New Year’s Eve

Hopes and Fears

At midnight the year ends, December 31st turns into January 1st and a new year, 2023 dawns. January is named after Janus, the Roman God of beginnings and endings. He is depicted as having two faces. One looking backwards, the other forward and that is the story of New Year’s Eve. We are looking back over the last three years which have seen the world change. The global pandemic, (which has not been eradicated) has forever changed our world and we live with the present realities of a global recession, a war in Ukraine that threatens to escalate into conflict between the world’s superpowers and the equally terrifying prospect of nuclear weapons being deployed. We see western democracies collapsing as lies, false promises and deceitful propaganda have led to an erosion of trust, which eats away at the very foundations required for democracy to work for the common good. Corruption is rife, truth telling seems a thing of the past, morality in the marketplace and in the public arena appears redundant. Racism, sexism, nationalism, assertion of rights and the dereliction of duty, care and compassion for the stranger, the weak and vulnerable are now sadly, notable characteristics of society. The world is burning up, the seas are polluted and the environment is littered by the detritus of a consumer society that shows little respect or care for the sacred earth upon which we are privileged to live. The church consumes so much of its time on issues of survival and internal conflicts and divisions are sadly rife, as are the drawing of red lines. There’s a lamentable failure in large measure to seize the opportunity of these changing times and to be people of peace, carriers of light, bearers of hope and purveyors of good news. It’s pretty depressing.

As the online customer support member said as we concluded our conversation and bade one another a happy new year; “Well, we’ve just got to hope for the best but prepare for the worst”. I reflected on those words following our conversation and a reminder of the fragility and vulnerability of human life. I thought of the millions of people for whom the future holds more fears than hopes and for whom uncertainty is not the call to adventure but a cause of deep anxiety.

I found myself singing the familiar Christmas Carol ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’, with the line The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight. Hopes and fears are common to all humanity. Each passing year possesses alternating degrees of one or the other or both. I find myself on this New Year’s Eve holding both hope and fear in my heart and mind as we enter 2023. I’m reminded of that repeated phrase in the Scriptures, “Do not be afraid”. There is the apostle Paul’s exhortation;“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope”. He uses those words not as empty religious sentiment or some pious platitude but with a conviction that isn’t just “I hope so” but “I know so”. Here was someone who suffered, whose life didn’t exactly go to plan, but who had confidence in God in all circumstances, someone who had an understanding of trusting in God through the uncertainties and changing experiences of life. Not someone who avoided life’s realties in a religious confining cul-de-sac but as a person of faith who’d come to know that God is with us in all things.

I return often to some words of Corrie Ten Boom. I can see them now, in my mind’s eye, on a poster that Trevor, my dear friend and a former abbot of our Northumbria Community, displayed on the wall of his prayer cell. Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.  

So as we bid farewell to 2022 and enter a new year we do so with some fear, because we are human but also with hope. Hope grounded in the conviction that God loves us and the world to which he sent his Son to be its Redeemer and to break the chains of all that triggers fear and prevents us from seeing the Kingdom of God coming here on earth. Hope, born of faith, a trust in God that reminds us that every fear begins to evaporate with the arrival of hope. Every abolition movement begins with a vision of setting people free. Every evil tyrant is eventually brought down by the rebellion of love that conquers hatred. It is with these thoughts that I view the prospect of a new year with a fresh resolve to play my part in working for the common good. I will endeavour to live, refusing to be ruled by fear and instead, to live inspired by hope. 


As with New Year, it’s out with the old and in with the new. This is the last of my blogs on this website. It’s been a privilege to have offered reflections over several years and to have built friendships with people within and beyond the Northumbria Community through my writing. This website concludes but a new one is coming into being. Together with two great friends and associates, Kate Pozzo and Craig Millward, we are launching our Northumbrian Collective initiative this coming Wednesday, 4th January 2023. The initiative seeks to encourage people to listen well, think deeply and live authentically. Do join us:

Thank you for your company over many years with this blog. I conclude by sharing with you the endnote from my recent Christmas newsletter:

have a dream this evening that one day we will recognise the words of Jefferson that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness….. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted and every hill shall be made low; the crooked places shall be made straight, and the rough places plain; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. With this faith I will go out and carve a tunnel of hope through the mountain of despair. With this faith, I will go out with you and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Martin Luther King, 1963 

God grant that we will, alone and together, work to carve out tunnels of hope and help to transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. As the letter to Philippines encourages us, “ Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving message into the night” Philippians 2:15 

Bless you and take care


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Winter Solstice and Christmas Greetings

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St Aidan’s day

A Great Leader

As I celebrate St Aidan’s day, back home here in Northumberland, my Facebook reflections on his life written last year in Ireland, still resonate. Perhaps more so, given the need today for such leadership that serves the common good, is motivated not by the love of power but the power of love. For Christian leaders to have as much heart for those beyond the walls of the church as for those within. Leaders who listen and respond with their hearts, who model servanthood and are not afraid to speak truth to power. Leaders like Aidan, who recognise and encourage the gifts of all and who are not threatened but welcoming and affirming of women in leadership. Leaders who lead rather than simply manage, who impart love not simply learning, whose lives speak of Christ and commend the God News of the faith by simply being who they are. Persuasive not by force of power or manipulating rhetoric but by godly example of lives that reflect the nature of a living God. Leaders who build communities, encourage solidarity, promote unity, work hard for peace and reconciliation and who welcome diversity as a gift. Good Aidan, may we follow your lead and be inspired by the same Holy Spirit that caused you to bring life and hope, transformation and healing to the people of your day.

