Thursday, September 28, 2017


The man who slipped into the building early doors to light a candle and sit for a few moments before slipping back out again; and the couple who came and sat in the same space a little later on.

The older couple, come with their daughter and brand new granddaughter, to discuss their upcoming renewal of wedding vows.

The couple who came in to look around at the architecture. The smattering of people who came in to catch the art exhibition; and the artists here to begin to take it out again.

The two ladies arranging flowers as a last act of loving service to the member of our congregation whose funeral will be held on Monday.

The workmen tearing out a wall and old toilet to make way for a new servery in the vestry.

The crowd of women of all shapes and sizes here to attend Weight Watchers; and the crowd of men and women of all shapes and sizes having lunch in the café.

Another man, sitting in the pews towards the back of the nave while three women attended the lunchtime Communion in the chapel.


Do not follow your heart; train it

From the Lectionary readings set for Morning Prayer today:

‘Trust in the LORD, and do good;
so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
Take delight in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.’
Psalm 37:3, 4

The heart is the seat of the will, or our capacity to make choices, to choose right from wrong, good or evil. According to Psalm 37, the deepest desires of the heart are for the security that comes through justice. However, the psalm also recognises the human propensity to seek short-cuts to security through other means—wealth, power, possessions—which lead us to exploit our neighbour, and so undermine the very thing we desire. The antidote is to take delight in the LORD.

Do not follow your heart; train it.

Great questions to ask local evangelists

What is saving your life right now?

Or, what is exciting you at present? Or, what gives you joy?

Where / with whom are you sharing this?

Who has expressed an interest, and how have you encouraged them, or, who else have you introduced them to?

What good do you see in us, as a community?

Evangelists at the local level

An aside: I was recently with a group of around forty or so fellow clergy, and we were asked to engage in an exercise. Having all completed an APEST profile (which weights your natural preference as primary, secondary, and three tertiaries) we were to set aside our ST scores, and get into groups according to our highest A, P or E score. 70-75% identified as evangelists (15-20% as apostles, and 10% as prophets—though the majority of those identifying as apostles or prophets were facilitators of our gathering). Bear in mind that this group included evangelists as primary, secondary, or strongest tertiary gifting. The weighting is not as surprising as might be imagined: shepherds and evangelists are the two most people-oriented gifts, and this carries considerable weight in our selection criteria for clergy. The good news for church leaders is that we are better story-tellers of good news in our communities than we realise. The potential pitfalls are that we can become isolated (the recruiter tends not to invest in relationship with those already convinced) and that, when discouraged, we can become potent harmful (self-harming the Body of Christ) gossips.

Evangelists are infectious tellers of whatever they consider to be good news.

I’m thinking of two friends of mine. I know that one is an evangelist from how he talks about bees. He is a bee-keeper, and a most winsome story-teller, and his passion flows out of him like honey from a comb. I know that the other is an evangelist from how he talks about science-fiction, from Dr Who to the classic novels of the sci-fi genre. He is irrepressible on this topic that he loves, always searching for others who might already share or be persuaded of the merits of his interest—to the point of being embarrassing sometimes.

As it happens, both these friends are vicars. But they are not evangelists because they are vicars, or even because they are Christians. They are evangelists because they are made that way. And they are evangelists, whether they have social confidence, which can rise and fall within each of us, let alone vary from person to person, or not.

There are a great many good things going on in our churches—support with childcare, social engagement for the elderly, the gathering and distribution of food to those in very real financial hardship, support to get out of debt, advocacy for asylum seekers, to name but a few—and in our wider communities. But we are not very good at telling the stories, at getting the word out that it is good to be alive in this place at this time, and perhaps even that Jesus might be at the heart of it. The gift of evangelists is not only as people who can naturally tell these stories for us, but even more so, as people who can help us all learn to tell our stories better.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Great questions to ask local prophets

What are we missing? / blind to in the present?

What is coming at us from just beyond the horizon, and what changes do we need to make now in order to be ready?

What information is backing up / informing your gut intuition?

In what ways have we forgotten our story / core values?

How are you modelling an alternative lifestyle, and to whom?

