Category Archives: St Paul’s

Posts relating to St Paul’s Church Sarisbury Green

What does it mean to be a Priest in the Church of England?

I’ve just finished reading a recent book called: Managing Clergy Lives – Obedience, Sacrifice, Intimacy. There is much in the book that strikes a chord with my experience of life as a full time minister in the Church of England. There is a reminder of the issues caused by the blurred boundaries between the public and the private that all ministers struggle with. The book raises issues that come from living in a vicarage which very few who haven’t lived in tied accommodation have any real understanding of. It also looks at the financial sacrifice that is willingly and knowingly made by church ministers, but particularly by Church of England ministers who have no option about living in the vicarage that is provided for them and therefore many struggle with accommodation for retirement.

There is however one area that I find myself at odds with in this book, and possibly with some of my colleagues. This is summed up in the introduction to chapter 3:

“The ordination of a priest disciplines and governs body and soul during every waking hour from the moment of ordination, until death. Throughout this life, clergy believe that their physical, intellectual and emotional selves are permanently claimed for the service of God. Ordination is thus life-changing for all priests because it entails an enduring commitment to promises made to God. These promises require life-long and whole-hearted personal and embodied obedience to God’s service, as well as an adherence to the doctrine and governance of the Church. Put simply, in the words of parish priest Linda, ordination offers no ‘opt out clause’.”

And at the end of the following chapter:
“Clergy in the sample expressed and ontological understanding of the ‘indelible character change’ brought about sacramentally in ordination.”

I remember that at my ordination someone from the church we were part of, unhelpfully(!), said to Bella that I was now married to the church. The notion of being married to the church, or to God, in ordination is reported in this book alongside the notion that, like marriage, ordination is a life-long and life-changing sacrament that can only be broken by death.

Looking back before my ordination I can clearly remember being asked at my selection conference what difference I thought being ordained would make to me in my workplace and day to day life? (I was applying for Non-Stipendiary ministry or what is now called Self-Supporting ministry). My response was that I hoped it would not make any difference whatsoever! I should already be living my life as a Christian to the fullest extent possible in my workplace and it was my commitment to Jesus, not my ordination, that should determine how I lived.

This may sound shocking to some – but I don’t feel called by God to Anglican Priesthood! I believe God has called and gifted me as a leader within his church and in the Anglican church the way that is outworked is through being ordained as a priest.I believe strongly and wholeheartedly in the priesthood of all believers both in practice as well as in theology. I struggle with the very thing that some of my colleagues feel called to and fulfilled by – being an ordained priest.

I am ontologically (definition: of or relating to essence or the nature of being) no different to any other christian. We are all created by God, saved by God and called by God, as his children, to be a Royal Priesthood. All of us, not a few, not those selected for ordination, but every single christian believer, are called as Priests to serve God, each other and God’s world.

That is why I struggle with wearing robes in services. I’d be happy to wear robes if everyone else did (or as someone said to me recently is everyone came in suit and tie as happened 30-50 years ago!). Wearing robes, for me, sets me apart as being different, and as I understand the Bible that’s not true. If you attend services that I lead it is also why I often pronounce the absolution and the blessing using ‘us’ not ‘you’ because I don’t Biblically believe I have any more right to forgive sins or bless others than any other christian.

For me my commitment to serve God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength comes from my baptism. It is a commitment that will last until the day I die and beyond that into eternity. Like all of us I have my struggles, but I am utterly committed to living as a Christian until the day I die. That commitment affects every part of my life, the work I do, where I live, how I use my time, money and the possessions that God so generously gives. It affects my ethics, my morality and every other part of my life.

For me that is the commitment of every christian. You can’t take some of the bits of the christian faith and not others, it’s all or nothing. It’s far, far more than living a moral life (which is what so many in our society see as the definition of Christianity).

Most importantly however it’s a commitment that has it’s foundation and strength in my love for Jesus and my day by day relationship with God as his beloved and precious son. Out of our identity as children of God we are called to obedience and we do that willingly because we know Almighty God as our loving father.


Moneyball and Change in the Church

It’s a long time since I last posted anything on my blog! Six weeks ago or so I was reading a blog by another church leader and he recommended seeing a film called Moneyball. In fact he didn’t just recommend it he said: “If you haven’t seen the movie Mo
neyball yet, you need to. Like now. Click out of this window. Close your laptop. Get in the car. And go buy it. Not rent. Buy.”

