Monday, 29 June 2009

ordination celebrations

From left: David Lowman (Archdeacon of Southend), Michele Marshall, Marion Walford, Sue Iskander, Bishop Laurie (Bishop of Bradwell), Carol Ball, Dave Chesney and Steve Spencer.

Great celebrations across the Diocese of Chelmsford yesterday with the Ordination of Priests. I had the privilege of attending the service for the Bradwell episcopal area at All Saints, Writtle. The service meant a great deal to me for several reasons; I had previously tained two of the priests as Readers and was involved in the ordination training of all six. Dave Chesney came to faith through an Alpha course during my time as Team Rector in Becontree West and one of the highlights of my ministry there was baptising Dave and his daughter together. Dave and his wife Sarah are godparents to my son and Dave is now serving as curate at Holy Trinity, Springfield in Chelmsford where my father was vicar during the 1970s. Talk about a small world. It was a long but very enjoyable day, rounded off with Dave celebrating his first Holy Communion in the evening. My only regret is that I was unable to attend the ordinations taking place in East London where another of my friends from my time in Becontree West, Ken Ashton, was being ordained priest.

Dave Chesney, Tim Ball (vicar of Holy Trinity, Springfield) and me.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

now that's what I call compline

Here's a new take on the service of Compline from The BCP Boys.

If you want the real thing go to Night Prayer.

h/t to @santospopsicles

Friday, 26 June 2009

iPhone application – a moral compass?


Over the past few days it can’t have escaped anyone’s notice that Apple have launched a new iPhone packed, as the blurb says, with new features. One of the new applications is a compass, so I trekked into the local O2 store to have a look and was quite impressed with the overall package. However, the charges for an iPhone + tariff are still extortionate so I think I’ll hold off for a while.

One of the secrets of the iPhone’s success has been identified as the massive market that has developed in applications for the device. Now I’ve spotted a gap in the market. What we really need is not a compass but, to use Gordon Brown’s phrase, a ‘moral compass’. The news in recent months has been full of stories that point to moral ambiguities and uncertainties not only at the heart of society but also in our hearts as citizens of that society; we seem to lack a framework for how we should live in relation to one another and the wider world around us.

habitat-store Habitat, the trendy high street store, has been attracting a great deal of opprobrium for its use of Twitter. The story is that some bright spark at Habitat thought it would be a good idea to attach Twitter hash tags connected with the situation in Iran to Tweets (twitter messages). When anyone entered #iran on Twitter to get an update on Iran the list of tweets would include those from Habitat directing people to particular products. It was a cheap marketing gimmick, in the poorest taste, exploiting the political turmoil in Iran. The ‘cunning plan’ has backfired in typical Baldrick manner and angered and alienated many users of Twitter and potential Habitat customers.

The chastened company has apologised profusely and sought to explain the situation and you can read more about the sorry tale here Habitat twits. Whether it was an individual’s mistake or a company decision to follow this marketing strategy, one has to ask why no one thought this was a bad idea. Bad, in the sense of it not going to work and also in the moral sense that it was wrong to exploit the Iranian turmoil to try and sell products. Would they ever have dreamed of using the deaths of British soldiers in Afghanistan to sell bed linen or cutlery? What moral framework do these companies and their employees operate within?

There are plenty of other examples. The politicians who racked up huge expenses on the most bizarre items because they could get away with it and ‘it was within the rules’. Did no alarm bell start ringing in their brains to suggest the rules were wrong? Wealthy financiers, employing armies of accountants to exploit the loopholes to ensure that they and their companies avoid paying tax on their astronomical earnings and profits. The same financiers who throw a hissy fit and threaten to leave the country as soon as a government minister threatens to close the loopholes. What ethical values inform their decisions and behaviour?

I feel uncomfortable when I read these stories and I feel uneasy commenting on them. Why? Because I wonder what I would do placed in the same situation. If I was an MP in parliament would I be caught up in the ‘everyone’s doing it’ (no they’re not) and ‘it is within the rules’ culture? When I fill in my tax return I know the temptation is there to pad the deductible allowances. One of the most sickening aspects of the moral outrage directed first at the bankers, then at MPs and now at BBC executives over salaries and expenses, is that many of those hurling the stones are not so very different.

