My letter to members of General Synod @GenSyn #Synod

Dear Member of General Synod

I don’t normally write to those I don’t know about matters of concern, but as a General Synod representative I hope you don’t mind me contacting you regarding the forthcoming debates on Women Bishop’s, particularly as they pertain to what has become known as the ‘Archbishop’s Amendment’.

I have no idea of your own personal views on this subject, but as a lay minister in Diocese of Winchester I hope you don’t mind me sharing with you my concern that Synod may opt to try and change the proposed legislation from one which seeks to delegate powers of future women bishops, to one which would transfer powers from women bishops (and others).

Of particular concern is the fact that trying to amend the legislation in this way would delay the process of enabling women to become bishops still further. The legislation would need to be referred to the diocese’ again, but the evidence of voting in the diocese’ is that the amendment would not get the support it needs to return to the General Synod, and thus the extra time used would be wasted, as the process would then be no further forward that we are now.

The reality of the situation seems to be that the legislation currently before General Synod is the “best” compromise possible. I would encourage you therefore to at least abstain from the vote for the motion put forward by the Diocese of Manchester (to seek a change to legislation towards transferred powers), and to feel able to support the motion of the Diocese of Southwark (which asks Synod to request the House of Bishops not to amend the legislation further).

My thanks for taking the time to read my short request in the knowledge that you will give the matter fair consideration.


(This letter has been sent in person to General Synod members who I know, or who live in my area.)

If you don’t understand what this refers to, please try reading some of these

  • links here (now a NEW post from the Church Mouse – he and I posted almost simultaneously on the subject, but he’s cleverer and gives a full explanation of the situation),
  • here (WATCH – Women and the Church)
  • here (an old, somewhat tongue in cheek summary from Revd Lesley of why some people don’t want women bishop’s – which led me to ask for better links for the Anglo-Catholic view, which good Twitter friends obliged with.)
  • So for sensible explanations of the Anglo-Catholic viewpoint please read what Forward in Faith say (thanks to @TheRevdDr) and this from @EdwardBGreen.

Like old jars used for a fresh purpose – John 2:1-11 (Wedding at Cana)

The terra cotta pots of Whichford Pottery, Shipston-on-Stour

It seems that I’m getting to preach alcohol related sermons. My last sermon involved a bottle of champagne; today’s started with me making sloe gin and went on to feature terracotta pots! It was also the first that I can remember when I was using a passage I’ve preached on before, though a short 8am Morning Prayer sermon is very different from that for a summer Sunday family service.

This time I deliberately chose to look at a slightly less obvious element of story of Jesus’ first miracle – the Jewish ceremonial jars. I was told it was very thought provoking, which is why I’m posting it here. I’d be interested to know what you think?

Over the last few months I’ve been busy changing a crystal clear liquid into something that has the deep ruby red colour of a good wine. But before you worry, before you suspect me of having heretical notions above my station, what I’ve actually been doing is adding sloe’s from the hedgerow to some gin!

I had a quantity of gin to hand though tucked away being ignored, and last years heavy crop of all flowering fruit extended to our hedgerows. The two things were very easy to work with, and with a little help from some sugar the sloe’s have changed the gin quite dramatically in colour and taste.

This morning’s Gospel reminded me of the process: it takes three months in a darkened cupboard (and a certain amount of straining through fine material) to produce a good bottle of sloe gin. From stories I’ve heard about demi-john’s spectacularly popping their corks, I’ve a sneaking suspicion that making wine is far more tricky!

Jesus though, doesn’t worry about any of that. When the social crisis of running out of wine at a family wedding occurs, he’s not even nipping back to his own house to grab a few bottles out the cupboard – which is probably what you and I would do today if the off-license was closed!

No, Jesus was far more subtle than that. And what he did, even though it was somewhat against his initial judgement, has been found to be loaded with meaning ever since.

He asked the servants to fill some old jars with fresh water…  That was all.

Big old jugs, sat in the corner not being used for the celebrations, and some nice cool, fresh water. That’s all…. Because you see, even Jesus, needed something to work with!

Jesus’s first recorded miracle was no magic trick that plucked something out of seemly thin air. It used what was available; the most suitable items to hand.

