Thursday, 31 March 2011

Rights for Women

On my days away last week I read an interesting biography of Frances Partridge. Frances has been called the last of the Bloomsbury Group, outliving most of them by many years. The complications of Bloomsbury were reflected in her life, in short she met and eventually married Ralph Partridge, who at the time of meeting was married to Dora Carrington, who were both lovers of Lytton Strachey - she joined the 'menage et trios', which came to an end with the death of Lytton and suicide of Dora. I leave it there! Anyway one of the most shocking facts in the book was that Frances went up to Newnham College, Cambridge in the 1920s, but wasn't awarded her degree until she collected it in her 70s (she died a few years ago aged 101).

Hundreds, if not thousands of women, were not given the degree to which they would have been entitled before the 1950s. The issue here was a system which didn't believe that women needed an academic qualification, either for work or a career (a career!) or for the satisfaction of earning it. Now what a change there has been in education here in the last fifty years - women professors, vice chancellors, lecturers. Still across the world today, a world still governed and ruled mostly by men, women are denied an education.

Many girls in developing countries find it hard, and therefore it is important that organisations such as Christian Aid and its partners raise the awareness of the importance of educating women. As a woman educated in the same way as men for 17 years of my life I happily give £1.70 to educate another woman today. I am also very much aware today that the fight for the recognition of women in other spheres of western life goes on and that, even in such a modern age, we still have a long way to go before we have justice and equity. Not necessarily for the sake of women themselves but for the sake of God's kingdom.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

You are what you eat?

A number of current TV programmes, setting out to shock, use the system of throwing a weeks food consumed down a transparent tube so the consumer is confronted by their lifestyle. It is fairly gross but also does its job. Sometimes there is almost nothing in the tube (or cigarettes and beer) and other times there is junk food galore. I am sure we haven't always been obsessed by diet, however health and food have gradually become more and more to the fore, as we in the west turn into couch potatoes with no idea how to cook or little time to do so.

We live in a very different culture from even my parents generation. My parents have always balanced work to earn a living, with work to grow their own food. My mother did not have a full time job after I was born, and so traditionally would cook an evening meal for us all. The weekly shopping trip was always at the same time on the same day, and in those days she walked up the high street going into a shop at a time to get meat, fish, vegetables and fruit, and the supermarket for the essentials left on the list.

Nowadays a weekly trip to the supermarket has to be planned, decisions have to be made about food throughout the week in order to get it right. Now I find myself with little time to prepare and cook and part of the reason I have a fruit and veg box delivered is to confront me with things I have to eat. I try and eat in a balanced way, but very often 5 portions of fruit and veg are just not possible. No wonder vitamin tablets and ready made meals are so popular, and no wonder transparent tubes filled with junk are so shocking.

Again the freedom we have to make choices, and the wisdom we need to make the right choice and to change should be seen as a privilege. Vitamin A deficiency affects 40% of children under five in sub-Saharan Africa and southeast Asia, these children have no choice and often little to eat. They are susceptible to life-threatening diseases - not of their own making. Sadly whether we can help it or not we are what we eat.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Age Matters

It is a well known fact that most of our Anglican churches are filled with 60 and 70 year olds. Not surprising then that a significant number of clergy are going to be retiring in the next few years as many of them have grown older with their congregations. Much research has shown that leaders attract those between ten years older and ten years younger than themselves and a quick scan across the Bucks archdeaconry shows that the younger, vibrant churches are mostly led by younger (and mostly vibrant) clergy. I write this on a day when I have already become depressed (yes before 6am!) at the lack of flexibility and vision at the centre of the diocese - I don't mean from the Bishops but within many of our committees and boards. Then I look at the age profile and perhaps shouldn't be surprised, most of these people retired from their businesses ages ago..... they have been brought up to be cautious, preserving and, conservative (mostly with a large C and small c). I look again at those churches which are growing (inwardly and out) - risks are being taken with outreach and buildings, creativity flourishes or is allowed to flourish, and money is no bar to fruitfulness. They demonstrate a gospel of Good News, generosity and it's attractive. At the age of 46 (20 years younger than many of those I work with) I am passionate about what we are as a church, yet feel trapped by the mindset of my elders. Perhaps I am too young for this job? and yet many of those who lead succesful businesses out in the world are younger than I am. All this talk about age has been provoked by the Count your Blessings for today. 1p for every year of my life. A baby in Britain can expect to live to the age of 79, whereas a baby in other parts of the world can expect to live a much shorter life (Afghanistan it is 44 years). I am grateful that I can look forward (hopefully) to live for many years yet, but hope and pray, for the sake of the church, that I will always be open and listen to the ideas and energy of the generations below me.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Thought for the Day

In Sierra Leone, more than one in five children will die before reaching their fifth birthday.