Michael Gove, the Conservative Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, has had to pay back several thousand pounds of expenses. Before becoming an MP the same Michael Gove was a journalist. Now did Mr Gove experience an ontological change when he became an MP, so that he suddenly thought it was OK to do things he wouldn’t have done as a journo? The idea that journalists barclay brosare some how a different moral breed is laughable and I’ve heard more than the odd comment from journalists admitting that they are hardly pure when it comes to claiming expenses. Let us not forget that many of those who own and dictate the editorial policies of our media are not averse to ensuring the most favourable tax positions for themselves and very anxious to keep their finances away from public scrutiny. The Barclay brothers who own the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, which has led the MPs’ expenses campaign, dictate operations from their private fiefdom in the Channel Islands.

The simple truth is that all of us are flawed and in need of a moral compass. Just think about how many of us will vote at the next general election; can we honestly say that our voting intentions will be based on what will ensure the common good rather than what will favour our own personal circumstances?


Actually, now I come to think about it I already have a moral compass on my smart phone; it’s called The Bible. My problem is not that I don’t have a moral compass but that I don’t look at it enough and act on what it says.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

john the baptiser

Today we celebrate the birth of John the Baptist. The picture on the left is The Church of St John the Baptist in Ein Karem. I had the privilege of visiting Ein Karem, where tradition says John was born, last Advent and an account of my visit can be found here.

On the walls of the grounds surrounding the church are plaques with the words of The Benedictus in many different languages. This is the prophecy spoken by Zechariah when his wife Elisabeth gave birth to his son John Luke 1:68-79.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

a Bible meme

I've been tagged by Sam on this:

Name the five books (or scholars) that had the most immediate and lasting influence on how you read the Bible. Note that these need not be your five favourite books, or even the five with which you most strongly agree. Instead, I want to know what five books have permanently changed the way you think.

1. Search the Scriptures
This book was my introduction to daily Bible reading in the 1970s. The Bible is broken down into daily readings and accompanied by some questions intended to unpack the text and encourage reflection on how the passage relates to life today. I spent two weeks one summer in 1982 with a friend driving through France and each day we had a short time reading the Bible and praying using the pattern set by Search the Scriptures. I still have the three volumes in my study and my leather bound RSV Bible, a gift from my parents, notated with my answers to the Search the Scriptures questions. I’m afraid I took more than three years to work my way through it.

2. Jude: Dick Lucas
Dick Lucas is the former Rector of St Helen’s Bishopsgate and has been a key figure in the evangelical movement alongside John Stott. I played drums in a band that provided music for the youth events at the Keswick Convention in the early 1980s and I remember hearing Dick give a series of Bible expositions on the letter of Jude. This was my first experience of sustained expository teaching and it quenched a real thirst to wrestle with the Bible in a concentrated systematic manner. I still have the tapes of Dick’s Bible readings on Jude. Although I disagree with some of his application the key point that stood out for me at the time was his insistence that we cannot understand the New Testament, particularly a letter like Jude, without a thorough knowledge of the Old Testament. Throughout my studies, teaching and ministry this lesson has never been forgotten and is continually reinforced. I am grateful to Dick Lucas, Leith Samuel, John Stott and others for the way their passion for the scriptures enthused me among many others.

3. Romans: James D. G. Dunn
I went to study Theology at Durham University in 1982 just as Jimmy Dunn was appointed Lightfoot Professor of Divinity; a post he held until 2003. It is difficult to overstate just how important Dunn’s teaching and writings have been in shaping my understanding of the Bible and theology in general, but his were the lectures I never missed over three years. I literally hopped to his lectures on Romans during my second year when I broke my leg playing football. Dunn wrote his commentary on the Greek text of Romans during my time in Durham and so I had the privilege of hearing his work before it was published. He used to teach from his draft script, with a pencil behind his ear and as he spoke would occasionally make an alteration or note as he lectured and responded to our questions and comments. The commentary is brilliant because it works at so many levels; the analysis of the Greek, the unfolding of Paul’s theology and the application of each passage and exploration of its significance. I took so much for granted listening to a great Biblical scholar developing the New Perspective on Paul along with E. P. Sanders and Tom Wright. Dunn’s lectures were also very accessible as he taught with a clear structure which is reflected in many of his books. One final comment on Dunn, he practised what he preached and had a real engagement with the surrounding communities in the North East, reflected in his book The Kingdom of God and the North East of England.