Blessed Aidan’s Day

Waking in Ireland and returning tomorrow to Northumbria, giving thanks to God for the Celtic saint who among many has been the most influencial in my own life and calling. 

Ordained under his statue on Lindisfarne, gathering most Easter Sundays with other Companions and Friends of the Northumbria Community around ‘Aidan’ before renewing our ‘vows’ to God and one another, and mindful of the impact this Irish saint had on shaping faith, this, Aidan’s Day is one of thanksgiving. 

I reflect on the goldy life and devotion of Aidan and his companions who journeyed from Iona, settling and establishing a community in the 7th century, whose response to God’s call upon their lives brought life and light, hope and transformation from Northumbria throughout Europe. From the ‘margins’, they carried the light of the Good News, the light of the gospel to the ‘mainstream’. From an out of the way place they went on to shape the church and wider society for the common good.

Giving thanks this day, we remember Aidan; for his love of God, his pioneering, gentleness and patience, kindness, humility, peacableness and care for the poor, his courage, love of truth, devotion and gift of building community. 

He embodies the monastic calling of seeking God and sharing life. Building a community where prayer and an intentional life of discipleship was nurtured and deepened in the wells of Desert monastic spirituality’s contemplation and a Celtic willingness to wander for the love of Christ wherever the Spirit led. 

Out of the place of solitude and aloneness, of encounter and exposure to God and self, Aidan and his monks journeyed for love of Christ and neighbour to share the life giving, transforming Good News. 

Monastic and missional – powerful then and now. Expressing the power of love and not the love of power, (something contemporary political and church leaders should note!) Aidan and those early Celtic followers of Christ came as torchbearers from the North. They brought light and hope in a Dark Age, bringing Good News, not by wielding a sword, by threatening, bullying, beguiling or deceiving but by living humbly before God and one another they shared gentleness, peaceableness and hope. 

They spoke truth to power, challenged those with secular power and encouraged compassion, justice and generosity. 

May the same Holy Spirit that inspired Aidan and his community, inspire us to be seekers of God, builders of reconciled communities and bearers of life, hope and peace in our emerging Dark Age.

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A cake to mark our Mardi Gras, the last, as tomorrow marks Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. 

Lent a period of abstinence that culminates in the celebration of Easter, the event that was to change the course of the world for good. The day that gives hope and meaning to life, Christ’s resurrection. 

There are lots of images and ideas associated with the season of Lent, some of them very heavy sounding, guilt laden, severe and demanding.

However, I approach the season with a sense of anticipation and embrace its challenges as a gift, an opportunity to intentionally pray, reflect and examine where I’m at with my life and faith. It’s a season to declutter and detox, to be reminded of the things that really matter in life. It might involve some renouncing and repenting. Another heavy sounding word, ‘repentance’ has heavy connotations but in reality it’s an invitation to turn and re-orientate one’s life in the direction of God and the ways of his kingdom. Lent is a season to focus, break habits or compulsions, to re-focus and reorder our lives. It is a time to lay aside what can easily become a distraction or diversions from the things that really matter: “to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves”.

I find it helpful to give up certain things for Lent and so, not for the first time, I will be coming off social media and this will be my last blog until Easter. 

However you choose to live and prepare for Easter may you be blessed and may all our hearts be inclined towards the One in whom we live and move and have our being. 

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A Call to Pause and Pray.

On a day when the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have invited us to pause, pray and remember 100,000 people ‘known to God and cherished by God’ it’s a time also to reflect and lament. It is a solemn day. The number of recorded deaths here in Britain of those who died of COVID-19 puts us top of the league in terms of deaths per head of population. 

A time will come to examine the many failings that have contributed to such a huge loss of life, to needless suffering and exposing our frontline services to overwhelming pressure to the point of exhaustion and near collapse. The austerity measures, lack of preparation and failure to act decisively and collaboratively and handing out of contracts without due diligence to companies with no experience, wasted not only millions of pounds but also ailed to deliver what was required and cost the lives of so many people. Collaboration not cronyism, appropriate scrutiny and accountability was called for but arrogance and floundering prevailed. Boasting achievements and heralding so called successes, no doubt intended to lift the spirit, have rung hollow, as promises have not materialised, targets have not been met and extravagant claims have been seen for what they are, false. Comparisons with other nations have backfired badly. Other nations have watched on with both admiration for what has been achieved as well as bewilderment by our failure to act in a whole host of ways that has led to us being described as ‘plague island’ in some parts of the world. 

