#metoo some thoughts…

The hashtag #metoo has been really prevalent on facebook and twitter recently.

For those of you that have escaped this phenomenon, a disgraced Hollywood Producer Harvey Winestein has been accused of sexually harassing (and one account of rape) of a (ever-growing) number of women, and the #metoo hashtag is women standing in solidarity with these women saying they have also been sexually harassed on occasions.

Also, as with any popular meme there has been much shared around the subject of harassment.

One of the most interesting -and honest- things I read on facebook was from a girl who said she felt she had sexually harassed guys thinking she was being “flirty and fun”.

The truth is that although this is something that many women are talking about now, it is actually a problem bigger than gender, but a problem of humanity, the challenge is the way we treat, view, respect and think about one another is at the heart of this all.

Another thing I found really interesting was a blog by another friend, who said although he’s never harassed anyone sexually, he knows he has involved in the objectification of women and has not done all he could to advocate a society where all such abuses of power are not tolerated.

As I read this post I was reminded of the phrase by Edmund Burke “for evil to prosper all it takes is for good people to do nothing”.

This is something that I resonated with, I know that Jesus’ command that “if you even look at a woman lustfully you have committed adultery with her in your heart” is one I have -to my shame- broken on occasions.

I certainly haven’t been as ‘salty’ and as much of a ‘light shining in darkness’ on this as I should have been, maybe even guilty of colluding with the darkness on occasions.

Maybe we all share some culpability for the way the world is today in the way we have tried to rip sex and love apart in a way that breaks the heart of our creator? Seeing people as objects rather than people with feelings and value.

As I began to think about things some more, I remember having the old debate about Christians and the whole “sex outside marriage” with someone exploring faith (a big deal in our current society). I remember talking about Alkali burns -what is missing (acid) is what causes the burns, in the case of sex the love and commitment being removed from most sexual encounters is why so many of our generation are left with deep emotional scars from past sexual activity they now regret. He laughed and said that if he could turn the clock back he’d do things so differently now as his life has been plagued by regret of hurting people in the past. “I never thought I’d end up agreeing with a Vicar on ‘no sex outside marriage'” he laughed. He then said “I guess it leads to less sex but at least you can look yourself in the eye in the mirror!”

To be honest I’ve not always been all I have wanted to be in this area, so I’m not sure I could entirely look myself in the eye, but he had hit upon an important truth that God is not out to spoil our fun, but actually is about “life in all its abundance”, wanting the best for the people he created and loves.

I was waiting to meet a friend for lunch and the Sun newspaper was on the bar (a paper I hate almost as much as the Daily Mail!) and it was slamming someone in the public eye for alleged behaving inappropriately towards a woman. Yet this outrage seemed somewhat ironic as knowing that on the next page (p.3) there would be a scantily clad woman, and as many as they could get away with squeeze into the next few pages of their vile tory rag.

The Sun’s outrage felt ironic, not seeing how their behaviour and misogyny, has probably encouraged many a ‘mini winestein’ to objectify other human-beings.

It struck me as ironic the moral outrage at Winestein and the sycophantic praise of Hugh Hefner, yet no questions about the way he has caused objectification, stylised and air-brushed ‘idolised’ women, and made money from exploitation women in his magazines and the men who bought them too?

As I thought about this for a moment, I remembered a story a friend told me when he was having a driving lesson with a real sleaze-ball who kept leering at women out the window, he made some comment about some girl they drove past. My friend turned on him and said “that’s my sister you’re on about!” The man instantly apologised.

Yet to me this emphasised the double standard we have within our society , where it is okay to harbour such thoughts -but not against anyone you know-.

There is a maximum I remember hearing as a teenager “look but don’t touch” but the truth is if you look, you become tempted to touch.

This dreadful behaviour I believe would be less prevalent if we realised that our first line of defence is to do with what and how we think, rather than what we do. Sorting our mind out first will have a knock on effect to our actions too, our hearts and our minds are our first line of defence.

From our hearts and minds everything else flows. The problem is when we put rubbish into our hearts and minds through what we view/listen too/think about then unsurprisingly its fruit is rotten too -rubbish in, rubbish out-.

For me, the most challenging thing was when I had a baby daughter, I grasped something of the heartbeat of God, just as I’d want to kill anyone who looked at her inappropriately (my planned line for her first boyfriend is “remember I do funerals for a living!”), God must have the same pain and anger at anyone who looks at any of his children with predatory and unscrupulous desires in their heart.