4. Theology of the Old Testament: Walter Brueggemann
There are plenty of Old Testament scholars who have enriched my understanding and appreciation of the Old Testament but few have changed the way I view the Old Testament like Brueggemann. I love reading and using Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth, Brueggemann’s collection of prayers used before his lectures, but the most influential book is Theology of the Old Testament. The book begins with a magisterial overview of Old Testament theology before embarking on the central thesis of the richness of Israel’s testimony about God. This is a book that demonstrates why the reading of the Old Testament is so important in Christian worship and study. What comes through in this and other works is Brueggemann’s living faith and commitment to the purposes of God. I have seen students who, after a morning session exploring Brueggemann’s arguments, can’t wait to get back to the parish to preach and teach the Old Testament.

5. Daily Study Bible: William Barclay
I’m cheating here and naming two scholars. William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible, 17 commentaries on the New Testament, was his attempt at making the best Biblical scholarship available to the average reader. I ‘borrowed’ these books from my father and they have been a valuable aid in my preaching, teaching and leading of Bible studies. I don’t always agree with Barclay’s theology but these little books are packed full of relevant historical background and pithy illustrations. When struggling to prepare a sermon I have often found inspiration in a comment or story from Barclay which has set me off in a particular direction.

..... for Everyone: Tom Wright
Tom Wright is in the process of completing a ‘for Everyone’ series of New Testament Bible commentaries and in many ways he is the heir to Barclay. Wright gives a fresh translation of a passage and then explores the context and background with appropriate and often challenging applications. So good are these little books that my dog has taken to trying to eat them and there are several part chewed volumes dotted around our house. Seriously it is an amazing undertaking from one of our foremost Biblical scholars and it is so encouraging to see Wright making the latest and best scholarship available and accessible for personal or group use.

And finally....
My father wouldn’t describe himself as a scholar, but he loves reading and preaching from the Bible and he knows it inside out. I can’t remember a time when a Bible was not either close at hand or in his hand and I can trace my love of the scriptures to my parents. Dad has a gift for getting to the heart of a passage and relating it to the lives of the congregation, whether in the parish church or in the prison chapel where much of his ministry has been based. Even on holiday he can’t resist the opportunity to preach and unfold the scriptures, turning the cruises that he and my mum enjoy into a busman’s holiday. My mother’s devotional reading of the Bible has also had a big impact on me and so I would argue that much of my own approach to the Bible has come from my parents almost by osmosis.

I tag Jonathan Evens, Tim Goodbody, Graham Tomlin, Chris Tilling and +Alan Wilson.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

the narnia code

I finally managed to watch The Narnia Code which has been sitting on my digibox hard drive since it was broadcast by the BBC in April. The Narnia Code is a fascinating story of the quest to discover a hidden layer of meaning behind C. S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles. I found the argument presented very convincing and there is a wonderful elegance to Michael Ward’s thesis that each of the Narnia books corresponds to one of the seven planets in medieval cosmology.

The documentary not only explores the thesis presented in Ward’s book Planet Narnia, but gives a short and insightful biography of Lewis. One of the most interesting aspects of the documentary was the reminder of the breadth and depth of Lewis’ interests and knowledge, as well as his extraordinary intellect. I was left with the conviction that our lives are impoverished by an ignorance of the wide range of sources which informed Lewis’ writings including the Bible and the Classics.

I agree with my friend and colleague Graham Tomlin that this was very good TV and there was something very important identified in the reminder that the why of cosmology is as important as the how.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

the big feast


Steve Kersys: Master Chef of The Big Feast

Great day at Chelmsford Cathedral for The Big Feast; a festival for primary age children and parents/carers. Over 330 children and 120 adults came along. The day began with The Smile Puppets before some worship led by CRE8 from Colchester. Bishop John Gladwin welcomed everyone and prayed for the day; he obviously has some influence as the rain held off.

During the day groups of children rotated around various activities, indoors and outside, including: craft making, sweet making, music, messy art, big outdoor games, stained glass window making (biscuits), dance and flags, scrap art, Sumo wrestling, banana splits, bouncy castle and slide, puppetry and graffiti art.

The day was rounded off with some closing worship and a final rousing rendition of Oh Happy Day. Here’s some pictures from the day.

