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!

CH ** CH …What’s Missing?

That’s right. You are; so am I. Regular church goers have been missing from our churches since the beginning of Lockdown; not willingly but by command of our bishops, who chose to lock our churches against us, despite government advice that they could stay open with safeguarding measures in place. Thank God the supermarkets were more efficient or we would all have starved.

I will leave out all the stuff about the Church not being a building but its people; that is repeated so often it is becoming trite. Church communities have been doing sterling work individually to keep the “show” — if not on the road — at least on line, but it’s not enough.

Front page headlines in The Times (L) and Daily Telegraph (R)

Of churches and spiritual life — not a word!

Beginning yesterday, Monday 22nd June, churches may now open for private prayer.  Last week our local Vicar sent out a 14-page downloadable booklet from the bishop. This we were to read and discuss, on a Forum, on how we can do this safely. In our church, this means how to keep 2 or 3 very old ladies safe in a building that can seat 200. 

In the many weeks of lockdown one might have thought the bishops, the diocesan office, the people who wrote the booklet and the individual vicars could have put plans in place in plenty of time for this day. After all, the local clergy are the ones who know the size of their churches, the odd nooks and crannies that could be safely used for private prayer and, most importantly, the people in their congregations who would be likely to respond to this opportunity.

I would love to be able to go into the church I have been at home in for 30 years but I won’t. I don’t want to cause so much trouble and bother to all the able bodied members of the congregation who will have to get the 14 pages of the safety measures put in place.

Also, I have taken the words of Bishop Gregory, of the Diocese of St Asaph in North Wales, very much to heart. 

“It is very important that we do not make the re-opening of churches a free for all…”

A “free for all”? What planet is this man on? What church is he Bishop in?

Jesus says “knock and the door will be opened to you …” (Luke 11.9) unless the bishop has locked it.

Holman Hunt’s ‘The Light of the World

 Jesus also says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”  (Matthew 11.28)

I can’t think of a time since the end of the Second War when people have been more weary and burdened, and grieving and fearful or more in need of spiritual peace. To paraphrase George Herbert, “Love bade me welcome, but the bishops drew back.”

Rugby Sermon

I had intended to make one of my rare appearances in my village church last Sunday morning but clearly the Holy Spirit had other ideas. My old fashioned clock was running an hour slow so I got a much more interesting sermon by staying home and watching the Rugby World Cup.

There is so much more to watching sport than just sitting in front of a TV screen cheering or groaning as your favourite team wins or loses. It can be both a thought-provoking and a spiritual experience.

The game I watched was Wales v Australia in Pool D. It was an excellent match, ending on a most satisfying cliff hanger. We — I speak for Wales — were ahead by 4 points but in the last ten minutes it looked as if Australia were very likely to get another try and win by one point. There were many terrific, unrelenting struggles on the touch line. Exactly the sort of situation where tempers can fray, but they didn’t. Far from it.

At one point, a few minutes from the finish, both George North and an Aussie player leapt high into the air for the ball. It slipped through George’s fingers into the hands of his opponent, who then tripped and fell to the ground. The ball rolled into touch.

Were you watching? Did you see what happened next? George held down his hand to his fallen opponent and helped to haul him to his feet. As they walked back together George ruffled the other man’s head and they grinned at each other.

I can’t see that sort of thing happening during a meeting of the General Synod of the Church of Englalnd. It’s even less likely in the Church in Wales. From all I’ve read, and I’ve read a lot of the discussions in Synod, if I were there I would have many opponents. Anyone who supports Same Sex Marriage and all the other sex/gender shenanigans would undoubtedly consider me to be a homophobic bigot lacking any compassion. In which case, I suspect they would be more likely to push me over than give me a helping hand, and, when I staggered to my feet, would trip me up again.

That’s the difference between the Welsh Rugby Union and the Anglican Church in Britain. The former may be gentlemanly hooligans but they know there is a strict rule book which must be obeyed. Of course, the players will try what they can get away with when the Ref isn’t looking — the odd sly shove or a muttered rude word — but the players and the spectators know there are consequences for broken rules. You can get a Penalty against your whole team or you can end up in the Sin Bin.

It’s quite otherwise with the Church. For a start Anglican bishops don’t really do sin any more. Not only do the senior clergy not get penalised for disobeying the rules but they are much more likely to get promoted. It’s the traditional law-abiding Parish priests who land in the Sin Bin or act as scapegoats.

Could it be that falling church numbers have a lot to do with our competing love of sport. We admire and respect our top sports men and women for their single-minded devotion and dedication to what they love. Few of them would take time off from training to waste time on Brexit. It’s different for Bishops. Having thrown away the rule book they don’t know what else to do. Organise a fun-fair or a fashion show, perhaps.

**Computer problems, so no pictures I’m afraid though I do have a lovely one, on my screen, of George North racing for the touch line