Keep Your Feet on The Ground.

As we pray for the end of lockdown and a great re-awakening we need to prepare, now. We — that is Church congregations everywhere — must use this Lockdown to PREPARE. Prepare for the time when we can get outside again and all meet again.

Church Today — Courtesy of the Spectator


We need to be ready, knowing what we need to do. Not like the bishops who, last March, announced the closure of all their churches, at the same time re-assuring us that the clergy could hold services “on-line”, from their own homes, which would be ‘just as good’. They were wrong. The Easter Eucharist from Archbishop Justin Welby’s kitchen was not ‘just as good’ and he would have had plenty of technological assistance. Most clergy have done a magnificent job providing services, on line, on Zoom, on the phone, learning hi-tech as they muddled through. 

Later, when the churches were allowed to open again, the bishops issued pages of rules and regulations and protocols to ensure that you would be far safer in a church than in any train station or supermarket. Again the clergy coped, with very little in the way of help and guidance. Perhaps there might have been a bishop somewhere who ordered all the sanitizers and cleaning products and safety tapes all the churches would need and went round delivering everything to the individual clergy, and checking how they were getting on. Sadly, I suspect that hope is pie in the sky.

What we have to do now is keep our feet on the ground. 

That’s what Our Lord did, literally. He kept his feet on the earth as he walked through the Gospels, day after day, apart from when he walked on water. He was down to earth at our level until the final day, when he was lifted up on the Cross.


There is probably a PhD thesis somewhere that could tell us how many miles Jesus walked in the Gospels. There may be someone who could even tell us how many pairs of sandals He wore out. He walked from village to village and town to town talking to everyone he met. When he wanted to be alone to pray and think he walked up a mountain.

Bishops tend not to think down to earth. They prefer Big and Expensive. The Bishop of St. Asaph spent £2 million — two million pounds — a few years ago, to buy the old Dorothy Perkins store in Wrexham. The building is on Hope Street so it’s now called the Hope Centre. Clever, eh? Not so clever when you think about the six Anglican churches already in Wrexham and what their clergy could have achieved with a cool two million.


Let’s come down out of the episcopal clouds and concentrate on where to walk on earth.

Llyn Crefnant in the Carneddau Range, Snowdownia National Park


When Lockdown began a priest here in North Wales went up into the mountains to pray by a lake. Wonderful, until they closed Snowdonia National Park.  Then there’s Reverend Pat Allerton of St Peter’s Church, Notting Hill, labelled the ‘Portable Priest’. His parishioners couldn’t come to him so he took services around his parish. A hymn, a prayer and a mini sermon in 10 minutes at any convenient street corner. Perhaps the fact that he is an old Etonian gave him the confidence to thumb his nose at his bishop. He admitted to feelings of trepidation as he set off the first day. But guess what? People loved him; no one complained, no one was offended. He was even asked for an encore.

Reverend Pat Allerton – the Portable Priest

Surely that’s something lots of local clergy could do. If the bishops don’t want us in our churches so be it. There’s no law against street preaching so as soon as we’re allowed out on the streets again let’s get out there. The bishops have explained that we don’t need churches. God is everywhere. They are half right. But congregations that work hard all week running food banks, feeding people and other volunteer projects do need their churches on a Sunday. They do need to recharge their batteries and refuel their tanks to give them the spiritual strength to carry on. And those vital services can be held on the village green or in the town square or in a supermarket carpark.

Father Jonathan Beswick SSC is Rector of another St Peter’s Church, this one in London Docks. Writing in the Spectator on 16th January he has plenty of reasons why he is actually keeping his church open at the moment. Last Spring he set up an outdoor shrine and held services during daily exercise. He also rang his church bell which was much appreciated. I’m encouraged to think he would agree with me. In his article he says, “God did not reside on Mount Sinai reissuing successive tablets of stone. Rather, he got stuck into the mess and mortality that is the lot of the human race.” 

Absolutely right. The same mess we should be walking through, with our feet firmly on the ground.

Bishops. Why? Who? What?

Bishops: I seem to spend quite a lot of time thinking about them, probably because most of them are a complete enigma to me.  Why do they want the position in the first place, I wonder.  Status?  Power?  Gorgeous robes?  People to answer their letters.* I asked a friendly cleric:  “Bigger pensions” was his cynical response.

Small can be beautiful at all sorts of times and for all sorts of reasons.  Think of the Anglican church for example.  It has around 80 million members, give or take those like me, who can’t make up their minds whether Anglican Bishops still preach the same Gospel I have believed in for the last 80 years.  That Church has 77 Archbishops, with the Most Revd Justin Welby at the top, (first amongst equals) and 706 Bishops.  Thinking about all that lot as individuals is way too much.  So let me restrict myself to just the Church in Wales so that it can become much more manageable.

