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  • Unreconciled?: Exploring Mission in an Imperfect World
    Unreconciled?: Exploring Mission in an Imperfect World
    by Ann Richards, Mission Theology Advisory Group

    This book is the reference resource for the 2012 Lent courses at All Saints Ealing and St Martins West Acton. The focus is about making our theology of reconcilaition personal not just a matter of Christian duty. It is all too easy to pray for reconciliation for war torn countries "out there". But what about the reconciliation needed "in here"? What about the Unreconciled in our homes or on our doorsteps who feel left out, unheard, wounded or ignored? How can the local church offer the gift of Christ's reconciliation to those whose problems we are not even aware of?

  • Why Sacraments?
    Why Sacraments?
    by Andrew Davison

    A very thorough overview of the 7 sacraments and their relationship to the doctrine of the incarnation. Davison's writing is accessible, scholarly and succinct. 

  • Elements of Rite: A Handbook of Liturgical Style
    Elements of Rite: A Handbook of Liturgical Style
    by Aidan Kavanagh

    Essential source book for any liturgist. Kavanagh unpacks basic very profound principles informing healthy Echaristic worship.

  • Why Go to Church?: The Drama of the Eucharist
    Why Go to Church?: The Drama of the Eucharist
    by Timothy Radcliffe

    How the Eucharist brings us into slow work of faith, hope and love.

  • Creating Uncommon Worship: Transforming the Liturgy of the Eucharist
    Creating Uncommon Worship: Transforming the Liturgy of the Eucharist
    by Richard Giles

    This book highlights the great richness, variety and imaginitive potential of modern sacramental worship. A must read for liturgists.

  • The Art of Worship: Paintings, Prayers, and Readings for Meditation (National Gallery London)
    The Art of Worship: Paintings, Prayers, and Readings for Meditation (National Gallery London)
    by Nicholas Holtam

    An excellent collection of spiritual reflecions on selected artwork in the National Gallery. This is Nicholas Holtam (one time Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields and now Bishop Salisbury) at his best.

  • Difficult Gospel: The Theology of Rowan Williams
    Difficult Gospel: The Theology of Rowan Williams
    by Mike Higton

    A must-read for anyone who wants to understand the fundamental principles behind Rowan Williams' theology.

  • The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger
    The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger
    by Richard Wilkinson, Kate Pickett

    A compelling statistical study about equal societies and the broad based social benefits enjoyed in these nations. The numbers are easy and so is the read; but the implications are hard to swallow.

  • The Shattered Lantern: Rediscovering a Felt Presence of God
    The Shattered Lantern: Rediscovering a Felt Presence of God
    by Ronald Rolheiser

    What does authentic Christian spirituality look and feel like? This book explores these very relevant themes and will leave you deeply enriched.

  • Tradition and Imagination: Revelation and Change
    Tradition and Imagination: Revelation and Change
    by David Brown
  • Discipleship and Imagination: Christian Tradition and Truth
    Discipleship and Imagination: Christian Tradition and Truth
    by David Brown
  • God and Enchantment of Place: Reclaiming Human Experience
    God and Enchantment of Place: Reclaiming Human Experience
    by David Brown
  • God and Grace of Body: Sacrament in Ordinary
    God and Grace of Body: Sacrament in Ordinary
    by David Brown
  • God and Mystery in Words: Experience through Metaphor and Drama
    God and Mystery in Words: Experience through Metaphor and Drama
    by David Brown
  • Poet and Peasant: Literary-cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke
    Poet and Peasant: Literary-cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke
    by Kenneth E. Bailey

    An outstanding study of the parables. Kenneth Bailey's profound insights into the Middle-Eastern culture of Jesus' day will revolutionise the way you see the parables. 


All Clergy Great and Small

The words still fill me with some trepidation to this day. They are one of the many vows taken before the Bishop and people of God at a priestly ordination. “Will you endeavour to fashion your own life and that of your household according to the way of Christ, that you may be a pattern and example to Christ's people?” There is some reassurance in the response you are required to give: “By the help of God, I will.”

God’s help is certainly needed for priesthood and indeed for any vocation in the church. You are of course given some preparation and ongoing support – theological degrees, various courses in pastoral management, retreats, leadership conferences, continuing ministerial education of all forms, annual reviews and of course books. This is all very good and necessary however, none of it can actually make you, well, spotlessly divine.

