In praise of St Lydia’s

My trip to the States was essentially a “hooray for finishing my MA, let’s have a well deserved break” kind of holiday. It had been nearly 3 months since ordination and life had been pretty full-on, with getting to know Christ Church, my MA thesis and a freelance research project. It was to be a time for R&R and a complete break from life in London.

One might have assumed that that would mean a break from churches – but no. In fact, in my first 24 hours in NYC I managed to spend time in four different churches! Out of 7 nights spent in the city, five were spent participating in some kind of church activity. This is possibly what one might call a bus man’s holiday, but in my defence not only did it result in new friends, it also gave me a really interesting insight into the issues at the forefront of churches in this part of the US – from LGBT rights and inclusion, to race and church segregation – which was fascinating to reflect upon, comparing with the UK.

My first stop, having landed at JFK and taken the A-train into Brooklyn, was a church – St Lydia’s to be precise – where Hannah (my host) works and which had been cited in the MA thesis I’d handed in just ten days previously. It is a community that enacts one of the most fascinating acts of Eucharist (communion) that I’d ever participated in. Having read a lot about it and heard many stories from Hannah (and a member of Matryoshka Haus who’d recently got to know it too) it was high on my list of places to visit in NYC!

St Lydia'sImage credit.

My thesis was on the subject of how the Church of England could make Eucharist more a part of the mission of the church, and hospitable in the way that (I and others argue) Jesus and Paul intended it to be. St Lydia’s seemed to me to be a brilliant embodiment of this. Every Sunday and Monday night, the community comes together for ‘dinner church’ in its store front home, where the communion is celebrated around a table to which all are welcome. The elements (the bread and the wine) are shared in the context of this meal, and it aims to foster the genuine inclusivity of the Kingdom of God.

Preparing for dinner church

I was expecting to be fascinated by the service – I did not expect, over the course of such a short space of time, to be so embraced by a community who were all but strangers to me. I could wax lyrical about the meals, but for starters, I just want to highlight a few things that really struck me.

  • Dinner Church is essentially sung Eucharist. Simple songs were taught and repeated (and clearly repeated week in and week out, so many knew them well) as part of the liturgy. They were accompanied by a box accordion and simple drumming that might to a stranger seem indicative of ‘hipster Brooklyn’, but were in fact just instruments that really fitted the context.
  • There was a healthy respect for the elements and an elevation of the Eucharist’s role within the community. This is exactly what my thesis was trying to get at – all too easily in the CofE we can make Eucharist a part of worship that we do without thinking, or in some circles, do too infrequently. Here it’s at the centre and drives the life of the community. It is at the table where relationships are formed and lives shared – it was the truest ‘foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet’ I have yet experienced on earth.
  • Name tags might seem cheesy, but at St Lydia’s I was touched by the impact they can have upon building relationships. A name tag enables you to offer your neighbour the bread or wine using their name – which I think has a profound effect upon the act. [I am still in awe of a college tutor who would give the bread using the name of the recipient at college worship, I watched him get the names of over 50 people correct!!] It also meant that people would readily start a conversation with “So Liz, how have you ended up here?” – perhaps helped by American confidence, but use of someone’s name helps them to really feel at home. (Plus my name tag went into a box ready to be used on subsequent visits…)
  • People really were open to sharing their life stories with one another. After the short sermon was a time of response, related to the topic. British me was surprised at how keen people were to share personal information and stories to a group that would always include some who were unknown to them. Even more incredibly, by Dinner Church number 3, I was willing to share too! [Also, have you ever heard a sermon where the response was to design a tattoo??]

My name is Liz

I’ve brought home with me lots of ideas – for church, for my ministry and for Matryoshka Haus. In the case of the latter, it was the very practical divvying up of tasks when cleaning up after dinner! Washing up or fixing tables not only means everyone is sharing responsibility for the task, but also provides great getting-to-know you opportunities. I would love to try this kind of service myself, in some form, once I’m priested next summer. It’s also confirmed to me that ideas I included in my thesis are possible! The church just needs to get a little bit more creative.*

The table is set

St Lydia’s isn’t just dinner church – there’s a new ‘waffle church’ (a version of messy church where stickiness is definitely an end result) and a vespers service, as well as one-off talks and community events. My final New York evening was spent listening to Phyllis Trible lecture on feminist theology – which I’m sure is everyone’s idea of an excellent way to spend one’s last night in the Big Apple! Whatever, I enjoyed it! I also loved being made to feel so welcome by Emily and Julia and everyone else who makes up the community there – especially the one evening when out of a gathering of 24 people, four of us were Elizabeths or Lizs!

If the long-term plan to do a PhD is realised, and I base it upon the groundwork I’ve done through my MA, I’m vaguely hopeful of spending some more time with St Lydia’s in the future, but until then, thank you guys! It was a real joy.


*On the subject of my thesis, I realise I’ve not said anything much about it. To be honest, as I’m still at the “Argh! It’s probably all rubbish!” stage of awaiting my grade, it’s not a great time to go into much detail. But its official title was: ‘Communion Table or Communal Table. What can Anglican practice of the Eucharist learn from the communal table of the missional community?’ Suffice to say, I now know a surprising amount about certain sections of Canon Law…

New York Transitting

“You’ve been following the museum’s Twitter account for nearly four years and you don’t even live in the country??” 

