Archives June 2008

God Waits… A Blesséd Alt.Worship Creed

Sublime music “Spark” by Nitin Sawney. Images from a sequence in Koyaanisquaatsi slowed down. The words of this Creed come from, Oh, I have long forgotten. Kath Abbot on the Isle of Wight pulled it out and gave it flight, and we used this Creed, if I remember at a Sunset Service on the Island. Their group have subsequently done some marvellous work, and a really cool event coming up.

Consider supporting this event, and in the meantime, swim with this challenging, radical statement of faith.

Ooops, I did it again.

I once got in serious trouble because of injudicious things said. I have done it again.

I apologise. Sometimes my fingers work faster than my sense of decorum, and I post stuff that in the light of day are well wide of the mark. I have offended someone I respect dearly.

Another in the series Why I am a rubbish priest and a struggling Christian #57 and now to seek reconciliation with the Saviour, and try to pick up my cross daily and follow him.

Sermon: Feast of Saints Peter & Paul, Year A – Who do you say I am?

Text: Matthew 16:13-20

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

“Who do you say I am?”

Is one of the crucial questions… Not just of that age, but of today.

“Who do you say I am?”

Messiah? Son of God? Teacher? Good man? Charlatan? Blasphemer? Threat?

“Who do you say I am?”

…this is not a question for theologians, for priests, for the great and the good. This is a question aimed at you.

And you. And you. To each and everyone of us, personally, we are called to address this crucial question.

“Who do you say I am?”

Jesus will not accept agnosticism. He confronts you with the reality of his presence in your midst. He challenges you with a radical reworking of all that you have previously accepted as the norm, for the Gospel is challenging, transformative, unconventional.

“Who do you say I am?”

You are called to respond, and there is no time for cleverness or theological reflection; for the call to follow him, to be like him, to embrace him and through him to embrace the divine is all wrapped up in this simple, direct and ultimately challenging statement.

This is how Peter reflected on it…

[show this video from the National Youth Pilgrimage to the Shrine of OLW – apologies but it is too long for YouTube: High(ish) Res MPG-1 Version 164Mb or streamed on Facebook

“Who do you say I am?”

“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”


My kind of drug.

and no, this time it’s not Jesus…




do you know what my kind of drug is?












It’s caffeine. Oooo I love it. Short, dark and intense. Espresso is my morning wake-up and my evening wind-down. I adore the dark mystical stuff and get through about 7 or 8 espresso a day.

No decaff for me: it is the work of the devil, but caffeine in its purest form, in a small cup with a little glass of water and a biscotti. It is the closest to ambrosia. In fact, I am convinced when we join the heavenly banquet, there will be Gaggia dispensing the liquid love.

From my full-size ebay-bargain beast in the shed to the Isomac Giarda in the Narthex and my long-term addiction to the coffee shops of the world (Cafe Vergnano my current favourite), it’s a genuine love affair. It can only be an addiction when it gets out of hand, but as long as I get fresh, tasty, fairly-traded caffeine, I’m okay.

I’d love that molecule on a T-Shirt. Maybe I can get some iron-on…


Eight Years Old. Where does the time go?

Have just started to rediscover Black and White again on my camera. I prefer to shoot directly in B/W rather than take in colour and process into B/W in photoshop. It has an immediacy and a photojournalistic look which I quite like.

Currently reading: 24-hour Party People by Anthony Wilson. A novelisation of the film screenplay, a zeitgiest of Factory Records and the bands that mattered to my adolescence. Nokia N95 user manual: so many functions, so little time. In the eye of the Storm – Gene Robinson honest and prayerful, everyone should be reading this book before Lambeth

Creative Liturgy Sermon for Holy Trinity, Barkingside

I’m off this weekend to East London at the invitation of Fr. Edmund at Holy Trinity, Barkingside. The remit is Creative Worship and Mission, and this is the current draft:

In the name of he +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

It gives me great pleasure to be with you this morning, to share with you some of my experiences of the meeting point between our Anglican tradition and creative multimedia-based liturgy. I want to thank Fr Edmund for inviting me – we have known each other for a few years now, principally from the National Youth Pilgrimage to Walsingham, where I have sat behind the scenes pushing the buttons whilst he gets on with all the fun stuff involving the young people.

But as none of you know me from the next priest, a little bit of background:

I’ve never been conventional: always been in trouble, always been at the back of class irritating the authorities who tell us how it should be done, and why it has to be like it is.

