‘All are welcome in this place:’ Aspiration or reality – reflections from Swanwick

In the final Eucharist at last week’s clergy conference in Swanwick we sang a song / hymn (never quite sure I know the difference – musicians enlighten me please), by Marty Haugen called ‘Let us build a house…….’ the second stanza to each line of the verses go as follows: ‘where prophets speak,’ ‘where love is found,’ where hands will reach,’ and ‘where all are named.’ Each verse is followed by a chorus where it is proclaimed that:

‘All our welcome, all our welcome, all our welcome in this place.’ 

As we were singing the song / hymn I began to reflect on exactly what we were doing:

Were we stating a truth? Proclaiming an aspiration? Or simply singing along to a nice tune? The reality is possibly a mixture of all three. What does it really mean for all to be welcome? And, on what terms? Again, there will be huge differences in understanding and acceptance. 

I hope that I was singing the song (I have decided it is more of a song than a hymn – but, I know not why!) as an aspiration because in all honesty I don’t think that I have arrived at a place where I really, truly, stand in a place where I can say that my welcome to each and every person is truly, unconditionally, welcome.

Here, I think is the main challenge for me:

It is frequently easier for me to accept and render welcome those who outright reject my views because they do not align themselves with the faith, than those who have different theological perspectives. Often, I feel most vulnerable when I am asked to relate to those who hold faith perspectives I find hard to understand or agree with. Let’s be honest in the Church we are good at applying terms like soggy, fundamental, critical, uncritical, ritualistic, trite, unbiblical, traditionalist  (and all this before we get onto churchy terms like liberal, conservative, protestant, catholic) to each other. In church we often seek others just like ourselves: after all we can then stand in solidarity with others, against others. We have the bizarre paradox that it then becomes easier for the Christian to extend true hospitality to the atheist, agnostic and members of other religions than to our own brothers and sisters in Christ. So what is to be done? 

Well. first and foremost, the recognition that change starts with me.

Secondly, and this is a radical plea I would argue for the formal unwinding of all ‘affinity groups.’ Let’s say thank you and goodbye to (in no particular order) to Forward in Faith, The Evangelical Alliance, Affirming Catholicism, Reform and so forth. Maybe it is in foregoing groups that allow us to stand in solidarity with others just like ourselves that we will be freed to stand in solidarity with others who are not like us at all! Then we might just be really able to say, without equivocation or contingency, that ‘all are welcome, all our welcome, all our welcome in this place?’ The church would literally offer a ‘schooling in love.’And, if this chorus were to become a statement of truth the church would be in a great place! 

Just a thought or two!

p.s. one priest I really respect (my boss) suggested in our musings last week that in worship ‘we should leave the music and preaching to the evangelicals and the liturgy to the catholics. Food for thought…………

A resurrection of the feminine, in Swanwick!

This week has been spent in Swanwick!

Why, you might ask?  

Well, it was the venue for the Diocesan Clergy Conference and, I have to tell you, spending four days exclusively alongside (I am not sure, as yet, I could say ‘in solidarity with’) 350 clergy is an ‘unusual’ experience. Our task was to ‘Reimagine Faith.’ This (for me) is inextricably bound up with reimagining church, for the church is Jesus’ appointed body charged with providing a foretaste, here on earth, of the kingdom in heaven. If the church is supposed to represent the qualities of the kingdom of heaven, in reimagining church, we must surely start by contemplating heaven? No easy task and one in which we are bound to fail, but nevertheless………….

Scripture exists to stimulate our imaginings (as every ‘good’ Jesuit knows). Colossians 3, 12-17, one of the lectionary readings suggested for Mothering Sunday (but – piece of advice – don’t be tempted to extend the reading to include verse 13, at least if you want to get out of church alive!) might be particularly helpful, for it points towards an all loving church journeying towards ‘perfect harmony,’ mirroring the Divine, in it’s internal relationships:. 

12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (NRSV)

The lectionary takes the position that the qualities described in this passage are the qualities associated with ‘motherhood;’ feminine qualities. 

So in reimaging both faith and the church my biggest hope is for a total resurrection of the feminine, the denying in ourselves of the tendency to act in line with – to foster within ourselves and our congregations – the alpha male stereotype (irrespective of gender), not simply in terms of the episcopacy, but in the way we conduct ourselves and, I need to remind myself that ‘the change starts with me.’  

And, that’s what I discovered in Swanwick! 

My hope for the Diocese of Oxford and it’s churches: an increasingly ‘feminine church.’

Learning from Passenger this Lent (thanks girls)

One of the many benefits of having teenage daughters (probably true for sons as well – I wouldn’t know) is that they occasionally – very occasionally mind –  introduce you to a cracking piece of contemporary music.

This puts us old f…s in a difficult position, after all the music in our generation really was vastly superior, wasn’t it?

So, here is my strategy for listening to ‘their’ music, whilst preserving ‘my’ integrity:

Let them listen to it in the car, in fact go further ,invite them to bring a selection of their music for the journey, but don’t rush to put it on, start the journey listening to radio 4 (or 2, of Classic F.M) – make them crack first! They will think you are being kind, whilst you can rely on a teenagers inability to tidy up after themselves, as they leave their debris in your car.

