Undermining the Devil’s Foothold

A sermon inspired, in part, by the Lectionary readings for 8th August 2021: John 6:35, 41-51 and Ephesians 4:25-5:2

In August the lectionary presents a series of Bible readings Jesus as the bread of life, something that immediately brings to mind some knowledge my father once passed onto me.

A fragrant offering

My father spent most of his working career in retail. It was a career that I suspect he wished me to follow him into, but helping my parents to run a village shop and then working summer and weekend jobs stacking shelves persuaded me it was not a career for me.

When we opened our village shop we had a bakery installed. I loved it! The aroma of the bread and the danish pastries would often drift up into my bedroom high above the shop. The intoxicating smell would capture me, draw me down to the cooling racks where I would sometimes take a still hot roll (or my favourite a cherry danish!) and, because it was too hot, juggle it as I went back to my room.

Eating my family’s stock wasn’t, my father said, why he kept insisting on the door to our accommodation be kept shut. The door to our home was kept shut so that the smell of the bakery would flow with full force into the shop. It was a selling tactic he had learnt when running supermarkets for others.

The aroma of freshly baked bread is sometimes pumped to the entrance of shops because not only does it attract people but it can make them feel hungry. And hungry shoppers are likely to buy more food.

The Devil’s Foothold

The aroma of freshly baked bread that attracts our attention, feeds our senses and taps into our hunger is paralleled in who Jesus is, what He offers and what He does. During His earthly-ministry Jesus drew people to Himself because He was offering something that people, even without realising, both wanted and needed. Jesus tapped into people’s hunger for truth, justice and hope in life. His words and actions attracted them.

But we can be attracted to things that smell, sound and look great at the start but can lead down a path of decay and division. Paul recognised the slow creep of minor gripes, of white lies and tall tales, into problems that can undermine and shake our foundations. He called it the devil’s foothold, and urged the Ephesians church to not let it take root.

You may remember the Arab Uprising/Spring that occurred during the last decade. It was a time when leaders like Colonel Gaddafi and President Mohamed Morsi were toppled from power across North Africa and the Middle East. This past week Archbishop Angaelos, the Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London, was speaking about that time (during an annual conference called New Wine).

During the Arab Uprising At that time, levels of persecution towards Christians increased. 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians were executed by ISIS in Libya. Churches and homes of Christians were destroyed in Egypt and elsewhere.

Archbishop Angaelos told of how these attacks did not come out of nowhere. They began with the denial of small things, access to services, resources and employment. They began with lies and negative language, insults and innuendo that became too common to stand out as unusual or even wrong. The devil had gained a foothold.

In neither case did the Christians in Egypt retaliate. They didn’t fan the flames of hatred and division by reflecting or imitating the language and the actions used against them.

After churches were destroyed, Christians returned to the rubble to worship and wrote on messages of peace towards their persecutors on the the walls that still stood — similar to how “Father Forgive Them” was written on Coventry Cathedral’s walls after the Nazis bombed it. And after the murder of the 21 men by ISIS, relatives of the men publicly forgave the killers. They were grieving and they were angry, but they didn’t let the sun go down on their anger, they didn’t become captive to it.

Archbishop Angaelos spoke of how even the most moderate and liberal islamic journalists reported how the kind words, the forgiveness and the lack of retaliation confounded them. The impact was that the devil’s foothold was lessened. But more than that, many were attracted to the fragrance of Christ emanating from the Coptic Christians — the intrigue of those who expected hate to be met with hate, but found love, were drawn towards Christ. Curiosity led to understanding, understanding led to respect, and respect led to the volatile situation diminishing, a diminishing that diminished the devil’s foothold.

We are not experiencing the destruction and persecution faced by the Coptic Christians but signs of the devil’s foothold that Archbishop Angelos saw develop in Egypt are nevertheless evident.

A couple of weeks ago Trafalgar Square was filled with people attending an anti-covid vaccination rally. There were many chilling aspects to the rally but the one which chilled me to the core was a speech by a former nurse who had been struck off the medical register. She made parallels between the Nuremberg Trials after World War 2 and the pandemic today: suggesting that just as doctors and nurses were tried and hung for their crimes during the Holocaust, doctors and nurses who had treated and vaccinated people in the COVID pandemic should face a similar repercussions (something that has worryingly gained traction since).

The chilling call for hate did not come from nowhere. The crowd and speakers the rally attracted didn’t happen overnight. It came from the devil’s foothold that Paul spoke of, from the bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, slander and malice that went unchecked. It came from a failure to do what Paul commended the Ephesian churches to do: to not let the sun go down on anger without checking it to see how justified it is and where it will or should take us.