Every pastor must confront the reality that they are human, hopefully sooner rather than later. We work for God and he has already sent a saviour. Even harder is accepting that your long-term health and that of your family is largely dependant on whether you are prepared to be vulnerable, willing to accept the help of God and your community. The response in the Ordinal should actually read, “With the indispensible help of God and others, I will”


Whilst an awareness of being human and frail is now part and parcel of priestly formation, the public perception of clergy has not kept pace. It was this very insight that provided creative inspiration for James Wood and Tom Hollander the co-creators of the popular TV sitcom “Rev”. Last week I was at a lunch meeting with other clergy and James Wood was the guest speaker. He explained how the tension between the public world and less-than-perfect private world of clergy provided rich terrain for pithy comedy. What’s more, by situating the series in the melting pot of London’s East End, the messiness of humanity was unavoidable.

I carefully watched my colleagues as James spoke about how he mined the clash of people’s expectations with the reality of clergy life for comedy gold. Everyone nodded knowingly. The scene where Adam Smallbone eventually swears at the jeering workmen on the scaffolding was particularly popular. “So liberating,” whispered one brother priest. It soon became apparent that what he was saying touched on the anxiety we all shared. Whether we liked it or not, there was a burden of holy living placed on our shoulders at ordination.

So, for me there is indeed something very liberating about the show’s unvarnished insight into the challenges of priestly life – vicars do loose their tempers, develop secret crushes on attractive head teachers, occasionally swear in moments of frustration, get caught up in hubris, have sex and even marry wives who resent people constantly hanging around their kitchens. We clergy love Adam Smallbone because he is portrayed as irrepressibly human. 

And this is the true genius of the show. It’s not just honest humour but the brave poignancy of the production that wins us over. By pitting lofty expectations against mundane reality “Rev” taps into the precariousness of clergy life. It reveals, if only fleetingly, that the wounds of failed ambition easily blind priestly service, that disapproval is always painful even when you’ve tried your best and that all vicars really just want to be loved by their people.

The alternative is definitely not appealing. Clergy that are aloof, detached, cold, self-important or obsessed with spiritual perfection will do greater harm to the Gospel than those who make the same mistakes as anyone else. I find tremendous reassurance in the fact that Jesus appoints twelve disciples in the state that he finds them. None of them are especially saintly or qualified for the job. What’s more, they get it wrong over and over again – professional jealousy, vanity, irritability, cowardice and even betrayal all emerge. But something remarkable happens to them in the presence of Jesus and under the influence of the Holy Spirit. And more than two thousand years later we continue to build on the legacy of that rag-tag, irritable but passionate bunch when today we give the answer “With the help of God, I will.”


Repurposing Old Hymns and Spirituals

This a new indie/folk project out of Seattle which aims to reinterpret old hymns and spirituals in a fresh style. Another excellent example of the future-ancient trend emerging from Christianity.

Take a liten to one of the tracks here:

See the promo video here:



Reflecting on Vocation: You’re a Natural

[This the third of three reflections offered at the Vocations Day 2012 in the Diocese of London, Willesden Episcopal Area. It was hosted at St Mary's Ealing and offered people the opportunity to come and explore various ministries being undertaken in the church and wider community]

In the early part of his ministry, Moses has a serious crisis of confidence. Despite his many remarkable encounters with the living God, a burning bush to name but one, he still doubts whether he is called to lead the people of Israel out of slavery. Admittedly, it is a very intimidating job description. What’s more, he is also convinced that the Israelites will not take him seriously. Is this really the bold and courageous leader who parts the waters of the red sea? And how does he overcome an obstacle that had the potential to wreck his God-given vocation? 

The light-bulb moment for Moses is recorded in Exodus chapter 4: “What is that in your hand?” asks God. “A staff,” he responds. An ordinary piece of wood is then transformed into a snake as Moses casts it to the ground, “so that they may believe that the Lord … has appeared to you.’ (Exodus 4:5) The basic tool Moses needed to begin his vocation is already within his grasp, it simply had to be turned over to God.  The journey of his vocation was far from complete but he could now begin it, in the certainty that God was with him, resourcing his ministry in ways that were accessible but nonetheless remarkable. 


