Wednesday, 21 September 2022

Liturgy for Ronnie Pickering Day

In memory of a Social Media sensation second only to Ed Balls Day. The day Ronnie Pickering asked the ultimate question, "do you know who I am?"  Video here: Warning very bad language (and driving)

All: Who are yer? Who are yer?

Ronnie Pickering: I am Ronnie Pickering.

All: Who's Ronnie Pickering?

Ronnie Pickering: I am.

All: Who are yer?

Ronnie Pickering: I am Ronnie Pickering.

All: Who's Ronnioe Pickering?

Ronnie Pickering: I am.

Beaker Person 1: I'm Ronnie Pickering!

Beaker Person 2: I'm Ronnie Pickering! 

Beaker Person 3: I'm Ronnie Pickering, and so's my wife.

Archdruid Eileen: In a very real sense, aren't we all Ronnie Pickering?

Ronnie Pickering: And who do you say that I am?

All: Who are yer?

Ronnie Pickering: Ronnie Pickering.

All: Never heard of you.

Saturday, 17 September 2022

All Worship Cancelled Out of Respect

Out of respect to Her Late Majesty, all regular worship is cancelled. Out of respect.

Today's Liturgy of Hildegard of Bingen, Patroness of Microwaves, will now  be held on 3 November in Towcester. While our traditional-language procession for today, the "Lambert Walk", will be replaced by the "Southwark Queue."

Tomorrow's worship will be replaced by a video loop of sad photos of marmalade sandwiches. Beaker Folk are reminded of the words of Judas, "This marmalade could have been given to the poor."

Then on Monday, out of respect, all Beaker Folk living in the Moot House will be confined to their rooms out of respect. Those without en suite facilities will be provided with empty marmalade jars. Maybe you could have spent more on your rooms, and less on plush Paddington toys. The grounds of the community will be patrolled by Russian-trained Attack Badgers to ensure respect is maintained at all times.

Please join me in these marks of respect.

Wednesday, 14 September 2022

Guinea Pig Awareness Week Postponed

I see from the Guinea Pig Awareness Week Facebook page that they are postponing next week's Guinea Pig Awareness Week out of respect to Her Majesty.

Date Change to Guinea Pig Awareness Week 26th-30th September


 I suppose there's a certain logic here - who's going to be aware of Guinea Pigs when there's a royal funeral on? But oddly, the Guinea Pig Awareness Week website still has the old dates.

And more oddly, they think that there is a 23th of September.

"Guinea Pig Awareness Week (GPAW) is back! Sep 19-23th 2022


I can only come to the conclusion that the webmonkey at the Guinea Pig Awareness Control Centre has taken the week off out of respect for the Queen, but someone still knows how to do Facebook. 

And are the Guinea Pigs aware?

I don't know what happens to you if you're unaware of Guinea Pigs during Guinea Pig Awareness Week (GPAW). Or if you persist in being aware of Guinea Pigs during a Royal Funeral. But I'd like to think it's something like this.

Woman being shouted at through a megaphone by copper in police car during lockdown
But I think it's good that we British can respect the dignity of the occasion in such a way. I'd like to think we can also realise that people having cancer operations or their own loved ones' funerals postponed out of respect to the Queen, on the other hand, would be a really silly thing to do.


Tuesday, 13 September 2022

Monthly Moot Cancelled

 To let all members of the Moot know that tonight's Moot Meeting is cancelled. 

This is out of respect to Her Majesty the Queen.

Instead of having the Moot Meeting, we shall all stay at home, complaining that "House of Games" isn't on, and watching old episodes of The Chase.

Wednesday, 7 September 2022

The Celebration of Creationtide

Some Beaker Folk have been asking me about Creationtide, and what it really means. It seems to have just appeared in the calendar, with no real explanation or consultation. So a quick summary.

Creationtide, as people don't seem to realise, is a creation of St Francis himself, who was concerned about deforestation in 10th Century Assissi. The season as now celebrated consists of the 7 weeks leading up to the anniversary of your actual first day of Creation, which you may remember was on 23 October

During Creationtide, we celebrate the wonders of creation. We go out to look at the summer flowers, which have gone over, and think how nice it will be in the spring when the daffs are out. As the autumn closes in, we resolve to get outside in the downpours and remember - it's not about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about dancing in the rain.

As the darkness gathers, we will burn old tyres to keep warm and enjoy some low-cost heat. We have a special fire-pit, dedicated to Mother Gaia, for this purpose.

Every Friday we proclaim the Lament of the Person Who Went out for an Almond Croissant But Came Back with a Plain One by Mistake:

I went down town for a croissant
Almond is what I always want
Came home to find that it was plain
How that happened I can't explain. 

I really wanted that almond
croissant. My sadness is profound
Shame that it's getting dark so quick
I'll stay at home with a Topic.                               
(to the Old Hundredth as arranged by Manfredi)
This song is a reminder that although Mother Gaia is rich in giving and generous in nature, in practice life can turn out a bit pants. 

As we progress through Creationtide, each day has a special theme. Today, for instance, is the Feast of Witches' Knickers, when we go out to see the beautiful sight of decaying carrier bags in the branches of bare trees.

Next Sunday, we celebrate Conker Day. The old folk tell long stories about how they used to go out in the autumn to collect horse chestnuts, and would battle at conkers until it got dark. While the young ones drift off to play Pokemon.

21st September is more-or-less Autumal Equinox, and we celebrate by hanging dog-poo bags in trees all over the country. I bet you wondered who it was. We think the brightly-coloured bags are a real delight, and so much more environmentally friendly than just kicking the poor into the hedge or onto someone's garden. 

On 1st October, we celebrate Dead Badger day. All the little children go out and count how many dead badgers they can find. The one that finds the most gets to be King Badger, and gets an extra helping of roadkill stew at dinner.

On the big day, we cover the Duck Pond in a layer of petrol, and set it alight to celebrate that first Day of Creation in Genesis. As I proclaim the words, "Let There be Light", the ducks flying around  terrified  are a reminder of the Spirit hovering on the waters. As the Abandoned Shopping Trolley Wicker Man melts in the heat, we remember that all our technology is ultimately doomed and we may as well just abandon ourselves to the dark.

A Wicker Man made from Shopping Trolleys in a burning pond

And then, as Creationtide ends, we move into the Season of Winterval. This 24th of October, we'll be putting extra bling on the Moot House to celebrate the end of Covidtide. We hope. Unfortunately we won't be able to light the bling up, due to electric prices, but you can't have everything.

Sunday, 4 September 2022

Boris Johnson

 It's not that long ago that I wrote an appropriate farewell to Theresa May as Prime Minister. And here we are again.

Theresa May was the worst Prime Minister so far. Utterly destructive to her country. Inflexible, insensitive, incompetent.

And yet she is no longer the worst Prime Minister so far. Her successor is a liar, a serial adulterer. A man who conspired with a criminal to have a journalist beaten up. A man who partied while the people of his country died. A waste of an Eton and Oxford education. A man so self-centered that his ego has its own gravitational field.

This was a man who signed a deal he then claimed was a disastrous deal. As if it were someone else's fault. That his lapdogs at the Express called a "hated" deal, even though it was their hero who had signed it. A man so incompetent - or deliberately reckless - that he thought Lord Frost and Dominic Cummings were competent. 

And the worst of all?

He's probably only the worst British Prime Minister so far. 

Watch this space.

Saturday, 3 September 2022

You Are Here to Kneel - The Cost of Being a Disciple

 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said:  “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ Luke 14.25-30

First reading of this passage is a bit of a shocker – if you want to follow Jesus, you have to hate your family. And the thought crosses my mind - if many people that become Christians do so in their teens - maybe that's because a teenager finds it so easy to stomp around shouting "I hate you!"

