Thursday, 2 November 2017

Two thoughts

My two thoughts for the morning. As the BBC moves to replace the CofE as the national church of no belief, as parts of the BBC becomes more irrelevant in the new world is it possible The BBC will consume itself with its left wing cynical view? When the issue of faith is shown the back door and told not to come back who will the new priests and priestess pour their cynicism on? Perhaps themselves? For we all need the other voice who we don’t agree with to gain a greater understanding of who and what we are.  History tells us every regime needs someone to bully

Secondly, will The Church not be better without these platforms of privilege? When we are no longer welcome on the platform of privilege as will happen at some point, will we not need to shape up to redefine what we believe, what we have to share, what we don’t need? Privilege tends to make you slow on your feet, breed chummy inward looking relationships, privilege steals from people the ability to move under the defining culture of the day.  

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Response To Bishop North

A while back Bishop Phillip North spoke to New Wine and caused a bit of a reaction one of it was a Tweet to my millions of followers. In response I had a phone call from The Church Times asking for a quote because I serve in a poor parish, I declined and said I would put a more considered response on my blog, so here it is with a link to The Bishops full talk.

1.     One of the issues the church does not recognise is the exportation of people, talents and money from parishes like mine to middle class parishes which is draining and demanding on leadership. For 10 years I thought I was building a community, then it dawned on me I was building people up to go to other places.

2.     Bishop Phillip talks of abandonment of the poor: I think it’s more complicated than that. When I came back to my Deanery in 2000 to my present post, we had 10 full time stipend clergy. 17 years on, we have 6 with the same amount of buildings and more deprivation.  17 years ago we had EU and government money which today we do not have. I work with some great committed clergy in poor areas – they have not abandoned the poor. But I’m not confident that the Church as an organization has the poor as the kernel of our gospel work. 

3.      Keystone Cops and leadership. My experience is that we have middle management-ed the church to the point where it looks like any other corporation or local council. Then we bemoan the fact that no one in our churches wants to join it and lead it.

4.     Renewal. During my sabbatical in Rome, I discovered Ignatius believed and preached that those who wanted ordination must “smell like the sheep”. You cannot study in the university and not serve the poor. Well, I agree with Philip – too many people fear the smell of shit and desire the smell of coffee and freshly baked bread.

5.     2 year vacancy and children. The parish I came to 17 years ago was in interregnum for 18 months before the interviews and the same 9 years before that. Both my previous incumbents left physically and spiritually exhausted. During my 17 years of glorious reign here I have spent time in darkness and depression, but I have asked the question “why can’t we as a family thrive and not just survive in a parish like mine?” Ii have watched and listened to too many clergy colleagues sending their children to the best schools while living in places like mine. My wife and I took the decision to send both of our children to local schools – one went to the Roman Catholic school and one to a failing junior school and a poor secondary school.  Both are well rounded members of society living out their Christian faith today.

6.     For them it’s the only job they could get. Well, then, I’m in trouble. There is a phrase I have heard used, “parish of significance.” It’s used when appointing people to jobs of note. If you have not had a parish of significance you’re not going to get shortlisted. After about 10 years here, a colleague asked me if I was still in my parish. I replied yes. He said, “Blimey, Nigel. They will have no vision and no imagination on your file.” We laughed and I said I like to call it commitment. But I have come to realise in Anglican terms that I, like many, serve in a parish of insignificance.

7.     Well maintained building and carpets. One of the images I have tried to engage with recently is the Pope’s view of church. He sees it as a field hospital, a place where we engage with wounded, the hurt, the forgotten. I have a parishioner who was a medic in the army. The best compliment he has paid me was to say, “I would go to war with you” because he has and we do, but usually we do not have the staff to be a field hospital. Like many buildings across the country in parishes like mine, they are not fit for purpose. These buildings were inflicted on parishes like mine by some drug-fuelled intention to build a kingdom that seems far and faded today.

8.     Church planting. I don’t understand church planting. We are putting money behind a returning fad. We all came out of some mother church at some point. I church planted out of my 500 seater building with no heating into our church hall 15 years ago. We grew the church from 20 – 70. My diocese is planting a church 5 minutes drive from my place, with leadership, a congregation, musicians and office and large church, to support it along with money from the Diocese. In a world of choice and shareholder values, why would you come to my parish?

