the snowdon challenge

31 08 2016

You cannot understand the world without understanding religion. Ok, perhaps some would dispute that. But? Think about it. Probably 90% of the world adhere to some form of religious belief. We in secular Europe like to deny that; we may think the beliefs are wrong; yet, there it is.

Young people are growing up in a world that misunderstands religion. Seen through cynical media eyes it is newsworthy only at times of abject failure, or accidental comedy, or when the Queen does something dressy.

Yet religion changes the way people behave arguably more than most other factors. Yes that can be negative – extremist fundamentalism – and also positive – food banks, youth clubs, debt counselling, schools, hospitals…

Despite being the fastest growing A-Level option, and the one subject that tackles the big questions of life from primary right through secondary, many RE teachers are non-specialist. Many know their stuff, but many, especially in Primary school, have no background in RE at all.

This is why I support Sutton Schoolswork, even enough to run 22 miles over Snowdon! Yes, you may argue I have a vested interest in promoting the good understanding of religion. Yes, I do, as I do in the good understanding of sport and geography and maths. Even maths.

2016 Snowdon Challenge.002

Sutton Schoolswork work in schools, by invitation, to support teachers in the delivery of the RE syllabus; to give assemblies on topics ranging from Christian festivals to anti-bullying; to run i-Wonder Days for primary schools and RE 6th Form Conferences on Human Trafficking; they support teachers and pupils, and work with local volunteers to run lunch-clubs and after-school clubs. They do this across 45 primary schools and 11 secondary schools with just 2 schools workers, a recently-created post of Director, and p/t admin support, alongside local volunteers.

The critics in my head say there are better places for money to go, better charities to support. Yes, there are many good ones. Yet helping children and young people to understand the world they live in is a vastly underestimated value. Thinking deeply, discussing gracefully, learning from a conversation not a textbook… all these contribute to a world in which we don’t just shout statements at each other from entrenched and unknowing prejudice, but we seek to understand each other, to work together.

2016 Snowdon Challenge.001

So on Saturday 3rd September I am taking part in Man V Mountain, to raise money for Sutton Schoolswork. As a Trustee-Director and a local vicar who works in both primary and secondary schools, I think this is a great cause, and if you are able to join in supporting it, then please follow this link above to do so.

Thank you.


a complicated relationship with pride

1 10 2014

We church leaders have a complicated relationship with pride. We want to do things well; often we do do things well; and when when we do do things well, we worry more about whether everyone went away laughing at the word do-do than being proud that we did well.

None of us – hopefully – want to be ‘proud’. Not that bad sort of proud that lives on a pedestal and becomes arrogance. So, we easily fall into false humility instead. No no, it wasn’t me, it was the Lord! Bless the Lord for my wonderful preaching! I mean his wonderful speaking through this broken vessel…

And we’re back to do-do.


I thought long and hard about this when I finished my Snowdon challenge. Because I was proud. Seriously proud. Not badly, not arrogantly. Look, see, I’m already defending it. I was interested because I allowed myself to be proud. This was ok to be proud about. Why? Because I had worked flipping’ hard, trained for 3 months, run further and faster than ever before, taken on a big challenge, and succeeded. Yay!

So, why is that different from, say, feeling proud after a successful fun day, or assembly, or service. I put loads of work into all those; some are massive challenges. Challenge, success, pride. Yay! No?

It is different because we are not ‘meant’ to say that ‘we’ have done those things. Because without God, we couldn’t. And without God, I could have run Snowdon. Probably. But I think so many of us do ourselves down because we won’t let ourselves be proud at our achievements, because we fear becoming arrogant, self-serving, and, well, proud. And we all know what comes after pride…

But I am proud. Hopefully in a gentle, humble, but confident way, I am proud. Proud when I have played a part in helping someone stay dry from an addiction for several years; proud in being part of leading a church that has changed from 14 older ladies to enough for a harvest lunch for 50 (and that not being everyone) (eek, pride); proud to see young people we have influenced doing so well; proud when people grow and develop their faith; proud to have managed to hold together a diverse and complicated community, along with family and other responsibilities; proud to win Banstead Woods parkrun.

