This afternoon’s sermon inspired a re-write of my post on Barabbas from a couple of years ago…

Imagine the footsteps approaching your cell.  You’re on death row.  Murder and insurrection aren’t charges that can be brushed under the carpet.  You are Barabbas.  One who deserves nothing good.  Guilty as charged.  You know what’s coming.  ‘Dead man walking’ is surely going to be one of the last phrases you hear.  And as the footsteps approach, you wonder if now is the time.  Is now the moment you will pay the price for your crimes?

The key rattles noisily in the lock.  The key turns and the door is swung open.  Your jailer greets you with two words.  Words that you will remember for the rest of your life.

“You’re free”.


We don’t know much about Barabbas.  His appearance in the gospels is fleeting. Matthew tells us he was a well-known prisoner.  Mark tells us he was with the rebels who had committed murder in an uprising.  Luke tells us he was in prison for an insurrection and murder.  John tells us he had taken part in an uprising.  Barabbas was no angel.

His name simply means, ‘Son of the Father’.  Barabbas.  He was a bad man, who deserved nothing good.

On the day Barabbas was freed, another son was taken prisoner.

“You are My Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Jesus.  Son of The Father.  A good man, who deserves nothing bad.  His ministry has been love.  His miracles; love.  His relationships; love.  His teaching; love.  His prayer in the garden just a few hours ago; love.  Love has brought Him to this place, to standing before the authorities.  Love.  There is no crime that has brought Him here.  It is His love that brings Him to this place and His love that keeps Him here.

Barabbas was brought to trial because of his crimes.  Jesus was brought to trial because of His love.  Love for all.

Some people have suggested that Barabbas was about to be crucified.  There are those who suggest that the cross that Jesus struggled to carry to His crucifixion was the cross that should have carried Barabbas.  There are those who think that the exchange was Jesus’ freedom for Barabbas’ cross.

I don’t know about that.  But one thing I do know is this:

That cross was mine.

I am Barabbas.

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Surely not I, Lord?

Last night I went to a ‘Tenebrae’ service.  Tenebrae is Latin for shadows, and is a very simple service that started and ended with a hymn, but the main part of the service was devoted to the extinguishing of a series of candles as passages and prayers were read.  As a lover of visual things, and use of the senses, I found it a powerful and moving service.

But I was struck by one particular phrase in one of the readings.  Matthew 26 (probably from the NRSV) chronicles the Last Supper Jesus had with His disciples.  As they are eating, He says to them, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.’  This comes as a shock to His disciples.  The passage continues:  “And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, ‘Surely not I, Lord?’”  Peter said it.  Judas said it.  The others said it.

Surely not I, Lord.

And that phrase just struck me.  What do we know about the people who said it?  We know that they all abandoned Him within hours.  Surely that’s a betrayal?  Peter was about to deny Him (despite his vehement protestations).  The other disciples were about to turn tail and run.  And of course Judas was The Betrayer.  Judas knew what he was about to do, and yet still said, ‘Surely, not I?’  The others uttered it too, not seeing that desertion would come so soon.  The horror of the disciples at the thought of betrayal turns to the awful realisation, that dawns with the next day, that they have done precisely that.  Their confidence in their own courage to follow their shepherd come-what-may dissolves in the heat of the moment.  Weapons are drawn in the garden and the sheep are scattered.  As the shadows from the torches in the garden dance around Jesus, His disciples flee.

What about me?  How often do I think, “Surely not I, Lord”, when abandonment is just around the corner?  How often do I think, ‘Surely not I, Lord”, when denial soon follows?

Surely not I, Lord.

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Epic Fail [Book]

This is a book review, not a self-depracating post…

(I wrote this post a while back, but forgot to publish it!)

I was given a book this week which, contrary to the rules, I read straight away.  It was a weak moment, and it’s the holidays…  And it was never going to be a long read – the subtitle is ‘The Ultimate Book of Blunders’.  The longest accounts don’t tend to be more than half a page, which makes for a lot of white space, and not much mental wrestling to do mid-read 🙂

There is a good range of stuff in there, including chapters titled: ‘Plain Bad Luck’, ‘Military Mistakes’ and ‘Celebrities Say and Do the Dumbest Things’.  And it’s a pretty amusing read, all in all.  Perhaps we just enjoy the mishaps and misadventure of others (think of TV’s You’ve Been Framed or Total Wipeout; Blooper reels on DVDs; books like The Darwin Awards)  Maybe it makes us all feel a little less silly (and appreciate that other people’s gaffes are more publicised than our own…) or a little more superior.