9.     Grenfell. I cannot comment on that situation as I have not experienced it. In every big city I have been in around the world, the poor and the rich live next to each other. My poor are two bus stops from middle class hope. I will put a second blog to show this in my context. 

10.                        Mocked and demonized Chavs. The only time I ever wrote to the Church Times was when the Church of England closed The Aston Training Scheme. It was a scheme for those exploring ordination, specifically the odd bods about whom the dioceses and ABM were unsure, the raving catholic’s, the bendy liberals, the fundy evangelicals, the ill educated. I was placed on it as I fitted into the last two categories. I wrote to The Church Times because I thought with all its faults without the Aston Training Scheme there was less chance of people like me taking their place in the Church of England.   

11.                        Investment/under- investing. Here is another one of those words that finds it root in the business section of the news paper, investment. I’m not sure Jesus invested in anything we would class today as worthwhile – he shared his life. Jesus spent his time with the poor and marginalized and took authority to task. His kingdom was about investing without return, ridiculous extravagance and undermining what we value above his father’s will.

12.                        Subsidy. I have lived with this label for all my life as a cleric, apart from my time as a curate in a large evangelical church. It’s funny how when I work with my brothers and sisters in South Africa or Mozambique, I am partnering and doing mission together, when the Anglican Church looks at my parish, I am subsidised.  

Friday, 18 August 2017

The Big M

I have in my diary three dates for musical encounters. These dates are even more interesting than usual, as at the same time I explore and write about Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds for my MA. One of the issues that is rising our of my reading is the musical event as a pilgrimage and a deep desire for a sacred place, space and encounter. This essay is drawing me down a path where I am asking the question "has my hobby or pattern of going to concerts over the years (many in my younger day's) been a deep desire for a spiritual sacred encounter?" Tonight I will be listening to Mahler from the BBC Proms I have no idea why I started listening to Mahler but this piece of music The resurrection Symphony No2 crushes me and lifts me in unequal measure. Next time I'm allowed out to a concert is latter in the month and then NC&BS after that. I suppose the danger is I might over analyse the event and miss the Jig the dance the beat of life. Do you think your music is sacred?

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Saturday, 15 July 2017

Men of influence (and women)

In 1989 I walked into a garage/ workshop canteen for my breakfast, 10 o'clock, it was my first breakfast in this room. Sandwich in hand I sat at a spare seat. This seat would change my life. But today I say thank you for one thing. 

It is the 90th birthday of John Coletrian if he would have lived. The man who I sat opposite that morning introduced me to John Coletrain, not that morning amidst the sweet smell of diesel, overalls   and burnt toast but latter. Latter he gave a CD called Love Supreme, Acknowledgement 7.47, Resolution 7.22 Pursuance/ Part 4-Psalm 17.50. I didn't know it at the time but this invitation education allowed me to look above my loved rock and roll. His gift to me that day was a kind of love S, enhancing my love of music inviting me to dance to another rhythm.   We are all indebted to Coltrian I'm indebted to my friend Mike O'Connor. Thank you, Thank You. Good friends enrich you. 

Thursday, 15 June 2017

At Ian y mor


TradAr lan y mor

Singer: Sir Bryn Terfel

I have just listened to this piece of music. It did a number of things. As the hair stood up on the back of my head I was reminded of how I need something of the otherness of life, call is spirituality, but something beyond myself. 

Beside the sea red roses growing
Beside the sea white lilies showing
Beside the sea their beauty telling
My true love sleeps within her dwelling

Beside the sea the stones lie scattered
Where tender words in love were uttered
While all around there grew the lily
And sweetest branches of rosemary

Beside the sea blue pebbles lying
Beside the sea gold flowers glowing
Beside the sea are all things fairest
Beside the sea is found my dearest

Full the sea of sand and billows
Full the egg of whites and yellows
Full the woods of leaf and flower
Full my heart of love for ever.

