Sunday, 24 April 2011

Easter Sunday

It has been both sobering and challenging to count my blessings during Lent 2011. Giving up chocolate too has shown me that it is possible to live differently...we just need to try. As someone whose job is so focussed on the local (albeit countywide local) it is amazing how worldwide this blog has become, and it is by widening our horizons that we enter more fully into the height, breadth and depth of God.

The challenge now for me is what I take of these 40 days into my day to day living. I will certainly try and recycle more, will turn the thermostat down a notch and think about what resources I squander or take for granted. I already have some thoughts for next year about fasting from emails, or limiting my mileage. But, they can wait.

For now is the time to celebrate the risen Lord with alleluias, the eucharist and yes, some chocolate. Happy Easter.

Risen Christ, Lord of life
Help us to roll away the stone of our selfishness and apathy
so that new life may arise
wherever love and hope are crucified
May we live out your Easter faith,
and bring the miracle of your resurrection to the world.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Good Friday

We may not know, we cannot tell
what pains he had to bear
But we believe it was for us
he hung and suffered there.

Today Christians throughout the world remember the most significant event in history. That Christ died on the cross. We serve a crucified God. God willing to give up everything out of love for humankind. The sinless one was punished, the lamb of God was offered up, the price was paid. However we look at what happened, and however flawed our understanding, the death of Jesus has changed and challenged people ever since it happened.

The cross calls us to a life of service - to give ourselves up in return to serve God, to make our own sacrifices out of love for him. To count as nothing the things of the world for the sake of life itself. It's no wonder that our schools, our hospitals, many of our aid agencies, our charities and our community groups were started by Christians and are funded by Christians. Local surveys often reveal the level of volunteerism amongst Christians to be higher than any other group.

We give thanks for all organisations and individuals in the world reaching out to those in need.

Today as Christians we stop serving the world for one moment and instead gather around the cross. An empty Cross, reminding us of the cost and the calling. The world in all its busyness may pass us by, may pass Him by, but this day we can be renewed in our compassion by the generosity of God, and restored in our commitment through the love of Christ.

BROKEN FOR ME, broken for you,
The body of Jesus, broken for you.

He offered His body, He poured out His soul;
Jesus was broken, that we might be whole:

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Maundy Thursday

Although all Lent's are the same length, this one seems to have been a particularly long one! I think it is because Easter falls the latest it ever can, and the 'lengthen' season when the days get longer has been accompanied by all the daffodils flowering and dying, the blue bells out a few weeks early and everyone in shorts and T.shirts. Now it feels we are on the edge of summer, rather than the start of the last few days before the dawning of a new beginning.

It's strange how our environment affects our inner spirit. That's why these next three days lend themselves so well to a reawakening of the senses and the drama of the passion of Christ. I still have memories of Oberammergau in my mind this year and began yesterday to replay the music in my car as I drove along. I may not understand the German but I can easily get into the mood of the passion play. This morning I join clergy from across the diocese at the Cathedral where holy oil is blessed and vows made now 16 years ago are renewed. Tonight I share supper and the liturgy of the Last Supper and Watch with the sisters at Burnham Abbey.

It may not feel like Holy Week outside but by bringing all of ourselves to the liturgical commemoration of Christ's last days we can share once again in his love and compassion. As I count my blessings today with Christians throughout the world and reflect on Christ's call to service I become part of something much bigger. My actions matter for the sake of Christ in the world.

As one recycled tin can save enough energy to power a television for three hours somewhere else my stewardship matters. Yes, for others because they matter, but for Christ too. Who calls us all this day no longer strangers but friends and gives us that commandment to do for others what he has done for us.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

A change in the weather

It was wonderful yesterday to sit in the sun. This mild and dry spell that we are currently experiencing is a great tonic after the long grey winter, which began with early snow last year. However, already the gardeners amongst us are talking about watering, and the weather prophets predicting early hosepipe bans. Mostly in the UK the weather disrupts our leisure most of all. Sporting fixtures are altered, days are either made or ruined, gardens drying out.

