Funny for money?

I love Comic Relief. In the depths of my memory, I can unearth a glimpse of the first ever Red Nose Day 25 years ago – when I was 6 and in year 2 in a North London primary school. Once upon a time it meant non-uniform days and ridiculous activities. Now, it’s many, many hours of quality TV on a biannual basis and a valuable education in the issues facing those in poverty both in the UK and in Africa. [Yes, ‘Africa’ is a massive generalisation and it is annoying that they treat it like one country. But, given that they support projects across many countries, I can see why they use it. Not ideal though.]

This year alone there’s been the fabulous celebrity Bake Off (Claudia Winkleman’s lemon meringue pie antics will live long in the memory) and the utterly devastating Mary and Martha, which I watched last Sunday, hours after taking my last anti-malarial and sobbed buckets throughout.

However…

In the run-up to last night’s telethon, I had a couple of misgivings, both of which were to do with sketches about the church. Actually, the Church – of England, to be precise. Early trailers featured Rowan Atkinson spoofing the Archbishop of Canterbury, taking advantage of a slightly less hirsute Archbishop taking up the post, presumably. Then there was much excitement on Twitter regarding a new Vicar of Dibley sketch, my reaction was one of reservation. I already have massive issues regarding the stereotyping of female clergy thanks to Dibley, and I feared this might be women bishops related…

I think my misgivings were fulfilled. The Archbishop sketch wasn’t funny, in fact, in places it was downright offensive. There wasn’t a single laugh uttered as I watched it. I am not usually the kind of person who takes offence easily, but why exactly was it thought that it would be ok to make inappropriate jokes indirectly about a person who is genuinely a good egg? Not to mention that it was on way before the watershed. Yes, I could be taking it a little bit personally as I’ve met our new Archbishop and he’s great; and I spend a day a week with the previous Archbishop’s wife and I know he’s great too. Krish Kandiah summed up his views in a letter to the BBC which he posted on his blog.

Rowan Archbishop

Then we had Dibley. Yes, I laughed (despite my feelings about stereotypes, I have been a fan of the show ever since it began). Yes, I pondered where single vicars who look like Damien Lewis might be. I also noted the Single Ladies put a mitre on it gag – one for a flash mob around the next vote perhaps? But, and it’s a big but, it was all to do with women bishops and honestly, I’m not really ready for an amusing sketch on that subject. [Only yesterday, I was engaged in a bit of a rant on the subject of bishops while at a theology conference.] Also, why did the inner workings of the CofE have to portrayed in such an antiquated way? I know we have many archaic customs, but General Synod’s actually a way ahead of the game – it has electronic voting! Plus, do we have to re-assert the view that churches only consist of bizarre old men? There are many within the church, but it’s not really an accurate representation.

Vicar-of-Dibley Bishops

I know it’s all in the name of a laugh and I may well be taking certain things far too personally. But when a TV programme is encouraging people to support projects that help deal with bullying, abuse, racism, homophobia and domestic violence, why is it ok to have a go at people who belong to the church?

Please don’t think I’m turning in to the kind of person who writes indignant letters to the Daily Mail! I just felt the question had to be asked…

"Keep wearing purple, it suits you…"

Yesterday morning, I got up eagerly (always bit of a novelty), excited at what the day would hold. As much of the day’s work as possible was undertaken at home so that I could listen to General Synod’s livestream in the comfort of my living room. Once at the office, Twitter kept me informed. By evening, as the women bishops debate was drawing to a close, my headphones went in, and I listened to the debate while moving chairs. (I was the epitome of this Dave Walker cartoon, sans cassock.) The vote took place as I was briefing a home group in how they would be helping with Student Alpha that night. Everyone paused as the numbers were read out. When it got to the House of Laity, the home group leader looked at me – I hadn’t done the maths, but he had and his face told me it had been lost.

Episcopal ManicureChurch politics via nail art.

The aftermath of Synod’s vote was wide-reaching. I can only really speak for myself, but the news was far more upsetting than I thought it would be. I understand the legislation and the fact that, in principle, having women bishops has been agreed – the vote yesterday was actually to do with the provision that should be made for those that do not feel able to serve under one. I know that it’s simply a matter of time. I know that this decision should not affect my calling to ministry in the Church of England.

But, I was hurt. Very hurt.