Fair the sun at new day’s dawning
Fair the rainbow’s colours shining
Fair the summer, fair as heaven
Fairer yet the face of Elin


Friday, 9 June 2017


17 years ago today we came to St Mary’s Pype Hayes to be their servant in Christ. My first parish as parish priest, vicar, servant, apprentice father and husband. It was the place we were called by God to bring our passion, make our mistakes and share our lives. We did not have a plan but we agreed not to move until our daughter left education, she had been in a number of schools due to our commitment to following our call as a family. When we came to look at the parish our daughter of 9 years refused to get out of the car saying “I’m not getting out at this tip” she was right we were surrounded by derelict houses used by drug dealers and vandals. Our vicarage was recommended by the local glaziers to have plastic windows fitted due to constant vandalism. My son was quietly calm about our move and the loss of his friends, he made his move into his new school with sense of confidence I have always admired. During the early years Erin and I regularly lay awake in bed listening to groups of young people shouting, screaming, laughing, gathered in the dark, celebrating life and the absence of future. Awake Knowing the morning would require clearing up the broken glass, plastic bags with glue, needles and the signs of celebrated human passion shared on the lawn of the church, at the bottom of our garden. There have been some very dark moments we shared as a married couple.  17 years on change has happened. The children have moved away and both still to my immense pride and amazement worship in their relevant church’s.   In the eyes of the world we have achieved very little in the eyes of the church I am a vicar of a parish of insignificance. But in the midst of all we have gone through we did not doubt our call to this place, it makes no sense to some. 17 years on Erin and I are still trying to live fruitfully in this parish. Unfinished.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Just a thought


This whole Brexit deal no deal, what is interesting is that it has been has been framed around the image of human relationships, particularly divorce. Now I have never understood our or my relationship to and with the EU as a marriage, but more like a club with members who have similar interests.  

I am well aware of modern relationships and their changing nature in society. It is not unusual now for couples and families after a divorce to say, we are happier now than when we were married. I know this is not the same for every relationship breakdown.  

I know of families from both sides of a divorce who go out to dinner with each other and visit each go on holiday and support each in their needs. Life has changed and it seems life is ok, maybe even better. I have no moral judgement on any of this iv been happily married (not sure about Erin my wife ask her) for 32 years, just an observation on language and narrow preconceived ideas.

I’m just saying not all divorces end in trashed wardrobes, paint strpper on cars and vitriol between the children.  Some move on and learn to change, for the better. 

My take on The EU is like my broadband, TV and phone package it needs reviewing every couple of years, (I try to live a simple life). Contracts not reviewed means you end up with a package that was right for a family 10 years ago, I don’t need children’s TV anymore they have all gone. The market has changed the value and cost of what I’m buying. If we did not review and change we would all still be on dialup.   

In some ways a marriage has similar elements, (not a commodity) it needs reviewing and renegotiating, we change jobs, kids leave home, we find new values and interest, we get more money, some times less money, all this has happened to me, us. In reviewing and listening to each other we are plotting our course committed to each other but knowing we have changed as life changed around us.  

I know some will not be like Erin and me and for all kinds of reasons they negotiate out of the relationships. But here is my point the best separations are good for both parties and the wider family. Not all divorces and in trashed wardrobes and paint stripper. 

When this whole Brexit thing happened my take was, choose the dysfunctional family you want to be with. Choose the dysfunctional family across the water or the dysfunctional family on this side of the water. These are the only options on the table apart from us all emigrating to Canada. Because neither of them offers a perfect fit and you would only spend time with them annually.

So my point is we change and sometimes we separate but the scissors and the thinners don’t come out of the garage. We do not need to be the family on the front page of the paper seeking revenge on someone we loved and shared our lives with.  We could be the family that never gets into the paper, the family who finds a new and fruitful way forward. Why? Because this family is mature and wise thinking and listening and we want to give the kids something better than they have now. 

Leave the scissors and stripper in the garage please listen to each other, think of the kids.  

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Drop inns

I try to do church In a place where drop ins are rare. So when you look across the hall and see four young men (17-19 year olds) siting waiting I am taken back a bit. So during the conversation I discover they are Spanish speaking and I invite my professor over, he speaks Spanish and Russian. They are from Barcelona and stoping in town saw our banner and thought they would visit us. The cynic inside cried out but I ignore that cynic and get tea and coffee organised offer them care and hospitality. Just as the service starts they move table then leave and following them is my retired Colleague. So I go out the other door, me shouting to my colleague to stop he's far to old to be chasing young men. 

Well they stole his wife's purse, I chase them and they jump into a car and speed off. 

They stole a purse from a blind elderly woman we also find out they stole someone's phone someone who gives generously to our community day in day out. 

Last Friday an 80 year old man smoking outside a local elderly village was mugged for his money by four young men, they roughed him up because he would not let them into the complex. 

