Moving House

This blog has nothing to do with Lent, beyond showing the amazing possibilities in life if you believe you can. For me, it’s a trip down memory lane. Yesterday I saw this house on the BBC on-line news.

It is a 137 year old house in San Francisco which has been saved from demolition by its enterprising owner. Now it is on its way to a new site! Amazing? Well, yes, but I’ve seen it all before.

In early 1963 I was living in Lexington, Massachusetts which is an old town outside Boston. A very historical town because it’s where “the shot heard round the world” rang out on the morning of 19th April, 1775, heralding the start of the American Revolution. 

On one occasion while we were there I had to drive into Boston to pick up my husband and take him to the airport. A few miles out of the town, breasting (or perhaps chesting) the brow of a hill, I came upon a house in the middle of the road. I don’t mean a caravan or half a mobile home; I mean a whole house, complete with double garage and curtains in the windows! What’s more, after a few startled moments, I realised it was moving. At a snail’s pace it was proceeding down the road in front of me. Finally, the driver of the car behind me, who wasn’t in the state of shock I was in, overtook the house and roared away. With my courage in both hands I followed suit.

The next problem was my husband. ‘You’re late,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘There was a house in the way!’ As an excuse it sounded pretty feeble. Fortunately, one of his colleagues confirmed that I could be telling the truth.

The Minuteman statue on Lexington’s Battle Green

Lexington is steeped in history, centred on the Battle Green where that fateful and fatal first shot was fired. Around the Green there are elegant pre-revoltion buildings like the Buckman Tavern, the Monroe Tavern and the Harrington House. One summer I acted as a volunteer guide on the green and my description of the young, wounded Jonathan Harrington crawling up the front steps to die in his wife’s arms reduced Californian tourists to tears! That was when I discovered Californian history is so completely different from New England history they could have been two separate countries. 

The Hancok-Clarke House on Hancock Street, Lexington, MA

Many years later I was back in Boston and decided to drive my daughter out to see our old house. From the Green I drove up Hancock Street on my way to Blake Road. This was a road I took almost every day when I lived there and on my right as I drove out of town I would pass another famous house — the Hancock-Clarke house. John Hancock and Samuel Adams, two of the leaders of the militiamen, had been warned to expect trouble. They were taking shelter with the Reverend Clarke in the house that had once been home to John’s grandfather. It is also the house where Paul Revere stopped to give warning of the approach of the Redcoats as he took his famous ride towards Concord. As I drove past this famous piece of history in about 1980 I again came to an abrupt halt. The house was on my left.

‘Why have you stopped?’ asked my daughter. ‘That house,’ I said. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘It says it’s the Lexington Historical Society.’ ‘But it’s on the left! It should be on the right!’ I could see my daughter’s raised eyebrows in the rearview mirror. Clearly mother was beginning to lose it!

Time to phone a friend.

Yes, it was indeed the Hancock-Clarke house. Yes, it had been on the right hand side of Hancock Street as you went up from the town centre. Yes, it had been moved across the road — she thought a few years before; late seventies perhaps. But why? Why on earth would you move an ancient monument from one side of the road to the other?

Early in the last century it had been saved from demolition by being trundled across the road onto a piece of spare land. Seventy years later it had then simply been moved back to where it was when it had sheltered three American heroes: John Hancock, Samuel Adams and Paul Revere.  

Well, why not? Recent news suggests that Stonehenge was originally Welsh. Should we start agitating for the return of our stones? At least that would solve the problem of tunnelling under the A303.

Lent, Blue Peter Style

For readers outside the United Kingdom, I should explain about “Blue Peter”. The Blue Peter is a flag. It was flown from a ship in harbour to show that it was about to leave port and sail away. In 1958 it became the name of what has become the longest running children’s TV programme in the world. 

