we are place

23 06 2016

If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.
Bad relationship advice, of course. But what if it applied to place?

If you can’t live in the place you love, love the place you’re in.


The place we are in matters. We may love it, we may hate it. We may romanticise it, we may not even notice it. But it is. And a Christian theology of place says that where we are, we must love. Or try to love. Or to be love in. Because God is in that place. And God is love.

We anglicans have a systematic understanding of place, called parish. We are intentionally territorial, neighbourhood-focused. It means we cannot just focus on the town centre, the streets near our building, or the people we happen to know. We voluntarily take on a responsibility to pray for, be there for, support and protect those within our parish. Which is most definitely not just those who come to church.

Roads. Trees. Parks. Shops. Bus stops. Woods. Canals. Fields. Industrial estates. Schools. Houses. People. Businesses. Networks.

There are so many things that shape our place. I cam across the term ‘ecclesiastical geography’ this week that explains how we understand our – the church’s – place in our place. Understanding the historic factors that have shaped our area  and the people in it, from hills and rivers to mining and industry and immigration and town planning. And understanding the contemporary issues that build on or challenge or supplement those.

A theology of place goes hand in hand with a theology of the kingdom of God. If we believe this world is to be escaped from, then we have no responsibility to love and care for the place, only the embodied souls that happen to briefly dwell within it. We become ‘evaporated Christians’, with no roots on earth just vapour in the sky.

But if we believe that the incarnation of God in Jesus roots the work of God in a place, this place; if his resurrection and ascension means he is Lord over place, this place; if we believe he will return to a place, this place; and if we believe that in the meantime he dwells in a place, this place, no longer in a particular specific Temple or nation but through the Holy Spirit in all who turn to Jesus… then this place, our place, is where the Kingdom of God is coming.

This is why as Christians we love our place, whether naturally or as a choice; whether it’s ‘our place’ or an adopted place, or a place that has adopted us. In that love we want to bring and to be hope, to live lives of hopefulness and to spread hope in our place. Not an unrooted hope, which is just optimism, but hope rooted in Christ.


Over the last few years the local churches on our estate have established a presence at the local St Helier Festival, organised by residents associations. As well the hospitality of refreshments, amazing cakes, games and children’s activities, we also asked people their hopes for their lives, for the area we live in, and invited them to write them on these 1-metre high letters. Their responses were many and varied, and are a great insight into how people in this place are, and think, and aspire to.

Here is a sample of what was written on them, and our prayer is that they will speak to us about the people in our place. And maybe in your place too.

Hope letters montage.001

Hope letters montage.002

The idea of ecclesiastical geography and the reflection on space was inspired by a talk from Revd. Andrew Rumsey, though obviously I’ve reinterpreted it through my own eyes.


bus stop | the hopes sessions #9

17 05 2016

the bus stop outside church
a place of waiting
a place to gather to
and then to go from
a place strangers become
fellow passengers
a place on the way to another place
but not the place itself


a place a lot like church, really.

bench | the hopes sessions #8

1 05 2016

Bench. Outside a hospital.
For paramedics to smoke.
Patients to get fresh air.
Relatives to spot the irony.


Sometimes hope needs a hospital.
Hope gets ill. Tired.

Sometimes hope is a hospital.
Hope gives life. Strength.

Sometimes hope just sits outside.
On a dirty bench.
Come sit with me.
I’m not much to look at.
But hope can sit anywhere.
Even here.



26 06 2012

No regrets? Perhaps telling people.

I wonder when you last did something impulsive? I recently bought the 4 Non Blondes single “What’s Up?” off of 1993. 50p in Oxfam. No regrets. 

Impulse is “a sudden strong and unreflective urge or desire to act”. Doesn’t sound very churchy. Impulse is, I think, meant to be one of the hallmarks of faith, and yet when we make a religion out of following Jesus so often we squeeze impulse out of it. Surely we need to form a committee and get a faculty and run it by the Bishop…

Because impulse can get us into trouble. It might be impulse that makes us throw a brick through a neighbours window when they won’t turn their music down. It might be impulse that draws us into a relationship that we know we shouldn’t be in. It might be impulse can mean that makes us do something for Jesus that we wouldn’t normally do. Whether that’s building in Africa, youth mentoring at the skate ramps, telling the story at toddler group, moving a pew 6 inches or jumping out of a boat at an entirely inappropriate moment.