And Blesséd (my experience of this creativity) is, I suppose a reflection of this: the loose collection of individuals and their charisms that almost on purpose seeks to take what we know and love and do it differently.

On one level, Blesséd is solidly traditional – deeply sacramental, unashamedly Anglo-Catholic, soaked in gin and the cycle of the daily office, and on another it seeks to blow that world apart – to declare the whole of creation as sacramental, and our approach to God as immersive, multisensory and wildly, rabidly inclusive.

This morning I want to share with you some insights into our mission and the proclamation of the Gospel, and to remind us that we already have the principle tool of mission to hand: in the form of the mass.

I am nothing more than a parish priest: from St Thomas the Apostle, Elson: An urban parish in Gosport in the Diocese of Portsmouth.

I carry all of the pressures and anxieties of every parish: a heavy pastoral load with sixteen and a half thousand souls in my cure, a small, struggling and (I have to admit it) poor parish; a desire to proclaim Christ made present in a particularly Catholic spirituality.

There is a timeless and yet deeply relevant spirituality of anglocatholicism has so much to offer the church, offering depth as well as breadth, context and relevance as well as a proclamation which speaks deeply to the hearts and souls of many.

One of the legacies of the Reformation was the rejection of the sensual and the sensuous. Our engagement with God is much more than simply what we say aloud, or even what we hear, but in sight (spectacle and ritual), smell, taste and touch and through these we are enabled to engage both our minds and hearts in worship.

Catholicism is a fundamental way of looking at the incarnation and the world as affected by the incarnation, and therefore our sacramental life is crucial, central even to the work of mission. Being authentically Catholic means being multisensory and opening ourselves to the outrageous and audacious possibilities which the Incarnation offers to us.

Bishop Lindsay Irwin, a principal teacher and figurehead of the National Youth Pilgrimage to Walsingham, in an article on the sacramental ministry in fresh mission, suggests that:

“One might argue that in a culture saturated with trivial, unmemorable and unreliables words, Christ-filled symbol and action might have more chance of breaking through [and being heard”

Mission-Shaped Questions p31

The original multisensory worship was the liturgy celebrated in the Basilica of the 8th Century: a place where sight, sound, smell and taste ensured that the people of God sought to engage with God’s wondrous creation and to try to express the inexpressible.

When words run out, and they always run out when we are in an encounter with the indescribable, we turn to symbol and sign. Society is surrounded by symbol and sign, not to control us, but to enable us to engage with that which is beyond our experience: from the burning bush to the body and blood, our encounter with the sacred cannot solely be through word alone, for the soul encounters God on so many more planes of function.

Fundamentally, I believe that our primary encounter with God in worship is not an intellectual one, but an emotive one. Worship is one of the first ways that seekers of faith encounter Christ, and when asked about their first dip in the worship ocean, they do not reflect on worship in terms of reason or logic: whether they were convinced by the argument, but how it made them feel.

The experience of Blesséd in Southsea, shows how it is worship, and fundamentally sacramental worship is a key tool in breaking through the mundanity of everyday life.

In urban Portsmouth, we stepped out in mission to an extremely mixed group of teenagers. Not having any money, resources or (quite frankly, any clue), my first solution was simply to introduce these largely unchurched young people to the Church: the Lady Chapel in particular. In the dark: lit only by candles and swathed in incense, around a cross, or an ikon, projecting some words on a blank wall or the altar frontal: something wonderful happened and these young people who only months before were the ones vying to knockout as many quarterlight windows as they could were able to grasp the presence of God in their midst. Truly effective mission simply allows people to encounter God, and the missioner simply turns up for the ride.

The last great swell of Anglocatholic Mission was in the 20’s and the 30’s and took place in poor, working class slums where the beauty and transcendence of worship lifted the people of God. It was through the sacraments that encounter took place. When we started to plan worship, a number of our young people involved all said independently “well, it has to be a mass doesn’t it?” It is intriguing that they sought to define themselves in terms of their relationship to the sacrament and yet not to be constrained by the traditions of it.

For them, each element of the mass was seen as being up for grabs, for a radical interpretation and a retelling of the story.

So, in 2002, Blesséd was born – Eucharist with funky backbeats, Gloria with dancing, Sacrament with Attitude. Blesséd sought to continue its sacramental heritage whilst proclaiming its ancient truths in new and creative ways. This has meant taking what we know and love and asking how its story may be told for new generations.

