In at the deep end: doing Holy Week wholly.

It’s started. 

The week leading up to Easter has always been, for me, a break from busy life. Last year I spent the long weekend holidaying with friends in Wales. Previously, it’s been time off from university and school, time to laze around and maybe go on the odd Easter walk with family.

There’s always been a good bit of church involved: on my keener years in the past, I’ve joined the Maundy Thursday meal of lamb and couscous as we remembered the last supper. The most important tradition for my family was the Good Friday Walk of Witness, in which we’d parade behind a large cross through the local shops and eventually up to a large green hill overlooking the city, singing badly all the way. And of course, there was the usual church service on Easter Sunday morning.

So when I heard that the Anglo-Catholic churches I’m with for my placement this year “do Holy Week” in a big way, I thought I was prepared. Something on Thursday and Friday as well as Sunday, and maybe hot cross buns after the service, right?

How wrong I was.

>> Holy Week began yesterday with Palm Sunday – here, that included the procession with palm branches in the morning, and benediction in the evening (for those not in the know, that’s when a piece of the wafer we use for communion gets put in a sort of holy-sun-frame and everyone kneels in front of it in adoration).

>> Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are not days off, as previously assumed. No, we have ecumenical worship every evening, and a daily Eucharist which follows either morning prayer or evening prayer. Unlike our normal evening services, these include sermons, so I’m gearing up to preach tonight.

>> Thursday is when it gets serious though. I’ve heard repeatedly that Thursday through to Saturday night is one all one liturgy, but if that’s true it’s a flipping long one. Thursday will begin with morning prayer at 8.30, continue at the Cathedral with silence from 10am, followed by a thing called Chrism Mass. As far as I can work out its a chance for all the clergy of the diocese to dress up and get together, they reaffirm their ordination vows and the holy oils for the coming year are blessed. This all seems very nice but I haven’t yet worked out why it happens in Holy Week; I’m not sure it’s what Jesus and the disciples were up to on the day before Jesus died.

Anyway, the day continues as we head back to church to prepare it for the evening – what that will involve is as yet a mystery. The evening itself includes a rehearsal, for which I’m thankful if a little bemused, then evening prayer and another service that involves foot washing, and of course a Eucharist. As if that were not enough, we then sit in silence until midnight, remembering the hours of anguished prayer that Jesus spent in the garden on Gethsemane.

(I’m not sure exactly when we are expected to eat. There’s no lamb and couscous on offer though, as far as I can tell.)

>> Friday brings with it more prayer, preparing the church, and rehearsals of services. There’s an afternoon of liturgy (I’m not sure what that involves, but I imagine more prayer), evening prayer, and stations of the cross – that’s where you walk through the story of the crucifixion contemplating the various events. I think.

>> I’d assumed nothing much happened on the Saturday – after all, Jesus is dead in the tomb and the disciples are in hiding that day. But wrong again. Along with prayer, preparation of the church (which seems to have endless set changes this week), and more rehearsals, we’re doing something with an Easter garden for the morning. That evening comes the vigil and the first Eucharist of Easter. It’s a curiosity I’ve discovered that in Anglo-Catholic Churches, the first Eucharist of a day can happen the night before. So instead of a dawn service on Easter Day, it’s a bonfire in the evening, followed by a processing of lights into church. It’s seems odd though, that we’ll celebrate the dawn of the resurrection in the dark, then go home to bed before we come back in the morning.

>> The day of the resurrection itself, Easter Sunday, looks strangely like a normal Sunday, after which I’ll head off to see my family for roast lamb and an Easter Egg (looking hopefully at you here, Mum), and probably a good nap.

That, I’m told, is doing Holy Week properly. And truth be told, I’m nervous.

Nervous about the length of the services, watches, vigils. Nervous about the number of services that need rehearsals, of not knowing what I’m meant to do, of tripping over my alb. Nervous about feeling like a fraud. Nervous about falling asleep at the point I’m supposed to be watching and praying, just like the disciples did. Nervous about my mind wandering and whether I’ll really pray at all.