We’re told that this was “the first of the signs that revealed his glory”, that showed who Jesus really was, that unveiled God’s new creation. The old Jewish ceremonial jars filled with sparkling fresh water, turned into a distinctly superior wine, were of course to become signs of

  • a new covenant replacing an old one that God had made with Israel, revealing his true glory;
  • of the need to be filled with the living water of new life in Christ that was now starting to shine it’s light in the world;
  • of the sacrifice of his own lifeblood that Jesus would ultimately make on the cross.

But Jesus needed the old jars, the fresh water AND the people to fill them, before he could show us any of that.

And I want to suggest this morning, s that Jesus still needs something to work with, to show the world what he’s come to do!…  He’s got us to work with!!

Now, please don’t take offence, but I think we’re a bit like the old ceremonial jugs or jars that Jesus plucked out of obscurity for his first miracle.

Of course, we’ve been used before. There are probably innumerable times when in the past, we’ve each been filled with the water of enthusiasm for some new task, hopefully inspired by God, or our response to Jesus’s impact on our lives. In each case I’m sure we’ve been put to good use, hopefully revealed a little of his glory.

I don’t want to worry you, but it’s going to happen again! If the old water in the bottom of this “Rac” shaped jug is getting a bit stale then the chances are Jesus is going to get it filled back up with fresh water and put it to new use. Equally, it may be that what you’ve been doing in response to God feels like it’s ticking along quite nicely thank you and isn’t finished yet, but don’t bank on it!

When the water was turned to wine, the servants picked the old jars up and took them, filling them to the brim with fresh water at Jesus’s request. There was nothing the jars could do to stop it happening – they’re just big heavy earthenware pots after all; they could hardly run away! Our faith in Christ, means we’re not running anywhere either – we’re here ready for him to use.

There may well be a time coming soon, when someone is going to come to us, perhaps give us bit of a metaphorical cleaning out, and fill us up with some fresh idea or task. It might be the vicar or another church leader who sees us with fresh eyes, and envisions something new emerging for which we could be used. It could be a friend, who knows your hidden talents and suggests to you that they could be freshened up, and put to a new use. Whatever it is, if God’s got any part of it, we won’t have much choice – it WILL happen!

When the servants put fresh water in the old jars, it wasn’t to make the jars feel better! It was because Jesus had a task for that water; it was there to be changed, and the change in the water would change the jars themselves – they could never be used for their old purpose again!

Think about it – earthenware pottery, even if it’s glazed, tends to be slightly porous. If anything with a strong colour or taste is put in the pot, the flavour affects what it is made of in a way that changes it, even if only subtly. If we use a terra cotta pot as an example – fill it with water, and it will eventually dry out with no change, if emptied. Fill it with soil, and it’s never quite the same again – there’s always a bit of dirt or stain left, however hard you try and scrub it clean again afterwards!

Wine in a ceremonial earthenware jar would have a similar effect. Once the water in those jars was changed to wine, those jars would never quite lose the taste, and possibly the stain of that wine. They would never be quite the same again. If we are like the jars being filled with something fresh that God is going to use in this world, then we will be changed by God’s action in and through us – that is part of the work of the Holy Spirit. Again, there’s no point fighting it: if Jesus command’s us, we will be changed.

But of course, the wine, wasn’t in the jars for the benefit of the jars, or the servants who had filled them with water. It was designed

  • to refresh the guests, several days into a lengthy wedding celebration;
  • to reveal to those that were part of the miracle, that Jesus’ time of mission and ministry in the world was starting;
  • as that first step in revealing God’s glory to the whole world, that we thought about earlier.

Although the gifts that Jesus fills us with will change us, they are not actually for our benefit! Jesus wants to use us, and may be take us out of what we’re doing and do something new, or differently, something exciting, something that will bring refreshment to people’s lives, and point back to him. It might not be today, or tomorrow, but we guarantee ourselves that it will happen.

As we take a few moments of silence now, let us consider our lives. In our minds eye, see Jesus directing someone to take us, and fill us with fresh water,… and then, watch as we are poured out,… revealing something that may be of surprise to others around us but which will refresh them,… and leave us changed for ever for God’s glory!