When we think on how God sees us, and then realise that is passionate love for us is also his passionate love for all his has made, the good father with no favourites.

Then as I wandered back home, I saw “50 Shades of Grey” on Sale in WH Smiths (a popular but unpleasant trilogy of an abusive and controlling relationship written in a way that seeks to normalise and romanticising exploitation and sexual violence). I shuddered as memories came flooding back of things I have heard from times working in rehab and some instances of Domestic Violence I have come across from parishioners over the last 20 odd years of ministry. Exploiting people for their own gratification, brings us back to the heart of what the #metoo thing is all about. Yet, if you attack 50 Shades of Grey you get a backlash saying it is harmless fun, but degrading human-beings is contrary to the way of the cross of Christ, and is neither harmless or fun.

As I thought on, I was reminded of a situation of a couple who exploited a lot of money out of a vulnerable family they were staying with. It made me realise that this warped mind-set can exist where-ever there is opportunity.

The tragedy is we live in a society where it is acceptable -normal even- to see people not ultimately as valuable in their own right people but rather about how they make us feel, which is not only dehumanising and degrading for all involved.

The problem is we live in an “explain and blame” culture where we never take responsibility for our actions, even if 50shades the perpetrator of this abuser was himself a victim of abuse himself. We forget that we can break cycles as well as perpetuate them, histories do not have to repeat themselves.

Perhaps the #metoo hashtag can challenge us to think of the times the world has treated us badly (and seeing these #metoo hashtags has been heart-breaking, and deeply worrying of a dad of a daughter).

Perhaps the #metoo hashtag can challenge us to think of the times when we perhaps have not always treated one another as we should have.

Perhaps too, we might take a moment to think of the words of Jesus “what you do to the least of these you did to me” -that every time we treat anyone as less than human that is how we are treating Jesus.

Yet the reverse is true, every time we honour, respect, value and love another human-being treating them in a righteous way we are bringing blessing, honour and glory to Jesus too.

The call to follow Jesus is the call to turn this “upside down and broken world” the “right way up” for Christ.

So, as a challenge, we probably all could write #metoo as people that have not been treated with the dignity, love and respect due to being a human-being made in the image of God.

Yet can probably -and tragically write #metoo that we have not also always treated one another in the same love, respect and dignity that befits them as a beloved and cherished child of God.

And let’s be people that can write #metoo to being people that seek to re-write the narrative about how we as human-beings treat one another, value one another, think about one another.


No regrets? -Some more thoughts on moving.

The phrase “No regrets” I think is an interesting phrase because surely there will always be things that you wanted to be different, dreams that didn’t take flight, things you wished you had handled differently, mistakes made and people who let you down.

I think anyone who has done anything will look back and have some regrets and disappointments.

True, the phrase “no regrets” could be about whether we choose to live in the past and the pain of the sadness that some of these things have caused, and no one wants people to live in that place of pain. Yet, I worry that often we encourage one another to have such a ‘thick skin’ that we become immune to these pains, which although horrible do teach us valuable lessons.

The question is how to look at the past, and even reflect wisely and critically on things and be honest about the pain, and learn from them, to be better in the future. Often we just shut the door on these regrets, to painful often to even articulate, and say to ourselves “it doesn’t matter” or “let’s move on”, but the problem is when they are unresolved they can eat you up inside, often the do actually really matter, and although we say “we’re moving on” our regrets often cause future paralyse.

There are times in the past 11 years of Vicaring, where I have had a lot of flack for things, sometimes I mishandled situations, others I would do again even though it was painful, deep down I believed it was the right thing to do.

I have plenty of regrets and sadness about my time in Kingswood, as well as many joys too, but if you go through life and had no regrets I would suggest that perhaps your dream was too small, or your heart too stony, and maybe your commitment to the cause too weak?

As we deal with this painful and thorny issue of regrets, it reminds me that we are can bring these to Christ, James urges us to “cast your burdens of the Lord for he cares for you”.

In him we have security because our value in not reliant on whether we ‘hit’ or ‘missed’ the mark, on whether or choices we popular or not, but we are loved because we are loved, because we are loved.