I’m afraid that I won’t understand what we’re doing and why. That I’ll just get more and more frustrated, and spend the week wishing I was elsewhere. I’m afraid that it will all feel alien.

But yesterday as we arrived at the front of church, first bit of choreography and procession complete, the organ struck up the Graham Kendrick classic “Make Way”, and my heart was strangely warmed. There was something about singing this all too familiar song in what still feels like an unfamiliar context, that moved me.

I felt Jesus whisper, “It’s still all about me. You know me. It’s about me.” And it’s that truth which makes me not only nervous, but also expectant this week.

It’s all about Jesus; yes, I know Jesus. The Jesus I came to know through youth groups and sermons, the Jesus I met in charismatic worship and intense Bible studies, the Jesus who sustained me through difficult times as a teenager, the Jesus I wrestled with in my studies, the Jesus who stuck with me when I wobbled, the Jesus I speak with each day – this week is about him.

And I trust that he’s got plans for this week; that as I commit to showing up, to fumbling my way through the unfamiliar, through the many words and the long silences, he’ll meet me in some way. And if I catch a glimpse of him, that’s got to be enough for me. Our priest here speaks often of entering more deeply into the mystery during Holy Week. I don’t really know what that will mean but I think I’m up for it.

Worship might look a little different to what I’m used to. The smells and the rituals and the words might not be the ones I’d choose – though I’m sure there’ll be some I come to love. But whatever else I discover this week, I know Jesus, and I know it’s him I want to worship in the days ahead.

See you on the other side!

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Mission-shaped girl: trials and errors.

seeds-1302793_1920I had no energy for yet another debate on philosophical arguments for the existence of God. So I backed slowly away and went to play cards instead.

At 17 years old, and having been among the same school friends for most of my life, I’d reached a dead-end in my evangelistic efforts. Over my school years at a proudly non-religious comprehensive, I’d written and performed assemblies on the Christmas story, I’d run schemes like “Text A Christian”, I’d invited friends to youth events at church, and I’d read all the apologetics books I could lay my hands on. I’d set up a prayer group, shared my testimony, answered questions, and generally done all I could to introduce my school friends to Jesus.

Most of them had been curious at some point – many had come to Christian Union for a little while, or read the books I’d given them, or even come to church a few times. For a couple of years, a group of us went to Greenbelt, and a school trip to Iona had also opened up spiritual exploration for some.

But by the end of my school days, I was flagging. Conversations had all been had. I was out of new invitations. Those who’d been interested had mostly become uninterested again. The only people who still wanted to talk about Christianity with me were the mostly-male, mostly-atheist debating types who enjoyed a good argument for the sake of it. I didn’t have the energy for that.

*****

One thought kept me excited though. I knew that in just a couple of years time, I’d see mission that really worked.

The ‘University Mission Week’ was the time I’d really see God in action. I’d heard the stories – at universities there were thousands of young people, and among them hundreds who were searching for God. An annual week full of evangelistic talks and events would bring crowds to hear about Jesus, and I would have the sheer joy of seeing friends respond to the gospel. Simple!

Of course, university did not turn out to be a factory of ready-to-convert spiritual seekers.

Over my three-year journey from an enthusiastic but naive fresher, to hardy college Christian Union leader, to cynical finalist, there was a lot to learn about mission. There were 8am prayer meetings, then there were weeks of guilt. There were fruitful conversations late into the night, then there were dismissive rejections. There were curious friends who were glad to receive the first event invitation, but after the 28th, would run when they saw us coming. There were training sessions on how to read the Bible with friends, and role plays to practice asking them to – we’d rehearse our gospel elevator pitches to one another, trying not to forget any essential element in a 60-second explanation.

For the most part, we had a narrow view of what success meant – numbers at events were important, numbers of response cards filled in were more important. ‘Good’ conversations were people asking sincere questions about Christianity, and a really good conversation was one where a summary of the gospel could be presented. There were moments of celebration when someone eventually prayed ‘the sinner’s prayer’, but many more people who never said those magic words.

*****

I have no doubt that our hearts were in the right place – we just wanted people to know Jesus.