Saturday, 26 March 2011


Yesterday I wrote about Cotswold Water Park. One of the leisure activities on a neighbouring lake was fishing. Now, I don't know much about fishing (maybe the Jesus kind but not the Simon Peter kind) but I was fascinated to see the lake measured out in sections from which individuals fished. At the weekend there was a competition with all these sections full of fishermen (and yes they mostly were men), each with their bait, rod(s) and keep net. At the end of the day the judges went around adding up the catch. Now, in some ways this is easy fishing (I know that much), the lake is well stocked and that should make catching something possible. River or sea fishing is much harder. I well remember my father spending all night once fishing in the sea on a beach on the east coast and catching only an eel. It's a matter of sitting and waiting, and for me that is what fishing seems to be about, sitting and waiting. It's interesting that women don't seem to want (or have time!) to relax in the same way!

In Bangladesh young children have to go fishing everyday for shrimp fry in order to buy books and food for school. They also have to fetch drinking water for their family which can take up to three hours. Christian Aid provide local water collecting systems to alleviate the hardship. This is not fishing for pleasure, or having the luxury of sitting for hours waiting for a catch. This is about life and death. Today I am asked to give 10p for every bill I have paid this month, very difficult in the days of direct debit, however I may try and find out the current cost of fishing bait and give that instead.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Waste and Space

I have just enjoyed a few days away, staying in a lodge looking out on one of the lakes in the Cotswold Water Park. The Park is an extraordinary place, in two parts across a great swathe of east Gloucestershire between Cirencester and Swindon, and Fairford and Lechlade. It contains over 130 lakes created purely for leisure. Most of the lakes are privately owned, and the larger ones contain gated communities of exclusive property developments - your own second home by the water, as many of the adverts a few years back in the broadsheets read. Others are nature reserves, for fishing or water skiing, for canoeing and there is even a beach resort with real sand! I suppose in a way it compensates those living in the centre of England for not being near the coast.

Away from all the noise of local roads and airfields it is easy to forget that this vast area was once a hive of industry. All these lakes were once part of a huge gravel and sand extraction business and this still goes on in pockets of the area as large lorries trundle along leaving dust in their wake. The area, which could have been left desolate has been brought to life - not for work purposes but for leisure. Landfill has probably helped in the landscaping and continues to do so across our country. Now many parts of leisure England can testify to once being the waste lands of the sand, gravel and cement industry - Lakeside and Bluewater shopping centres to name two.

We are fortunate in this country to have the wealth so the plans of artists and architects can be translated into a new development so something can be created for pleasure, many around the world do not have that luxury. Thousands of people in developing countries live on piles of waste, and scrounge a living from scavenging on rubbish dumps, many more too risk their health mining for minerals across the globe. Today, as I give thanks for the joy of looking out at a lake at sunrise earlier this week I pray for and give to those who struggle to survive - for whom the concept of leisure is unknown.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Earning a Living

Many people living in poverty have little or no choice over how they are able to earn a living.

Looking at the Church Times each week clergy now, it seems, have a lot of choice over their next post. Gone are the days when the Bishops played constant games of chess, moving clergy from place to place, telling them at every move that they are 'by far the best man for the job'. Instead most now have to go through, an often, elaborate process of selection which includes visits, presentations and interviews. Clergy get to discern whether its the right house, the right people, the right place, and parish representatives whether it is the right preacher, right social fit, and right experience. God is in their somewhere....and the hardest part is hearing God's voice over the individual right of choice.