But how do we recognise justifiable anger? How do we recognise when ‘free speech’ becomes ‘hate speech’? How do we recognise the good, the bad and the ugly in what attracts us and draws us in?

In the the Gospels Jesus is recorded as saying ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.” (Matthew 12:25). Jesus checked and used His anger to build people up, not to divide them or knock them down. Paul urges us to imitate Christ and do likewise.

Paul urged the Ephesian church, and indeed urges us, to check our emotions, feelings and behaviour against Jesus’s model. He did so that we could make sure that misplaced anger is recognised and dealt with, so that it doesn’t give the devil a foothold that can slowly and subtly undermine the foundations of our lives and communities to the point of a painful collapse.

Paul commends a standard of behaviour and speech that brings people together rather than divides them. We are called to check ourselves against speech that slanders, divides, condemns; speech that fuels anger and bitterness, that masquerades falsehoods as truth. We are called are called to build each other up, to communicate grace, kindness, love and forgiveness. We are called to imitate Christ.

The challenge and the hope

Archbishop Angaelos and the Coptic Church provide the hope and the challenge that we need to keep our lives and communities healthy. There is the hope from the legacy they created by exercising the tender-hearted forgiveness and grace of Christ. There is the challenge of avoiding giving the devil a foothold by being kind to one another, forgiving one another, and loving one another even when we disagree.

The way we speak and the way we behave matters, especially as individuals and community fed by the Bread of Life. Whilst the Holy Spirit can work both through and despite us, how people see and perceive followers of Christ affects how they see and perceive Christ.

The greater we reflect Christ’s fragrant offering, the easier it is for people to distinguish the aroma that sustains from the aroma that which decays. When we prevent the devil gaining a foothold in our lives, community and country by imitating Christ we receive an antidote to hate and division that we can pass on.

The Bread of Life Jesus offers is attractive not just because it smells good but because it nourishes, sustains and builds up. It is a bread that never goes stale, that never goes mouldy, that never decays. When we clear the way for people to see and smell Christ, the hope of the eternal becomes the reality of now.

A recording of this sermon can be seen in a simple online service available for a time on YouTube via this link.

Hope from the silence

This is my sermon for Easter Day on Sunday, 4th April 2021 for my curacy churches, both online and in-the-garden. A link to the digital service containing this sermon is at the bottom of the page.

Mary Magdalene sees the Empty Tomb of Jesus is a photograph by George Pedro

“They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”  

Christ is risen, He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  Now don’t tell anyone about it.  Does that sound strange or familiar to you?

Up until this point in Christ’s story, Jesus had instructed people not to tell anyone of His miracles.  They had done the opposite.  Finally, at the empty tomb, people are told to tell of a miracle, Jesus resurrected, and they again do the opposite!  Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James, and Salome fled and were silent.

This Easter we could be forgiven for remaining in the shock, silence and isolation of the pandemic.  We could be excused for finding ourselves rooted to the pain of Good Friday.  We could be excused for remaining in the numbness, comfortable or not, of Easter Eve — remaining in our grief for who and what we have lost.  But this year we need the realised hope of Easter, the hope that fills the silence, the hope of our resurrected life that Christ gave and gives us.  Hope.

It was hope that emerged as I prayed with the scripture readings for today, but not hope alone. What emerged was hope in the silence, because it in the breaking of the women’s silence that there is some much needed hope for us today.  For indeed Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James, and Salome did get over their shock.  They did tell of what they had seen and, importantly, did not see.

There is of course hope for the suffering in Christ’s resurrection.  Jesus didn’t just die for us.  Nor did He simply atone for all that separates us from God so that we could be with God.  Jesus died so that He could defeat death, so that death would not be the end but a stepping stone to eternal freedom, a stepping stone to live without suffering, a stepping stone to everlasting life in the presence of God.

There is hope too for the enduring.  Jesus’s death and resurrection does not prevent suffering in this life, nor does it nullify the pain we and our loved ones go through.  Instead it connects us and our suffering with Christ — not only can he empathise with us because of His experience of suffering and separation, but He absorbs it into the Trinity and returns it with the Comforter, the Holy Spirit sent to all people on Pentecost to guide, comfort and connect us with God.

And there is hope in the silence that followed the sight of the empty tomb, because it was a silence that was broken.

Jesus’s method of working, his modus operandi, was to be counter-cultural and reach out to those at the bottom instead of those at the top, to spend time with the devalued or the despised, to speak with those marginalised or forgotten by society.  So, in the fiercely patriarchal society that Jesus walked amidst, it is no wonder that He would choose to first meet with a Mary Magdalene after His resurrection because she was a marginalised person within a marginalised group.  Women held little status and power; they were marginalised.  But Mary Magdalene was not just a woman, she had had seven demons; seven demons that Jesus had exorcised; seven reasons to be even further marginalised.  

