Saturday, September 22, 2007

Seeing clearly, humbly

I have upset a colleague. Goodness, I have done that enough times. This time I have upset the area dean. And other local clergy.

We are looking at re-organising parishes in our area (deanery - a collection of parishes within the diocese) as in six years time the diocese is cutting clergy numbers, and we have to work out the best way forwards. If we try to keep all the buildings and congregations we currently have, the reduced number of clergy will be running around like headless chickens, and very little ministry with vision and outreach will happen at all. If we were a rural deanery with lots of tiny villages seperated by miles of winding roads, this might be inevitable (might) but we are a town, and frankly (to adapt the old joke) wherever we are going to - you wouldn't start from here.

There are currently five parishes in this part of the deanery, with five clergy, and ten churches. In six years time that will be three clergy. And really only one town with one slightly seperate village.

Now, I'm not going into the detail of how I think it should be sorted here. In months of preparation the clergy have worked things through by themselves and finally with the archbishop. We then had a meeting with a working party including members from each parish, & this was when I was taken off guard by the area dean, who presented a plan to this group which I have never agreed to and which was superceded by the plan suggested by the archbishop. None of these groups make any decisions - these are all planning groups. Any decisions have to be taken by the parishes themselves. But as the plans we put before people shape the decisions we come to, and as I will have to guide one of the new parishes through the re-shaping and make it work, I need to believe in any plan we agree to.

So I asked why we weren't talking about Barry's plan. And that's what upset the area dean. Cos he didn't want to talk about that plan. Which I didn't know.

And next Wednesday we have our second working party meeting.

Now, I have a simple agenda for this - I could use the word vision, I think it appropriate, but as soon as I use that word I am dealing in spiritual blackmail. If I have a vision it is from God and you can't disagree with me.

I want to see clearly, humbly. I might be wrong. I do want to be put right if I am wrong. Because if I am wrong, I need to be put right before I scupper something altogether, and my opposition to the area dean's plan could do just that.

So we'll stick with the word "agenda".

This is my agenda: I want the church to grow. I want it to be about building for the future, not about preserving the past. I want it to be about people not structures. I want it to be a strong body of Christ, strongly witnessing to the love of Christ, effectively drawing others into that love. And at this point I think the Archbishop's plan achieves that better than the area dean's.

If I am wrong, then I need to see that clearly. Pray for me that I would do so.

If I am right, then I need to see that clearly, humbly. Because I will be unpopular again. And at least I should do that with humility.

Monday, September 17, 2007


Well, I asked for it to be short. And I was kind of fed up. I mean, nothing much grows on top. I did make that comment. Tidy it up, I said. So he got out his clippers, and a moment later it was all gone.

All of it.


I suddenly realised this was a little more severe than I intended.

Still, some will grow back. At the sides. Up my neck. And I always liked hats...

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Vacanze in Italia

So here I am, outside my favourite ice cream shop in the world. Gelato, not ice cream, of course. An important and not-so-subtle difference.

What's the difference? A MacDonald's to a fillet steak. I sort of like chocolate ice cream, but from Vivoli's, I am in love with it. It is the essence of all that chocolate should be. Even from the Llanfaes Dairy, my favourite ice cream shop in the UK, I can take or leave the chocolate, and usually try something else. At Vivoli's, they have mined the essence of chocolate, its texture as well as its flavour. Shall I have the chocolate, the chocolate mousse, the chocolate mousse with coffee, the chocolate orange, and so on and so on. Anything else is hard pressed to get a look in.

Except, of course, they also do the most perfect raspberry ice cream - it's more like a sorbet in its texture, colour and the depth of its flavour, and filled with raspberry seeds. Perfect. I usually combine it with a chocolate, though for one crazy experiment I had it with Amaretto - which ended up being like the most wonderful trifle.

Yes, I flew to Florence for the gelato. Art is art, but ice cream - this is eternal.

And I did walk around to try and burn off a kilo or two of the good stuff. So this is from San Miniato al Monte, with the Duomo in the background. My good friend, and former church member here at St Catherine's Miles Maylor took the photos. He wasn't up for the ice cream, but enjoyed the city and the walking. And the one or two bits of art I let him see.

Which included the Anigoni here, my favourite painting in all Florence, which can be found in San Lorenzo. Its use of light and colour, with Joseph watching over the infant Jesus who is contemplating nails in his hands. Joseph wants to stop him, but can't - the earthly father's concern for his son is natural yet misplaced, for nails in these hands will bring ultimate joy through suffering. And over the scene, a blood-shot sky cannot hide the light that the cross will bring. It is a place of paradox and understanding, of God seeing our struggles and standing with us, though in the picture he is the small one and we the large, as so often we feel we are (and of course are not).
Then a day to San Gimignano. Yes, yes, touristville. But heaven on earth too. And a new hat, just for the trip. The main church there has stunning frescoes, which I will try and Google.
Just a short trip. But wonderful. Thank you Lord for such blessings as these.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007



The Hebrew number for completeness, perfection.

The days in a week.

David Beckham in an England shirt.

Deadly sins.

Wonders of the world.

The smallest number that can't be represented as a sum of fewer than four non-zero squares.

The number of bones in a mammal's neck.

The number of spots on a ladybird.

The stellar objects in the solar system visible to the naked eye.

The hills of Rome. Or Bristol.

S Club.

The completed symphonies of Sibelius. Or Prokofiev, for that matter.

The number of Brides and Brothers in the 1954 musical film featuring Howard Keel.

Or Samurai, if Kurosawa is more your thing.

Or Sinners, if Marlene Dietrich does it for you.

Put a couple of noughts before it, and you have Britain's most famous Universal Export.

And of course, a recently completed series of children's novels has this many books.

And Star Trek fans are waiting for a Borg reference. I could give several. Of nine.

But really, the reason for all this is that today is the seventh anniversary of my time as vicar of St Catherine's, and though I could go all deep and theological on you - actually, I just want to be happy, and grateful. I love being here (though I'm not here - I'm on holiday!) - it is a blast. A privilege. A wonderful thing. Sure, there are moments, but I am where God has called me to be, doing what I am called to do, and that is the most that anyone can ask for. I love it.

Thank you Lord. I don't know what tomorrow holds, but for these seven years past, I am extraordinarily grateful, you have been wonderfully kind to me. I pray for dreams of what may come, and greater grace to see those dreams come to pass.

Isaiah 65.17-25