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)

A Political Post Mortem

I blame 1997. For those of us whose first experience of political engagement was the biggest landslide victory of post-war Britain, every election following was going to be an anti-climax. It was the last election in which I could not vote, but the first election in which I stuck a Labour poster in my bedroom window. It was the election I was forbidden from staying up for, thanks to pesky GCSE exams. And, it was the election that resulted in a hastily opened bottle of bubbly staining our kitchen ceiling, in the frenzy of celebrating the demise of Michael Portillo in Enfield South. 1997 is legend and few elections will ever live up to it. Far from things can only get better, it was more a case of things can only get worse…

…and worse…

…and worser.

Like many, this election’s unexpected result has depressed me. Expletives were uttered into my pillows as I watched good, committed and hard working politicians fall, one after another. The morning after’s non-alcohol induced hangover featured realisation after realisation of what the world was going to be like FOR ANOTHER FIVE YEARS. The NHS. Welfare. Education. Oh, education! At the end of the next five years, how many of my teaching friends will still be in their jobs? Does Britain really not care about these things??

But, within a couple of hours, I’d decided to take hold of the situation in the only way I know how: getting involved. A week on, and I’m convinced that this is the only way to approach the next five years (and beyond). Don’t sit at home whining on Facebook, do something!!

Rejoining Labour

By lunch time I’d rejoined the Labour Party – something I’m pretty sure I’d meant to do five years ago, but had never quite got around to it. This election was the first in which friends of mine (actual friends, not just random acquaintances) ran for office. Several friends stood for selection; a few made it to parliamentary candidate; and one was elected as a local councillor. These friends are activists, they’ve joined parties, made a commitment and that’s one of the ways in which they engage with the system. It’s a far more positive way to engage than party-bashing on social media! [Other political parties are available, obviously.]

Ed Miliband at Citizens AssemblyEd speaking to the Citizens Assembly.

If you’re not particularly partisan and simply want to act justly, get involved in Citizens UK. My first introduction to their work was at a college seminar last year, but recently I’ve been offered the option of doing their training in ‘organising’ and getting involved in the local network in London. It’s not yet present in every part of the country, but if you don’t have a network near you, perhaps you could help start one? On the Monday before the election, I found myself at their national assembly (thanks to a last minute ticket) and was stunned by the diversity of the 2,000+ gathering. Vicars sat alongside Imams and Rabbis; the rich impact of immigration upon our society was demonstrated; and people seeking to make a real impact upon society. (My friend Alexandra was one of the vicars present and she wrote a brilliant reflection on the event.) The three main party leaders had been invited to speak (although Cameron dropped out at the last minute) and it was a brilliant example of parties engaging with genuine activism.

No Foodbank TodayMy local Foodbank was my polling station – and the election forced the postponement of that week’s session.

Or, if you just want to help on a really basic, local level, find your nearest Foodbank and support them – provide food, volunteer or both! Unfortunately, it looks like they may be even more necessary in future years. A friend of mine was so stirred up that Friday morning that she and some Twitter friends created #FoodbankFriday. Not only are they going to support their local Foodbank every week, they’re going to make a noise about it – so that they can protest about why these services are needed in the first place. A brilliant idea that takes little effort (she’s also committed to using her supermarket loyalty vouchers to buy food too), and can make a big difference in people’s lives. In amongst all the stories of woe I’ve heard and read about in the last five years, it’s the stories of those using Foodbanks that have touched me most. We’re a modern country, people should not be going hungry – end of story.

Finally, if you’re of a churchy persuasion, it could also be worth looking up The Centre for Theology and Community. Their most recent resource is the ‘Seeing Change’ course, which we’ve been using at church over the last few Sundays. [I’ve actually only made one of the sessions, but it was jolly good and this recommendation also acts as a note to self to use it in the future.] A series of four videos and group discussions, it puts some of the big issues of today into a theological context and then encourages people to get involved.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, if you’re upset at the way the election turned out, please don’t just moan about it – do something. Unless you do, there’s no chance of anything changing in the future. Politics isn’t something that happens in a fancy building in Westminster, it’s interactions between human beings on the most basic of levels.

Tweeting Up

This evening, for the second time this year, I’m speaking on one of my favourite subjects: why the church/Christians ought to take social media seriously. If you’re London-based and churchy, you’re very welcome to come along – full details here.