It was Mary Magdalen’s gratitude and love for Christ kept her by His side whilst He died, whilst He was buried. It was her love brought her back to the tomb with Mary and Salome to anoint Christ’s body with spices before it was too late.  Christ believed in her, even if the disciples did not, at least at first.

That the angel’s conversation with Mary, Mary and Salome broke the silence after Good Friday does more than testify to God’s love for all of humanity continuing beyond the Cross.  Both the conversation and Mary Magdalene’s subsequent encounter with Jesus were pivotal moments in Christ’s redeeming work.  Indeed, they were so pivotal that they were not only recorded in all four Gospels but the male dominated and controlled church that grew up from this point continued to speak of and teach it.  Many besmirched her reputation and portrayed her as a prostitute, something never even lauded to in scripture, but they could not silence her encounter with Jesus.

Breaking the silence with voices we rarely hear amplifies not only their voice but the voices that remain silent, the voices that are missing from our lives, the voices that Jesus encourages us to hear — to truly hear, the sort of hearing that not only listens, but that is prepared to be transformed by what is heard and to then act.

We’ve seen this recently through the horrific murder of Sarah Everard.  From the silence of her disappearance and death came the voices of countless women who have been subject to abuse, intimidation and fear simply from their presence in public spaces.  Hope came from the airing of their pain and suffering that had been ignored or devalued by too many for too long.  

But the broken silence also amplified the voices that were missing: voices of minorities whose pain and suffering remained unheard. Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry were two such people. They are two sisters whose disappearance, murder and investigation was not taken seriously, nor were their silenced voices heard by many until after Sarah Everard’s murder broke the silence. Why? Those better placed than me to say, uncomfortable as it is, suggest that Nicole’s and Bibaa’s voices were not heard because they were black*.

Hope comes not only from breaking the silence, but from the voices we notice remain silent.

Hope out of silence, suffering and death is but one of the things the resurrection of Christ teaches us.  But it is not enough for us to be alert to injustice, to be woke as some might say.  

The resurrection teaches us that all are heard, that all are noticed, that all are loved, that all were worth dying for.  

We are children of the resurrection.  We are children of hope.  We are not yet free from suffering in the present, but we are freed from death to be able to live life now and beyond.  And with that freedom comes release, release from the blinkers and shackles that prevent us from noticing and loving all that Jesus loves and notices.  

The hope is that we not only use that freedom to enjoy the fulness of life that God has created, but that we help those whose voice is missing to enjoy that freedom too.

Christ is risen, He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Now go break the silence and tell everyone about it!


* Source: Dawn Butler MP, Byline Times

God is a DJ – an ‘alternative’ playlist for Lent

updated every day in Lent

I love music, particularly like finding songs that unintentionally steer me towards God, whether that be through a comforting or provoking title, lyric or tune. And this year I’ve decided to use my love of music to explore Lent as a musical and spiritual devotional exercise.

Each day through Lent to Holy Week and Easter Monday, I will be/have been/was posting on Twitter a link to song on, and using the character limit available to explain why I’ve chosen that song and what its connection is to Lent for me.

I set myself a few ground rules to encourage me to explore and find God in the musical world around me: it has to be music that I have and listen to; to try and avoid including an artist/musician/band more than once; to try not to use Christian worship songs explicitly written about Jesus, Lent, Easter, and so on (it’s not that I don’t like or listen to them, I do!).

On Twitter I included links to the music on YouTube or YouTube music, as they are freely available without the need for an account. I’ve included the same links below, but if you want to listen to the whole playlist you can click on the video below to start playing it, or access it on YouTube via this link to it – please note songs will be added to it between now and a few days after Easter Monday.

Here’s what I’ve chosen (so far) and why – do please return to see what I’m adding. And do please comment on what you would add.

Song 1 (Ash Wednesday): Ashes to Ashes by David Bowie. On Ash Wednesday it has to be Ashes to Ashes by David Bowie – a song about drug addiction that points to the struggles in seeking heaven, and the dangers in finding the wrong one.

Song 2: Lent is in part about entering into the wilderness experience Jesus had, a time to contemplate all that has been and will be, particularly the knowns. This brand new release by Salt Of The Sound is perfect for that: Awake My Soul.

Song 3: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds consistently produce powerful & thought provoking music – Jesus Alone helps me picture Jesus in the desert, alone, tormented and tempted by the devil and the struggle to resist the devil’s torture.

