Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Sowing seed


St Nicholas’ Church houses an amazing collection of stained glass, almost all by Leonard Evetts, interpreting Christian faith in our context. One of my favourites is ‘Christ the sower of knowledge’ (1967) ‘surrounded by symbols of learning, the radar screen, a rocket, the torch of education, the snake of Asclepius for medicine, and plants at his feet for botany, biology and the environment.’

The kind of knowledge that saves us is relational: to know and be known, to offer ourselves for our neighbour and to be received by them—and in that welcome, born of mutual vulnerability, God is welcomed among us. As I come to be licenced as Priest in Charge, my prayer is that I might sow seeds, given by Jesus, that will equip us to be ready for the future that is breaking into our present (radar), empower us to go beyond the familiar (rocket), engage us in lifelong learning (torch), sustain us with healing for body and soul (snake), and inspire our care for God’s creation.

That’s a big prayer, and it will probably do for now.


Sunday, June 18, 2023

Moving, not moving


It was announced this morning that I have been appointed Priest in Charge of Bishopwearmouth St Nicholas.

This is the church to whom half of my time has been seconded since 2019, so we aren’t moving anywhere (we already live in the vicarage). But it does mean a new season of ministry.

I am thankful for all that God has done, and all that I have learnt, at Sunderland Minster since 2013. But I am also looking forward to all that is to come, and to being able to focus on blessing the community where I live.

This change takes place with immediate effect. The Bishop of Durham will licence me to my new role at a service to be held on 16th July (further details to follow).


Saturday, June 17, 2023

Spin cycle


One of the key ways I self-regulate in the face of the disorienting and emotionally exhausting combination of too much and too little information neurodiverse persons live with (for example, I have a fair degree of face blindness, which means I cannot tell apart most of the average-height white men I run with, which is really awkward as I muddle their names and the personal or family histories they have shared with me in previous conversations; see also the older women in my congregation; or the couple I met with this week to plan a baptism, whom I didn’t recognise as having done a funeral for) is to do laundry.

This means that my washing machine gets worked hard, and this in turn means that it needs repairing frequently.

On Monday gone, it died, yet again. This time was one time too many. We decided to replace it. We decided to replace it with a machine made by a small-scale, local (County Durham) manufacturer that Jo had come across, that had good eco- and quality-of-construction credentials. But this also meant a waiting time. Our new machine should be delivered on Tuesday coming.

This means that I am living for more than a week without a washing machine. With bedding and towels and everyday clothes (how many underpants do I need?) and running wear mounting up, and our daughter returning from university later today with more bedding.

This is not a so-called First World Problem, but a genuine neurodiversity challenge.

Of course, we have good, local friends who have offered use of their machines in the meantime, but I cannot bear the thought of using someone else’s machine. This is not pride or self-reliance, but, again, a neurodiversity issue.

My neurotypical wife, who does not do empathy (it is okay: I know that she loves me) asks for your thoughts and prayers for Andrew.


Thursday, June 15, 2023

Divine approval


Two verses from the readings set for Holy Communion today:

‘Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.’

2 Corinthians 3:17

‘For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’

Jesus, Matthew 5:20

‘Righteousness’ is a word that means divine approval. Jesus is speaking about God’s approval of you, and that unless you know that approval you cannot enter the experience of God’s goodness in the world. He continues, unless you know God’s approval, you will find yourself bound up in a competitive disapproval of others, that will leave you in a prison, a burning hellfire, of your own making.

But where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. Freedom from all that.

We are all shaped by our childhood experiences. By whether we felt the approval or disapproval of our parents. And this, in turn, affects how we view God.

If a child habitually experiences parental disapproval, she conforms herself to whatever rules and behaviours are rewarded with the approval of their parent and minimise the loss of that precarious approval. Eventually this becomes a burden too great to bear. They believe themselves to be deserving of disapproval and are likely to project disapproval onto others. Even worse for the child who never knows how their parent will react. The parent who is loving and kind when sober, and a volatile monster when drunk.

One will say, ‘Of course God approves of me; I’m a good person.’ But this is conditional, and underneath is the fear that if we ever mess up, we’ll lose the approval we have worked so hard to keep.

Or another would say, ‘If God really knew me, there’s no way he could approve of me.’ This is also conditional—and also misunderstands God.

As the early Church came to recognise, in and with and through Jesus, God’s approval of you, and me, is always and irrevocably Yes.

God approves of you.

Not because of what you have or have not done, but simply as the relational flow of God’s eternal nature, as revealed and fulfilled in the human Jesus of Nazareth, who was put to death by human beings who were set on holding onto a divine approval they couldn’t lose—but could refuse to benefit from—but raised to life again because God remains true to who God is. The God who approves, who approves of you.

As we come to know this, more and more deeply, we are transformed. We no longer need to disapprove of ourselves or others. Knowing we are loved, we are empowered to love ourselves, and, loving ourselves, to love our neighbour as ourselves.

That isn’t to say we don’t call out bad behaviour. Both Jesus and Paul do that! But right behaviour does not flow from keeping the rules, but from being set free from competitive disapproval.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And that is glorious, a glory that we see in increasing degrees reflected in one another’s faces. Which is to recognise that we might not start out free of the things that have held us captive, but that there is hope: we are not condemned to be imprisoned by the failings of our parents to receive the freedom God longed for them. Neither will the damage we inflict on our children determine their lives for ever.

God approves of you. In and with and through the person of Jesus, you have—and can know—divine approval.

And that is good news.


Tuesday, June 13, 2023



Today I have done something that I have secretly wanted to do for a long time but never before been brave enough to do, largely because of my dyspraxia.

There is a bowling club (lawn, not ten-pin) in the park five minutes’ walk from the vicarage. I often take a walk, or even go for a run, in the park, and so I knew that the bowling club is open every afternoon in the summer, for anyone to have a go (first time for free, thereafter £2/time) because there is a banner on the railings.

Today I went to the park and stood at the railings watching a younger woman having a 1-2-1 lesson and a group of retired men playing a practice game. One of the club members called out, inviting me to come inside the gate and have a seat in the shade rather than stand out in the sun. I politely declined. Then one of the group of men invited me to join in and have a go. Again, I initially declined. But after I had stood watching a little longer, I went through the gate, and started to chat with them.

I explained that I have dyspraxia (a spatial awareness and cognitive processing disability) and didn’t think I would be able to do it. They replied that the only way to know is to give it a go. So, I did. We played for plenty long enough for such a warm day—I lost track of time—and also had a mug of tea and shared a tin of biscuits.

Turns out, it isn’t as scary as I thought. Yes, my dyspraxia has a real impact. As you release the wood, or bowl, you are supposed to shift your weight from your back foot to your front leg, and I can’t process front and back or left and right or up and down. But, bowling four woods each end, I was, on average, sending two down very close to the jack, and two wide of the mark—which isn’t a bad average for a first go.

And at £2/time, I shall definitely wander along again, and get to know folk there.