I haven’t bought it, but I might. But we watched it last week. Interestingly at the same time I was preparing for my sermon last Sunday on how the early church responded to the radical challenges that Christianity brought to the Jews who made up the worshiping community of the church as it started. Based on the book called “The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why” by Phyllis Tickle, I talked about a 500 year cycle of upheaval and change within both the church and wider society. In the clip that I used she ended with these words: “we’re just lucky – we get to live through one!”

Our society has radically changed in the past 50 years or more and the pace of change doesn’t seem to be slowing or diminishing. Children today are being educated for jobs with technologies that haven’t even been invented yet. Work has changed, society has changed, views on morality and ethics have changed and community has radically changed. The church has also changed, but not nearly so radically. Sadly one of the changes has been that the number of people connected with church in the UK has greatly reduced. For many in our society today the church seems an archaic reflection of the past with little or no relevance to their lives today. I don’t agree with them, I believe that the Gospel has every relevance to life in 2013. The Gospel hasn’t changed however the way that it is communicated has to change.

What has that got to do with a film? Moneyball is about baseball – something I know nothing about. BUT the story of the film has everything to do with the state of the church today. The film is about the fascinating mix of men behind a major cultural shift in the game of baseball and how a risky vision, born from necessity, becomes reality, when a ragtag team of cast-offs rejected due to unfounded biases, get the chance to finally prove their potential.

In the game of baseball there is received wisdom as to how you pick and run a team of players. It’s always been done this way and it’s the only way of running a professional team. Two men see a different way to pick and run a team and they risk everything to do just that. They go against the received wisdom, they fight against the way things have always been done. They fail, but they keep going. They force their way on others who don’t agree, willing to take the criticism and the knock-backs. They keep going until the team starts to win, and then carries on winning and achieves an all time record for the number of consecutive wins.

Towards the end of the film the owner of one of the richest baseball teams offers the coach who has risked his career on a new system a once in a lifetime offer. In doing so he says: “The first one through the wall always gets bloody.”

What if we’ve been trying to build church based on the wrong principles for decades, if not centuries? We may not have known the foundations and principles were wrong, but they were all we knew. What if there are new principles, principles that make the Gospel understandable to the majority in our nation who never darken the doors of our church buildings? Maybe, just maybe, we need to seek God for the principles and foundations for making disciples in the 21st Century and allow him to build his church which will probably look different to anything we’ve known before?

“If you haven’t seen the movie Moneyball yet, you need to. Like now. Click out of this window. Close your laptop. Get in the car. And go buy it. Not rent. Buy.”


A Church For Me – Vision Part 4

This is the last post about God reigniting the vision that he gave me before I started at St Paul’s:

A Church For The Unchurched and A Church For Children

In my first post about Vision I talked about my Personal Vision,
In my second post I asked: So what does it mean to be ‘A Church For The Unchurched?’
In my last post I asked: So what does it mean to be ‘A Church For Children?’

This time I want to ask: Where do I fit in this vision?

After a notice had been up in the entrance to our church building at St Paul’s for a few months I was asked the question by more than one person in our congregation: So where do I fit in this vision?

Good question!

I think there are two directions this question can come from. The first is saying, I’m not unchurched and I’m not a child so is there anything here for me? How will you meet what I need and want if I don’t fit into these categories? My answer is simple, as you seek to become fully part of a church community with a focus on mission to the unchurched and children you will find all that you need (although you may not find all you want). As Christians we learn and grow far more as we witness than we do as we study. If your desire is to grow as a disciple of Jesus then you will have ‘making disciples’ as the highest priority in your life. We don’t learn in order to witness, we witness in order to learn.

The Christian faith has at it’s heart the incarnation, the willingness of Jesus to give everything for those he loves. I like the Message translation of John 1:14 “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” The character of God is that of giving and generosity. Jesus ‘moved into the neighbourhood’ so that he could become one of us and ultimately live within us. He calls us to have the same character of giving and generosity, for us to become truly one with others so that they too can become disciples of Jesus. The question is not what’s in it for me, rather it is what can I give so that others can experience what I’ve experienced.

The second direction that the question “Where do I fit in this vision” can come from is saying “What can I do to help?” For the answer to that I would suggest starting to look at your family, friends, neighbours & colleagues and asking yourself “How can I share the love of Jesus with them?” This can make many different forms, from handing our free strawberries at a Summer Fayre, to inviting a friend to come with you to Back to Church Sunday, to offering to go to their home and go through the Alpha Course with them. It may mean supporting the Under 2s and Under 5s ministry during term time, or offering to help with our Sunday School on Sunday mornings, or perhaps helping with the Light Party in October.