But given Paul's instructions on families looking after each other, and Jesus's telling John to look after Mary at the cross, I don't think that Jesus means it this way. It's strong - but it's hyperbole. But it's important and challenging - do we love Jesus so much that if it meant our family rejecting us.... well, what would you do? Or is our Christian faith so un-radical that anyone can accept it?

It's a strong challenge. But you've got to remember the context for those early disciples of Jesus. What does the future hold for them? Undescribable joys as they are with Jesus, as they see the Resurrection and experience Pentecost - and yet the grief of the Cross, and a future of persecution, and often martyrdom. 

Jesus refers to a foundation being built - in the knowledge that the rest of the building will follow because you've planned properly. And that takes me to: what is the foundation of what we are doing? Why are we Christians? Why do we gather to worship?

If you came to Little Gidding church, taking the way you would be likely to take - up or down the A1 and then down the winding roads - you would see the words on the wall, quoting TS Eliot's poem:

You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report.
You are here to kneel.
The church at Little Gidding - interior - dark wood looking towards the altar. Quotes from Eliot on the walls

Maybe a bit ironic when so few kneel in church these days. But take it as metaphorical - or maybe take it as literal - We are not churchgoers to be connoiseurs of worship music. To be tasters of liturgy. To enjoy the stained glass. We should not come as consumers, to ask what God or the vicar or the music group can do for us. We come to bow before the almighty God. To draw close to our eternal Teacher and hear his word as his disciples. And we are sent out like his apostles. We are here, in whatever sense, to kneel.

These words are not the light-touch call of a consumerist world, calculating whether we get the worship experience we feel we are entitled to.

This is a call to a way of life that we can describe in Eliot's words as "costing not less than everything". Because that is what it costs to follow Jesus. Not less than everything. Whether you lose your life - or just your convenience. In the words of the Methodist Covenant Service: 

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.

That is what Jesus calls us to. A way of life that costs not less than everything.

 When you read "Little Gidding" and visit the place you can think of how quiet and peaceful the place is - how spiritual the poem - till you remember that it was written in 1941 and 1942. Like the Lord of the Rings, and the first drafts of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, it was written under the shadow of a war against evil, in the knowledge that at any moment the dropping of a bomb could cost anyone not less than everything. Those Pentecostal fires of Little Gidding are the Holy Spirit - and yet contrasted with the Luftwaffe.

And for us - we meet in holy, sacred, set-apart places. We gather to worship the Name of the eternal God. But we are sent into the world, where the forces that hate the good are also to be found - they are also to be found inside the holy spaces, of course - and we are to face them. To follow Jesus means to give up your rights to a quiet life - to forgo your right to an untroubled passage. To look for a narrow path. To pick up a cross and follow knowing that he went before you carrying his cross.

But all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well. When we have walked the path that he has marked out, following him and his cross, to the place where we find that the fire and rose are one. And we bow down and worship the Lamb, and know that everything we have given up, everything we have suffered, everything we had to consider loss, was worth it to gain Him, the one who calls us, who leads us, who walks beside, who died for us, and who lives for us.

A Psalm for Dylon Day

O woe is me for my clerical shirts are dark gray

and my black trousers are washed out, 

with white patches where they are most worn

if you know what I mean.

Where is the shiny blackness of old?

The monochromatic outward sign of inner clericalness?

How has the blackness faded from my life

to where I can be camouflaged against a bottlenosed dolphin.

Though my clothes were black as night

yet they are as gray as pigeons

Though they were like the cover of a big church Bible

yet they are as washed out as a vicar in the Elstow Team Ministry

who is required to have "boundless energy"

yet we are all but mortal.

And "boundless energy" is an offence unto the First Law of Thermodynamics

and aspiring to it more likely to invoke the Second.

And so I resort to Dylon

which turns all things to black

and restores the newness to old shirts

and is cheaper than buying new ones.

Though my shirts are gray as ashes

yet they shall be black as a 1990s company car

I shall be restored likeone that is newly ordained

or like an ordinand posing in the mirror.


I shall pray that the colour is fast

and the blackness does not run

So I do not end up in a pool of sweaty dye on the nice new floor

on a hot day in church

or staining the grass

at a rainy funeral.

I set my hope in Dylon that it shall cling to the cloth like Ruth to Naomi

or Barnabas to Mark.

Sunday, 28 August 2022

Sorting out the Seating Plan at the Wedding of the Lamb

"When you are invited to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honour, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place."

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. (Luke 14:8-9;12-13)

Occasionally there's something in the Bible that is so out of our experience that we can't relate to it. Like this story of the sharp-elbowed wedding guests.

We all know that the British have solved this problem. The most important person at a wedding feast is, after all, the one who does the seating arrangements. Then a nice tasteful name card at each place - and maybe a seating map pinned up, if it's a big do - job's a good 'un. No need for anyone to be humiliated by being moved down the pecking order because a Love Island contestant just turned up.

But, of course, we still know this experience of people demanding their rights - and occasionally not getting them. The most famous recently being Carlton Funderburke, the Kansas City pastor who accused his congregation of being "cheap" because they didn't buy him a nice watch.

I think there's an end-times edge to this little narrative of Jesus's. It's about humility, sure. But that wedding feast is the kingdom of heaven. Maybe we're all taking our places now. Who is the one who's elevated themselves above their true seat when we find out about the heavenly table arrangements at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb? And who does Jesus want sitting next to him?

There's an old joke about a good, honest person who goes to heaven - I forget the original details, and I suspect it's not a true story, so let's say they're a shop assistant. And she gets to heaven, and St Peter checks her off the list, and quietly ushers her in.

And she's wandering around gazing round the place in awe, and over at the pearly gates a limo drives through and there's fireworks and bands and cheering and she goes back to St Peter and says, "Who's that?"

And he says, "it's a bishop." 

"Typical," she says, "even up here there's the same old hierarchy. The bishops get all the fuss, and the ordinary people are worth less."

And St Peter replies, "You don't understand. Thing is, this place is full of people like shop assistants. But we very rarely get a bishop."

Which brings us on to the second passage.

At first glance, my problem with this reading…. 

Is Jesus basically saying we should look after those less fortunate than ourselves because in the long term we get rewarded? So instead of your instant payback on earth, you get a much better one in heaven?

Is the Kingdom of Heaven just an eschatological Stamford Marshmallow Experiment, where delaying gratification leads to better rewards in the afterlife? 

If so, I don't want to go. If I’m going to look after someone, or help someone else, I want to do it for their sake, not for a payback in this world or the next.

But Jesus is telling us - I think - to raise the level of how we interact with people above what is purely transactional. If we give to someone who can't give back, if we aren't looking for thanks or repayment - we're setting ourselves free from the normal rules of our world. We're also acting in the same way as God, who made a whole universe out of nothing and, when that wasn't even, gave it God's Son as well.

And there's another saying of Jesus's where he tells us that whatever we do for those in need - we also do for him. When we feed the hungry, visit the lonely, then we are growing in our love of, our relationship with Jesus - we're recognising Jesus in those around us.

Entering the Kingdom of Heaven isn't a transactional relationship. It's a personal one. If we give without worrying about the reward, then our reward will be great - because we are drawing closer to God, who gives us all things - including his Son.

Friday, 26 August 2022

Things Found in Church Vestries

 Odd things, church vestries.

In theory, the place where the clergy change into their liturgical garb. Say a quiet prayer (or 187, if of the Anglo-Catholic variety).