God was kind, and often used our efforts for good. But we made mistakes, we offended almost everyone, and we often paid more attention to our  own agendas than to where and how God might have been at work before we arrived on the scene. And by the end of it, I had once again lost all motivation for anything that I’d previously thought of as ‘mission’.

I hope God sympathised. I think he understood. I know he forgave.

And he spent the next three years expanding my perception of mission far beyond getting people to swallow the gospel-medicine off a spoon and receiving their ticket to heaven. Working with Christian Aid, joining movements against poverty and for the planet, challenging unjust structures in society, and practicing everyday kindness, forgiveness and generosity – all these were part of how God taught me to join in his mission during the stage of life I spent in London.

*****

Surprisingly, it’s here in Pennywell that I’m finding fruit of all those many trials, errors and lessons.

Having had a rest from relentlessly presenting the Four Points or Two Ways to Live, I’ve rediscovered that enthusiasm for sharing in simple terms the good news with people who haven’t heard it. And with the fire of justice still burning in belly, I’m glad of the opportunities to serve people in practical ways, with no agenda but to love those God loves.

There’s something different here – a new ingredient that’s made mission make sense. It’s being small group of people who love Jesus living very ordinary lives among people who haven’t really thought much about Jesus. Not a sensational ingredient, granted, but the focus on ordinary life has made all the difference for me.

As a student, I sometimes considered myself a missionary on three-year placement; the Christian Union were, we were told, the missionary branch of the local church. And so a frantic urgency was what drove my evangelistic attempts – a single-minded focus on speaking the gospel to everyone I came into contact with.

As a young professional in London, my participation in mission was at arm’s length – lobbying my MP, raising money for partners in the poorest parts of the world, marching for the climate, were all activities that could make some small impact on the whole planet, yet not touch my personal relationships.

*****

But here, the only plan is to live an ordinary life as someone who loves Jesus.

The grand plan is… to make tea. Eat biscuits. Go to the shops. Take the car to the garage. Visit people. Weed the garden (very occasionally). Walk. Write. Pray in the morning. Sit on the wall. Pray in the evening. Open the church. Listen.

It’s freed me up to listen to God’s plans, to look around and see what he’s already doing. It usually takes me by surprise, like the small boy who turned up on my doorstep a few months ago and asked “What’s the best thing about God?”

I’ve not once felt compelled to awkwardly shoe-horn an explanation of the gospel message into a conversation, but I’ve lost count of the times it’s naturally come up, as local children ask questions about our faith and begin to explore their own.

And there’s no shortage of ways to put love for people into action, from picking up litter on the streets, to carrying the neighbour’s shopping back from Asda, to organising half-term activity days for families. There’s usually no distinction between the two: gospel word and gospel action both seem to bubble up in ordinary life.

*****

I don’t have a snappy conclusion, but if I’m honest, that seems fitting.

The conclusions I’m drawing about mission are not dramatic – it’s about the mundane. This week, we baptise two girls from across the road, the first two children who chatted to me on the street here. God’s mission in their lives, and in the life of this community, is surely much bigger than me or our churches.

And for the brief time that I’m here, it’s a privilege to join in with it.

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Waiting: it makes no difference.

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We packed our bags, loaded up the van, and set off on the 8-hour drive to the North East – and it felt like the moment had finally come.

Since Rose was accepted for ordination training, we knew our lives were about to change. Since we’d decided on her training college and I’d accepted my placement, we knew where that change would take us. Since I’d handed in my notice at work, we knew the change was official. Since we’d booked removal vans and organised goodbye parties, we knew the changes were imminent. We’d been waiting, waiting, waiting – for the best part of a year. And when we set off to the North East, the waiting was finally over.

And yet, it didn’t end at all.

***

A few weeks into term, I went somewhat nervously to my first ‘Spice’ Bible study, a group for the spouses of those in vicar-training.  The theme, to my surprise, was waiting. And as this room full of women (yes, they were all women) opened up and shared snapshots of their lives, I realised there was no one there who wasn’t waiting. And many had spent a long time waiting.

