Tag Archives: worship

Di-Vesting Authority

General Synod is an addiction for me; I know it’s bad for me and causes me great harm but yet I can’t resist engaging in it!

The latest gathering of Synod, like the recent gatherings before it, was rife with painful discord before it had even begun. As I prepared myself for social media outlets to fall into confusion and bitter rivalries (as it seems to do daily now!) I looked at an item on church vestments and thought

“At least there’s a relatively trivial debate on frocks!”

Having said that, despite the two larger decisions to be passed at Synod, it was this ‘trivial’ one that causes me to reflect most theologically about the state of the Church of England at present. As a mixed tradition mongrel of Roman Catholicism and Charismatic Evangelical I have already thought deeply about my use of vestments and, although many would say I am conflicted in my current practice, choosing to wear vestments at times and at other times not, I do know where I stand on this issue (see my post on vestments here.) This piece of legislation, for me, was going to be merely a naming of my current practice but has caused me to reflect again on that practice and the implications it presents.

My current practice is that for baptism and Holy Communion I robe for anything else I don’t. I’m Roman Catholic for their sacraments, charismatic evangelical the rest of the time! It’s not fool-proof but it’s what I have settled with for the moment. The other thing I’d want to stress is that I am, of course, contextually sensitive; if a context demands or requests I wear robes I do and if they would cause the congregation distraction I don’t.

The reason this decision has caused me to reflect, however, is an ecclesiological one. This albeit minor decision betrays the current confusion and division over the Church of England’s understanding of church and authority. This small, ‘harmless’ legislation again highlights the underlying conflict at the heart of Anglicanism in the 21st century and like the turmoil 500 years ago which caused the Great Reformation and 500 years before that the Great Schism and 500 years before that the establishing of the Great Councils it is caused by a lack of clarity on authority.

The cause of this uncertainty of authority stems from several sources sweeping across Synod and disrupting, distorting and severing fellowship and peace. One source is the individualising of society by our subjective post-Enlightenment libertarian/liberal philosophy. I have written on this so much I don’t want to unpack it anymore (if you’re interested read any other blog post and it’ll be there!) This is truly a massive problem when it comes to our understanding of Christian community.

The second source is, on it’s own, not a negative force (in fact it is quite the opposite): the rise in charismatic evangelical theology of which I am a son.

The charismatic movement began with the Pentecostal revival at the start of the 20th century and came to prominence in this country during the latter parts of the century. One aspect of this theological movement is a more egalitarian ecclesiology. If all God’s people are able to be filled with God’s Spirit, be used by God and receive prophetic words and pictures then power is no longer placed in one specific person but within the Body. The understanding of the priest as a kind of conduit for prayer and worship is dismantled. This is a good and proper challenge for the Church.

The prime time when this is exercised is in charismatic worship/prayer events where the gathered community wait on God and speak out words of knowledge and prophecy, speak in tongues and (often forgotten) interpretation of tongues. To keep in line with St Paul’s deep desire for order in church services there is a suitable place of weighing up words and pictures but ultimately everyone is encouraged to encounter God and share what they hear from Him. All voices are given a hearing. St. Paul emphasises in his important discussion on worship in 1 Corinthians 11-14 the necessity for order and the need for ‘one to interpret’ and to ‘weigh what is said’. (I don’t want to go into the exegesis of the refusal of the female voice in this context!)

In these events the ‘leader’ may well be a lay worship leader assisted by another ‘leader’ or vice versa. That ‘leader’ does not have to be ordained and they become, quite rightly, more of a facilitator. This role is key but is rarely trained with the gravity and import it deserves. People are released to lead these gatherings and imitate others without any rigourous understanding of authority. This enabling of lay leadership is rightly to be encouraged, however, but it is in this context that vestments becomes a potential stumbling block.

Vestments, historically, have sought to be signifiers of authority within the worshipping life of a congregation. The clothing is, in this respects, uniform, identifying the person in a particular role. This has meant that bishops, priests, deacons, lay readers, etc., all of whom have specific roles in a worshipping community have had these visible signs of those roles. In the new context where lay leadership is being encouraged vestments are a sign of restricting power to ordained/licensed individuals. To truly allow the laity to thrive we must, understandably, remove the vestments from the ordained but in so doing we must also remove sole authority too.

The charismatic tradition, particularly when wedded to the evangelical tradition, within the Church has really flourished over the last few decades and is one of the largest growing traditions in the Church in England. I want to stress how indebted I am to this inheritance and believe God is using it for His glory in His Church but…

It is not hard to see that within a culture where authority is placed solely on the individual and their perceived experience of the world the charismatic evangelical tradition has a lot to offer. The evangelical tradition gives, if not carefully taught, a highly individualised faith experience; salvation is for the individual, it is not a communal experience. Mix that with the charismatic tradition where the emphasis is on the personal experience of God we have created worship which is, collective in that it is expressed best with others but the experience remains rooted in the individual. The ecclesiology of the charismatic evangelical tradition is individualised, experiential and struggles to present a truly communal reality.

In his article “Human Capacity and Human Incapacity”, John Zizioulas outlines the difference between traditional philosophical thought on personhood and the unique Christian understanding.

…Western thought arrived at the conception of the person as an individual and/or personality, i.e., a unit endowed with intellectual, psychological and moral qualities centred on the axis of consciousness.

For the Christian, however,

…being a person is basically different from being an individual or ʻpersonalityʼ in that the person can not be conceived in itself as a static entity, but only as it relates to. Thus personhood implies the ʻopenness of beingʼ, and even more than that, the ek-stasis of being, i.e. a movement towards communion which leads to a transcendence of the boundaries of the ʻselfʼ and thus to freedom. (John Zizioulas, “Human Capacity and Human Incapacity: A Theological Exploration of Personhood”, T.F. Torrance and J. K. S. Reid (eds.), Scottish Journal Theology Vol 28 (1975), p.406)

I have argued repeatedly that the UKʼs capitalist liberal democracy has shaped the way we participate in Christian community, i.e. limited us on the individual participants own experience of God. It is in this view that Zizioulasʼ statement is important.

Zizioulas’ ʻopenness of beingʼ lends itself to the charismatic experience seen in many of the growing churches in the UK. Charismatic theology emphasises the importance of a transcendent experience and is achieved by creating an expectation of receptivity to God’s gifts. The challenge comes when attempting to be open to God, allowing others to be used by God to speak to you whilst remaining an autonomous individual; the central authority in our post-modern philosophy.

Samuel Wells takes this idea of receiving gifts and discusses an improvisational device called ʻoveracceptingʼ as a potential tool for Christian ethics.

Overaccepting is accepting in the light of a larger story. The fear about accepting is that one will be determined by the gift, and thus lose oneʼs integrity and identity. The fear of blocking is that one will seal oneself off from the world, and thus lose oneʼs relevance and humanity. Overaccepting is an active way of receiving that enables one to retain both identity and relevance… Christians imitate the character of God to the extent that they overaccept the gifts of creation and culture in the same way God does. (Samuel Wells, “Improvisation in the Theatre as a Model for Christian Ethics”, Trevor Hart and Steven Guthrie, Faithful Performance: Enacting Christian Tradition (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007) p.161)

Within this framework we can go someway in achieving both communion with others whilst remaining unique enough to have an identity. Zizioulas’ further development in his understanding of personhood challenges individualism by suggesting we must de-individualise Christ.

In order that Christology may be relevant to anthropology, it must ʻde- individualiseʼ Christ, so that every man may be ʻde-individualisedʼ too. (John Zizioulas,
“Human Capacity and Human Incapacity”, p.438)

Christʼs de-individualisation is, for Zizoulas, pneumatologically conditioned because it was only ʻof the Spiritʼ that Christ united the human, one individual, and the divine, another individual. In this way the Spirit makes it possible for one to be many and so constitutes, for Zizioulas, the church.

…the mystery of the Church is essentially none other than that of the “One” who is simultaneously “many”. (John Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (London: Darton Longman and Todd) p112)

Zizoulas goes on to suggest that

If the Church is constituted through… Pneumatology, all pyramidal notions disappear in ecclesiology: the “one” and the “many” co-exist as two aspect of the same being. (Zizoulas, Being Communion, p.139-141)

Zizioulasʼ belief that this will ʻremove any pyramidal structutures’, as understood by our current culture, is undermined, however, by his continued assertion of the importance of the presence of a bishop, as representative of Christ, within the community. This order of precedence raises the “one” above the “many” and thus creates, for our culture, a hierarchy. Indeed, it is the role of bishops and, to a certain degree, clergy in general that has been seen as the undermining of the full realisation of an egalitarian, flat leadership encouraged within charismatic theology and the wider culture. It is the vote on vestments that deconstructs further the role of clergy within the church which have held sway over the Church, for better or worse.

Jürgen Motlmannʼs ecclesiology offers us a helpful addition.

The doctrine of the Trinity constitutes the church as a “community free of dominion.” The Trinitarian principle replaces the principle of power by the principle of concord. Authority and obedience are replaced by dialogue, consensus, and harmony… The hierarchy which preserves and enforces unity is replaced by the brotherhood and sisterhood of the community of Christ. (Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom: The Doctrine of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993) p202)

Moltmannʼs social Trinity is a communion free from dominion and authority and offers an ecclesiology for our generation who are hungry for the intimacy of community whilst maintaining autonomy of individualism.