I started this series of posts by saying that God has confirmed to me a personal vision that I believed was directly related to the church he would call me to lead. I hope that by sharing thoughts about my personal vision I have encouraged and challenged you to think about your own vision.



A Church For Children – Vision Part 3

This is the third post about God reigniting the vision that he gave me before I started at St Paul’s:

A Church For The Unchurched and A Church For Children

In my first post about Vision I talked about my Personal Vision,
In my last post I asked: So what does it mean to be ‘A Church For The Unchurched?’

This time I want to ask the question: So what does it mean to be ‘A Church For Children?’

According to analysis of church attendance statistics in 2010 the average age of churchgoers was 61 (against the average adult age in the population of 48), and on average half of all churchgoers are pensioners. In the UK there are approximately 12.5 Million children under the age of 16 of these approximately 218,600 will usually be in a  church service on a Sunday. That equates to less than 2% of children in the UK!

Why do we need to be ‘A Church For Children?’ Put simply – if we aren’t the church will cease to exist in the next generations!

So what does it mean to be ‘A Church For Children?’ It means that children and young people have as much right to be part of who we are, how we worship and what we do as adults have. It means that the resources we give to working with children are the very best, both in terms of people and in terms of finances. It means that children have as much right to be fully part of our Sunday corporate worship as adults have even if their expression of worship is different.

At St Paul’s I believe we have come along way in becoming a Church for Children. We introduced the areas at the back of the building for toddlers which have been well used. I very, very rarely hear reports of children being ‘tut-tutted’ for the noise they make (although I am always saddened when I do hear such comments). There is a simple answer if the noise of children at the back of our building disturbs you – there is always room on the front row! A lot is invested in our relationship with Sarisbury Junior and Infant Schools and that investment will reap long term benefits that we may never see personally. Our Carol services have been revitalised as we have welcomed the choir from Sarisbury Junior School and in recent years we have had to hold multiple children’s services on Christmas Eve to fit everyone in.

More recently the growth of our work with young families in our Under 5s and Under 2s groups has been fantastic. Led by Clare and Brenda we regularly have contact with over 30 families with good relationships and friendships being built. I am convinced that one of the side effects of this is the increase in the requests for infant baptism that we have seen in the past 12 months. Out of this the Tea Service started in December 2010 and has grown and matured in the last 18 months, so much so that others have come to see how we do it. Once again this has been led by Clare, Phil and their Small Group who have mission to young families at the foundation of their group.

This is good news, however we are still only reaching a small percentage of the children and young families in Sarisbury Green. We have very few families with school aged children who regularly attend our Sunday Services, I wonder why? Is the content wrong? Is the music style wrong? Is the time wrong? I wonder if this last one is perhaps one of the most important questions. I’ve seen some of our families leave because sport happens on a Sunday morning, or because children are with mum and dad on alternate weekends and Sunday morning is just the wrong time. Perhaps to be truly a Church for Children we need to experiment with moving our Family Services to 4pm on a Sunday with a bring-and-share tea and see if more families come?

What do you think?



A Church for the Unchurched – Vision Part 2

In my last post I shared that God is reigniting the vision that he gave me before I started at St Paul’s:

A Church For The Unchurched and A Church For Children

Read the previous post

So what does it mean to be ‘A Church For The Unchurched?’

One of the passages in the Bible that I keep returning to is Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples (and through them of each and every Christian) in Matt 28:19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.” These are some of the very last words of Jesus to his followers and so they are really, really important. He could have said anything. He could have said go and pray for four hours a day, or go and fast twice a week, or go and feed the poor. Praying, fasting and giving to the needs of the poor are all vital and important, but Jesus didn’t say any of those as his last words. He said, go and make disciples. NOTE: he said go and make disciples not go and build the church, he also told us to go to ALL nations, that is to every man, woman and child, not just to the people who are already in the church.

The life and ministry of Jesus was an example of just this. In fact Jesus got quite a reputation for who he spent his time with. In Matthew 9:11-13 we read: When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Archbishop William Temple said, “The Church is the only organisation that exists for the benefit of its non-members”. Think about that statement, it has a lot to say. The church does not exist for my benefit, it does not exist to provide what I want, when I want it and in the style I prefer. We live in a consumer society, but the church is not a consumer organisation, if anything the church should be profoundly counter cultural in this.

In 2004 the Church of England published a report entitled ‘Mission Shaped Church’ and one of the statements that was at the heart of that book was: “It’s not the church of God that has a mission in the world, but the God of mission who has a church in the world.”