In Wales we have five bishops and one Archbishop, who has just announced his retirement next May.  It was this announcement that turned my mind to the subject of Bishops in general and Welsh ones in particular.

Dr Rowan Williams, a Welsh speaking Welshman, became Archbishop of Canterbury in 2002, the first to be appointed from outside the Church of England in modern times.  But he is something of an exception.

Lord Williams of Oystermouth, as he is now, gained a starred First in Theology at Cambridge followed by a D.PHil and a DD from Oxford.  He then joined the College of the Resurrection in Mirfield, Yorkshire, where he both trained and lectured, before returning to Cambridge as a lecturer in Divinity, and where he was ordained in 1976.  He returned to Oxford as Professor of Divinity before becoming Bishop of Monmouth in 1991 and Archbishop of Wales eight years later.

First Class degrees in Theology used to be quite normal amongst bishops in years gone by, but nowadays it’s rare to find a bishop with a degree in theology at all.  Certainly, the Church in Wales bishops have studied several different subjects but theology doesn’t come high in the list, if indeed it is there at all.

The next Archbishop of Wales will most likely be one of the remaining five and rather than being ‘chosen’ it seems more probable that it will a case of Buggin’s Turn or the next most senior bishop. 

That will be Bishop Andy of Bangor who was consecrated in 2008.  He was born in Wales, has learnt a sort of Welsh and read Law in Cardiff but then studied Theology for two years and Pastoral Studies for a year in Nottingham.  He is divorced from his first wife and has recently remarried one of his divorcée priests.  He is also a champion of Same Sex Marriage.

The trendy Bishop of Bangor on his recent wedding day

Next in line would be Bishop Gregory of St Asaph (c.2009) who is alleged to be the most ‘orthodox’.  Born in Wales but not into a Welsh speaking family, his first degree was in Law, at Oxford.  Then he studied theology at Cambridge and spent a year at the now defunct St Michael’s College in Wales.  He has one wife (a Roman Catholic) and three sons.  He, too, is a great champion of SSM.

The next three bishops are all much more recent appointments but on the other hand they are all women which may give them a great advantage.

Dr Joanna Penberthy was appointed Bishop of St David’s in 2013.  She was born in Wales though she is not a native Welsh speaker.  She has a BA from Cambridge but information about her doesn’t say in what subject so I am guessing it wasn’t in Theology.  She trained for the ministry in the evangelical Cranmer Hall, in Durham but her recent PhD (2019) degree was in Quantum Physics.  She is married to a Vicar and has one grandchild.

In 2017 Revd June Osborne was appointed Bishop of Llandaff in Cardiff having been Dean of Salisbury. She is described as a “ground breaking” figure — perhaps because she is not from Wales and speaks no Welsh and her degree, from Manchester, is in Social Sciences.  She, too, trained for the ministry in Nottingham and Cambridge and was a great committee member.  She is married to a barrister.

Left: Bishop of St David’s (the Quantum Physicist and Right the ground breaking Bishop of Llandaff

Finally, the Rt Revd Cherry Vann was appointed Bishop of Monmouth in 2020.  She is a graduate of the Royal Schools of Music and trained for the Ministry at Westcott House in Cambridge.  Before arriving in Wales she had no connection with the country or the culture whatsoever but she at least broke new ground by being the first lesbian bishop in a partnered same sex relationship.

I’m sorry to sound so negative about these five people.  I am sure they are exceptional human beings with all sorts of skills and talents and strengths that allow them to go about their daily lives lovingly and effectively. They undoubtedly run their offices and committees and finances much more efficiently than many of those saintly bishops of old; but they are not steeped in scripture, and they lack the deep fundamental biblical knowledge that would allow them to make wise judgements in a modern world.

I am dismissive of all of these Welsh bishops for a very good reason.  Despite their limited qualifications and their tiny congregations they seem to think they have some God-given right to re-write the Prayer Book in favour of same sex marriages in church in the sight of God.  They have been trying to force this on reluctant parishes for many years, most recently with —“A Bill to Authorise Experimental Use of Proposed Revisions of the Book of Common Prayer” at the end of December.  Despite the tremendous opposition in the Anglican Church throughout the world these few Bishops seem to think their learning and understanding trumps the wisdom of the ages. 

There is something vital here that these bishops, and many others like them, cannot understand. While telling themselves they are fighting a faith war they are merely engaged in a culture war. They have actually changed sides and it is a tragedy for all of us that this has happened.

*The Bishop of Llandaff, in these straightened times, has just appointed someone to “process correspondence.”   I’d like to assume that meant answering letters, except that the clergy don’t do that any more!

The Joy of Blogging Blogs

One of the most fascinating things about blogging is the ‘stats’. They’re the amazing statistics that tell me the countries where I have been read. Today I added them up and discovered I have had readers in 60 different countries. How about that! It sounds much more impressive than it really is. Influencers are read by millions and even humble blogs may reach hundreds of thousands. My readers only number a few hundreds. Readers in many countries, from Afghanistan to Uruguay, have only turned up once – probably by mistake. And I can’t really count New Zealand either, because I have a lot of family there. 