Moltmann outlines three different paradigms of the church: The Hierarchical paradigm of God the Father, the Christocentric paradigm of God the Son and the Charismatic paradigm of God the Spirit. He suggests that in the Early Church there was a monarchic social structure seen through the authority of the Father and manifested itself in Papal supremacy. This caused a social rebellion in the form of the Reformation, which replaced such a view with a brotherhood of believers based on the centrality of sola scriptura. Moltmann admits,

Of course, practically speaking the distinction between trained theologians and people without any theological training has taken the place of priestly hierarchy. (Moltmann, Sun of Righteousness, Arise! God’s Future for Humanity and the Earth (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010) p23)

Tony Jones, an ecclesiologist writing about Moltmannʼs theology, suggests,

While Moltmann admits the christocentrism did not entirely overwhelm the hierarchical church, he fails to acknowledge… that hierarchy has been just as prevalent in his own Reformed tradition.(Tony Jones, The Church is Flat: The Relational Ecclesiology of the Emerging Church Movement (Minneapolis: JoPa Group, 2011) p144)

In the last of these paradigms, it is God the Spirit that brings unity whilst encouraging plurality. In the charismatic congregation, Moltmann suggests,

no one has a higher or lower position than anyone else with what he or she can contribute to the community.

In this context vestments become void of any purpose and all symbols of hierarchy and power can be dismissed. This paradigm, however, can be, and, as I am arguing, has been, too easily adopted by the individualism of our age as Moltmann goes on to say,

…all are accepted just as they are…Everyone is an expert in his or her own life and personal calling. (Moltmann, Sun of Righteousness, Arise! God’s Future for Humanity and the Earth (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010) p23-25)


And there it is: the mantra for the Church at the present time. No one can tell anyone what is right or wrong. All must be accepted and placed as equally authoritative and by so doing authority is displaced and no longer shared.

The Church of England is currently facing a new social rebellion akin to the Great Reformation and again it is about power and authority. The Reformation caused authority to be placed in Scripture and thus power/authority was placed in the hands of any who could read and interpret the text. Richard Hooker, who I would argue is the the architect of Anglican ecclesiology, later stated the need for three authorities: Scripture, tradition and reason, with Scripture having a form of primacy.

I believe we have seen an ascendance of reason as the primary authority under which the others must fall but, with the advent of charismatic theology, there is a need to rightly emphasise the Holy Spirit’s authority in the Church which has morphed intellectual reason to ‘experience’. I would say that the Holy Spirit is in all of these but I understand the move from reason to experience and it comes down to semantics for me. I would argue, however, that this ‘experience’ has been adopted by our individualised culture, abandoning objective truth and making ‘reason’ subjective experience and this is now our sole authority. It is the individualised experience, by way of the charismatic evangelical tradition being allowed to continue without rigorous ecclesiological questions being asked, that is now seen in Synod debates. The vast majority of decisions now are made on the basis of individualised experience which is a distorted understanding of reason and from this Scripture is re-interpreted and tradition is changed.

The decision on vestments opens for us the gaping hole in our ecclesiology and the social rebellion occurring in the church will only end in division if authority is not placed somewhere safe to bring about St. Pauls’ order and decency.

Parish Monasticism: an update


Suscipe me, Domine, secundum eloquium tuum, et vivam; 
et non confundas me ab expectatione mea.

Receive me, O Lord, according to your word, and I shall live: and let me not be ashamed of my hope.

I started this blog at the end of 2013 as a learning project. I had no plans of what I would learn but would journal an intentional study programme of the Rule of St Benedict. I called is ‘Parish Monasticism?’ The question mark was important as I didn’t know if such a concept would work or be helpful to frame my reflections.

Well, 1 year and 9 months later and ‘Parish Monasticism’ is a thing! Who’d have thought it. By ‘a thing’ I mean other people are using the term independent from me. I had a parish priest who met me at a training event early this year use it and ask if I had heard of the idea. I asked him where he had heard it and he told me he had been told about it by a friend and that there was a Facebook group called ‘Parish Monasticism’ (no question mark). It’s funny how things develop…

I began this blog with a hunch; a hunch and a challenge laid down by Rev. Pete Askew at the Northumbria Community during a placement I did at Nether Springs in Felton. He said to me,

It’s impossible to live the way of life we live here at Nether Springs and be a parish priest. You’d have to be very stubborn to achieve it.

I don’t know if it is my stubbornness or something else but an increasing number of parish priests and ministers are not only discovering the benefits of monastic principles to ministry but also feel a sense that God is calling them to commit to the location in an intentional, communal way with other disciples.

This is at the heart of what ‘parish monasticism’ is, I feel. What I’ve been discovering in theory and, only in some parts, in practise is a way to effectively minister and transform neighbourhoods and communities through these basic monastic principles. No, it’s more than that. Parish monasticism is about reformation of the parish system to an explicit commitment to discipleship. I’ve discovered that the lack of effective mission and evangelism is a result of faulty discipleship. As I wrote before,

If a community is not engaged in mission then their discipleship is faulty; mission is the fruit of the tree of discipleship. There is no point in just forcing a community to ‘do mission’ and expect it to work. It would be better to go back to the basics of discipleship, correcting that and the fruit of mission will grow. You judge discipleship by the mission. (Ned Lunn, ‘Chapter 49: observance of lent’, Parish Monasticism? (Jan 17th 2015))

As the Church we have lost sight, as it did in Germany before World War II, of the cost of discipleship. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s observations and reflections on the antidote to this is what has fuelled the New Monastic movement and I think we are now beginning to discover that it must be planted within the parish system.

It must be within the parish system because there is something deeply counter-cultural for the increasingly urbanised 21st century Britain where transport is easy and more people consume worship and community rather than create/live it. Where we have no strength to withstand the temptation to make everything into our own image and just as we want it we justify or sanctify our freedom to choose where we go and what we do/allow in our lives. The parish system challenges that ego-centric part of each and everyone of us who refuses to allow something external to change our inner life.

This journey of discovery has unearthed the interconnected roots of the saints of old who speak so clearly to me; St Aidan, Thomas Merton, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Shane Claiborne to name a few. In focussing my reflections I have discovered a call deep down within me that sings of a theology rooted in Ash Wednesday and the creation story; we are made of dust, we must fully grasp humility and acknowledge we are nothing without the tender touch of our Loving Father God, humanity needs transformation and grace. From this root it grows into an acceptance of God’s mercy and love reaching out to lift us up from humble beginnings to healing and salvation as God adopts us and works on us so we can conform to His Son, the perfection of humanity, Jesus Christ. When we give ourselves totally to this process of redemption in every part of our life He seals us with His Holy Spirit to equip us for the task of heralding in His Kingdom in our lives and the lives of those around us like the first discipleship at Pentecost.

It all begins with humility.

It all demands obedience.

It all leads to community.

Parish monasticism, for me, is an emerging call to intentional, radical discipleship that seeks to convert our entire life to that of Jesus and heals us of our capitalist consumer, neoliberal culture that Stanley Hauerwas critiqued 34 years ago. Are we willing to be a stumbling block to both poles of the political and moral map found in the UK today? Parish monasticism is not about being ‘relevant’ which is banded about so much, it is about being faithful to the distinctive call to follow Christ who came to heal and healing means things change! We look at the complexities and crisis facing us on every side of our world today and we keep kidding ourselves that we know how to solve them: we don’t! We desperately want our situation to change but Jesus changes situations by changing us… and that means you and me.

Thomas Merton, who I return to whenever I reflect on our self-identity crisis in our society, continues to inform me,

The reason we hate one another and fear one another is that we secretly or openly hate and fear our own selves. And we hate ourselves because the depths of our being are a chaos of frustration and spiritual misery. Lonely and helpless, we cannot be at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves, and we cannot be at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God. (Thomas Merton, The Living Bread (London: Burns and Oates, 1976) p.9)

This is the root of our problem. This is where real conversion and deep discipleship works out the healing and salvation of God’s grace, mercy and love for us.

So let us humbly acknowledge our total need for change. Let us obediently follow our healer’s instruction towards salvation and let us be adopted, by grace, into his family and live in true peace with him, ourselves and with others.

Chapter 59: sons of noblemen or of poor men offered to God’s service


…if the child is under age, the parents should write out a petition as above.

What is the role of godparents?

Whilst introducing some members of our church to the Anglican baptismal theology in the hope that they may join the baptism team, I found a great oversight in our basis for preparation policy. At our church we currently invite parent(s) to come along for an evening to talk about what baptism is and to ‘help them to work out if baptism is right for them’ (to which the snowier seems to always be “yes”!) This ‘preparation evening’ is a great opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ with them and to encourage them to consider the life of a disciple and to answer the call to follow him. No problems so far…

Then I looked down at Canon Law B22.3 (you know the one, right!?)

The minister shall instruct the parents or guardians of an infant to be admitted to Holy Baptism that the same responsibilities rest on them as are in the service of Holy Baptism required of the godparents.

This assumes that due instruction has been given to the godparents; that the godparents are aware of their responsibilities and can,

…faithfully fulfil their responsibilities both by their care for the children committed to their charge and by the example of their own godly living.(Canon Law B23.2)

In our parish we currently only ask that the parents speak with the godparents about their responsibilities but we have no contact with godparents prior to the baptism.

I asked some other clergy to send me their baptism preparation process to see where we could develop and improve ours. Of the 6 shared with me none of them do any instructing of the godparents on their role and responsibilities and of the 5 churches where I have been aware of their preparation process none of them did either. Bearing in mind that we struggle, in my current parish, to get godparents who are baptised let alone practising Christians we are a long way off. We have long since wavered the requirement of confirmation as set out in Canon Law B23.4!

So here is my question (and it is a question): Would it be so bad to adopt a stricter policy of admission to Holy Baptism based on the requirements laid out regarding godparents?

Let’s take the idea of looking at the admission to Holy Baptism through the lens of a monastic model in a parish church. If a parish church’s baptism policy was connected into a more monastic understanding of discipleship then the approach to infant baptism could be viewed in similar terms as St. Benedict does in this chapter of his Rule. This would be no different to the theology behind infant baptism outside of a monastic understanding of discipleship with parents and godparents taking on the responsibility of making vows on behalf of the child.