In practice. The place where all the rubbish that the church can't quite bring itself to get rid of, ends up. Such as:

  1. A "duplicate book" with countersigned records of all the collections between 2001 and 2004.
  2. A crucifix with the arms broken off.
  3. 234 copies of the Alternative Service Book, in case it is ever re-legalised.
  4.  Photographs of all the former incumbents with their wives. And one former incumbent with his mother.
  5. A photo of a former Bishop of Ebbsfleet, hidden in a cupboard. 
  6. Key safes containing the keys to other key safes. Which contain the keys to other key safes.
  7. The laws on the protection of bats. In case the incident with the machine gun is ever considered again.
  8. Clerical robes that will never be worn again, that have been half-eaten by moths, but nobody has the heart.... 
  9. Advent candles from the last two decades, all burnt to various degrees.
  10.  A list of former rectors that ends in 1983 for no apparent reason.
  11. Laminated notes on how to sanitise your whole body after private prayer, from March 2021.
  12. Mouse traps, with no clues as to whether there are still any mice.
  13. Instructions on communion during Covid from February 2020.
  14. Instructions of the prayers to say as one vests for High Mass.
  15. A list of the PCC members in 1994. Consisting of the same people as the PCC in 2022.
  16. A Dave Walker cartoon about all the funny things you find in church vestries.
  17. A box of masks.
  18. Pegs and pigeon holes labelled with the names of the members of the former quire. Many of whom are now dead. Just in case they reform.
  19. A glasses case, from an opticians that closed sometime in the last century.
  20. Some buttons.
  21. Numerous half-used bottles of hand sanitiser.

Thursday, 25 August 2022

Lament for the Church Printer Going Wrong

Woe is me for the Church Printer is going wrong
On the night when I have to produce the service sheet
And though the duplexer functions not,
yet I figured I could manually duplex 50 copies
Except I put them back in the wrong side up
and printed pages 2 and 3 over pages 1 and 4
And when I started again
I put them back in the wrong way round 
so now you have to turn the service sheets upside down
to read them when you should just turn the page.
And now onto the third set of prints
The pages are covered with grey streaks

The liturgy cannot be read
and the blackness of the ink 
means that it looks more like unto a funeral
than a pet service.

My heart fails within me
for it could need a new black toner cartridge

But the printer app says it's at 40 per cent and if it's something else I've lost a cartridge
Or, at least, 40 per cent of one.

And now the printer's not talking to the PC
or the PC's not talking to the printer

So I reboot the PC
but it's not worked.

So I reboot the printer
but that's not worked.

And now I reboot both
and that's not worked.

So I reboot them in the other sequence 
and they're talking to each other.

So I print the document
But after twenty minutes when nothing happens
I realise I've sent it to the other printer
In the Moot House.

Which is why Burton Dassett is now screaming that the Moot House is haunted
so at least some good came out of it.

I print it again.
No - that's gone to PDF.

Reboot the printer.
Reboot the PC.

Reboot in the opposite order.
Reboot both.

Behold for I have a perfect pamphlet 
printed the right way round 

On the special paper we bought for the service
On which I printed  all those wasted service sheets

So now I only have four sheets left
and forty-nine to print.

And the data projector's bulb has gone
And last year's pet service orders have the wrong date on them

So I shall go down to the Moot House
and paint the order of service on the walls.

It may not be the best solution
but it's all I can face.

Give me a minute
while I drop the printer out of the window.
Oops it landed on Burton
So that's two good things.

Saturday, 20 August 2022

Clergy to Authorise Heating Subsidies for Parishioners

As Brexit Britain struggles with how to cope with the cost of energy, the Government is proposing a radical new approach to keeping the needy just about alive. 

I can reveal that Nadim Zahawi, or whoever is Chancellor this week, has been in discussions with the Archbishops' Council with a view to enabling Church of England clergy to authorise heating subsidies for parishioners.

"The theory is elegant in the extreme", said a Tory source. "It is well-known that Chuch of England clergy live in houses so cold that in midwinter they can make an additional income source from selling liquid nitrogen. Who better to judge whether someone else has a genuine need for help with heating their house, or is just a bit nesh?"

According to the new scheme, the clergy will visit the potential claimant's house, sit down for a cup of tea - or a glass of ice if the electric has been cut off - and determine whether the claimant's house is colder than their vicarage. If it is, the clergy will sign the form authorising the claimant to get a 10% discount on their gas bill. If the clergy feels that in fact the claimant's house is warmer than their own house, they will instead offer advice on sitting under lots of fleeces, eating warming chillis, or organising lots of meetings in other people's houses.

The Daily Express has this week been advocating the use of wood-burning stoves as an alternative to gas or electric heating. If you don't have a wood burning stove, why not try being middle class?

A wood burning stove, with a fire lit, and a scuttle and companion set. Like middle class people have in the country.
If you work hard, you could have one of these

Sunday, 14 August 2022

Change of Outrage

With the change to weather expected tomorrow, please note the following changes:

What no longer to get self-righteous about
The heat
People walking their dogs in the heat
People using hosepipes
Disposable barbecues
Back-garden swimming pools
People chucking fag ends out of car windows
Lack of reservoirs
People wearing masks in public
Chinese lanterns
People saying "isn't it hot"
Car alarms
People clogging up the NHS with sunburn
People using showers while not standing in a bucket.

What to start getting self-righteous about
The rain
People walking their dogs in the rain
People who live next to rivers getting upset about flooding
People wearing masks in public
Blocked drains
People who dance in the garden in torn sheets in the rain
People clogging up the NHS being struck by lightning
In-house swimming pools
People saying "isn't it wet"
People using prepositions to end sentences with.

Monday, 8 August 2022

The Woodlanders Stop Working from Home

As the clock struck 1 in the morning, Marty South dropped another bundle of thatch spars by the door, and returned to her chair. The fire, flaring bright when she had put on the waste wood, had already resumed its sulky, sullen glow. Somewhere out in the woods, a badger unwrapped a hedgehog.

She picked up the next spar gad, examining it for the perfect place to split it. Her father's snores drifted down the stairs. Marty was surprised to hear a tap at the door.

"Oh," she cried, "is that Barber Percombe, a-come to buy my beautiful long hair to make a wig for Mrs Charmond,  the rich lady at the hall?"

"No," came the answer.

"Then it must be Doctor Fitzpiers, come to ask my father if he can buy his brain when he dies."

"Indeed not."

"Then - oh - could it be - is it Giles Winterborne, come to ask me to be his wife?"

"Don't be ridiculous."

"Then who are you, stranger?"

The door opened, and in loped a man of the proportions of a willow wand. He wore the year's latest most fashionable clothes, and a top hat.

"I have always worked from home, Sir."

"And do you work flexi-time?"

"I am sorry, Sir. I do not understand your up-country speech."

"Do you work when you like?"

"I do, Sir. Although, thanks to my father's sickness, "when I like" is actually all the time. During the night I make thatch spars. And in the day I plant..."

"Never mind, never mind. This is just the kind of woke attitude that caused Master Starbux's coffee house to go out of business. I expect to see you in the smoke factory in Shottsford-Forum at 5 sharp of this morning. If you should start walking now you will have time to beg for a crust from a passing mail coach."

He stopped, and looked at Marty's ungloved right hand, red and sore from her night's work.

"Excellent. Excellent."

And he was gone into the night.

Sunday, 7 August 2022

Cathedral Reception Desk Standard Questions

Hello - are you visiting the exhibition?

So are you visiting to see the architecture?

Are you a benchmark bagger? We have special rates.

While you're here "to pray" - do you think you might be looking at some of the architecture? Just on the sly?

You're not going to nip off and look at the exhibiton while you claim to be praying, are you?

Why would you need to pray in a cathedral anyway? Don't you know God's everywhere? And without an entrance fee.

Do you normally go to your own church? Or is this more a tourism kind of thing? 

Can't you afford the "suggested donation"?

Are you sure you don't have a camera?

You will be keeping your phone in your pocket at all times, won't you?

You know it's not Evensong until 4.30. Are you sure you'll just be praying?