This morning, several hundred tweets later and having made a promise to my mother that I would not blog on this subject until I’d slept on it, I’m trying to reflect on how today works after yesterday’s excitement and disappointment. So here are some thoughts…

  • This will happen. Potentially (having just listened to ++Rowan’s speech to synod) earlier than we thought it might last night. When it does, the compromise that several of the laity will have voted against may no longer be there and women will be in a better position overall.
  • That it will happen one day is little solace for the women who are ready to be bishops now, but may well be unable to take up that position in several years time. Several people told me yesterday that it would be ok, that I would see this change in my life time, that I could still be a bishop – but what about those for whom it was the last chance?
  • The Church of England needs to look carefully at its governance structures and encourage those who might not otherwise consider it, to get involved. Yes, church politics can be terrifically dull, but I’d gladly sit through endless meetings about chairs if it meant I got to vote on bishops. I spotted an interesting Facebook thread last night between some students I know, all wondering what it would take to get on Synod – that needs to be encouraged!
  • On the same note, the church needs to get to grips with youth participation. I was stunned, towards the end of yesterday’s debate, to hear an eloquent 22 year old female ordinand – who was attending synod as a result of her membership of the Church of England Youth Council (CEYC) – mention that she didn’t actually get to vote. This person could contribute to debate, yet not vote?! That is not participation, that’s tokenism and the CofE should be ashamed of themselves. Having heard year after year of excellent contributions from Methodist Youth Reps at Conference, all of whom had full voting rights, it seems ridiculous that the CofE hasn’t caught up.
  • Twitter is a beautiful place. When I was grieving, yet having to put on a competent, happy front at work, people across the world comforted me. Actually, not just Twitter, Facebook too. But it was on Twitter that I saw again and again just how outraged people were by the decision; who affirmed women’s place in the church; who felt how I felt; who were able to crack jokes about it when my sense of humour deserted me… This tweet summed up how I felt:

  • When the decision first came through, I had a moment of wondering whether I’d made an horrific mistake in leaving the Methodists for the Anglicans – after all, I could hold whatever position I wanted to in Methodism (well, providing I was qualified for it, my gender wouldn’t be an issue). Almost immediately, a tweet from one of my closest college friends appeared, saying: “Unbelievable. Think I’ll become a Methodist.” which didn’t massively help me. I knew I’d been called to the CofE, I knew I was willing to fight, but it felt very hard at that moment and almost as though every Methodist I knew was smugly thinking “thank goodness we’re out of that!”. They weren’t, I was being illogical, and much of the support I received last night was from Methodist friends (and my own Methodist parents). But, the Methodists still have work to do and I think last night this became more apparent. Yes, women can hold high office, but do they? Not as much as they ought to. Current number of women in senior management within the Connexional Team? Zero. If this furore about women in the CofE helps women in Methodism get further, then that’s a good thing.

So this morning, we get up and we get on with life. The world outside the church understands even less of what’s gone on than those inside do, so we need to be gracious and caring and not contribute to a belief that this is the death of the church. It is not. We need to show women – particularly young women – that there is still a place for them within the church, and we need to affirm the women that are already serving within it.

We also need to remember that life goes on despite all of this, and that life can be hard and painful. Why mourn women bishops when people are being killed in Gaza? My personal wallowing in self-pity was brought to an abrupt halt late last night as I heard that a friend had been rushed into hospital with acute myeloid leukaemia – probably as a result of radiography having been diagnosed with lymphoma a few years ago, an illness her husband was then diagnosed with earlier this year. The news put life dramatically into perspective.

Ultimately, I will continue what I’m doing – training for ordination, helping to lead a church – and will take the advice of a reassuring friend in a chat last night: “keep wearing purple; it suits you.” 

When I am older, will I wear purple?

It’s a big week in the Church of England. Tomorrow, General Synod (its decision making body) votes on a resolution as to whether women can become Bishops. The decision they make has the potential to affect the trajectory of my career as a priest in the church. No, I’m not saying that I have episcopal aspirations – but I would like the option to be open to me – I do not want my calling to have boundaries based upon my gender. [Having said that, a group of well-meaning friends have already begun a “Liz for lady Bish” campaign. Bless their enthusiasm…]

20 years ago, this same decision making body voted to ordain women as priests. I was an 11 year old pupil at an all-girls Church of England school in central London and had little idea that this decision would actually have a major impact upon my life. With my fellow pupils, we rejoiced that the Church had seen sense and that the female Deacon at the school’s church could now be priested. If a church can agree to ordain women, surely the same church can agree to allow them to exercise their ministry in full?