In other parts of the world weather is becoming much more extreme, drought wipes out literally the food crop of a whole country, floods wash away homes and livelihoods, earthquakes and winds destroy crops, transport links and manufacturing plants. Farmers particularly are finding it hard, when acres and acres of country are unable to produce the exports necessary to guarantee a steady income for thousands of workers then everyone suffers. Working in partnership with others Christian Aid are trying to support those poorest people affected by weather patterns to find alternative sources of income.

As I travel around Buckinghamshire in the sunshine today, I will try and better appreciate my work and will pray for all those who have little, because of where they happen to live and the weather patterns around.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011


Diocesan computers down this morning so for the first time I am blogging on an iPhone! Today Christian Aid asks us to consider our political representatives. Who speaks for us? Well for a start that is difficult for me to answer as my MP happens to be the Speaker! A contradiction in terms when the Speaker is prevented from his own free speech because of his role. I could also question whether he is a representative as none of the main opposition parties put up candidates against the Speaker in the last election. So I am not sure whether the people of Buckingham really do have a voice.

Yet this all causes me to consider my own voice. Who do I speak on behalf of? That's an interesting question for an archdeacon. In a way we speak for the Church of England although it is difficult to do this. But, on formal occasions I do the legal stuff as part of the established church. I speak for the diocese as a member of the Bishop's staff team - I represent the diocese to churchwardens and when reviewing the work of clergy or making appointments. I also though represent the parishioners of Bucks, the churches and clergy, and when it comes to diocesan decisions, committees and General Synod I feel myself called to be an advocate for these groups of people. But more importantly of all I represent Christ, in the world, in my work, to those I meet. That is the most important call of all. That means making Christ known through the way I live my life and making Christ's concerns my own. That is why I am counting my blessings this Lent. To focus my life on the needs of others and highlight the plight of the poor and needy across our world.

I may not have someone speaking on my behalf in parliament so I am particularly challenged this holy week to reflect on my own voice and how I use it. How do you use yours?

Monday, 18 April 2011

Turning up the Heat

In this Holy Week, for our blessings we focus on heat. With such a warm spell of weather as we have been having it has been good to already turn down the central heating. Usually it is around the middle of May when people begin to feel warm enough to wear fewer layers and do without the radiators on.

95% of homes in Britain have central heating. It is something many take for granted. However, I must admit that moving into a house that relies on oil for its heating has made me take more notice than ever before of the thermostat. I feel particularly virtuous therefore today when I am asked to give 50p for every degree the thermostat is above 20 degrees. Mine is never turned up that much!

Yet I am mindful of those who have little heat, including those in our own country. We take it very much for granted and it is not until the oil runs out or the boiler breaks down that we really experience what others do all of the time.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

A Doctor's View

When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here.If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” just say this: “The Lord needs it.” ’ So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’ They said, ‘The Lord needs it.’ Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,
‘Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!’
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’

St Luke's gospel is vivid, personal, full of individuals. Luke himself is first mentioned in Paul's letters as a latter’s “coworker” and as the “beloved physician.” The former designation is the more significant one, for it identifies him as one of a professional group of itinerant Christian “workers,” many of whom were teachers and preachers. His medical skills, like Paul’s tentmaking, may have contributed to his livelihood; but his principal aim was to further the mission of Christianity.

There are 21 doctors in Britain for every 10,000 people. In many countries there are just 1. Today we give thanks for health professionals all over the world - past and present.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Thought for the Day

It would cost 11.3bn US Dollars to bring water and sanitation to everyone in the world. That is one third of what we spend on alcohol in Britain each year.

How we take the drain for granted when we pour money down it......