Are you proud?

Proud? Yes. And I think that God says, yes, be proud. Celebrate what is good. But temper it with humility, absorbing praise and then reflecting it upwards; knowing that we do all things in his strength, not our own. Because none of us want to be the arrogant church leader who looks down on everyone else’s church or ministry or lighting system. And anyway, most of us are not really arrogant, we’re insecure; we’re not proud, we’re terrified. But we are the people God has made us, with gifts and talents, and when God uses them, and when we work with him to hone them, that is something to be proud of.

We are not meant to be faceless, identikit personality-void vending machines of God-iness. We are meant to be ourselves, partnering with God, for the kingdom. So let’s be confident and tender and proud and humble.

I said it was complicated.    

on conquering snowdon, and other untruths

11 09 2014

So I did it! The 20-mile + obstacles Man vs Mountain race over Snowdon was the hardest physical challenge i’ve ever done. Here’s what happened and some life and leadership lessons learned. 

We began at sea-level inside Caernarfon Castle. The weather was cool and slightly damp – perfect running conditions. The first 5 miles on the road were straightforward: choose a comfortable pace, don’t use all your energy going off too fast. Lesson 1: pace yourself.  Having all the kit doesn’t make you a good runner, just someone with all the kit, so we set our pace by those  running at our pace, not those who looked the part. Lesson 2: look at outcomes, not image. As we hit the off-road the grinding nature of the constant uphill began to bite.


fresh-faced and slightly terrified inside the castle

Running with my brother, we were chuffed at 10 miles to be met by our dad, who had walked to encourage us and give us some much-needed nourishment. We took a rest, as others passed us, knowing the next 3 miles to the summit would make or break us. Lesson 3: learn to rest mid-journey, enjoy the view and eat something. Joining the Snowdon Ranger path here, the terrain got tougher, steeper, and visibility foggier. The line of runners became a line of walkers zig-zagging up into in the fog. Much-needed encouragement was given and received as runners stretched aching muscles, took on food, put on layers, and we collectively hoped the sun would break through. Lesson 4: encourage others who are struggling, it matters.


beautiful sight as the clouds began to clear

At this point I could have run faster, but I held back to pull my brother up the hill; however, if I had gone quicker, I think I would have overdone it. Lesson 5: slower may well be wiser. Don’t rush everything. As we neared the summit, there was a beautiful moment as the sun burst through, melted away the mist and we got an amazing view from the summit, where we took the obligatory summit-selfie, briefly paused, my brother and I said our goodbyes and I set off for the descent. The 7 miles down was tough, with tripping, slipping and braking, so I took it steady and tried not to think about the Merrell Vertical KM up ahead. I was happy that up until now I had paced it well, done the right amount of training, and hadn’t got lost! Lesson 6: discipline in preparation is essential.


the obligatory summit-selfie, looking not-quite-so-fresh!

As we reached Electric Mountain at Llanberis after 20 miles, the evil nature of organisers raised it’s ugly head! First up was the Vertical KM, a steep uphill slog up the slate mine, treated as a timed race-in-a-race. I was feeling pretty good at this point, so I decided to push it, going past many who were walking, and trying to ignore the burning thighs and the fear of cramp. I was unexpectedly rewarded with a 12th place out of 750 in this challenge, in a time of 11m48s, only just over a minute slower than the winner. Lesson 7: training does actually makes you stronger.

the vertical km results

the vertical km results

Next up was the abseil. This I was terrified of. There was a walk-around for those who didn’t want to do it, but I decided I would do it. As I climbed over the edge of the railway bridge, I decided I wouldn’t look down. Ever. And didn’t. I looked at my feet. So I had no idea how high it was, or how far to go. I chose to trust the equipment and the instructors. I was surprised when the arch of the bridge left me dangling. But I did it! Lesson 8: choosing to trust rather than fear is just that – a choice.