But it also got me thinking.  And I’ll mention two things I thought.  First of all, not all of the accounts are true.  And yet, they (probably!) haven’t been made up by the author, but found in research conducted.  This demonstrates how easy it is to perpetuate untruth.  And in this day and age, one needs only to look to the internet for ‘verification’ of untruths.  Even this week, reputable news companies have presented things that aren’t true – the one that tickled me was Alec Baldwin’s Saturday Night Live act as Donald Trump being published as a photo of Trump himself.  There is a real responsibility to establish and propogate truth.

The second thing I was thinking about was linked to the numerous references to the mishaps of otherwise unknown individuals.  Unlike the references to companies, or celebreties, snippets that relate to unknown characters often reduce an individual’s life to one event (often their untimely demise) and so give us a most unfortunate snapshot of that individual.  And how often I do that in my judgments of others?  That guy who cut me up at the roundabout, complete moron.  I take that one incident and read into it whatever I want.  I don’t consider the day they’ve had.  The worries that burden them.  The stresses that weigh down on them.  Like the book, I simply hold up one thing as the defining reality of that individual.  Perhaps some of the individuals in the book led lives of devotion and service.  Perhaps they were upstanding citizens (albeit lacking common sense at a vital juncture).  Perhaps their contribution to society was simply overshadowed by one lapse of sound judgment.  And I wondered if my willingness to fall into a similar trap was linked in a sense to unforgiveness – a preference to judge and leave it at that, rather than to try to move beyond the judgment to the future.

Or maybe I’m just over-analysing…

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Holding on.

A little while ago, I wrote about waiting for the letter from the bishop.  The letter that was going to be a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ (or, as it turned out, ‘not yet’!).  And I wrote that I was ‘holding on while holding on’.

Well, here’s what I’d been holding on to:


It’s called a ‘holding cross’ and is available from a number of places, including the Embrace the Middle East shop online, which is where I bought mine.

I bought it a little while ago, and have kept it in my pocket.  It’s nice to have a physical reminder of the hope on offer.  It hasn’t achieved anything remarkable – it’s no mystic relic, but is merely a useful trigger to help me think more frequently about the cross and all it means.  As a bit of a physical learner, I’ve found it a great investment 🙂

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Ordination 8 – Not Yet.

(I’ll warn you now, this is likely to be another fairly long post)

So, the letter arrived this morning.  Marked colourfully ‘Private and Confidential’.

And, as you may have gathered from the title of this post, the response to the Diocesan Panel is a ‘Not Yet’.  “[The panel] would like you eventually [to attend] a Bishops’ Advisory Panel but they feel that there is some further exploration to be done first.”

And so it seems I’ve got over the first hurdle, in that the panel are keen for me to go forward, and yet some extra hurdles have been added after the first one.  (At this stage, it’s important to point out that I am content with the contents of the Bishop’s letter.  I’ve re-read that sentence about hurdles, and it could be misinterpreted as bitter, which it absolutely isn’t.  It just means that I was thinking primarily in terms of a Yes/No, which would mean either falling at the first hurdle, or passing it and moving on to the BAP hurdle.  The ‘Not Yet’ option simply adds some hurdles in.  Hurdles which I’m more than willing to tackle.)  The fact that the panel want me to attend BAP, albeit not yet, is of course reassuring.  It means that they’ve accepted my sense of calling, and that’s really important.  And yet they don’t want me rushing headlong to the next hurdle, because they want me to be better prepared for it when I reach it.

So, what is the ‘further exploration’ they’re after?   Well, some of this is clarified in the letter.  Easiest is the fact that I need to read up on sacramental ministry.  That was something that was actually mentioned in the interview, so isn’t a big surprise.  If anyone has any recommendations on stuff to read about sacramental ministry, please say so in the comments section!

Another comment was that “some anxiety was expressed around the area of leadership and the Panel felt they needed to see more evidence of your ability to take a lead.”  This is understandable, surprising and frustrating.  More than one of my four referees felt that the references called for a lot of evidence that I had done something, rather than confidence that I could do something.  Having been engaged primarily as a stay-at-home Dad for the last eight years, the evidence is a little harder to come by.  This is coupled with our church move at the start of 2016, which means that all the leadership stuff that I did in our previous church, and the even more leadership stuff I did in the church before that, didn’t feature in the references.