Waiting while their partners were in the discernment process… waiting to see if life would be turned upside down by God’s call. Waiting for the decisions… waiting for the move. Waiting when they’d got to college… waiting for school places for children… waiting to find work… waiting to feel settled. Waiting when curacies were being discussed… waiting for visits… waiting for decisions. Waiting for a clearer vision of the future… waiting for a home to settle in for more than a couple of years… waiting to carve out a role for themselves in a new place and a new life.

We talked about being in liminal space – having moved on from the old and familiar, but still waiting for the new to begin. It seems to fit theological college life for both ordinands, waiting to embark on the ministry they’ve been called to, and their families.

***

As I’ve embarked on my own process of discernment with the Diocese, I’ve found that almost every day of every week involves waiting – waiting for paperwork, waiting for meetings, waiting for letters, waiting for interviews, waiting for panels, waiting to hear. There have been times when it’s felt exciting, fast and fun.

And times when I’ve been glad of the breathing space.

And times too, more recently especially, when the waiting has been almost more than I can bear. It’s weighed heavy on my chest, claiming every spare thought when my mind isn’t otherwise occupied.

But whatever the outcomes of all our waiting, of this waiting (because there will surely always be more)… nothing will change, not really.

Sure, on one level everything will change. I’m living at the moment in two communities: one where we’re all involved in vocational discernment and the other where people are preparing for ordination. And it’s so intense because of the enormity of the decisions and changes we’re dealing with. To seek to hear and respond to God’s call affects everything – the person you are… the role you embody… the prayers you pray… the place you live… the churches you serve… the work you do… the family you nurture… the home you open… the people you welcome. It’s no wonder this waiting seems to take over everything else.

But at a more true, more real level, nothing will change. I’ve found encouragement and comfort in the last few weeks from singing and praying about the faithfulness of God. Looking back at the years of my life (you do a lot of that in the discernment process), I can see clearly how God has been close, been guiding, been shaping, been challenging, been calling. I can see how God has never once left me alone. I can see how he’s orchestrated and inspired, breathed life and fanned flames. And I trust that his faithfulness will never change, no matter what comes next.

And looking forward to the possibilities of the years ahead (there’s a lot of that too), I already know what my life will look like: it looks like adventuring in God’s story. It looks like listening for his voice, being obedient to his call, going when he takes us, diving into his will, embodying his love, serving his people, working for justice, fighting for peace, and relentlessly sharing the good news that the Kingdom of God is near.

The rest is detail. Significant, important, life-shaping, but detail. 

So wherever my wait takes me, I’m safe in the knowledge that God is faithful and God has already given me all I need to get on with life in his adventure. 

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I’ve seen hope born.

It’s hard to tell a story that isn’t yours alone – especially a story that weaves in and out of years, a story that can’t be untangled from everything else you’ve known.

I’ve told my Mum she needs to write her book one day, her memoirs will be a best-seller. Perhaps I’ll write mine then too. But this year has been an especially important chapter in that years-long story. So I’m hoping she doesn’t mind that I’ve used it as a chance to shape a little of the story so far into something simple.

2807561013_64bfb98783_oPhoto: Andrew Bowden

I’ve seen hope born;
stark not softly lit or sweet-smelling,
no warming glow for any
who looked on.

And I’ve seen hope born
after nine rounds with denial,
sleepless nights looking for signs
it could be delusion.

And I’ve seen hope born;
but before it came a sickness
never more than a layer beneath
fragile surface skin.

And I’ve seen hope born
in the wake of weary wailing;
circular sobs that rumbled on with rarely
a breath for years.

And I’ve seen hope born
through doubting, daring tussles;
false pangs of life that threatened
to deaden faith for good.

And I’ve seen hope born
when siren screams reverberating
sounded relief, of sorts,
from urgent silence.

And I’ve seen hope born
when all was gone
but a bed, meal, call
to hold on.

Yes, I’ve seen hope born
in the intercession of the faithful,
in a pile of cards encompassing more
prayers than you know.

And I’ve seen hope born
as wise people came around and offered
their own stories of death and birth
to deliver yours.