Song 4: Lent is 40 days long (Sunday’s aren’t counted, though I doubt Jesus popped back into town to get fresh supplies!) but U2’s 40 is more relevant than the number of the psalm it’s taken from – “I waited patiently for the Lord…”.

Song 5: Talk Talk are another band with many potential Lent songs, and I’d choose the whole of the album Spirit of Eden, but Wealth‘s words & music connect us with Jesus, the Trinity and the wilderness so wonderfully.

Song 6: Peter Gabriel’s Come Talk To Me was written for one of his children but is also Lent in a song, one of searching and communicating – a search through our deserts to find and hear God.

Song 7: Faithless’s God Is A DJ – Jesus Christ is no disconnected god but a God knows what it is to be human, to live & suffer, He is the Church, where He heals our hurts, producing the ultimate solution & remedy.

Song 8: Led Zeppelin’s In The Light a song captures some of sounds of the North African desert with words that could be God calling to guide and help us as we search in our personal wildernesses for love, purpose and meaning.

Song 9: The Verve’s song Love Is Noise starts with a lyrical reworking of William Blake’s hymn Jerusalem and helps place Jesus in a modern context & connects us with Him & with the pain of loving those caught by the injustices of our time.

Song 10: R.E.M.’s Everybody Hurts – as well as linking Jesus’s suffering with our own, it speaks to me of a song of comfort God could have sung to Jesus whilst he was alone in the wilderness for the 40 days, contemplating what was to come.

Song 11: Low’s The Lamb – a song intermingling the stories & deaths of Jesus & the Mormon leaders Joseph Smith conveying, to me at least, Jesus as a ‘dead man walking’ in the wilderness with the knowledge of the immediate & long-term future.

Song 12: Doves’ Kingdom of Rust – even Jesus asked if there was way other than the Cross so I don’t underestimate the level of trust He needed or His ability to maintain his love, or continue to see the beauty, of that around Him.

Song 13: Bruce Springsteen’s Dead Man Walking from the film focusing on Sister Helen Prejean & her to work a man on Death Row – it brings to mind both the burden on Jesus of carrying knowledge of his future & the criminals on the Cross beside him.

Song 14: Mogwai’s My Father, My King is one of their most epic pieces, capturing the multitudes of emotions and thoughts I imagined Jesus went through during His 40 days in the wilderness from focus to chaos and turmoil to peace.

Song 15: Sigur Rós’s Von – like the original from the album of the same name, this version features Jónsi’s wordless vocalisations but with a much more expansive sonic landscape (Von translates from Icelandic into English as hope).

Song 16: Hothouse Flowers’ Give It Up – you might not be giving anything up this Lent but you may still be “coming face to face with [your] conscience, coming to an understanding of [yourself]”, sharing it out, helping out, talking about it.

Song 17: Ryan Adams’ Gimme A Sign – Jesus was both fully God and fully God, and I wonder whether his human nature led Him to ask God for a sign like many of us do, especially in times of waiting and searching.

Song 18: The Devlins’ Heaven’s Wall – like many good pop songs this is one shoes lyrics are contrary to the uptempo & warm way of singing, in this case because they work as a love song from the devil to Jesus as he tried to tempt Jesus.

Song 19: Sweetmouth & Brian Kennedy’s Fear is the Enemy of Love – a joyful song of love & encouragement to Jesus as He came close to the Cross and to us we as face our own fears – God never abandons us.

Song 20: Underworld’s Shudder / King of Snake – Jesus was tempted by the devil & sometime snake in the wilderness. This is just right for dancing in the desert in celebration that Jesus was victorious & can help us overcome our demons too.

Song 21: Red Snapper’s The Sleepless – a song of Biblical imagery, vision & thoughts of someone “transformed into a Nazarene” raising the question of how restful or fitful Jesus’s nights in the wilderness were.

Song 22: Mr Mister’s Kyrie Eleison (Lord, have mercy) – a classic song from 1985 that beyond the title an invitation from Christ: “down the road that I must travel, through the darkness of the night, where I’m going, will you follow?”

Song 23: Metallica’s Enter Sandman. I wonder how well Jesus slept in the wilderness with the knowledge of His crucifixion to come. This nightmarish song captures the restless thoughts & prayers that may come when a facing a difficult time.

Song 24: Tracey Chapman’s All That You Have Is Your Soul – a song of lost dreams and hopes, and a chorus urging the refocus we can find in spending time contemplating Christ and Lent.

Song 25: John Legend’s If You’re Out There. It has a title that can suggest a desperate plea to be heard, helped & rescued; as human Jesus asked for it in the garden of Gethsemane & as God proving it for us. The content unites both in hope.