Back in January, I had two hours with the students of Westminster Theological Centre as part of their Christianity in Contemporary Culture module. The hours flew by, thanks to a large group of students who proved to be very happy to get involved in discussion, despite it being the final day of a week-long residential. I’d been concerned that 2 hours would be difficult to fill, but I had material left over! Thanks lovely WTC students!

I’d meant to write up some of my work from that lecture here, but never quite got around to it. Tonight’s session provides an ideal opportunity to do so though, as in contrast to January’s gig, this is under half an hour on a topic which I’ve now proved I can speak on at length! This post also enables me to post a few things that tonight’s attendees may find helpful, but could also be handy for other readers too.

Firstly, some discoveries I made…

1. Whatever we might think about the negatives of social media – whatever it might be that prompts us not to get involved – we need to remember that at least it’s a choice that we get to make. Elsewhere in the world, that choice simply isn’t on the table, because social media or the resources needed to have it, does not exist.

Global social media penetration 2014

Also, at least at the start of 2014, only North America’s population saw social media accessed by over half its population. Social Media is a privilege, and it’s important to remember that. When you then start breaking it down into who can access mobile social media, the numbers get even smaller…


Only 22% of the world’s population are active social media users on mobiles. When we angst about social networks’ quirks, Ts&Cs and latest updates, it’s very much a #FirstWorldProblem.

2. The rise and fall of social networks is fascinating. (Or at least I think so!) Delving into the history of social media reminded me of once innovative sites that had since fallen by the wayside. “Facebook was created in response to the success of Friendster…” – I’m not sure if I know anyone who was on Friendster! This infographic goes a long way to show just how many networks have risen and fallen over the years:

Social_Media_TimelineIf someone knows of a version of this that covers the last four years, that would be amazing! (Source.)

3. The vast array of reasons why people don’t use social media. This actually came out of a discussion at the start of the lecture. The group were diverse in age, background and profession (WTC students study theology part time), so I began by asking the group who used social media – generally and then on a mobile device – to see how they compared to the global stats. There was a surprising number who didn’t use it at all, and they weren’t all from the same demographic. I invited the room to share the reasons why they didn’t use it, or what might influence their use of it, and the results were fascinating.

Obviously, issues of privacy and safety came up, as did trust. A few felt voyeuristic. Some thought that what is posted online is largely irrelevant – why do we need photos of cute cats? One example I particularly liked was a woman who said: “My daughter posted a photo of a cake. What am I meant to say about that??” I replied that I regularly use Twitter to get affirmation for my cooking from my mother! A “that looks lovely darling” goes a long way!

4. Myriad stats and facts!! I love a good factoid – my favourite from prepping this lecture was on trolling. Any idea when the first instance of trolling occurred online? You might be surprised, it appears that trolling is pretty much as old as the first ever bulletin board. In 1978, Chicago scientists created a bulletin board system that became the first online community and with it came the first trolls…

A whole wealth of stats appeared about Instagram, all embodied in a nice infographic:

Instagram infographic(As of March 2014)

One of my favourite discoveries was to do with the Pope’s Twitter account. His most popular tweet last year was “Christ is arisen! Alleluia!” his tweets are, on average, retweeted 6,400 times on his English (the @Pontifex) account. With 4.5 million followers, he’s actually very low in the rankings of most popular Tweeters – he’s not even in the top 100.


All this is interesting (well, I think it is), but it’s not that useful in a practical sense. Tonight I’m encouraging people in London Diocese to use social media. For some, it may be a case of persuading them that it has any place in church life – or that the church should be in social media. For others, it might be dispelling some of the fear that the media generates about social networks.

For those who wanted to read what I’ve written before about social media, here’s a run-down:

And, as promised, here’s a list of social media resources that I first put together for the WTC lecture, but I’ve updated a little since. I don’t proclaim myself to be an expert (especially in comparison with many of the names on that list!), but I do have a healthy interest in social media and want to help people use it as effectively as possible.


Biscuits of history

As I write, I’m munching on a tasty, oatey, coconutty biscuit. Reminiscent of a HobNob, but with a Pacific flavour, the delicacy in question is the noble Anzac biscuit, and it’s exactly the kind of biscuit one should be eating in late April if one has any kind of interest in (a) the history of WW1; (b) social history and its impact on baking; and (c) the South Pacific. I happen to fall into all three of those categories, so it’s perfection in dunkable form…

anzac_unibicThe Anzac biscuit in commercial form. (Source.)