[Image notes: You can visit the fine workshops at Whichford Pottery and watch their huge terracotta pots being made.]

RUSH to build film set ignores planning conditions

Set construction for RUSH at Blackbushe 17th Jan 2012

Well the news that I outlined in my morning addenda to yesterday’s post are confirmed by the photograph’s I took an hour ago.

Work is progressing fast on construction of the film set for the feature film RUSH. It would appear from the photograph’s that they are constructing the “72m run of pit garages”.

Are security and safety measures properly observed at construction of the RUSH set at Blackbushe?

This would appear to be in direct contravention of the conditions of the planning decision issued by the case officer on 12th January, where it stated

no development could take place for a p21 day period commencing the date that this permission is issued, to comply with Section 28l of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, as amended

With this in mind, I have made Natural England (the relevant statutory authority who raised the need to issue this legal requirement when they objected to the planning proposal) aware that the planning conditions have been broken. I am awaiting their response.

I am also aware that Yateley Town Council are aware of the situation and have alerted Hart District Council’s Enforcement Officers to this breach of planning conditions. Town Councillors have told me by email that they were assured by the Case Officer at Hart District Council that

should planning officers use delegated powers and decide to grant permission to the film company, no work could be started for 21 days

Film set construction viewed from the Public Right of Way (RUSH on Blackbushe 17th Jan 2012)

These photo’s increasingly question the integrity of the film maker Ron Howard and his team, and their stated intention to (and I quote from their mailshot through my door this morning)

establish relationships with people in the nearby community such that we can respond to an particular needs or wishes.

If the obvious planning condition breaches are not enforced I believe this also brings into severe question the processes and integrity of our local planning department, their paid officials, and elected officers. Already I have seen first hand accounts of people who have contacted the Planning Department at Hart District Council and been treated rudely and with distrust.

Does this lighting protect nocturnal wildlife? (RUSH 17th Jan 2012)

Two additional issues spring to mind from the photographs that I’ve taken:

  • I could not see any visible site security or safety precautions in place – not an inch of red tape anywhere;
  • I wondered whether the lights shown in the photo (left) comply with Hampshire County Council’s Senior Ecologist’s wish that

in order to protect nocturnal life, I advise that any nocturnal lighting used, during both the proposed construction and filming, is directional and uses hooded lamps in order to prevent light spillage into the habitats adjacent to the runway

Hart District Council rush through the RUSH job at Blackbushe!

Unusual measuring activities on the old tarmac crossing of Blackbushe Airport 13th Jan 2012

Well, it seems I thought wrong. Apparently you don’t need an accurate proposal to get a planning application granted.

On Thursday 12th January Hart District Council enabled its planning officer to approve ‘on the nod’ (without the matter going to a full planning meeting of local councillors) plans to film RUSH on the disused areas of Blackbushe Airport.

This appeared to ignore the objections of statutory authorities like Natural England and Hampshire CC Rights of Way, who outlined the ways in which the application had not met with the basic requirements of any application to use the site.

My understanding is that work on construction of the set cannot start until 21 days from 12th January, during which time it is possible for Natural England (or another interested party) to lodge an objection with the Secretary of State for the Environment on the grounds that the applicant has not carried out the necessary environmental surveys, and is intent on constructing things (however temporarily) on common land.

The sort of bush I find fascinating. There's a bird there, but you can't see it as my camera isn't that good!

Presumably, unless this happens, work on building the RUSH set will commence on or after 2nd February 2012 (assuming I’ve counted to 21 accurately).

However, on Friday 13th January I saw people appearing to measure out the 300m length of tarmac that the set is proposed to cover (see photo above), so it would seem that all possible preparations are being made in advance. But I also saw a rare heathland bird (not visible in the photo, left), keeping up appearances as it were!

Perhaps, if you’re a film company wanting to spend significant money in the local economy, the legal niceties of sticking to rules are more easily navigated than you or I might experience in our own lives. Or perhaps, there is some other over-riding reason for ignoring the objections of statutory authorities and laws.

Or perhaps I’m just becoming cynical in my old age?!