Yet with our regrets too, we need to find a perspective, we all like to be liked and we all like to be affirmed, and yet often we have an unduly pessimistic view where despite umpteen affirmations the thing we remember is the one critical comment, the thousands of card of gratitude we remember the old lady that unfriends us on facebook, the bitchy jibe from a friend or whatever it was for you. Again, remembering that actually we live for the audience of one, the only one in fact that really matters, Jesus Christ.

Words that are spectacularly easy to type, but incredibly hard to actually do!

Forgiveness, one of those things that everyone thinks is a good idea until they have something to forgive. Speaking on Sunday to a wonderful former Vicars wife, who said it took over a year to forgive some of the things that were done to them in her last parish. She understood something profound that forgiveness is not a one of action, but a daily walk, and on-going choice and journey, and a difficult one.

Forgiveness actually sets us free. Yet bitterness entraps us, and can -if not dealt with- can destroy us.

We cannot live in the past, but as President John F. Kennedy said: “Those who fail to learn from history are deemed to re-live it”.

Yet, we don’t have to face the past alone, we can re-visit the past again with our hand held by our loving heavenly Father -who is also the most High God- learning, forgiving, surrendering, healing and restoring.

The problem is not whether we have regrets or not, but how we deal with them, and do we deal with them in a Christ like way, do we invite him into those uncomfortable areas, the bits that a maybe confused and messy, the bits we really wished had been different.

Whatever we regret or have avoided facing, today I urge us all to find in Christ that place of security, encounter his unconditional love and acceptance of you, and then let him lead you back to face the regrets in a Godly with him.

Perhaps you’ve already done this?

The danger is so often we pseudo forgive and so only ever receive a pseudo forgiveness.

I believe God has so much good stuff to say to us, often to those deep places within us, and yet often we are too scared to allow him to speak about certain things that are deeply wedged inside us (sometimes not even knowing its there!).

So today, invite Jesus into all, everything, and let regret, pain and disappointment be taken by Christ in his nail scared hands, knowing we have a God who knows and understands the depth, pain and reality of being human.


All is stripped away…

It has been just over a week since I stepped away from the world of Vicaring, and a parish who I loved despite it’s tough challenges and frustrations.

So much has been going on in my head, and I always had something of a tendency to over think things.

This afternoon I will go along to Church (Messy Church with Hope) ‘just as a punter’ which feels weird, and I’m actually a bit nervous, funny the boot being on the other foot!

These few months were meant to be “time to reflect and pray” about our future, and I have been praying and dreaming, but to not actually be “doing” anything has been incredibly hard, and it’s just over a week, and two days of that I’ve been at Uni!

For activists stopping feels like the world is imploding.

It has made me realise how much of my identity and self worth was tied up not in who I was, but what I did, which is dangerous as what ever you do is never enough.

At a parents evening in the week I was asked if I was the new Vicar of Hamworth (its in vacancy) and I said that I was “a Vicar” not “the” Vicar, but I’d be up for maybe helping out in the future.

It made me realise that we identity people by their jobs, one of the first questions we ask at parties is “what do you do?”

My friend AJ used to joke that he’d say “I’m a painter” and everyone looked impressed like he was Rembrandt or something and then he’d add “and decorator” and see the reaction change, crazy how people perceive and value one another.

So, at the moment not doing anything, feels very weird, and not having productive days too is hard.

Knowing -and praying- when stuff you were involved is happening, knowing that it might end up being taken in directions I would not have chosen, but knowing that the right thing to do is to step away and trust God and trust the people who have stepped up (and God has chosen).

I think too often we think we are indispensable, and actually none of us are, perhaps too there is an unhealthy “need to be needed” which needs to be surrendered afresh at the cross of Christ.

Perhaps too, needing to empty one’s hands and heart for what God has in store for us to do in the future, at the moment still carrying a lot of BS15 in my heart and head (even if very little is currently actually in my hands).

It would so easy to leap into ‘re-bound’ ministry, saying “yes” to every new thing and filling up a new diary to fill the void, yet in doing that God hasn’t got the opportunity to speak, to heal, to restore, to shape, mould, develop and build upon.

It also been a wonderful chance to re-discover what it means to be a dad afresh, reminded meeting up with a former mentor for a coffee -a now retired minister- how easily it is to sacrifice family on the altar of ministry?