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Taking Advantage

One of my minor obsessions on a day when I have time, is to make the most of my Boots Advantage card. Now, I am not as bad as some, because there are whole web sites dedicated to helping people make the most of this bit of plastic. We all know that there isn't such thing as a free gift anymore, but by using points on an Advantage Card wisely and well, it is amazing what you can do. Pay money for certain things and get enough points back to buy something else, double your points, get free gifts when you spend so much - and points. Indeed, as one of my friends commented recently, why do I need all those toiletries - why the answer is plain and simple, to enable me to get Advantage Card points so I can buy more! Yes, bargain hunting in Boots can become an obsession.

How crazy is that? Being obsessed by a chemist! When you consider the extent of the Boots range it is easy to see how much we can buy for all sorts of ways of tending our body - whether we want to moisturise it, or remove the oil, smooth it or paint it, heal it or mend it, reduce it or colour it, make it smell nice or even taste nice.....

When it comes to our health there are also vitamins and tonics, pills and medicine, even about six different types of cough mixture depending on what cough you have. There are behind the counter drugs, or pharmacist prepared drugs or those freely available. What choice we have.

Today we are asked to think about all the unused medicines we keep in our cupboards and give 10p for every packet. Looking in mine, I have a lot....just like the toiletries, they are there just in case.

When a lot of the world's poorest people live with illness or disability without a chemist for miles, I realise my wealth. Tied up in bottles and boxes waiting to be used and tied up in a little piece of plastic, which very powerfully entices me to buy even more.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

It's all in the wash

I don't think I am alone when I say I hate ironing. In fact it was a major discussion topic in the hairdressers the other day...especially when next door to it there were two people running an ironing business. It's not that long ago (yes, when I was a child) when washing and ironing took most of two days.

Monday was wash day in our home, and in my grandmother's next door. We managed with a twin tub, connected to the sink, whilst my grandmother still used a boiler in which she put all her 'whites' and would fish them out with wooden tongs after she had finished. The smell was magical. She would relay tales of mangles and wash boards....with the task taking even longer. Then Tuesday would be ironing day, and the weeks would go on with the same routine.

I think ironing for me becomes such a chore because I am less disciplined when it comes to washing. Stick it in the washing machine when I have time, pull it out to dry and then leave it to be ironed. So, of course, those clothes that I need to wear get an iron and others don't. Which means taking a deep breath every so often and getting the whole job done at once.

Ironing doesn't exist in many parts of the world! But nor does the ability to wash like we do. Clothes are worn for longer, washing consists of rinsing garments in the river, or under a tap. Water borne diseases can be carried and passed on, through drinking water, or washing clothes in effluent. Almost half the people in developing countries lack inadequate sanitation. As I tackle my ironing this week I will think of these people and the risks they take to wear clean clothes. An hour spent at the ironing board is nothing compared to the effort others have to put in.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Water butt.....

With some fantastic weather over the weekend I used my new water butts for the first time. I felt particularly virtuous as I filled the watering can with rain water. Such a simple thing - saving rain water for another use, and saving fresh tap water at the same time. I hope my plants enjoyed it!

This week Christian Aid asks us to think about well being around the world. We take it for granted turning on a tap, or running a shower or bath and seeing the clear, clean water come out. Last year I counted how many taps I had - too many compared to many thousands of people who have to walk to a water supply. I can still picture the joy of people I met in Kimberley and Kuruman, as they managed to recycle wash water for their vegetable garden using a rusty old petrol can.

Nearly 1 billion people do not have clean water. Symbolically I have now moved away from wasting clean water on my plants but an annual count up of the taps is always a stark reminder of how different life is for me. 17 + 2 showers + 2 water butts = 21 (£2.10 for Christian Aid)

Monday, 11 April 2011

As quick as a flush

During my early twenties, when working in London and visiting the theatre fairly frequently, a friend and I talked about writing a book. We talked about writing a guide to the ladies toilets in London theatres. Now I am sure that in the twenty years since our comments someone probably has written that guide.