For those ordained a long time, contemplating a move in the church now is a daunting thought - it is not unusual for me to meet those who have never applied for a job in their lives. It takes a great deal of courage to step out into the unknown to where God may be beckoning next, particularly if rejected on the first application. For others, used to a more secular environment, however it is also difficult...these individuals often find it hard to see ministry in terms of vocation and priesthood in terms of the whole person. Seeing ministry as just another job does not go down well with parish reps and senior staff alike, particularly when applications abound for a variety of posts with no clear vision for what next.

Whilst choice in all sorts of ways may cause problems, choice we all do have, whether it is applying for a post, offering the post or accepting or rejecting a post. I have held seven fulltime posts since leaving school so that is 70p to Christian Aid today. Again a small price to pay for doing the work I love and having the opportunity to follow God's calling in the first place.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

A lost childhood

I am always moved when I hear or see accounts of children who care for their parents or siblings. The courage and selflessness is often overwhelming, as these youngsters juggle school and homework, with cooking, feedings and housework.

Many children around the world also support their family financially. Unlike me, who kept the money from my Saturday job, many children go to work after school, or at weekends to contribute to the family because the family couldn't survive otherwise. In some countries children work on rubbish dumps, in others factories and in others quarries. It is hard work and long hours.

I give 50p today because I have money in the bank at the end of every month. Many people neither have money left nor energy. So many children are forced by circumstances to give up their childhood to care or to go out to work. Those who support them financially or by offering holidays or a group to be part of are to be commended.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011


Last year I reported on the water burst whilst the extension was being built on my house. Unfortunately the water problems haven't gone away. Since then there have been frozen pipes, a leaky bath, dripping taps, a small pond appearing in the front garden and, worst of all, water from melting snow on the roof pouring through the ceiling of the new extension! In fact it feels like I have been plagued by water since moving in here three and a half years ago.

It's not only the inconvenience of water appearing in the wrong places, it is the waste. At a time when we are to be conserving the planet's resources, it doesn't seem right to be watching water go down the drain (or so to speak!).

Today is World Water wishing to conserve mine, I am mindful of all those who still have to walk miles to collect it My prayers are with them today and for all those who work at building water pumps, and wells, and those who drill bore holes and lay pipes. Today I will give 20p for every glass I drink, every tap I turn on and every flush of the loo for taking this precious thing so very much for granted.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Stacking Shelves

My first Saturday job took place on a Thursday. After school each week from the age of 14 I worked in a local mini-market. It sold everything, and I was charged with stacking the shelves, after the owner had returned from the cash and carry. However, I didn't stack all the shelves, my responsibility were the pet foods and the soups. I had to write down exactly what was running out of stock ready for the next I specialised in makes and flavours of cat food, and the flavours of Heinz soup.

The apprentice on a Thursday then eventually was promoted to become a Saturday girl. This was great fun, there were two of us and we did everything from slice meats, to cutting and weighing cheese, from operating the till to washing the floor and sticking posters in the window (which was the highlight as we had to balance on top of the freezer to do that!). Then at the end of the day we were given our wages. It was fantastic, that feeling of being given bank notes for the first time in recognition for work.

Earning the British minimum wages puts us among the richest 11%in the world. And although a stipend is comparatively low, we are rich compared to many. Today I give thanks for the opportunities to work and the reward (financial and otherwise) in doing so.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Teachers we have loved...

I never really enjoyed my school days. My early memories of my first school were of strict teachers, embarassing situations and a general dread of what was going to happen next. The two teachers I had are not remembered for their kindness.

Then a brand new school was build just around the corner, so local children left one school and joined another. I can still remember the first day there, aged 7 when the varnish on the hall floor was still wet. That school was created around us, a swimming pool was built (my friend and I held a fete in her house to raise funds), we had school pets and went on a brilliant trip in the 4th year juniors to the Isle of Wight. Mrs Williams, Mrs Neild, Miss Krelle and Mr Granath are remembered with fondness. They were fun, and cared for us all.