Song 26: Joy Division’s Day Of The Lord’s – “Who goaded you on, demanded more proof”. They demanded proof of who Jesus was, even after He had suffered and rose again. Yet still we demand proof, from Jesus & victims, when we need to believe.

Song 27: Wet Wet Wet’s More Than Love. Jesus didn’t just come to teach. Nor did he die just to provide salvation for us all. He came to offer us God’s strength to carry on, to link us up with the Holy Spirit. It’s more than just love.

Song 28: Audioslave’s Show Me How To Live. A song about Frankenstein which serves well as a pointer to Christ being the source of creation & guidance, and carrying a declaration that “in your final hours, I will stand, Ready to begin”.

Song 29: Gotye’s In Your Light. A Wellbeing song – when our focus is on Jesus, His light can “settle the sadness and the voices in [our] head” and put our worries aside, even if only for a moment.

Song 30: Rage Against The Machine’s Killing In The Name Of. A song that takes us to the end of Lent & Jesus crucified, juxtaposing His death for salvation with those who horrifically misunderstand & misuse His name to kill others.

Song 31: Gil Scott-Heron’s The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – a reminder that freedom is not a spectator sport. We cannot passively read or hear about Jesus working & dying for our freedom & salvation; we need to be actively be involved.

Song 32: Johnny Cash – He Turned the Water Into Wine. Just as Jesus came to set prisoners free in life and from death, Johnny Cash performed this song of his to prisoners within San Quentin Prison to help them find the source of freedom.

Song 33: Rag’n’Bone Man’s Human. A song which raises Jesus’ divine nature. Had Jesus only been human this might have been the song he sung, thankfully He wasn’t & isn’t. He could, can, did & does take our on blame, all the way to the Cross.

Song 34: Sting & Eric Clapton’s It’s Probably Me. Jesus had friends & followers but He was also alone & lonely, the Garden of Gethsemane being 1 such time. This song captures some of the pain & honesty of that loneliness & the friend He is.

Song 35: Primal Scream’s Jesus. The song, which became titled “I’ll be there for you”, could have been sung by Jesus to the disciples as well as to us today, reminding us of His comfort presence continuing through the storms of life.

Song36: Mumford & Sons’ Believe. Of all the numerous songs of the band that are relevant I keep coming back to this song that brings to my mind the disciples’ confusion, doubt & frustration with seeking to understand what Jesus was meaning.

Song 37: Nirvana’s Come As You Are. This acoustic version lays bare the lyrics which are both encouraging & uncomfortable. In Lent, just as always, we’re likewise called to go to God as we are because then He can work with us most fruitfully.

Song 38: Muse’s Follow Me. The lyrics work both as a song from God the Father to God the Son as He faced his loneliest and darkest moments in His last days, and a song from Jesus to us when we go through such times, even if hurt continues.

Song 39: The Tallest Man on Earth’s Burden of Tomorrow. A song linking with Jesus heading out at the start of Lent to fighting “the stranger you should fear” & a return on a pony to face the burden of tomorrow (Palm Sunday) & all that follows.

Song 40: The Finn Brothers’ Part of Me, Part of You. When our voices won’t sing & tears won’t fall God is still part of us & we part of God, just as Jesus was & is when He waited in anguish in the garden of Gethsemane asking for God to speak

Song 41: Pearl Jam’s Garden – ominously bringing to mind the Garden of Gethsemane. The chorus points to the future that Jesus knew He’d be facing but Verse 2 contains some post-resurrection hope: “After all is done… I won’t be taken, yet”

Song 42: Lisa Gerard & Pieter Bourke’s Sacrifice. A sublime piece of vocalisation (sounds not words) & synthesiser that places us in the midst of some of the tension, suffering & heartbreak of the Passion of Christ, Jesus’ final week & death.

Song 43: Prince’s The Cross: “Soon all our problems will be taken by the Cross”. The Cross is coming… the moment when 1 life is laid down for all lives, when Christ goes to defeat death & open up life for all of us & despair turns to hope.

Song 44 (Maundy Thursday): Tori Amos’s Crucify – a song about the suffering people can go through when looking for salvation by being people pleasers, particularly the self-hatred that can arise, & alluding to focusing on Christ’s wisdom to help us (Verse 2).

Song 45 (Good Friday): Nina Simone’s Strange Fruit. Today, Good Friday we remember Christ crucified, Jesus dying & dead on a Cross, death on a dead tree, death that brings life & fruitfulness, strange fruit that brings to mind black people killed on trees.