Tues 17th Jan 11:26am: Reports by email that set construction started yesterday with lorries unloading significant equipment – I will take camera and check later. What happened to the condition of planning permission dated 12th January that

“no development could take place for a p21 day period commencing the date that this permission is issued, to comply with Section 28l of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, as amended”

Tues 17th Jan 9am: Rush Films Ltd are obviously assuming (or know) that no further objections will be lodged as today they have hand delivered information leaflets to houses on the local Wordsworth estate (at least) explaining the film and filming process, and asking for those interested in being Extras on the set to contact them. Those wanting to take part will be expected to supply photographs of themselves and if successful grow their hair to fit better with the period (1976).

The Location Management team can be contacted regarding all matters relating to the set construction, filming, access and local environment and by potential supporting artists on

A ruby beauty – sloe gin

Home made sloe gin - bottled 13th Jan 2012

Today was the day. An appropriate day – if you know me well, you’ll know why

It was the day that the two kilo sweet jar was dragged from the back of the shed cupboard, and the husband sacrificed an un-holy hanky.

It was the day assigned to strain the ruby beauty… and then taste it!

The ruby beauty of course being this winter’s batch of home made sloe gin 😉

I have previously blogged my long association with gin, and last year’s first ever attempt at making sloe gin. This year, I used the same ingredients of sloes, sugar, almond essence and gin as last year. But I actually had to go out and buy gin (I wasn’t going to sacrifice my Tanquery, even for this), finishing up with a 1.5l bottle of my local supermarket’s best!

Sieving the sloe gin through the husband's hankie!

The fact that this year’s vintage has a far deeper flavour and colour is, I suspect down to two things:

  • the much later date at which I picked the sloes (the end of September) when they were far riper, and a deeper colour;
  • and the fact that I froze them – they were still frozen when I dropped them in the sweet jar  and poured the other ingredients over them (a tip given me this spring by Fr Timothy of Alton Abbey)! I think the act of freezing breaks down the tough skin of the sloes, and so enables more of it’s juice to be released.

So, there you have it. Or at least you don’t; but I do! Cheers 🙂


Reflections after two years of Reader ministry

My Reader colleagues and I at our licensing October 2009

I’ve been aware recently of various conversations about Reader Ministry on a thread of conversation at Lay Anglicana. A while back Doug Chaplin also blogged on why we bother with Reader’s in the C of E,  and to some extent it’s relationship with the permanent diaconate.

Having just completed Reader Ministry Duty Card for 2011, and realising I’ve now achieved two full calendar years in this ministry. The full break-down is here Reader Ministry Stats 2010-11 (RH) and includes some specific reflections on what the statistics of my own ministry tell me, and what they don’t tell you. They are rather practical and parochial, and I’m not sure how much will be relevant in parishes other than St Peter’s Yateley.

However, in the greater scheme of things here’s some other thoughts:

FIRSTLY: I will say for the record what I’ve probably said elsewhere: many people, both connected and unconnected with Anglican churches, don’t understand what the term “Reader” means. Before my colleagues and I were licensed there hadn’t been any here for years, and explaining what we were doing often took some while! More recently, and especially in funeral ministry, people just see the ‘vicar’ or ‘minister’ and don’t have the time or the mental energy in this situation to want to understand what a ‘Reader’ is. I swiftly adopted the title ‘lay minister’ and always explained that I wasn’t ‘THE VICAR’ (especially since we didn’t have one for nearly a year). I still got listed on one family’s phone book as ‘Vicar of Dibley’ though, and that was before they saw me in a cassock and surplice!

SECONDLY: Reader ministry varies hugely from person to person, and parish to parish, and probably from diocese to diocese. If people work full-time in secular employment (as two of my colleagues here do) then they’re not going to be able to undertake the quantity of commitments that I’ve had recently. As with all ministries each person will also have their own strengths and preferences. If you look at Emma’s Blog you’ll someone with a totally different style of ministry to mine (more orientated to family support and children’s work) and yet we are both ‘Readers’ or ‘Lay Ministers’ depending on your preferred terminology. For me this is part of the richness of ministry that Emma outlines here – and enables our calling to grow, develop and change over time, depending on our own and our parish’s needs, as well as God’s will of course 😉

