rearranging the flowers

29 07 2017

Of all the possibilities, clearing away the dead flowers wasn’t one I’d thought of. I started furtively, feeling guilty, choosing which floral tributes still had enough life to be considered tributes, and which had withered and shrivelled into a parody of their original purpose. What if someone saw. What if they were offended. After all, this was one of the main Grenfell Tower fire floral tribute areas, adjacent to the Latymer Community Church. Emotions are very heightened. Not least my own. The last thing I wanted was to be accused of desecrating a shrine.

The kingdom of god is a complicated place. Someone still has to throw the rubbish away. Being available for a dramatic and extensive community response and outpouring of grief – as this small and remarkable church near Grenfell Tower had been – is a messy business. Disaster relief coordinated by post-it note and WhatsApp, the pastor said. I was privileged to be there just for one afternoon, insignificant in the grand scheme, able to respond to a request for help to help the volunteers, whether that was making tea for distressed residents, emptying the bins, or as it turned out, rearranging the flowers.

Strangely for me, not someone who often uses this language, it felt a priestly thing to do. Not vestments and communion type of Priestly. But priesthood of believers, standing in the gap between the grief of the people and the grief of god, soaking up the pain, rearranging the mess of peoples broken hearts, sorting and sweeping and refreshing and watering, all the while unnoticed, better unnoticed, for the best incarnational priestly things are hardly seen.

I left that afternoon with a deep sense of horror at what had happened that awful night; the blackened and burned tower can leave you with nothing else except its scarred imprint on your eyelids and its stamping feet all over your heart. Yet I also left with a renewed sense of hope and wonder and pride in humanity; the same humanity that can cause such a crisis can also be so wonderfully, indiscriminately generous, so desperate to fill the cracks in the lives of strangers with flowers and sleeping bags and nappies and anything which will bring a moment of happiness or even, perhaps, be useful.

It’s never been such a privilege to rearrange the flowers. Serving is never and never should be about the glamorous; that’s why it’s called serving. In serving we might only rarely see the results of our labours, instead we do what we do, regardless of what follows us. Like burying treasure in a field for someone else to find.

Let’s go bury some treasure.

With thanks to staff and volunteers of Latymer Community Church and Eden Ladbrooke Grove for doing what they do, day in and day out, and for being the buried treasure that others have stumbled across when they most needed it.

sunglasses over my soul

30 06 2016

there’s a reason I wear sunglasses
over my soul
you know, that deep place
within us that
truly sees when people hurt

sunglasses because I don’t want
to see, fully
sunglasses because I don’t want
to know, really

I know I could just shut my eyes
but then I can’t see
I might fall over
and we can’t have that

the sunglasses are for protection;
dark enough to shield me from seeing fully
but not so dark I can’t see anything;
dark enough that you can’t see my eyes
but not so obvious as if my eyes were shut

what might you think of me then?

if I take the sunglasses off
i can see your pain and it hurts…
I don’t want your pain in my life
because it makes mine seem so…
and I feel ashamed
and so I hide
as your pain cuts me deep

it cuts me, but nothing like you’ve been cut
it offends me, but nothing like you’ve been offended
it violates my life, but nothing like you have been violated

perhaps all I can do is remove the sunglasses
that dull me to your pain
so that I simply know
and you know that I know
so that I can see you with open, unshielded eyes
and you can see into my soul through mine.

I hope this poem speaks to you about how we see other people’s pain, and try to hide from it. I wrote it during a 6th Form RE Conference on FGM/C (Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting) & Child Marriage with Sutton Schoolswork, amid questions about what we can actually do about it.

There’s a lot of pain in this world, now more than ever; pain in our communities, now more than ever. Sometimes seeing, and showing others that we have seen and we care, is the first step to doing something about it.

food banks, polling stations and the colour of hope

8 05 2015

As I try to untangle my thoughts across the worlds of politics and faith and family and community and my own selfish interests, you will know that politically I land on the left. And so this photograph, from outside our church yesterday, sums up the last 5 years for me, and the disappointment I feel about the result.

