Archives November 2009

Christingle – an introduction (Video)

Lots of teaching this week with key stage 2 (7-11 year olds) on Christingle, so this video is to support it. Our Christingle is on Christmas Eve and is massively popular. The key trick with us is that the young people make the Christingles themselves – “Look what I made!” rather than “Look what they gave me!” – it makes the learning so much better!


The Christingle is a wonderful, visible reminder of God’s goodness to us, and in this season of Advent or preparation for the coming ofJesus Christ into this world, it can teach us some special things about Jesus.

The Christingle originally came from Germany in the 18th Century, but has also been connected with the tradition of St. Lucia, a Saint in Scandanavia who is associated with light.

Anyone can make a Christingle, and now we will show you how.

You will need:

  • An Orange
  • Four Cocktail Sticks
  • Some sweets: marshmallows or raisins, dolly mixtures are very popular
  • Some red ribbon
  • A candle. We like to use birthday candles, as there is someone’s birthday associated with this after all…

Each of these elements signify something special, something to remember about Christmas.

  • The Orange represents the world, God’s world
  • On each of the sticks we put some of the sweets, representing thr fruits of God’s creation, his bountiful love to us. The Psalms say “Taste and see that the Lord is good” and we know that when we taste these good things to each, we know how good God is to us.
  • The four sticks represent the four seasons, and when placed in the orange represent the directions of North, South, East and West, reminding us that God’s love reaches all over the world.
  • The ribbon represents the blood that Jesus Christ shed for us on the cross, dying to rise again. Even at Christmas, we need to remind ourselves of the Easter story, and what Jesus did for you and for me.
  • The candle reminds us of some words of Jesus. He described himself as “the light of the world”, “the light that shines in the darkness”, and so even in these dark wintery days we can see the light of Jesus reflected in our faces, and scattering all the sadness and unhappiness that there is in the world.

So there is your Christingle…

Remember what these symbols mean?

  • The orange is the world
  • The sticks are the four seasons of the year and the four corners of the earth
  • The sweets are the fruit of the earth
  • The ribbon is Christ’s blood, shed for us.
  • The candle is Jesus. The light of the world.

Why not take your Christingle, and keep it for Christmas Day? Put it on the Christmas table when you sit down to eat your Christmas dinner with all your family and friends. Light the candle to remind yourselves that Christ is present with you as you eat together.

And why not begin your Christmas Dinner with this Grace prayer:

Dear God,

May we whose faces shine from the light of your Christingle Candle

be blessed this Christmas, be blessed this year.

For family, for friends, for food and for all you do for us,

We give you praise!





I am always fascinated by analysis of large amounts of writing. These clouds are an analysis of my own tweeting over the past year:

I notice the top words are: youth, mass and church. Are you surprised?

Pilgrimage, Walsingham and coffee/espresso come up close behind. It really has captured me hasn’t it?


Walsingham 2009

This was our first ever parish pilgrimage. After 5 years as priest, I managed to persuade the parish that this was the right move at the right time, and Wow! Was I ever right? A phenomenal 30 people came with us, travelling by car to keep the costs down and staying half-board. The results were a most fabulous gelling of the Community, a prayerful and honest response to all the Shrine has to offer and a true sense of holiness and prayer in our Masses, intercessions, Rosary walk and a true sense of Community and Fun as we gathered for coffee, food and lots and lots of wine.

Our pilgrimage was enhanced by the welcome return of Caroline, our placement student from the Summer, and her husband, who helped us with some of the worship; and a couple of others from beyond our parish who enriched our experience. Most of the group were first-timers to Walsingham and Bishop Lindsay gave me sage advice a couple of weeks ago to “allow the Shrine to work on them”, and not to worry too much about what we did, or organised or forgot, for the holy place is holy for a reason; and I have to say it came up trumps.

Many were visibly moved by the experience. Sometimes this was joy, sometimes sadness, but I sense that comfort was found even as the sadness of loss and disappointment in the lives of some were redeemed by the victory of Christ the King, whose feast we celebrated there.