Like Moses, we also need some prompting as we grow into our vocation. But it is all too easy to overlook this nudging from the Holy Spirit. Luckily God never stops calling us and these prompts come in a regular supply until we take note of them.  One of the most helpful cues will probably come from those around us. People may say things like “You’re really good at that you know,” or “How do you just…do that?”

At first, you may dismiss what is being pointed out to you because it feels so ordinary or routine. Can solid administrative skills or a rapour with children or the ability to draw newcomers into conversation really be the corner stone of a ministry? The answer could well be yes. If you keep getting positive feedback about something that comes naturally to you, God may be asking: “What is in your hand?”

And when you do take a closer look at the resource within your grasp and then surrender it to God, you are likely to be surprised at the consequences. Connections are formed effortlessly within your networks, all kinds of encouragement is made manifest and inspiration appears in the most astonishing forms.  Remember, this doesn’t necessarily mean that your vocation will only blossom in the context of the church. Nor should you feel uncomfortable if you realise that you have more than one staff, so to speak, in your hand.

The point is, you have registered God’s soft jab to the ribs and now see that you are holding something of value. This confidence should unlock a sense of freedom and excitement. What happens if you bring your talent into alignment with your passions? How could God transform this skill set into an active work of love, a way of serving that also feeds your deepest desires?

Hopefully, the question of vocation (or following your calling or finding your ministry or or discovering something that’s true and essential about yourself) is no longer just about asking what you should be doing for God but becomes seeing what God is preparing you to do. Is not the best place to begin any journey of discovery as Moses did, with grateful astonishment.

Let us pray.

A Prayer for Next Steps

Loving God, You have a plan for each one of us,
and you hold out to us a future full of hope.
Give us the wisdom of Your Spirit
so that we can see the shape of Your plan
In the gifts You have given us,
and in the circumstances of our daily lives.
give us the freedom of Your Spirit,
to seek You with all our hearts,
and to choose Your will above all else.
We make this prayer through Christ Our Lord.



Reflecting on Vocation: The One and the Many

[This the second of three reflections offered at the Vocations Day 2012 in the Diocese of London, Willesden Episcopal Area. It was hosted at St Mary's Ealing and offered people the opportunity to come and explore various ministries being undertaken in the church and wider community]

If you’ve seen Graham Southerland’s famous tapestry “Christ in Glory” in Coventry Cathedral, it would have left an impression. One of the largest of its kind, the tapestry is the size of a tennis court. Its imposing size is equal to the impact of its rich palette of tones and textures. Produced in France, it took 12 master weavers over 3 years to complete. During this time hundreds of thousands of threads where woven together through skill and inspiration to create a soaring image of the risen Christ. What’s more, this is not a specter of Christ triumphant, it is the crucified but risen Christ showing you his wounded hands and feet.

On so many levels it represents to us the meaning of vocation in Christian life. It conveys that God’s work in the world is like an inspired weaver, steadily undertaking the creative and delicate task of gathering, looping, threading living strands of great variety to form a powerful image of Christ’s body. Every thread in its own place is critical to the completion of the work.

Unfortunately, the word “vocation” can fail to give us this vision because it is so misunderstood. For some it means “professional Christian” or those who are in sacred ministry – priests, ministers and bishops. For others it’s a catchall description for charity work, something that well-meaning people do outside of their real jobs. If all Christians have a calling, then does it mean you will end up getting ordained or maybe doing charity work? Sadly, many people may avoid exploring their vocation because they perceive it to be a narrowing down of options rather than an opening out of possibility and purpose.

But the basis of the word “vocation” simply means “the call”. And for Christians it finds principle expression in the invitation of Jesus Christ: “Come, follow me.”

Is it possible that vocations can take shape in the real world by so-called “everyday” Christians? Well, the scriptures tell us that as the followers of Jesus we are his collective agency for change in the world. Paul uses the image of the human body to describe the interdependent nature of Christian life. In the body of Christ, each part has an important role to play even though individually they look and function quite differently:

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body… But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.  (1 Corinthians 12:15-20)

Here then are two essential qualities of the Christian calling:

1)    there are a great variety of vocations

2)    every vocation is as important as any other

If all of us form the sacred body of Christ than those who put “Rev” in front of their names are just as valuable to God as those who don’t.