2015 polling station foodbank BA

My prayer is that with the Conservatives in power, they will

  • have the will to challenge their own obsession with austerity, which hits the poorest hardest, as we all know, but for some reason think they are worth sacrificing;
  • that they will have the will to challenge the obsession with private business running public utilities and services for profit;
  • that they will own up to the clear fact that unaccountable private individuals cannot (in large part) be trusted to redistribute wealth through better pay, and it needs to be done through good taxation and a Living Wage. Which is not perfect, but is at least accountable.

In 5 years time

  • I do not want to have a Foodbank in our church.
  • I do not want the poorest taxed for a ‘spare room’ when there is nowhere else to move them;
  • I do not want target-led benefit sanctions,
  • I do not want blame culture for the jobless, and these lies about people ‘on benefits’ who are so lazy, when the majority are in work, it’s just so badly paid they need to claim welfare to pay for living costs,
  • I do not want housing association properties sold off for private profit, the extension of ‘right-to-buy’ which benefits a few individuals and many landlords who gladly receive housing benefit from their tenants (1/3 of Tory MPs are landlords, maybe there’s a connection). 

If you are a business owner, pay your staff what you can, not the least you can get away with. If you are a taxpayer, pay your tax. If you can work, work. If you read a newspaper, never read the Daily Mail, especially since this headline “Trust Labour? I’d rather trust Jimmy Saville to babysit my kids.” If you care, get involved.  

There are many political questions that remain the same regardless of who is in charge. Europe, the UK, Scotland, debt, jobs, the environment, energy, fracking, the cost of living. As Christians we do our best not to get personal, but to get community. My prayer for us is that we get stuck into our communities, serving, helping, campaigning and hoping on behalf of others, prioritising the poor, the marginalised, the vulnerable as our God commands and exampled us to do time and time and time again throughout our salvation-history story.

Whatever colour we are. 

millions of hedge fund

19 09 2013

I’m hedging my bets that although I know what a hedge is and I know what a hedgehog is, I don’t know what a hedge fund is. Which isn’t a privet joke, I’m just telling you where the leylandii lies. 

This week 3 of us in our little church took on a hedge so way out of control it wasn’t so much a hedge round an edge as a wilderness extension.  The root network that extended 2 feet across the pavement was 2 inches thick. Years of abandonment saw nature gradually take over and grow 10 foot high. 

After walking around it and tutting like everyone else, I came round to the fact I should offer to cut it. Then faced all my insecurities like a) the owner (who I have never met) might be offended at my offer, b) if I did it the neighbours might ridicule me, if especially c) I failed miserably to tackle it effectively.  Easier not to bother. 

Thankfully God prompted me in a big way. Mrs Vicarage offered my services. So I went round and they were incredibly grateful. A couple of hours of hacking, cutting, trimming, wheelbarrowing, a few cuts and scratches later 3 of us got this

     IMG_2153   to this       IMG_2154.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s tiny. It’s not solving Syria. But during those 2 hours I spoke to 5 neighbours I’ve never spoken to before. I had conversations about baptism and  “why are you doing that?”. I failed miserably to articulate a decent answer that would please the arch-critic in my head, and nobody fell at my knees asking to be saved.

But by facing some of my fears of ridicule  (nobody did call me a self-righteous go-gooder, but there genuinely were twitchy curtains), I think we did a good thing for the kingdom. What does that mean? In a community where the church is almost totally absent from people’s lives, they saw us doing something unnecessary for somebody else. It is fine for us to think good things; to give money to good things; it is good to talk about good things in our gatherings. But we must do good things where it matters most – not by posting sentimental cliches on Facebook or retweeting worthy Christian speakers – it’s where we live, through relationships, in our streets. 

It’s investing in the hedge fund. Investing by those who loaned us the equipment, those who give me the freedom to cut hedges as part of my ministry, and those who have their time to help. I think those investments are always worth it. Cut the hedges, pick up the dog poo. Because we love our communities. Yes, other people should do it. Of course. But for myriads of reasons they won’t, don’t, or can’t. If we can, then we must try, even if we experience ridicule, or apathy, or obliviousness. We might not be thanked, we might not see people asking how they might be saved… we do it anyway. 