My friend and I would give each loo marks out of ten. And I still find myself doing so now in public places, like pubs and restaurants, shops and high streets at home and abroad. Friends will say that I am quite fussy when it comes to public loos and I must say some of them are still appalling - smelly, graffiti strewn, doors that don't lock and no paper! However, I have discovered in the last few years that I cannot be the only one concerned with the state of ladies toilets. Standards have crept up and even in a very ordinary coffee shop the toilets now come with air fresheners and hand wash.

It's amazing how, travelling around Buckinghamshire between churches (many without a loo), planning toilet stops has become a necessity for me. So IKEA in Milton Keynes, Beaconsfield Services and John Lewis at High Wycombe are all on my list. In London the public toilets in Covent Garden take some beating. Although I must say my favourites are those in upmarket London hotels and restaurants which have individual flannels to dry your hands and Molton Brown hand wash and hand lotion. You just have to buy a meal or drink for the experience!

It's all a bit over the top really, particularly when in other parts of the world health and sanitation isn't given the same priority. The provision of nice or grotty toilets may be someones responsibility here, but others are not so fortunate. Many people across the world do not have their own loo, do not have water to flush it and would not even comprehend that western designers win competitions for inventing quick machines to dry our hands.

In Ethiopia Christian Aid partners train teachers in health and sanitation so that this knowledge is passed on to school children. Each time I flush the loo today I will give 10p for the privilege of doing so and will count my blessings....

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Planning for the Future

Pensions are the thing that most people in their forties and fifties don't like to think about. It's a distant phenomena which happens sometime in the future, and like Wills and other matters which concern the last stage in life is difficult to take too seriously. However, open every money page of the broadsheets and it is hard to ignore the need to plan and not anticipate what the provision will actually be when retirement actually comes.

When I was first ordained the sums were simple, work 35 years as an ordained priest and you would be entitled to a receive a full pension. I had worked out that I would therefore be able to retire at 66 years. After working 16 years the goal post have changed and I now anticipate working until aged about 70 years. That's of course if I don't take that word Pension a bit more seriously and begin to save for retirement, which I will have to do if I want to have some choice about where I live and how I live in old age. Long gone is the short hay day of the eighties when, like my father, one could retire at 53 and with some financial prudence manage never to have to work again, enjoying the fruits of ones labour for at least another 25 years.

As I write however I am aware of all the words I use: entitled; receive; provision; save; choice. Words which do not appear in the vocabulary of many across our globe. They are words which speak of wealth and luxury, not of millionaires or celebrities (that's on totally a different plane) but of people who will be provided with something when we stop working for a living to enable us to continue to live independent lives.

This weekend we are asked by Christian Aid to reflect on the plight of the elderly across the world. In many countries those beyond 70 have to go on working to survive, Bolivia has only recently introduced a state pension to enable people in their late 70s to be able to afford the rent without having to keep working. And in other parts of the world most families have to daily absorb the cost of caring for their elderly relatives because there is no state provision. This gives those who work additional costs to bear out of a limited income, and the elderly little choice about anything.

Reflecting on this makes me realise how much we have. It also makes me so grateful for all I take for granted - that my parents have had a long and happy retirement, and that I can anticipate receiving something called Pension when I eventually stop work.

Friday, 8 April 2011


This week's count your blessings focuses on shelter. Yesterday a further earthquake was reported in Japan, a country still in shock and disarray following the previous earthquake and Tsunami. I cannot imagine how that technologically rich and relatively prosperous nation is managing to hold together when there has been so much loss of life and devastation. It is a reminder for all of us of the fragility of the world and the temporal nature of all we surround ourselves with, including bricks and mortar.

It is hard for my generation and those younger to envisage destruction over such a wide scale, earlier generations - those who lived through the two world wars particularly - probably understood much better the preciousness of life and possessions and as a result valued both (and the little things) much more. Following the Haiti earthquake in 2010, more than 2 million people became homeless, families of 12 people or so lived in single rooms for months after. It is good during Lent for us to reflect upon all that we have, I wonder what it would be like to be alive and have no possessions? What would be left if everything was taken away?