For decades, if not centuries, the church of God has understood that it had a mission in the world, that is, mission was one of the reasons for the existence of the church amongst many others. That isn’t want Matt 29:19 says, rather it is the God of mission who has a church in the world, that is, mission is at the very heart and foundation of the existence of the church, it is not one of the reasons for it’s existence amongst many others, it is THE reason for the existence of the church.

Let me return to the question I asked at the start: what does it mean to be ‘A Church For The Unchurched?’

It means that we examine all that we are and do against how it serves God’s mission of making disciples of all nations. Let me take one, possibly controversial, area of the life of many churches and ask what it might mean if we were truly a ‘church for the unchurched.’ At a recent meeting of the PCC our Archdeacon remarked that he was surprised how many churches in the Diocese had communion as their main service almost every Sunday. That wasn’t his experience in other Dioceses that he has been in and the question he raised was should we reduce the number of communion services at St Paul’s to maybe twice monthly and at Whiteley to once monthly. He was clear that this wasn’t because of the lack of priests to celebrate communion, but rather in a mission minded church was it appropriate to have so many communion services?

Why might he suggest this? The reasoning behind this question is that communion can be a barrier for the unchurched. Every Sunday when I administer communion I know how many people receive the bread and wine, how many people I pray a blessing over and how many people are in the building. And every week that are a number who don’t come up for communion or a blessing. Why? I would suggest that it is because communion is a meal for Christians and they don’t feel included. Instead of welcoming and including them communion becomes a barrier.

In a previous church community that I was part of the question of the regularity of communion was raised. The suggestion made was the we should ask the members of the church community how often they felt we should celebrate communion, my strong suspicion was that if we did so the answer would be ‘as often as possible.’ If the church is a ‘church for the unchurched’ perhaps the best people to ask aren’t those who are already part of the church community but those who are on the outside. I wonder what they would say?



Personal Vision

In Myers Briggs terms I am an Introverted Intuitive, that means that personal vision is really important to me. So I like the KJV translation of Proverbs 29:18 “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” It is vision that gets me up in the morning, energises and recharges me.

“You see things as they are and ask ‘Why’? But I dream things that never were, and ask ‘Why Not’?” George Bernard Shaw


“Unless you see it before you see it, you will never see it”

Reflecting back on the past months before my sabbatical it wasn’t the workload or the plethora of Christmas services that I found the most draining and that led me to a point of exhaustion at the end of 2011, but a lack of vision. As a result one of my prayers over the past few months has been for God to reignite and restore my vision of what he is calling me to be and to do.

Reflecting back on the past months before my sabbatical it wasn’t the workload or the plethora of Christmas services that I found the most draining and that led me to a point of exhaustion at the end of 2011, but a lack of vision. As a result one of my prayers over the past few months has been for God to reignite and restore my vision of what he is calling me to be and to do.

What has happened isn’t a new vision but a reaffirmation of an old vision. God has taken me back nine years to just before I came to St Paul’s. In those weeks before my interview God gave me a personal vision that I believed was also to be a vision for the church he would call me to lead.

It is summed up as this:

A Church For The Unchurched and A Church For Children

That statement is simple and yet immensely profound. It is a statement that I have found myself returning to again and again in the past weeks. What does it mean to be ‘A Church For The Unchurched and A Church For Children?’ I’ll be unpacking that in my next few posts.

What has God called you to be and to do? You might like to share with others by commenting, I’d certainly be interested in hearing, and if you have no idea how about asking God and then listening to what he has to say?



Reading Mark Together – Chapter 15 The End…

Events move fast in Mark 15. Jerusalem was occupied territory of the Romans and so the Jews did not hold the ultimate authority here and had no authority to demand a person be executed, that had to go to the Romans. As a result the religions leaders had to take Jesus to Pilate and persuade him to agree to their demands that Jesus be executed, but they didn’t go alone, by this time they had a crowd along.

That itself is worth recognising because one of the things that was feared by the leaders of all Jewish cities was a dissent that would lead to rioting. Why? Because the result would be a Roman backlash, the killing of many innocent Jews and a greater force of Roman occupation. But here the Chief Priests stir up the crowd in order to have Jesus crucified. And faced with an unruly crowd Pilate took the route of least resistance – he gave them what they wanted.

So Jesus was handed over to be crucified. But his torture didn’t start on the cross. it started in the courtyard of the Roman garrison where he was flogged. This was not a gentle telling off, it was brutal torture from which some people died. If we look back to the Old Testament we find this torture and suffering prophesied. Read the passage from Mark alongside Isaiah 53 and allow God to speak to you about the Love of Jesus.