It was a well-chosen name. The programme aimed to sail the children watching it into other worlds outside the often severe limits of their own sitting rooms. It offered not only more exotic adventures, exiting everyday situations and an amazing number of things to do and make out of any oddments you might have cluttering up the house. Re-cycling, then in its infancy, took over where the “make do and mend” of the wartime years left off”

Animals, particularly cats and dogs joined the TV family to such an extent that John Noakes and Shep became household names. All sorts of animals made regular visits or became part of the family as pet-less children learned the ins and outs of animal care, and coped with mourning when well-loved characters died. There were all sorts of animals as well, including a turtle who joined the show regularly for 14 years. Then there was the visit of a baby elephant. That was the time the programme “went viral” in today’s parlance, when – to put it politely – if the elephant had been wearing a nappy/diaper he would have filled it!

A Blue Peter badge worn by proud watchers of the programme

What has Blue Peter to do with Lent? Several things. Like Lent it opened windows to new thoughts and ideas and shone light into hitherto dark, even frightening, places and situations. On a much lighter level it introduced a time honoured phrase that has entered the language. After cutting up plastic bottles, sticking yoghurt pots together, winding string or ribbon around this and that, one or other of the presenters would produce the finished item, securely glued, standing firm and true, and proudly announce, “Here’s one I made earlier.”

An Aloe Vera leaf and a sprig of a jade tree

I wonder how many “Here’s one (of whatever it may be) I made earlier,” there will be as a result of the Dean of Canterbury’s Lent Project? Poems, prayers, paintings, crafty items or even a Fairy Liquid rocket! Above is my latest effort. A leaf of aloe vera and a sprig of a jade tree.

And here are two I made earlier! Just look at the way the Aloe Vera is sprouting new plants all around the original leaf.

Silence, Study, Service

I did think of calling this blog “Shush”. It’s a word I use a lot because, even when sitting side by side, my granddaughters, aged 7 and 9, speak to each other in modified roars, as if still trying to communicate across a crowded classroom.

Three word slogans are popular at the moment. Did Archbishop Justin Welby start it with his wish that the Anglican church should be ‘Simpler, Humbler, Bolder”? Last Sunday, the last Sunday before Lent, Canon Philip Ursell, in an open church in Cardiff, St Martin’s in Roath, in his sermon, suggested the three words of the title — Silence, Study, Service — as a good guide for Lent.

Silence is perhaps the last thing people want to hear at the moment when so many are living in lonely isolation, listening to the radio, watching TV and talking to the wall. However, it caught my attention because I have been watching three programmes late evening on BBC Channel 4. ‘Retreat: Meditations from a Monastery’. These programmes seemed to take silence to another level; not just lack of sound but something positive.

” A servant with this clause  Makes drudgery divine: Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws,  Makes that and th’ action fine.” George Herbert. 

Have you ever been in an anechoic chamber? That’s the place to experience an utter and complete absence of sound. Alone in one, in the dark, I found it a terrifying experience. I ended up feeling my pulse and concentrating on my breath to reassure myself I was still alive!

Silence, in these monasteries, is the reverse. Apart from praying and singing in chapel and readings from The Rule of St Benedict during meals no one spoke. But it wasn’t just the lack of talk. I found myself listening to every other sound. The flip flop of sandaled feet in the long tiled corridors, the rattle of plates, the thump of kneading dough. Even a dripping tap and the slurp of honey filling a jar.

I now know why an iconographer was taking eggs from the kitchen

Study is a part of a monk’s daily life as is service. All kinds of service from the most humdrum tasks like cooking and cleaning to the beautiful work of an iconographer and a rosary maker. Some monks make their own clothes, others use carpentry, both creatively and DIY. One nice touch — the baker monk walked out into a wood to pick wild garlic, which he took back to the kitchen, pounded to a paste in a pestle and mortar, and created garlic butter.

I found myself more and more drawn in to this Silence. No radio, no TV, no chitchat.  Every task provided an opportunity for mindfulness and prayerfulness. The value of concentration was palpable. So much so, that as I watched a young monk filling the thurible with charcoal tablets sprinkled with frankincense I thought I could smell the incense.

I wouldn’t want to be without my hearing aids. I would miss the chatter around the supper table as we catch up on the day; I can still remember getting my first aid and suddenly hearing bird song. When noise gets too much I can cheat and take them out. Then it goes quieter. But it doesn’t come close to the profound and potent silence of the monastery.