Song 46 (Easter Eve): Ben Harper’s Like a King/I’ll Rise. This song sits within the space between the remembrance of Christ crucified & resurrected, with parallels within the story of Rodney King & Martin King and within Mary’s Angelou’s poem I’ll Rise.

Song 47 (Easter Day): Peter Gabriel’s It Is Accomplished. The only artist repeated in this playlist. This piece, indeed the whole album it’s drawn from, is 1 of the most exquisite albums of all time & 1 which helps transports us into Jesus’s time & place

Song 48 (Easter Monday): Oasis’s Live Forever. Jesus not only granted us eternal life, life continuing beyond our current existence, but also opened our eyes to see things others may never see: the fullness of life.

Christmas is a flavour

A night sky with many stars visible
Travelling home under starlit skies once Christmas Eve had turned into Day.

Christmas has a very specific flavour and texture for me, it is that which comes from a Raspberry and Almond Pavlova (the fruit mixed into whipped cream on top of a soft and chewy meringue flavoured by an essence of the nut).

I don’t know who made it first in my family but it came into my life through my Granny. When she was unable to make them for Christmas anymore the mantle was passed onto my Mother. When she could no longer make them I took up the honour.

Today I took one to my mother and brother, then stood outside and wished them a happy Christmas through an open window. She might be imprisoned by an illness but her true self and beauty still called out, as did the love of my brother’s care for her.

The Light of the World didn’t come from the sun in the skies above my head but from the room beyond the window I spoke through. Amidst the darkness of this year, I was glad of that.

Midnight Communion, bridging the gap between Eve & Day, amplified the darkness through the absence of those unable to be present to hear the choir sing of the Light born into it. This morning the choir amplified the light brought by the new day, by this new day, by the birthday of Emmanuel. God was, God is, God will be with us in both the dark & the light. Our darkness might continue but we are not alone within it, we are with a Light it can’t overcome.

There is much wrong with the world right now but I am grateful for the Light illuminating the blessings that would otherwise be missed. Today it helped me notice the blessing of a flavour, of a memory, of people & of finally finding my place & purpose in life.

Today I’m thankful for the Light.

Ordination in a Pandemic

The 2020 Deacons of Diocese of Bath and Wells with Bishop Trevor outside Wells Cathedral

Amidst the many things to grieve and lament during the pandemic there have been some blessings to celebrate. One of these blessings has been seeing many churches embracing technology to broadcast services. These have enabled those who could not be in a church to be there. Some have been interactive and allowed people to participate fully within the service, some have enabled people to add comments to the service as it happens and afterwards, and some have been presented to be watched and used for worship at a time that suits the watcher. I reflect on this often on my Twitter account, and intend to write a blog post on it in the future.

The pandemic caused the ordinations of Priests and Deacons at Petertide (June/July) to be cancelled. There were rescheduled for Michaelmas (September/October) once ways of conducting them safely had been found. In the meantime those who had been due to start their curacies as Deacons were licensed to start them as Lay Workers until the ordinations could take place.

Both the licensing and ordination services were broadcasted online. It is fitting that they be included on this blog, a blog that has shared the journey from initial wonderings about a calling to ordination to being ordained with the online community.

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New Kid on the Block

On the sidelines

Standing on the wide open playing fields, amidst the markings of a football pitch, I realise something is amiss. For many such places are a source of joy: the source of cheers and whoops as the ball gets kicked from one goal to another. Yet as I stood there I felt the desolation beyond that which was brought on by the looming thick grey clouds above me. For me the football field is a place of sorrow, a place of hurt, a place of loneliness. 

Football was one of the main sports at school. It was also a sport I sort to find my way into a community as I moved from place to place. There were moments of joy: finding myself playing in my favourite position at right midfield, just like my football hero Kenny Daglish, collecting the ball from the defence and then delivering it to the striker near the goalmouth. But overwhelming the joy of football is the sadness associated with it: the memory of being left out in the cold of the sidelines.

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Would have, will have

Wells Cathedral, where I ‘would have’ been today.

Today was supposed to be when a time away from my family came to an end; a time when I would have finished a Retreat (a focused quiet time contemplating, praying and listening to God) and I would be walking from the Bishops’ Palace in Wells towards Wells Cathedral. I would have been wearing a cassock and a surplice, and carrying a stole in my hands as I walked through the doors of the cathedral to see my family sitting there, along with hundreds of other people. I would have taken a seat in view of the altar, and the service that would have see me ordained would have begun.

Would have.

The ordinations cannot happen today.

Today, the cathedral lies empty.

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Getting my Curacy License

Feet in a paddling pool and a hand holding a book on the Priesthood.
Getting cold feet… in a paddling pool.