Who has believed our message?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.
He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.
By oppression and judgment He was taken away;
And as for His generation, who considered
That He was cut off out of the land of the living
For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?
His grave was assigned with wicked men,
Yet He was with a rich man in His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.
But the LORD was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.
As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.

And so we come to the crucifixion. We read this knowing the end of the story, it is like reading a good novel, but reading the last chapter before you read the first. Try reading is as if you didn’t know the end. Ask yourself what those who were watching would have thought/felt. Ask yourself what it would have been like to carry Jesus’ body from the cross to the tomb. And finally ask yourself what it would have been like to see the stone rolled across the entrance to the tomb. Live with Good Friday for a while. Thank Jesus for his deep and great love for you.

Reading Mark Together – Chapter 14 Betrayal and Denial

In Mark 14 we have Jesus at the start of the last week of his life earthly. He is anointed in what must have been a very emotional and moving way for him. We then have one of those connections in Scripture that we often look past. Then ….. Then Judas Iscariot went to find a way to betray Jesus. What was it about this last event that wound Judas up so much that he took this step? This was not the only event that led Judas on his path, but it was the final event that led to betrayal, so what was it about this woman and Jesus acceptance of her?

We don’t have an answer in the passage so we can only suppose. Was it the waste of money and extravagance on Jesus – the poor were in more need? Was it that Jesus has received this ministry from a woman – in Jewish society of the time they came a long way behind the men? Was it the statement of Jesus afterwards about being anointed for burial?

We don’t know what it was, but it is likely that this last step to betrayal had started with a  small seed many weeks or months before. This seed was not good seed planted by the sower but thorns planted by the enemy. The mistake that Judas made was in not recognising and uprooting the thorns when they were planted.

We may look at Judas and say we would never have done that, but all of us have the possibilities for turning our backs on Jesus and betraying him. We need to make sure that we recognise the seed and where it has come from and uproot the thorns of rebellion, denial and betrayal as soon as they are planted.

But Judas wasn’t the only one to turn his back on Jesus, Peter did too. I think that sometimes Peter gets bad press. When you look at the situation he walked into the hornets nest, and out of the 12 close disciples and the 72 other disciples, or followers Peter was the only one who had the guts to follow Jesus to try to see what was happening and perhaps to find the opportunity to express his love for Jesus in freeing him. All the rest had retreated to a safe distance. But that still does not mitigate or excuse Peter’s denial of Jesus. But before we get too critical let’s ask ourselves how many times we have failed to stick up for Jesus, how many times when we have been asked about the values and priorities in our lives we have failed to state our love for Jesus and in doing so have denied him.

In Peter’s denial is a reflection of the reality which many of us know. We too have denied Jesus, either overtly as Peter did when asked if we follow him, or by omission, by failing to stand up for him when we should do. So Peter begins to weep. Having stated that he would follow Jesus to death, he has denied Jesus and he now knows that and is heartbroken about it. Peter lives with that pain through the coming days until he is restored lovingly and wonderfully by Jesus himself.

Reflect on times when you have not stood up for Jesus in the way you would want to. What was there in you, or in the situation that prevented you from saying that you were a follower of Jesus? Ask God to forgive you for those times, and to empower you in his Spirit so that next time you will speak and stand for his love and life.

Reading Mark Together – Mark 13 What Impresses You?

The Temple was certainly impressive, the first temple was built by King Solomon. However this is not the temple that the disciple refers to. That temple was destroyed by the Babylonians when they conquered Israel and took the people into exile. The temple was rebuilt about a century later and we read about that in the book of Ezra. That is the temple that the disciple is referring to and that temple had been refurbished by Herod The Great about 30 years before Jesus was born. There is little left today of the Temple, or the platform on which it was built. But there is enough to still be impressed by it’s size and scale.

The Temple impressed this disciple – what impresses you? Maybe it is a wonderful building, maybe a wonder of engineering or the solution to an academic problem. It may be art or sculpture or sporting success.

Jesus’ response to this comment about the impressive nature of the temple was that it would be destroyed with not one stone left upon another. That prophecy came true in 70AD when then temple was once again destroyed by the Romans.

As I thought about that I started to think about the way that we can sometimes be taken in by the impressive nature of things in the world around us. It may be in bricks and mortar, or in the size of a bank balance or in the possessions we own. We can come to trust and rely on these things, not knowing that they can be removed in moments. If we come to trust and rely on these things we have a false hope and a false trust because all of these things can be gone in a moment.

Instead our trust our hope and our reliance is on God who can always be trusted.