I know as a Vicars kid I have resentments of feeling my mum and I paid too higher cost for my Dad’s vocation, and a determination that history was not going to repeat itself.

As Allana has now got a job, I’ll be the one doing the school run and pick up and some of the other stuff, which is a great privilege and opportunity many dads don’t get.

Discovering the call to be a husband too, is something I know I need to learn more about, how not create a ‘new normal’ but a better new normal, and a more Christ-like new normal that blesses my wife.

I read once a deeply challenging chapter of a book which sounded as though the writer was having an affair, but in reality his ‘mistress’ was ministry that was destroying his marriage. Perhaps a call to fresh, new and healthy alignment.

Life lived as Christ wants us to live it.

A life of freedom and grace.

To discover that as humans we are called to “BE” rather than “DO”, as I have often preached we too often seek God’s hands and not enough time seeking his face, perhaps this is a season of seeking his face.

Investing in the most important relationship of all, that of us and God, the Soul Work we all need to do, but often this work is costly and painful, and requires bravery go undergo the surgery.

It would be too easy to short cut this, by just touting myself out and say “here let me help!” as I know most Churches are desperate for helpers…

So this next few months, are going to be a challenge, a tough discipline, hard medicine, yet calling us to trust the coach who understands us and the game better than we do, trusting he knows what he is doing and more than that, he is faithful and he is good.

Yet, like an addict, I pine to return to some form of work or ministry, and do believe that in time God will open the door. It is funny, looking at busy town with many Churches that fall into the category of “good church done well”, and yet many, many people wander around knowing little or nothing about Christ and the Church carries on doing its stuff irrelevant to the lives of many people who wander past its doors.

It is a weird paradox, of on the one hand seeing the need everywhere and feeling compelled to do something, and also the moments of self doubt where it feels like there isn’t a space or room for me to minister.

More over, I want to do the thing that God calls and commissions, life is too short to waste on the wrong things, or even the good things that we weren’t called too.

Perhaps too, I’m ready yet to take on that which God has for me, perhaps I have to let him work in me, before he can work through me afresh?


My Last Kingswood Sermon: Ananias.

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
Saul in Damascus and Jerusalem

Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.
23 After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.

We often talk about Saul’s Damascus road conversion, when he had a radical life transforming encounter with Jesus that turned his life around.

Yet we often over-look the great unsung hero of this story.

Ananias, just an ordinary Christian, this is a one and only mention of him in the Bible.

Yet God appears to him in a dream or vision and tells him to go to Saul and pray for his healing.

Ananias is confused and probably pretty terrified. This was a guy who was persecuting Christians, this is a man who was an accessory to the murder or martyring of Stephen.

If you are a Christian, Saul is on the top of the list of the “people you’d most want to avoid” list -and yet here is God asking Ananias to go and pray for him.

Imagine if you were woken in the night and told to catch the tube to Finsbury Park, go to the Mosque there and pray for healing on Abu Hanza? Imagine the fear? Imagine the “is this really you God?” questions you’d be asking. You are calling me to pray for someone I know hates Christians and wants us all dead or behind bars.

Yet Ananias goes and prays for Saul.

No, Gideon-esk give me 20million signs and then I’ll drag my feet and do it in a couple of months time. No wrestling, no prevaricating, just simple obedience and bravery.

Recently John Townley spoke at Hanham Mount about “Just Do It” looking at the story of the Wedding feast at Canna where Mary Jesus’ Mother said “Do whatever he tells you”.

Ananias shows us a beautiful example of radical faith, that simply says “yes” when God calls.

Ananias was someone who heard and heeded the voice of God.

Ananias leaves his safety and comfort to do something he doesn’t want to do, to go to a place he doesn’t want to go, and to meet a person he doesn’t want to meet, but yet he does it because of love and obedience foe his Saviour.

A few weeks ago I preached on Mark 5, where Jesus goes to the Gentile territory, to heal a demon possessed man ritually unclean (not just because he is a gentile) but also been self harming -covered in blood-, naked and living amongst the tombs, and spoke about going where we don’t want to go, meeting the people we don’t want to meet, and doing things we might not want to do.

Yet the difference here is one person looks respectable, and one looks wretched, yet both are far from God’s plan of salvation in Christ Jesus, and both had their lives transformed.

Sometimes those in need of God’s touch and healing from the outside look the most together and sorted yet God sees beneath the worlds respectable veneer, and religiosity doesn’t fool him either.