In normal circumstances I would have said goodbye to my family and gone away for a pre-ordination retreat this week. There 18 others waiting to be ordained as a Deacon, and others waiting to be ordained as a Priest, would have gathered away from the hustle and bustle of life to pray, contemplate and prepare for the change in identity about to come.

But these are not normal circumstances. The Coronavirus Pandemic that has claimed and devastated lives across the world has impacted ordinations as well. We cannot yet safely gather in large groups so the collective retreat isn’t possible. Nor are the ordination services which requires a bishop to lay their hands upon the ordination candidate — in part to maintain apostolic succession. I will start my curacy as a Licensed Lay Worker before, hopefully, being ordained as a Deacon on 27th September 2020 (should it be safe to do so).

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A Sixty Second Sermon: Pentecost

Part of the reasoning behind my stole designs* is to create a theological dialogue without me saying a word. Here, on Pentecost Sunday of 2020, then is a Sixty Second Sermon speaking without words.

The music is an excerpt from “It is accomplished” by Peter Gabriel – part of his soundtrack album for the film “The Last Temptation of Christ”.

* see “My Ordination Stoles” for the reasoning behind this stole design.

Ember Cards — what they are and how to send them. 

My Ember Cards asking for prayer for my ordination as a Deacon (in 2020) and as a Priest (in 2021)

One tradition connected with ordination that was new to me, when I started discerning my call, is the Ember Card. These are visual reminders for people to pray for a person about to be ordained — they are the equivalent of a ‘save the date’ invitation, though the invitation is not to a party but to be praying up to and during the date of ordination.

In essence, Ember Cards have a few basic features but can be personalised to reflect the person soon to be ordained.

Usually the cards are double sided, with the details of the person about to be ordained a deacon or a priest, the location where a named bishop will ordain them, and the place in which they will or are serving their curacy.  To this some add requests for prayers and thanks to be given for particular people, such as their family, who have accompanied them on their journey to this point.  Ember Cards for Ordinands due to be ordained Deacons may include requests for prayers of thanks for their sending and training churches.  These latter two, prayers for accompanists and pre-ordination church memberships, are not ‘the essential’ elements — the focus tends to me more on the future than the past.

On the other side of the Ember Card there is usually a picture or design of relevance to the person, often with a Bible verse or two which is special to them or their sense of calling.  Bible verses often also get included on the text-heavy side too.

An important thing to consider is the readability of your text.  You might design something that looks good but is difficult for some people to read.  Please use fonts and designs that are clear and easy to read – it is an important act of inclusivity.

I recommend using a search engine (such as Ecosia, Duck Duck Go, Google, Bing, etc) to look for how other people have designed their Ember Cards – they can be very helpful in working out how you would like yours.

There is no set time when Ember Cards should be sent out, but in practice they tend not to be sent out until about three months before a person is due to be ordained. The two main times when people are ordained is Petertide (end of June and beginning of July) and Michaelmas (end of September and beginning of October).  Those to be ordained in Petertide tend to be ordained between finishing their training and starting their curacy, whilst those to be ordained in Michaelmas tend to have started their curacy before they are ordained.  

Choosing when to send them out is not as simple as counting back from the date for the ordination, other factors may come into play.  Depending on a person’s confidence and other factors, some may not feel able to send out Ember Cards until they know that their theological college are recommending the bishops ordain them — that was the case for me! 

I do not like to assume something will happen or take things for granted (which is not to say that always achieve that).  Like with most things, there are points which increase the certainty of ordination becoming a reality but until the Bishop ordains someone there are opportunities for it not to happen — these are the details that can worry can feed upon.  In reality these dilemmas are mostly psychological, college tutors would have alerted any Ordinands at risk of not being recommended for ordination a long time before the end of their training.

Those sending out Ember Cards need to balance their struggles with uncertainty with the need to alert people to a date they might like to mark in their diaries and, of course, the request for prayers.

One final thing to consider about Ember Cards is whether you need have them printed at all.  Whilst some appreciate the tactile nature of a physical Ember Card it is worth considering sending Ember Cards digitally — the latter is cheaper and has significantly less environmental impact.  Digital cards can also be read out loud by computer software so that those who cannot read text can still be included in the act of praying.  Physical cards can be displayed around the house or used as a bookmark, thereby reminding people afresh as they come across the card.

Even if you plan to have cards printed, you may wish to design the cards yourself on your computer.  If this is the case you will end up with a file that can be used to send cards digitally and physically — PDFs (Portable Document Format) files are ideal for this as they can’t be edited and work with all types of computers.  