This is our hedge fund and it’s all about investments with no guarantee of any returns. And we might be left with millions of someone else’s hedge in our back garden. Can we face that?   

running for a kebab

23 07 2013

What connects 10 miles, 32º, a kebab shop and a fasting Muslim? Limits, that’s what. 

You don’t know your limits until you reach them. The trouble is when you reach them it is too late. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a limit. So mostly we don’t reach them, we just go near them. Peer at the edge. But crossing over the limit can take you to an exciting place. In hindsight. 

running blur

Yesterday on the hottest day for 6 years me and a friend decided to go for a run. 10 miles. Quite long for both of us. Especially in 32º. As we ran (and sweated) we were talking about life and faith and some deep stuff. And wondering why we hadn’t brought any water. Soon the thought of the iced water waiting for me in the car was too much to bear. 

There are times when you know you’ve reached your limits. This was it. Swallow the pride. So, where could we get some water? The man hosing his garden was an option, but we ran past. Ah, the gymn… we went in, sweating, and asked for a cup of water. After some deliberation,  we were allowed to sup water from the sink in the toilet. 

Not enough though. As we ran on, my friend remembered he used to be on first-name terms with the man in the kebab shop. As many of us have been at one point. So we ducked in there. He wasn’t there. But we asked for some water from the young man grilling chicken and slicing kebab. He was very kind, went and got us a bottle he had drunk during his fast yesterday, and filled it for us. 

He was intrigued by our need for water. I’m fasting, he said, I’m a Muslim. Wow, we said, working in a kebab shop during a fast must be a challenge! He looked at us as if to say, which of us seems in most need at the moment? He then explained the medical and physiological benefits of fasting. He then refilled our bottles and we went on our way.

2 Christians receiving unexpected hospitality from a young, fasting Muslim in a kebab shop. That would never have happened if we hadn’t pushed ourselves to a point of need. Need from strangers.

It made me think about how rarely in my life I need something from a stranger that I cannot pay for. Asking for help can be humiliating. That moment as they decide, on their terms, whether to help. Assessing whether I am genuine, whether they have the resources to share, what others will say. Who is my neighbour? I realise I am always the Good Samaritan when I tell that story. Put the shoe on the other foot. See the world differently   

As the Foodbank grows in usage at our church, these things are on my mind. I need to remember what it feels like to be at my limit, to be at the mercy of strangers, because in depending on each other and asking for help we can truly be community. If we never need anything from anyone, how can we understand what it is to be in need.  

Still might take water next time though.  

inside outside

11 06 2013

One voice says I should spend all my time with those outside church. Another voice says I should spend all my time with those in church.  A third voice say too many ‘shoulds’ leads to a hardening of the oughteries. I need a lie-down. 

One of the great dilemmas of the church leader is this: who do you spend more time with? Those in the church, or those outside of it? Pastoring and discipling believers, or making disciples of unbelievers? Bishop Nick Baines said this at my licensing: you are not a chaplain to a congregation, but vicar to a parish. 

the community is out there

the community is out there

It’s hard not to spend all your time with Christians. Committees, groups, studies, friendships… It’s easy – so easy – to find yourself in a bubble where you forget everyone else has life and work outside so actually might not be so concerned with the minutiae of church life as us. Thank God!

On the other hand, most vicars see a lot of people outside the church, or on the fringes. At funerals, baptism classes, school assemblies, pastoral visits, community panels, school governors etc where people aren’t even interested in our coffee rotas. How rude. 

Some of us are more comfortable throwing ideas around amongst those with a strong faith already, pushing at the boundaries of conceived thinking and creatively sharpening each others prophetic giftings. Some of us are more at home with those who are undecided or lapsed or simply never thought about faith – convincing, living it by example, making Jesus known where he is not…

And most of us do a lot of both. I spend a lot of time with people with fledging faith, or fragile faith, or no faith at all. When I was in a different church we spent a lot of time sharing ideas. I miss that. But I hardly knew anyone outside church. Now, I don’t get so much sharing ideas, but a lot more encouraging those on the edges. I will miss that too, whenever our next calling comes.