Reflecting on the events of the last twelve months, we have things to be thankful for: the example of men and women of every race and creed, colour, gender and background within the NHS, for others on the front line who have given of themselves sacrificially, many of them with their own lives, to this war. We are thankful too for the international scientific community that has worked across borders and boundaries and given the world hope with the arrival of vaccines, many of which will have to be developed further to combat the differing mutations and variants. 

Yes, there are things to be thankful for and we have seen some of the very best in peoples’ responses to the crisis, however this is not a day for anything other than lament. A day when we don’t label the virus as belonging to any one particular country, with sinister undertones, but when we pray for the world, for all of its citizens. A day when we don’t boast about the prospects of being the frontrunners on vaccines and the first to get over the finishing line. A day instead to commit to helping every citizen of the world to get over the finishing line. A day when we realise that we are our brothers keeper and that whatsoever we do to the least has implications for all of us. 

There is a litany of woes which the world faces, not just those thrown up by Covid,

perhaps the greatest being global warming. This crisis is not imminent; it is here! It holds even greater dangers to the world than this present pandemic. A recent  report on global warming suggests that 2/3 of the world is abundantly aware of the reality of its threat to civilisation. 

When people talk about getting back to normal, I wonder what kind of delusional cloud they live under?! We are entering a new world era. The impact of a global pandemic and the economic fallout and consequent recession will inevitably lead to poverty and suffering on a global scale. Ensuing trade conflicts, fighting over resources, the fracturing of western democracy and the emergence of new superpowers and autocratic, dictatorial regimes carries all the ingredients of war. Whilst billions will suffer in the new world, Oxfam reports this week that the worlds 2000 richest billionaires have more wealth than the 46 billion people who make up 60% of the worlds population. That the 22 richest men in the world have more wealth than all the women in Africa put together. Oxfam’s ‘Time To Care’ 

Report published in advance of this weekend’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, reveals how billionaires are lining their pockets at the expense of billions of ordinary men and women in broken economies. It was quite astounding to read that it would require the richest 1% in the world to pay just 0.5% extra tax on their wealth over the next 10 years to equal the investment needed to create 117 million jobs in sectors such as elderly care and childcare, education and health globally. 

It might be a pipedream but somehow the iniquity relating to the gap between wealth and poverty has to be addressed. I was heartened this morning to read about President Biden’s signing executive orders seeking to address the issue of equity in the States, fulfilling a campaign promise to increase racial equity in the US. I was heartened to read more about New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s leadership and her Governments commitment to improve the “wellbeing” of its citizens rather than focusing on productivity and GDP growth. Perhaps an inspirational and prophetic policy that provides a model for the world to make economic health cohere with health for all life. Interestingly, New Zealand has one of the best coronavirus outcomes of any democracy in the world. These are signs of hope. They counter the seeds of destruction and offer an alternative  

I’ve just been part of a lunchtime conversation, a great online initiative, The Common Good Canteen. It’s a monthly Zoom conversation from Common Change UK. Today my friend Matt Wilson and fellow host Laura Gilchrist were in conversation with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, who founded Rutba House in the USA. Rutba House of hospitality draws formerly homeless people together to live in community. Sharing life and resources is lived out within the community and it was engaging and inspiring to hear Jonathan share about the journey he’s been on and what he has learned about money and possessions. I’ve come across him before in the context of new monasticism and he is one of the leaders of the Red Letter Christian movement which encourages the engagement of faith in public life.

It was a very stimulating conversation. We heard examples of how hospitality, sharing and caring is so often expressed freely, generously and compassionately among and by the poor. The embracing of the upside down values of the Kingdom of God a sign of nonconformist hope and transformation for a world in crisis. 

Problems and challenges are becoming opportunities and ways of living better, pointing to a different way of living that brings benediction not malediction to the world, land and peoples. 

The session further expanded, challenged and encouraged me to think about that foundational question at the heart of our Northumbria Community, a question it’s good for us all to consider on this day of pausing and praying, ‘How Then Shall We Live?’

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Reflections on New Year’s Eve

2020 the year the world changed beyond measure and a new era dawned. 

My thoughts and feelings revolve paradoxically between hope and despair.

Hope that out of the tragedy and the challenges of the present there may come affirmation of the things that truly matter: our relationship with God, our neighbours, ourselves and the world we live in. Hope that we might find new ways of living that bring greater justice, peace and compassion to the world. Hope that the remarkable global collaboration that has seen nations run the race together against the ravaging enemy of Covid-19 will fuel a greater sense of belonging and solidarity across the world. Hope that in the fields of science, economics, the environment, education, technology, community and the beleaguered arts, new ways may be discovered that bring life to many. Hope that lessons learned during lockdown will lead to wiser choices, more life-giving patterns of working and relating to others and the environment. Hope that people of faith will be bearers of the Good News and play their part in shaping the future with the values and virtues that serve the good purposes of God in bringing wholeness and peace to the world. Hope that churches and Christian communities will engage in the reimaging of what living out faith means in a changing world, being co-creators of a new age rather than curators of a past age with its religious museums and memorabilia. 