And I’ve seen hope born
unnoticed to the uninitiated;
earnestly early at the station
to dispel my doubt.

And I’ve seen hope born,
lingering on the yet-unmentionable,
unprompted but by humility;
received with shy thanks.

And I’ve seen hope born
and it’s weak cries slowly wakening,
to gulp great gasps of life
as if the first.

And I’ve seen hope born
and freed from expectation,
waking up to wonder at life
hard won, now new.

Yes, I see that hope is born,
I see you.

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Cynicism vs soup.

soup-475077_1920Every time I start to write about prayer, I stop praying.

And then I have to stop writing. It’s happened at least three times now.

I guess it’s a bit like how, the moment you think you’ve cracked humility, you get proud of yourself for being so humble and you have to start again. Each time I get to a point where I’m discovering deeper depths to prayer and drinking in all I can from close moments with God and I really want to share some aspect of it – that’s when I get self-conscious. And the consciousness makes me proud. And before I know it, the time I did spend reflecting on God has become time reflecting on myself and how I will share my wisdom with the world. And then there’s no wisdom to share.

Prayer must be a bit like a frog, I suppose. When you dissect it, you kill it.

So I can’t write about prayer, because every time I try, I stop praying. But today, I’ve caught myself off-guard and I’m hoping I’ll finish writing this before the cycle kicks in, because there is one thing I really want to share – not my own wisdom, just something I was shown, that’s changed how I engage with church.


If you go to church  a lot, you’ll probably recognise the whole range of different attitudes we can walk into services with. And since I’m now in church for at least two services, sometimes more, a day – I’m experiencing the whole spectrum of attitudes at a dizzying rate.

Sometimes it’s carefree – I’m happy to be in church because there’s little else worrying my mind so I may as well be here.

Sometimes it’s expectant – I come knowing that I need to connect with God, and trusting that he is ready to speak if I’m ready to listen.

Sometimes it’s full of praise – for what’s happened in the day, for excitements to come, for beauty and fun and satisfaction.

But perhaps just as often, I come with cynicism – reluctant to engage with the same old rituals when they don’t seem to change anything, and it’s probably all just an excuse for people to ponce about in silly outfits.

Other times, I come in body only – mind left behind in the stress of the day and the fear of the future.

Sometimes I come in a rush, having forgotten until two minutes before leaving that I was supposed to write intercessions. Sometimes I come grumpy at God, or grumpy at the world, or just grumpy at myself.

And then half an hour, three Psalms, two readings, a responsory and some canticles later, I leave, wondering again what the point of all that was.


So I’ve been trying something that I learned back with the Community of St Anselm, something so simple I had no idea what a difference it could make. I’ve been trying out having periods of silence before I go to Church.

On our week-long retreats last year, we’d have one night designated as a night for reconciliation. There was space for reconciliation with God, expressed through confession, through writing, through lighting candles and quiet adoration at the foot of the cross. And there was space for reconciliation with one another, through honest conversations, apologies, hugs and sometimes tears. In other words, big stuff happened on those nights.

And so to prepare for them, we’d have a few hours of silence first. It was more than just stopping speaking. An atmosphere of prayerfulness would descend, and each person would prepare themselves for what was to come. We’d have a very simple supper of soup and bread, and some would choose to fast. We’d return to our own rooms, quieten ourselves and ask God to show us what needed doing that night. And when we came together to worship, there was a palpable sense of expectancy. By the end of the night, there was rejoicing at all God had done.

It’s a bit different here, not least because outside of that intense community, there’s no exactly equivalent times to prepare for. But there are some services, such as healing services, that I want to come at with that same attitude – quiet, prepared, expectant. So I’ve tried, a few times now, that same sort of ritual. If there’s anyone else home, I let them know I’ll be keeping silence. I switch off my phone, and avoid social media. I eat a more simple supper than usual. I spend some time in prayer. I walk to the service, rather than driving, using the physical activity as a way in to reflect on the journey towards meeting with God.