Is there things that God is/has called you to do, and you’ve not done them, maybe ‘put the answerphone’ on and avoided them?

More than this, look at his language, he calls Saul his brother, he doesn’t just obey Christ, but shows love to a truly repulsive individual, an individual the Church would probably have been happy if God had struck dead.

I wonder do we sometimes do the right thing, but do it with the wrong attitude?

He shows love for Saul and prays healing upon him, and scales fall from his eyes.

Before the road to Damascus, Saul would not have thought he was spiritually blind -rather he was the one with perfect “20/20 Vision”- but through his encounter he not only encounters the risen Christ, but clearly encounters himself too, and is transformed.

Ananias obedience is the catalyst for Saul to begin a new ministry of proclaiming Jesus as the Christ, I wonder if he hadn’t been faithful in his part of God’s plan we probably would not be here today know about Jesus.

So, let us be people who are like Ananias, faithful and obedient to Christ, who hear his voice, heed his call, and are obedient.


Praying on Hanham Mount.

Over August we began to pray on Hanham Mount.

Mainly it was just a few of us.

Mostly it rained.

We had too some wonderful people who led us in some form of worship.

We had some people who spoke incredibly prophetically into Kingswood and surrounding area.

Last week, stood around and drenched, someone asked what was happening next, and then asked ‘would it stop now I am going?’

It made me think, I don’t actually do very much, just let people know I’ll be there and praying and invite anyone who wants to join me to pray for Kingswood/Hanham and the city of Bristol are welcome and wanted.

It has been wonderful to see people come together and pray from all sorts of different Churches, from different areas too, but with one thing in common a deep desire to see the glory of God fall in our city.

This unity I believe is something that brings joy to the heart of God. Scripture reminds us that “where there is unity God commands a blessing”. God longs for his broken and divided body on earth to come together in humble reconciliation and love. Brothers and Sisters in Christ getting to know one another and to see the bride and body of Christ and bigger and more beautiful that our petty divisions have caused us to become.

Hanham Mount for me is a wonderful and a special place. It is where George Whitefield and John Wesley (and John Cennick and Victor Purdey) preached to the Kingswood Miners and saw them respond, and turn to Christ. Kingswood was known for “white tears” where people cried tears of repentance, and because they were miners with soot covered faces, the tears cut through the grime making a white tear streak.

Hanham Mount is a Methodist world heritage site, where they preached not to the respectable and religious types, but to the written off, to the irreligious, to the marginalised and disenfranchised, the overlooked and under-loved.

On one of my earliest visits there, the former Pastor of the Congregational Church -William Gaydon- quoted “O Lord, we have heard of your fame, we stand in awe of your deeds, renew them in our day, and in your wrath remember mercy”.

At my job interview for this parish someone said “no one expects miracles in Kingswood!” -yet if you can’t expect miracles where the biggest revival in England started where can you expect them? In fact Wesley told people to get out of the trees “in case they were slain by the spirit of God” and fell out the trees.

So, Hanham Mount is a place we can come with expectancy that the same Gospel and the same Holy Spirit transformed and changed this nation can happen again!

Although I am going, it can carry on, in fact my deepest desire is that it does carry on. In fact when Whitefield stood down Wesley stepped up, and it was through Wesley this nation was changed.

Who is going to take over?

Perhaps someone reading this might feel the nudge of the spirit upon them, the call of God to respond “here am I send me”?

Yet I have a fear that we’ll end up as a small huddle of Christians hidden away somewhere, although great that you are praying it looses it’s radical edge and just becomes a nice social prayer evening.

My prayer is even if the time is moved earlier, or there is some wet weather provision, my prayer is to keep this gathering open where anyone can join you…

My dream is that as people are just being real with God, seeking his face, breaking their hearts, sharing his word, praising his name those who aren’t Christians will be drawn to the place (or drawn back to the place!) and hear and heed the Gospel of Christ.

From the beginning of these little prayer meetings we have always included a message. Something of saying to God “we are asking for Wesley’s mantle, not just of open air preaching, but of engaging with those outside the Church in a place and a way they could relate to and respond to. My prayer is that the preaching will echo beyond the ears of the few saints who gather and that it resonates within the hearts of those hungry and searching for Christ.