Despair arises from the failings and calamitous handling of the crisis by various Governments, not least our own. No one would have wished upon any governing body what has emerged with this global pandemic which continues to claim the lives of hundreds of thousands and continues to cause a major global recession. The complexities and challenges are immense and there are no easy answers or quick fixes. The first definition of leadership is to define reality and the reality is that we are living through a major crisis that is by no means over. The paucity of wise and honourable leaders is stark. There are few leaders who bear the hallmarks of integrity, servanthood and truthfulness. Despair over the lies, propaganda and false promises are portrayed on a daily basis. From the threat of spin, we now have deceit, fake news and foolish bluster. Martin Luther King’s assertion that, ‘Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity’ continues to resonate deeply. As the USA loses its way and the world sees the emergence of very different superpowers like China and Russia, the prospects are uncertain. Despair over leaving the EU and the ways in which this was engineered and delivered by its chief proponents and architects. Despair over the rise of nationalism, the fuelling of independence and exceptionalism where sovereignty and national self- interest are valued more than solidarity, collaboration and unity in diversity. I will mark our leaving at 11.00 this evening with a very heavy heart and much sadness but I accept that the decision to leave has been made and is now enshrined in epoch changing law. It is now incumbent upon us all, in the words of the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “to play our part in rebuilding our common moral foundation”. We have, as believers, the mandate to work for the transformation and blessing of the world, where again, according to Sacks, “a nation is strong when it cares for the weak and rich when it cares for the poor”. Despair and anger that we have cut Foreign Aid, reneged on a firm promise made to the neediest, poorest nations in the world. Despair over the the endemic racism within society and a failure to appreciate the reality of White Supremacy. 

We are still in the season of Christmas and with it the familiar narratives and perhaps more so than ever this year, the prophetic writings that speak of hope amidst despair, of light penetrating darkness, of love conquering where hatred reigned, where a kingdom that promises justice, mercy and compassion would overturn the empires of power, greed, nationalism, exploitation and corruption. 

And it is that Good News story of a God who demonstrates his love and identity with the world that hope is found. In the coming of Christ, hope is born, transformative love is realised and the prospects of the dawning of a new day, a new world era is born. 

2020 held for many of us limitations, pale imitations of what we would truly like to have done. We have been inhibited and while 2021 promises us some hope it is not yet a reality. We face continuing uncertainty and there will be more to lament and grieve before the coming year is over. The enduring story of God’s love revealed in Christ lifts us out of every limitation into an abiding confidence that all things are possible with God. The prospects and potential of a different hope-filled future is possible. Hope can overcome despair. 

In the words of the late Corrie Ten Boom, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God”.

A benediction of peace – the peace of all peace encircle you this day and throughout the coming year. 

Bless you and take care


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I deleted a post on Facebook yesterday. This is the first time that I felt I needed to do this. I did this because of the manner in which some people communicated with one another.

I post, blog and write because I want to encourage people to love and be loved by God, to think deeply and live generously. What I witnessed yesterday were the attritional attitudes, partisan prejudices and the inability to debate and discuss with respect and honour between people who hold different views. 

The Bible says we are to “pay attention to our hearts”, the prayer of the Psalmist is that God would “create within us a clean heart and renew a right spirit within us”. Anyone who desires to be serious about their relationship with God, has to address the ‘landscape’ of their own hearts. To understand the ‘passions’ and ‘monsters’, as well as what motivates, informs and shapes their lives, both consciously and unconsciously. This can be seen as Emotional Intelligence. Whatever we call it, it should lead to a deeper life and a transformation of attitudes, words and actions. A lack of self-awareness, so prevalent in the activism of our contemporary society, is a hugely debilitating factor in our ability to relate well with others; in our homes, neighbourhoods, workplaces, churches and wider society. 

It comes as no surprise to me but is nevertheless depressing that Christians can behave as badly as anybody. The disappointing  way in which some people responded yesterday was no exception. All of us who claim to follow Christ, need to remember Jesus words in John’s Gospel, “As the Father sent me, so I send you”. This requires all of us who seek to love God and neighbour to reflect on Christ, who was “full of grace and truth”. 

Christians often claim to be right and to know the truth. Often they don’t exhibit the accompanying grace that we see in Christ.  

Where, I ask myself, is the voice of kindness and respect? Where is truth with grace, debate with dignity, dialogue with respect? Where is there the ability to listen to different voices, opposing views without denigrating, dismantling and attempting to destroy?

Four people have brought me a little encouragement recently. The first of these is Jürgen Klopp. His faith and upbringing has given him an understanding of what life is like for most ordinary people. His compassionate optimism, hope filled messages and acts of kindness have touched the hearts of many. 