It was at this moment that I realised one of my hosts did not fully appreciate the level of my public transportation geekdom. Yes, I had been following @NYTransitMuseum since 2011. No, I had not been to NYC since 2009. No, I did not think this was weird. [They post archive photos and tidbits of American transit knowledge – plus, every so often they have a chat with the @ltmuseum!]

Obviously, a trip to the museum had to be included on my travel itinerary, and by fortunate twist of fate, it happened to be only ten minutes walk from my hosts’ apartment in Brooklyn. Incredibly, they hadn’t visited in the year that they had been living in the neighbourhood! I mean, seriously?? But both felt like it was a suitable post Sunday brunch activity, and joined me in the transport geekery fun.

Three have fun in the NYC Transit Museum

For anyone who has experienced the multiple levels of the London Transport Museum, the New York version is on the small side. However (and it’s a big however) New York’s museum is only in a FLIPPING DISUSED SUBWAY STATION!!! Hello ultimate geek heaven! Transit history AND a disused station?? My goodness!

The disused (but still live) platforms are put to great use, housing a history of subway carriages – which, quite honestly, was a highlight for everyone. Carriage design doesn’t seem to have changed too dramatically in recent decades, but the adverts certainly have. I think we got as much joy out of their bizarre-ness and political incorrect-ness as a little kid dressed in his own MTA uniform had jumping on and off the carriages! [Seriously, I wish I’d asked to take a photo of him – it was clearly a clever home-made job for a transport mad 3 year old. Soooo cute!]  A selection are below, without comment…








What the museum does a great job of is charting the progress of some pretty iconic NYC transit things – like the train carriages. We appreciated the collection of historic turnstiles and subway tokens immensely – working out which ones would have been functioning on previous visits to the Big Apple, and (obviously) discussing the relative merits of New York’s turnstiles and MetroCards versus London’s ticket barriers and Oyster cards. [Clearly London wins on that front, although NYC gets bonus points for not needing to touch out.]

Special mention should also be given to the current featured exhibition ‘Bringing back the City’, featuring three different disasters in recent years (9/11, Hurricane Sandy and a power outage that none of us had heard of!), their impact upon public transit, and the MTA’s response. The 9/11 section was particularly fascinating, partly because the impact was huge (some of the network still isn’t functioning properly) and partly because the response was incredible. Did you know that up to 40 new transit maps were issued PER DAY in the first days after the attack?? In a pre smartphone world, these, plus staff with loud hailers, were the only way in which to get information out to passengers.

My only regret about the visit was that my stay in NYC didn’t coincide with any of the tours they give of another abandoned station – the beautiful City Hall station which closed in 1945. It would have been worth a membership fee for the museum and the $50 ticket for that experience!

Borough Hall Station

Fortunately, the station I used the most (Brooklyn’s Borough Hall) is considered another excellent example of subway design… 

Pumpkin spice and all things nice

When one visits the USA at any point between August and Thanksgiving, it is compulsory to consume as many pumpkin products as is physically possible. During the 10 days that I was resident this autumn, I’d like to think that I more than did my part in the annual celebration of all things pumpkin.

Now, I am a pumpkin fan. I love a good savoury pumpkin – preferably roasted with chilli, or in soup form; pumpkin pie is hands down my favourite aspect of Matryoshka Haus’ annual Thanksgiving; last year’s discovery of this pumpkin loaf recipe has become a firm favourite amongst those for whom I bake; and I claim credit for innovating the coffee-free pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks (“grande steamed skimmed milk with two pumps of Pumpkin Spice” – yes, I am *that* person). For me, a trip to the East Coast in the fall was an ideal opportunity to avail myself of as much pumpkin as possible.

I’m aware that many would turn their noses up at such an escapade. The sort of people who crack jokes on Twitter about the stereotypical consumer of a PSL (who invented the acronym in the first place). The kind of person who thinks the gratuitous addition of pumpkin to everyday items is nothing short of a shameless marketing tactic… However, I turn up my nose at them!

Pumpkin Patch

My pumpkin odyssey began innocuously with a slice of pumpkin loaf accompanying my Starbucks order. It’s fine – probably not as good as the one I make at home – but when in Rome…

Pumpkin Cider at Harpoon

Then there was pumpkin cider, drunk in the brewery that produced it. To be honest, I’m not sure I could have identified the pumpkin had I not known about it, but nonetheless, a good cider on a chilly Vermont day was much appreciated. Plus, I’d just visited a genuine New England pumpkin patch.

Dunkin Donuts proved to be a purveyor of an exceedingly excellent pumpkin donut, with a pleasing orangey hue and a cracking glaze. There is no photographic evidence of this as it was eaten in a frenzied hunger on board a train back to New York.

A photo posted by Jackie (@jocose_jackie) on

If there’s one retailer that fully embraces the world of pumpkin, it’s Trader Joe’s. I ‘popped’ into its Brooklyn branch on a Sunday afternoon, which was a big mistake as seemingly every local resident had had an identical idea. I was confronted with a multitude of pumpkin options: pumpkin O’s cereal (like Cheerios); tortilla chips & salsa; panettone; yoghurt; various baking mixes; oh, and dog snacks. Yes, pumpkin dog snacks. There are over 40 items in Trader Joe’s 2015 pumpkin collection and I’m pleased to report that I only bought one of them – a jar of pumpkin spice! I was very tempted by the pumpkin spice cookie butter though…

Pumpkin Pop Tarts

My Target shopping expedition (no word of a lie, I had been making my Target shopping list for weeks beforehand – it was probably the most organised element of my whole holiday!) yielded pumpkin Pop Tarts. (Yes, I know that they’re ridiculously unhealthy and just plain awful, but I have a childish soft spot for them.)