A November Pilgrimage was good: not dead, and yet not crowded. Easier to book than a Summer date and yet not losing out too much: no procession, but everything else on the Shrine menu. Yes, it rained, but it always rains for me in Walsingham; so we were prepared. Not too cold, Stella Maris House was, well, adequate (although Steven Ruff found himself in the Priest’s Hole (!) – a room so small you had to duck to climb into through a hobbit-sized door at the top of the building!). Lou and the family and I stayed in St Cuthbert’s on Knight Street which was really nice.

In the past, I have led pilgrimages without organising them: at Holy Spirit they were so experienced that I simply turned up and did what they had drawn up, this time I had to organise the whole thing. The Itinerary was not perfect and we have some ideas for improvement next year, but everything was done as needed. Learning curve, I say.

A Pizza Express in Cambridge rounded the weekend off nicely, and back home by 10.30pm.

A unanimous decision: next year – 19th-21st November (weekend of Christ the King, again). Taking names already. This might just become a habit!

User Review: iPhone 3G – Over to the darkside…

My close friends will know of my relationship with Apple. I have programmed them on and off since the Apple II, created Hyperstacks on Mac OS4 – the first ECG Tutorial I wrote was in Hyperstack and effectively predated web pages. I have a Mac Mini. However, as a techie, I have problems conceptually with the Apple OS – it hides too much and the functionality which so many describe as intuitive, isn’t. I’m not necessarily a wholly PC-addict either, as I use Linux extensively in Ubuntu and Centros flavours. I just want human-computer interfaces to work, and there are times when I find myself screaming at the damn machine as it sits there, Oh so cooly designed, but not actually that much use.

So, when the time came for a mobile phone update, I was preparing to upgrade to another Blackberry. My Curve 8320 has been very good, and has revolutionised my mobile use: contacts, emails and messages where ever I am. However, it has not been without its frustrations: a useless browser, poor music and video features and a user interface which has only marginally improved over the years.

So, much to most people’s surprise, I upgraded to an iPhone.

The iPhone decision was influenced by playing with someone’s for some time at a party on Saturday (thanks, Andrew) and hearing his honest and informed opinions which I knew was not based on him being an Apple Junky and reading an excellent article comparing functionality between iPhone and my beloved Blackberry.,0&source=fssr

In terms of business functionality, and the power of the browser, the iPhone wins out and despite some niggles, I have spent a good few first days with it. I have been able to dive straight in and get on with my work. Integration with Google (Mail, Diary, Contacts etc) via Exchange Server has been a dream, and worked straight away. The touchscreen has taken me less time to get used to than I expected, and I am very impressed with the corrective typing, which seems to take my hamfisted fingers and make real words out of them.

The camera produces results like this:

which isn’t that bad. It is an iPod, so I had to load iTunes on my laptop. I have an (ahem) large collection of MP3s and it took sometime to integrate that with the network, not entirely successfully, and I havn’t bought anything from iTunes yet. Maybe I should use the Mac Mini for this. Very little cover art has come across.

So, as a fairly serious user of mobile technology, I have been quite impressed with it. I can view (but not edit) Word and Excel 2003 Documents. I never really ever edited a document on the move. Tethering (using the iPhone as a modem for a laptop, which costs extra) may prove to be an issue in the future, but that will become apparent later.

I am very happy with the iPhone package even if I lost my unlimited texts, unlimited data package. I estimate that I will have the right level of texts (500 a month) and data (750Mb a month) for my normal use, but I have had to sacrifice the Blesséd Daily Texts, which I know many people have benefited from in the past. Sorry.

The only real problem is conceptual. Apple are these days no longer hippies riding the wave of Open Source: they are digital rights Nazis who screw their systems down to closed hardware (hey, you can’t even change the battery) and limited software. There is the ability to Jailbreak the iPhone, and I reckon I will have done that within a week or so, as I become frustrated by what Apple let me do. Apple these days are the antithesis of Open Source.