BP2The Smile Puppets


BP4Bishop John Gladwin prays for The Big Feast

BP5Puppet workshop

BP6Flags & Dance

BF9 BF10

Sumo, pillow fight, messy art & cage football

Well done Steve Kersys, the Children's Committee and everyone else involved in the day; it really was a great feast.

Monday, 15 June 2009

ours is a seduced world

God of all truth, we give thanks for your faithful utterance of reality.

In your truthfulness, you have called the world ‘very good.’

In your truthfulness, you have promised,

‘I have loved you with an everlasting love.’

In your truthfulness, you have assured,

‘This is my beloved Son.’

In your truthfulness, you have voiced, ‘Fear not, I am with you.’

In your truthfulness, you have guaranteed that

‘Nothing shall separate us from your love

in Jesus Christ.’

It is your truthfulness that we love.

And yet, we live in a world phoney down deep

in which we participate at a slant.

Ours is a seduced world,

where we call evil good and good evil,

where we put darkness for light and light for darkness,

where we call bitter sweet and sweet bitter (Isa 5:20),

where we call war peace and peace war,

so that we rarely see the truth of the matter.

Give us courage to depart the pretend world of euphemism,

to call things by their right name,

to use things for their right use,

to love our neighbour as you love us.

Overwhelm our fearful need to distort,

that we may fall back into your truth-telling about us,

that we may be tellers of truth and practitioners of truth.

We pray in the name of the One whom you have filled

with ‘grace and truth.’ Amen.

Walter Brueggemann: On reading Jeremiah 23 / October 29, 2001

imageDB[1]In The Prophetic Imagination Walter Brueggemann declares:

‘the task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us’.

Brueggemann explores the patterns of prophecy in the Old Testament in order to inspire and challenge the church to engage in such ministry today. The teacher is also the practitioner and this prayer from Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth is a powerful example of Brueggemann’s prophetic sensitivity to contemporary culture. There is beauty and goodness in our culture, though one would be hard pressed to recognise this from the picture mediated to us through the press and broadcast industry. Yet, there is also a sense that we live in an age where we no longer know what is true and what is false and where public policy and private judgement are dictated by what is perceived to be popular and what we can get away with.

Brueggemann calls us to re-orientate ourselves and our society around the One who is truth, the One who can be trusted. The prayer suggests that our flight to the ‘pretend world of euphemism’ is driven by fear and fear does seem to be a dominant feature of our culture. Politicians react to the agenda set by the media, guided by the Daily Mail test rather than by conviction and increasingly terrified of rejection. The press, pandering to the cynicism of a public which they have engendered, publish what they think sells; driven by the need to maintain or increase circulation figures in an era of diminishing returns. Broadcasters abandon the calling to produce what informs, educates and entertains, for fear that viewers and listeners will abandon what does not offer instant gratification.

Ours is a Seduced World is a prophetic call to hear the truth about ourselves and so be released to speak and embody truth, not in a spirit of judgementalism but in the conviction that ‘the truth shall set you free’.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

admired but not loved

Well it has finally happened. The 'will he go will he stay?' soap opera seems to be coming to an end with the news that Christiano Ronaldo is being sold by Manchester United to Real Madrid for £80 million. Earlier this season Sir Alex Ferguson said that he wouldn't sell Madrid a virus but the deal does appear irresistible. Ronaldo has been a great player for Utd, however, this season it looked like his heart was no longer at Old Trafford so time to let him go.

I would argue that Ronaldo was admired but not loved by Man Utd fans. His goals, dribbling, flicks, free kicks, speed, headers and ability to score when most needed will not be forgotten. The other side of Ronaldo; the diving, gestures, winks, failure to track back and tackle, general preening, stroppiness and disrespect we could do without. Plenty to marvel at, but not a character who endeared himself to the fans of the club or supporters in general in the manner of Cantona or Giggs.

Ronaldo gets his dream move to Real Madrid and it is a good match. Madrid have reinstated their Galactico policy of buying up star players, though it is easy to forget that last time they tried this it ended in tears. The team have already bought Kaka, the gifted Brazilian who I would love to have seen come to the Theatre of Dreams. Kaka is a Christian who handles himself with grace and class, so lets hope some of it rubs off on Ronnie.

This is good business for Utd and gives us the clout to complement an already great squad. It also means that Rooney and Berbatov will get to play in their natural positions and it will be fascinating to see who Sir Alex brings in as a winger; Nani has failed to impress and is not the Ronaldo replacement he once looked. Doing this deal at the beginning of the summer gives SAF plenty of time to buy the right players.

