for taking it. Blow the critics.

In the church of God, we will at many times differ on many things, and the way we conduct ourselves at those times matters. Disagreeing well is a great skill, and can reveal deeply Christian character - or its lack. To love my brother or sister  when I really read the Scriptures differently matters. Justin and Tory both get that, and I am grateful for the leadership of the one and the friendship of the other and the example of both. We need more people like this. We need to live this stuff out.

So it was glorious to be at Canterbury; to see a godly man honoured; to stand with a friend and his family; to see this step on his pilgrimage and to feel it mark a part of my own.

Back in Little Rock, a quarter of a century ago, we had no idea what days would come. Who knows what days yet will be. Friday, however, and days like it, are days to treasure indeed.

I thank God for Tory, and pray I might practise what I see lived and preached in his life.

Sunday, March 09, 2014


I had the pleasure today of meeting up with Robert Watson, retired clergyman, sometime chaplain with ICS in Wengen, Switzerland.

It was in that role that I first met Robert. I had agreed to take on my first chaplaincy in 1997 and ICS held a training day for summer chaplains. Robert was there, and as we spoke, he was tremendously encouraging about the work I would encounter, and the opportunities I would find whilst in resort.

Like most of us, Robert can be a bit marmite - some people take to him enormously, others not so much. I particularly took to him on first meeting and have always done so ever since. When I have seen him lead services at Wengen, as he led the communion today, he does so in a very individual style that is impossible to emulate - but which clearly demonstrates his God-ward heart, and his desire that others might share that heart. That's a very precious thing, and for me has a deep integrity.

Today he made me value again another person's ministry, and made me think of others who have blessed me along the way. The list is very long; I am sure it is far from finished.

The person who especially came to mind did so because as I spoke about Robert with someone else in the village here where I am enjoying a few days holiday, she told me of a poor experience earlier in the season. The man who had been chaplain then had been very insistent that she (my friend here) should do something in the church, and had rather bullied her about it. She had not been free to offer the time needed, and felt bad about the whole thing.

This tale put me in mind of John Walker at Calverley, one of my heroes of the faith. When I arrived in Yorkshire after Pontypridd, I was exhausted spiritually. We met, we talked, and John quickly delved a little and found out all sorts of things about me which revealed that I was exactly the kind of person who could help him with various things in the life of the parish. And he never once even asked me. He understood how tired, how empty I was, and simply befriended me and gave me time to be restored. He and Michelle were wonderful. His ministry, there at the end of his many years in that place, with so much to do to organise the parish for the upcoming interregnum, was the perfect model to me of pastoral understanding. John could so easily have pushed me along a bit - he had so much to get done in those final months it would have been very understandable - but instead he understood what I needed and put his own needs, wants, agendas and everything else to one side so I could begin to flourish again. I know for some John could also be a bit marmite - can't we all? - but the time he gave me was pure blessing. When I was ready to begin to offer things, he kindly made space. He encouraged and helped me grow. I thank God for what John did for me.

The newspapers are looking at the anniversary of Pope Francis' election at the moment, and beginning to judge how successful he is being. He is a man. As time goes on, the adulation will vary. He will doubtless end up being a bit more marmitey than has so far been the case - some will really find they can't cope with the taste after all, whilst others continue to love him. He is not perfect (thank God), but the imperfections are not disqualifications nor do they dilute the value of anything he does or says.

God only uses imperfect people; it's all he has.

The examples we have of good men and women who touch our lives with blessings from God are not divine, not perfect, not plaster saints who live on pedestals, but real, flawed, loved people like us.

And here's some good news: if they blessed us, we get to pass it on.


I was just in the process of posting this when a quick message came in from a dear friend who was once part of a church where I was involved early in my ordained ministry years. She could have been reading this as I was typing; and as I have been writing about examples that have touched my life, I actually got a note from her saying pretty much the same thing back to me. How genuinely humbling. How wonderful. You see, we really do all get to play.