Shake Shack pumpkin goodness

Shake Shack delivered autumn in a small tub, in the form of a slice of pumpkin pie, swirled with cream. So a dessert that bore no resemblance to the original dish, but tasted fabulous. (Note to self: this should not have been bought to consume on the subway home, it got messy.)

Incredibly, there was a pumpkin option that I searched for and did not find: a pumpkin cupcake. New York’s cupcake game has gone seriously downhill since I last visited in 2009 – although I did at least manage to find a chocolate one with swiss meringue frosting, a combo that remains top of my cupcake combo leader board.

Pumpkin M&Ms

Oh, and I rejected a third opportunity to sample pumpkin spice M&M’s, because quite frankly, they sound WRONG!

Just in case you thought my love of pumpkin might have dissipated since returning to the UK, let me share with you my favourite discovery on last week’s trip to Morrisons: Ben & Jerry’s Pumpkin Cheesecake ice cream. De-lish!

B&J Pumpkin


My sister used to comment that my travel journals (completed for every international trip I take) were merely chronicles of what I had eaten and when – and this blogpost would certainly meet such expectations. However, there’s also plenty of food I haven’t mentioned (the best apple pancakes I’ve ever consumed, for example) – and will go unmentioned, for there are much more interesting things to write about!

An awkward blogpost

September 2015 is – without doing any kind of check whatsoever – the first calendar month in years in which I’ve not posted a blogpost, and we’re now two-thirds of the way through October. Therefore this post is simply awkward, like a coffee date with a friend unseen for years with no explanation, it just needs to be got through. In fact, reading it is entirely optional!

September 2015 was also a month in which a few things happened:

  • My housemate gave birth to the rather delightful Serenna on the 2nd. Her time in hospital and the impact of her return home meant that I was on babysitting duties with her older brother a little more than usual. Plus, it turns out that living with a newborn can prove distracting!
  • Newborns are both distracting and therapeutic. Serenna proved to be an excellent relaxation tool at the end of a long day writing – after all September 18th was the day on which my final MA essay and my dissertation were handed in! (That would be 27,500 words across the two assignments.)
  • How better to celebrate a completed MA than by watching one’s home nation playing their national sport in the city that was also one’s home for 9 years? Tonga Vs Georgia at Kingsholm may have had a disappointing result, but it was an ideal celebration the day after the deadline.
  • Big Cottage number two marked the start of a well-deserved fortnight’s holiday and two consecutive Sundays off. It was fabulous, not least because I had sole use of a ridiculously huge bathroom. (This is a big deal when current bathing arrangements at home involve a bathroom shared between 6-9 adults at any one time…)
  • What to do with nearly 2 weeks off? Go to America, naturally! I took the opportunity to gallivant off to the East Coast, visiting New York and Vermont respectively. There is much blog fodder from this trip.

The above isn’t so much a blogpost but a listicle. So to finish up and get this inconvenient ‘Er, hello! I’m back!’ post out of the way, I’ll leave you with a story…

As mentioned, I went to the Rugby World Cup to see Tonga play – which was fab, especially as it gave me a chance to catch up with a few Gloucester chums. I booked a train back to London at the sensible hour of 7.15pm (that early start on a Sunday still doesn’t feel normal!), which coincided with the time at which a number of clergy were also leaving Gloucester having attended the landmark consecration of the first female diocesan bishop in the Church of England at the cathedral. [Whooop! Go Bishop Rachel!] We were scheduled to reach Paddington at just after 9pm, however, due to unforeseen events – the Rugby World Cup primarily, because no one knew that was happening… –  I didn’t get there until nearly 1am.

My journey was scuppered by a cancelled train; queues of rugby fans leaving Cardiff; trains that couldn’t be boarded in Bristol; a taxi to London that broke down on the M4 just before Heathrow; a 2 hour wait on the hard shoulder; a rude First Great Western employee at Paddington and his even ruder manager; and two night buses which eventually got me into my bed at 3.30am.

Grounds for complaint to First Great Western (who, as if to distance themselves from this debacle, renamed themselves Great Western Railway not three hours after I returned home), no?? Oh yes! A bullet pointed email was duly dispatched on the Monday morning and I awaited a reply that was supposedly due in 5 working days…

…20 working days later, I received an email. It informed me that my train from Gloucester was never going to run, because of an amended rugby timetable – but that I wouldn’t have known this in advance as they decided not to advertise it. It also mentioned that we were diverted to Bristol (despite the chaos caused by the rugby in Cardiff) because they’d rather we waited for hours than used another train provider – a victory for privatisation! Most importantly, it agreed that the station manager should have put my taxi passengers (there were 5 of us, including an elderly couple) into taxis at Paddington to ensure that we reached our homes safely. Did I mention that we’d turned up at the station clad in foil blankets from Highway Patrol?? Oh, and they refunded my ticket (with a cheque, not rail vouchers) and gave me a free 1st Class return anywhere on their network (apparently Penzance is the furthest I could travel…). Not too shabby!

22 working days later, I received a very large package. An anonymous admirer had sent me a delightful bouquet of roses! Oh. Wait. It was First Great Western, apologising in style.

Great Western Roses

Great Western Railway. You provided rubbish customer service last month, but you do apologise in style!

