Lent challenge

Lent Challenge – “Still”

Today’s prompt is “still”, and I have been thinking about how that relates to Lent and what it means as a Christian. I couldn’t help but think of the hymn “Be still for the presence of the Lord”, in that it both commands and reassures us at the same time. Jesus commanded the storm to “be still” (Matthew 8:26 and Mark 4:39), and Psalm 107 also talks about the one who stills the storm – timely reminders in the bad weather we have experienced recently in the UK.

If you are not familiar with the words and music of this hymn then be still awhile and let this video reach out and touch you.

God commands us to “be still” too when he tells us we should observe the Sabbath each week. I plan to do that tomorrow both at church for morning worship and at home for rest and relaxation with my family.

The Lent Challenge will continue on Monday where the prompt is “celebrate”.


Lent challenge

Lent Challenge – “Refresh”

Today’s #LentChallenge prompt is “refresh”, which made me think about spiritual refreshment as much as the physical type. One of my favourite places to be is by the seaside and lighthouses hold a particular fascination for me, which is why I chose this photo to share with you today.

As a Christian, there is a subtext to the inclusion of a lighthouse in this picture representing “refreshment”, in that Christ is the Light of the World. I also like the reflection on top of the rock in the foreground of this this photo. The church is built on Peter (the rock), and as one of the first disciples Peter is one of the first to reflect and share the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

I am looking forward to a period of refreshment this summer on the Northumberland coast. It is one of my favourite places to be – vast skies, vast beaches, few people, space to reflect and relax. And one or two castles, churches and lighthouses to explore too.



Lent challenge

Lent Challenge – “Follow”

There are different ways to interpret today’s prompt of “follow”. In today’s social media based world, to “follow” someone means something different from when I was a child. Then, the idea of following someone was usually meant as part of a game, or when the teacher took us on a trip out to the swimming baths and we had to walk in a line, following the one in front.

That’s the sense of “follow” that I wanted to write about today, were to “follow” implies that there is first of all a leader, and second, a destination. In terms of Christianity, we follow Jesus. He is our leader and our destination is heaven, no?


But what we do along the journey is as important (if not more so) as the destination. In following Jesus, we are called to spread God’s word and invite others to follow him too. It is in that call and response that God’s kingdom is grown here on earth as more people become followers of Christ, and those followers become true disciples.

There are different ways to respond to that call, and I have found that in different phases of my life my response has been wildly different. I have responded with noisy enthusiasm, with joy and with an almost crusading spirit at some points, and at others, my response in that call to follow Jesus has been quiet, contemplative and personal. During this time of Lent, my response has been more on the quiet and contemplative side, and as we progress towards Easter I am curious to find how that response changes.


My Song Is Love Unknown

We sang “My Song Is Love Unknown” tonight at Bible study, and I was struck by a couple of lines.

Here is a link to the hymn as sung by the King’s College, Cambridge Choir and below is a photograph of the bit that stood out for me.

I love this hymn for many reasons, and depending on when we sing it and at what festival or occasions, different things speak to me at different times. Tonight I was struck by verse 5:

Especially the lines that describe how the Prince of Life (Jesus) went cheerfully to his suffering (I’m paraphrasing slightly). When we sang it, it made me think of two things: first, that Jesus would do that for us, to die for us, and second, that no matter what our lot in life, no matter how difficult our circumstances or tasks ahead, we can take heart from the fact that when Jesus went to the cross for us, he did so “cheerfully”. If he can do that for us, what can we do for others in that same attitude?

The burdens we are given to bear are nothing like the burden Jesus carried for us, and yet we struggle, grumble, complain and fight against them. The lesson here in this hymn is that if he can do that for us, we owe it to him to bear our own burdens just as cheerfully and willingly.



Recognising Jesus

I was privileged to lead, preach and pray in my church this morning, and I thought to share with you on here too. The readings were Hebrews 2: 14 – 18, and Luke 2: 22-40, and the children were present throughout our worship this morning – they usually go for their own teaching during worship to Sunday School, but they stayed in the main service today.

Sermon Text

It doesn’t seem like it, but Christmas was only a month ago. I don’t know about you, but for me, the month since Christmas has felt nothing like the month of Advent before it.

I was at St Mary’s for their Advent Sunday service, and I preached about waiting. The kinds of things that we wait for, what it feels like to wait, waiting for something which you know is going to be special, but without knowing exactly what. I’m sure you remember the feeling of waiting and preparation for Christmas during Advent, but there is more to the type of Advent waiting that was going on when people were waiting for the Messiah in the first place.