Expect another user review in a few weeks, but for now: it’s a good phone. Oh, and it oh so cool!

Writing Sabattical

This is going to be a different, although very busy week.

From tonight, I am off to Devon for three days to get a whole load of writing done on my book. I have probably oversaid this now a few times, so I apologise if I bore you, but the lovely people at SCM-Canterbury have asked me to distil Blesséd into a book. The work is for the most part floating around in my head and on various hard disks, the theory part of it is almost all written and the practical how-tos just need to be committed to paper. Having said that, it still feels some way off being complete, and so I have taken the next few days off to thrash it out at our cottage: travelling by train also so I have extra time to work, and so that I won’t be distracted by wanting to drive anywhere.

I don’t feel too pressured by the looming deadline, but I am determined to deliver it by the end of the year as agreed. Douglas Adams once said he loved deadlines, and the whooshing sound they made as they went past, but I couldn’t do that. I am sure that there will be quite a bit of editing required, most notably to convert my sarcastic, offensive and theologically-suspect writing into something which can be published. Then there will be a headache for lawyers as they comb through my work to ensure that none of it breeches copyright. Personally, I and therefore Blesséd have always taken a fairly cavalier attitude towards copyright, not simply because I believe in digital freedom, or that I think record and film companies make an obscene amount of money already, and not just because I believe that using and reusing material is a new creative process in itself, but primarily because the Gospel is of such importance that anything that is used to spread it is fair game, and in worship, I don’t want some copyright nazi telling me how much that costs to share the Good News.

Now, in publishing this is a different kettle of fish, and so my work has to be filleted of all the copyrighted material. Surprisingly this leaves a substantial amount of material, but little finished product. For this book, I see this as an advantage, for this is to be a resource book; and so I can provide building blocks, inspiration and process and the end-user actually has to create something our of it which is theirs. I hate the idea that you can just pull something off a disk, out of a book and just run it. It’s like the Alpha Course, it needs no thought or planning, just run it and that is plain wrong for it holds no inculturation, no ownership. Take my work and make it your own. The give it to others and let them play. Copyright is bad. Creative Commons is a good idea.

After these few days of slaving over a hot wordprocessor with a poor internet connection and no phone signal (which will, let’s face it be more productive), I arrive in late on thursday night and the following morning, the first ever St. Thomas, Elson Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham takes place. For reasons of economy, we are travelling up by separate cars, so I was concerned how we might keep that ‘Pilgrimage Spirit’, so yesterday in Church we recorded the Pilgrimage Hymn (all 20 mins of it!) and I have now burned that to CD for each car. As we hit the Fakenham Roundabout, we can play it and sing along, just as if we were in a charabanc.

The recording isn’t brilliant, or high fidelity, but most significantly, it is us. I can’t find any other recording of this on the internet, so for your own pilgrimages, here you can download our version:

We offer it to you with our love.

I am so desperate for the Pilgrimage to go well, but at the end of the day, it is not me who will make the difference, it will be God. That place steeped in prayer and mystery (and we might organise our own Ghost walk!) will do the real work fo the parish, and bring them I pray closer to God. I am just the instrument of God’s ministry, may his work be done through me. To his glory.

Bravo: Supporting Gay Young People

There is hope out there. Hope and support for people (and especially young people) who strive to deal with their sexuality.

On a recent Boing Boing Post there was:

a rather amusing video created by a Canadian high-school student titled “Hiding Your Sexual Orientation From Your Parents 101.”

One of the many people who commented on that post was an anonymous commenter who wrote:

Ok, my parents found out i was gay by myspace (which i regret for putting my sexual orientation) and my parents will never accept cause my parents are really realigous for our christianity. They are so realigous, that i’m now homeschooled and going to a private school. Also i have no internet unless for emergencies, no friends houses, no phone, no boy friends til i’m 18. The only times i can get out is to christian youth groups so i have no life for the next 5 years ( cause i’m 13). Oh and my parents think all the wrong things in the world about gays, they even use the gay f word. I need help and i’m typing this from my PS3 cause they don’t know it has internet. HELP!!! =O

It’s hard for jaded internet people like me (Xeni Jardin) to know when someone’s pulling your leg online, but I’ll take this one at face value.