In practice, the parents of a child being offered to the monastic life would need to write the petition, an unbreakable contract agreement, with the same understanding of the commitment being made if the child was of age. This would mean the same sort of rigour of instruction before an offering of the child was made. In Canon Law it states that,

No minister shall refuse or, save for the purpose of preparing or instructing the parents or guardians or godparents, delay to baptize any infant within his cure that is brought to the church to be baptized, provided that due notice has been given and the provisions relating to godparents in these Canons are observed.(Canon Law B22.4)

For every child to be baptized there shall be not fewer than three godparents, of whom at least two shall be of the same sex as the child and of whom at least one shall be of the opposite sex; save that, when three cannot conveniently be had, one godfather and godmother shall suffice. Parents may be godparents for their own children provided that the child have at least one other godparent…No person shall be admitted to be a sponsor or godparent who has not been baptized and confirmed. Nevertheless the minister shall have power to dispense with the requirement of confirmation in any case in which in his judgement need so requires.(Canon Law B23.1&4)

Now, whenever delaying baptism is discussed there are some who get uncomfortable with placing ‘hoops’ in the way. They feel that the parents will feel shunned or rejected by the church and that experience of ‘not being worthy,etc.’ will impact in their view of church in general. I understand the fear of this and can see the complex pastoral issues this raises but this is what happens when you develop such an open door policy in the first place. How do these pastoral minded objectors interpret Jesus’ challenge in Luke’s gospel,

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62)

William Barclay suggests,

It may well be that we have hurt the Church very seriously by trying to tell people that Church membership need not make so very much difference; we would be better to tell them that it must make all the difference in the world. We might have fewer people; but those we had would be totally pledged to Crist. (William Barclay,The Gospel of Luke: the daily study bible (Edinburgh: St. Andrew Press, 1961) p.133)

I had a young man contact me wanting to be baptised and so I eagerly met with him to talk about it. I asked him why he felt he wanted to get baptised and he ‘just wanted to’, his family had all ‘been done’ and he had ‘missed out’. I asked if he had any experience of God. He answered by saying that he once prayed for something and it happened. I talked about what he would have to promise if he wanted to be baptised and talked about the need for a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. I sent him away with homework; to read Mark’s gospel and to write down any questions or confusions about what he read. I asked him to contact me in a week and we’ll chat about what he had discovered. I also invited him to come to church and to experience worship and prayer in the context of a community of believers.

He never came to church and I still wait for him to get back in touch. This is not the first time this has happened to me. I have had three previous conversations which have ended after our first meeting. All of them began with a request to be baptised. After these conversations I feel guilty that they hadn’t taken the opportunity to explore faith, I questioned whether I was putting too many barriers in the way and I beat myself up that I wasn’t able to share my faith i a way that was attractive or exciting for them.

Then I remind myself that for each of these encounters I also have stories of when I have sat with someone and share my faith with them and they now stand as faithful, practising Christians. God can and does use me sometimes!

I read the gospels and I see there Jesus asking people to follow him and many turning away and not taking him up on it. These refusals to follow Jesus don’t make Jesus change his admission policy but rather to pray and love them nonetheless. We should do the same. Keep the challenge to be a disciple but love those who feel it is too costly for them. There’s nothing wrong with being the crowd, Jesus still loved them, they just weren’t disciples with the responsibility and cost involved.


We can all feel great pressure to make everyone we meet a Christian. The focus on mission and evangelism can be heard as a drive to increase membership in our churches but there is a distinction which needs to be heeded to stop us from selling grace too cheaply. Evangelism is not about the results. Evangelism is only about proclamation of good news; the word in greek for ‘evangelist’ means messenger, someone who speaks a message of good news. How the hearers responded was not their job, their sole purpose was to say the good news to the people. Let us not change the message so that it is favourable to the hearer. Let us instead proclaim the message faithfully and allow the hearers respond how they wish; some will hear, others won’t. Jesus knew this more than any of us.

Mission is more about establishing God’s Kingdom in our hearts and proclaiming it with our mouths and transformed lives than it is about increasing our market share. The results of mission and evangelism must remain out of our control if we are to not become manipulative or manipulated. This should not hinder the passion with which we engage in mission or evangelism we must still do it with all our heart and lives but God builds his Church. He must encounter people by his grace and he has always given humanity freedom to choose to respond or not. Allow him to take the heart ache of all those who do not listen to his voice.

Gracious Father, you came and met us in your Son, Jesus Christ, and called us to live a life as your disciples. You told us the cost and warned us of the challenge but you also showed us the glory of your resurrected life and the power of your Spirit. May we never forget reward of being in you and having you dwell within us. May we not sell that powerful experience of grace short with the people we meet.

Come, Lord Jesus

Chapter 58: the admission of new brothers


Admission to the religious life should not be made easy for newcomers.

What does it mean to be a ‘Christian’?

It seems to me we have reached, in this chapter, another pivotal moment in the Rule. The issue raised in this chapter comes close to my central thesis (that sounds too pretentious) to this whole ‘parish monasticism’ project: what does it mean to be a ‘Christian’?

One of the trickiest parts of my role as a minister of religion in an established church is baptisms. You can choose any Anglican church in this country and ask the minister about their baptism policy and I can guarantee that they will speak, at some point, about it being ‘complicated’ or ‘disappointing’. It is on this single issue that I begin to consider disestablishment as a useful proposal!

I don’t want to go into my baptismal theology (it’s more Baptist than Roman Catholic but I understand the role of infant baptism) but I have never seen baptism as a legitimate evangelistic opportunity. The reason it remains disappointing is that we continue to delude ourselves that the majority of people bringing their baby to be ‘christened’ want anything to do with God. We invest time in ‘preparing’ babies to be ‘christened’ because we cannot refuse but in the end a small number of these families take the promises made at the baptism service seriously or anywhere close to understanding what they are committing to. The service becomes a theological farce in my mind and it forces me to ask: what is actually going on at those secular celebrations of our profound mysteries of God’s grace?

So, yes, I’m pretty distressed about this and easily slip into emotional rhetoric on the subject but to try and outline a positive response to the dilemma I will return to the question: what does it mean to be a ‘Christian’?

I ask this question at preparation evenings we host for potential baptism families. The phrasing of the question is important; I ask,

If your child, when they are 7 or 8 years old, comes up to you and asks, “Mummy/Daddy, are we Christian?” What will you say? And they ask, as they are likely to do, “why?” What will your response be?

From my year and a half of asking this question I have yet to hear any answer other than,

Yes. You were christened.

My heart sinks when I go month after month desperately hoping that one day someone will articulate in some way their desire to know Jesus. After they’ve answered I talk, quite passionately, about being a Christian, about following Jesus, wanting to be transformed into His likeness, to acting, speaking, loving like Jesus, to inviting him to direct my life, my behaviours and my attitudes. I, like many ministers, comfort myself with the only thing left to us: the ‘planting seeds’ analogy.

It is not that I don’t understand the sowing analogy but I have major theological issues when we’re sowing seeds at the point of baptism, our welcoming of new Christians into the Kingdom of God. Infant baptism, for me, relies, in part, on the faith of the parents and/or godparents. Of course, baptism relies on the grace of God and God’s relationship with the child but there remains big questions over whether salvation can be removed from someone; can someone turn away from God’s grace? It is about free will and choice in the matter of relationship with God. If choice is taken away from baptism then we may as well go round pouring holy water over people and proclaiming faith over them!

No, it will not do, for me!

Here, in the Rule of St Benedict, we hear of the admission to the religious life not being made easy for newcomers. In my heart I believe that baptism into the Christian faith ideally should be akin to taking up monastic vows. This does not deny infant baptism for the commitment made in that instance still takes the vows of the parents and/or godparents.

But, Ned, that’s monasticism and not ordinary folks!

Why do we still differentiate so much in this respect? Why can we not take the model of monasticism for general faith? Why must there be different levels of holiness, one level reserved only for the ‘monks’? Why do we not expect all Christians to be holy?

I have been reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer recently and studying his views on ‘new monasticism’ as well as discipleship. I’ve recently been skimming through his ‘Letters and Papers From Prison’ in which he begins to outline a book he never had the chance to complete. In this book he begins to formulate a ‘religionless Christianity’. The argument, for me, is persuasive but, unfortunately, he never fleshed out the practical implications of his theories. If I ever return to academic study I would probably base my dissertation on Bonhoeffer’s use of monastic models in his view of Christian discipleship.

His use of monastic metaphors began well before his time in prison of course. It was in his book ‘The Cost of Discipleship’ that I first came across his explicit use of monasticism.

The expansion of Christianity and the increasing secularization of the church caused the awareness of costly grace to be gradually lost. The world was Christianized; grace became common property of a Christian world. It could be had cheaply. But the Roman church did keep a remnant of that original awareness… Here on the boundary of the church, was the place where the awareness that grace is costly and that grace includes discipleship was preserved. People left everything they had for the sake of Christ and tried to follow Jesus’ strict commandments through daily exercise. Monastic life thus became a living protest against the secularization of Christiantiy, against the cheapening of grace. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001) p.46-7)

This whole section from the chapter on ‘Costly Grace’ jumps from the page and into our time. He attacks the division of the church into ‘a highest and lowest achievement of Christian obedience’. The work of the monks was used to justify the lack of discipleship of the many in churches.