So farewell Ronnie and thanks for all the goals and tricks, but no one is bigger than the club and maybe one day you will come to appreciate just what Manchester Utd has done for you.

Monday, 8 June 2009


Today marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of George Orwell’s classic 1984. I remember reading it as a teenager and then watching the film with John Hurt playing the part of Winston Smith. The title 1984 has become synonymous with state control and many words and phrases from the book have become part of our everyday lexicon. I often wonder how many viewers of Channel 4's Big Brother (which has just begun its latest series) know where the title comes from.

Yesterday the Independent on Sunday ran a feature asking various writers to comment on 1984 and to indentify their favourite books and I was interested to read the responses; two in particular jumped out at me.

Philip Pullman comments:

The most influential book for me is the Bible. That was all around me when I was a child and I absorbed the stories of the Old and New Testaments at a very early age. They are part of how I think and feel. I don't believe they are the word of God. As a literary work it has great poetry, dramatic stories, myths – and it's the work of so many different hands, too.

This is interesting because in a list of influential books Pullman cited for Waterstone’s last year for their Writer’s Table series he didn’t mention the Bible and I wrote a post about it at the time. It did seem strange given the clear influences of the Bible evident in Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy that he made no mention of it. It is good to see Pullman acknowledging the place of the Bible in his formation, though there is no surprise that I would want to go much further in saying what the Bible is.

Ann Widdecombe cites Who Moved The Stone? by Frank Morison:

Who Moved the Stone?, which I read when I was 14, is the most influential book I've ever read. It's an examination of the resurrection. I found it very convincing and easy to understand and it made a lot of the minor characters in the Gospels come to life. I was already religious-leaning, but I think it convinced me.

Widdicombe’s choice resonates with me because I also remember reading the book as a teenager and being reassured that the basis of my faith was not just wishful thinking, nor simply the product of my upbringing as a vicarage kid, but founded on reasoned and rational propositions. Not very post modern I know but nevertheless important for me at that stage of my faith journey.

Apart from the Bible, I struggle to say which book has had the most influence on me, though a book that does keep coming to mind as I write this post is Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. My parents had a beautifully bound set of Dickens’ novels and when I had exhausted my supply of Alistair MacLean, Dennis Wheatley and J.R.R. Tolkien, I used to read Dickens. The narrative of A Tale of Two Cities hooked me straight away; the action and adventure, love triangle, tension, history, characterisation and the theme of self sacrifice are all compelling. It brought the French Revolution alive in a way my history studies never did and the old black and white film staring Dirk Bogarde remains one of my all time favourites.

Time to revisit Darney, Carton and Manette this summer I think, if I can finish Jurgen Moltmann’s autobiography A Broad Place and David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

course in christian studies 09

Ernie Guest (vicar), Sandra Sykes (Reader in training), Jo Chambers (ordinand), Bishop John (Bishop of Chelmsford), Kate Ritchie (Sunday School & Home Group leader) & Sharon Guest (Reader). All former CCS students - except the bishop, who missed out!

One of the highlights of the year in Chelmsford Cathedral is the annual service celebrating the Course in Christian Studies and the training of Pastoral Assistants and Evangelists. During the service Bishop John, the Bishop of Chelmsford, presents certificates to CCS, Pastoral Assistant and Evangelist course graduates. This year the service will be held on 8th July at 8pm and anyone is most welcome to join with graduates, their families, friends and churches for this great occasion.

Since it began in 1987, nearly 3000 people from Essex and North East London have completed the Course in Christian Studies. CCS is a two year course exploring the Christian Faith with others, delivered weekly in local centres around the Diocese of Chelmsford. CCS has a foundational first year and a more flexible second year and leads to the Bishop’s Certificate. In an exciting new partnership CCS centres have recently been established in the Stepney and Willesden areas of London Diocese.

During July taster evenings will be held at CCS centres to give those interested an opportunity to discover a bit more about the course. This year CCS centres are planned for Bradwell-on-Sea, Chelmsford, Colchester, Hadleigh, Ilford, Romford, Stebbing (Dunmow) and Vange (Basildon). Information about the course is being sent out to every parish in the diocese and further information about CCS and the taster evenings can be found here.