The Dean’s Lent Project

Yesterday, Ash Wednesday, the Dean of Canterbury suggested a Lent Project. He calls us, his video watchers, his Garden Congregation, and his project is as simple and encouraging as everything else about his daily prayers.

The idea behind it is, naturally, taken from his garden. You take a little shoot and transplant it and care for it and it will root and sprout and become a plant in its own right. And don’t complain that you don’t even have a window box. The leaf off a jade tree or a leaf of aloe vera put in a jar of water will do just as well. In any case, that was just an illustration of the sort of creativity the Dean is thinking of.

First of all find a little notebook and down the left hand side of the page number the days of Lent. 46 days. 40 and 6 Sundays. Each day write down a word, an image, an idea, a person — something that’s on your mind. Now, do something creative with that word or phrase or whatever.

Simple!

Yes, it really is. You can use the talents you already have or find something to do that you didn’t know you could do. Thinking of a friend? Sit down and write to them on paper with a pen and POST it. When did you last get a cheering letter out of the blue through your letter box?  Write a poem. No, not something overwhelming like Milton’s Paradise Lost. A nursery rhyme, for example. After all, ‘Ring a ring of roses’ was thought to have been inspired by the Great Plague!

Painting? Well, drawing, then; that only needs a pencil and some paper. Nothing to see out of your window? Don’t make excuses — think Lowry and his stick men and women.

L S Lowry

You never know when some little thing will gain great importance.

My husband died just before Christmas and I have been amazed and heartened by the letters and messages of sympathy and condolence I have received. In this context one letter in particular stands out. At least 45 years ago Grete, the daughter of a colleague, needed a home for a few days and stayed with us. In her letter she remembered my husband’s kindness and then she said:

 “I must thank you for saving my life in lockdown. While I was staying with your family you taught me to crochet.”

That was certainly some shoot!

Yesterday, the Dean read Psalm 87 and verse 3. “Glorious things of thee are spoken, O city of God.” Talking of his project he quoted the last few words of that psalm. “All my fresh springs are in you.”

Now’s the chance for all of us to find some fresh springs. 

Ash Wednesday, 2021 Style

“One is nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth,” said Dorothy Frances Gurney.  That’s an encouraging thought for people who love gardens but, actually, it isn’t strictly true.  It’s one of those sweet, sentimental fallacies that can creep too easily into sweet, sentimental ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ type Christianity, as opposed to the ‘Jesus shaped’ Anglicanism that Archbishop Welby is now advocating.  That is something much tougher and more honest, and truly joyful rather than merely happy. 

Something else that isn’t true, though the bishops have been emphasising it during Lockdown, is the fact that we don’t need our churches, nor our cathedrals.  I beg your pardon, bishops; you are wrong!  I know perfectly well that God, being everywhere, doesn’t need man-made buildings — but we do. I certainly do. 

Today, 17th Feb. 2021, Ash Wednesday, the first day of what looks like being a churchless Lent. This is the closest I can get.

I can say my prayers at the kitchen table, just as Justin Welby offered the Eucharist in his kitchen last Easter.  I don’t need a Vicar and I don’t need to be ‘ashed’.  I don’t need pews, an altar, a lectern or a pulpit.  But I do appreciate being able to sit in a Sacred Space where quiet souls have been praying and repeating the psalms and meditating at least weekly for several centuries.  I don’t see visions and I don’t hear voices but I can sense an atmosphere of holy peace in the silence. 

Another thing that many of us are missing keenly is the singing.  In our Welsh church we have several members of various local choirs in the congregation so the singing is pretty special.  But it’s not just the music.  The words matter mightily.  With simple words and memorable tunes we repeat the words of Scripture until they are engraved on our hearts.

This morning was a case in point.  As one of the Dean of Canterbury’s “garden congregation” I listened to Psalm 87 v3. and 1 Timothy 6 v 12 and knew what they had inspired.  Even just reading these hymns and singing them in your head, in the church porch or at the kitchen sink, you learn a lot of the Gospels by heart without even realising it.  Which is a very good way to begin Lent.