But the decisive mistake of monasticism was not that it followed the grace-laden path of strict discipleship… Rather, the mistake was that monasticism essentially distanced itself from what is Christian by permitting its way to become the extraordinary achievements of a few, thereby claiming a special meritoriousness for itself. (Ibid., p.47)

Prior to his publication of ‘The Cost of Discipleship’ Bonhoeffer wrote to his brother and proclaimed,

The restoration of the Church will surely come from a kind of new monasticism, which has in common with the old kind only the uncompromising nature of life according to the Sermon on the Mount, following Christ. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Testament to Freedom (San Francisco:HarperSanFrancisco, 1997), p.424)

If you put these two writings together you can see Bonhoeffer beginning to formulate an ecclesiology which broke down the cloistered walls and brought the discipleship of the monastic life into the wider Church. Bonhoeffer goes on to use the biography of Luther, himself a monk, who ‘escaped the monastery’ to bring the discipleship to all the world.

By the time he reached prison, Bonhoeffer was grasping the implications of this ‘new form of monasticism’ which was based fully in the world. Part of Bonhoeffer’s argument for a ‘religionless Christianity’ centres on the un-biblical premise that Christianity is a cosmic escape plan from this world to heaven. In this schema Christianity is a religion interested only in metaphysics and individual salvation. His prison letters to his friend Eberhard Bethge, critiques our modern view of Christianity which desperately attempts to preserve itself against an increasingly forceful argument against the existence of God. In an baptismal homily written for Bethge’s son, Bonhoeffer writes,

Our church, which has been fighting in these years only for its self-preservation, as though that were an end in itself, is incapable of taking the word of reconciliation and redemption to mankind and the world. Our earlier words are therefore bound to lose their force and cease, and our being Christian today will be limited to two things: prayer and righteous action among men. All Christina thinking, speaking, and organizing must be born anew out of this prayer and action. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (London: SCM Press, 2001) p.105)

If the reality of faith in Christ that God does not desire us to leave this world or be concerned with other worldly things but to follow Christ in committing to this world in all its suffering and challenges then what place does something as religious and metaphysical as prayer have in this faith?

I discovered later, and I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!), a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In doing so we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world–watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia; that is how one becomes human and a Christian (cf. Jer: 45!)(Ibid., p137)

I know I’m quoting alot of Bonhoeffer but I think it’s important to show his thorough study towards an ecclesiology which I find helpful in pursuing this disturbing experience of baptising, wholesale, babies to parents who show no indication of any desire of relationship with Jesus Christ.

It is not with the beyond that we are concerned, but with this world as created and preserved, subjected to laws, reconciled, and restored. What is above this world is, in the gospel, intended to exist for this world; I mean that, not in the anthropocentric sense of liberal, mystic pietistic, ethical theology, but in the biblical sense of the creation and of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Barth was the first theologian to begin the criticism of religion, and that remains his really great merit; but he put in its place a positivist doctrine of revelation which says, in effect, “Like it or lump it”: virgin birth, Trinity, or anything else; each is an equally significant and necessary part of the whole, which must simply be swallowed as a whole or not at all. That isn’t biblical. There are degrees of knowledge and degrees of significance; that means that a secret discipline must be restored whereby the mysteries of the Christian faith are protected against profanation. (Ibid., p.369-70)

And so here it is, what I’ve been building upto!

Confession of faith is not to be confused with professing a religion. Such profession uses the confession as propaganda and ammunition against the Godless. The confession of faith belongs rather to the “Discipline of the Secret” in the Christian gathering of those who believe. Nowhere else is it tenable…The primary confession of the Christian before the world is the deed which interprets itself. If this deed is to have become a force, then the world will long to confess the Word. This is not the same as loudly shrieking out propaganda. This Word must be preserved as the most sacred possession of the community. This is a matter between God and the community, not between the community and the world. It is a word of recognition between friends, not a word to use against enemies. This attitude was first learned at baptism. The deed alone is our confession of faith before the world. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Testament to Freedom (San Francisco:HarperSanFrancisco, 1997), p.91)

Baptism is not an opportunity to teach people the faith. Baptism must remain the result/ the response to an encounter with the resurrected Jesus in this world. Baptism is the secret admission of another into the community which professes by its prayer and action the reality of God amongst us, reconciling and restoring this world.


I believe, now more than ever, the reformation of the Church will come through a new form of monasticism which breaks down the cloisters and is embedded in the lives of all Christians. By Christian I mean those who seek to know God in the world through the resurrection of Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit. This means a Church which knows itself as disciples living contrary to the world around them but still remaining embedded in it as Jesus once did. Jesus remains enfleshed in the very reality of God and so there will never be any division between flesh and spirit.

Jesus also differentiated between the crowd and the disciples and was unashamed in the distinction. We are not disciples to sell Christ as a product. We are disciples to seek Jesus and to be more like him. The established church has lost this distinction in our baptismal theology and we continue to cheapen the power and transformation of grace by colluding with it.

Having said all of this, I fall into silence at the horror and pain of my feelings and pray earnestly for wisdom. I know that I am at the very first stages of understanding and may be heading down a treacherous path but still that dissatisfaction for where we are now.

Gracious Father, let me not be pushed down the wrong path but rather be led by your Spirit into your will and right thinking. May my mind be your servant as well as my heart and life. I pray, have mercy on us all and lead us into the path of righteousness for your Sons sake.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Chapter 55: clothing and shoes


Suitable clothing shall be given the monks…

Are you seriously going to wear that?

Well it was bound to happen, wasn’t it? Sooner or later the conversation would come up about…


I have run a session on Holy Communion for two of our church’s home groups. The first part of these sessions look at why clergy wear what they wear. I am always keen to point out that its probably the practices came before the theory but that doesn’t negate the importance of the theory; if it worked for the Trinity it works for anything!

I hope, dear reader, you won’t mind me skimming through the major aspects of Anglican vestments as I understand them. I also ask that you, hold off judgement on the legitimacy and missional pros and cons of such outfits until I am finished. Do you promise?


I will start with my ‘everyday wear’: the dog collar.

The dog collar is so called, in my mind anyway, because it is a symbol of being led and, simultaneously, leading a walk with my master: God. At the end of John’s gospel Jesus says to Peter,

“Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (John 21:18)

When I made my vows and entered ‘Holy Orders’ I handed over my freedom to live as I wanted to live, to say what I wanted to say, to go where I wanted to go… well that was the idea. The problem arose when I failed to live up to that promise. In that way I allow God to lead me (and when I put my dog collar on I am reminding myself that God is in charge and will lead me to where I do not wish to go necessarily) but I also have a tendency, like a dog, to run on ahead and drag God to the lampposts and other dogs that take my fancy. There is, in the image of dog and owner, a beautiful give and take. The owner is in ultimate control but they allow the dog to explore but when they need to go somewhere particular the collar becomes tight and the owner drags the animal in a certain direction.

There are time in my life now where I know where God wants me to go and what he wants me to do but I resist. It is at these times the collar becomes tight and I want to throw it off. I always listen deeper at those times! To use a simple example: when I’m driving. Say another driver cuts me off or forces me to break the Highway Code and I want to swear at them and let them know my anger but I’m wearing my dog collar; I tend to resist the temptation from expressing my anger and instead smile and pray blessing on them. Or say I am walking down the street in my dog collar and I see a homeless person begging for money… That usual dilemma of how to respond, knowing that money is not necessarily what they need but a meaningful encounter with another human being who will listen to them and their situation and care for them, is multiplied for me. There are times when I’m rushing to get to a meeting and pass several homeless people on my way; without the dog collar there is less guilt (because I’m a broken and fallen person!) than when I pass them in a dog collar. The dog collar at those times becomes so tight that I know of other clergy who don’t wear dog collars in the centre of cities. I find myself stopping for each one and being late for meetings… In this way the dog collar helps me.

There are two camps in the Church: those who do wear them and those who don’t. Dog collars divide the clergy. Some feel they are a barrier to genuine relationship with strangers whilst others feel they invite relationship with strangers where otherwise there would not have been. The problem is that it’s a bit of both; sometimes the dog collar puts people off talking or opening up to you, the wearer, while other time it starts conversation. I don’t think there is a stand out winner for which it is more: it just depends.

For me, personally, I find it more helpful than I do a hindrance. I have had my fair share of abuse thrown at me because of the dog collar (or at least I think it was the dog collar). I have even had a can of coke thrown at me by a stranger but the conversations that the dog collar has encouraged far out way the negatives. I was on a bus in Leeds wearing my dog collar and a complete stranger started sharing about his wife who was suffering through chemotherapy and he didn’t know how to support her. I listened and tried to encouraged him. He asked if I would walk him to the ward as it was close to my destination anyway which I happily did. I prayed with him before he went to see his wife before parting company. I know that wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t wearing a dog collar.

Some clergy feel the dog collar asserts authority onto conversation which may seem oppressive. I can see how that might be the case but that’s where the character of the wearer must be challenged. If that is the motivation behind wearing it then you should probably pray through that and challenge yourself. The dog collar does set you apart from other people, other Christians as well but that’s the point. Philip Lawrence astutely tells us,

Today many monks want a clerical wardrobe, a monastic wardrobe and a lay wardrobe so that “they will not stand out” when they are with various people. This seems clearly against the thinking of Saint Benedict. We monks should always look like monks. We have only one identity and that identity is being a monk. (Philip Lawrence, “Chapter 55: The Clothing and Footwear of the Brothers”, Benedictine Abbey of Christ in the Desert, March 1 2015, http://christdesert.org/Detailed/926.html)

There is a theory that clergy should be just like other Christians and I agree, in the most part, with that sentiment. There is, however, a distinction between clergy and laity but I don’t think it is where most people think it is.

Yes, we are ‘a priesthood of all believers’. Yes, we are ‘a company of saints’. Yes, I believe the hierarchy in the established Church hinders change and can be restrictive and it is here that we must rethink the distinction. Being ordained is not about raising a person ‘up the ladder’ but separating them for a particular task. Being ordained, for me, was about being set apart as a public example of discipleship. Yes, all should be public examples of discipleship, but we aren’t and we need people to be disciplined to do it so we can all be encouraged.