Let me show you a clip of a video which shows us another type of waiting.

You see how excited Jessie is to meet Woody? See how she leaps around…”it’s you! it’s you!”. She can’t keep herself still with the excitement of finally meeting Woody, someone she has been wanting to meet for such a long time.

Contrast her reaction with the old Prospector. He was more sedate, awestruck even. He talked about how he has waited “such a long time” to meet – as he calls it – the Prodigal Son. He says “we have waited countless years for this”.

Did you notice too, that Woody was surprised that the Prospector used his name? Jessie tells him “everyone knows your name, Woody”.

So we have someone who everybody knows is coming, who people have been waiting a long time for, and for whom everybody is thrilled and awestruck at finally meeting. If we watch the next bit of the film, we learn that Woody has got a purpose, of bringing the Round Up gang back together, of restoring them to the glory days if you like.

Sounds a bit like waiting for Jesus doesn’t it?

But there’s more to it than that, and this is where our Gospel reading today comes in.

Now I’m not for one minute suggesting that we can substitute Jesus and Woody, but we can draw a comparison to the expectations and excitement that both Jesus and Woody drew from people around them.

In our Gospel reading, we heard how Anna and Simeon both recognised Jesus, and who both gave thanks for his arrival and then prophesied about his future.

Jesus was in the temple that day because Mary and Joseph were required to present him soon after birth, according to the law. He was to be brought to the temple, and as the first born son, he was to be dedicated to the Lord. We know now, 2000 years later, that he was the Lord, but back then at only a month old, nobody else – except Simeon and Anna – did.

Simeon was first to proclaim he recognised who Jesus was, and like the Prospector in our video, said he had always known this day would come, and that he had waited a long time for it. He prayed to God, with that familiar passage that we know now as the Nunc Dimittis, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace”

Simeon prophesies about Jesus and his purpose here on earth. He says he will be “a light for the revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel”. Simeon recognised, with guidance from the Holy Spirit (verse 26), that Jesus’ purpose was twofold: to bring light to the Gentiles, and to the glory of Israel. In other words, to all people.

If you remember, the Israelites were waiting for the Messiah to come to restore them, but Simeon says that he was to bring light to the Gentiles also. Not just healing and redemption of one people, but of all people.

Although we don’t hear Anna’s words in this reading, Luke does record that she also spoke of Jesus’ redemptive purposes.

We hear more about why and how Jesus came to earth in our other reading today, from Hebrews. In it, we are told that God came in human form as Jesus, a fully formed human being. Flesh and blood, with fears, loves, temptations and emotions. Jesus was long awaited, and fully human. He was at one with his people here on Earth, and as both Anna and Simeon said when he was a tiny baby presented at the temple a month after his birth, with a job to do.

And so, where does that leave us? Today, here in Blackley [and in our communities wherever we are]?

We are reminded at the end of our Gospel reading that Mary and Joseph were on their way back to Nazareth soon after they had presented Jesus in the temple, in other words, going back to normal life after their precious son was born. And so it is for us. Christmas is over, and it’s time to get on with normal life again.

But for us, like it was for Mary and Joseph, having Jesus in our lives means that there is a new meaning to the word “normal”. What is normal life when we have Jesus at its heart? I suppose that is a topic for a different sermon, but it is definitely something to think about as we approach our Lenten sermon and prayer series.

We are going to dismantle our Crib Scene shortly which was put together by the children at the Crib Service on Christmas Eve. We will pray as we do so, for our community, for our church and for our world. The waiting for Simeon was over, for he had seen the Lord, but for us, the wait for Christ’s coming again goes on. And as we wait, we pray that just as Jesus, the Messiah, the healer and bringer of redemption, was recognised by Anna and Simeon in the temple that day, that we too recognise Jesus in the faces and in the lives of those around us today.