Will you please follow Archnold, who will escort you to the Prayer Square? Please don't leave the Square.

How can you prove you're a member of the clergy?

How do I know that's not a fake dog collar?

Are you sure you haven't stolen that clerical shirt? 

Where can I find you in Crockfords?

How was I supposed to know you're the Archdeacon of Barchester?

Sins Like Scarlet

I  know people complain about modern chemicals. But they could make some right odd things in the old days. The Romans used the slime from sea snails to make Imperial Purple, for instance. And getting the slime out of sea-snails is such a performance, that only very rich people could afford purple clothes.

And scarlet - you got scarlet by grinding up bugs called kermes. And again it's a fast dye, it doesn't run when you wash it. And because it's so intensive to make, it became the colour of royalty and cardinals and other powerful people. And of sin.

The Revelation of John was long after Isaiah's time, no matter how late scholars have dated their latest invented Isaiah. But when St John came to write about the Whore of Bablyon, there's no doubt about the colour of her clothes. Scarlet. The colour of exploitation. The colour of murdering millions of tiny bugs just to have a splash of brightness. The colour you can only afford in bulk if you have made a stash and want to flaunt it : "Whore of Babylon flaunts her side-boob in scarlet bikini" - Daily Mail.

Thing about scarlet is, it's a fast dye. Once it's in your clothes, it sticks. And it's very bright. A lovely orangey-red. It strikes your eye. It's said that Liverpool FC started wearing all-red strips because Bill Shankly thought it would psychologically scare opponents. Well, yesterday's game against Fulham would suggest that ain't true all the time. But certainly we won the league the year he changed the strip.

So as a colour associated with wealth, danger, being unmissable, and yet unremovable - It's the perfect symbol for sin.

And God says, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson, they will become like wool." 

Isaiah's book is just starting. And it's gonna be a long old series of woes on the way to a return to the Promised Land, a lot of sin before the Suffering Servant. But Isaiah puts it up front. All the things you do wrong - all the things you've done wrong - all those you will do wrong - cling to you like a fast dye, and rage at you like the brightest red sunburn.

And, says God, I will take them away.

All the stuff you've got wrong, all the hurts you've caused, all the hurts you cling onto, all the selfishness you hold close to your heart - forget them. If you choose me, and reject those sins, and follow what is right - then I already have.

And it's later in the prophecy, when the Servant sings his song, and later again, when a virgin gives birth and that child is Immanuel, that the way God's forgiving works is revealed. By his stripes we are healed, says Isaiah 53. The sins that bring us back to the past, that colour our relationships with God and each other, that we cannot wash away with good intentions or good deeds - are washed away in the stream of scarlet that pours from Messiah's veins.

Though our sins are like scarlet, yet in God they are white as snow. Don't look for them- they are gone.

Saturday, 6 August 2022

Covid Secure Service

 OK. We have a problem.

Aware that people who are still Covid-concerned didn't want to come to the main Moot House celebration on Sunday morning, we introduced the "Not Very Popular Service" at 4pm. 

But so many people were Covid-concerned, we now have more people coming to the "Not Very Popular Service" than the main one. 

We've tried everything to whittle it down to just the genuinely concerned. Enforcing aqualungs. Refusing to share a chalice. Singing only Sydney Carter Hymns*.

But the "Not Very Popular Service" goes from strength to strength. We've even had to  lay on a video feed to the undercroft, where people are packed in to enjoy the space and freedom from concern.

So we're now introducing the "Really Not Very Popular Service" at 5 pm. It's like the 4pm service. But we've banned antiperspirant.

I think it might really take off.

* Not "Lord of the Dance". We're not barbarians.

Monday, 1 August 2022

A Reet Ritual for Yorkshire Day

Archdruid: Ow do?

All: Gradely. Gradely.

Archdruid: Where hast been sin I saw thee?

All: On Ilkley Moor Baht at.

Archdruid: Yer'll have had yer Yorksher tea?

All: Aye.

Archdruid: And 'ows t'Yorkshire internet?

All: What's in t'net?

Archdruid: No. Internet.

All: Nay. We're all right. We've got Yorkshire internet. 

Archdruid: And 'ows Our Eric?

All: Gradely.

Archdruid: And Our Kid?

All: Gradely.

Archdruid: And Their Kid?


And Geoffrey Boycott?

All: Still batting.

Boycott: 73 runs off 356,444 balls and not a chance outside the off stump.

Archdruid: Is it time t' push t'owdest barmpot down t'dale in t'bathtub?

All: Aye.

Owdest Barmpot: Oh no. Not again.

T'Owdest Barmpot is pushed down t'dale in t'bathtub.

Compo from Last of the Summer Wine going downhill in a bathtub


Closing Hymn: "Yorkshire, Yorkshire, Yorkshire, Yorkshire" (trad)

There will be a closing collection. Though we don't know why we'd bother. 


Sunday, 31 July 2022

Organist Donors Needed

To inform Beaker Folk of our musical situation today:

Oddric, our accordionist, is on holiday.
Micro, the player of electronic keyboards, is on holiday.
Tandrik, the banjolele player, is on holiday.
Godfrilla, the flautist is on holiday.
All the children, potential players of ocarinae, are on holiday.
The percussion section is on holiday.
Our collection of "1,000 easy hymns for churches without organists" is in 8-track format in a digital world. Which, to be fair, sums up my life.
Which leaves us Young Keith on the spoons.

It is our tradition, in the manner of Psalm 68:25, to publish the processional order of musicians: "In the front are the singers, after them the musicians, and then come the girls with the tambourines".

So here we have it: "In the front is nobody, after them nobody, and then comes Keith with the spoons".

Praise God in the sparse congregation.

Thursday, 28 July 2022

In Memoriam, Bernard Cribbins

Introit: The Wombling Song

Archdruid: Right.

All: Have a cuppa tea?

Archdruid: We'd like to apologise for the lack of music on this Occasion. Unfortunately the piano is stuck on the landing.

All: Give a shout for Charlii?

Charlii: We give thanks for the only man to be two Doctor Who companions.

All: Quite a regeneration.

Archdruid: Wasn't he a Hinchcliffe from Alderson Street?

Bernard Cribbins, skiing on the back of a van, as Gavin Hinchcliffe

Norman Clegg: There are a lot of rumours to that effect.

All: Have another cup of tea?

Archdruid: And now he has carried on off his mortal coil, drifted over the horizon on Old Jack's boat, told his final story, and is wombling free in a land where celestial pianos are forever standing on the landing, to look for his heavenly Gulf Stream, to tend an allotment which is watered by the River of Life and produces 12 harvests a year.

Charlii: "In my Father's house are many rooms"

Mr Hutchinson: And they are all up to the standard required by hotel inspectors.

Tea will be served after the ceremony

Wednesday, 27 July 2022

The Remains of the Pandemic - 2099

 The year is 2099. Around England, churches maintain the remembrance of the rituals they adopted in response to the Covid pandemic.

At St Margaret's, Flimpning, people use hand sanitiser every fifteen minutes.

At St Bilberry's, Lesser Thong, they all sit 2 metres apart. Just as they have since 1732.

At St Boris's, Fridgehampton, there is still a sign telling people to stay out of the chancel.The congregation believe the air is more infectious there than in the nave.

At St Mungo's, Midgeley, the president intincts the bread with the wine through an eye dropper, then distributes the bread while wearing a haz-mat suit.

At Holy Cross, Rempford, the Bibles and prayer books are kept in a glass-fronted safe. On Plough Mondays, the congregation are allowed to look at them. But only look. Never touch.

At St Celestine's Middling-in-the-Moor, the altar frontal is black and yellow and reads "Hands-Face-Space".