Marcus Rashford’s campaign to end child poverty, no doubt influenced by his upbringing. Rashford’s attempt to get the government to provide meals for the poorest children in society was defeated in parliament. However in his battle to defeat food poverty, he has invoked the kindness of strangers, a far greater force than the Government has been able achieve. 

Joe Biden, took a call the other day from his granddaughter whilst he was on the campaign trail. This could either be seen as a political stunt or the action of a caring grandparent. You could say that this encounter was orchestrated but I’d like to believe it as authentic. Another incident happened at the Democratic Convention in the summer when he helped a young boy with a stammer., see: What helps me to believe its authenticity is the fact that Biden has for many years helped youngsters who struggle with stammering, something he himself has had to contend with.

Finally, there is Jacinda Arden, who has been portrayed by the satirical programme Spitting Image as Mary Poppins, flying in with her umbrella to dispense a spoonful of sugar, bringing happiness and a smile to everyone she meets. 

Klopp, Rashford, Biden and Arden reveal intellect and emotional intelligence, kindness, decency, a genuine care and concern for people, as well as humility and a willingness to listen and identify with those who they work with and seek to serve. These are attitudes which reflect the character of Christ and the virtues and values which contribute to the common good. They build society where black lives and all lives matter.  Where integrity, kindness, compassion, justice and mercy, generosity, peacefulness and consideration of each other are fused together and bring benediction, not malediction to the world.

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That was the week that was – reflections on the past seven days.

This time last week I was multitasking; simultaneously preaching in Cornwall, Canada and Ireland whilst walking along the banks of the River Wear at Chester-le- Street – such are the wonders of modern technology and pre-recorded sermons and talks!

I feel bereft not being able to be with any of our family, including our two youngest granddaughters, who like everyone else in the north-east are in lockdown. We were with them for the first five weeks of Annabelle’s life and have missed the following weeks and can only observe her and her lovely sister Lyra growing up on WhatsApp and video calls.

Start the Week was not with Andrew Marr on Radio 4 but with my Prayer Accompaniers, valued friends and supporters. I cannot underestimate the encouragement of such a group who I meet with online every first Monday in the month. There followed a lovely mentoring session with Chris Friend, someone who I was privileged to be involved in training at Cranmer and now mentor. I look forward to him and Caroline his wife becoming our pastors when we move back to Northumberland, hopefully before Christmas. 

Yes, you heard it right, the rumours are true; we are going ‘home’ to the North East! Within the last three weeks we’ve sold our house here in Northallerton and have bought a house in Alnwick. With so many changes because of COVID-19 and my extensive travelling now being done by Zoom and Microsoft teams on my laptop, we decided, whilst away in Ireland in the summer, to return ‘home’ earlier than we had anticipated. 

Northallerton has been a really good location with its transport links, lovely house, great neighbours and the church that we have been pleased to belong to. A church that has been very affirming of my wider ministry and one where we have been blessed to be under some brilliant Bible teaching and good leadership. New Life will remain one of our seven Partner Churches, who in return for my doing some work with them, are supportive of my work with emerging pioneers and missional 

The prospect of going home to Northumberland is one that has both delighted and excited us. Back to where I was born, where I was called to the ministry, where Shirley and I trained and where we have lived, founding and leading the Northumbria Community for nearly 30 years, a community where our vocation lies. No longer a leader but still very much a part of as Companions. 

I hoped on Monday to have gone for a walk with Dave Tubby, team leader at Heaton Baptist Church in Newcastle, whose parents now live in Northallerton, but it had to be cancelled because Tyneside is in lockdown so we resorted to an online coffee and conversation. We talked about faith, football and dreaming what a missional, relational association of leaders and pioneers, working in partnership might look like here in the north-east. As it says in Acts 2, “your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.”!

The afternoon saw the second of our Baptist Union Pioneer Roundtables; a gathering of key pioneers throughout the regions looking at issues and what we might bring to the denomination. A remarkable group of very gifted, out-of-the-box, imaginative, radical thinkers and practitioners whose prophetic and apostolic giftings are a great blessing. 

A bike ride taking in the beauty of the autumn colours on the trees and hedgerows and the chill air on hands and face as I cycled, a reminder of the changing seasons, shorter days and the prospect of a long and what could be very difficult winter.

Monday concluded with another session with some of our other Prayer Accompaniers and Compline. Closing the day picturing my children and grandchildren as we pray the words “my dear ones are God bless them and keep them in every place where they are”.

Tuesday morning saw me writing and in the afternoon I spent two hours on zoom with my delightful Pioneer Ambassador colleagues, Ali Boulton and Simon Goddard, meeting with our line manager, Diane Watts, the acting Head of Faith and Society for the Baptist Union. Colleagues who have become good friends, colleagues with whom there is a mutual respect, a deepening friendship and care for one another, and an understanding of the dynamics of our pioneering calling that is often difficult to convey to those whose definitions of ministry and mission are different. 

