A note from the Vicarage...

December 2023

The signs were all there.

Everything had slowed down. Some apps wouldn’t work at all. I kept getting

messages that certain functions were ‘no longer supported.’ And there were

frequent ‘crashes’.

Yes; I had to face the inevitable. The time had come for my old computer to

be ‘upgraded’, in the language of the technology corporations of this world.

Which really means replacing it with a new one.

It’s been said that changing your computer is like moving house. And it’s true.

You accumulate hundreds – thousands – of documents, pictures, emails, links

to websites, saved passwords, music and video files, and all the rest. Your

computer gets extremely full of stuff. And you have to decide what you want

to move to your new computer ‘house’ (which is quite a major operation) and

what you should really get rid of.

Mmm. That’s the difficult bit.

None of this stuff is real in a physical sense, of course. It all exists only as

tiny electrical charges in a memory chip or on a hard drive. But, at the same

time, it is very real. Accumulated memories. Significant documents.

Priceless photographs. Things that are very much part of your identity. Just

what might you lose if you let some of it go? Will something Awful and

Terrible happen?

The computer itself doesn’t help in this situation, of course. Computers are

very happy for you to put things in the Recycle Bin or Trash. But when it

comes to emptying these ‘bins’ they get quite concerned. Shocked, even.

“Are you sure?” they ask us, apprehensively. “This action cannot be

undone,” they tell us, ominously. “You don’t really know what you’re doing, do

you?” they imply, smugly.

But it’s decision time. You know that that old computer just has to go. So you

have to decide what is important, current, relevant and must be kept; and

what is outdated, trivial and no longer needed or necessary.

And press ‘delete.’

It’s a good analogy for life, especially as we move from the old year to the

new. We can store lots of stuff in our heads and hearts, some of which just

weighs us down, and which we need to let go of in order to move on. We

need to create ‘space’ for both the enriching memories of the past and the

new experiences of the present and future.

And at times we also need an upgrade for our souls and spirits – which are in

fact infinitely upgradeable, and for which support is always available, as the

story of Christmas reminds us. Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year,


With every blessing,


November 2023

I had to visit my dentist some time ago. You’ll notice ‘had to.’ It’s not

something that we tend to do if we don’t have to, is it? Anyway, I had a

broken tooth. So off I had to go.

And something amusing happened when I got there. As soon as I entered the

waiting room, steeling myself for the ordeal ahead, a man sitting there raised

his voice and spoke to everyone present.

“I hope he hasn’t come to give me the last rites!”

Everyone laughed. And I quickly replied, “Well, I will if you want. I’m always

happy to help!” Everyone laughed again. The receptionist said, “I bet that’s

the first time that that’s happened to you in a dentist’s.” She was right. It was.

It happened, of course, because I was still in clerical garb. I was ‘in uniform,’

so to speak. I was recognisable as a priest. And what do priests do? Well,

give the last rites, apparently. I found myself wondering what that chap might

have said if someone in another kind of uniform were to turn up. A firefighter?

A paramedic? A police officer? Probably some witty remarks about his

mouth being on fire, or his needing the kiss of life, or that the police had come

to arrest the dentist for incisor trading (sorry). But, faced by a real live priest,

he joked about… dying.

Reflecting on it, as I sat waiting for my own appointment with dentistry, I found

myself feeling a bit miffed. The vast majority of any priest’s work is to do with

the living. Why should someone’s first thought when I enter the room be to

connect me with dying?

But then, one of the privileges of my vocation is that I get to spend time with

people at significant moments in their lives. I get to accompany people

through rites of passage – births, baptisms, confirmations, marriages,

anniversaries; all kinds of celebrations and good times. And through very

difficult times – illness, suffering, breakdown; crises of all kinds. And yes,

through dying, death and bereavement. All because, fundamentally, a priest

deals with life – life that is in every case priceless, and life that continues, I

believe, beyond the door that we call death.

What are commonly known as the last rites (properly called the

‘commendation at the time of death’) include the words ‘Go forth on your

journey from this world, O Christian soul…’ It’s been my privilege to have said

those words with people facing their own final door on quite a number of

occasions. On further reflection, I decided that I didn’t mind at all being seen

as someone who could be a companion on that particular journey. The One

behind the door is the embodiment of love, and offers a place where there is

no more pain, distress, or loss.

The last I saw of the witty bloke was when he went through the surgery door

to meet his, er, fate, with his dentist. I do hope that he found it a fulfilling

experience. I didn’t get asked for my professional help, anyway…

With every blessing,


October 2023

I’ve met many, many interesting characters in my time. I’ve been thinking about one

of them recently. I’ll call him Dave. It’s not his real name.

I got to know Dave in my late teens. He used to go, as I did back then, to a weekly

folk club in a northern town near where I used to live. He was a nice guy; just a bit

‘different.’ Every week he used to perform a traditional song. And every week –

without fail – he used to forget the words about halfway through. He also played the

guitar. In his own, er, unique way.

Now, before the club got started every week, those of us who were instrumentalists

would arrive early and have a bit of a ‘session.’ You know, that impromptu thing

where Irish and Scottish jigs and reels are played and people generally have a good

time. Dave, as you might suspect, generally played along. This caused the rest of us

a few problems. His sense of rhythm left something to be desired. And his choice of

chords was interesting, to say the least. One particular occasion sticks in my

memory. We were playing a rollicking tune, and we all became aware that the

chords emanating from Dave’s guitar were cutting right across the feel of it. In

exasperation, a friend of mine, also a fiddle player, turned round and yelled at him,

“It’s in A minor!” Dave’s reply will forever be imprinted in my mind. He shouted back

over the music,

“Not necessarily!”