Another comment was that “They would have liked to have seen a little more passion when talking about your sense of calling“.  I find this an intriguing one, and I think I’ve got an idea of part of the reason behind this.  At the moment, I’m convinced that priestly ministry is something to which I am called.  However, I’ve been thinking a fair amount about the sacrifice of ministry, and I have a wealth of knowledge about the pain that such ministry can bring for all manner of reasons.  I think it’s fair to say that I’m not exactly thrilled by the prospect of the burdens that ministry involves carrying.  Therefore I’m not currently at the point where I’m viewing ministry as a yippee-skippy way to spend the rest of my life.  The calling is a burden that I’ve reconciled myself to, but it’s fair to say that I need to spend some more time thinking on the joys of ministry, the hope-filled, light-bringing, refreshing, building-up, blessedness of ministry.  And to that end, I’ve got a favour to ask my priest friends (and anyone else who feels qualified to do so).  I’d really appreciate it if you could say something in the comments section under this post about the joy of ministry.  Something about a highlight for you in this calling.  It doesn’t have to be your all-time highlight; it might just be something from this week, or this month.  But I figure I need to balance in my mind the burden with the blessing, and your input would be really helpful.

There were other bits I need to work on.  But the letter said plenty of nice stuff too:  “…recognised your sense of calling … you had a good understanding of the breadth and traditions of the Church of England … depth and breadth of your spiritual life and the different disciplines you embrace … you seemed at ease and able and ready to engage fully with the discernment process … approachable and thoughtful … enjoyed your presentation…”  So there were plenty of positives to take away from it.  And, fundamentally, it seems to be a Not Yet, not a No.

Please pray for me and the family as we work through the next stage of this process.  And please pray for the other 14 who were on the course.  I haven’t heard anything from any of them, but I’m guessing some will need prayer for the sadness of a response they didn’t want, others will be dealing with the joy and weight of a ‘yes’, and all of us will be working through a level of uncertainty about the shape of the future.  Your prayers would be most welcome.

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Ordination 7 – The wait of expectation.

It’s a funny kind of time, really.  The Diocesan Panel was on Saturday, and in a sense, there’s nothing I can now do as I wait for the letter to arrive this week (yes, I am familiar with the concept of prayer – that’s not what I mean though!).  Now is a waiting period.  I can’t really remember the last one that carried such weight.  I haven’t really ever had much in the way of job interviews, so I guess it’s probably akin to the wait for my A Level results way back in the 90s.

And in a way, I’m not even sure how I feel.  There’s the relief of having done the Panel (and I’ll say a bit about what it entailed in a bit).  There’s the tiredness from the fact that it was a bit draining.  There’s also just an uncertainty.  There’s a sense in which I’m not too worried about the uncertainty.  Partly because this aspect of it will only last a few days, and partly because, cheesy and cliched as it sounds, I know that God’s not uncertain, and that’s reassuring.

The bishop will be writing this week (part of the reason I’m blogging this morning is so that I can convey a sense of the waiting, while I’m in the middle of it, rather than writing about it after the event – the letter could arrive with the postman today, after all!).  My understanding is that this will either be a “we’re sponsoring you to go ahead to BAP” (Bishops’ Advisory Panel), or, “We won’t, at this stage, sponsor you to go ahead to BAP”.  That is to say, it’s either a “Yes” or a “No”, but the “No” might be more of a “Not yet”.  (See why I’m a little confused?!)

And I suppose, to be honest, there’s a part of me that, if it’s a “No”, will be mightily relieved and will think along the lines of “Well, that was a close shave!”.  The priesthood is not a breeze – it reminds me of the wedding service, where the priest says,

No one should enter into it lightly or selfishly
but reverently and responsibly in the sight of almighty God

And so there would be a part of me that would happily avoid the burden of priesthood.  I know lots of vicary people, and not many of them think of it ‘lightly’.

And yet, priesthood is a calling, and so a “No” would of course be disappointing, because it would call into question my sense of call – a call which others have supported and confirmed.  It would challenge my vision of the future.  It would be deflating – I’ve spent a fair old while on thinking and praying it through, and a “No” would be tough.

And so I wait.  Holding on, whilst holding on.


The Diocesan Panel.

Here’s a little snapshot of the Diocesan Panel, for those who want to know a bit more about the process.

We arrived at Church House in Derby for drinks at 9 (in cups and saucers, not flutes…).  There were 15 of us going through this process, split into groups of 5.  I knew some of the 15, having been to Saturday courses with them, but the four I was with I knew little or not at all.  Others there included the DDO (Diocesan Director of Ordinands, with whom this process formally began).  The DDO’s PA (who did a fab job of organising the day, and the biscuits were very welcome too!).  The Bishop was also there.  I think this is normally the case.  There were also 9 (I think!) others who were our interviewers.  Most of them  (possibly all?) were ordained.

We then kicked off the formal bit of the day with Morning Prayer.  This was the entire group together, and was a great way to start the day.

After this, there was a complicated timetable for us all, but it boiled down to three interviews, a chat, and a presentation and discussion.

