In which I am thankful x 15

To celebrate the final day of 2015, a reflection upon that for which I am thankful in this rather mixed year… (In no particular order, lest people feel slighted.)

1. London. I celebrated the last day of the year walking several miles from Limehouse to St Paul’s. The weather was beautiful and the city looked stunning. (Though this did draw out the tourists. Anyone with me on starting a petition for a ‘tourist free path’ over Tower Bridge and along past City Hall??) Given that even 7 months ago I didn’t think that I would be staying in the capital past June, so every extra day is a definite blessing! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I ❤️ London!

NYE London views

2.Which leads me nicely onto St Paul’s Cathedral. Getting a curacy in London Diocese meant my ordination took place at one of the UK’s (perhaps even the world’s) most iconic buildings. In the long journey to finding a church, I would often stop and pray at St Paul’s, and now, whenever I pass it or glimpse it in the distance, I remember that day and all and all that it means.

3. So I am also hugely thankful for the incumbent and community of Christ Church Highbury for giving me the opportunity to take on a slightly unconventional curacy. It’s working out really well, being a nice mixture of challenging and fun, with lovely people. Moving up to Highbury to live is on the cards for February/March, which will make life a lot easier!

Christ Church Highbury

4. While I’m very excited to be returning to the green fields of North London (once a Norf Londoner, always a Norf Londoner!), it has been a joy to score an extra 8 or 9 months with the lovely Schofields. While the hot tub they were in the process of installing when I looked around in July 2014 may still not be finished, they have, in the last year, completed a sauna in the back garden and produced the utterly adorable baby Serenna. Smaller Housemate, the now 4 year old Jacob, continues to teach me lots about cars, Octonauts and Transformers; while I teach him about baking and attempt to answer his increasingly tricky theological questions. An added bonus has been the extended family, particularly the grandparents who turned up to support the family after the baby arrived, which coincided with the week before my MA thesis was due. The days before such a deadline really should merit the same kind of support as the family of a newborn – meals cooked and cheerleading provided!

Smaller housemate & smallest housemate

5. That I have this lovely family with which to live is entirely down to the wonderful (and mad) Matryoshka Haus community, who I continue to be extremely thankful for! The community of people are brilliant and amongst my closest friends, but, at New Year, what’s even better is MH’s new base in Limehouse. This building is a Godsend in many ways. Acquired in October, it’s become the base for all things MH – community meals; co-working space for the various people working on MH tools and projects’;a location for parties; storage for many, many objects; and a space for guests to stay. It’s this latter element that was a particular blessing at New Year, when I took residence for a couple of days an had my very own introvert’s retreat. [More on this to follow.]

Matryoshka Haus houseTo explain…our first house guest took some photos of the space. (Don’t worry, he’s not actually naked in the bath!)

6. Talking of new houses, in 2015 I am also thankful for the quaint town of Tewkesbury. Home to my sister for around a decade, this town now possesses the home to which my parents will retire in 2017. For a family that has been separated by the Irish Sea since 2004, this is quite a milestone! As the family gathered at my sister’s on Boxing Day, it was a sign of years to come, when our parents will live just a few minutes up the road, instead of a flight away. Halle-flipping-lujah! [Though we will miss Belfast, because it is lovely.]

A girl and her abbeyA girl and her abbey.

7. On the subject of family, this year is also a year to be thankful for our faithful labrador Megan, who went off to chase the rabbits of heaven back in February. Very sad times. She has left a legacy though, as it’s clear from our Boxing Day walk with some friends’ gorgeous hound that this is not the end of family dog owning. No dog will quite replace Megs though. [Guarantee that at this point my mother will have had to reach for a tissue, if number 6 hadn’t done that already…]

8. To happier things! More babies! As 2015 closes, multiple friends are expecting new additions in 2016 and plenty of babies have arrived over the last 12 months. Aside from my baby housemate, the most anticipated newborn was Tobias Bede, the youngest member of the Matryoshka Haus community and an absolute cutie. He has a veritable city of people helping to raise him and has a very special mother!

Tobias meets LondonTobias meets London

9. 2015 was the year in which I finally ceased being a student at St Mellitus, after four highly memorable years. (I think there were moments when staff thought they might never get rid of me – and they very nearly didn’t!) I will never cease to be thankful for that amazing community of students and staff who supported me through some very difficult times, and who have encouraged me into doing some things that I never quite imagined I’d do! I’m very glad that I still get to go back from time to time to teach, and would love 2016 to see a slight re-arrangement of my week so that perhaps I can make it a more regular thing. We’ll see what God does about that…

St Jude's in springSt Jude’s on a beautiful spring day

10. In celebration of no longer being a student, I took myself off on a well-deserved break to the States, so I am thankful for New York and Vermont and all the fun had there. A special thanks goes to St Lydia’s for making me feel so welcome, and giving me the basis for an exciting plan for 2016…

11. New York & Vermont were only possible thanks to friends living in interesting places! Thank goodness for staying in touch with excellent people who are lots of fun!

12. On the subject of friends, I continue to be exceedingly thankful for friends who send reassuring messages, call, or even pop something in the post (looking at you Wendy, with your PB Oreos…). I should post particular thanks to whoever sent two items anonymously to me in the last few months [it’s not creepy, it’s touching!]. There are few friends that I am more thankful for than those with whom I spent Big Cottage with. Great people. Great fun. Great cottage. Oh, and I’m thankful that within these friends is a family so like my own that they let me spend Christmas with them! [Returning to that one another time too…]

Big Cottage Two

13. Great friends also = great theatre buddies. This same crew were on it in terms of West End viewing in 2015 (God bless Jenni and her organisational skills). Gypsy starring Imelda Staunton was hands-down the best theatre I’ve seen this year. I finally got to see Carrie the Musical (sooooo good!) and was mightily peeved that tickets for Funny Girl clashed with Thanksgiving, but perhaps I’ll get to see it in 2016…

14. The great ship Wittertainment. I don’t think I really need explain why – if you know me, yet don’t know the story, just read this and then this.

15. Avocados. They’re amazing.

Yes, 2015: the year I got ordained and finally enjoyed eating avocado. Profound and ridiculous!

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?

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.