Prophets at the local level

An aside: I was recently with a group of around forty or so fellow clergy, and we were asked to engage in an exercise. Having all completed an APEST profile (which weights your natural preference as primary, secondary, and three tertiaries) we were to set aside our ST scores, and get into groups according to our highest A, P or E score. Among us, only two (clergy, and another two facilitators) identified as prophet (note that this may be as primary, secondary, or even strongest tertiary gifting). This is not especially surprising: as a generalisation, prophets make poor ‘senior church leaders’ (I say that as a prophet). Nonetheless, there are more within the Body, and even more outside of the church, as artists, musicians, activists, eco-warriors, mystics…

I’m thinking of a friend of mine who is a prophet (if I were to hazard a guess, with evangelist secondary preference) married to a teacher (a lover of learning new things—if I were to hazard a guess, with apostle as secondary preference—and passing that learning on to others). They work well together. Her intelligence is prophetic, and this informs how she sees the world and makes decisions, in a wide range of interests or concerns. One such area would be environmental issues, eschewing ‘essential items’ such as private car ownership, a conventional refrigerator, and the use of plastic containers, and adapting life to embrace such inconvenience. This might easily be mistaken for middle-class eccentricity, but there is no affectation to it, nor short-term faddy-ness. I could easily continue to cite other areas of their lives.

Although it is possible for prophetic voices to be amplified until change reaches a tipping-point, it may be that the prophet simply inhabits the future as an advance guard, until the rest of us arrive there not by choice and need to learn how to live in this post-apocalypse (whatever the apocalypse in question might be).

That said, the church is a community within the community, and perfectly formed to allow the amplification of the prophetic voice (if we are prepared to listen), resulting in not only individuals but communities inhabiting the future, getting ready to invite others in.

Who is your prophet?

Great questions to ask local apostles

Where are you heading? / Where have you been today?

Who did you meet today?

What changes are you noticing in the neighbourhood? [These may be small; may be changes for the better, or for the worse; may be seasonal: what is the new thing hiding-in-plain-view in the familiar place?]

I’m/we’re thinking about doing x: do you know anyone with relevant skills or experience who might be able to help us out?

What is interesting you right now?

Apostles at the local level

Apostles are particularly concerned with environments and networking. Or, in the extension of healthy environments, through networking.

I’m thinking of Jeanie. Jeanie is a little old lady, who walks the dogs in our neighbourhood. She carries an enormous bunch of keys (it is quite safe for her to do so: not only is she always accompanied by a dog, or dogs; but the keys are identifiable only by pet name, not address). I don’t know her full name or where she lives or her phone number. I don’t know the boundaries of the territory she walks, several times a day, every day. But I do know that if I need to speak with her, to arrange her looking after our cat when we go away on holiday, I need only keep an eye out for her: it won’t take long. I often pass her on the pavements.

Jeanie’s motivation isn’t pastoral. She is much more interested in the dogs (and cats) of the neighbourhood than in their humans (this is an observation, not a criticism). She does not have animals of her own, and enjoys the benefits of dog-walking without the down-side of vet’s bills. It suits her, and it provides a (free) service to the community. Without anyone really knowing how she has done it, Jeanie has created a network of clients, and indirectly a network of neighbours. She carries within herself a very particular kind of intelligence (or, the gathering and collating and application of information within the community). There is a somewhat intangible but very real sense in which she holds the neighbourhood together: at whatever point Jeanie no longer does what she does, the community will feel the loss of her.

This is classic, if not immediately obvious, apostolic behaviour, at a very local level. Jeanie isn’t going to change the world, but she makes a significant difference to this corner of it. As an aside, Jeanie is an introvert: we often expect apostles to be social extraverts, but they are not necessarily so—another reason we might overlook some.

Jeanie isn’t a member of our congregation. In fact, I have no idea where she stands in relation to faith. But she, or someone like her, could be. In what way might that be a gift to us?

Many of our churches have well-established pastoral networks, caring for members of the congregation. We tend to be less well-networked regarding the wider community. Not necessarily less well-connected: every member of every church congregation has connections with people beyond the congregation; but networking is more intentional, joining-the-dots between our connections. Asset-based community development (ABCD: starting from the resources within a community, as opposed to starting with the needs facing that community—and I’d argue that APEST is all about ABCD) is more-or-less impossible without apostles.

So, who is your Jeanie?