Let that be a lesson in complaining for you all…

Discussing the sinking ship…

That post the other day with the text of my piece that had gone missing from Threads? Turns out it had been pulled – temporarily – and when it returned on Thursday morning, it was minus the article to which it was responding.

Sinking Ship Recruiting Now

Chine Mbubaegbu (Director of Communications for the EA, who publishes Threads) explained on Twitter why this turn of events occurred – she hadn’t seen the piece prior to publication and when she did, she felt strongly that it was completely the wrong tone for the site. The page where the article once was now features an apology.

“We’re all for asking questions and critiquing but in all of our questioning and doubts and critique, we want to look for the better way – just like Jesus did. And when we’re writing about the Church; our hope is that it can become all it’s called to be. We knew many would disagree with the post – like we did – so we had tried to pre-empt that by commissioning a more hopeful response. But for some things, a response just doesn’t cut it.”

I completely agree with their decision. Turns out a response piece makes no difference when it’s on a different page; when the link to the controversial piece is being tweeted around with no reference to a follow up. The piece was very dark, which is why I agreed to Threads’ suggestion that I write a reply, I knew it was too angry to be on its own.Perhaps if we’d written the article together, kind of dialogue or Q&A style, it might have worked better? Hindsight is a marvellous thing… But, life over the last couple of days would have been a lot simpler if this had been realised before publication!

The piece in question is no longer online, but I’ve taken the decision to include a link to a PDF of it here. I wasn’t going to, but its author has been unwilling to put it up elsewhere (although he is sending it out to people who DM him about it). It’s the version Threads sent to me and I’m pretty sure it’s exactly as it was published. At least now those who have been keen to make their own judgement on it, can.

It’s an angry article, but in amongst some of the less than attractive imagery (anyone met a vicar who creeps around like ‘Gollum at an orgy’??) is a really valid point: Christianity is virtually irrelevant to British society today, what is it doing to change this and is recruiting more clergy really going to help?

This point was why I felt compelled to write the response. If someone had asked me this in the pub, I would have willingly had a discussion with them about it. In fact, it’s one of the reasons that I love being part of Matryoshka Haus – the variety of the community means that questions like this can and do crop up on a regular basis. Close friends of mine have been hurt and disillusioned by the church and conversations with them have been a hugely important element of my journey towards ordination. The church NEEDS this kind of a discussion, it can’t just hide away under a pew and think that it will go away!! [In fact, note to DDO’s and Theological College tutors: writing a response to this article would be an excellent formation exercise for any potential church leader.]

When the articles were published, I’d hoped for some constructive discussion. I know that this can be hard on social media, but the Threads comments often prove to be fruitful and Facebook is easier. (Twitter is a flipping nightmare, you can’t have a good discussion via 140 character comments!) In my mind, I envisaged the kind of discussion I have from time to time with an atheist friend on Facebook, who maturely asks interesting questions and treats my responses with respect – as I do his. (Interestingly, we met via a church youth group…)

Unfortunately, productive discussion didn’t really ensue. Apparently Alex, my ‘opposition’, has something of a reputation on Threads and on Twitter for being antagonistically controversial. (Had I realised this, I don’t think I’d have agreed to write the response.) Some people (ordained people in fact) made some rather misguided comments about him, which was wrong – although they apologised pretty quickly. Lots of people simply felt that the article was entirely inappropriate for a Christian website.

I wasn’t expecting things to get particularly nasty on Twitter, especially as before publication, Alex had said that he ‘bloody loved’ my piece. But by yesterday morning, I was rueing the day I’d ever had an email from Threads! The disappearance of the articles without (initial) explanation caused a bit of a kerfuffle. By the time I went to bed, someone I follow on Twitter was effectively being trolled by Alex for expressing an opinion on the piece without having read it – what she had read was a very interesting analysis of it that Mark Hewerdine blogged before it had been removed. 36 hours later, she was still receiving what I can only describe as abuse, because she hadn’t read it but was still discussing it – the fact that she could not read it because the author chose not to make it available was apparently irrelevant!

Nothing I’m saying here should be news to Alex. I tweeted him yesterday to explain that I agreed with Threads’ decision, and that I wouldn’t have agreed to write the piece had I known that he was going behave so immaturely. I love Twitter and hate when it gets stirred up with a lot of ill feeling! One of his replies was that he hoped I’d find a ‘nice’ writer to write with. You know what, nice is a bonus, what I’m really after is mature and respectful – which is exactly what I got from my atheist Facebook friend this morning regarding my article.

The church generates very strong feelings, in all sorts of directions, from a lot of people. There needs to be a place for healthy discussion, that hopefully yields really productive results. The church can’t turn around its fortunes on its own – it needs to listen to those who disagree with what it’s done in the past and accept that it has made mistakes. I really hope that the beginning of helpful discussions that Alex’s article generated will see some positive outcomes. Voices like his do need to be heard, but perhaps in a slightly less antagonistic tone. 

At some point Alex is intending to publish a 20,000 piece expanding his views on what the church needs to do and I genuinely look forward to reading it. Hopefully, the church will take notice…

Boarding the Sinking Ship

Boarding the sinking ship

This morning, an article with the above title went up on Threads – but for some reason it’s currently not available. It was a response to another article (published at exactly the same time) entitled ‘A sinking ship we should abandon?’ – a reference to a church that is quickly disappearing. The article to which I was responding proved to be very controversial and at points today I’ve pondered whether agreeing to write a response was a good thing. (There is a whole blogpost about that which I composed in my head earlier…)

The missing posts may be owing to a glitch on the super-shiny new website that launched yesterday, or it could be that someone at Threads thought better of publishing it. I’ve had a few requests on Twitter for the text, so I’m posting it here. (My version may be slightly different from the one Threads posted, as I know they edited it for length!) It’s possible it’ll reappear on Threads, in which case this post may come down. I won’t post the other article here, even though I have the text, as I don’t think that would be fair. Hopefully it’ll resurface tomorrow. 