On the other hand I do appear to have one faithful reader in China, who has been following me for a year or more now. Of course, I don’t really know if it is one lone Welsh man or woman who suffers from ‘hiraeth’* occasionally, or whether it’s several people, of different nationalities, far from home. Perhaps it’s an English Language class taking it in turns to see what an elderly Brit has on her mind at the moment. Who knows? If it is someone other than an ex-pat I had better give more detail about Wales and Welsh in the future. 

Revd John Davies, Archbishop of Wales

For example, the Archbishop of Wales has just announced his retirement. In China people may be under the impression that all Archbishops in the Anglican church are pretty much the same, and have the same status and power as the Archbishop of Canterbury. The fact is, size matters and whereas Archbishop Justin Welby has 80 million Anglicans in the world who look to him, the present Archbishop of Wales only has ultimate responsibility for 42,500 people. That is why I get so incensed when he and his five other Bishops take it upon themselves to re-write basic Christian tradition.

Another thing my “Stats” tell me is how many people read which of my posts. For a long time the clear favourite was “Empty boxes, empty gestures, empty words” but recently there has been a post many, many times more popular so I am going to re-post it. It was called “Faith not Angst” and I posted it originally on May 22nd, 2020.

For the sake of today’s reader from Algeria I must explain that the boss of a Cathedral is not the bishop but the Dean. In Wales the Dean of one of the cathedrals hasn’t been seen anywhere near the place for almost a year. The Dean of Canterbury Cathedral, the Reverend Robert Willis, isn’t like that. For a start he is incredibly learned. Since the beginning of Lockdown he has delivered Morning Prayer every single day from somewhere in the Deanery Garden. Last week he took refuge in a greenhouse and we could hardly hear him for the rain beating on the roof. The next day he peered out from under an umbrella. Day after day he preaches the Gospel of Christ. He has never let us down. May God bless Dean Robert.

*Hiraeth – a Welsh word difficult to translate. Richard Burton described it as “a nameless longing for home.”

I don’t know how to re-post blogs so I’ve done a cut and paste job. The following is what I wrote on May 22nd last year, but without the photos of the Dean, the cats and the garden. You’ll have to scroll down through the blogs to find that. Better still, go to the Canterbury Cathedral website and watch all the episodes. You’ll be astounded at what you will learn.

Faith not Angst

“The Reverend Robert Willis, Dean of Canterbury, has been lifting my spirits, restoring my soul and making me feel far less of a Misfit every day since just after lockdown.  The team at Canterbury Cathedral who appear daily on line from various places around the cathedral precincts provide Morning and Evening Prayer as well as the Eucharist and Compline.  However, it’s the Dean who has stolen my heart.Every morning, no matter what chaos has been caused getting the day started — six of us in a three generation family, plus two puppies — the Dean, in his garden, gives me sanity, security and the assurance that God is in his Heaven and all’s right with the world, really.  With consummate skill, he draws together the reading for the day, the needs of the day, a special person or event of the day and the wonders of the Deanery garden in a particular spot every day.  All these elements are woven into the fabric of Morning Prayer, directly, simply and with eternal truth.

On Wednesday morning I found it unusually powerful. The reading was Luke, Chapter 7 vv. 2-10.

It is a story about a Roman officer in an army of occupation and his sick servant.  However, the soldier, a Centurion, is a man of wisdom and understanding.  Far from being a hated enemy he has taken a keen interest in the local people, their culture and religion and has even built a place in which they can worship their God.  He also keeps abreast of local affairs and has the sensitivity to listen when he hears of a remarkable man doing remarkable things.  As a man of authority he recognises authority in another.

As the Dean tells the story it is all about Faith.  Jesus himself says as much.  “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

Even as I was listening to the Dean amongst the irises the memory of another sermon on this story was bugging me.  At the same time, as I tried to concentrate on the 

prayers, two words from a poem were buzzing in my brain.  ‘Fools’ and ‘traps.’ Later, over a cup of coffee, my brain cleared and I remembered both the elusive sermon and the poem.  The sermon had been given in Liverpool Cathedral by Revd Jeffrey John in May 2016 and the poem was “If” by Rudyard Kipling.

After a lot of history about homosexuality in the Roman Army the point of Dr John’s sermon was not faith, but, because Jesus would have known the Centurion’s servant was gay, proof that Jesus loves gays. 

Here is the bit of the poem I was remembering:

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools . . .”

What I remember now of Dr John’s sermon was a complex convolution by an angry man. I still find those two lines of poetry most apt.”

Long may the Dean of Canterbury, in the company of his cats, continue to preach wisdom, truth and faith amongst the flowers.