And it’s not a perfect antidote to my grumpiness and cynicism. It doesn’t always happen – I forget to leave enough time to prepare, or I can’t persuade myself that a simple evening is more worthwhile than lounging in front of the Big Bang Theory with a glass of wine. But I have found God to be gracious with my few attempts at quietening myself, and that he has honoured my silence by coming tangibly close, whispering clearly enough for even me to hear, and leaving me tingling like he’s passed an electric current across my skin. It’s addictive, and it makes me ever more sure that the life I’m designed to live is a life of prayer.

So next time you find me moaning like a broken record, or sitting sulkily in the back pew, you might like to gently remind me to shhh – that Church is much better when I’m prepared to listen to God.

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You can take the girl out of the evangelical church but…

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If you’d been driving up the A690 at about 10pm on Wednesday night, and you’d driven up alongside a little white Chevy (before inevitably overtaking it), you’d have heard a song belted out with unlikely enthusiasm.

“LORD, I give you my hearrrrrt, I give you my sooouul…
I live for YOU ALONE!”

It’s not a particular favourite of mine, it’s now 20 years old and contains eight lines of perhaps averagely inspiring lyrics. But they were eight lines I could remember by heart and they were the eight lines that came to mind on that one of my many journeys on the A690. They were eight lines so familiar that I was transported back to intimate times of worship alone in my childhood bedroom, and to the fresh excitement of youth services in a glow-stick-lit and bean-bag-furnished church.

Those eight lines freed me to worship at the top of my voice, uninhibited and unselfconsciously.

And I’ve discovered over the last month that this is something I need; it’s a really important part of my spirituality. It’s part of the way God has made me: an expressive and loud worshipper. A spontaneous worshipper. An exuberant worshipper. An emotional worshipper.  A hands-raised, eyes-closed, foot-stamping worshipper. A kneel-in-wonder, shout-in-praise worshipper.

***

Each morning, and each evening, we sing a thing called an Office Hymn – not a concept I’d come across before starting this placement. They come in a little green book called The English Hymnal, and the books tell you when you’re meant to sing each one – Wednesday morning, or Friday evening for instance, or on a particular saint’s day. The book was first published in 1924, but each hymn is also marked with which century it comes from. The seventh century seems to have been a particularly prolific period.

At first I could barely make out the words, let alone follow any kind of tune or rhythm – I’ve since discovered that’s a feature of plainsong. A few weeks in, there’s a growing familiarity to the rise and fall of the notes, and I’m no longer surprised at singing to ‘God the Holy Paraclete’. These hymns are a soft and comforting way to start a 7.30am morning prayer service. And I’m growing to love the special sense of connectedness to Christians who went before me centuries ago as I worship as they did.

But alone, they’re not enough for me, they can’t be the entirety of my worship.

And a very helpful session on spirituality at the beginning of the placement reminded me that it’s okay – even good – to know what I need to keep me aware of a close, intimate relationship with God. To say I need something else too isn’t to belittle what others find most helpful, nor to close myself off from discovering value in those practices which I wouldn’t have known as part of my own tradition.

Our God is endlessly creative in the ways he’s made us and wired us, and endless diversity in the ways we worship is just one expression of that.

***

So here’s the ask. 

As previously noted, I probably spend as much time in my car as I do in church now – and I want to take those opportunities to worship with the familiarity and comfort that comes from singing worship songs at the very top of my voice.

But I could do with a little help. So if you have any old worship CDs knocking around, ones that you don’t use now that everything is stored on computers and phones and iPods, I would love to take them off your hands and keep them in my car for such occasions.

Anything you’ve got – from Graham Kendrick, Brian Doerkson, Delirious?, Stuart Townend and of course the Gettys, through to Hillsong, Soul Survivor, Worship Central and Bethel – anything would be much appreciated and help me keep breathing the oxygen I need to worship in spirit and in truth during this placement year.

[Address removed because I’ve received so many donations now – thank you for all the support!] 

The A690 won’t know what’s hit it. Don’t worry – I’ll keep both hands on the wheel and my eyes open.

With love and thanks!
xx

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“I’m sorry, I haven’t a clue.”