THIRDLY: I’d suggest that those involved in licensed ministries that involve teaching, preaching and general pastoral work, and who are not called to the priesthood, need to be drawn together under that title ‘Licensed Lay Minister’. This would be a way of helping people understand what it is we are and do. For this reason it should also be done in every diocese in the Church of England. But we all know how long and drawn out a process such a change could entail. The last (revised) report on Reader Ministry was Reader Upbeat issued in 2009, and yet after an initial flurry of interest I’ve not heard much actually happening about it’s recommendations, at least from my Diocese (but then at present we are just finishing a vacancy in see, so that may change!)

FINALLY: The areas of ministry where I feel I am currently most effective are in preaching, taking funerals and creating (occasionally) bespoke acts of worship. By ‘effective’ I mean the places where I best enable people to experience God speaking into their lives, or where I enable God to be represented in some way. At some point in the future I know I need to stretch myself in these areas, particularly:

  • to re-visit some of the variety of preaching techniques we tried in Reader Training but which I’ve not used much;
  • to do more pastoral training that would enable me to cope with some of the aspects of funeral ministry I’ve not yet experienced (ministering to the terminally ill prior to death, to a family on the suicide of a loved one, or through the death of a child);
  • to have the space and opportunity to create more ‘bespoke’ services and also return to learning to prepare or write short studies for homegroup environments.

These are all for the future though. I am aware that various factors in 2012 will change my pattern of ministry; ‘how’ this will happen will probably be revealed later in the year. But in the meantime it’s just a case of meeting the next need and placing God firmly in the middle of it… So, I’m off to write another funeral talk!

Don’t RUSH – proper planning proposal might have prevented a poor performance!

The disused airport crossing, showing the grass where it was hoped to construct a grandstand

Well, people’s hopes and fears have been raised.

Yet it seems that it’s actually going to be poor planning, or more accurately a poorly prepared planning proposal, that may actually be the ultimate cause of the failure of the application to film scenes for the Ron Howard film RUSH on Blackbushe Airport.

This morning I attended the (made public at the last minute) public meeting with members of the Rush Films Ltd, production company, representatives of the British Film Commission and Screen South, local Town, District and County Councillors and other interested parties, including local residents and members of The Yateley Society and Hampshire Ornithological Society.

The meeting itself was a pretty good natured affair, with most people agreeing that it would good for the town in many ways if the proposal was to go ahead.

However it also became apparent that the film company, or their agent who submitted the planning application, had done themselves no favours at all, given the lack of integrity between the application itself and the increasingly accommodating supporting material provided in written and verbal form by the Location Manager, Jonah Coombes.

Mr Coombes, along with others present, made it clear that the film company were willing to accommodate in a variety of ways, the needs of their proposal for things like 24hr security at the set, and flexible access for local users during filming days. He said that “the more we are able to learn the more we can understand the needs and requirements” of both the site itself and the local community for whom it is valuable access land.

Another of the production team admitted however that she had nick-named the film “Rash”! This certainly seems to have been the case with their original plan to start work on set construction this coming Monday 9th Jan, which they admitted was obviously not possible given the constraints of the normal planning procedures.

The most obvious flaws however were highlighted by the fact that the application had not acknowledged the fact that

Grayling butterfly on Blackbushe 2011

The production team seemed utterly surprised when they were told by a commoner that yesterday Natural England had posted a four page objection to their application on the planning portal, that could see the application being referred to the Secretary of State, causing several months delay to filming.

It rapidly became apparent that the ‘rush’ to complete filming to schedule would make such a delay a difficult hurdle to overcome, and that the filming of sequences proposed for Blackbushe may end up being transferred to Germany.

Since listening to all this, and meeting some lovely local people, I’ve inadvertently found myself talking about all this to both BBC Radio Solent (who recorded a short interview clip) and BBC Radio Surrey who want me to talk live on tomorrow morning’s Surrey Breakfast!

The BBC even got me to give them some of my photographs for their web article, in which it is obvious from Natural England’s press statement that if the proposal fails and film production goes elsewhere, it is the film company’s omissions and inaccuracies in their planning application that caused their own poor performance.