So, Dear Anonymous:

Boy, that sucks. I don’t have a way of contacting you privately, so I’ll say it to the world. You are fine just as you are. There is nothing wrong with being gay, and everything right with being true to yourself, no matter who tries to tell you otherwise. But being gay and a teen is very hard when your family isn’t cool with it. My friend Maggie suggests that you might want to check out these helplines and Web resources, so you can talk to someone who can help you sort stuff out:

♦ (a teen LGBTQ site)
♦ (Web chat based teen counseling service)
♦ (National LGBTQ help center, with phone counseling lines manned by other LGBTQ people. They’ve got a special youth line, online peer support and access to local services and organizations.)

If you are reading this post, Anonymous, I bet some other people will be writing suggestions for other good resources in the comments. Check them out. Good luck. There are many of us in the world who welcome you just as you are. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that who you are is anything less than beautiful.

Keep your head held high, little happy mutant.



It’s a lonely path, but I would want to offer my prayers and support to that young person. God created them. God loves him/her as they are. These are important resources, and I repost them here for any who might stumble upon them, and pray they will be useful.

twlohaToday is “To Write Love On Her Arms Day“, which supports young people facing depression, self-harm and other crises of self-identity. There was love on Christ’s Arms as he bore the sin of the world on the Cross. He did not condemn, he loved.

Yes, happy mutant, may God bless you, and all of you.

Sermon: Ordinary 33, Year B Mark 13:24-32 "The End is Nigh"

Text: Mark 13:24-32

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

“The end of the world is nigh” – that classic sandwich-board warning. I wonder if anyone, anywhere has ever been motivated or scared into faith by that admonition?

I am reminded of the Beyond the Fringe sketch about the end of days

“Never mind lads, same time tomorrow” – the Scriptures speak of the signs of the times, and not a specific time. Remember “you know not the hour of the Master’s return” (Mark 13:32), and so it is most presumptuous of us to claim such esoteric knowledge.

We should not be too concerned with looking to the skies (or to the fig trees) for these signs, but concerned with what we do before that time:

  • Concerned whether we are engaging with God, and deepening our journey with him, more than condemning others
  • Concerned whether we are building his kingdom by sharing the good news through embracing the stranger rather than rejecting the different or the difficult
  • Concerned with relieving the poor, helping the inwardly blind to see and the spiritually lame to dance rather than squatting up a mountain in fear of the end of days.

Our lives must not be measured by hours, days or years, but by what we have achieved for the Kingdom and to whom we have made a difference.

Lives should be weighed, not counted.

Next week, many of us we shall journey to Walsingham, carrying your prayers with us. Masses will be offered, candles will be lit. Time will be spent with God and with fellow pilgrims (most probably in the pub – an essential part of the Pilgrimage experience). If the Parousia (the second coming) happens before then, then the 31 of you coming might lose your deposit, but you will not mind, for the long awaited return of Christ will vindicate all that he has said, all that we have done in his name.

It will be something well worth looking for, and if you have faith, then there is nothing to be scared of. We might not know when it will be, but Daddy’s coming home, and it’ll be great!


The Walsingham Pilgrim Hymn

Listen to the Hymn

WS Logo White BG copyAmazingly I can find this documented nowhere else on the web, so I will put it up here. On Sunday the parish will somehow record it, and I can then burn it to CD so that when the various cars on Pilgrimage hit the Fakenham Roundabout they can all join in. When you’re on a bus, you don’t need this, but for us in separate cars this helps make the pilgrimage experience.

Tune: LOURDES (Catholic Hymns Old & New 256)

All glory to God in his mercy and grace Who hath established His Home in this wonderful place.

Ave Ave Ave Maria! Ave Ave Ave Maria!

All glory to Jesus our Saviour and Lord Whose image within us by grace is restored.