A walk and some time reading followed. I am thoroughly enjoying being part of the Renovare Book club and we are currently reading Pete Greig‘s excellent book, ‘How to Pray, a simple guide for normal people’ and Tim Soerens excellent ‘Everywhere You Look – discovering the church right where you are’. I met Tim a number of years ago at a conference and we’ve been in touch again this week. He is a pastor, social entrepreneur and the founder of the Parish Collective. His book helps us to see how the present and unsettled state of affairs and shaking in the world and the emerging generations who have opted and are opting out of the church in large numbers, provides an opportunity to reimagine or discover what it means to be church without walls, to discover a grassroots movement of ordinary people living life and faith in everyday lives. The book is like a manifesto, one that is simple and profound and speaks of hope to human life in society. Well worth a read.

I dropped a line to our MP, Rushi Sunak, (bless him, he has a lot on his plate at present!). I assured him of my prayers but raised a matter of concern that I trust one of his aides might at least read. I was reading about the Government’s defeat in the House of Lords as peers voted in support of an amendment to Priti Patel’s flagship Immigration Bill designed to protect family reunion rules for asylum-seekers beyond Brexit. The clause, was tabled by four peers including Alf Dubs, who was himself a former child refugee, and aims to ensure that rights under UK law to family reunion, at present covered by EU legislation known as the Dublin III treaty, will continue after the transition period.

Wednesday morning saw me join with a whole host of Eastern European theologians and church leaders to mark a book published in honour of Sergei. I had met or come across many of those on the screen during my European travels and it was a ‘proud father’ moment to see our younger son Joshua, hosting the session. He is a very bright academic theologian, writer (he had co-edited the book) and gifted linguist who welcomed people and facilitated the conversations in Russian, Ukrainian and the language that I still struggle with on occasions, English! He possesses his mothers linguistic genes. 

Every Wednesday, I seek to take time intentionally to pray and reflect, read and write and the day begins, ends and is interspersed by my hosting of our Northumbria Community Daily Offices. It’s lovely to begin the day with Companions and Friends of the Community to share Morning Prayer. Later in the day with another group, gathering online from many places around the world for Evening Prayer and then ending the day with Compline with yet another group of Companions. 

An intentional day of prayer, one that punctuates the business and activity of other days, a day of focus and a reminder of those things that are really important in life; relationship with God, self and others.

It was a day on this occasion that caused me to think through some of my abhorrence of happenings in the United States. The disturbing actions of an autocratic, demagogue of a president whose sociopathic tendencies are ruinous and so divisive and damaging to the country and its relations with the wider world. That he should be endorsed by right-wing fundamentalist Christians is something that angers and bewilders me. Someone who professes faith in a God I simply do not recognise. A leader in whom I see no evidence of Christlikeness in his attitudes, words, actions or policies. Someone who is virtually assured of the Pro-Life movement’s vote whilst he hypocritical he takes a vaccine that has been formulated using the fetus of aborted babies. He will play the Pro-Life card at the same time as decreeing policies that lead to abject poverty for many, incarcerate, lock up children in cages by the Mexican border, sanction military actions that lead to the loss of innocent lives, many of them children. His abhorrent disrespect, bullying and abusive behaviour to anyone who stands in his way reveals his love of power in contrast to the power of love that Christ reveals. I do pray ‘God Bless America’ but not in the way that statement is used on political platforms.  

Most of Thursday was spent writing and preparing for a ‘Bonfire Gathering’ webinar with The Missional Network in North America. I reminded them as I was introduced as the guest speaker that living near York where Guy Fawkes was born had certain unhelpful connotations! I was interviewed and the conversation that flowed looked at the present challenges and their impact upon leaders and how in the midst of these turbulent times, we ask ‘How we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?, What kind of leadership is required? and how we care for our souls and others? in this emerging  new world era.

A very stimulating couple of hours that will feed into some work I am doing with the Canadian missiologist and writer Alan Roxburgh.

A lovely day off on Friday with Shirley and her sister and partner, meeting up in Helmsley on the North Yorkshire Moors. We spent several hours in the delightful walled garden adjacent to the ruined castle. A place of beauty and serenity. We returned home via Rievaulx Abbey and some glorious countryside. Once home, I avoided looking at emails. Instead, we unpacked the vivarium that we bought from the local aquatic centre for our tortoises over the winter. There is nothing more distracting from my usual work than wrestling with a flatpack vivarium, wood glue, mounting the brackets and installing the electric cabling to keep these prehistoric pets comfortable. We’ve had them for years; one since we were first married and at Bible College. On the first weekend with other students we travelled up to Edinburgh, when nearly everybody spent their time purchasing books for the academic studies at the Banner of Truth bookshop, whereas Shirley and I, went next door to the pet shop and came home with a tortoise! Thug, yes that’s his name, (renamed after observation of his behaviour through the years) and Sally, whom we inherited from a retired missionary to China, (again renamed in honour of Sally Gunnel the Olympic athlete!) have remained with us as our children have all left home. We hope Thug and Sally will live for years and will have to be named in our will!