I'm not sure what sort of low life shit gets up of a morning planning to steal its way through the day but we gave hospitality to four today. And I presume until the full painful stinging force of law falls upon them they will repeat today's activity across our city. 

Yes I know what some of you are thinking I'm supposed to be a Christian? I should forgive. 
Well I'm not open to forgive today maybe tomorrow when my anger has been bathed afresh in Gods grace. 

I don't know their story because they chose to abuse hospitality and steel from good people rather than share and ask. They had a good idea they would find in church foolish trusting people willing to build build friendships. I don't know where they were from, Spain? North Africa? London? I don't know because they chose to abuse and steal rather talk. 

So now I have a crime number, a hurting congregation and an angry disappointed vicar seeking Some grace. 

Friday, 24 March 2017

It's not all bad here


It's my day off but I have a excepted an invitation. At one of the local schools I take assembles at, they are celebrating Red Nose Day. I am one of three judges spotting talent, Schools Got Tallent show. We watch the children on the stage we clap , smile, inwardly mark the talent. Singers, dancers, gymnasts, strongmen, hula hoopers, keyboard players and very enthusiastic teachers and support staff. We watch we listen we clap we award. I see the same faces I present my assemblies to. Black, brown, white, dirty, clean, Muslim Shiek Christian, Jewish, Pagan, Humanist  non believers,. We cheer, we clap, we smile, we award a winner. Month in month out for 17 years I have shared with them my faith in following Jesus. I have encouraged them to care, to look for the one on the edge of the playground, to be generous too each other. 

I go home to wash the car and and waterproof its roof. A mom and daughter returning from the other school I take assemblies at wave at me and say Hi. But they return, first the daughter then the mom. They look splendid in their Muslim head scarves and illuminated smiles. The daughter tells me it's her birthday and she gives me sweets, she wants to share her birthday treat with me. 

Across the country and around the world today Birmingham is being judged for the wrong reasons. 

It would be best if you judge us on the ordinary. The ordinary children who support each other, the ordinary teachers and staff bringing the best out of our children, the ordinary kindness of a mother and child sharing their birthday treat with an ordinary urban priest doing an ordinary job. These ordinary events will not make the headlines today or tomorrow but they are what make my part of Birmingham a place of hope. 

Saturday, 4 February 2017


A word I have been toying with this year is habit. Another time in my life I might have said God has given me this word. But I'm comfortable with toying. It sort of follows on from my Small but significant exploration. 
So I will be inflicting or sharing with my people the possibilities of habit. 

A habit regular tendency or practice often interpreted as bad habit, picking your nose,  belching after dinner and inappropriate winking all which I'm guilty of and much worse. But there are much worse habits to be found guilty of. (Have a think) reflective moment over. As parents and teachers we watch the young grow through those distasful habits. But as a disciple of Jesus in some way means to understand some of those bad habits and begin to change them, and I hope to explore some of them through the year. But there are the good habits we ask of others to take up, I was sick to death saying to children learn your scales, make a habit of playing is what I meant, brush your teeth yes every day twice! Do your home work yes every day get into the habit make it regular.

So i got to thinking how would my life change if I read the bible thinking how does this change my habits of life. How do I loose old bad nasty habits? How do I form new life giving habits? 
How do my habits need to change as understand my role and place in my community ? 

Friday, 13 January 2017

Sorry Graham

Graham Taylor has died, he managed my team and did a good job and we were sad to loose him to the England appointment. I never meet him but enjoyed his company and insights through many football matches. By all measures it seems in the press today no dirt, no snipes but honest appraisal of a great man of football. So why am I disappointed in myself? I'm disappointed that when the press, mainly newspapers, used there privilege to put undermining highly offensive pictures and headlines focused on Graham's struggles with his job as coach. I'm disappointed that I did not go into the news agent buy up news papers and dispose of them. I'm disappointed that as a member of the football fraternity I colluded in silence and allowed newspapers to ridicule a great man. I wonder if today there are people sitting in newspaper offices reflecting on what they did and said of a great man? I hope those people of privilege in the press might learn that there were greater headlines to write and life challenging pictures to print.
I hope that as we mourn the loss of this great man of football we learn something.
When people struggle with role, life job we need not ridicule, there are better things to do. 
When people do ridicule those who struggle we need not collude in silence. 
I'm sorry for my silence, God bless you Graham.