In mission, context is everything. One of the challenges of a creative Catholic Spirituality is concerned with making this happen and remaining authentic to a heritage with people for whom heritage is meaningless and outdated. The Gospel proclamation is eternal, but the wearing of lace-covered tat is not, and our liturgy must not be seen as the truth in itself, but a way of communicating that truth.

For this reason, we need to move away from a slavish following of a set text, and rather focus on the missionary purpose to express that story in any given context: a mass for youth is very different from a mass for the elderly bereaved, but both are deeply missional.

The Gloria is tap-danced. Bread is kneeded. New prefaces are said and wine is consecrated by the bottle-load in unspoken action. Blessings are scribbled on a rocket and exploded in the night sky over Gosport. These creative, expressive ways are as real to these missional communities as were the first Eucharistic prayers of Hypolytus.

I am not advocating the throwing away of our carefully honed heritage in favour of some spiritual supermarket of technical wizardry and gimmicky mass, but rather a creative and free-flowing use of the entire tradition of the church: tradition which is not static, but dynamic and as engaging as the Incarnation.

To the other extreme, this creative flow should not be restricted to just “youth services” or “children’s services”, but as we find at St Thomas the Apostle, creativity starts to infuse and cross-fertilise: a penitential rite involving kneeded bread was also used at a Harvest Festival service in mainstream worship and many other elements of the mass take on new forms. St Thomas the Apostle is not the only anglocatholic parish to use a projector at each Parish Mass, and many more (like yourselves) are discovering the benefit from the flexibility and cost-effectivness of projecting the entire liturgy and hymnody on screen each and every week.

One of the things I repeatedly hear after worship, is “oh, I couldn’t do anything like that – I am so untechnical” – a statement which usually comes from someone brimming with Liturgical Creativity, but no self-confidence. The core message I need to convey to you today is that the best multisensory worship does not have to plug into the mains

The means of engagement with God are at our very fingertips: stones, water, flames (and the marvellous variety of different ways that we can set fire to things). Mark Yaconelli has written an excellent book on contemplative youth ministry, and this evangelical (the son of the famous Mike Yaconelli) has discovered the power, effectiveness and beauty of silence, an ikon, and Lectio Divina. That is an inspirational book which I commend to you.

When we do this, does it enable us to tick the box marked “Fresh Expression”?

If you seek to Express Freshly rather than do mission then, frankly you are wasting your time, effort and the creative verve of others. A fresh expression for it’s own sake (Oh no, not another Café Church I often think) is not fresh, and yet, the Mass itself is the freshest of fresh expressions.

As Pete Ward discussed in his book Mass Culture the mass is an evangelistic opportunity and a missionary tool. It provides a unique opportunity for expressing the salvation story and the joy of the resurrection in word, song, action and ritual.

The mass provides both fixed points of reference and an ever-changing cycle of encounter with God, and this mix of the familiar and the challenging provides a framework on which to hang new explorations of worship; rather than being a limit to fresh expressions of worship, it forms a skeleton upon which a new creation is formed. No community which seeks to be Christian can be said to be authentically so unless it gathers to break bread and pour wine and see that Christ is in their midst.

The Catholic spirituality might layer more over that and see much more (quite rightly) into that, but essentially each community, regardless of what it calls this engagement with Christ, regardless of its explicit sacramental theology, one thing all actually agree on is that Christ in some way is here amongst us

So, my dear friends, what are we to make of a sermon which seeks to say in new and radical ways “Go and carry on with what you are doing”. So often we are prepared to beat ourselves up about mission and our lack of activity in this area. But, to you I say, the tools of mission are in your very hands – broken bread and wine outpoured are far more effective tools than an expensive and limited missionary pack.

The message of freedom, challenge and radical hospitality of the altar has so much to say to a society which is broken and confused by messages which say little to their context.

The Mass cannot be simply set down in a place and expected to do the work itself The concept of priest as conduit of that sacrament has much to say about how we bring about that sacred encounter. Getting bodies over the door is not the end result, but the beginning, and the sacramental encounter is the source of transformation and the cradle of faith.

If all this sermon has done is make you consider how Mass can be retold in this community, and offer you a possibility to unleash your creative and missional juices to that end, then I will have done my work.