Apparently, I’ve made a bad move, career-wise. On July 4th, I was ordained in St Paul’s Cathedral, into an institution that may as well be irrelevant the majority of the population who don’t believe in the God I’ve committed my life to. I’m not so much a new curate, more a new curator at the ‘faith museum’ that is the Church of England.

I know the stats: the 2011 census showed a drop of 13% in the number of Brits identifying themselves as Christian since 2001. Since 1960, attendance at Church of England churches has halved. Methodist membership’s declined by nearly two-thirds since 1980. The numbers are bleak.

Am I kidding myself that the pension fund I began paying into last month will still exist by the time I retire in 30 or 40 years time? Will I even have a job in my 60’s? How about some more stats: I trained at a college that didn’t even exist ten years ago, and next month, it will welcome a record number of ordinands (over 70). My diocese is aiming to have doubled the number of people entering ordained ministry by 2020. Is this a last ditch attempt to rescue the institution? I think not.

The church got things wrong in the past, but it’s by no means irrelevant today. In parish ministry, I get to meet people at the highest and lowest points of their lives and everything in between – from weddings and celebrating new life, to the funeral of a child that was barely two. I have witnessed how, when the worst of life happens, church communities come together in response. Clergy have a unique role in those spaces and no matter the statistics, society doesn’t seem to be ready to let them go yet.

That’s part of what makes up my ‘calling’. To serve society. It’s not about the Sundays, or being a local celeb. It’s about serving as Christ first served. I know that’ll I never match his sacrifice. I know that many in society don’t give a toss about why I do what I do, but it doesn’t stop me. It doesn’t end at the church door, or the parish boundary, but stretches out far ahead of me – wherever I end up and in whatever role within my vocation.

Countless people question this calling. Some have the right and duty to do so, others are curious. Total strangers, intrigued by my answer to their polite “So, what do you do?” quiz me about my motivations. Often they’re not interested in ‘the church’ – but are curious as to how God impacts someone. “It’s a calling” is never the end of a conversation, often it’s just the beginning.

I could stay hidden amongst those who share these out-dated beliefs, in the security of an emptying church building, but I don’t. I out myself as a ‘professional’ Christian in my dog collar, and get landed with stereotypes, high expectations and abuse. Rather than offering protection, it brands me as one of ‘them’. Not so much a status symbol, as an object of ridicule.

But I carry on wearing it, tucked under my ‘normal’ clothes. I’m just trying to be me, living out what I think God wants me to do. I’m not edgy or trendy (although potentially marginally more so that the kind of vicar Sara Cox had in mind when banning them from wearing trainers). I’m this curate, in this place at this time, looking for God to use me. I’m a feminist who’s made the conscious decision to become Anglican in order to fight the church’s patriarchy – the stained-glass ceiling may have been broken, but it’s left behind shards that can cut those attempting to travel through it.

I’m anxious not to get caught up in a Christian bubble – I’m more interested in getting out into the ‘real’ world than inviting people into ours. If the church is to survive it has to make that its mission. It’s not an easy ride. When things didn’t go to plan and I screamed at God in anger and frustration, the message came back loud and clear that ordination was the way forward.

I don’t know how we avoid the iceburg, but I do know that abandoning ship isn’t right either – someone’s got to be on the bridge to steer a new course.

Born on the 4th of July

(I drafted this nearly 3 weeks ago – all it was lacking was photos. My life is so consumed by the new curacy & my still-to-be finished Masters that I just didn’t quite get around to finishing it! Apologies. Come September 18th, all will be back to normal – whatever normal is these days!) 

Yesterday, I celebrated the 34th anniversary of my birth. My birthday is not the 4th of July, it’s 26 days later on the 30th (or the 29th, depending on the time zone I’m inhabiting at the time).

But the 4th of July is when Reverend Liz Clutterbuck was ‘born’. As the sonorous tones of the Bishop of London echoed around both my head and St Paul’s cathedral, I was officially ordained.

The Moment of OrdinationPhoto: Graham Lacdao on behalf of London Diocese.

Lots of people I’ve seen since who weren’t there have asked how it went. Often, my first response is: “it was hot…” – and it was! The hottest week recorded in London is not a time to be wearing multiple layers of robes in a building that, though usually cool, warms up rapidly when filled with a few thousand people. Sweat was literally pouring off the faces of some of my fellow ordinands!

Mim & I on our way inMim & I on our way into the cathedral – before things got really sweaty! 

But obviously, it was so much more than just toasty. I’d been to two ordinations at St Paul’s in previous years, so I knew roughly what to expect in a practical sense. However, I was tripped up (literally) by some unseen (or unrealised) practicalities. Like processing & singing simultaneously; kneeling with a straight back for over 20mins; and wearing a cassock.