It’s the same with marriage. Yes, we should all love others intimately and with complete selfless, faithful and unbridled desire for the flourishing of them and their transformation into the likeness of Christ, but we don’t. In order to protect that ideal, some are called to commit themselves to the discipline of chastity to another and work out how to be faithful through the chains of marriage and part of marriage is about this type of ‘slavery’ but it is through this we discover true freedom.

For the Christian to be perfectly free means to be perfectly obedient. True freedom is perfect service. (Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character: toward a constructive christian social ethic (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981) p.131)

The dog collar is a reminder for me that I no longer have the freedom to shirk my discipleship. The dog collar is more for me than for others, to remind me that I am to learn what it means to be holy, set apart from the world.

I know that my view of ordination is monastic in character for this very reason and I’m still on a journey with this understanding.

Most of the other vestments, for me, stem from this basic understanding of ordination.

So a quick run down of what is what and why it is used. Bear in mind that people have different understandings of the symbolism behind vestments and this where the conflict in what they say to observers occurs. I will also only speak on vestments that I am asked to wear as a ‘low church anglican’.

cassock albCassock Alb: Is a white garment that goes over clothes. This symbolises a clothing of the wearer in heavenly glory. This is about identifying the role of the leader of worship and not the person wearing it. The leader of worship is an expression of the character of the whole company of worshippers; they are to be the spokesperson of the collective voice of the congregation. By draping them in white it is a draping of all the people in that resurrection glory.

cinctureCincture (girdle or fascia): Is either a strip of material that goes round the body above the waist (girdle) or a rope with tassels that is worn around the waist (fascia). This is meant to symbolise, like the dog collar, the being lead by God from John 21:18. I wear the fascia because it reminds me of my Roman Catholic heritage and has a monastic quality about it which I find helpful to remind me of my particular calling to ordained priesthood.

stolesStoles: Are the scarfs that get draped over the shoulders, for deacons in the ‘Miss World style’ and for the priests in the ‘Football Supporter style’. This sybolises the yoke of Christ being laid upon the shoulders of the ordained person. It originated in the Roman society as a symbol of ofice and responsibility and there’s still that element in the symbol today. We, who wear it bear the responsibility of leading the people in worship and voicing the communities prayers and concerns to God. You will find that these come in four or five different colours: white for times when we celebrate resurrection or the coming of God’s Kingdom into the present (Christmas/Epiphany/Easter/Trinity, baptisms, funerals (sometimes) and weddings), purple for times of preparation and penitence (Advent/Lent) (sometimes blue is used in Advent as the penitence is seen as different and it is more of a Marian focus but I use purple to see Lent and Advent in similar contexts) (there is also Lent Array which is unbleached linen), red for times where we remember the Holy Spirit or martyrs (Pentecost/Feast Days) and green for ‘ordinary time’ where we settle into the rhythm of the world and it is our natural position to counterpoint the points of celebration or preparation.

cassockCassock: Is a black garment similar to that of the Cassock Alb. At the reformation the Cassock Alb was seen as a symbolism of the abuses of clericalism where the clergy and those ordained were seen as being elevated beyond the reach of the laity. The reformers were keen to bring the work of the Church to the people and so they removed the symbolism. This reformation was focussed on the words used in the Church, hence the translation of the Bible into the common tongue. The reformation replaced the priest with the scholar, those who could read and interpret the Scriptures and the Cassock hints at the origins of being like the university gowns or the preaching monks (of which Calvin and Luther were).


Surplice: Is the thin white ‘dress’ which goes over the Cassock for the same reaon the Cassock Alb is white.

preaching scarf

Preaching Scarf: Is a black scarf that is worn with Cassock and Surplice and is a reformation alternative to the Stole which symbolises the office and learning of the wearer.

When do I wear what?

I tend to wear Cassock Alb, Cincture and Stole for any sacramental activity (Holy Communion and Baptism). I am on a journey here too as to my honest understanding of ‘sacrament’ so this is not fixed at the moment in my mind. I ask myself,

Is my role to be placed in a ‘between’ time/space, an altar moment where heaven will kiss earth? Where we, the people of God will have a foretaste of God’s Kingdom on earth?

If the answer is “yes” then I wear Cassock Alb et al.

If the answer is “no” but I still need to be identified as ‘ordained’ then I will wear a Cassock, Surplice and either Preaching Scarf or Stole (usually Preaching Scarf). This tends to be in civic services and funerals.

Weddings are up for grabs at the moment!


There is often much discussion and personal opinions around the conversation of a ‘uniform’ for ordained ministers and I think it betrays are lack of agreed understanding as to our language around ordination and vocation. We are all uncertain as to how leadership, ministry and vocation works because there are so many theories and schools of thought around the subject. All the different denominations pick and choose their own view of ordained/ lay ministry and it creates a big tension. I agree that it is a secondary issue but, like most secondary issues, this is highly emotive and people get confused as to why we feel so strongly about it. For what its worth I feel it’s about the personal response to distinction in vocation, history of who represents different ministries and how we have viewed it as an outsider. If you have been painfully hurt by the actions of an ordained person then that will tarnish your view of other clergy (understandably).

There is a complex cocktail of personal character and uniformed role going on with ordained ministry and therefore vestments articulate this tension within congregations. It is hard to hide from the confusion and different opinions when it is there for all to see. We can either get rid of the vestments and forget that different views are held or we can grab the nettle in our hands and patiently talk about what and why we think what we think.

There is an important conversation to be had about what it means to be ordained and what the alternative calls are on the life of a disciple. Maybe a more monastic view of ordination is worth revisiting and encouraging a distinction between church leadership and that of service through the priesthood and diaconate.

Lord, you call us all to be disciples, to lay down our lives and will to go where you want us to go. For some of us that will be a specific call to live out our discipleship in radical forms of obedience and to be an encouragement to others to pursue that holy life, set apart from the world but still loving and serving it. For others the discipleship will look very different and the role will be very specific in a particular area or to a particular people. Whilst we live in this complicated and fallen world may we hold out the hope that in the end we will all be transformed into the likeness of your Son and will worship together in Spirit and Truth at your heavenly throne.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Chapter 53: the reception of guests


All guests to the monastery should be welcomed as Christ…

Where is this all leading to?

After 59 weeks of praying and working through the Rule of St. Benedict, we come to the reception of guests. We have spoken about hospitality before but it has been practice for the main event; receiving strangers into our home.

It is said that hospitality is a Benedictine practice (having been on the receiving end of it I can confirm they do it like no other!) The opening maxim of the chapter to see all guests/strangers as Christ and to welcome him thus is a strongly Biblical idea. In Genesis we have the story of Abraham and Sarah welcoming the strangers at Mamre and discovering that they are either angels or the God Himself (depending on your reading of the text.) Jesus tells of the analogy of the sheep and goats with the central idea being,

Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me. (Matthew 25:40b)

We also have the story of the disciples walking to Emmaus and offering hospitality to the stranger who joins them on the road only to discover it was the risen Christ all along.

Sarah and I have a quote from the letter to the Hebrews on our dining room wall which is located at the front of our house,

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2)

Our guests often comment on it. Once a guest laughed and turned to us saying,

That’s a bit dangerous, isn’t it? What if complete strangers in the street see it and take you up on it?

That’s kind of the point!

I have yet to welcome in a complete stranger and fed them, clothed them, washed them, etc. It’s hard to know whether I’d be totally obedient to that radical hospitality or not. I suspect I would fail and back out of the opportunity. I suspect I’d justify my decision by saying how dangerous it is and our home is not set up for housing strangers. I have, however, shown hospitality to strangers and welcomed them in for an hour or two, listened to them and given them refreshments (in the form of a beverage!) This form of hospitality, though, is limited and I have always sent them on their way and never invited them to stay for a meal.

Maybe that’s enough sometimes. I have been struck by Esther de Waal’s comment on this chapter,

He has prepared me to welcome all, regardless of rank, and yet to treat each according to need, so that there is no uniformity but consideration for weakness or infirmity. (Esther de Waal, A Life Giving Way: a commentary on the rule of St Benedict (London: Continuum, 1995) p.155)

It was this quote from de Waal that has given me pause for thought.

…each according to need…

Hospitality has the same root as hospital. The latin word, ‘hospes’ means ‘guest’ or ‘stranger’ and hospital means ‘guest house’. There is the well known socialist phrase which many use when talking about the NHS,

From each according to his ability, to each according to his need

It seems to me, however, that this socialist phrase has been used to bring about uniformity. If we are to live out the socialist maxim of ‘to each according to his need’ then we are required to look at the individual and serve the person in front of us. It causes us to not ‘process’ the patient but to meet the person. The principle requires we connect with the stranger.

One of the issues with the NHS and the welfare system is that it has been treated, for a number of years, as an organisation and not as a service. The sheer size of the operation (excuse the pun) cries out to be treated as a machine which needs to be increasingly efficient and ‘successful’. Successive governments, in my limited opinion, have fallen for this temptation and have brought in increasing measures to streamline and improve.

There was a fantastic article on the NHS recently which articulated the point well. At times the NHS is clumsy and waiting times in Accident and Emergency are at breaking point but the solution, for me, is not to set targets and put pressure on the workers, it’s to do the complete opposite. The opposite, to encourage the medical professionals with fair wages and dedicated support would cost money but would also increase the uptake of people choosing the profession, then giving medical staff sustainable working hours and saving money on the administration of stress related issues, etc.

I’m no expert in the inner workings of the NHS nor of other welfare services but I know enough to say the main complaint from us users is that the welfare system is becoming more and more faceless and we feel ‘processed’ not known.