Then came the local comprehensive. I hated it. I dreaded it. Not only were the teachers unfriendly, but I didn't excel and couldn't see the point of what we were learning. There were some good times, I made a tray in plastics (still in use!), learned to type and got some good grades in RE! I remember a detention, a teacher throwing a chalk at me, and feeling ill some days at the thought of going. It wasn't until the sixth form, that a form tutor noticed some potential in this average (or below average) girl and encouraged me to do different things - like help in the careers office, be chairperson of a young enterprise company and look beyond working in a bank when I left at 18. Mr Ford was the only teacher I have kept in touch with ever since.

69 million primary aged children around the world do not go to school. However organisations like Christian Aid are trying to make it possible. At the end of my education I managed 5 O'levels and 2 (extremely low) grade A levels. That's 45p. Amazingly 4 years later I managed an HNC (40p) and then 10 years later a 2:1 degree (50p). Both of those were highly relevant, and motivated me in a way those unnamed teachers didn't and those named ones did. If my £1.35 today goes someway to motivating someone else it's money well spent.

Friday, 18 March 2011

It began with an Amstrad

Computers have played a significant part in my pilgrimage. In 1987 I worked for the RSA as an Administrative Secretary. I used an electronic typewriter for my work until it was decided that I would be given a brand new word processor to manage the database with. Things started well and I got to grips with it, then I undertook some training outside the office, and when I got back I didn't have a clue how to relate the training to my machine. Work began to get too much and after a visit to the doctor I was given anti-depressants. This started me on the road to thinking that there must be more to life than commuting to London everyday.....

Unbeknown to me, my local vicar had been thinking that God perhaps was calling me to something else too and had planned to offer me a job working at my local church. However, when I had told him that the RSA were buying me my very own word processor, costing in those days around £4,000 he thought I would never give up my job in London! How wrong he was, when he invited me to join the team some two months later. I jumped at the chance.

The Vicar had bought himself and the church office an Amstrad computer each, and so I moved from one machine to another. The church office computer became my right arm for two years. Life took me then to Hull to embark on the next episode, and my local church realised how bereft I was at the thought of not having a computer after all this time. Hence their leaving present to me - an Amstrad of my own. Now, twenty one years and five computers later I couldn't imagine myself without one.

In Burkina Faso fewer than one in ten people have access to a computer. I currently have access to 3, along with two mobile phones, so pay £1 today for the privilage.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

A Picture paints a thousand words

I have been at a fantastic conference this week, with over 100 people from the Oxford diocese on Leading your Church into Growth. We have had some great teaching, and thoughtful worship and it has been good to touch base with so many clergy all in one place.

The course itself has many words, however the worship has been designed around some powerful images. It's amazing what one picture can lead you to in terms of thoughtful reflection and personal devotion. A drawing can say so much...and can open up the imagination to so many thoughts and feelings...bringing about commitment, repentance, joy, sorrow, and a renewed commitment in a way that words would just not connect.

In the west we are so reliant on words, we forget that many in our world are unable to read. Today we are reminded that in Mali, only one in four can. As we continue to learn about sharing the Good News with others we need to remember to use images as well as words.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Free Press

42% of countries worldwide, it is estimated, do not have a free press nor give people access to unbiased news.

It could be questioned whether our news is ever unbiased, for it is hard for it not to be. Most people know a paper by its political colour and I changed my Saturday choice because of its sudden change of allegiance last year. With the internet it is easier now than ever before to discern all sides of a particular story and to come to ones own conclusion about it and most blogs contain something of that personal conclusion. Yet what ever we write is going to be biased in some way, we all have likes and dislikes, heros and villains, beliefs and principals, free speech brings with it biased opinions. It's hard to remain neutral anymore or to avoid being judged if that is the intention.

Yet, what is meant by the 42% are those who are vetod in their free speech; those who are fed only one line - the party one; those who are punished for speaking out or speaking against. The internet too is helping the otherwise helpless and voiceless to communicate to the rest of the world, but that also can be censored, or just not available.

We all need a voice...and the freedom to decide what we will listen to. I will only give 20p today as I just buy two newspapers in a week (one national and one local) - not much to pay for the freedom I have to choose them and read them.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011


It's strange isn't it how something suddenly becomes part of our life. I can understand how technology moves on and new inventions appear. However, am puzzled with the way other things catch on - things like Sudoku. Life before Sudoku comprised IQ type puzzles and crosswords, word searches and anagrams. Then the nine numbered square appeared from no-where and Sudoku are everywhere. We find our own level - Easy, hard, tough, fiendish. There are even Killer Sudoku's and Ken Ken's. There is a whole new number industry, and I am sure pencil sales have increased too.