APEST at the local level

It is my contention that apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers are to be found distributed within our church congregations and parish communities. Indeed, as I have written elsewhere, everyone is included in this mix. Of course, the distribution is not even—a healthy interaction between renewal and stability needs fewer APEs than STs—and it may be that in our smallest congregations not all five types of people are present. As a church seeking to equip and release the whole Body of Christ, in some places the Church of England might need to think more creatively at the Deanery (a grouping of parishes; a larger pool) level (and, indeed, is doing so in places). Moreover, some people are called to live out their vocation at a very localised level, others with wider influence: in each case, a person is given the needful proportion of gifting. So, it is easy to miss the apostles, prophets, evangelists, (and even, though more familiar) shepherds and teachers even where they are present in our most localised communities, especially if the picture we hold of these people-types is shaped by higher-profile examples.

With this in mind, I thought I’d write a short series of posts on identifying APEST gifting at the local level.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Of mountains and seas

From the Lectionary readings for Morning Prayer today:

“Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgements are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O LORD.”
Psalm 36:5, 6

‘Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you.”’
Mark 11:22, 23

Jesus’ words are spoken in the context of his having passed judgement on the fig tree (one of many symbols of the people of Israel) for not having borne up fruit to him, and on the temple for having robbed the (gentile) nations of the courtyard provided for them as a house of prayer.

The sea, then, as in Psalm 36, represents God’s judgement, which is as great and mysterious as the deep. Nonetheless, that judgement is not necessarily the final word. Jesus tells his disciples that they can ask God to move the mountain of his righteousness—the sure and enduring image of relationship as it was intended to be—into the sea, or place (or act) of judgement.

Jesus clears the temple not to destroy the temple but to restore the Court of the Gentiles to its rightful purpose. (Though the withered fig tree warns us that one day it will be too late.)

Where do we see evidence of God’s judgement on our churches and on our society? Jesus’ instruction is that we take up God’s righteousness and throw it into those places: that these are the very opportunities for restored relationship with God and neighbour.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

On gender

Genesis 1-3 is a foundational text for Jews and Christians. It acknowledges one thing that women can do that men can’t—childbirth (but see below)—but nothing that men can do that women can’t.

In Genesis 1, human beings, explicitly male and female, are to ‘rule over’ the earth: no division of roles in bringing potential to its fullness.

Genesis 2 envisages companionship—implying mutuality, and presence to one another. Woman is described as relating to man as a ‘suitable’ or ‘corresponding’ (again, mutuality) ‘helper’ (no hierarchy to helping, or working alongside, one another) or ‘warrior’ (traditionally perceived as a male role, but not here, or at least not solely; the term is later also used of God, in whose image male and female are made).

In Genesis 3, things go pear-shaped. There are consequences to this. These are addressed to the man and to the woman, but they are not mutually exclusive; rather, each consequence address each sex. The consequence addressed to the man is that the work he does with the woman will become harder. The consequence addressed to the woman is that (without God as midwife) the work she does that the man can’t do (but he can help, as I did at the birth of all 3 of our children) will become more painful; also that their relationship will be(come) complicated. The response of the man to the desire of the woman to not be left alone in the work of bringing forth a child will be to ‘rule over’ her, which implies both the working to bring potential to fullness (as per Genesis 1) but also (now) a relating to co-regent as subject. It will get messy...

This ancient poetical text is an inspired observation of the relationship between men and women. It recognises difference, and sameness—and a minefield! It does not support exclusively ‘masculine roles’ and ‘feminine roles,’ or affirm gender-stereotyped outlooks such as ‘boys are more physical’ and ‘girls are emotionally aware.’ Indeed, it opposes such views.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Jeez knees

The Lectionary readings for Holy Communion today are Colossians 1:9-14 and Luke 5:1-11.

Sometimes it is hard to be a follower of Jesus. That is why Paul’s daily prayer for the believers in Colossae—a community he had heard of from a friend of his, who happened to have started it—was: ‘May you be made strong in the strength that comes from God’s glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.’

They weren’t facing persecution, as the early Christians did from time to time, and many Christians around the world do today. It’s just hard, sometimes, being a follower of Jesus.

Paul’s sometime travel-companion Luke records the time when Jesus orchestrated a miraculous catch of fish, just to mess with the head of Simon Peter, a fisherman, who had worked a full night-shift and had nothing to show for it. Sometimes following Jesus is hard.