At St Kettering's, Coglington, a 2 meter long wooden ruler is carried in the procession by the Metrifer and laid on the altar steps.

In St Philemon's, Bilgewater, every other pew is still roped off with black and yellow tape.

At St John's, Gerbley, they just got the faculty to replace the black and yellow tape with black and yellow railings.

At St Apollos's, South Shillington-with-Wombleswade, they wear liturgucally coloured masks. 


Nobody can remember why any of these things occur. But they know if they don't do it, something will happen.


Wednesday, 20 July 2022

Birkenstock Sunday

It's always a bit boring liturgically this time of year. Harvest a way off and Midsummer is past.

And what with the weather being hot, we have to take care of the clergy. Some like to go barefoot to lead liturgy. Which puts them at risk from wax spillage from candles, of course. But also - consider the temperature of church paths. 

If you're worried about your clergy burning their feet on badly maintained asphalt, my advice is to put your hand down on the path for 10 seconds. If you can't, it's too hot for barefoot clergy.

Likewise be careful of allowing your clergy to go out for walks in this weather. Especially the ones who, goth-like, go out all in black. Ensure that if they're out visiting they get a cup of tea or elderflower pressé wherever they go. But be careful. Some clergy apparently manage to visit 20 parishioners a week. And that much elderflower pressé can wreak havoc on a clerical metabolism. So an alternative is to leave out a small saucer of gin and tonic. Ideally with a few pebbles in, so flower arrangers can climb out.

If your clergy is in the habit of going out in a soutane, encourage them to consider a straw hat or even a biretta. The brim may save their noses from sunburn.

But all things considered I think it's time to let the clergy lighten their mood clothes-wise after the heat of this week (and with the temperature predicted as 86°F this Sunday.
That is why we are declaring Clerical Birkenstock Sunday. Clergy of all denominations are encouraged to wear sandals, flip-flops or kitten heeled strappy shoes. Aware that Birkenstock is not the only brand of sandal, you could also consider the hard-wearing Doctor Marten variety, as we will be modelling in the Moot House. 

But not red Crocs. They're for Pentecost. And ditch the socks, people.
Bermuda Shorts should be considered liturgical wear this Sunday, as opposed to the tedious ties and chinos of the HTB brigade.

And if you must wear alb and amice, why not ditch the cassock? That way people might get a glimpse of your Bermuda Shorts.

Birkenstock Sunday. North Oxford churches may make their own arrangements.

Monday, 18 July 2022

About Durocobrivae: Dunstable's Traffic Problems Start

 Inspired by an endless complaint on Dunstable's social media page

  • Arthur the Druid

Can't believe the mess the Romans have made building Watling Street through the town. Took me a week to get from the Ridgeway to Waulud's Bank. And even that was only after diverting through the Five Knolls

  • Weetabix the Farmer

I mean. Who thought it was a good idea just driving a new road straight across the Icknield Way like that? No consideration for the people driving cattle already. I know they say they're cutting the time to Londinium to two days. And it will be really handy in 2,000 years when they build Milton Keynes. But it's just a mess at the minute.

  • Arthur the Druid

In my opinion they should never have drained that swamp at Hockliffe. Yeah, it was a problem getting trench foot every time you went to the Beefeater. But it stopped the Iceni invading.

  • Copydex the Glue Maker

The Iceni invading? You been sniffing glue? I have, obviously. But doesn't mean you all have to. No way are the Iceni invading.

  • Arthur the Druid

They won't need to now. Straight down Watling Street, over the lights and on down to Verulamium. You mark my words, if this new road doesn't lead to the destruction of several cities my name's Caractacus.

  • Copydex the Glue-Maker

All we need to sort it out is a kind of double roundabout. Then it's dead easy for anybody coming down from Lactodorum, take a nice easy left and you're on Church Street. I wonder why it's called Church Street?

  • Weetabix the Farmer

The Beaker Folk tried a double roundabout. It was all right for the locals. But it was the Londiniumites. They came up here at weekends, couldn't understand it, panicked and next thing you knew, chaos. I remember when there used to be ox carts stacked up all the way back to Magiovinium.

  • Copydex the Glue-Maker

And why do they have to make it so straight? They had to knock down 4 hovels coming down Half Moon Hill and they could have just gone round them. No respect. There was a Holy Oak at Markate. Cut it down and went straight through. They could have just gone round it on either side.

  • Weetabix the Farmer

I blame it on Europe. Them Romans drive on the right over there. Come over here and they've got no idea what they're doing

  • Arthur the Druid

It's gonna wreck trade in the town centre now you can get to Deva in a fortnight. Who's going to buy woad on the market now?

  • Weetabix the Farmer

The market's gone compared to what it was back in Neolithic Times. They should never have moved it outside the Boudiccas Way Hall.

  • Arthur the Druid
It was charging for parking really did it. Came out Tiffanix's Disco last week and they'd clamped my chariot. Only been ten minutes over the three hours.

Sunday, 17 July 2022

Liturgy of The Heat

Archdruid: Behold for the heat is so great that our tongues cleave to our mouths. We long for cool water as does Sylvia Sims long for an ice-cold lager in Alex. And the druids wear not robes. They go about undraped in their druidical drapings.

All: Especially Burton, who has forgotten that his lack of trouserings are no longer covered over by his druidical drapings.

Burton: Oops. Sorry. I'll just borrow the Liturgucal Voile from the Worship Focus.

Archdruid: The Liturgical Voile is long and beautiful, coloured as is the rainbow.

All: But it's still see-through, Burton, you idiot.

Burton may slink from the Moot House.

Archdruid: Theresa May underpants. I ask you.

All: Margaret Thatcher is at least stylish.

Archdruid: And so now we turn back to the heat. The sun burns down like that which scorches the desert of the Negev, and the wadis of Husborne Crawley run dry. We cry out for the blessed rain.

All: I bless the rains down in Africa.

Archdruid: And we cry out under the hot sun, how long must it be so hot?

All: Nah. We remember the long hot summer of '76. The snowflakes of today melting in the sun. In '76 we sat out on the beach, watching England getting hammered by the West Indies, in special tin foil funnels so we got even hotter.

Archdruid: You what?

All: We'd just finished fighting both World Wars. And anybody who'd been through the Blitz and the Somme wasn't going to worry about a bit of sun.

Archdruid: Just how old do you think you're claiming to be?

All: And we were in the Common Market but before Up Yours Delors and his ban on ladybirds so the Germans could sell us their beetles. We had good English ladybirds everywhere. In your hair, on your arms, on the ground, up your nose... And when it was Flying Ants Day we'd smear ourselves in jam and run around seeing who could get the most ant bites.

Archdruid: Are you seriously...

All: And then after a full day in the sun, rubbing each other down in Beef Dripping - none of your poncey extra-virgin olive oil back then - when we were thoroughly crispy, we'd drip eight pints of Ind Coope Best, and pop ourselves into the oven for a couple of hours. We'd be walking back from the pub, just as the bakers opened, and they'd slide us in with the crusty whites. None of your namby-pamby wholemeal gluten-free vegan-friendly sesame-seed-and-halloumi lardy dah bread in '76. Couple of hours in the oven, then back to lay on the melting tarmac on the A5 as the traffic ground to a halt because a Fiat - never a British car, never a Vaxuhall or a Ford or an Austin Allegro or a Hillman Imp - a Fiat had overheated.

Marston Moretaine: Actually, it was normally a Hillman Imp.

All: Heretic! Wash your mouth out with coal-tar soap. The proper stuff made from coal tar. Not the modern day EU-friendly non-carcinogenic coal-tar-scented variety.

Archdruid: Do you think this actually happened? Or have you been out in the sun too long?