I know a lot more people now who don’t follow Jesus than I ever did before. Like everyone else in church. 

Some vicars, controversially, are even able to make time to be in clubs outside church (here’s to you Sutton Runners!). They’re obviously not working hard enough (is what the inner voice says). How wrong is that voice. But how loud.  

Where would you rather your leader spend their time? Pastoring and discipling (and organising) believers, or making new disciples? Because what we do with our time impacts you.


let’s get ready to mumble

28 04 2013

I want to celebrate small church. Big churches get noticed. Most of what happens in churches is small. Because most churches are small.

A small thing is like a mumble. Brief, barely audible. Lost in a puff of wind. Except. Except that I walked past the Big Top at Spring Harvest before the session started, what a noise – 5000 humans mumbling in a big tent turns tiny noise into big noise. That’s lots of small churches, all together.

Our little church on our council estate doesn’t have a massive list of ministries. But what we do we try to do well. Through coffee morning and play group we try to build supportive friendships in an environment where they can be rare. We talk about Jesus, when we feel brave, and invite people to church, and sometimes they come. Sometimes they keep coming. Small church matters. 

Coffee morning Christmas dinner

Coffee morning Christmas dinner

Some mums from other church have helped us start a new group called Mumbles. This is a 5 session group run by mums from different churches with the aim of supporting mums struggling with motherhood and who have questions about God. It’s based around a prayer mumbled by many mums when life is tough. One person came to the first session, and it was so important for them. Small church matters.

Another local church has a Saturday football session and I help out. We we have 15-20 boys aged 7-21 playing together, learning football skills, yes, but also teamwork, maturity, life skills, and holding the vicar to his own no-swearing policy. Why do we allow ourselves to be sworn at and run ragged on a Saturday morning? Because of Jesus. Small church matters. IMG_1527_Snapseed

At vicar college we were encouraged to think of new and radical ideas and ways to be church. They are all well and good. Here I have learnt that the classics can still work.  Coffee morning matters. Playgroup matters. Home group matters. Scouts matters. Football matters. Giving lifts to old ladies matters. Bothering to do Sunday school for 2 kids matters. Talking to people matters. Supportive relationships matter.  Small church matters. Because of Jesus.

The kingdom is full of small things. Be encouraged by the small things. One mumble on its own is barely heard. It can be disheartening. But many mumbles together can change the world.

Let’s get ready to mumble. 

the lent sessions // lamps

24 03 2013


Look carefully at this picture and you’ll see we are getting new lampposts in our street. They shine brighter, with a brilliant white light, not the dull orange glow from before. It’s quite a job though. Each lamppost individually replaced, with 2 men a lorry and host of tools. And the weather is bad.

If you want new light, sometimes you have to put the work in. You need to don the high-viz waterproofs, step into the freezing rain and dig the hole. Jesus saves us by faith; he can bring the kingdom how he wants; but he chooses to partner with us. We might be happy with our dull glow. But there’s new light. New life.  

Many won’t notice the lampposts being built. But they will notice the new light.  

the lent sessions // zebra

2 03 2013

Circle zebra crossing_SnapseedI cross this zebra crossing most days. Almost without fail, when I stop the car for a pedestrian to cross, they say thank you. This always makes me smile. Old men, old women, mums with kids and builders with sandwiches, school kids, students, everyday people. 

Our area can feel quite depressed, and a lot of people feel down about life. But they still have time to say thank you. 

They say its the small things that get you down. Maybe sometimes its the small things that should lift us up. 

the lent sessions // george’s

27 02 2013

To know an area, you need to find spaces to watch and listen. This is mine. George’s Cafe. 

George's Cafe_Snapseed

Life is here. Builders on lunch break, mums with kids, couples having a cheap treat, men who live alone and need some human contact… I reckon everyone eating here has walked here, which means they are under my pastoral care. Local.

Life is here. Community is here. Ministry can’t be done in isolation reading books in the study. Get out more.

God bless George’s.

This is part of a Lent series called The Lent Sessions, using photos of my local area and experiences. Previous posts include // bathroom and // balloon 

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