I’m not going to write about the theology of the issue. There is (obviously) a lot to be said about it, but personally, I believe that once the CofE agreed to priest women, ordaining them as Bishops had to be inevitable. I’m also not commenting on the wording of the resolution that’s going to go before Synod. No, it’s not perfect, but we can’t afford to wait any longer to make this step. Why? Because currently, nothing makes the Church look more archaic to secular society than its structural sexism.

Along with thousands of others, I am praying that God’s will is done at Synod – and I genuinely believe that God’s will is to enable all his people to fulfill the calling he places upon their lives. I think it’s highly unlikely that God only calls women to be Bishops when they live in North America, or Australia, or New Zealand – I could go on.

If you want to read some slightly more theological, intellectual or well-argued pieces on this issue, here is a selection:
On a lighter note, I spent Friday evening celebrating the birthday of a friend of mine who happens to work at the CofE’s headquarters. Some of her colleagues were bemoaning the fact that her birthday party fell on the Friday before the beginning of General Synod – they’d wanted to stay late and get lots of work done. Inevitably, conversation turned to women bishops and I was asked if I was planning on being there for the debate [I would love to, but my job – helping to lead a church – may prevent that from happening]. This led me to ponder whether there would be themed t-shirts for those that were lobbying for a Yes vote…

This became a source of hilarity. A suggestion from a dear friend was “Make Me a Bishop!”. A tweet on the subject was re-tweeted by the Yes Campaign’s unofficial account, yielding the reply “I am an Episcopal Girl”. [To fully appreciate that reference, check out this video.] When I got home, I asked Facebook and got some interesting responses:

A female curate friend didn’t care to post her suggestion of “Bish with boobs!” publicly, but I do rather like it. I don’t yet have a t-shirt (a female ordinand friend suggested a pin-badge would be more suitable to the cause than a striking t-shirt), but hopefully, after Tuesday, I will have the option of wearing a purple clerical shirt when I’m older and more experienced. Here’s praying…

London called and people answered

When one is thinking about becoming ordained in the Diocese of London, one is forced – sorry, strongly suggested – to attend a course entitled ‘Towards Ordained Ministry’ at Diocesan HQ. For six winter Monday evenings you gather with other potential vicars from across the city and liturgical spectrum in order to learn about what becoming a vicar actually means. At the first session the Bishop of London himself shares his vision for the diocese, and you sit there quietly and listen eagerly and try desperately not to make your neighbour giggle. [Ok, I may have made my neighbour snort with laughter in the middle of his talk. It was quite unintentional and he watched us like a hawk for the rest of it.]

Anyway, it was at this shindig a little over a year ago that I first heard about the diocese’s vision for 2012 – quite a big year, what with the Olympics an’ all – of recruiting 2012 ambassadors for the city. This campaign has become known as the2012, an initiative that exists “to train, encourage and release the next generation as they seek to live and share the Gospel at this defining moment for our capital city”. All good and inspiring, but what was a thoroughly genius move was to organise a worship event in its name at St Paul’s Cathedral.

London Calling took place last night and managed to do a nearly unprecedented thing – it filled St Paul’s with a congregation that was almost entirely under the age of 35. That is quite a feat in Church of England terms. I’m sure there are some people (both in and outside the church) who might have doubted that London even had 2,500 under 35s! [It most certainly does – and more. In fact, more people in their 20s and 30s worship in CofE churches in London than at CofE churches in the rest of the country combined! Just ask Bishop Graham Cray…]

It also managed to show these ‘young’ people that worship in a cathedral can be fun. One of my friends from my last church tweeted mid-way through the service that he was at his first ever ‘real’ Anglican service – my response was that it wasn’t *that* real as there weren’t enough men wearing dresses… Yes, there were liturgical responses and several Bishops, but there was also a drum-kit – not typical for a service at St Paul’s. If you get one of the country’s top worship leaders (Tim Hughes), and someone who’s passionate about prayer (Pete Greig) and a cracking gospel choir (Twyford CofE school), then you ought to be on to a good thing. Oh, and there was a large quantity of confetti…

There are several reasons why I found myself seriously impressed at the end of the evening:
1. It’s great for people in the so-called ‘Missing Generation’ to discover that there are actually quite a lot of them and they’re not really missing.
2. A lot of thought had clearly gone into how to make it accessible, relevant, fun and inspiring. The song choices were good; everything was clearly laid out in the order of service; the language wasn’t high brow; and people seemed to feel at home.
3. It got a lot of young people into St Paul’s who had never been there before.