Department of Gobbledegook and Obfuscation

I don’t know exactly where the DOGO is situated — perhaps in the depths of Whitehall or even, these days, on a windblown island in the Outer Hebrides. No, that’s not likely. People who live up there are tough, down-to-earth, realistic and clear sighted.

The Outer Hebrides where people call a spade a spade

However, even though I don’t know where that Department actually is I know it exists. 

Here is the proof:

“We also recognise that there is currently biological essentialism and transphobia present within elements of mainstream birth narratives and discourse. We strive to protect our trans and non-binary service users and healthcare professionals from additional persecution as a consequence of terminology changes, recognising the significant impact this can have on psychological and emotional wellbeing.”

Policy statement of the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust.

One sentence of a mere 35 words made to seem much more erudite by all those wonderful polysyllabics.

Surely this lilting prose must come from the same stable as that other Load of Lovely Flannel (Living in Love and Faith) from the Church of England that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.

“Secure in its roots, the Christian understanding of marriage has been sufficiently supple to respond to changing cultures, and suitably rich in meaning to all God’s gift to be received in different ages even if its purposes have been lived out with great clarity at some times more than others.”

One clear link between the NHS and the C of E is the Bishop of London, Rt. Revd Sarah Mullally, who was Head Nurse before ordination and is the lead bishop on the Living in Love and Faith production.

essentialism* — [uhsen-shuh-liz-uhm]

*a doctrine that certain traditional concepts, ideals, and skills are essential to society and should be taught methodically to all students, regardless of individual ability, need, etc. (My emphasis.) In other words even if you are never going to be in a situation where you will ever have anything to do with a transgender pregnant parent you’ve still got to be taught what vocabulary to use.

I’ve put this definition in for the sake of any readers who are as old as I am and for whom the word doesn’t roll as smoothly off the tongue as I’m sure it should. It isn’t in my SOD (Shorter Oxford Dictionary) but that dates back to 1970. How quaint! 

I’ll try and translate what I think the NHS means with their statement. 

At the moment there’s a skill shortage in Maternity Units — sorry, perinatal services. The midwives (that term will have to go) and nurses who are there are superb at delivering babies but their language leaves much to be desired. 

“Now, Mother. Are you going to be breast feeding?”

Heaven forbid. Using that language is downright persecution.

“Now, parent. Are you planning to chest feed?” will be quite acceptable. 

Mother, father, sister, brother — those words will all be banned, too. Parent and sibling will do. I don’t know how you cope with uncle and aunt. 

Devil’s Dyke in Sussex. Expect this to be renamed sometime soon.

We are in the midst of a global pandemic like never before. Hospitals and all the staff in them are stretched to the limit. Money is tight. Now is not the time to engage the services of exponents of any sort of alternative language. Now is not the time to start talking about psychological persecution — ridiculously emotive language — as the result of terminological changes. How much did all this New Speak cost? How many ‘pregnant’ (probably a banned word) transgender and non-binary people are we talking about in, say, a year? Surely, all that’s needed, in those rare circumstances, is for someone to forewarn the midwife/midperson involved to watch what they say. After all, workers in midwifery units are well educated and highly trained. If they spot that the human being in the delivery room is sporting a beard they’ll catch on quickly enough that the situation will need careful handling.

Simpler, Humbler, Bolder

Taken from an advert for Premier Chrisian Radio, February 3rd 2021

The Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury was on Premier Christian Radio today.  During the interview he announced his new Jesus-shaped vision for the church in 2021.  (I presume he was talking about the Church of England.)  In the light of all he has learned since the start of the pandemic he has come up with the slogan “Simpler, Humbler, Bolder.”

Thank God for that, say I!  It’s been a long time coming but simplicity, humility and boldness in the Anglican church will be warmly welcomed by many, if not most congregations

I will particularly welcome simplicity for a start because I have just been struggling with some more of the “Living in Love and Faith” document, produced by an assortment of bishops and others.  When it came out at the beginning of November last year I tried to read the summary and then wrote an unpublished blog called ‘Loads and loads of flannel’.  That tells you what I thought of it at the time. 