All: Then we had the invasion of jellyfish. They swam up the Lea and invaded Luton. Some of them had run market stalls in the Arndale for months before anyone noticed. And when we wanted to cool down we sucked Jubblies. Triangular lollipops so big they were carved out of icebergs and brought into Portsmouth Harbour by tugs. Not Filipono tugs. English tugs. Then we hosed ourselves down - with the hose attached to the hot tap - put a few coals on the fire and settled down to watch the Goodies in black-and-white on a 12" telly, with granny on the roof making sure the aerial was in the right direction. So don't tell us it's a bit hot. When the 1976 heatwave started in 1946, just after we won the war - just us, nobody else - and lasted until 1994. AND we had to watch the 4 Yorkshiremen sketch on the telly. Every day. Till nan fell off the roof.

Archdruid: Go out to spread your delusions to all nations.

All:So don't talk to me about so-called climate change.

Martha and Mary and John Clare and Nora Batty

Sat here after the Folk Night at the end of the John Clare Festival and reflecting on this morning's Lectionary reading of Martha and Mary.

If he weren't already in love with one, John Clare would be a Mary of course. His record of indolence, laying in ditches and general mimsying about would ensure that.

Coming forward to our own time, I remember in the Last of the Summer Wine.episode, "Happy Birthday Robin Hood", Alvin Smedley (more hygienic occupier of the house of the late Compo Simmonite) is sitting outside his house while Nora Batty is making the dust fly around with that broom. Alvin asks her something along the lines of, don't you ever think of giving some time to vino? To which Nora replies, "Life's not for vino. Life's for sweeping."

The day after Nora died, of course, her steps were dusty again. Can you take memories of clean steps with you? As the Philosopher said, "Vanity; vanity; all is vanity."

Martha's got God in her front room. And she's in the kitchen, cutting the crusts off sandwiches.

And we live in a world where our productivity is often all that is seen to matter. Measured as economic units. Told to get back out to the office as soon as ministers worry that JD Wetherspoon and Pret a Manger  might find their profits endangered. Whisked on straight roads, round interesting villages, to ensure we get from A to B as efficiently as possible regardless of how boring.

Sometimes it's a good idea to stop and stare. Read a single verse of the Bible and think about it for a week. See the glory of the Lord in the beauty of a leaf. Hold hands. Ideally with someone you should be holding hands with. Talk to your family while there's time. I've never heard a funeral sermon that included the words, "most of all we give thanks for all the time they spent improving the formatting on PowerPoints."

The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics meant Nora Batty's steps could never be kept clean. From dust she came, and to dust they will return. Mary chose the right thing. To sit at the feet of the Master and listen.

Thursday, 14 July 2022

The Straight Lines of Oppression

 Up in the lovely, formerly Northamptonshire village of Helpston for a visit for the John Clare Weekend. I look at a map. And the thing jumps out.

The straight lines.

Straight lines are nearly always the sign of colonisation, don't you think? When the Romans built Ermine Way and King Street across the Fenny edges in straight lines, they were defying custom and - let's face it - gravity. Most noticeable in the Roman road across Hardy's "Egdon Heath" (Black Heath near Dorchester). The road goes straight over hills. In sheer logistical terms nonsense - any sensible Beaker Person would go round. But in the language of Empire, of domination - if a legion has to climb in a straight line to the top of a hill, every hairy-bottomed Celt for miles around would see the sunlight glinting off the armour and think, if they're so stupid as to climb up like that, what will they do to us if we revolt?

And then the drainage of the Fens. Straight lines. The road from Helpston to Glinton. A straight line. One that superceded John Clare's wobbling and merry route - in his mind if not in reality - from his real home to that of his imagined alternative wife, poor Mary Joyce. Until it too was bisected by another straight line - the iron road from Peterborough to the North.

And these straight lines like the Roman one were the marks of control - of the Duke of Bedford and suchlike landowning chums, deciding to drain away the traditional lives of Fenfolk and uplanders alike, in the interests of fields of waving turnips. Once you get out there, where the horizons are distant and the skies are vast, if you look at the middle distance it's all straight. Straight roads, square fields, straight dykes intersecting at right angles. It's all straight lines. Order imposed on the fenny primal chaos. Draining out the Wills of the Wisp with the curves. The fields have been joined to fields until there is no-one on the land.

The borders of the United States, as you head west, are straight. Some states are, allowing for the curvature of the earth, as near rectangles as you can get on an oblate spheroid. Straight lines imposed on the winding trails of those who were there first.

And the borders of the Middle East and Africa - drawn by rich Westerners on  paper napkins, according to legend - straight.

A straight line on a map is an act of aggression. A defiance of history, folklore, custom, tradition and geography. Two fingers up to the land, to the people that lived with the land, to God, who apparently chooses to seat Godself in a triangle around a round table. It has no place in the mental landscape of a free person who chooses not to oppress others. It is the oppression of Nature and human nature.

Let us go round hills, or wind up them to winding ridgeways. Let us reclaim the crooked roads of our crooked ancestors. Let us see straight lines for what they are - the mark of Empire, the mark of oppression. Wanderers of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose but a few hours due to your less efficient route planning.

And avoid Milton Keynes. It's all straight lines.

Wednesday, 13 July 2022

The Evolution of the Church Rota

St Myrtle's, Mytrle-on-the-Myrtle

Trinity 5
2004MarthaMavis    BettyBettyRogerDaisy
2005    ArthurFlorence MabelMabel
2006MarthaMavis    BettyBettyVicar
2007 ArthurMarthaMabelMabel
Vicar VicarDaisy
2018    Daisy    
2020    Daisy    
2021Daisy    Daisy
2022"All Together" at St Bogwulf's,Greater Myrtle

Sunday, 10 July 2022

Politics and Religion

From Amos 7

"And Amaziah said to Amos, ‘O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.’

Then Amos answered Amaziah, ‘I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”"

Went to Westminster Abbey a couple of weeks ago. Special service marking the half-millennium of William Cecil (aka Lord Burghley), chief minister to Elizabeth I. All the great and the good were there, and David Starkey. And Starkey's summary of Cecil's life included the difference of opinion between Cecil (pronounced Cicel, apparently) and Elizabeth (pronounced Elezibath, I presume) over whether you should have bishops or not.

Brought me up quite short, I can tell you, in that place where monarchs are crowned and entombed, to consider they might expect control of some kind over the church.

And yet here's the minister of the king, 2,800 years ago, telling Amos to go and preach somewhere else. Not at Bethel, which is the king's shrine.

And of course it's true. This is the king's shrine - Beth-el, the house of God. As opposed to the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem which Solomon created. When Solomon was consolidating his earthly power by insisting sacrifices could only be offered in the place that he decided.

So when you hear anyone saying religion should stay out of politics - it never did, in either direction. As Putin makes the leaders of his tame Church rich, as Church of England canon law is part of English law, as the US proclaims its separation of church and state while its Supreme Court rules in line with the religious "Moral Majority" - it never did. It never could, to a degree. Questions of what is sensible, what is right, how we treat those in need - they're questions where faith and politics intersect. How as a Christian can you come to a political question about refugees and not remember that your Lord was one? How can you consider social security and not think of the injunctions to care for the orphan and the aged? While balancing with St Paul's instruction that if you don't work, you don't eat? If you have faith, it must always direct how you act and what you believe in the public sphere.

But here in Bethel it's politics trying to rule religion. Amos is told to clear off to Judah and earn his money there. And his reply is powerful. 

"I'm not a pheasant plucker..." he begins.

Sorry. It's been a long week.

"I'm not a prophet, nor a prophet's son." So it's not his profession, handed down. 

"I'm a shepherd and sycamore-fig dresser". So he ain't rich, but he's supporting himself. He doesn't need the king to pay him to tell him good news. He's not a client. He's not a yes man. He's free to say what God tells him. The king may own the bull and the altar at Bethel. But God owns the world. Money can compromise the tame priests and prophets of King Jeroboam. Amos is free of that.