The other very critical dimension of Christian vocation is that it is outwardly directed. Jesus calls us to follow him so that we can in turn “go out into all the world,”(Mark 16:15). This means that our Christian vocation could flourish in a great many contexts because the world is a diverse and vibrant place. It may be the market place, government, or the family. Then there’s the local, regional or national church, the non-profit sector, schools, hospitals, street corners and even hedonistic nightclubs. No place is beyond the touch of Christ and those who follow him. Becoming intentional about your vocation does not mean that you run the risk of getting sucked up into some rarified holy space. Many people are quite surprised when they discover it’s the opposite actually.

So when you respond to God’s call on your life, you take a step to contribute to the rich and multifaceted witness of Christ’s body in the world. This is excellent news because it means that God is calling you to be you. And he is guiding you into a place that is right for you, a context in which your particular work of love will flourish. Rowan Williams puts it this way: “Each of us is called to be a different kind of response to God, to mirror God in unique ways, to show God what he is like, so to speak, from innumerable new and different standpoints.”


Let us pray.

A Prayer of St. Therese of Lisieux:

May today there be peace within.
May you trust God
That you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received,
And pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing
You are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones,
And allow your soul the freedom
To sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us.



Reflecting on Vocation: “Am I Called?”

[This the first of three reflections offered at the Vocations Day 2012 in the Diocese of London, Willesden Episcopal Area. It was hosted at St Mary's Ealing and offered people the opportunity to come and explore various ministries being undertaken in the church and wider community]

Do we all have a calling that is God-given? Or is it simply the case that some people have it and others don’t? You know, like some people can whistle but others just can’t. And surely vocation is for holy or extraordinary individuals – revolutionaries, nuns, monks sportsman and famous artists. What’s more, how do you know if you have a calling? By that I mean, how do really know that your life has a purpose; that God has created you to do something specific?

Well, if you will indulge me for moment, I’d like to ask that you to close your eyes and keep them shut. Let’s imagine that all of your essential needs have been met. You have all the money you could ever need, you have found the love of your life and you have a growing circle of good friends.  Now, what changes would you make to your life and how are you going to spend the time you have left? Keep your eyes closed as you take a minute to really think about this. (Pause) You could be seeing yourself living it up on an exotic island or travelling in luxury or writing that book at last or starting a family. But now ask yourself this question: “What is God inviting you to do?” (Pause) 

Please open your eyes. You may well have found that this imaginative experience become quite different when you shifted to listening to God? One way of trying to understand vocation is this – it’s a process in which you are in conversation with God about your passions, talents and deepest desires. I’m sure we all agree that every human being has passions, talents and deep desires. But they are mostly ignored or even forgotten. This cluster of emotions and instinctive drives become much more obvious to us when we give ourselves the freedom to ask “What if?”   

Still, it can be very confusing when you are trying to understand how these should be  used or given shape in daily living. Alternatively, some of these impulses can be quite threatening and leave us feeling suspicious. That’s because from a very young age, we are directed to become productive citizens, to make a living and to retire in some comfort.  The message, conscious or otherwise, is this: “Here are the ingredients of success and if you get the balance just right, you will be happy.”

But as soon as we enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ, we steadily have the awakening that a life in God is expanding our horizons. Job titles, qualifications and 5-year plans begin to feel somewhat claustrophobic. We start to sense that there is more; more depth, more authenticity, more meaning than what have been given.

Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
   you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
   and are acquainted with all my ways.  

                                            Psalm 139: 1-3

The psalmist here describes a radical intimacy with God that includes paths being searched out and ways being made known. When we invite God to influence our lifestyle, choices and destiny, we have already started working out our vocation. Whether we like it or not the conversation has began. Perhaps now, we are simply becoming conscious of it.

This morning we can only be open to the work of the Holy Spirit. You cannot know how God will influence the conversation you are already having about your vocation, but rather like a very young Samuel in the temple you can pray “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”


Let us pray

A Prayer for Discernment

Lord I know that You love me and that You have great plans for me.
But sometimes I am overwhelmed by the thought of my future.

Show me how to walk forward one day at a time.
as I explore the various options which lie before me,

Help me to listen openly to others,
and to pay attention to what is in the depth of my own heart.

In this way, may I hear Your call to a way of life
which will allow me to love as only I can,

and allow me to serve others with the special gifts You have given me.


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