You can then listen to their music as often as you like.

Here is the really cool bit: When they next get into the car and turn on the CD player, which is still playing their music, and they look at you and say something like, ‘I can’t believe you are still listening to this,’ you can assume the ‘I’m far more sophisticated than you’ pose and say, ‘I haven’t been listening to your music, it’s so frivolous, I listen to Radio 4 you know.’

But enough of this drivel.

I really like the singer-songwriter Passenger, and I think he has something for us to reflect on this Lent. One of his songs is called The Wrong Direction and contains the following lyrics:

With regret I’m willing to bet and say the older you get

It gets harder to forgive and harder to forget

It gets under your skin like a dagger at work

The first cut is the deepest but the rest still flippin hurt

You build your heart of plastic and become cynical and sarcastic 

And end up in a corner on your own

Passenger is right, the consequence of looking in the wrong direction is all of the above: an inability to forgive, the creation of a false heart, a loss of hope, a sense of isolation. He goes on to observe that in this state all we can do is ‘hide behind my jokes as a form of protection.’

 In other words when spend our lives looking in the wrong direction, in order to preserve a sense of self (even if we know it to be a false self) our only strategy is the creation of an inauthentic personna.

Lent invites us to do something different; ‘to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.’

If we spend Lent looking in the right direction who knows we might even rediscover our true selves? A self which strives to forgive, to let go of past hurts, to acknowledge our fragility and, to receive healing. And, that can’t be bad!

Lent with Bono and the Band

Recently we bought a record player. Our daughters love it and, I have had the opportunity of revisiting some of my old LPs, and singles.

Last week I rediscovered U2’s 1987 album ‘The Joshua Tree.’ Track 2 (side 1) is their famous reproduction of ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.’ (Are you playing this to yourself in your head yet? If not please start).

The last three verses go as follows:

I have spoke with the eternal of angels
I have held the hand of the devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone

I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one
But yes I’m still running

You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross
Of my shame
Oh my shame
You know I believe it

Between each verse the haunting chorus:

‘But I still havent found what I’m looking for, But I still haven’t found what I am looking for……’

But surely this can’t be right, after all the words appear to accept the work of the cross: ‘You know I believe it.’ 

So what on earth is going on, how might this song help us in Lent?

Well maybe the problem is simply this: too much time spent searching, striving, seeking and not enough being silent, allowing ourselves to be found.

Too much time thinking about God in terms of doctrine and insufficient, if any, time spent experiencing God as presence.

Maybe this Lent we could learn to stop thinking? Could we just for a few minutes each day be still and experience ‘the presence of the Lord, the Holy one who is here?’  (To paraphrase David Evans contemplative song).

Or, if we accept our heads are filled up with endless chatter and argument simply to be still and let God speak, ‘through the earthquake, wind and fire, in His ‘still small voice of calm,’ (from Dear Lord and Father of Mankind – John GreenIeaf Whittier).

Busyness, effort, paradoxically believing and speaking, may be the real reasons why so many of us can identify with Bono and the boys when they sing ‘but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.’  Perhaps Lent is as much about God finding us, as it is us Him? 

Psalm 139 might be a helpful meditative read: Oh Lord you have searched me and known me……….you discern my thoughts from far away……….’


If you are interested in pursuing the ideas in this blog further why not have a look at the following web link:


Or, get a hold of a copy of Beyond Busyness by Stephen Cherry.


Some Lent thoughts with thanks to Simon and Garfunkel!

The famous folk-rock song, ‘The Sound of Silence’ begins with these haunting words:

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

Now we can take comfort from these words for they affirm that somewhere along the line a vision really was planted in our brain, it’s just that the vision has been blurred, discolored, ever so slightly erased. Why, how? Well again Simon and Garfunkel might be onto something for in the last verse the lyrics state that:

The people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made

Lent provides Christians with the opportunity to reconnect with Jesus, to look into our darkness, to find the vision of truth and beauty that was originally planted in our brains, to consider the false Gods we have created and, to quietly get rid of them. 

But one further thought:

In Lent, why don’t we as individual Christians, and as members of the ‘One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church,’ keep quiet, silent even, and use the penitential season to fully reconnect with what it means to grow into the love of Christ; who knows a quiet Church fully living out the gospel in both the ordinariness and extraordinariness of life might grow into a truly missionary church?

Jesus told Peter, to tell know one what he had seen at the Transfiguration, (lectionary reading Sunday before Lent), for once Peter did the right thing and kept his mouth shut. Remaining silent allowed Peter to place the Transfiguration into the much larger narrative of trial, Crucifixion,Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost, Jesus on the shore of Galilee was able to reaffirm Peter, giving him his true vocation. Was this because Peter did as he was told and remained silent and that through silence he was able to really grasp hold of the entire vision?  I think so.

Should we keep quiet this Lent?