Oh, the cassock!! Why had no one warned me that practicing walking, kneeling, using stairs and acclimatising to cassock wearing would be necessary?!? The wearing of them at compline on our retreat was compulsory (apart from on the record temperature setting Wednesday) and kneeling practice was recommended afterwards. There’s a definite knack to kneeling in a way that actually means you can stand up without falling backwards. Categorically, I was more nervous at getting tangled in my cassock during the ordination moment than the ordination itself!!

View of the processionA view of the procession into the cathedral – courtesy of Duffy.

It was also lovely to have so many friends and family there too. While the absence of friends at a clashing wedding was mourned, it did enable me to open up my guest list. My genius idea of drawing a diagram of where I’d be amongst the ordinands & texting it to key individuals also paid off – as I turned to face the congregation immediately after the ordination moment, I saw my family and friends just ahead of me. My sister (one of my two ‘supporting friends’ & a gold ticket holder) sat immediately behind me, facilitating the passing of water and potentially inappropriate comments to me. As we processed up the cathedral’s steps, Duffy (of Chateau Duffy fame) appeared on his bike, cheered and proceeded to take a load of photos of a moment that no one inside the cathedral would ever see. Similarly, my lovely Gloucester neighbours were the first people I saw as the brand new Deacons emerged from the cathedral. Will & Juliet waved so madly that those nearby were moved to ask if they were mine!

The newest of London's DeaconsThe new Deacons of London Diocese (Photo:Graham Lacdao on behalf of London Diocese.)

The post-service scrum on the cathedral steps was just that – a chaotic scrum! So many people greeted me, including several that I’d not expected to see. My mum was moved to tears by the appearance of a long-time friend, unseen for a decade, who had been there to support another ordinand, but who had realised that I was there too. She was barely over that shock when I pointed out another friend (a 5th member of the family for several years, really) was there too. 

A glimpse of the scrum! (Thanks Sheenagh!)

Biggest regret? Not putting my hair up, given how hot it was. (I jest…kind of!) Definitely, not getting to chat properly with everyone who had made the effort to be there! My school friends from Gloucester & London; people from previous churches; the neighbours from Glos; my aunts… If you’re reading this, let me say again THANK YOU for coming! I really did appreciate it! A particularly heartfelt thank you goes to the lovely Bev who was instrumental in sorting out my post-service shindig, after things went rather wrong 2 days before.

And yes, The Hucklebuck was played at the party and yes, I did dance. In my vestments.

Oh, and if you were at the ordination service and heard the Bishop of London mention (three times) that there was a ‘lady cement mixer’ amongst the ordinands let the mysterious mixer reveal herself:

Lady Cement Mixer

To explain: our ordination forms had required us to write a short, ‘fun’ biog – so I threw in the fact that I could mix cement and scaffold. The Bishop appeared rather taken with this fact, as it appeared both in the service and in his Address to the Ordinands. During the service, ordinands a couple of seats away from me asked their neighbour if they knew who it was. I’m convinced that when I told them it was me they did not believe me one bit!! Amusingly, my mother was moved to wonder who the lady cement mixer was too – she thought it was a construction worker done good. If only…

All-in-all, it was a pretty epic day! There’s nothing quite like getting ordained in one of the most recognisable cathedrals in the world – and I am still incredibly grateful that it was made possible! Now, let’s say we do this again (albeit on a smaller scale) in June next year?

All I did was send in an email…

At some point over a year ago, I had an idea of something I would do to commemorate my final day at theological college. Then it turned out that I was going to have a year longer at St Mellitus than I’d anticipated, so I filed the idea away. Miraculously, exactly a week before I had my actual final day, I remembered this idea and put it into action. Little did I know what the ramifications of this simple idea would be…

Long term readers and Twitter followers may be aware that I consider myself a Wittertainee – aka a dedicated listener to the Wittertainment podcast featuring Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode. A fan from my very first podcast (in which Kermode renamed Eat, Pray Love: “Eat, Pray, Love, Vomit”), just months later I found myself reviewing a film live on BBC Radio in their Christmas special. Thanks to them, I also spent a few minutes in the same room as Robert Redford back in 2012.

The beauty of Wittertainment isn’t so much the films, but the chemistry between Mayo, Kermode and their listeners. Each podcast features a sizeable quantity of ‘parish notices’, with emails from listeners featuring highly. Rarely are these missives much to do with film – more often, they’re to do with what listeners have been up to while listening (running marathons; treating Ebola; working on the Hadron Collider; up mountains; in submarines; and, most recently, having surgery performed upon them) or how the show has healed them miraculously, or caused them to suffer a WRI (Wittertainment Related Injury). There is a plethora of in-jokes, by which any discerning Wittertainee can easily be identified. Most importantly, as far as I’m concerned, is that it regularly features communications from assorted church leaders, who gather together in ‘clergy corner’.

It was this last point, combined with the fact that Wittertainment has been the audio accompaniment to my weekly walk home from college for four years, that resulted in my idea. I’d email in, in order to mark the occasion of my final Monday afternoon walk home from St Mellitus:

Wittertainment Email

To be honest, I wasn’t sure it stood much chance of being read out. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been, had the events of that Friday not resulted in the show going off air and being podcast only. My friend Phil (a member of Clergy Corner thanks to an email a couple of years previously) alerted me to its broadcast – and then followed this up with a couple of tweets that suggested that a little more had happened than just a simple read-out.

A Wittertainment realisation

Despite being determined to hold off on listening until my Monday afternoon, I was greatly intrigued and even more so when I searched Twitter and discovered that the week’s hashtag rhymed with my name – the hitherto meaningless “Hucklebuck”. So, 1am saw me fast-forwarding through the podcast to the relevant bits. [20mins in and around 5mins from the end, to be precise.]