It’s that last point that really got me. When I was a teenager in Gloucester (and still a Methodist) the cathedral was very much ‘our’ cathedral – we had school services and concerts there at least once a year, you could go in without having to pay, it was in the centre of town and was a good spot for picnics. Yes, I worshipped there and my Dad’s office was in the close so I probably felt a little more at home than others, but if you questioned most locals, I suspect they’d have been inside multiple times. This just isn’t the case with St Paul’s.

For the young people of the diocese, it is ‘their’ cathedral, but they rarely have an opportunity to go in. Yes, it’s free to enter for worship – but I know even my students might resist the lure of great architecture if it involved a service that they weren’t sure they’d understand. At the service, I was surrounded by people gasping in delight at the beauty of the building’s interior and standing in awe of the history it contains. We were standing on ground that has been worshipped upon since 604 – that’s a pretty impressive history. So, Diocese of London, how about hosting a few more events there in the future?

The students persuaded me to have a chat with the Bishop & ask him to pose with us…
(We all have ridiculous facial expressions because the person we got to take the photo yelled ‘Jesus’ instead of ‘cheese’. Honestly.) 

Ambitious Friday Fun (Updated)

There are various things I’d like to achieve in my life – some are admirable, others are just plain foolish…

For example, at some point in my life, I’d really like to try that Diet Coke + Mentos thing – I quite like big explosion type things, I love Diet Coke and I’m not averse to mints, so what could go wrong? Well, given my accident prone nature, a lot could go wrong – as the video below shows. I think I watched this four times in a row last night and it made me laugh every single time. Fabulous Friday fun, courtesy of Dave Gorman:

Incidentally, is it just me, or does anyone else worry about the dangers of drinking Diet Coke while also munching on a packet of mints? And, do Softmints produce the same effects as Mentos? (Diet Coke & Softmints are a semi-regular office afternoon snack, I’d hate for it to end in disaster…)

I’d also really like to learn the cello, except it’s quite a heavy instrument to lug around. (Possibly why, when offered a second instrument aged 12, I opted for the clarinet. Actually, if you include the two recorders I can play, it’s my fourth instrument, or fifth including voice…tangents). Basically, all I want to be able to do is play Elgar’s Cello Concerto (I play the clarinet solely because of Rhapsody in Blue) – this may happen, one day. My sister’s second instrument was the violin, she wasn’t bad – certainly not screechingly awful – but never anywhere near as good as this:

Apologies, that whole paragraph was an exceedingly tenuous tangent. But the world definitely needs more pop songs played fabulously on stringed instruments. (If you share this opinion, there are a heck of a lot on YouTube.)

Finally, I’d love to be intelligent & funny enough to appear on Just a Minute. True, I did get to watch the recording of two episodes last summer (and, according certain sources my laugh was very visible in one of them), but participating would be awesome. Paul Merton is currently King of Just a Minute, a title he’s attained since the world bade farewell to Clement Freud. In a recent interview with the Guardian, he revealed that he had tapes of shows that he listened to over and over in order to learn the art and eventually got on the show after writing to the producers when they were looking for someone to replace Kenneth Williams. [I was also pleased to discover that I’m not the only person who’s been playing the game since they were a child – Merton played along from the age of 8.]

The show has regular series on Radio 4 (a new one started last week in fact), but what’s particularly fun are the repeats played on sister station Radio 4 extra – archive programmes from decades past featuring the now departed greats. One I listened to while baking earlier in the week was from 1998, included Julian Clary in only his third ever appearance and a Paul Merton who was gradually stealing Clement Freud’s thunder. This week’s classic episode includes my former neighbour, Maureen Lipman (ok, so she lived round the corner, but still – same neighbourhood) as well as Merton and Freud, so promises to be half an hour of quality Friday Fun…

Late addition:
How I wish I’d read Lesley’s post sharing this beauty yesterday! As it is, I’m adding this in as a late addition. You can decide for yourself how this relates to my life’s ambitions, suffice to say I’ve always loved wearing purple…