But what Amos is in thrall to, is the Spirit of God. And that is where he gets his ability to tell uncomfortable truths to power. He works from the faith of God to hold nations to account.

And that's how we should work, sisters, brothers, and otherwise-identifying siblings. If we have faith then our moral lives, and our political engagements, should flow from our faith and our holy books to our own lives and then our political lives - even if that's just once every few years in the ballot box. To mention just a few people whose faith fed into their political activities, I'll choose Oscar Romero, Margaret Thatcher, Martin Luther King, and the Revd Ian Paisley. If you're hot under the collar about any of those, I shall merely say that the Kingdom of God is a strategy - any particular viewpoint is just tactics. You may think one or more of those people are saints, and we'll maybe need to agree to differ. But that's my point. 

So let our faith drive our actions, and let us give thanks for our freedom to pray (and mostly to say) what we wish. And let us always hold our own political beliefs up to view in the light of Christ.

Friday, 8 July 2022

Liturgy for Hearing Peter Bone Has Been Made Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

 Archdruid: I'm sorry?

All: You what?

Young Keith: You having a giraffe?

Charlii: Is that even a job?

All: Is he even a real human being?

Archdruid: We're just being trolled now.

Hnaef: Yeah. Dead cat. What's Johnson trying to hide?

Daphne: Well, he's kind of resigned.

Archdruid: And all the Tories are jostling to be leader.

Burton Dasset: And he knows he can't even have his wedding reception at Chequers.

All: And even the Mail is having to admit he's a dead loss.

Archdruid: So there's only one conclusion.

All: He's having a laugh.

Archdruid: It's all been a laugh. Getting Brexit done.

All: Having a laugh.

Archdruid: Parties during lockdown.

All: Having a laugh.

Archdruid: Telling the 1922 he'd do it all again.

All: Having a laugh.

Archdruid: Anyone think it's funny?

Burton Dasset: Well, he's just an ordinary bloke we can all get on with...

Burton may be pelted with marshmallows.

Sunday, 3 July 2022

Naaman the Self-important

Is it just me, on this fine sunny just-after-Midsummer morning, or is there just the hint of the Epiphany about the story of Naaman the Syrian, great commander of the Aramean army?

He's told there is an answer to his leprosy. He's told that answer lies with Elisha the prophet.

And so he goes to the King of Israel instead. Nearly causing an international incident. There's a problem with prophets generally in Israel and Judah - the ones that are real prophets are too inclined to tell the truth. And the kings can't handle the truth. So the prophets at court are tame ones who say what the kings want to hear. Which means they have traded God's power for earthly power. No wonder the king's so worried - is this a pretext for war?

But just as the Magi went to Jerusalem when they should have gone to Bethlehem in the first place - the power of God is somewhere outside the palace.

And so, like the Magi after him, this man seeking healing from the East comes to Elisha's house. And reveals the source of his confusion. Because he tries to buy his healing. With enough gold and silver to set Elisha up for life and the after life. And some clothes.

Elisha's God doesn't need the money. How can you pay for blessings from the one who smashed stars apart to make gold in the first place? What is God going to do with ten sets of clothes? Because this isn't magic - Elisha doesn't own this healing power. It's God's Spirit that will heal.

All Naaman has to do... is dip himself in the Jordan 7 times. How can that be so hard?

But we find that Naaman's real problem in life isn't leprosy. It's pride. He thought he could buy healing. He thought he'd impress with his gold and silver and oddly-specific number of sets of clothes. But Elisha doesn't even come to the door. He's not impressed by money. All he needs from Naaman is obedience to the true God.

You know the old story that a wise man - St Francis or Thomas Aquinas, according to your Google results - goes to see the Pope. And the Pope's showing him all the Vatican treasure. And refers to the healing in Acts 3, and says "St Peter can no longer say, 'silver and gold have I none'." And Francis or Aquinas or whoever replies, "nor can he any longer say, 'get up and walk'"

Naaman has confused his power with the ability to command God. And you can do a lot with earthly power to command what the Church does, it turns out. From rich families buying up the best Church of England vicarages to modern-day church leaders using their prophetic authority to get away with their sexual felonies. But the One that money and power can't command - is God.

And so Naaman stands and rants. Elisha ain't impressed with his riches. He doesn't even think much of his rivers. But it's the slaves that have wisdom again. They're used to having no power. But they do understand how to do what they're told. They do know where real authority comes from.

"Why not just do what he says. What's it gonna cost you?" 

More than all the gold and silver. When Naaman thought he could buy his healing, he thought his relationship to the God of Israel was transactional. A deal between two partners - I want healing, I have money.

Now he's discovered his relationship to God is one of obedience and trust. Do what you're told, Naaman. And then I'll heal you.

And so Naaman goes through this pre-Baptist baptism. Dipped 7 times for completeness. Coming to God with nothing and knowing he can't compel God - he can only trust.

Which is how we come to God in Baptism. And how we walk with God every day. God delights in your gifts - God gave them to you in the first place. So we come in trust, in obedience, in weakness and trusting in the One who can do everything.

Wednesday, 29 June 2022

Hymnwriters Go Shopping Number 6 - Sydney Carter

Shopkeeper: Hello, Mr Carter. What are you looking for?

Sydney Carter: Hello, O guardian of the shop. I need to write a heretical song, yet one whose folksy whimsy makes people think it's down with the youth.

Shopkeeper: A challenge indeed. Even for a songsmith as dreadful as yourself. But why are you here in this furniture shop?

SC: I've invited some friends round to help. The world's worst artist: Andy Warhol. The world's worst hippy songwriter: John Lennon. And the world's worst poet: William McGonagall. I'm hoping having such low-quality company will inspire me to write something really terrible.

Shopkeeper: So why are you here?

SC: I only have one chair currently in my Whimsytorium, where I write terrible hymns. I need adequate seating.

Shopkeeper: So you need a three-seater piece of furniture for your guests?

SC: Correct. 

Shopkeeper: And given such unexciting company, you'll be wanting a really colourful item of furniture? Brighten things up?

SC: Not at all. Last time I let Lennon sit on a brightly-coloured seat, he wrote "Imagine." We can't run the risk of anything so tragic happening again. I need a dull colour. Beige?

Shopkeeper: Cream? Brown? Buff?

SC: Something in between. I need an uninteresting, light grey-brown, three-seater.

Shopkeeper: I have just the thing over there I think - in the clearance section. I've been wanting to sell it off cheap because I'm sick of the sight of it.

SC:You don't like it?

Shopkeeper: I am so bored of the dun settee.

SC: Actually, forget it. I may not need my guests after all.

Monday, 27 June 2022

Hymnwriters Go Shopping Number 5 - Robin Mark

Assistant: Welcome to Harrods, Mr Mark. How can I help you?

Robin Mark: I was wondering if you could explain what is the meaning of some of the department signs. What is "Haberdashery?"

Assistant: Being Harrods, this is where you will find the high-class buttons and sewing requisites.

Robin Mark: And the Salon de Parfums?

Assistant: That is where we keep the fine scents and colognes.

Robin Mark: And the lingerie department?

Assistant: That is where we keep expensive items of underclothing. Such as the dear pants.

Sunday, 26 June 2022

At 6s and 7s

Having to calm everyone down after this morning's hymn numbers that Young Keith chose. To wit:


It's not that they fitted the readings or the sermon. He just wanted to upset Bryn, who does the hymn numbers on the board. That's a lot of Tippex and number 8's he's gone through today.