The interviews were one-to-one, with each group assigned three of the interviewers (Or perhaps it was vice versa…).  The interviews covered each of the nine criteria for selection, in chunks of three.  So my first interview covered Vocation, Ministry in the Church of England, and Spirituality.  My second covered Faith, Mission and Evangelism, and Quality of Mind.  My third was on Personality and Character, Relationships, and Leadership and Collaboration.  The three interviews were very individualised, and the interviewers had clearly read through all the stuff I’d written, and the four references that had been collected.  There was plenty of reference to these.  I tried to strike a balance between giving a full response to the questions asked, but also allowing the interview to progress without me waffling on too much (I have no idea to what extent I succeeded!).

The ‘chat’ was with the bishop.  I guess this was in a sense an interview as well, but Bishop Jan was very keen not to make it feel interviewy.  And it didn’t – it was a chat about how we’d talk to someone in the pub about our faith and our calling.  I think it was perhaps the gentlest part of the day (though I don’t doubt that Bishop Jan gleaned plenty from it!).  I don’t think that this is necessarily normal, in that the bishop often meets with candidates at a time other than Panel, but this is how this one worked.

There were gaps in the day because of the logistics, and lunch was at the same time for everyone.  The 15 of us ate together, while the Panel folk ate elsewhere.

The presentations were very interesting.  In your group of five, you had five minutes to do a presentation on something (which you’d planned in advance – it wasn’t a surprise!).  You then had to facilitate discussion for a further ten minutes.  You were given a four minute warning in the presentation and an 8 minute warning in the discussion.  This was observed by the three interviewers, as well as by the DDO.  My presentation was on Spiritual Disciplines (surprise, surprise).  Others covered Education in Church Schools, Inclusivity (the presentation was a fantastic poem that the candidate had written), Mission to Seafarers, and Using Secular Music in Church (which included a fun little singalong!).  It was a fascinating range of topics.  We all did our best to get involved in every discussion (knowing our turn to present would come, or had already been!).  My understanding is that our involvement in the discussions that others were facilitating was an important aspect of what was being observed.  I have no idea what you’d do if someone else was presenting on the same topic. I guess you’d hope they had a different slant!

We were free to leave in the afternoon as soon as our final interview was concluded.  I did, because I then rushed over to school to see Joshua playing hockey.  It was a tournament, and he was in goal for the B team (I know, I’m digressing, but this is exciting too!).  They drew 2-2 with the A team, and it was one of the most exciting games I’ve seen in a while.  And yes, we see a lot of hockey around here.  But it was nice to get back into the ‘real world’ straight from the interview.  And good to see those two parts of life juxtaposed.

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Ordination 6 – Behold, the panel cometh…

Today is Friday.  And tomorrow is the Diocesan Panel.  Am I nervous?  I’m not really sure.  Earlier this week, I was feeling very calm.  I did wonder if it was a sort of being-in-the-eye-of-the-storm feeling.  I wasn’t sure if it was an answer to prayer, or just a failure on the part of my brain to appreciate the seriousness of it all.  The jury’s still out 🙂

But tomorrow is the panel.  What do I know about the Diocesan Panel?  I know it’s important but isn’t the Bishops’ Advisory Panel (which is a later hurdle…).  I know that I have to do a presentation on something for five minutes.  I know that I’ve decided to do a presentation on Spiritual Disciplines, which won’t be a surprise for those of your who know me, or even for those who’ve been reading this blog for a while.  I know that this presentation is followed by a discussion which I will ‘facilitate’ for a further ten minutes.  I know that my group to whom I am presenting and with whom I am discussing are five in total, to be observed by (I believe) three others.  I know my presentation and my facilitation and my participation in the discussion of others will all be observed.  I know that there are three individual interviews covering aspects of the criteria for ordination.

I know that there are a number of people praying for me, and that is certainly a reassurance.  I know that I am praying for the others who are going through this with me (and would ask those who are praying for me to do likewise).  I am also praying for myself.

I know that this will not be a breeze, but that I am not in it all by myself.  I know that God has good plans for me, whatever shape they may take.

I know that others share my view that ministry through ordination would be a good step for me to take, and that many people feel that I would be a ‘good fit’ for this type of role.  Yet I also know that this doesn’t mean that the panel will necessarily agree.  I know God has a range of responses available; broadly – yes, no, and not now.  I know that, whatever the outcome of the panel, there will be an element of both relief and fear.

I know that God has planted in me a love of words and a love of people, and I know that He will share with me the responsibility of growing and stretching these loves.  I know that this will involve both challenge and fun. I know it offers both promise and pain.  I know that a pastor will carry woes and wounds, as well as joy and hope.

I know that my name is written on my Father’s hands; I know that the Son’s hands were pierced for me; I know that the Spirit offers to work through my hands.

I know that’s a pretty solid foundation to build on.

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