Tomorrow is Anzac Day and the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the doomed Gallipoli campaign. The two are connected. While we remember the troops lost in war on the anniversary of the armistice, in the Southern Hemisphere, the main focus is April 25th – because it was at Gallipoli that the Anzac (ANZAC = Australia & New Zealand Army Corps) troops made their name.

Having made the unusual discovery that Anzac biscuits were in stock at Sainsbury’s, I got thinking about the legend of the Anzacs and Gallipoli. It threw me back in time, not a century, but a decade (and a bit). This time 11 years ago I was stuffing information about Anzacs and Gallipoli into my poor little brain, ready for a MA exam. [At this point I may need to explain something. Yes, I am currently doing a MA in theology. Yes, 11 years ago I was doing a MA in history. No, I don’t feel that I have too many academic qualifications…]

Specifically, this was a MA in Imperial & Commonwealth History at King’s College London. There aren’t many courses like that in the UK (at the time, there were 3) and I managed to mould my year’s studying generally around two themes: the history of mission in the 19th century and the South Pacific. A taught module on War & Society in 20th Century Australia fitted only into the latter category, but it sounded fun, so I went with it.

Back to the biscuits…

The Anzac biscuit (it is believed) was created as a long-lasting biscuit that could be baked in Australia and NZ and sent to loved ones serving in the Anzacs in WW1. Anzacs were involved both on the Western Front and in the Mediterranean, which brings us back to the Gallipoli anniversary.

The Gallipoli campaign was an unmitigated disaster (not one of Churchill’s finest moments), but it changed the course of history in the homeland of the bulk of the troops, largely thanks to the work of those who first reported the landings on April 25th. British war correspondent, Ellis Ashmead Bartlett wrote about the actions of the Anzacs in glowing terms:

‘The courage displayed by these wounded Australians will never be forgotten…they were happy because they had been tried for the first time and had not been found wanting.’ 

‘Report on the Gallipoli Landing, 8 May 1915’

Perhaps partly because the words had been written by a Brit, and because some positive had been drawn from a failure [the extent of the failure couldn’t be reported at the time] the report went down in history in Australia and with it, the ‘Anzac legend’ was born. It’s one that depicts the Australian man as a united in ‘mateship’ with his comrades; with great courage; strong and fit; humorous; egalitarian and ‘irreverent in the face of authority’. If you’re looking for an Aussie stereotype, you’ve got one right there! [In case you’re wondering about the Kiwis, I think it had a lesser impact upon NZ society, but to be honest, it’s not something I’ve researched! The poster below indicates that it was a feature to some extent.]

The legend affected Australian society for a long time. As I’ve returned to the file containing my MA essays, I’ve remembered a paper I wrote on the impact that the stationing of US troops had on Australian society during WW2. One of the significant effects was on the courtship of women! US solders (over paid, over sexed & over here!) wooed Australian women in a way that the typical Aussie male did not – with flowers, sincerity and romance. The Anzac legend had encouraged Aussie men to look like they were made of stronger stuff, and not the kind of men who bothered with things like flowers! The legend has become more myth and less reality as time has worn on, although you could argue that Alf in Home & Away embodies it. [Is Alf still in Home & Away? I’ve never been a frequent viewer, but he strikes me as that sort of type!] 

The 'Spirit of Anzac' calls youThe Anzac legend came to the fore again as troops were needed for WW2. [Poster, ’The “Spirit of ANZAC” Calls You’, Late 1939 / Early 1940, Wellington, by Whitcombe & Tombs Limited, New Zealand Army Department. Purchased 2007. Te Papa (GH015835)]

Oh, and there was also the small matter of the Australian journalist who set out to bring the real disaster of Gallipoli to society’s attention – one Keith Murdoch. His rise to fame had an impact that is certainly still being felt in global society today, thanks to the work of his son, one Rupert Murdoch…

Obviously, the centenary of this terrible loss of life [read up on Gallipoli, it’s up there with the Somme as a flawed military engagement with little regard for human life] is an occasion for solemnity and retrospection, and for making a renewed commitment to seeking peaceful ways to resolve conflict. However, do also remember the events of a century ago with a mug of tea and a packet of Anzac biscuits, or make your own.

What the world needs is less military action and more baked goods that can teach history!