So, Go and make mission, and may all of you do what Fr. Edmund was commanded to do when he and every priest is ordained and proclaim the Gospel afresh to each and for each generation!


Rosary Teaching

I’m doing some teaching on Prayer in the Junior School (years 3/4 – 7 & 8 year olds), and so the kids and I made this video to back up what I am teaching: this week on the Rosary (Do you know any Catholics, we need teaching on the Rosary – I use it all the time, let me do it, let me! let me!) It is a State School so I have to play the Curriculum game straight down the middle, but encouraged by Christians on the staff, and known by the whole school as both a Governor and a purveyor of quality multimedia assemblies, this might be useful elsewhere.

YouTube also has this beautifully shot video on the subject, but the American voice over and the fiddly little graphics led me to make my own.

The Rosary is a key devotion for me: the cause of a major charismatic experience and a powerful weapon of prayer. I run workshops on making and using rosaries, and somewhere buried in the archives is my “Blue Peter” video on how to make a rosary. I must try and find it again.

Leaflet on How to Pray the Rosary

Download (DOC, 61KB)

Open Arms

I found this exploration “Open Arms” on someone else’s blog, and drew it into a session with the Sunday’s Group this week. Knackered after the Strawberry Tea (which concluded with an Act of Compline), and a table loaded with loads of food, our Young People were in great form!

If you ever wonder how in the world God could use you to change the world, look at the people God used to change history. A ragbag of ne’er-do-wells and has-beens who found hope, not in their performance, but in God’s proverbially open arms.

Abraham- God took what was good and forgave what was bad and used “old forked tongue” to start a nation. Moses- would you call upon a fugitive to carry the Ten Commandments? God did. David- his track record left little to be desired, but his repentant spirit was unquestionable. Jonah- God put him in a whale’s belly to bring him back to his senses. But even the whale couldn’t stomach this missionary for too long.

On and on the stories go: Elijah, the prophet who pouted; Solomon, the king who knew too much; Jacob, the wheeler-dealer; Gomer, the prostitute; Sarah, the woman who giggled at God. One story after another of God using man’s best and overcoming man’s worst.

The reassuring lesson is clear. God used (and uses!) people to change the world. People! Not saints or superhumans or geniuses, but people. Crooks, creeps, lovers, and liars—he uses them all. And what they may lack in perfection, God makes up for in love.

Jesus later summarized God’s stubborn love with a parable. He told about a teenager who decided that life at the farm was too slow for his tastes. So with pockets full of inheritance money, he set out to find the big time. What he found instead were hangovers, fair-weather friends, and long unemployment lines. When he had had just about as much of the pig’s life as he could take, he swallowed his pride, dug his hands deep into his empty pockets, and began the long walk home; all the while rehearsing a speech that he planned to give to his father.

He never used it. Just when he got to the top of the hill, his father, who’d been waiting at the gate, saw him. The boy’s words of apology were quickly muffled by the father’s words of forgiveness. And the boy’s weary body fell into his father’s opened arms.

The same open arms welcomed him that had welcomed Abraham, Moses, David, and Jonah. No wagging fingers. No clenched fists. No “I told you so!” slaps or “Where have you been?” interrogations. No crossed arms. No black eyes or fat lips. No. Only sweet, open arms. If you ever wonder how God can use you to make a difference in your world, just look at those he has already used and take heart. Look at the forgiveness found in those open arms and take courage.

And, by the way, never were those arms opened so wide as they were on the Roman cross. One arm extending back into history and the other reaching into the future. An embrace of forgiveness offered for anyone who’ll come. A hen gathering her chicks. A father receiving his own. A redeemer redeeming the world.

No wonder they call him the Saviour.

It was wonderful. One of the best bible studies I have ever experienced. We used the (now very ancient – from 2003) video of “Everything I do” which was one of those amazing videos that I just slapped together and it worked. It is still, I have to admit, powerful today

Concluded by real prayer and bookended by a lot of laughs and fun. Thank you Lord.

Slideshow in Google Document format:

Conflict averted, but still filled with self-doubt and loathing

Apparently one of our Youth Club has been “leery” all day with another in his year. This Other appeared outside youth club with the express intention of fighting him. When I knew why they were hanging about, I had a chat with them, trying to dissuade him of this action, “the bigger man walks away, can you be the bigger man?”