There’s this incredible moment when, the boat beginning to sink under a tsunami of sardines, Simon Peter ‘fell down at Jesus’ knees…’

Now, there are several occasions in the Gospels where it is recorded that someone fell down at Jesus’ feet, pleading him to help someone in serious danger, or thanking him for having done something wonderful for them, or even in overwhelming joy and adoration. It seems to be the kind of thing people do when Jesus shows up.

But in this episode, Simon Peter didn’t fall down at Jesus’ feet. Uniquely, he fell down at Jesus’ knees.

Why? Because Jesus is not stood before him. The implication of Simon Peter falling down at Jesus’ knees is that Jesus is on his knees.

Picture the scene: Jesus and Simon Peter are both on their knees, scooping up armfuls of slippery fish, trying to bail the boat out before it sinks, and in a moment in which time stands still their eyes meet. I can only imagine that the look of sheer terror on Simon Peter’s face is matched by Jesus’ most goofy expression: isn’t this amazing?!

You don’t need to be afraid, Simon. I’m right here with you, on our knees. I always will be.

And that is where we find Jesus, too. On his knees alongside us.

Putting in the heavy lifting.

Lightening our load.

Filling us with joy.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Dead man running

Look for me at 9.00 a.m. on a Saturday morning, and the chances are you’ll find me at parkrun. Here’s an insight into my internal thought process, what with me being an introvert, and all:

I. Am. Going. To. Die.

That’s it. On repeat.

The fact that I have yet to die while taking part has no bearing on this.

Likewise, neither does the fact that it is statistically highly unlikely that I will die out on the course.

Because the thought isn’t, This is going to kill me. The thought is:

I. Am. Going. To. Die.

And I am. And so are you.

Interestingly, the thought doesn’t seem to be connected to fitness, or even to running per se. I try to go out for a run, of comparable length or longer, twice during the week, and on those runs I find myself composing a sermon (I am a vicar) or working through a list of people I am praying for, or even thinking how good it is to be alive, and at some point I find that I have forgotten that my body is running at all.

But this never happens on a Saturday morning. On a Saturday morning, the sole thought, repeating like a mantra, is that I. Am. Going. To. Die.

You might think that morbid. You might think that I might run better times if I had more positive thoughts playing in my head. I think of it as a gift.

The fact is that I am mortal, and I am going to die.* However much we try to ignore it.

Those 25 minutes, give or take, on Saturday mornings put the whole of the rest of my week in focus. Which is a great trade-off.

Given that I am going to die, what does not matter? What do I need to do less, put down, or hand on?

And what really matters? What do I need to prioritise and guard the time for?

*Even if I believe that God loves me so much that he will give my life back to me.

Hearts and giraffes

When you walk to work with a heavy heart

not for any particular reason, just that some days your heart is heavy

and as you walk, you have a conversation with Jesus about how you are feeling

and (not only does he point out a giraffe in the bushes by the side of the path, putting a smile on your lips, but also)


then you have a meeting with someone you have never met before, and you end up talking for a couple of hours, and he asks if he can pray with you, and

though you did not ask him to pray about this

that stranger-become-new-friend prays specifically for your heavy heart, asking God to mend it in due time.


Saturday, September 02, 2017


I’m always struck by how many people feel the need to begin a conversation with me, or other clergy, with the words, “I’m not religious, but...”

Of course, they almost always are religious, at least in the sense that a significant part of their construction of meaning to life is found in something bigger than themselves, engaged with in community with others, according to highly prescribed rituals. Being committed to parkrun or being a season ticket holder at the Stadium of Light would be two obvious examples.*

So when they say, “I’m not religious, but...” perhaps what they are really saying is, “I would not have imagined myself to be having a conversation with a priest, but...seeing as you are here, I have a question I've been meaning to ask.”

The fun is in the number of places you can put yourself, to be asked. And in the diversity of questions, which really do range from the sublime to the ridiculous.

*Moreover, I’d want to suggest that human beings are, by nature, not only religious but also worshippers. I would describe worship as the pursuit of glory, in hope of participating in that glory, and my interest is in making connections between the universal religious- and worship-impulse, and the distinctive person of Jesus.