I volunteer at a local foodbank and I meet with all sorts of people in crisis. Many are recipients of benefits and only a few do I seriously question the legitimacy of their claim (I’d say one or two in the last two years!) I am surprised by that experience purely because, if all the experiences of the system by the users are true then I’d have thought the figure of abuses should be more. Those receiving benefits generally feel abused by an uncaring system who process them on numbers and finance and not on personal stories. This is not due to the lack of desire on behalf of those working for DWP but by their lack of ability to engage with those in need due to pressures put on them by management.

It is time we challenge the way we all use the welfare system and that includes how we see it being managed. The reason the church is stepping in on this issue and why the two Archbishops have spoken out about it, is because we have over a thousand years of experience in how to show care for the needy and hospitality to the stranger. We, as Christians, have a intrinsic maxim to how to do ‘hospitals’, ‘according to need’. This cuts out abusers of the system who would seek to take that which is needed elsewhere for themselves.

A quick personal story to finish:

Sarah is a major beneficiary of the NHS and so is her brother. Without this service in place, they’d both be dead! As a family they have a lot to be thankful for the NHS but they are proud supporters of the service because they see on a regular basis the work of those serving within it.

We sat down this week to discuss a major operation for Sarah with all the staff on their specialist CF ward. Each of the six professionals around the table knew Sarah, not her numbers and statistics but her personality, they cared for her. They know her life, her passions, her weaknesses and they know what would be good for her. In short they know her abilities and her needs and care for her accordingly. For those six people and for the hundred workers in that ward and for the thousands of workers throughout the NHS, from me, “THANK YOU!”


Hospitality to the stranger should be at the top of all parish churches mission statement; it is that simple!

Welcome in the practical way outlined by St. Benedict protects us against those cringey, heavy-handed welcomes that make you feel slightly stalked through worship and the opposite danger of feeling overlooked and unworthy of attention. It is not just about welcome on a Sunday, though. Hospitality should be extended to all according to their needs. This will mean we serve those in greater need first and more often than those without but at all time we look to meet the person not process the number.

Hospitalable God, you welcomed us into your family and called us your children. Teach us to welcome others into our lives and serve them with the same love and grace that Christ showed to his people.

Come, Lord Jesus

Chapter 52: the oratory of the monastery


The oratory is as its name signifies (a place for prayer). Nothing else is to be done or discussed there.

What’s so special about church buildings?

It is very cool and ‘progressive’ to be against church buildings. Who would want to have a church building?

All they do is bind a community to maintenance mindset and restrict funds! The church buildings were built in a by-gone era and are no longer fit for purpose!

The moment this conversation comes up amongst young, energetic activists who have the great desire to burst out behind closed doors to proclaim the gospel I begin to feel old, ultra-conservative. I am framed as someone who wants to maintain the status quo and am afraid of change and the great unknown. The problem with this is, that’s not true. I think that people attack the idea of church buildings because it’s an easy scapegoat for the lack elsewhere.

Buildings don’t stop mission/evangelism, people do.

It’s easy, in my mind, to blame church buildings for the lack of movement within congregations but I don’t think it’s the whole picture. It is more likely that it is people’s relationship with a building that is the issue into the building itself.

Buildings are important to me because space is important to me. As a theatre practitioner involved in design work and the creation of environments within which performances can take place, I love using the given parameters of architecture for the given purpose. Working with architecture is a creative process like all other arts. One doesn’t just impose ideas onto the material, one must work with the material and have a relationship with it; the artists must allow the material to contribute to the work. Too many congregations have an idea separate from their building, in the world of fantasy and then demand their building flexes to their desires. The issue is the materials they’ve got has a personality, a history and it is easier (and more fun) to learn how to listen to a space and create within it… You might have to trust me on that point!

In those regular discussions on church buildings and the overwhelming pressures they put on congregations I often bring it back to some basic questions:

What is their purpose? and what do they say to us?

Purpose is about function. If we are to judge something to unfit for purpose we should be clear as to what the purpose is. For me the answer to this purpose question leads us to ask another question: what was it built for? What was that original purpose?

Church buildings were built to accommodate the gathering of the Body of Christ, the disciples as they met to pray and worship together. That was the buildings’ purpose. Has that purpose now changed? The size of that congregation may have changed either that the people can no longer fit in or that it’s far too big for the numbers gathering. More often than not this is what people mean by church buildings being unfit for purpose (usually the latter unfortunately).

If the building is too big for the number of disciples gathering and, in actual fact, the group could meet in someone’s living room, then I’d suggest that be explored within the community. I’d suggest that maybe, rather than selling off the building too quickly a congregation may want to explore other ways in which the building could have a purpose, i.e. change the purpose of the building. What else could be put inside this building? What other purpose might it have for the wider society?

This leads to that second question, what do they say to us? If you look at the building what does it say to us and to others? what is the natural atmosphere of the space? What feelings are evoked within it?

There is no doubt that many congregations have treated the church building as a functional storage space which is also used for worship. The main body of the church building is cluttered with stuff that has not been used and is gathering dust. The church building hasn’t had a ‘spring clean’ for hundred years or so! The solution is not to sell the church but to tidy/clean and re-decorate. If we treat our church building like we would treat any home we wouldn’t abandon it so easily.

My answer to those basic questions lead to a creative process of ‘spiritual redecoration’.

What is their purpose? Prayer.

What do they say to us? Rooted peace.

To explain: The purpose of church buildings were to house the community at prayer. Yes, people can and should meet in homes throughout the week but in the past and potentially in the future there will be a community larger then any one home and it is a deeply spiritual experience to be surrounded by a multitude of pray-ers. Small communities are essential but there are times when you want to feel part of a large family and these buildings ensure there is a shared place where we can come together and celebrate and pray.

To get rid of them would be to create the question, where do we all meet which is shared amongst us? A nearby field? A hall? Ok but that then becomes the church building/the building which is shared by the church. We are privileged, due to the historic nature of our faith, that we have property which is to be used for that exact purpose.

If you ask most people when they go into a church on their own how they feel, they will say ‘peaceful’. They may have other feelings but people like the quiet atmosphere, the stillness (particularly if it’s situated in a busy city environment. People often talk about a place where they feel connected to history. It’s a humbling experience to be connected to a heritage.

People have been coming here for centuries!

Now we don’t want to keep them at that historical heritage position but connect them into the living heritage of faith through Jesus Christ. That is the work of the congregation. How do they use that historic connection and translate it to the living faith.

I am convinced that church buildings are a tool for mission if a congregation is intentional with how it creatively uses the resource. Redecorate. Reallocate funds. Be clear as to where things are placed what certain colours and textures say to people. Re frame the space to lead people into an environment where they can encounter the presence of God which is called down by the people of God in prayer and worship.


A parish church is still seen, even in this post-Christendom society, as a symbol of community, a focus of a geographical area. People know the local church building and have a bond to it (however frail that is). Churches, for many, still have connotations of refuge and safety, peace and stillness.

Many churches have been adapted to serve better as community centres and gathering places. This is great but we must be careful not to completely rid these spaces of that unique connection with the historic living faith. Church buildings lend themselves to places of contemplation and meditation, prayer and worship. If they become identified with just any activity then we will lose a rich resource which can easily be forgotten.

Holy Father, we thank you that you gather your people. We thank you that in these places you have met with your children and revealed your grace. We have been invited into your family and we meet in your household. May we always be inviting others to meet with you in these sacred spaces.

Come, Lord Jesus

Chapter 50: brothers who work at a distance from the oratory or are traveling


Brothers who cannot come to the oratory at the appointed hours – because of their distance labor – should say the Divine Office where they are, kneeling in fear of God.

Who do I pray with?

Part of my personal reflections as I read the Rule of St. Benedict has been on my place within the Northumbria Community. My noviciate process has been stalled for two years now and recently I have been revisiting my future of the journey with them. I called a stop to the noviciate process due to my difficulties with the dispersed nature of the community. Despite having local groups that meet to encourage living out the Rule of Life and to have fellowship with, I have never found a group local enough. As a parish minister I feel a strong connection with my geographical location, serving and praying for the people in the area I live and work. I feel I would benefit from a community who walk the Rule of Life in that location asking the question, ‘How then shall we live… here?’

I still find the Rule of Life for the Northumbria Community enriching and challenging and I find myself returning to it and wrestling with its questions. I still say the Daily Office regularly and have settled into a sustained rhythm embedded over five years. I have made annual retreats to the Mother House over the years and contribute a relational tithe to them each month. I still feel a deep connection with the Northumbria Community and value their friendship and prayers but is the season changing now?

Part of my reflections on my relationship with the dispersed community has been the question of prayer and how it connects me into the community. Each morning, lunchtime and evening when I sit down to pray the Daily Office I feel a connection with the community, mainly those praying at the Mother House in Northumberland. I think of them often, sitting in Nether Springs, preparing meals, cleaning rooms for guests, leading workshops, pausing to say those shared words that I too am saying several miles south in my parish. It is the rhythm of prayer that connects me most; connects me into the established relationship with specific people and, in a smaller way to unknown members of the community across the world.

Over time, however, I find that I think of them less as my mind turns to my more immediate community in the parish. I now consider those who sit with me in situ regularly praying the Daily Office with me. My prayer ‘home’ is no longer up in Northumberland but here in York.

I have moved.

This is significant when considering what rhythm you pray to. I am feeling less and less of a relational connection with the people in Nether Springs (the Mother House of Northumbria Community) not because I love them any less or that I don’t desire to be with them more but because my rhythm of life has had to change. The Rule still stands as root for me to return to but the Daily Office has become less of that connection than it did. I don’t pray at the same time as my fellow journeyers up in Nether Springs due to the different work days that we have. I no longer pray for the same people as I focus my prayers on the local area with the prayers of the people around me.