Saturday also marked Mental Health Day / Week and I give thanks to God for Renew Well-being, founded by a remarkably gifted pioneer and friend, Ruth Rice. Ruth is someone whom I had the privilege of meeting many years ago, when her undoubted gifts were evident and which have since blossomed and grown, impacting and blessing so many people within and mostly beyond the walls of the Church in naming and responding with compassion to the mental health issues that effect so many of us in society today. Blessings on the initiative that is growing and touching the lives of so many people for good. 

Saturday was one of those days I love every now and then; doing nothing but pottering; faffing about, tinkering, reading the paper, a book, surfing the net, watching a bit of tv and listening to an evening on Radio 4 dedicated to the memory of Nicholas Parsons whilst drinking a glass of red wine, (something I haven’t done for months).

And now it’s Sunday and I awoke early and thinking over the past week started to pen in my mind these reflections which have been offered in this blog.

I’m mindful of the conversations this week with those who are struggling; dear, close friends who are battling with cancer and other life threatening or limiting illnesses. I am aware of some who have died of coronavirus and several others who have contracted the virus and who are left with varying health issues. Some of them very serious for months and most of them are younger than I am. I’m mindful of three friends, whose close family members are dying and I shall be at a funeral this week of another friend, someone who I baptised many years ago at Portrack. Someone who was a rough diamond but who became a gem to many. 

We watched Gardeners World the other night which featured a conversation with the ITV morning breakfast presenter Kate Garroway whose husband Derek contracted the virus and has been in an induced coma now for several months. She spoke about how her garden was a place of healing and hope for her and her two children as they live with the uncertainty, contemplating a future with or without their husband and father.

I am often awake early in the morning and occasionally listen to Farming Today on the radio. This weeks programmes alerted me to the ongoing Brexit debacle. I guess most people will be unaware of what is trying to be passed quickly through Parliament this coming week; desperate attempts to sign a trade agreement with the United States whilst Trump remains in office; a deal that will flout EU regulations and allow our country to import cheaper food, including chlorinated chicken, dosed with antibiotics and a disregard for animal welfare. These are the so-called benefits of ‘taking back control’ and not having to comply to EU food safety standards and animal welfare issues. The farmers in their tractor driving procession through the streets of Northallerton and Stokesley this past week have been protesting not only about their futures but for the welfare of all of us as consumers. 

It is quite extraordinary how so much gets passed through parliament, with the Government’s majority of 80, measures that would normally find some checks and balances, policies that are rarely picked up by any of the media and brought to the publics attention. Anyone, particularly in the Civil Service who questions or stands in the way is moved, dismissed or forced to resign. 

The General Election handed the government an overwhelming mandate to effectively do whatever it wanted to do. Call it democracy but the fruits of such autocratic, chaotic government, which has handled many aspects of the crisis abysmally. Handing out contracts to private companies, showing a flagrant disregard of other wise voices that could be worked with collaboratively and thereby building trust, an essential commodity during a time of crisis, has led to some terrible consequences. 

Ridiculous claims about being world leaders, belligerent attitudes, dogmatism and the peddling of half-truths and boasting of achievements speaks more of arrogance and a blindness to the realities. Some humility, some willingness to listen across the political divides, to varying economic perspectives and critically to local authorities, those who know their communities far better than those who occupy the corridors of power in Whitehall, might see more progress than what feels like regress in these very challenging times. 

I do pray for the Prime Minister and our government. I do! The challenges they face are complex and incredibly demanding, (there are no easy answers or measures that can be taken) but so many of my prayers for them are shaped by bewilderment, frustration, anger and fear for the society of which I am a part. Perhaps I should simply resort to, ‘Lord have mercy’. 

I listened as I often do to the Sunday Service on Radio 4. How delightful, having prayed our Community’s Morning Prayer, to hear its words used again from the Priory and Pottery in Ewenny, Wales. A wonderful reminder of a key characteristic of our Northumbria Community’s commitment to generosity, ‘to give away that which is not ours to possess’ Love it! Would that we might all love God, think deeply and live generously. Sounds like the subtitle of a book – watch this space!

And now to another walk, a venture out to Masham, a river walk and prep for tonight’s England v Belgium game and thoughts turning to a new week ahead.

Bless you and take care.