Today Christian Aid asks us to give 20p for every crossword or Sudoku attempted this week. That's £1 from me, as my weekly attempts from the Saturday paper comprise the cryptic crossword, a general knowledge crossword, a hard and a tough and a Killer. I take it all for granted doing puzzles, which I have enjoyed from an early age. Yet roughly 16% of the world's population cannot read or write, something to think about today as I do both.

Monday, 14 March 2011

The Joy of Text

Books in my life will never be replaced by an electronic alternative. There is something about having a good book on a shelf, being able to open it and taking it with you. The text books I now have, apart from theology, are nearly all travel books. These books open up the world to me, whether places I have been or places I dream to go, they are my reminder of memories and containers of vision.

While I was at school the text book changed from being full of text, to containing diagrams and pictures. These brought the subject alive, and now I realise that my intuition and imagination responds much better to images, and short blocks of text than pages full of words. £2.50 will pay for a text book for two students in Southern Sudan. The importance of that should not only be to enable children to learn, but to open their horizons to new things.

My latest purchase is '1000 Sacred Places' bringing together my two loves - travel and God. I haven't read many books this year (probably 3 at the most and all on holiday in January) but I will gladly give 10p today for every book I have read and purchased so far in 2011, because life without books is something I could never imagine.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

A Worldwide Church

Today the world's focus is on Japan. Pictures of yesterday's earthquake and Tsunami shown across the globe quickly revealed the extent of the devastation and the power of nature. Our prayers are with all those whose lives have been turned upside down in a moment.

With modern communication and air travel the other side of our world has become closer and more accessible. This morning I am hosting a meeting for all those involved in our diocesan link with Kimberley and Kuruman and, through regular visits and telephone calls, we are able to develop a much deeper relationship than we would have been able to do twenty or thirty years ago. That relationship is practical as well as prayerful.

Tomorrow marks the end of FairTrade fortnight. FairTrade directly benefits 7 million people in 58 developing countries. It is another way that we can connect with our world and support one another. As we meet those from other cultures, or understand more about the personal struggles and triumphs in other parts of the world from the Internet or television screen we can be challenged and changed. Fairtrade is one way we can respond, there are many more ways, these will be made clear to those who gather this morning and, as we think of Japan, will no doubt be highlighted in the days and weeks to come.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Food Miles

Where did my breakfast come from? Now that's a good question for today. In highlighting the fact that Christian Aid helps farmers in 42 countries around the world I need to locate the source of my breakfast. Not so easy with a packet of cereal made out of countless ingrediants. Thinking about chocolate the other day made me realise the tension we have in our world when it comes to our food. On the one hand we need from an environmental point of view to save food miles and to support local produce, on the other we know that in importing from across the world we are helping those in poorer countries.

Like buying only fruit when it is in season I suppose one principle would be to buy products from overseas when they cannot be produced locally. However things are further complicated by the criss-crossing around the world of different parts of the process - my cereal box, inner plastic bag, and cereal were not all made in one place. There are somethings that are impossible to be purist about. Fairtrade though can be one principle we can adhere too, particularly when it comes to tea and coffee and that way we are supporting particular farmers in particular places.

Breakfast this morning will be spent working out exactly how many places the cereal did actually come from. I thought cereal was the simplist option when it came to breakfast until now, how I wish I was having local bacon and eggs today!

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Real Rubbish

'Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return'. These powerful words from the Ash Wednesday liturgy are still ringing in my ears. A reminder of our mortality, of our nothingness, the common denominator whether we are rich or poor, educated or not, born in the west or in a poorer part of the world. Yet Christians know and believe that we are definitely not nothing, but something. Known by our name before we are born, says the psalmist, chosen and precious it says elsewhere in the Bible.