The provision of food and shelter is every one's right and necessity. On a day like this I feel guilty living in the house I do. I give 10p for each of my 11 large rooms and think of the 100 needy people across the world who could find shelter under my roof.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Paradise Lost

I have very fond memories of the Isle of Wight. As a family we holidayed there for many years, staying in the grounds of an old mansion in the south, literally on the edge of a cliff. A great fan of Enid Blyton at the time 'Southview' was our own mysterious playground, the walk down the cliff to the beach an exciting adventure and perched on rocks when the tide came in a fun few hours caused by foolish (or rather foolhardy) parents. The Isle of Wight continues to enchant me, a few years ago a friend and I walked around its circumference, it is a manageable place, inviting yet old fashioned, its coast stunning, its attractions (including coloured sands) quite twee. A mixture of what's good about life in miniature.

Palestine, visited last year, is quite different. It's desert beauty rough rather than lush, it's beauty, to be capture in rare moments of quiet, lost in bustle and busyness. The powerless have very little as olive groves are destroyed and water is scarce because of occupation. I have never been to Gaza, but the stories of life there are not attractive. They reveal a struggling existence for those who live there, where the provision of health care, education and welfare is hampered by embargoes and checkpoints. There are romantic tales in the Isle of Wight about smugglers of old, in Gaza people smuggle essential goods to enable them to live.

The current population of the Isle of wight is around 124,000. The current population of Gaza is 1.5 million. We can easily come and go to and from the Isle of Wight, people are locked in Gaza. Symbolically, due to past experiences, the Isle of Wight is the one place in the world that for me represents freedom, freedom from the cares of the world, from anxiety, from the things that get us down. I pray that the people of Gaza will one day experience that freedom too.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011


Where is home? That's a question I have asked myself ever since I left my family home in Billericay some 20 years ago. For most people home is where they find themselves now. A decision is made, and a house found. However, for those who are ordained and find themselves, like me, living in a house owned by someone else, somewhere we might not have chosen, then home often resides in a different place. Most clergy being ordained now, in middle age, have their own home somewhere else. That property may be rented or used occasionally but is nevertheless somewhere they call home, and may plan to return to at some stage. I, being ordained before I could afford a house, have no other home.

So in a strange way, my parents house, remains my home. I return to it occasionally and it passes the knee-jerk test, of being called home spontaneously in conversation. It's hard, because I would like to make my current house a home, but know however much I try it will never be it...and should I leave my current job I will leave it behind as I have left the five houses I have lived in before behind too.

Being without a home, has made me ponder on a number of things, particularly what will happen when my parents no longer are in their home. It makes me feel rootless and disinterested in investing in the here and now. On a bad day it makes me feel insecure, at the mercy of others, with no autonomy. However, then, when I voice a question like Peter asked Jesus, I am reassured by what Jesus said in reply

'Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.

In fact it is only in the affluent west that we cherish so much our bricks and mortar. Not having a home makes me appreciate being given one, but it also makes me have a kind of solidarity with the millions of rootless people across the world. Unlike me, who has had a pretty easy time (in comparison) giving up things to follow Christ, 42 million people worldwide are currently displaced by no fault of their own - conflict, persecution and disaster. How much harder it must be for them to cling onto any kind of blessing....

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Keeping in touch

It wasn't too long ago that we used to write letters. As a child I was taught to write 'thank you' letters after Christmas or a birthday, and I still do. They are now almost the only personal letters I ever write. Even in my work letters make up now about 5% of the communication I do, with email and the telephone doing the rest.

When I left home and moved to Hull, a great deal of my time was spent re-living my experience for the sake of others, as I wrote it down in a letter, and even when training in Bristol I would write regular letters home to keep in touch. Now with the internet and mobile phones we are brought much closer to our families and friends as we can text and email as much or as little as we like. I do feel, though, that we probably communicate less in that way of our thoughts and feelings and what we have been doing. The letters kept from grandparents and relatives no longer alive are all the more treasured. Perhaps in a way the blog has become our public letter home?