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Women of Blessing

Yesterday, in our Northumbria Community’s Celtic Daily Prayer, we celebrated the life of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Marking her saints day found me reflecting on the enormous blessing that she was and continues to be through her writings. Reading about her remarkable life I was reminded of the struggles that she had and that so many gifted women today have to contend with in order to have their vocation and calling to ministry recognised. Last year, with joy I handed over the baton of leadership and oversight of the Northumbria Community to three remarkably gifted women leaders. I’ve been privileged throughout my many years of ministry to work with some remarkable women but there are very few who would not testify to the struggles that they have encountered in their calling being recognised. Many now occupy roles and responsibilities, leading churches, associations, dioceses, denominations, organisations and communities but the path they have travelled has for most of them been considerably harder them for me and other men. Policies have changed but disparaging attitudes still remain and I see such attitudes and behaviours played out on a fairly regular basis. I’m encouraged that women are now invited to the tables of leadership but just because they are at the table doesn’t always mean that they are offered the top seat or that that their voice and contribution is really welcomed and heeded. Too many gifted, called by God women, have endured tortuous experiences of rejection or who have had to jump through hoops and over hurdles that their male counterparts have never known. I’ve seen good and godly women have their ministries suppressed by attitudes and actions that are not only unjust but abusive and grievous to the Holy Spirit.I see too many churches and organisations denying or suppressing the gifts of God that women in ministry bring. I observe women in ministry who are associates, team members but rarely senior pastors of a team, regional leaders or bishops. I was in conversation with a lovely group of leaders yesterday who are leading their church through an interregnum and are about to call a team leader. I’m intrigued to know whether they would consider a woman to be appointed as the team leader.Giving thanks to God for Thérèse of Lisieux I hold before God in the quiet of this early morning those whom I know and have been privileged to work with, and who I hope I have been an encouragement and affirming support to. Not an exhaustive list by any means but for each and everyone, named and honoured this day, I pray that they may continue to be blessed, and that any of the wounds they carry may be healed. I pray they may continue to be a blessing in the fulfilling of their God given calling to ministry. The blessing of God be upon; Sarah Pillar, Catherine Askew, Sarah Hay, Lina Toth, Lynn Green, Ruth Rice, Claire Wilson, Linda Donaldson, Anita Burke, Ali Boulton, Beth Rookwood, Jo Penn, Caroline Friend, Kate Bruce, Alison Myers, Selina Garner, Diane Watts, Afi Kirk, Karen Sethuraman, Kate Coleman, Cham Kaur-Mann, Mel Nixon, Jenny Few, Heather Farrow, Olive Drane, Penny Marsh, Lisa Holmes, Elaine Lindridge, Claire Hooper, Julie Bryan, Kathryn Morgan, Jacqui Green, Rachel Holland, Ingeborg te loo, Janet Elizabeth, Karen Gray, Mary Publicover, Sally Nelson, Sarah Fegredo, Ann Chesworth, Helen Roberts, Mary Taylor, Sally Mann, Annwen Stone, Pat Took, Karen Campbell, Kez Robinson, Alison Edwards, Lindsay Caplin, Rachel Hudson, Gemma Dunning, Dora Jay-Jay, Hayley Young, Molly Boot, Beth Powney, Sue Seeley, Margene Vessel, Clara Rushbrook, Angie Tunstall, Marg Hardcastle, Ivana Noble and Oksana Hudak.

Everyone a blessing from God!In remembering Thérèse and honouring these women of God I pray that in every place where we are, they may be honoured.

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Blessed St. Aidan’s Day

Waking in Ireland and returning tomorrow to Northumbria, giving thanks to God for the Celtic saint who among many has been the most influencial in my own life and calling.

Ordained under his statue on Lindisfarne, gathering most Easter Sundays with other Companions and Friends of the Northumbria Community around ‘Aidan’ before renewing our ‘vows’ to God and one another, and mindful of the impact this Irish saint had on shaping faith, this, Aidan’s Day is one of thanksgiving.

I reflect on the goldy life and devotion of Aidan and his companions who journeyed from Iona, settling and establishing a community in the 7th century, whose response to God’s call upon their lives brought life and light, hope and transformation from Northumbria throughout Europe. From the ‘margins’, they carried the light of the Good News, the light of the gospel to the ‘mainstream’. From an out of the way place they went on to shape the church and wider society for the common good.Giving thanks this day, we remember Aidan; for his love of God, his pioneering, gentleness and patience, kindness, humility, peacableness and care for the poor, his courage, love of truth, devotion and gift of building community.

He embodies the monastic calling of seeking God and sharing life. Building a community where prayer and an intentional life of discipleship was nurtured and deepened in the wells of Desert monastic spirituality’s contemplation and Celtic willingness to wander for the love of Christ wherever the Spirit led. Out of the place of solitude and aloneness, of encounter and exposure to God and self, Aidan and his monks journeyed for love of Christ and neighbour to share the life giving, transforming Good News.

Monastic and missional – powerful then and now. Expressing the power of love and not the love of power, (something contemporary political and church leaders should note!) Aidan and those early Celtic followers of Christ came as torchbearers from the North. They brought light and hope in a Dark Age, bringing Good News, not by wielding a sword, by threatening, bullying, beguiling or deceiving but by living humbly before God and one another they shared gentleness, peaceableness and hope. They spoke truth to power, challenged those with secular power and encouraged compassion, justice and generosity.

May the same Holy Spirit that inspired Aidan and his community, inspire us to be seekers of God, builders of reconciled communities and bearers of life, hope and peace in our emerging Dark Age.

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