St Peter is a shining example of impulsive action. Time and time again Peter speaks first or acts first and thinks later. Peter’s impulse doesn’t question whether the water will hold him. Or whether he’ll be told off for saying Jesus is the Messiah. Or that Jesus will back him up when he cuts off the soldiers ear. Like I said, impulse can get us into trouble.

Back to the walking on water thing. Peter had been desperate to stay in the boat until he saw Jesus. They were in the middle of the lake, in the night, they were tired and they were in a storm. He probably couldn’t even swim.  The best and safest place was in the boat. How often is the safest place the most attractive place.

But when Peter saw Jesus, his impulse was to stuff the safety and leap towards Jesus. And he walked on the water. Because Jesus was walking on the water. And because he lost the double bluff: “If you are Jesus, tell me to join you…” Oops. Don’t bluff Jesus. He went from safe to dangerous, firm footing to faith in one leap. It’s not far between the two. Yet it was no Bruce Almighty “I’ve got the power!” moment. 

It didn’t look at all like this.

When Peter sinks, what does Jesus do? Points, stares and says “You stupid impulsive man!”. No. Holds him under for a bit and says “This is what happens when you take risks – now get in the boat and be sensible like the others!” No. Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. And helped him climb in the boat. Why? Because Jesus loved him. And this might be the most important lesson of them all. Whether we are clinging onto the boat or leaping from it, his love is the same and he holds out his hand to us.

Like our parish namesake Peter, we are called to danger, to risk. We are called to a life that is bigger than our families and their needs; called to a life that is more than what happens in the space directly around me. We are called to leap out of the boat when we are in a place of danger and we see the Lord; we are called to lead others there too. In the context of knowing and trusting that we are loved.

In our parish the risks we might take can be very different. For some it might be coming to church at all, because some receive abuse for doing so. For some it might be stepping up to a new responsibility; or stepping up our relationship with God to a new level through prayer; or telling someone at work you believe in Jesus, or committing to a home group; for some it might be taking on a new challenge, a new way of living. All these things are part of us changing St Helier in partnership with Jesus.

Peter shows us that it can be good to act on impulse; but more than, he shows us what it is to trust in Jesus’ love for us. Because to use someone else’s phrase, if you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat.


This is an abbreviated (honest!) version of my talk from our parish wide St Peter’s Day service. 

look up look down

20 07 2010

Colossians 1.15-23 tells us about a massive big creator Jesus who was there at the beginning or even before the beginning and set stuff in motion with a nod or a blink or a wave of his sandal straps. It tells us he is the image of the invisible god which means that he looks like what an invisible god would look like if he were visible and that he holds all things together and that he brings all things together and all things will be reconciled which sounds to me like good new big news huge news. It tells us that Jesus is not an add-on or an optional extra to some kind of spirituality that gazes up and calls some unknown thing God or worships the abstract or the gaseous or the simply unknowable. It tells us this Jesus way big and way up there before and after the alpha and omega or the a to z and that this has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. Wow!

look up

And so we Look Up. We look up because something in us tells us that Big God is up there. Church is often a place where we look up. We remember how big god is, we remember with awe and wonder and occasionally we allow ourselves to be moved on the inside and even more occasionally maybe we actually move and raise our hands or get on our knees.

But let‘s not get a crick in our necks.

Luke 10.38-42 tells us about an earthy everyday Jesus who comes round Martha’s house and eats food. This Jesus engages not with the heavenly things but with stools and plates and food and dirt and clothes and toilets and women and men and children and doors and hair and bicycles. Ok, not bicycles. It tells us about a radically life-changing and dangerous Jesus who is involved on the ground. Dangerous? This little story carries way more weight than I thought. It follows the Good Samaritan. We know that challenges approaches to neighbours foreigners immigrants mixed-heritage people and so on. This story is not simply a weak challenge to ‘activist vs contemplative’ faith which I have heard so often.  In those days men sat at Rabbi’s feet to learn, in order that they could teach. Women worked in the home, doing the every day stuff. Here Jesus welcomes a woman to sit and learn at his feet, and when another woman complains, he gently says no, this is good. Later we hear Paul say there is no longer Jew or Greek or male or female or slave or free, we may add immigrant or national. This is hugely radical stuff. On the ground challenge to cultural norms.