Where does this leave me in my relationship with the Northumbria Community?

Many would say it doesn’t matter where you are, you engage with the community when and where you like; that’s what it means to be a dispersed community.

You’re expecting too much. It is too idealistic.

Maybe that’s true but I still have a deep call to be part of an intentional community which is rooted in the monastic tradition and part of that call, for me, is about location.

Another question I have is about the alternatives. I have yet to see God leading me to start an intentional community where I am at this point in time. I will soon be moving on from current role and it would be foolish and impractical to start anything now. I have, however, sensed there is a group of people orbiting the idea of this form of community discipleship in York and there is the potential bubbling up. What that looks like, how it would work and what Sarah and my role in that is has yet to be discerned. As my mind thinks over this possibility I think less of the Northumbria Community and more about the people who seem to share a call to intentional community in York.

Having prayed for over a year now around this subject all I can say is that I feel called to be a part of a group of disciples who live and work close to one another, who live out a life of prayer, study, dialogue and worship with one another, who have a passion for reconciliation, healing and creativity. I want to explore this with people who live close to me who can share my life as I share theirs and we share the life of Christ with the world.


Parish life lends itself to a community at prayer in and for a specific location. Each morning and each evening I pray for my geographical area, I lift their needs and questions to God on their behalf and I am privileged to share that task with a small group of others who sit with me and support me. When I am unable to meet with them I still pray, wherever I am or they are and I do not feel alone… Of course I am not alone in prayer as thousands (if not millions) of others are praying with me at the same time, they’re just not in that room with me physically and that is where my reflections return.

Where is my physical community at prayer? Where is the community who not only say prayers with me but live out the prayers with me, who know me, know my heart, challenge me, pray for me and speak God’s word into my life?

Father, you are with me and by your Spirit you pray through me. You have called me to this place with a particular vocation and ministry. Keep me faithful to your timing and rhythm. Lead me in the way of Christ and gather round me the Body of Christ that I may play my part in it.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Chapter 49: observance of lent


A monk’s life should always be like a Lenten observance.

Why wait?

This week I have mainly been… Writing lent material for our church family.

In May this year we celebrate the fiftieth year of the church of St. Aidan in Acomb and to help us mark this occasion we have decided to spend some time reflecting on the patron saint of our church to see if there is anything we can learn from his life and work (spoiler alert: we can!)

Writing this material has been an exciting and challenging task. It is exciting because there’s such potential that this time reflecting together, through sermons and small group material, will change us as people of God; grow us as disciples of Jesus. It is challenging because that potential is reliant, in a small way, on how I construct and frame the material to encourage that growth.

Lent is a great chance to focus our attention on one aspect of our Christian life. It’s like an annual MOT for our discipleship, a fine tuning of certain places where we ‘fall short of the glory of God’. Although we must remind ourselves that it is God who grows and transforms us into the likeness of his Son, there is a small part we must play in this work. We must allow our wills to be in line with God’s. The season of preparation before the great feast of the resurrection is an intentional focussing of our attention on our obedience to God’s will.

Lent is not the excuse for not doing this kind of spiritual work throughout the year but is merely an annual focus on it. Like an MOT we shouldn’t treat this annual checkup as an excuse not to look after a car, not fill it with oil or petrol. My wife has gone through times when she doesn’t take her medicine or do her necessary exercise and then just before a doctor’s appointment has tried to catch up with herself. It is equally unhealthy to store up developing and growing in our discipleship for the forty days of Lent.

A monk’s life should always be like a Lenten observance.

During Lent, St. Benedict suggests the community,

…devote ourselves to tearful prayer, reading, contrition and abstinence.

I wonder whether ‘tearful’ is solely describing the kind of prayer we do or whether we are also to do tearful reading, tearful contrition and tearful abstinence. I don’t think it really matters but there is a sense that when we dedicate ourselves to intentional focussing on our failings it should make us tearful in all aspects of our life. I wonder if this is why we are unable to maintain a Lenten observance all year round.

The Lent material I have been writing is looking at how St. Aidan went about evangelism and mission. His approach seemed to be about establishing and sustaining a intentional community of disciples from which mission will happen. Mission, for St. Aidan, is a natural outworking of true discipleship. If a community is not engaged in mission then their discipleship is faulty; mission is the fruit of the tree of discipleship. There is no point in just forcing a community to ‘do mission’ and expect it to work. It would be better to go back to the basics of discipleship, correcting that and the fruit of mission will grow. You judge discipleship by the mission.

I have continued to be struck by the Alan Roxburgh quote about discipleship which I have used before here.

Discipleship emerges out of prayer, study, dialogue and worship by a community learning to ask the questions of obedience, as they are engaged directly in mission. (Alan Roxburgh, Missionary Congregation, Leadership and Liminality (Harrisburg: Trinity Press, 1997) p.66)

Here Roxburgh argues that discipleship comes out of mission but I would argue that mission comes out of discipleship as well; the one feeds the other and vice versa. This community ‘learning to ask questions of obedience’ should engage in ‘prayer, study, dialogue and worship’. These four things all lead disciples within community to engage in mission. Prayer must involve listening to the will of God and having our hearts tune into his heart and his heart is for people. Study must involve reading the Scriptures which clearly describe a God who is mission, sending his people to the world to proclaim his good news. Dialogue must involve us speaking to others as people of God about our life, lived out in relationship with God. Worship is any activity done with the intentional purpose of laying down control of our lives and allowing God to use us.

With this in mind I was struck when St. Benedict suggested that Lenten observances should be ‘tearful prayer, reading, contrition and abstinence.’ The first two clearly have a direct correlation with Roxburgh’s ethos (prayer and study). The second two actions (contrition and abstinence) may be less direct but I still see a connection with (dialogue and worship).

Contrition comes from the latin words ‘terere’ (to rub) and ‘com’ (together). Contrition is what occurs when two or more things are rubbed together. I see a connection with dialogue which requires two or more things to come together and impact each other. I’d guess that what St. Benedict had in mind, from a Roman Catholic perspective, is an engagement in the sacrament of confession where a person must face his sin with true sorrow and desire to repent. I see great worth in confessing sins in the presence of another and this form of dialogue leads me to acting out the amendments required for repentance.

Abstinence is the withholding from something, usually a great temptation for us. This is famously worked out during the season of Lent as many people give up chocolate or something that they enjoy which may be taking a focal point in their life rather than God. A disciple is encouraged to abstain from those things which are not God to move God back to the centre of our decision making. One could say that we can often worship something instead of God, idols such as money, sex, power, other humans. What we mean when we worship idols is we look to them to make decisions for us. Take a celebrity; if a person worships, say, Lady Gaga, we mean that someone allows Lady Gaga to be the model for how they live their life. If they want to make a decision as to how to act, dress, live, they must ask, “What would Lady Gaga do?”. If we say someone worships money then we mean that they’re end goal is to have more money, their thoughts are consumed with the being close to or attaining money. Abstaining from those things is a discipline because it must be an intentional rejection of a un-conscious behaviour. Abstinence is a deliberate denial of an inner desire to act in a certain way. Worship of God is always a form of abstinence because it is a deliberate action to place God at the centre of our lives and not another thing or concept.


Any Christian community must be a centre of intentional discipleship. From this life of discipleship comes a heart for mission. The focus is not how to do mission better but how to do discipleship better. We can tell people about Jesus until the cows come home but it won’t mean anything unless we do it all in complete obedience to God under his guidance by the Holy Spirit stemming from a life of prayer and study. We must be rooted in a life solely focussed on God.

Mission has often failed because people have sought to talk about God when they have not yet talked enough to him. It must be seen that they enjoy the presence and the love of God. They must show God is real, to be met and to be enjoyed. (David Adam, ‘Aidan, Bede, Cuthbert: three inspirational saints’ (London: SPCK 2006) p.33)

In a world of binging I see some of our approaches to Lent as a spiritual binging/purging. We live the other three hundred and twenty-five days of the year living life with no deliberate focus on the work of growing as disciples and then for forty days we sprint the race. Our whole lives should be intentionally aimed at allowing God to grow us by his Holy Spirit.

Loving Father, Create in us new and contrite hearts, open to receive from you mercy and grace. Bind us together, Lord, to be lovers of your tender guidance and teaching and by the power of your Spirit complete the heavenly work of our rebirth through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Come, Lord Jesus

Chapter 48: daily manual labour


…the brothers should be occupied according to schedule in either manual labour or holy reading.

What is work?

Why is it that after time off from ‘work’, feeling refreshed and think clearer, you begin work and almost immediately feel exhausted? The phrase ‘back to the grindstone’ is so apt at these times. I am just starting back at work after a week of relaxation and rest and for some reason find myself asking,

Why can’t I find the peace of rest during my working week?

It is not sustainable nor logical, I think we can all agree, to work until you’re exhausted and empty and then recoup the lost energy only to spend it all until the next break. The constant emptying and filling puts our nerves on edge as we live at extremes. In this narrative work becomes draining and rest becomes fulfilling. We immediately start to talk about work/life balance as if work and life are separate. We see work as a means to afford to live; life happens after work.

E.F. Schumacher, in his wonderful book ‘Small is Beautiful’, describes the West’s fundamental understanding of work.