Oh. My. Goodness. All I’d wanted was a bit of a shout out and instead, as Hoylus observed, it was ‘like a Clutterbuck special.’ And the Hucklebuck? Turns out it’s a very catchy 80’s tune that has a dance routine to it. Over the top of the song, Kermode & Mayo talked about me in my vestments dancing at the cathedral, singing “Do the Clutterbuck” over the original lyrics. Wow.

The next morning there were tweets from total strangers, and a Facebook post from a dear Wittertainment ally:

Stop what you're doing...Posting a link in the podcast resulted in requests for a Hucklebuck flash mob at the cathedral, and a fabulous Twitter exchange:

It was a surreal few days. At college, on my final day, a MA classmate greeted me with “I hear you’re famous now!” – as someone at his church had asked if he knew me (recognising the ‘radical’ vicar school in question). That afternoon, an emotional end to my last day of classes was eased with the podcast. By the time my email was read out at 20mins in, I’d already forgotten that it was coming and stopped in my tracks when my usual routine suddenly featured my name! A few extra people followed me on Twitter. A singer I’ve had a little bit of a crush on for a while, tweeted me in congratulations. (Cue much giggling.) Friends who were hitherto unaware of the Church of Wittertainment listened in and liked what they heard. Oh, and it turns out St Paul’s Cathedral is a Wittertainee…

St Paul's Tweet

St Paul's Tweet responses

And on the day itself? Well, despite being a fan of the show, The Hucklebuck wasn’t played at the cathedral. But it was played at the post-service party, and I did dance, while robed. Plus, a number of cards arrived bearing a certain hashtag.

Hucklebuck Cards

Today, two weeks on from the show airing, I sent in another email. Just an update, saying (more succinctly) what’s been said in this post. It made it into the pre-show podcast extras – complete with a chastisement from Dr Kermode for looking at Twitter during my silent retreat. I think it’s going to be a while before I email in again.

As I wrote in this week’s email:

“All I’d wanted was a distraction on an emotional walk home. I did NOT expect to acquire my own theme song, and a peculiar level of (as someone tweeted me) ‘Wittertainment fame’… Ordination was always going to be dead amaze & totes emosh, but thank you for adding a level of utter hilarity to it too!” 

As for the events of July 4th – that’s a whole other post that’s yet to be written.

A decade on 

The memories of a decade are still pretty fresh. In fact, I was genuinely surprised that it had been 10 years, so vivid are the images stored in my mind.

On July 7th 2005 I was living in Muswell Hill, commuting from the depths of zone 3 into Waterloo. I was nearly 2 months into my new job and my fresh-faced enthusiasm for the commute had worn off. Mornings involved a bus journey to Highgate, then a Northern Line journey of 12 stops. The bus journey, a 10 minute jaunt with no traffic, regularly took up to half an hour at 8am. Muswell Hill’s a great place to live, but it’s a pain to commute from.

On the morning of July 7th, I was running late. On board the bus I discovered that the Northern Line was down, so my brain sought an alternative route from its store of London bus routes. I can’t remember for certain, but I think it involved the 4 from Archway. It may have involved a different route & ultimately boarding the Piccadilly Line. What I’m very grateful for is that I didn’t know about the signal failure before I left the house, as otherwise I would have been on the Piccadilly Line in the direction of Russell Square…

That’s one of the reasons why 7/7 was such huge thing for the people of London. Every commuter has their back up journeys; their quirks and habits; and their routines. Most of the stories you read of those caught up in the attack involve sentences like “my usual line/station was closed, so I…” or “I stood at my usual place on the platform…” 

On that morning, whatever route I took, it was clear upon arriving at Waterloo that something was wrong. Talk was of electrical failure, but as the morning’s work got underway, it quickly became obvious that it was something more sinister. I worked for CMS at the time, in Partnership House on Waterloo Road (known by cabbies as the “Go Forth” building owing to the Bible verse on its frontage). Across the road was London Ambulance HQ and by 10am the road was shut to allow ambulances to have free reign. From the window by my desk, where the day before I’d seen evidence of the 2012 Olympic bid celebrations, I now watched London’s disaster protocol race into action.

Landlines & mobiles went down and the BBC website became excruciatingly slow. My regular work habit of emailing a school friend at her office in Bristol came in handy, as she was able to get hold of my sister to let her know I was fine. She’d heard nothing about it, but was able to put mum’s fears at rest. Talking about that day over lunch yesterday (I think the first time we’ve ever really talked about it as a family) my suspicions were confirmed – Mum had been very worried about me because, unlike the rest of the family, she knew that at least one of the bombs had exploded on a route that was a valid commuting option.

7/7 lives on in the memories of many Londoners simply because it could have been us.


Over the last ten years I’ve heard the stories of many friends, colleagues and acquaintances regarding their experiences that July day. The friend teaching in a school near Edgware Road who found herself having to explain something of what had happened to primary aged children; a friend who was on a field trip with a group of hijab-clad women in East London and wondered why they received strange looks on a bus, oblivious to the morning’s events; the one-time colleague who was in an adjacent train at Edgware Road, who received an honour for his First Aid efforts; and clergy friends who were called to the scene or to the aid of emergency responders.