look down

Our good news is radical challenge to cultural norms. No offence Cameron but we‘ve had Big Society long before you. We mustn’t get so distracted looking up to the Big God that we forget to look down and see where he is at work, challenging, provoking, changing, Down Here in our communities. It is why on Sunday at our little church we didn’t just clear out our own church garden, we cleaned the graffiti off the road sign as part of our worship; we clean the pavement as part of our worship. We pick up dog poo as part of our worship. This is how Jesus is involved ‘down here’.

At my licensing in St Helier one year ago  Bishop Nick reminded us all that vicars are not chaplains to congregations but vicars of the parish. There’s 20 in our church, 20,000 in our parish. We do not exist to help a few Look Up on a Sunday and remember that God is Up There; we exist in order to support and encourage us all in being Jesus and recognising Jesus every day when we are Looking Down, and discover Looking Down and Looking Up happen at the same time.

My purpose as vicar to support all of us  in our purpose – which is to see people’s lives changed by Jesus. Not just to do ‘Sunday church’. That isn’t easy because he challenges every aspect of our lives. Whether it is our pride or our behaviour or our lifestyle or what we think of ourselves. At Martha’s house he challenged the gender separation and showed his radical new way of open, generous love; here, we challenge culture by cleaning the road signs, picking up dog poo; by loving people when they do not ‘deserve’ it, by starting with the fact that all people are loved and created by God; by being loving and patient and forgiving in practice as well as theory.

And most of all, by committing to Jesus. Because without him all the rest is just nice stuff. This is not nice stuff, it is hard stuff. Counter-cultural stuff. We do it because he loves us. At least, that’s my reason…

Look up:

Look down:


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an act of god?

18 04 2010

There was a murder in my garden yesterday. I watched as a caterpillar was eaten alive by ants.
Was this an act of God?

There was new life in my back garden yesterday. 4 blackbirds hatched in a nest just outside our bedroom window.
Was this an act of God?

There was the death of a child this week in Crawley where used to live. An 18-month old was tragically killed by a family dog.
as this an act of God?
re was the birth of a child this week in St Helier where I live now.  A friend gave birth to a healthy baby girl.
Was this an act of God?

an act of god?

There was chaos in the skies this week. All flights across the UK and most of Europe were cancelled because of the ash cloud from Iceland.
Was thi
s an of God?

There was beauty in the skies this week. All across the UK we’ve had some of the loveliest spring weather and the bluest skies – with not a plane in sight.
Was this an act of God?

an act of god?

Insurance companies are using the ‘it was an act of God’ defence to prevent themselves having to pay out further to assist travellers stuck because of the ash. This got me thinking about how lazy thinking and lazy theology gets God accused of all sorts of things. An ‘act of God’ usually means something like a natural disaster, something we have no control over. Something we don’t usually give God the credit for.

It’s a generalisation that just doesn’t work. If the eruption of the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano was an act of God, were the beautiful clear skies before it erupted an act of God; and is the rest of the clear sky around the ash cloud an act of God? Is our ability to fly at 30,000 feet at all an act of God?

this isn't relevant, but is funny

This lazy thinking gets into all parts of our life. A volcano tarnishing God’s reputation is like saying all TV is rubbish because Piers Morgan is on it. All politicians are plastic because David Cameron’s face has no lines. All footballers are stupid because… well, I won’t name names. God is bad because a volcano erupted? It’s lazy thinking.

For many, ‘acts of God’ like natural disasters are a reason for not believing in God. I understand that when bad stuff happens it can turn us off the idea of God. Whilst very understandable, isn’t this a bit of lazy thinking and lazy theology? Natural disasters may make us choose to not like or follow God, but they don’t prove or disprove whether he or she or they are there.

We need to remember that if we blame him for the bad stuff we should give him credit for  the good stuff. If bad things are God’s fault then good things are God’s fault. Aren’t they?

Or maybe it’s not that simple? Do we need to think harder before we attribute things as ‘act of God’? Ah, now we‘re getting beyond lazy thinking and really talking….

is it a plane? no

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