There is a universal agreement that a fundamental source of wealth is human labour. Now, the modern economist has been brought up to consider ‘labour’ or work as little more than necessary evil. From the point of view of the employer, it is in any case simply an item of cost, to be reduced to a minimum if it cannot be eliminated altogether, say, by automation. From the point of view of the workman, it is a ‘disutility’; to work is to make a sacrifice of one’s leisure and comfort, and wages are a kind of compensation for the sacrifice. Hence the ideal from the point of view of the employer is to have output without employees, and the ideal from the point of view of the employee is to have income without employment. (E.F.Schumacher, ‘Small is beautiful:a study of economics as if people mattered’ (London: Abacus, 1988) p.44-45)

I remember when I first read this section of Schumacher’s book and having an intellectual light switched on. I looked at the economic problems facing the UK at the time (and which have not gone away but got worse!) and it made sense: The government, both then and more so now, in trying to balance the books, needs more money coming in than going out and so they want to increase exports whilst cutting costs. What is the greatest cost? Wages. That is why, when money is tight people get laid off or made redundant. People are just a cost, a necessary burden. If we could work without having to pay them then we’d make more money or if we can get one person to do three people’s job then we’d make a massive saving.

Why do we need more money? So we can pay to not work?

Work is seen by the workman, i.e. those who work, as task to be done in order to be able to pay for leisure. The shared vision of work/labour is to earn money to be spent on leisure pursuits outside of work. In the current economic climate, however, people are fearful for their jobs and so, to avoid redundancy and still be able to pay top price for mortgages, cars, leisure activities which are going to make you feel that slaving away was worth it, you work harder and longer hours to show your bosses that you are willing to sacrifice more than others and therefore you have no time for leisure. Work is sacrifice! Those who sacrifice more, appease the economic ‘gods’ and so are safe for another season but the ‘gods’ are never appeased… I digress!

Schumacher goes on to suggest,

If the ideal with regard to work is to get rid of it, every method that ‘reduces the work load’ is a good thing. The most potent method, short of automation, is the so-called ‘division of labour’ and the classical example is the pin factory eulogised in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. Here it is not a matter of ordinary specialisation, which mankind has practised from time immemorial, but of dividing up every complete process of production into minute parts, so that the final product can be produced at great speed without anyone having had to contribute more than a totally insignificant and, in most cases, unskilled movement of his limbs. (Schumacher, ‘Small is Beautiful’, p.45)

Here is where I have a major problem with the current governments approach to the welfare problem: it is based on this notion that we can continue to see work in the way outlined above and yet force people also to do it more and for less money. People who don’t work cost the government money and don’t pay any money into the bank. To create money and balance the books we must cut the number of people we give money away to and encourage them to give more to us. If they worked, then they’d earn money and pay tax, they’d also not need money from us to live off. Why don’t they work? Why would they work if they get the money anyway? The mantra, therefore, ‘making it pay to work’, is employed.

This is nonsense, however, when jobs are being cut and the jobs being created are so unskilled that no takes pride in what they do. People aren’t at work because they’ve been made redundant or they’ve not been trained with a skill that is valued. We cut the pay of teachers and they feel unvalued and so struggle to commit to their vocation of training our children to achieve. We cut the pay of nurses and they feel unvalued and so can feel unenthusiastic to work beyond the bare minimum (thankfully many fight this urge!)

I sit each week volunteering at a Food Bank and I hear the same stories again and again. People who are trained in one trade/skill, who have worked for years find themselves laid off because money was tight or they’re pay has been cut or is static against the raising prices and are unable to pay the essentials to live. Cheaper labour can be found and so we become wary of foreigners coming in and being willing to work for less because they’re just happy to work but we don’t want to work because work is about earning enough to enjoy life outside of work.

The other thing wrong with the mantra ‘making it pay to work’ is that it still sits within the understanding that to get someone to work the incentive is money. Money is the system of value, in other words, we judge our value in the world by how much we get paid; this is why the celebrity culture is so big, we look at them and how much money they have and we subconsciously or consciously judge them to be valued more in society. Our teenagers all want the jobs that pay more money and be famous because they are desperate to feel valued by others. When they are completely starved of that sense of value they ‘settle’ for ‘menial’ jobs and accept that they are not valued by society so why bother contributing to it. In fact, why bother even working? They say to themselves,

I will never amount to anything of value (being paid money) so I can take that value (money) without working.

I think there needs to be a change in language around work. The culture needs to change to see work as something you do to connect with other people and to develop as a human being. The major difficulty with this is that a new vision of work requires the death of the major shackle we have to the capitalist materialist view of labour: consumption.

I was not accurate when I said that we find value in how much money we have; to be more precise we find value in how much we consume and in order to consume we must pay. Advertising is driven by the need to increase consumption so that people give more money so that others can consume more so that others can consume more, etc. This is another area of our society where we are lost and broken. Is there any hope?


This is the message of grace: Forget the system of sacrifice and trust in God who provides. God grows the plants in the field and has created food to sustain us. He gives us what we need for free in order that we might enjoy the world and life with him. In this world of grace work is another opportunity to be with God. We are called to be co-labourers with God in his world; from the very beginning we are to work alongside God not because He couldn’t do it on his own but because work is more about relationship and process than the end product. We feel fulfilled when we enjoy good relationships with others. Work within the understanding of grace is to be celebrated and enjoyed as a complimentary part of life with God and others. It is to fit equally beside prayer/worship, rest and play.


Reading and study

There’s so much to say about work that I’ve neglected to even talk about what most of this chapter in the Rule of St. Benedict spoke on; reading!

Here study and reading is as much part of the day as prayer, work and eating. As an avid reader my heart jumps for joy to know that reading/study is marked into the day as a task that is expected to be done, so much so that someone will come round and make sure I’m doing it! The pressure I feel when I’m not ‘working’, fulfilling the expectation of those who pay me money, should equally be felt if I fail to read a book and study.

I often feel guilty when I sit down and read or study. I even feel guilty writing this blog because it is technically not part of any job description I have, but then my job description doesn’t really exist because, again that is not part of the world of grace…

Why do I feel so much pressure to be seen to be doing something? It’s because I want to know that I am valued. Our society values someone by what they do and contribute and so I must do or contribute something. This is not grace…

I feel I am indebted to others whose money goes to ‘pay my bills’ and to I am then shackled to them as a slave. What will reading and study do for them. I feel that if they pay me then I should perform my duties to them. This is not grace…

Some might say,

Other people can’t afford to not work and to spend their days reading and studying. What gives you the right to be given money by others to sit about and be lazy?

I’d challenge that. There is always time for reading and studying if you prioritise it. There is also an assumption that reading and studying has no value because not many people would pay you money to read and study. If we need to earn the right to stop generating income and ‘waste time’ participating in a task which cannot be valued then we are slaves to a world outside of grace…


I feel guilty about my life as full-time minister. I feel the judgement of others as they look at me, in my free house, with my stipend,

Am I worth it?


What differentiates me from those who don’t get this?

The problem begins when we talk of what I do as ‘work’ in the sense of what it is widely understood to be. I don’t do what I do in order to pay for leisure; I do what I do because I feel God is growing me in the tasks of this ministry. My ministry is my life not a means to a life. Every disciple should be able to say that. My worth, in the world of grace, comes not from what I do or achieve or ‘earn’ but by the unending love of God. I work not to earn value or worth but as a vehicle to experience value and worth. I work because I am blessed because it is part of the gift of life.

Take my wife as an example. She doesn’t get paid by a pay check for anything she does. In the eyes of the current society is is a sponging, work-shy slacker. She costs money to stay alive, with her food, heating, shelter and (in my wife’s case) medicine (lots of it!) What does she contribute to society? A lot. Does she generate income? No. Nothing she does adds money into the bank. She is of little value to society in this sense.


She does contribute to society. She spends her days caring for others, encouraging others, giving people value outside of the purely materialistic understanding of existence. She is able to do that because she herself has received that same love and value from God as a gift in His pure grace. Without people like Sarah, the world would be a poorer place. She is my partner in ministry; it’s my name on the pay-check but it’s our money. If Sarah didn’t do what she does in the way she does it I wouldn’t be able to be the person God wants me to be in the place where he wants me.

I contemplate my life without Sarah a lot and I’m genuinely scared. How will I function without her beside me? I know, however, that what my life with her has taught me that life is a gift of grace from God that is meant to be shared with others. We must begin any understanding or study of life with the understanding of ‘grace’. God provides out of love for us and we’re called to participate in its delivery in order to draw close to him. The money I receive is not a deserved outcome of a sacrifice I have made, it is a gift to ensure I am able to live the life God has called me to. The gift comes first, the rest is a response.

Sarah lives by grace. I want to too.

The Christian community should be a place where all resources are shared, not out of duty but out of love. This means to have an attitude to all things as gift and to and to eradicate discussions of earning, sacrificing, etc. In this community reading and studying is another activity that is done; it has no less value than the creation of goods which can be sold to purchase other goods. In this community prayer is not a luxury which must be done after you have earned enough money to stop working.

I am fortunate to live the life I lead but it is a life that I invite others to live too, not because I don’t work but because work is another way I get to be with God. I am free to choose to follow God in everything I do. I share all I have with anyone who needs it. My house has been used to house others so they don’t feel the need to sacrifice life to just survive.
I share my table to help people who have none. The money that comes into my bank account each month is a generous gift from others which I pass on to others, through charity, relational gifts and blessing.

If you live in York and would be interested in living a life of grace why not get in touch and join Sarah and I in trying to work out what that looks like for us. We want to structure our lives around ‘prayer, study, dialogue and worship’ (Alan Roxburgh, Missionary Congregation, Leadership and Liminality (Harrisburg: Trinity Press, 1997) p.66).

Prayer is a life shaped around times in the presence of God establishing identity in his grace. By study I mean exploring and seeking out the truth of God where it may be found. By dialogue I mean real and deep, committed relationship with others that leads to wholeness, healing and reconciliation and by worship I mean activities which honour God, using our body and skills to communicate our love and acceptance of his grace.

Gracious Father, Thank you. Thank you for all your gifts to us. Thank you for your acceptance of us and desire to see us grow in maturity of faith. Thank you that everything in heaven and on earth is yours and of your own do we give you.

Come, Lord Jesus