When I moved to work at St George’s, I was very aware of the proximity of Russell Square station (obviously, it was my local station!) and Tavistock Square. In common with many Londoners, I still can’t pass the British Medical Association building without remembering the photo of the number 30 bus, blown apart, debris and blood scattered all around. The church was within 7 minutes walk of two of the bombs. This week, my former incumbent has been sharing his memories of the day he was called to a task that most clergy dread: being on the scene of a major disaster. It had a profound impact upon him personally – as it did with others who responded.


That July evening, after a suspect package on a bus outside resulted in the evacuation of my office, I walked through a shocked city. Transport was on lock-down and huge swathes of streets were closed. To return to north London, there was just one option: walking. [My Mum, having ascertained that I was safe, immediately turned her attention to my footwear – did I have anything practical with me? Thankfully, yes.] From Waterloo I crossed the river, toiled up through Tottenham Court Road, past Camden and along Kentish Town Road – at which point, a woman hit me. Not hard and not out of malice, but out of frustration. Her pace was erratic and I’d kept over-taking her, and her annoyance got the better of her. I climbed up the hill to Highgate Village, forgetting just how steep the incline was, and paused on a bench to have a bit of a cry at my extreme tiredness and desperation to be home. At Highgate, I emerged to find red buses travelling towards Muswell Hill and dejectedly boarded one.

Unlike 52 others that day, I got to complete my day’s commute.

Remember the date tomorrow. To honour the victims and remember their families. [Ensure you watch A Song for Jenny on iPlayer.] To recognise the extraordinary efforts of ordinary people caught up in the events. And, most of all, to pray and work towards the end of such senseless violence anywhere and everywhere in the world.

Lord of Time

Over a year ago, during the period of time when I was trying to work out what the 2014/15 academic year was going to look like, my ethics tutor approached me after evening prayer and said that a word had come to him during prayer which he felt was for me. He asked if I liked Doctor Who (I’m indifferent to it, but know enough to get a reference), and explained that he felt as though God was emphasising his role as the Lord of Time – or “Time Lord”. It was a clear reference to my being at the mercy of God’s timing, and was somewhat reassuring…

…only somewhat, because – as I explained last year – a curacy was not forthcoming. Instead, I made plans for further study and returned to St Mellitus to study a MA. But this year, these words came back. As I struggled to find the right curacy, it was a struggle to remember that God had the timing under control.

The words of one of my classmates also came back to me. At our final college residential last year, on the Sunday when I had come before college and explained that I didn’t know what I was going to be doing next year, she told me that she had a vision of me returning the following year, with an amazing story. As church after church failed to work out this year, I began to doubt that I would have a story for the class of 2015.

This year has been a struggle. Not finding the right curacy in good time for the second year running is not to be recommended. This isn’t the place to chronicle what happened – suffice to say, there were places that were not right; good decisions; bitter disappointments; and less good decisions. When ordinands who began their 2 year course AFTER you began the curacy process then find their curacies BEFORE you do, life can feel rather frustrating. (That might be an understatement!)

I didn’t entirely lose hope. I did trust that God had it under control. But it felt as though I was consistently hitting s brick wall. Come the first May bank holiday, and an annual Christian junket, I was without a curacy and rather low. While picking up a book at the junket, I ran into a 2014 Deacon and his wife, who, upon hearing of my situation, immediately prayed for me – on the street, in front of the Hammersmith Apollo. Within 24 hours, I’d received an email from the Bishop of Stepney regarding a very promising sounding post.

God had not forgotten! The post was indeed promising, and by the second May bank holiday, my curacy had been formally agreed. Sharing my news with the college chaplain – who was on the verge of crying with happiness – she declared: “God is faithful!” I replied: “…but slow.”

As a good friend retorted when she heard this story, God’s timing is not slow, it is perfect. We just don’t have any control over it and we don’t like it! Yes, maybe getting my curacy sorted out earlier might have avoided some issues (like some of my closest friends being absent from my ordination thanks to a mutual friend’s wedding). But would one of the earlier curacies have been the right place? Is the curacy I’m now taking up not the best thing that’s crossed my radar in the entire 22 months in which I was searching? No to the first question and yes to the latter.

Yesterday, I stood in front of the ordinands of St Mellitus College and shared an amazing story of God’s faithfulness. As I walked to the lectern, I was cheered to such an extent that I was nearly undone before I’d uttered any words. My ‘final’ Sunday of 2014 was redeemed, and in God’s timing, I am to be ordained at St. Paul’s Cathedral on July 4th.

So where am I going? The green fields of North London!

A ‘N’ postcode for the first time since 2006 (another 3 years to add to my current total of 18 years up there). Specifically, the parish of Christ Church Highbury, upon Highbury Fields, deep in the heart of Arsenal territory.

It’s a part-time curacy, which is exciting. I’m not entirely sure what will make up the rest of my time (there’s a job interview on Wednesday for something that might work), but freelancing has worked very well for me this year, and God has provided exponentially. I won’t be moving there immediately – accommodation won’t be available until late this/early next year, but that’s a relief, given my need to write a thesis over the summer!

I’m also excited about the curacy itself. I’m looking forward to getting stuck back into church ministry after a year away (from church leadership, not church!), and entering the next phase of my training. There’s lots about Christ Church itself that I’m excited about too – more of which will follow…

But for now, it is with huge relief and great anticipation that I look forward to my very imminent ordination!!

Looking out at St Paul's, 2010Looking out at St Paul’s from Tate Modern, April 2010. (As used on my ordination invitations. With thanks to @notthatandym)