Prayers of Intercession
(during which the children removed the various figures, leaving Jesus in his crib)

The Wise Men 

Lord, may these figures of the Wise Men remind us of those who travel across continents to find what they are looking for. We remember especially those who flee from war torn countries, who seek to escape violence and hate filled regimes. We ask that you comfort those who are frightened, those who are hurting and those who seek peace. We pray especially for leaders of our nations and our communities, that they receive your wisdom to be act in the good of all people. We remember those too who give of everything they have in the name of their faith in Jesus Christ.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The Shepherds 

Lord, may these figures of the Shepherds remind us of those who society does its best to ignore. Those who are trapped in poverty, those on the fringes and don’t know how to join in, those who feel they are not good enough. As Jesus took human form, remind us that he is present in everybody we meet. Give us words of love and acceptance to speak to those who don’t feel they deserve it. Equip us to help those on the edges by bringing them in. Remind us that the good news of Jesus’ birth was shared with such as these.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

The Angels 

Lord, may the figures of these angels remind us of the connection we feel with heaven through these very prayers, and the prayers we offer each day to you. Remind us as we pray that we are not alone, and just as the angels carried messages of Jesus’ birth, give us the words to say to people we meet to share his good news with them.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

Mary and Joseph 

Lord, your precious gift of Jesus was born to Mary, and he was raised by Joseph until he reached the time of his ministry. As we remove these figures from the crib, we are reminded that for them, like us, with Jesus in our midst there is a new normal to be found. We ask ourselves how can we ever be the same again after meeting Jesus, and we ask you now to refresh us and renew us daily, putting him at the centre of all.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

And as we close our prayers, and before we say the Lord’s prayer together, let us just pause for a moment to consider Jesus who is left behind in the crib as a reminder that he lives amongst us, and is present in all our actions and interactions with other people. Lord, we ask that you open our eyes to recognise him, just as Simeon and Anna did in the temple that day.

And so we say together the words that Jesus taught us:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your Kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom,
the power and the glory are yours.
Now and for ever.





Christianity, General/Journal

On Placement – Part One

It has been a while since I updated you all about what’s happening with my spiritual journey so I thought today was a good day to share with you where I am up to.

You may know that I am currently in the stage of discerning God’s call and what it means for me and my life, and having gone through several stages of inspection and indeed introspection, I am now moving on to another stage of my journey.

I have been given a date to attend a Bishop’s Advisory Panel (BAP for short) in September, where I will go through a three-day “interview” process where I may – or may not – be recommended to go for further training in the church. As part of the process so far I have seen two vocational advisors and an examining chaplain as well as having several conversations with the Diocesan Director of Ordinands (DDO) about what God’s call sounds like to me. During that process, it has been highlighted that I have little experience of church outside my own circle, and so I have arranged to do a short placement with a neighbouring parish to see how they do things there.

I started my placement today at St Michael’s in Alkrington, and I am going to be there for the next three Sundays with a view to learning as much as I can from a different priest-in-charge and from the congregation there.

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It has been a long day – my first service was at 8am this morning – but I have met lots of new people and seen three different styles of worship with three different congregations. First was a said Eucharist, which means that we shared holy communion but there were no hymns and all of the prayers and responses were spoken not sung. Next was a service at 9.30am which was a sung Eucharist, which you can probably work out is where we share communion but sing hymns and responses. Both services were very different from that which I am used to, but it helped me focus on the reasons why we “do” worship in church, and how we relate to each other as fellow worshippers.

I had a cup of tea after the service with some of the congregation members and I think I have found a new set of friends in the needlework group who meet on a Monday afternoon! The ladies there promised me a noisy afternoon of knitting and nattering so I’m going to take my crochet hooks with me and head off tomorrow for some fun and chats with them. I also spoke to a gentleman who at the grand age of 93 still plays euphonium in the church brass band, and with whom I have a “date” on Thursday evening at band practice.

Later on, I went to a Family Service which was a totally different service in terms of style for families who are looking to have their children in faith schools. There was over 70 children there and wow, what an experience!

I was introduced to all three congregations and prayers were offered for me and my vocational call. I was touched and humbled by the response of the church today because I don’t remember ever being the focus of attention quite so much before, and to know that there are about 200 people who prayed for me today was an amazing feeling.

I have learned a lot of things today – not least that 93 year old gentlemen can use a smartphone better than some children can! – and I am looking forward to spending the next couple of weeks with this group of lovely people and sharing ministry and mission with them for a short while.

So. My pre-BAP placement has begun and so too has the next stage of my discernment journey. I hope to keep you up to date with how things progress, and I’ll perhaps blog about what is involved with BAP too as things progress there.


Lent Challenge 2017


Lent Challenge – Wilderness

gobi desert.jpgWhen I think of the word “wilderness” a couple of things spring to mind. First of all I get the mental picture of a wide expanse of emptiness, with no visible living presence anywhere. I see dusty rocks and dry river beds, dried out husks of stunted trees with maybe a tumbleweed or cactus to break up the never-ending vista.