If sending digital cards consider how you will send them.  The size of the file for the card may well be large, especially if you have included images.  This may cause problems with sending and receiving by email, but there are free alternative ways of sending them:

  • WeTransfer.com — this looks and acts like a web-based email.  You can attach multiple files up to a 2 GB limit for free, and without having to sign up for membership, which are then uploaded to a server for 7 days.  Those you send the ‘email’ to receive a link which enables them to download the files straight to their computer.  After the 7 days are up the files are deleted from the server so you may need to repeat this process several times.
  • Dropbox.com — this is a file storage website that you need to sign-up to.  As well as storing files you can send files using its ‘transfer’ option which acts in the same way as WeTransfer.com, this includes the temporary availability of the link.  You can also share a link directly to the file but you will need to make sure that any link is only to the file and does not give people access to any other files and folders you might store in  Dropbox.
  • GoogleDrive and iCloud — these are Google’s and Apple’s equivalent to Dropbox.  You can share files with other people, but again you must take care not to accidentally give access to other files and folders.

If printing cards you can ask a professional printing company to do them for you.  The advantage of a professional printer will be the quality of the cards you have to send out, the disadvantage will be the cost — the cost is higher in part because there may be a set minimal number of cards you will need to order.  You will find lots of options for professionally printed cards online, but it is worth looking to see if there are any local printers you can use — this can be a more personal experience and a way of supporting a local business.  Alternatively, you could purchase some A6 or A5 cards and envelopes, and print them at home.

Like many, I was due to be ordained at the end of June in 2020 but 2020 is not a normal year.  The Coronavirus pandemic has had a massive and devastating impact on the world, with far too many lives lost.  One of the consequences of the pandemic is that we cannot gather together in unrelated and large groups, which means that ordinations planned for Petertide in 2020 cannot happen.  Dioceses in the Church of England are each working out when and, equally importantly, how ordinations can happen – the current likelihood is that they will happen in Michaelmas 2020.  Of course the ‘when’ is not certain, and that may change.  As for the ‘how’, only time will tell.

I have chosen to make my Ember Cards available in digital and physical formats.  I have designed them myself and am printing them onto A6 cards for those that would like a card posted to them.  For those wanting a digital card I have made both an A5 and an A6 version available so that, should they choose to print them, they can choose the easiest size for to print and read.  I’m also making them available digitally as a matter of principle – if we are to be truly inclusive we need to make things available to people in formats that they can access and, as mentioned above, a digital card can be read out loud by computers to those who cannot read the text themselves.

My Ember Card for my ordination as a Deacon (2020)

The card features a photo I took in 2019 of a refuge from the sea on the Pilgrim Path from the mainland to Lindisfarne / Holy Island in the North East of England.  Not included on the card, in part due to space and the future focus, is mention of my Sending and Training Churches.  Please give thanks and pray for the people of my Sending Church of Holy Trinity Combe Down and for my Training Church of St Barnabas Southdown, both in Bath — so many people within those churches have supported me on my journey to ordination, and I am tremendously grateful for them.  Particular mention of thanks are due for Revd Paul Kenchington, my mentor at Holy Trinity (he has since retired) and my Training Supervisor at St Barnabas, Revd Dr Catherine Sourbut Groves.

If you would like a copy of my Ember Card you can download A6 and A5 versions below:

My Ember Card for my (hopeful) ordination as a Priest (2021)

It has been an ‘interesting’ start to my ordained life – the pandemic has posed many challenges and brought much sadness, but it has also brought blessings. My first year of curacy is almost over and, God and Bishop’s willing, I will be ordained a Priest in Wells Cathedral on 26th September 2021.

The ultimate decision to ordain me a priest has, at the time of publishing this updated post, not been made but I’m assured it will happen. So, trusting in God and people who, I have created an Ember Card for my (hopeful) ordination as a Priest.

I had thought of using one of my photos for the main image, as I did in my Ember Card for my ordination as a Deacon, but couldn’t find one that fitted. Then I remembered a painting by Yvonne Bell, the artist who painted my stoles. Her painting “For just such a time as this” captures the moment and my ordination perfectly: I have not been ordained for the life I imagined but the life we are living now. I have been ordained “for just such a time as this”, for life in and after a global pandemic, in a time of great need for peace and God’s love , and it is in ‘this’ time that I am to represent, reflect and offer Jesus to others. The verse reflects my calling in this moment too: to stand among people in grief, conflict and need, and offer them the peace of Christ.

If you would like a copy of my Ember Card you can download the A6 and A5 versions below. Whether you download the Ember Card or not please do pray for me, that I would be guided, strengthened and encouraged by God, and that I will be true to who He calls me to be and how He calls me to serve.