If you’re interested in knowing more about the Anzacs, there’s (obviously) a wealth of resources to explore. You could go old school and watch the 1981 Gallipoli, featuring Mel Gibson. Or you could try Russell Crowe’s 2015 directorial debut The Water Diviner [disclaimer: this didn’t get a great review from Wittertainment]. Then there’s a different take on the conflict with Australia’s Anzac Girls, which is due to start airing May 1st on More 4.

Ordinary heroes effecting extraordinary change

Climate change is a massive deal. It’s so massive, it’s pretty difficult to know what – if anything – little ol’ me can do about it. I’m not an oil tycoon; I don’t run the government; and I don’t have a time machine to go back and fix some of the terrible environmental decisions humanity has made. I am simply an ordinary person, leading a (fairly) ordinary life.

Thankfully, Tearfund has hit upon a way in which I – and you – can do something that could help to change the situation. Off the back of their latest report entitled The Restorative Economy, they’ve launched a campaign for people to become Ordinary Heroes. I guess it’s basically encouraging us to become slightly less than super heroes, which must mean a slightly more ordinary costume – maybe a pair of M&S knickers over a pair of black leggings, rather a full-on Superhero jumpsuit? [Apologies, that illustration has possibly gone a little too far!!]

The promotional video for Ordinary Heroes. 

The premise is that if we all, as individuals, commit to making lifestyle changes the combined effect will be considerable. Christians have a good track record for this kind of collaborative action, and Biblically, it builds upon the parable of the mustard seed – even from the smallest of seeds can big things grow. Last night, at the launch event for the report and campaign, we were encouraged to wave coloured paper in response to potential commitments we could make, that could begin this momentum:

  • Fly less. Yes, I travel to the US around once a year and my last 2 trips to Belfast have been flights, but I’ve just made a trip to France via Eurostar (and it’s my preferred route there) and I do take the ferry to Ireland when it’s feasible. Texas is a little trickier, sadly…
  • Use a sustainable energy provider. Once I’m in the position to make such decisions, I will do. My current house – given the environmental passion of its owners – definitely already do this.
  • Eat less meat. This is one I’m already committed to. Ethically, I’m well on the side of vegetarians, I just appreciate bacon and a good burger too much to go fully vege, but my cooking at home is almost meat-free out of habit.
  • Spend money/invest wisely. Yep. I’m the child of passionate boycotters, so I’m well versed in this. I’m also thankful to be living down the road from a Co-Op – an excellent source of Fairtrade produce, especially wine! When I have money to invest, I’ll look into this…
  • Buy Fairtrade. See above! But I’d be up for campaigning to see more products go this way.
  • Take political action. Next month, we’ll have a new government. Later this year there’s a UN Climate Change summit. Both are excellent opportunities to raise the issue. Potentially, I’m even up for the mass lobbying of parliament on June 17th.

A climate change campaign may seem like an odd thing for a Christian development organisation to launch. What do they know about the environment? Actually, an awful lot. The thing is, while we might see the odd effect of global warming in the UK, those in the most marginalised areas of international society – who Tearfund work with – experience it at first hand and it’s a massive issue for them. They want to know what organisations like Tearfund are going to do about it.

Several years ago, while working for the Methodist Church, I had the opportunity to meet with Methodist partner churches from all over the world. I vividly remember a representative from the Church of Bangladesh giving a very emotional speech about the impact climate change was having upon his community NOW! [It resulted in me going off on a rant about why on earth our building had a vicious air-con system.] A friend in the South Pacific wrote a book on the theology of the Ocean and the potential impact of rising sea levels upon the Pacific Islands – as someone born on one of those islands, I can’t bear the thought of those communities being lost due to the ignorance and idiocy of industrialised societies.

Matthew Frost

At the launch, Tearfund CEO Matthew Frost spoke of visits around the world where the question of Climate Change had cropped up time and again. He and his Tearfund colleagues had witnessed at first hand the impact these changes had had upon the poorest in society. From villagers in Peru losing water supply owing to disappearing glaciers; to extending deserts in Burkina Faso and Ethiopia, the question is being asked: “What can you do to help us?”

The report is a good read. Theologically grounded, but accessible to all (there’s a shorter summary that does its job well) it makes clear the case for taking action. As Christians, the case is compelling. We were created by God to steward creation and quite frankly, we’ve done a pretty rubbish job of it! I hope we can make a difference, before it becomes too late…

The Restorative Economy(Incidentally, an article about the launch written by me & using the same title as this blogpost will be appearing in the religious press next week. I couldn’t get away with referencing knickers in that piece, so I felt the need to write something else here too!)