We have worshipped too, as so often as Christians we come in intercession, we ask and ask and ask and never seek God’s face, never tell him that we love and adore him. Worship realigns our hearts and worship is a powerful weapon against the enemy. David had the worshippers and worship leaders march the people in to battle, let out in praise, to remind us that the battle (not against flesh and blood) belongs to the Lord.

I have often been frustrated at how complicated we have made Church, and how many hours clergy have spent with rota’s, and yet at these simple worship times of intersession, we have seen something of Church as I believe it should be, real, committed, heart-felt, spontaneous and in step with the spirit.

So, although next week will be my last week, my prayer for you and fort Kingswood is you don’t need a scruffy vicar to make the meeting legitimate, all you need is Spirit-filled believers hungry for God “where 2 or 3 are gathered”…

Come and see where God leads.
Come and hear his voice.

Remember too, that prayer is the most powerful thing we can do as Christians to herald in the Kingdom of God.

It is all about prayer.

Scripture reminds us that we have not because we ask not.

The key to a spiritual revolution in this city is revealed in 2 Chronicles: “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray, and turn from their wicked ways, and seek my face, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sins, and heal their land”.

So do join us tomorrow, and although this is an end of my role here, my prayer it is the beginning of a greater and more wonderful movement of God gathering momentum.


The LATE SERVICE in Hanham.

Shortly after planting All Souls’ Southey, I began to look towards Hanham and thought “Soon we will be planting another Church here in Hanham”.

Yet there was a challenge, how to extricate myself from the Church I had just planted, I’ve found in churches it is easy to start things but much harder to pass them on to someone else (like getting chewing gum stuck on your finger it never becomes fully unstuck).

People and the team were settled, the thought of doing it all again there was little energy for. Indeed there was a fear that if we invested too heavily in Hanham we might damage what we already had.

Perhaps if I could have my time again maybe I should have been more ruthlessly stepping out in faith?

We did try holding more worship services intentionally in Hanham and talk the vision of transformation, of mission, of Church planting, health and Kingdom advance.

We began to use the name ‘The LATE SERVICE’ as the Service was at 7:30 (originally 7:00) on a Sunday evening.

We didn’t get much flack from Churchy people as they seemed relaxed about the word “Service” but the word “Church” is much more emotive amongst existing congregations.

I remember the level of nastiness I got when we planted a Church from people who professed to be Christians.

Surely if you love Jesus then seeing people reached should bring you joy not anger and resentment?

Yet with hindsight I wondered if I used the language of planting and of Church whether we would have got Church?

Yet we soon discovered that Christians in Hanham were more wedded to the idea of people coming to THEIR Church BUILDING than people coming to meet their Saviour.

We did services in two struggling Churches in Hanham and the numbers were pretty good, but when we moved from their Church hall/Church a neutral venue in Hanham out numbers of Christians/Church goers from Hanham nose dived.

We kept pressing on.

We tried running Alpha in Hanham, as we have lots of pleasant relationships with people that were warm to us when we saw them, yet probably coming to Alpha was too much too soon for the people we had got to know (the second time we have tried this and failed, I think too often we over-estimate the steps people are prepared to make to explore faith).

Only one person from Hanham came, and they already attended some of the local Churches.

All our other guests drove from where we had the Church plant across the parish to go to Alpha.

So, after Alpha instead of having this group of hungry new (or returned) Christians hungry to see Hanham transformed for the Kingdom of God. I just had the few friends who had helped me out on the course all feeling that bit more tired.

From there we re-started the late services back in Hanham and we tried to gather a team, always a good start.

I remember having a season where there were just 4 of us worshipping and praying, and three of us were ordained and crawling into our 4th service of the day.

A guy from one of my Churches joked, that I had managed to plant a Church without any members. Although a little tongue in cheek, that comment hurt me more than I let on at the time.

Gradually however we began to get some guests that were hungry Christians wanting a top-up, wanting to pray, wanting to go deeper.

We had some wonderful times, but yet this wasn’t the dream, we were paying out to be in a neutral venue and filling it with people who’d be more than happy to be in a more traditional Church building, and we had hired a funky and very unchurchy youth centre (at £25 a time with no income coming in, praise God we always managed to pay our rent for just over a year!)

As this very Christian group met up, I felt I wanted to pray over August up on Hanham Mount, where the Kingswood story started with George Whitefield and George Wesley preaching to the miners of Kingswood and seeing a massive and wonderful revival breaking out.