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Nearly a month ago, I left my job, my house and my friends in London and drove for what felt like days up the motorway to start my new life in the Great North East. And when people asked me, “So what will you be doing in Sunderland?”, I had a number of wise, sagely answers for them.

“I will be discerning the will of God for my life, particularly whether ordained ministry is my vocation.”

“I will be living in intentional Christian community, and adopting a rhythm of daily prayer, eucharist and service.”

“I will be serving the people of three parishes, embodying the love of Jesus for them.”

“I will be shadowing and working alongside a number of well-esteemed clergy, and benefitting from their sought-after wisdom.”*

“I will be continuing my theological studies, observing and reflecting on theology worked out in action.”

And now I’m a few weeks in, it’s not that any of those answers were wrong exactly – it’s more that I simply missed out my primary activity, the one task that seems to take up more of my time than any other: asking questions.

What I do in Sunderland is ask questions, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Here’s a small selection of the many that have been on my lips since arriving:

“Can you tell me the alarm code again?”

“Why is Mary suddenly such a big part of my life?”

“What is a girdle?”

“How do you tie a girdle?”

“Why are the windows bricked up?”

“What does Holy Cross day mean?”

“When is bin day?”

“Where should I go on a sunny day?”

“Does Asda sell asparagus?”

“What happens at the crematorium?”

“What are all these keys for?”

“What’s an Ember day?”

“Where do we keep cheese graters?”

“Can you help me make sense of the Daily Prayer book?”

“Which doctors’ surgery should I go for?”

“What’s the Angelus?”

“How do you work the lawnmower?”

“What on earth is a blood-stained purificator?”

“Where do I leave the bins out?”

“Why do you pray for the dead?”

“Where’s the post office?”

“Why does the statue of Mary have a flower?”

“Do you know how the tumble dryer works?”

“What’s the difference between the invocation of saints and praying to them?”

“What was that green poncho thing called?”

“How do you always know what office hymn we’re singing?”

“Is there anywhere to park there?”

“What does ‘concelebrate’ mean?”

“Is that razor wire on top of our garden fence?”

“How do I process in and out?”

“Which garage will fix my car for a fair price?”

“What does clearing the altar mean, and how do I do it?”

“What does preparing the altar mean, and how do I do it?”

“Can you show me that one more time?”

“Will Fridays start this early every week?”

And of course, the most regular of them all:

“I’m really sorry, can you remind me of your name?”

It’s a very humbling experience, realising you know absolutely nothing. And it’s meant that I’ve started my year of supposedly ministering to others by gratefully receiving their kindness instead. Far from being unsettled and bewildered, I’ve spent my first few weeks feeling more content than I have in a long time, upheld by the many people I’ve depended on to show me the ropes.

It’s thanks to the affectionate hug of a woman who reassured me after I’d failed at getting the car out of the drive unharmed this morning, saying “Don’t let it feel out of proportion – you’ve only been a bit of an eejit.”

It’s thanks to the patience of the curate who spent a whole Friday morning walking me through my tasks on Sunday so I wouldn’t be so nervous about spilling Jesus’ blood or forgetting when to bow.

It’s thanks to the strength of my new housemate who came out in the garden to get the lawnmower started for me every time my weak attempts at pulling the cord failed.

These first few weeks have been about the coffee people have poured me, the meals they’ve cooked me, the books they’ve lent me, the explanations they’ve repeated for me, the prayers they’ve offered for me, the films they’ve watched with me, the tight-knit groups into which they’ve welcomed me, and the countless smiles with which they’ve encouraged me.

Over the rest of the year, I hope I stay humble enough to receive the help and kindness so graciously shown by the people I’m living, worshipping and working alongside. And I’m praying that from here on, I can focus on asking another type of question: “How can I pray for you?” “Would you like another coffee?” “Can I give you a hand with that?” “Would you like to come in?” “Would having company help?” 

But it have a sneaking suspicion that God has more to teach me through my questions of helplessness than the help I think I can give. Please pray that I’ll learn it quickly!


*Hope you’re reading this J, K and P… You can pay me later.

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