RUSH filming on Blackbushe – PUBLIC MEETING Fri 6th Jan 10am

The crossing of the old runways at Blackbushe where it is proposed that RUSH will be filmed

The debate about the planning proposal for the filming of scenes for the feature film RUSH is becoming more public now that the Christmas holidays are over.

At the suggestion of County Councillor, David Simpson, a ‘stakeholder’ meeting with the film’s Location Manager (who commented on my previous post), planned for tomorrow morning, Friday 6th January 2012 has now been made a PUBLIC MEETING. It will be held at The Tythings by Yateley Town Council offices, at 10am.

Obviously he is aware this is very short notice, but in his email to me this afternoon suggesting I spread the word, Cllr Simpson said “I do think the more people [come] the better, as it will allow concerns to be solidified or overcome.”

So, if you can make it, I look forward to seeing you there.

Would you mate here? Glow-worms do!

I was in fact up on the airport this afternoon walking the dog as normal, talking to a friend who last year registered an unusually high density of Glow-worms on the site with the Glow Worm Society. It was fascinating to discover that the female Glow-worms live in very cracks that the makers of RUSH wish to tarmac over for the purposes of filming (especially on the western run of the tarmac crossing).

As I understand it, the “weeds, leaves and detritus” to be cleared from the runway according to the Planning Application Proposal Document, to make way for “localised spot repairs to the surface of the tarmac… to create a uniform surface” are in fact the very habitat used by both the females and the larvae, both of whom are flightless and will be active during the lifetime of the proposed set.

Thus once again (as with the issue of Schedule 1 bird species likely to nest within feet of the proposed set) I feel that the applicant’s agent has been less than honest in their statement that there are no “important habitats or other biodiversity features” being affected by the proposal.

IF it becomes necessary to clear away the sort of habitats shown in these photographs, I hope Hart District Council will insist that what the application describes as “detritus” can be moved to other areas of the old tarmac which they will NOT be using for the film set, so that any hidden Glow-worm lavae will at least be able to colonise other areas of the old airstrip, rather than being killed or dump in an inappropriate place.

Where Glow-worms like to feed - if the film-makers "improve" the tarmac they won't be!

Despite the fact that the supplier of the ‘grandstand’ would appear to have already been booked according to item 7 of the new document mentioned by the location manager  (and I would suggest this isn’t a local firm, though I will check tomorrow),  I fully agree that it would be lovely to have the economic benefits of a film location in Yateley, and the opportunities to take part or watch a film being made (especially for F1 fans).

However, partly on the evidence of the inaccurate statements made on the planning application, and partly from my family’s previous experience of working with feature film crews in important wildlife habitats, I feel that enabling these opportunities without putting in place careful constraints on what the film makers can and can’t do, will be to the long-term detriment of the wealth of wildlife that Yateley people also value for having on their doorstep.


An unusual Mothers’ Union banner – All Saints Minstead

Mothers' Union banners being processed in Winchester Cathedral 2009

Mothers’ Union banners are often seen in churches around the country. The older ones tend to show lilies, and/or a representation of Mary with Jesus. The more modern one’s often reflect images of modern family life, perhaps combined with the work Mothers’ Union undertake’s overseas.

However in Minstead, the church I grew up attending (where sadly there is hasn’t been a Mothers’ Union group meeting in my lifetime), the banner is rather different. For me it is quintessentially Minstead, and certainly reflects the surrounding countryside of the New Forest, if not it’s family life – though there will be local families who were raised under the spreading arms of an oak tree!

The Mothers' Union banner that hangs in All Saints, Minstead

On more than one occasion I’ve been asked about the history of this particular Mothers’ Union banner, so for posterity, here’s what little I know:

The banner was made in the 1930’s and was designed by Mrs Horton the wife of Revd Henry Horton (who was vicar of Minstead from approximately 1933-1943). It was the gift of Sybil White in memory of her late husband Isaac who died in 1933.

Sybil was still alive when I was a child, still living alone in the cottage she’d lived in since her marriage, but actively involved in village life especially playing the piano for things like the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations when all the children in the village maypole danced on the village green. She died in 1985.