So we met up on Sunday evenings.

We had typical August weather -it rained and it rained and it rained! And yet despite the rain people kept coming and praying. Convinced (by naïve optistism)that if we had had such a wet August we might have a really nice September, we kept going for September. And still in rained and it poured. And yet Saints kept on coming out to pray with their umbrellas.

On Sunday, the last Sunday in September, wet and bedraggled, someone said… “Is it happening next week?” and “What’s happening when you go?”

I cleared my throat and said “Well…”
(To be continued…)


A Good Vicar???

A Good Vicar?

“S/He was a good Vicar!” you’ll hear people say,

Or they’ll tell you “S/He was a terrible Vicar!”

Sometimes I have heard people say both things about the same person.

I’m sure as I soon become a memory in Kingswood and Hanham I’ll probably have
people say both things about me.

And that’s okay.

It depends on our definition of “good” and depends on who is saying it and they context they see you in.

Sometimes too, I think we are too ‘black and white’ in our opinions, writing people off as either brilliant or useless.

They are some who would say that you are a good Vicar because “S/he never changed a thing!” and for some that’s seen as a good thing (although everything changes, and if things don’t move forward they regress!).

I have been told I am a good Vicar “because you drink a beer and aren’t too pushy with the religious stuff!” -Not sure that’s an entirely good thing!

Often they’ll say you’re a good Vicar because you attend a million Churchy socials and try to keep happy the never satisfied members of your congregation (of course, you’ll only ever become a “good” Vicar once the new one is in post and you become an extremely unkind stick to beat your successor with).

Jesus was called the “Good Shepherd” when he left the 99 and went and sought out the one that was lost which is not a popular model within congregations!

In fact I wonder how many people would actually go to a Church that if Jesus lead if he was incarnate now, today, in our culture?

My suspicion is that many Church goers would run a mile from a Church led by Christ, our religiousness has warped and watered down what it really means to follow Jesus in all of our lives.

Too often we become stuck within our Churchy bubble, forgetting that Jesus said “those who are well do not need a Doctor, but only those who are sick!”

Often it is an unpopular choice to priorities the people Christ prioritised, the marginalised, disenfranchised, ostracised, broken, hurting, marginalised.

People who don’t know Jesus yet their voices are never heard at our meetings and their absence isn’t felt, and yet the Christian Church has always existed for its non-members.

I often think that the most important things I do in the week are probably the things that are almost invisible from most -if not all- the congregation.

It does make me think that how often peoples’ expectations of us can have such a massive influence over us, over what we do, how we spend our time/energy/resources.

Often we have in our own mind of what it means to be “good” sometimes this is realistic, sometimes not, often we ourselves can be our fiercest critic, or we can be so self-deluded that we think everything we do is wonderful!

For me personally, I find I am my harshest critic and added to a critical context can be quite a destructive combination.

Yet, whose opinion we ought to value isn’t primarily those around us -our friends, foes and those who want something from us, nor it is our own self-opinion (often warped) but rather what is the opinion of Christ Jesus.

The “Good” or “Bad” opinions of us will cease to mater when we meet with God and he says to us either “well done good and faithful servant” -or scarily- “I never knew you!”.

What does the audience of one think, the one who sees and knows everything -even the secrets of our hearts?-.

Jesus doesn’t look at Good or Bad Vicars on how full their dairy is, or even how noble and laudable the things in it are, but rather the key question is “are we being obedient to his voice and call?”

Ultimately the highest call is to be obedient to the call of Christ, who leads us on, and seek in the midst of whatever distracts us from his call to continue to be faithful.

This call to faithfulness comes from following in his footsteps, going where he leads, often to the forsaken places and to the overlooked people, out from the safe/comfortable Church and into the most uncomfortable and dangerous places.

The call to be faithful amongst real lives that are messy is actually a call to serve Christ himself, who in the broken and poor reveals himself “in his most distressing disguises” (as Mother Teresa would say, Cf Matt.25).

A Good Vicar is actually just like any other Christian -although with a different role- is defined by our obedience to Christ.

Living not just for the acceptance and affirmation of human-beings -the fear of man-.

In fact the surest way to please no one, is to try and please everyone, and more over the greatest failure in life is to try to please everyone all the time.