‘Not necessarily’?! Well, that’s certainly an alternative view of music and what it

means for musicians to play together. You see, a tune’s either in A minor or it isn’t.

There's no debate about it. True, different chords can be used to create interesting

effects and arrangements. But the whole point of a session is that everyone works

together to make a great sound with whatever tunes happen to come out

spontaneously. You have to listen constantly to the others and to whoever happens

to be taking the lead at the time so that your own playing can add to the sound and

the feel of the music. Not take away from it. But Dave’s approach wasn’t quite like


It was important for Dave that he was there, and could join in. He felt a sense of

belonging. However, we – the rest of us there – couldn’t help feeling a sense of

frustration. But the story begs the much wider question: just how do you deal with

someone who has an alternative way of looking at things? As many do, you could

take the easy way out, and write them off as a crackpot. Perhaps you might try to

avoid them. Or you could engage in dialogue, and try to find some common ground

together. I think you know which of the options I prefer.

With every blessing,


September 2023

Holiday stories…

I like the story of a family who took a holiday near the sea. One day they went

on a boat trip around the coast and nearby islands. They were having a really

good time. Their 8 year old son was standing on the seat at the side of the

boat, enthralled and excited by the sensation of surging along so close to the

waves. The sea became rather rough, however, and, realizing the danger of

him being thrown out, the parents told their son to sit down. ‘No,’ he replied,

‘I’m fine.’ His parents insisted. ‘Sit down now, please. It’s too rough.’ ‘No!’

he said, stubbornly. ‘I’ll be OK!’ A large wave splashed against the side of the

boat, and the vessel heeled over suddenly before righting itself. ‘Sit down at

once!’ his father said, pulling him down onto his seat. The boy stuck his

bottom lip out, folded his arms dramatically, and announced petulantly, ‘I may

be sitting down on the outside, but on the inside I’m still standing up!’

It reminds me of one the stories told about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German

pastor and theologian (and friend of Bishop George Bell of Chichester) who

opposed the Nazi regime and was executed by them in 1945. One day he

and a friend were sitting in a café when the German national anthem was

played over the Tannoy. It was expected that everyone should stand as a

sign of respect for the Führer. Bonhoeffer stood up, much to the dismay of

his friend. But Bonhoeffer insisted that his friend stand also. When the music

finished, and they took their seats again, his friend asked why. Bonhoeffer

simply said, ‘There’s a time to stand, and a time to sit. This time it wasn’t

worth dying for.’ He was standing up on the outside, but on the inside he was

still sitting down.

But only on this occasion – because he had a greater fight in mind. He went

on to ‘stand on the edge’ in all sorts of ways, swimming against a massive

tide, speaking out for the truth; not for the thrill of it, but because it was the

right thing to do.

Sometimes we, too, need to stand on the edge, even though the ride may be

choppy, even though voices may be raised against us – because it’s the right

thing to do. Truth and justice, and the rights of others, demand no less.


And now for something completely different. I’m delighted to announce that

from this month of September I’ll be holding a monthly ‘Vicar’s Surgery’ at

the Fernhurst Hub. Do drop in if you’d like to discuss something, for advice,

or just for a chat. I’ll be there on the first Thursday of each month, from

10:30am until around 12:00, starting on 7th September. I’m very grateful to the

Hub for giving me space for this initiative.

Another ‘heads up’ – on Sunday 1st October at 10:00am we’ll be having a

special Pet Service at St Peter’s Lynchmere, for pets and companion

animals. All animals (we’ve had ponies before now!) are welcome at this

friendly service of blessing and prayer.

With every blessing,


July/August 2023

When I was a young musician, it was often challenging to make ends meet.

Joke – what’s the difference between a musician and a large pizza? You can

feed a family of four with a large pizza….

So, I worked for a time in a garage, helping to fix cars . And there were often

interesting encounters with the cars and their owners.

One day a car pulled in with a noisy engine problem. As I opened the bonnet,

I became aware that the car was warm. Very warm indeed. It had obviously

been driven a considerable distance before arriving at the garage. So, in the

interests of making conversation, I joked to the owner. “So, where have you

just come from? Scarborough?”

The look on the owner’s face was priceless. “How on earth did you know?”

he said. “Is, er, is there some sand under the bonnet?”

Yes, that’s right. Unbelievably, he had actually driven from Scarborough.

Clearly, I didn’t have a clue about where he’d come from. Scarborough was

simply the first place that came into my head. And no, there wasn’t any sand

under the bonnet. But, at this precise point in the conversation, I had a

choice. I could have adopted the old ‘lofty mystical mechanic whose vast skill

and experience enables him to unfold mechanical mysteries that mere mortals

can only gasp at’ stance. Or I could be honest and admit that it was simply a

shot in the dark.

No choice at all, of course. I told him the truth, and we had a good laugh

about it.

But, actually, we all face with this kind of choice from time to time. During a

conversation, we might take a shot in the dark which turns out to be on target,

and then have to decide whether or not we’re going to act as though we really

do know what we’re talking about. And, perhaps, act as though we’re slightly

superior. Which, er, we’re not.

A Shot in the Dark. That’s the title of a great film in the ‘Pink Panther’ series

starring the hugely gifted Peter Sellars as Inspector Clouseau, the bumbling

French detective who occasionally quite by chance stumbled on the truth, but

believed himself to be a genius because of it.

Clouseau was, of course, an idiot. And, thankfully, purely fictitious.

With every blessing,