Grinning widely and proud that I had done it, I ran to the next obstacle – a 20 ft leap off a plank into a lake, exiting by swimming through a submerged gate. Again, this was terrifying for me, but I again chose to trust my knowledge it was safe, rather than my fear that it wasn’t. I shouted “what a sense of achievement!” to nobody in particular, and nobody replied. Lesson 9: not everyone knows your fears, and unless you tell them, they may never know

The cramp was truly setting in to my legs now. The effort of the Vertical KM was taking its toll, and I longed for the end to come. Just 2 more water obstacles and the final run to the finish… oh no, not quite. The two 7 foot walls just before the finish were the final evil sting in the tail.  I made the first one by climbing the edge of the scaffolding, thanks to advice shouted from a spectator. Lesson 10: those on the sidelines have a better view, so don’t ignore their advice. The second wall was beyond me. In full view of spectators and my dad’s camera, my legs totally cramped and I lay prostrate on the floor. I’ve never known cramp like it. Lesson 11: dignity isn’t as important as receiving help

Snowdon Run 2014 020FR

i thought I’d have a sit-down, just a few feet from the finish

A leg stretch and a leg-up from the marshall later, I was over the finish line, 134th out of 750! A total of 4 hours 49 minutes, 2 bananas, 4 gels, 2 shortcakes, 1 energy bar, half a bag of dried berries, 3 bottles of water, 1 mountain, 1600m and whole load of fun. I’ve never been so appreciative of hot soup. Thank you to my brother, thank you to my dad for being our team support, and thank you to all those who sponsored me on behalf of Sutton Schoolswork. Lesson 12: I couldn’t have done this alone

the overall results

the overall results

The question is, did I conquer Snowdon? Did I win in the Man v Mountain challenge? No, of course not. She was kind to us, but she was very much in charge. She taught me many lessons, which I will never forget. A race like that is such a good metaphor for life, especially the Christian life that I follow. My final lesson? Lesson 13: don’t just take care, take risks. If you live life safely at the bottom of the hill, you never get to see the view. Or as Jesus said, make an effort or be bored. Ok, he actually said “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.”  

Snowdon Run 2014 024FR

proud, wet, exhausted and happy!

Here’s my 13 lessons in life and leadership:

Lesson 1: pace yourself.
Lesson 2: look at outcomes, not image.
Lesson 3: learn to rest mid-journey, enjoy the view and eat something.
Lesson 4: encourage others who are struggling, it matters.
Lesson 5: slower may well be wiser. Don’t rush everything.
Lesson 6: discipline in preparation is essential.
Lesson 7: training does actually makes you stronger.
Lesson 8: choosing to trust rather than fear is just that – a choice.
Lesson 9: not everyone knows your fears, and unless you tell them, they may never know.
Lesson 10: those on the sidelines have a better view, so don’t ignore their advice.
Lesson 11: dignity isn’t as important as receiving help.
Lesson 12: I couldn’t have done this alone.
Lesson 13: don’t just take care, take risks.

As for us, we have this large crowd of witnesses around us. So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us.
Heb 12.1

top corner second lap

31 08 2014

Top corner second lap. Even the words make me shudder. Or at least, they used to. I regularly do the 5k Banstead Parkrun which is 2 lopsided laps through the woods. And the top corner second lap, about 3/4 of the way around – I used to hate it. It’s just after a long hill, with a steep start. Physically the legs and heart are struggling – but more than that, for me it was psychological. At that point, the self-doubt creeps. The negative voices in my head telling me give up, stop; you’re no good anyway, you’re a rubbish runner, just walk, go home. Did I tell you you’re also a rubbish vicar? And don’t get me started on how you’ll cope with that adoption idea…

But part of maturing is knowing that when things are tough you don’t just give up. And part of being a Christian who writes is knowing that running metaphors are very biblical, so no-one can tell you to stop going on about it. Pushing on through the self-doubt, chronic though it is sometimes, is essential to living fully. When you believe in something, you are prepared to suffer for it. Life as a follower of Jesus is like a long-distance race, just as Paul said it was. Moments of self-doubt, moments of cruising; moments of pain, moments of feeling unbeatable; moments of loneliness, and moments of needing to run together. As the African proverb says, if you want to quickly, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. 