But then the image changes and the emptiness is gradually filled with forest life; big tall trees, grasses and ferns, cat-like creatures skulking threateningly in the shadows, a river tumbling and boiling its way down a valley in the middle distance.

forest wilderness.jpg

In both of these scenes there is an overwhelming sense of emptiness, being alone, and of fear. Those three feelings dominate and hint at what being in a wilderness means to me, and you may well have your own ideas about what a wilderness looks like and feels like to you.

The 40 days of Lent represent the time Jesus spent in the wilderness fasting after he was baptised. During that time, he was tempted by the devil in three ways: materialsm, hedonism and egoism. John the Evangelist calls them “lust of eyes”, “lust of body” and “pride of life” respectively and they corrupt the three main things that make us human; that we think (mind), wish (soul) and feel (heart).

The wilderness for Jesus in the Bible is portrayed by Matthew, Mark and Luke as being a physical place, with corporeal and material components to it and many people in our contemporary life make a living from existing in the wilderness or by showing us how to exist in it. Think Bear Grylls for example, or Ray Mears. They know how to living alongside the nothingness of the wilderness, and how to conquer the fears and desolation of being alone in it and they quite willingly share their knowledge with others.

But what about the wilderness that isn’t a physical place, but is a mental one instead?

I have experienced times in my life where I have felt the desolation and emptiness of being in an emotional wilderness, and – ironically – I’m sure I haven’t been alone in going through it. I have experienced poor mental health, including post natal depression and clinical depression on several occasions, family problems and emotional breakdowns. I live with an ongoing health condition which affects my daily life, and for as long as I can remember I have had financial worries and difficultIes. Both the visual images I have of being in the wilderness can be applied to the experiences I have had of being emotionally and mentally challenged. I can remember the times where everything felt as dry as dust, with nothing living in my soul and nothing except a hot sun beating down on me wearing me down day by day. There have been days where instead of the hot sun there has been the relentless rain in a darkened forest, with the threat from unknown wild animals lurking around every tree. They are the days where it feels that to make a step forward means to put myself further in danger, and to expose myself to further threat, but to stand still means letting my feet sink into the rotting layers of leaf mulch and mud. Those are the days where the choice of moving forward is as dangerous as standing still, all the while keeping senses on high alert for further threat from unknown and unseen sources.

I think we all go through situations like that, and for the most part, we work our way through them eventually with varying degrees of ease and success. But there are times when the wilderness really does feel endless, and the lurking threat really does feel real enough to paralyse us. There are times when it really does feel like there is an absence of another living soul, and like for Jesus, those are the times when we are at our most vulnerable.

In the past, I have questioned my purpose, and questioned whether there is any point to going on living. I have recognised the presence of other people in my life and that they need me to keep going, but it hasn’t felt enough to make me believe my own worthiness. Obviously I haven’t succumbed to those feelings – I’m still here after all – but I can see how it is for those who feel that their personal wilderness will never change and that there really isn’t anything worth living for. The lurking beasts, the hot desert, the relentless cold and damp rain, the arid dust bowl extending far out into the future all mount up and it is hard to fight against it all.

anxiety and depression.jpg

It’s at those times when some of us turn to other things to help us through, where we can allow the corruption and perversion of our human spirit to take place. Whether it is through the desire to spend money (whether we have it or not) on material things, or through alcohol and drugs to try to numb the pain, or even through the pursuit of relationships (even if they are bad for us) to make ourselves feel less alone, we can allow the wilderness to dominate and control us if we are not careful.

Whatever the reason we find ourselves in a personal wilderness, we need to remember that things are not always as they first appear. There are signs of life – small plants taking root in the dry earth against the odds, streams of water forcing their way up through the rocks, overhead there will be birds in the sky and on the horizon there will be a sunset or a sunrise bringing the promise of endings and new beginnings.  When we accept that all is not as terrifyingly lonely as we first felt it to be, we can perhaps get a sense that the things we are threatened by are not actually threats, but opportunities and chances to thrive and to grow.

In the same way we might look to the Bear Grylls of this world to help us in a physical wilderness, we need someone to help us with the spiritual and emotional ones too. For some people it may be professional counsellors and doctors, for others trusted family and friends. For yet others it may be a matter of revisiting the source of all guidance, comfort and wisdom and that is our creator, God.

However we view our personal wildernesses, we must remember that as with Lent, they are a fleeting phase and that they do come to an end at some point. Nobody can exist in a spiritual and emotional wilderness, and it is reassuring to know that they do come to an end eventually.