They left; maybe I’d bored them with my recounting of meeting people in prison who had overstepped the situation and found themselves facing a long stretch: normal people who made a single bad decision.

Then, later, they [the Other and a mate were back at home time. The youth club member had already called his Sister for a lift home – a little worried now: maybe his actions during the day had really been the cause of all this. I told them I would not allow them in the area (it is Church property after all, as I knew what they intended – did they want me to call the police?). The mate was bigger than me, although clearly only about 13 or 14 at most, and as he tried to front it out, I stood in front of him. I wasn’t prepared to see a fight outside the club. Another chap, waiting to pick up a younger brother, only perhaps a year or so older than he, told me outright that he didn’t think I was right to “square up to him”, and this is where the self-doubt comes in. Was that inappropriate? Was I defending our young people by not showing weakness myself, was I matching his menace with menace of my own and indeed was that right? They backed off, and went again.

As they went out to the car, they appeared: the Other made a lunge at our youth club member, and I had to stand between them. The Other was half my size. I was told where to go in no uncertain terms. My phone is out and I suggest I ought to follow through to the Police. Youth Club member leaves with Sister. The Other storms off. The Other’s mate remains and we chat. Now he appears totally unaggressive, chatty even. We get on.

The Other appears again, a bit sheepish now. We chat about what has gone on. The aggression has now subsided. I sit on the floor outside the hall and we chat. No one is now quite sure what at school caused it. We talk about anger, and channeling it, of productive things and we share a smile. We exchange first names and a handshake. A good outcome, I feel.

One of my Youth Leaders tells me I handled it well, but I feel awful. The conflict scares me, and I am filled with the notion that I handled it wrong, that I was wrong to intervene, wrong to order them off the Church property. It I had not been there, there would clearly have been real violence, and we know that these days that often means sharp things. Goodness knows how it could have turned out for me, or for them. I am convinced that a quiet, meek and mild approach would not have worked, and would have been far worse for all concerned, but I feel like a terrible Christian.

Life is filled with these dilemmas. Why do I do youth work again?

Youth Club Talk, 13th June 2008

Many years ago, a weary traveller hiked for miles across the desert with the hot sun beating down on his back. His water supply was gone, and he knew that if he didn’t find water soon to quench his thirst, he would surely die.

In the distance, he spotted a deserted cabin, which brought hope that maybe water was to be found there. He made his way to the cabin and discovered an old well. He frantically pumped the handle of the well to draw water, but all that came from the pump was dust.

Then he noticed a tin can tied to the pump, with a note inside. The note said:

Dear Stranger:

This pump is all right as of June 1932. I put a new sucker washer in it, and it should last for quite a few years. But the washer dries out and the pump needs to be primed. Under the white rock, I buried a bottle of water, out of the sun and corked up. There’s enough water in it to prime the pump, but not if you drink some first. Pour about 1/4 of the water into the pump and let her soak for a minute to wet the leather washer. Then pour the rest medium fast and pump hard. You’ll get water. Have faith. This well has never run dry.

When you get watered up, fill the bottle and put it back as you found it for the next stranger who comes this way.


If you drink the water. The next person who comes here will die. You need to have the faith to use the water to get more than enough water for your needs and the needs of the next person. If you are selfish, and slake your thirst in the short-term, you will not get enough water to live and continue your journey.

The man told us a story about a rich and powerful man who left his home, but not before he had entrusted a sum of money with each of three of his servants, giving them complete freedom to make more with it. I suppose it’s a little bit like the Apprentice, and the Master is Alan Sugar…

Two of the servants take the money, take a risk, and it pays off – on the Master’s return they have more, and so the master rewards them generously. The third man is more cautious – he fears the Master and so hides the money, doesn’t even put it in a bank and on the master’s return simply gives the same amount back. He gets fired, what he had is taken away from him.

God gives us so much. We can squander that gift, we can hide it away, do nothing with it and let it fall away, or we can take what he has given us and venture out, take a risk, do something bold, have faith and make a difference.

If we have the faith to take that gift, not keep it for ourselves, then we will receive even more in abundance, and if we prime the pump, then the streams of living water, the water of life, which flows from the pump of God’s love will keep us from being thirsty, or tired, or afraid, or insecure ever again….


(drawn from +Gene Robinson’s book In the Eye of the Storm, a book I highly commend to you all as a powerful collection of profound Christian insight)