Why don’t I fear the top corner second lap anymore? Because I’ve taken on a challenge to run Man vs Mountain, 20 miles over Snowdon, which is further and harder than I’ve ever run before. For this south Londoner, Snowdon is about as similar as Saruman to Neville Longbottom. Why? Because I love a challenge. Yes. But also because I am raising money for Sutton Schoolswork, our local Christian schoolswork charity. So I have been training. Hard. I have run more, and further; I have sought out hills; and my time at the Banstead parkrun has come toppling, culminating in three PBs in a row (17.34), taking a minute off my time in 3 months, and winning it this week (yay to me!). 18 miles over Box Hill no longer scares me. 20 miles over Snowdon? Ok, yes that does. 

Funny how putting the work in gets results though. I firmly believe in Christian schoolswork. It is not about covert evangelism; it is not some sinister underground movement. But it is about putting the Christian faith on the radar for our children and young people, a faith as real and lived, not as taught in books by people who usually just don’t get it. How can you understand the world without understanding faith in God, even if you don’t believe it yourself? We have a lot to say about the things that young people need to hear; and we have ears to listen to what they have to say. We teach on lifestyle and ethics and history and knowing yourself; we open people’s eyes to justice issues like human trafficking and bullying. And we are invited by pretty much all the schools in Sutton, because they trust us: 45 primaries, 11 Secondaries, 35,000 kids. And currently just 2 schoolsworkers. 

If you want to sponsor me and support Sutton Schoolswork, then click here to donate by text, or send a cheque; you can also pray for me on Saturday 6th September, beginning at 8am! And more than that, pray for your local schools. Get involved. Support your local schools workers. Thank you. IMG_3432



a prayer for rebellion against us

9 08 2014

What’s your 20 year prayer? Because when we pray for young people, that’s what we’re praying. What do you wish people had prayed for you when you were 5? 10? 15? At our annual vision day for Sutton Schoolswork, we were invited to look ahead and pray for the future, and see where God led our thoughts. My prayers got quite big.  And even have a theme song.

My prayer is that this generation of young people will rebel against mine. That they will see our lazy, vacuous and self-interested society for what it is and they will rise up against it. I pray that they will be so filled with the Spirit they will not be able to control themselves from standing up against the lies we have peddled. And yes, we have peddled them, if only by our inaction. 

Where are you values? they will ask. You think that because you have abandoned religion your values are neutral and therefore better everyone else’s. But they come from inside yourself, where there is a greed and insecurity and the human tendency to self-preservation at all costs, and you wonder why your world has gone to hell.

You’ve sold us a lie that my self worth comes from my stuff. That my achievements are worth more than your love. That humans beings are consumers, not communities. That if we turn a blind eye to suffering it does not exist. That laziness leads to poverty and hard work to accumulation of trinkets and shiny stuff.

In a world more connected than ever you have cut yourselves off from any sense of duty, sacrifice and self-giving. You lie to protect your own interests and you do not hold each other to account. You have not shown us love.  

We refuse to follow you.

And when they say this, I pray that we, us, me – that we will not spend all our time defending the castles we have built for the sake of our pride or fear of change, but that we will allow them to challenge us, to change us; that we will see the world with the fresh and radical eyes of youth, and in doing so may be able to offer something to their struggle to recover our world from us. 

This is why young people are important. They will be in charge of everything in 20 years. They are the present and they are the future. Pray for them. And begin to prepare to let go of your castles and trinkets. Invite God to set a fire down in your soul that you can’t contain and can’t control. Do that, and everything becomes that much more scary exciting. And maybe more godly.  

On 6th September I will be running the Man vs Mountain race to raise money for Sutton Schoolswork. This is a gruelling 20 mile race over Snowdon, including abseiling and water obstacles just for extra fun. If you are willing and able to give, please do so through the website. Thank you. 

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