Today's Count your Blessings is about rubbish. The average household throws away 4kg of food and drink every week I read. I was brought up in a household who believed in compost from the earliest of days and 'feeding the birds' with the rest. Everything was precious and had a use, even when decomposing. Then along came packaging and the waste pile grew. The great reclaimation over the years has been the growth of the recycling industry, redeeming that packaging be it tin or paper, plastic or card and using it for other things. We can then buy back recycled products and score even more brownie points on the satisfaction scale. Simply burying all our rubbish just isn't good for the world.

There are many people today who feel like rubbish, they have been disguarded, abused, literally treated like dirt and the less care we take about the disposal of our unwanted things, be it from the attic, the garden or the kitchen cupboard or fridge, the less likely we are to see the value in anything, of God's world, of our environment, of the human being. Our Ash Wednesday refrain is also a reminder that God longs to lift us out of the rubbish dump of sin, to redeem us, to turn us from nothing into something.

As I consider my kitchen rubbish today, I will think twice about what is real rubbish.....and what can be redeemed for the sake of God's kingdom here on earth and in life everlasting.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Sugar and Ash

I am sitting here thinking about three bags of sugar totally 3kg. That is the amount of chocolate each person in Britain eats on average every year. Well, there must be a good number of people who don't eat much chocolate so that means many people eat more than 3kg. No wonder there is a thriving chocolate industry. I remember visiting Cadbury's World last year and seeing bar after bar moving along the production line and wondering about our consumption, that someone somewhere in the world was eating a bar as fast as they were produced and that was only one production line producing one named bar.

Writing about chocolate on day one of my fast is temptation at its worst, however in Counting my Blessings today I am asked to give 10p for every bar of chocolate I have eaten in the past week. Well, I could respond, I am saving my money today because I not sure whether I have eaten a bar this last week. Yet, I have eaten chocolate cakes, chocolate dessert, chocolate toffees....and so it goes on. Chocolate is part of an indulgent way of life for us in the west...and my contribution to the 3kg grows every week. It is also a way of life for farmers in poorer areas of our world. Christian Aid provides farmers in places like Nicaragua with cocoa seeds, and each costs 10p, which can in turn give them and their families a regular income.

That to me in the real challenge, if seeds cost 10p then someone loses out somewhere in order for me to eat chocolate cheaply. I don't often eat Nicaraguan chocolate, probably because it costs more. If we all then just ate a couple of pieces of more expensive chocolate instead of a whole bar that 3kg average would go down and farmers struggling to make a living in farming cocoa would have more of a chance. My 10p today (now placed where I can see it throughout Lent sat next to a jar of sugar) is extremely symbolic as I atone for all my greed.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Mmmm Pancakes!

Something I usually never get around to eating are pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. In fact I think the last time I had them was at a Pancake Party we held in my former parish some...6 years ago. It's not like I don't like them or anything but is one of the definite disadvantages to being in a single-person household. You just cannot make batter for one or two off you go and one gets cold while you cook the next and so on. Then I am usually going out somewhere in the evening and so what should be an extended cooking and eating time to enjoy the last pre-Lenten indulgence never actually happens.

With all the chocolate being removed from the house today (like the rapid removal of linen ritual that happens in churches at the end of Maundy Thursday), I have decided this pancake treat must be reinstated. No, I realise it is not the using up of ingredients in the cupboard, but the pancakes from M & S looked so tempting...and can be put in the microwave...and come in small packets. So hey presto...I can indulge and get to my meeting by 7.30pm without the surplus batter. Not quite as it was in my childhood, or with a congregation, but the intention is there and, together with the 'stripping of the chocolate' it will make my Shrove Tuesday complete.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Anticipating another Lent

I have had my arm twisted by Christian Aid to Blog about Counting my Blessings during Lent. Another challenge I rise too! There are so many blessings in my job, even the most mundane and so to focus on all I take for granted once again is a good discipline. I am also thinking about....and it is not yet Ash Wednesday up chocolate. This for me will be an extreme challenge and something I have never done before. It will also mean finding enough treats in my life not to resort to the quality street box, or the malteser packet...or whatever else there is around to give me a boost. Now there may be blessing galore around....but the need for an occasional sugar rush is very strong. I think I need to begin to look in different places for the treat that is God, so maybe the two are linked and Lent may be an exciting journey of self-discovery. Perhaps something to even look forward to?