Saturday, 25 June 2022

The Shiny-Shoed Prophet Syndrome

He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, ‘Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?’ When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.
When the company of prophetswho were at Jericho saw him at a distance, they declared, ‘The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.’ They came to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. (2 Kings 2:13-15)

 Bit of an odd character, Elisha. Only summoner of boy-eating bears recorded in the Bible. Famously bald.

And it appears he really wasn't happy about Elijah going up to heaven. Because every time someone tells him Elijah is going to be carried off, Elisha tells them to be quiet. Obviously he doesn't want to lose his boss. But is he wondering whether he'll be up to the job - Elijah's some act to follow obviously.

But it's going to happen. And he knows he needs the full inheritace of the Spirit from Elijah if he's going to take on the job.

Now, couple of comments about business (and politics, and often the church) here. 

We confuse confidence with competence. What is it that so many people get fooled by a fool who can talk a good game? Why do evangelicals always need to follow a visionary? Why are they always, in Michael Saward's phrase, "suckers for a prophet"? We always follow the people who believe they're good - forgetting that they may be too dim to know how unqualified they are for the job. Don't fall for the chap who turns up to an interview with shiny shoes, and think he's the one to do a great job - his mum probably shone them for him before he went out. Ask hard questions.  Don't be dazzled by the shiny shoes.

And how often to businesses bring people in to follow roles, rather than promoting people into vacancies? I've often wondered why it is - and I suspect it's because they know the flaws of the people they've got in the business already. Whereas they can believe anything they like about someone they bring in from the outside. Particularly if they have shiny shoes.

Whereas God is clearly planning to promote Elisha. And he doesn't like it. Maybe his shoes aren't shiny enough.

But what Elijah does know is - if he's going to do the job God clearly have in mind for him - he's only going to do it in the power of God's Spirit. When that chariot goes up into heaven - he's going to need the mantle of Elijah.

And what humility he shows. When he approaches the Jordan, he knows that Elijah crossed it using his mantle - and he does the same thing. But he doesn't do it in his own strength, he does it in humble trust in the Spirit: "Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?" and he gets his answer. The Lord, the God of Elijah, is his God as well.

Don't trust in shiny shoes. Don't trust in people whose confidence outweighs their competence. Trust in the God of Elijah. It's likely that God is expecting you to do something. If so, don't trust in your ability. But don't doubt it either. Trust in the God of Elijah.

Thursday, 23 June 2022

Hymnwriters Go Shopping Number 4 - Pete Seeger

Shopkeeper: Look, chum, have you come in to buy some stationery? Or are you just going to stand there describing it?

A Midsummer Night's Bream

I know this really doesn't have much to do with the Saint himself. But Beaker Folk are invited to this evening's All Night Angler Church to celebrate St John's Eve.

The idea is to have a seeker-friendly event where we can sit quietly, in the stillness around the duckpond, consider our calling to be Fishers for People, and wait for the sight of the sun rising within the great Trilithon of Duckhenge. Before we then move Duckhenge round to the other end of the pond, ready for the Winter Solstice sunset.

Every hour, we will hear a reading from the Good Book ("Fly Fishing" by J.R.Hartley)

Sitting around the pond, attentively, gives a very real sense of mindfulness. And the fact that there are no fish in the pond means we will not have the distraction of catching anything. The perfect Midssumer Night.

Except for the Beaker Fertility Folk. They have their own ideas of what to do on Midsummer's Night. I'll stay with All Night Angler Church.

The Beaker Initiation Environmental Promises

I note that the Diocese of Oxford has jumped on the green bandwagon with its new post-baptism promises to protect the environment.

Although its aims to insulate vicarages might be more effective in the real world, on the slightly-vague-promises-we-sort-of-want-to-keep plane, they're still a way behind us.

In our last post-naming-ceremony, for instance, Orik gave the following affirmations:

Archdruid: Do you commit yourself to getting around more by bike, or failing that a Tesla?

Candidate: Oh yes. Definitely the Tesla.

Archdruid: That wasn't an "exclusive-or".

Candidate: Sure. 

Archdruid: Do you promise to shop only in environmentally aware shops, or Co-op?

Candidate: Or Waitrose?

Archdruid: Oh yes. Waitrose is lovely.

All: It's a bit pricier, but you get what you pay for.

Archdruid: Will you stop burning tyres in Top Field?

Candidate: And give up my livelihood?

Archdruid: Environmental decisions can be tricky.

Candidate: I'll offset some CO2 by planting a tree.

Archdruid: Will you only fly for really good business reasons, which you definitely can't fulfil by Zoom, and definitely aren't jollies to Amsterdam?

Candidate: Definitely. Can I bring you something back next time?

Archdruid: Redcurrant gin?

Candidate: Absolutely.

Archdruid: Will you use only ineffective green detergent for washing purposes in your house, so you can go around in slightly gray "whites" with a martyr's smile?

Candidate: Of course. But I'll still need Turtle Wax for the Tesla.

Wednesday, 22 June 2022

The Performative DudeBro Church Does the Beatitudes

HeadDudeBro: Blessed are those that say controversial things.

DudeBroCongregation: For they shall say they were quoted out of context.

HeadDudeBro: Blessed are the Delingpoles

DudeBroCongregation: For they shall be followed by Twitter accounts with lots of zeroes in their names and flags on their profile..

HeadDudeBro: Blessed are those that equate celebrating people's sexuality with criminality.

DudeBroCongregation: For they shall get in the Chuch Times.

HeadDudeBro: Blessed are those that get a backlash to the cruel things they say.

DudeBroCongregation: For they will say they are persecuted

HeadDudeBro: Blessed are those that trust faith over medecine.

DudeBroCongregation: For they shall have medicine to fall back on.

HeadDudeBro: Blessed are those that indulge in ad-hominems.

DudeBroCongregation: For they shall say claim other people are being nasty to them.

HeadDudeBro: Blessed are skinny white ageing former actors who pretent they're tough.

DudeBroCongregation: For they shall find people like them to build them up.

Hymnwriters Go Shopping Number 3: Sue McClellan, John Paculabo, and Keith Ryecroft

Shopkeeper: Welcome to Mrs Toasty's Heating Emporium. We have a wide range of heat-source, air-source, gas-fired, solar, storage and.... Oh. It's you three again.

I'll get the Wood Burner catalogue.

Liturgy for the Day After the Summer Solstice

Archdruid: Nights are drawing in.

All: No, they're not.

Archdruid: You what?

All: Only kidding. Soon be Christmas.

Tuesday, 21 June 2022

Hymnwriters Go Shopping Number 2 - Jan Struther

 Shopkeeper: Good afternoon, madam.Welcome to Cheddar George's Cheese Emporium.

 Jan Struther: Good afternoon, George. I would like 2 pounds of your finest Wensleydale.

Shopkeeper: Here you are, madam.

Jan Struther: Thank you very much. Here's four buttercups and twenty-seven daisies.

Shopkeeper: Give me the cheese back, and get out, you weirdo.

Monday, 20 June 2022

The Game of Church Keys

Would you like to know what it's like being a clergy in a multi-church set-up? Wondering if village life with 4 or more buildings is right for you? 

Then why not play the Game of Church Keys? For one to any number of clergy. Although some of the other players may be part-time, or retired, so only play when they're available, or when they want to. So it may take some time.


Roll a 6 to leave the Rectory. Thereafter, take it in turns to roll the dice.

To keep all the congregations happy, you must visit all four churches at least once, but also an equal number of times. Which means if you get back to the Rectory, and you've been to, say St Pega's twice but St Gertrude's only once - you're going to have to go round again. And if you then land on St Pega's again... well, you know you've got to go all round again. 

And again.

And again.

Visits only count if you actually land on the church space. "Just showing your face" is not good enough.

 Game ends when you achieve the winning position as above, or when you decide to go back into teaching / retire / run off with the collection.



Click on the picture for best view of the game