Recently, being housebound, I have been making another attempt to get to grips with ‘Living in Love and Faith.’ That is until I got to the following sentence:

“Secure in its roots, the Christian understanding of marriage has been sufficiently supple to respond to changing cultures, and suitably rich in meaning to allow God’s gift to be received in different ages, even if its purposes have been lived out with greater clarity at some times more than others.”

Apart from being 50 words long it’s also overloaded with too many polysyllabic words.  You don’t find many 50 word sentences in the Gospels. I would suggest the Archbishop begins, immediately (eufous), re-reading St Mark.

I’m still not quite sure what, exactly, the writers were trying to say.  Perhaps that was the whole point.  In fact, I think the whole of ‘LLF’ is a skilful mixture of gobbledegook and flannel, continuing the softening-up process until we all accept Same Sex Marriage as part of God’s new plan.

At least the six bishops in the Church in Wales, always ready to jump on any passing band wagon, seem to have taken up two bits of Justin Welby’s slogan even before he announced it. In the past I have often found them too lily-livered, slightly pompous and skilled in the art of obfuscation. Just before Christmas, simply and boldly they announced: A Bill to Authorise Experimental Use of Proposed Revisions of the Book of Common Prayer.

Headline from the Church Times

They blithely acknowledge that Scripture and Christian tradition have previously believed marriage to be between a man and a woman. 

“However,” they say, “with new social, scientific and psychological understandings of sexuality in the last one and a half centuries, we believe that same-sex relationships can be understood in a radically different way, and that the teaching of Scripture should therefore be re-interrogated.”

On second thoughts, with a sentence of 42 words, nine of which have three or more syllables, perhaps they are not expressing themselves as simply as all that. It is a bold sentence at any rate.

I’d welcome humble, too.  As many readers of my blog will know I am opposed to Same Sex marriage in church.  I’m afraid to say I have met with no humility on that subject.  Far from finding “good disagreement” the LGBT+ Chaplain of this diocese takes the attitude ‘like it or lump it.’  Regretfully, I have had to lump it because no one even wants to engage in any sort of discussion with me; nor wish to find out why I think the way I do.

Lastly, Bolder.  Oh, please!  At least allow the bold ones amongst us to go into Church during Lent to pray (behind masks) and praise (internally) and meditate together if we promise to sanitise our hands and stay two metres apart.  Well, distancing won’t be difficult, given the size of our church and the tiny number in the congregation.

Since some cathedrals have been open for vaccinations, complete with organ recitals, there shouldn’t be any reason to prevent spiritual vaccination as well.  I, for one, definitely benefit from a god-shot occasionally.

At last, Justin Welby has spoken out in praise of the wonderful Dean of Canterbury. Dr Robert Willis now has 40,000 tuning in to his on-line services of Morning Prayer, which he has been holding in his garden every single morning since lockdown began. 

I hope his Grace watches the programme; he’d learn a lot. However, he made one mistake.  He mentions the Dean’s cats and other animals who “kept on making un-invited appearances.”  Nonsense.  The cats all come and go as they please — they are in their own home, after all.  Tiger, the three legged cat (he lost a leg to cancer a few months ago) is the only cat especially invited by the Dean to accompany him when he takes shelter from the rain in a greenhouse.  All the other birds and animals are invited in and often given breakfast. 

You have to be pretty bold to preach in front of a congregation like this!

Most actors will tell you never to work with children or animals.  There’s certainly no room for pomposity or arrogance when you’re surrounded by Winston, Clemmie and their seven little pigs.  It was an incredibly bold idea to think of sitting in a garden, surrounded by a menagerie, and simply preach the Gospel, straight to camera with barely a note.  His message is delivered with simplicity.  And the Dean, no mean musician and hymn writer himself, frequently emphasises the joy of simple songs and poems.  Gospel stories and psalms, translated into simple songs and poems, are easy to learn by heart and remain forever in your memory. The amount of interesting information the Dean slips in is impressive. He was the one who taught me (and I bet many others) the word eufous and thanks to him I now know the correct way to pronounce ‘pericope’. (I’d been saying perry-cope.)

Simpler, humbler, bolder.  Yes, Archbishop.  We’re with you, and the dear Dean, every step of the way.

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.