All glory to God in his Spirit Divine. Who hath fixed His abode in this poor soul of mine.

Sing the praises of Mary, the Mother of God, Whose “Walsingham Way” countless pilgrims have trod.

Then lift high your voices, rehearse the glad tale Of Our Lady’s appearing in Stiffkey’s fair vale.

When Edward Confessor ruled over the land The Faverches’ Manor stood here nigh at hand.

The Lady Richeldis devoted her care To good works and penance and worship and prayer.

One day as she prayed and looked up to the skies, A vision of splendour delighted her eyes.

Our Lady, God’s Mother, in glory arrayed, Held a House in her arms which was clearly displayed.

“Take note, my dear daughter, and build here a Shrine As Nazareth’s home in this country of thine.”

“And the spot that I choose where the house shall arise By a sign shall be plainly revealed to your eyes.”

The vision passed slowly away from her sight, But her mind held the House in its length, breadth and height.

Bewildered she pondered this message so sweet, When a clear spring of water burst forth at her feet.

Bewildered no longer for this was the sign, She vowed on this spot she would build such a shrine.

The finest materials her workmen could find She employed for this House she had fixed in her mind

But though she had given both timbers and lands, The power of the work lay in Mary’s own hands.

And this was made clear when the work was complete By the answers to prayers poured out at her feet.

And soon mighty wonders by grace were revealed, For the sick who made use of the waters were healed.

So Walsingham then came a place of great fame And Our Lady herself was called by this name.

And many a pilgrim to the day of his death Took the road once a year to “England’s Nazareth.”

So crowded were roads that the stars, people say, That shine in the heavens were called “Walsingham Way.”

And many the favours and graces bestowed On those who in faith took the pilgrimage road.

The Image of Mary with her Holy Son Was honoured and feted by everyone.

The Canons and Friars built houses around And the praises of God were a regular sound.

And Kings, Lords and commons their homage would pay And the burning tapers turned night into day.

But at last came a King who had greed in his eyes And he lusted for treasure with fraud and with lies.

The order went forth; and with horror ’twas learned That the Shrine was destroyed and the Image was burned.

And here where God’s Mother had once been enthroned The souls that stayed faithful ‘neath tyranny groaned.

And this realm which had once been Our Lady’s own Dower Had its Church now enslaved by the secular power.

And so dark night fell on this glorious place Where of all former glories there hardly was trace.

Yet a thin stream of pilgrims still walked the old way And hearts longed to see this night turned into day.

Till at last, when full measure of penance was poured, In her Shrine see the honour of Mary restored:

Again ‘neath her Image the tapers shine fair, In her children’s endeavours past wrongs to repair.

Again in her House her due honour is taught: Her name is invoked, her fair graces besought:

And the sick and the maimed seek the pilgrimage way, And miraculous healing their bodies display.

Oh Mother, give heed to the prayer of our heart, That your glory from here never more may depart.

Now to God the All-Father and Son, with due praise, And life-giving Spirit, thanksgiving we raise.

Ave Ave Ave Maria! Ave Ave Ave Maria!

Source: Sir William Milner (reproduced from the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham Pilgrim Manual) after whom the Milner Wing was named


Remembrance Day Meditation

During this meditation, the people are invited to come forward and place a poppy on a cross made out of oasis to pay their respects to those ho gave their lives, not only in the past, but in the present.

I feel sorry for that poor woman, goaded by the press into complaining about the Prime Minister’s handwritten letter and its ‘spelling mistakes’. Her grief has clouded the actual point that the Prime Minister writes personally to the family of everyone who gave their lives. I don’t imagine he has a lot of time in his day (or night) to do this, and the occasional mistake is human. He should be commended, not condemned for this. When I write a card, I often make mistakes. None of us are perfect and I bet lots of other letters she has received, written when tired have mistakes in. I am touched by the fact that he bothers. Well done him. Now, let the lady get on with her grieving and support the country, the services and our (difficult) mission in tough circumstances.