I am glad that my parents, although now in their 70s have embraced new technology - the mobile phone may not be switched on very often, but at least they have one and my dad looks at his emails everyday. My sister and I still each have a ritual phone call with my mum once a week and keep in touch ourselves by email and phone. It's amazing how things have moved on.

In Zimbabwe unemployment is estimated at 94%, forcing many people to live miles from home to find work to support their families. For many there are little means of communication. This week I have been in touch with my family (parents and sister) by letter (or card), email and phone and therefore today give 60p to Christian Aid for being able to do so.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Street Walking

We never really think about walking along the street. In fact we walk for pleasure and look at the things we pass as we go along, perhaps minding the remains of the take away or the dog dirt every so often. Since getting a puncture last year I suppose I now do think about driving down country lanes. I try to avoid the potholes which have become something of a hazard.

However I am aware today how different it is, even with the inconvenience of Buckinghamshire potholes, in some parts of the world to walk and drive freely. Today is International Mine Awareness Day. In Cambodia, for example, landmines and unexploded ordinance continue to kill and maim. They remain dangerous consequences of war. 87% of the victims are civilians. We pray for those who cannot walk along the street without the risk of being injured.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Within Reach

It is now possible for those with money and access to the right transport to get to almost anywhere in the world. Some places are still more accessible than others, however with the ability to negotiate and plan globally and locally, distant lands and remote places and people can now be reached.

In our own country we take travel very much for granted, we get into our cars, or hop on a train, or plane if we want someone else to take us there. We explore new places on a day out or holiday and travel then for fun. For the first time in my life I live in what could be described as a remote location! It is over a mile to the nearest shop, however I very rarely walk there.

In many parts of the world, the luxury of what I describe is beyond understanding. The day to day pressures of life, with no access to transport and little local provision in way of school, work, shop or hospital are all absorbing. Walking is about survival rather than pleasure.

In Malawi, and other remote parts of our world, mothers with sick children travel by foot and bike for up to four hours a day for months on end to attend treatment and feeding clinics. This determines their healthy survival. This weekend I give thanks for mothers all over the world who make sacrifices for their children.

Although, because of other commitments, I won't be seeing my mother tomorrow and she lives 60 miles away. I am very aware today that with a car if I needed to I can be with her in just over an hour.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Orphans and Vulnerable Children

Last year, during the World Cup, I used my blog to highlight life in the diocese of Kimberley and Kuruman, a diocese linked with our own Oxford. It is a privilege to chair the diocesan Link Committee and to have visited our brothers and sisters to see and experience life in that diocese for myself. We have a wonderful committee, made up of dedicated people willing to give to specific areas of life overseas. Some have been involved in developing parish to parish links, some have spent considerable time in Kimberley and Kuruman and others have much expertise of working with aid agencies and charities overseas. The partnerships we have made, and enabled others to make, give us a sense of sharing in a common mission across the miles that divide us so much so that we end up receiving much more than we could ever give.

There are many frustrations, life works at a different pace in the Northern Cape of South Africa and resources are scarcer, but there are a huge amount of joys and many of those joys are found working with the most poor and needy. I shall never forget the huge grin on the face of a lady we met on our last visit who showed us the pumpkin she had grown in her own little vegetable garden, assisted by a team of community workers, set up by a local church and supported by the Oxford diocese. Nor shall I forget the singing and dancing celebrating another vegetable garden, set up in partnership with the church in Watlington to provide a balanced diet for the neighbourhood, particularly those who have HIV/AIDS.

Programmes for orphans and vulnerable children are developing, which gives those affected by HIV/AIDS a place to play with other children and a place to receive a good balanced meal at least once a week. More than 11 million children in sub-Saharan Africa have lost one or both parents to AIDS related illnesses. Today we pray for them,their parents and grandparents.