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GroomNews: May 2016 NewsFlash May 22, 2016

Posted by Phil Groom in Life.
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Hello and thank you to everyone who has been praying for us or otherwise cheering us on as we’ve settled into our new home and roles in Wiltshire.

Today it gives me (Phil writing) great pleasure to announce that Sue has passed the Viva (live examination) for her DThM (Doctorate in Theology and Ministry) with flying colours, not even minor corrections required! If you’re familiar with the way the academic world works, you’ll appreciate how unusual that is: doctorates are very rarely signed off without some revisions or rewriting required; and in this case as much as anything the immediate pass acknowledges the important contribution that Sue’s work makes to the ongoing conversations about training for ordination in the Church of England.

It’s been a long haul, just shy of nine years of research, analysis and writing, and we’re very grateful to everyone whose loving support and encouragement has made it possible, amongst many others the students who agreed to be her ‘guinea pigs’ and her supervisors in Durham, Roger Walton and Stephen Barton to begin with, then Jeff Astley and Richard Briggs. Once the official paperwork has been signed off, her official title will be the Venerable Canon Dr, but to friends and family she will, of course, always simply remain Sue.

Congratulations Sue!


In action with Gary Redfern, K&A Fundraising Team Leader, at Caen Hill, Devizes

I’m also delighted to report some changes for me: after three months as a free agent (unemployed benefits scrounger if you subscribe to the government’s spin on things) I now have two part-time jobs to keep me occupied. Earlier this month I started work for the Canal & River Trust as a Towpath Fundraiser, which means I get to stand around on the towpath at Caen Hill Locks here in Devizes and welcome walkers, cyclists and other passers-by to the Kennet & Avon canal, tell them all about it and invite them to become Friends of the Trust. At this time of year and when the sun is shining, I think it must be the best job in the world! Please do take a look at the Trust’s website and consider signing up yourself: Canal and River Trust > Become a Friend

My second job is to work freelance on behalf of a Christian publisher as an advocate to raise interest in and promote sales of some of their more left-of-field books amongst potential readers who are not being reached by traditional trade channels. It promises to be a challenging role as I seek to work in a way that doesn’t trespass on the territory of existing booksellers, and liaise with authors to help them develop opportunities to generate sales through their own online activities. Look out for me in a social media space near you soon, and please don’t be offended if I tell you to support your local Christian bookshop rather than buy from me! It’s a new venture both for the publisher and for me so it’s initially on a trial basis, subject to review.

There’s much more we could tell you, of course: about the joys and challenges of being an Archdeacon in an area with lots of clergy vacancies and more clergy approaching retirement; or about the pleasures of looking after a wonderful garden where Spring has definitely sprung, the grass is reaching for the sky and all the trees and bushes are filling out with magnificent greenery; but we’ll save that for another time.

Thank you once again for your prayers and support. Please continue to pray for us as we shall continue to pray for you: we look forward to hearing your news in return.

With our love,

Phil & Sue

GroomNews Christmas 2015 December 14, 2015

Posted by Phil Groom in Advent and Christmas, Life, News.
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May the Wisdom of the Magi and the Light of Christ’s Advent Star guide you and illuminate your way this Christmas and throughout the coming year

The Visit of the Magi, from one of many Crib Sets featured in the St Mary’s Henlow Family Crib Festival this year. Click through the picture to find out more…

WELCOME to GroomNews Christmas 2015! Another year almost over as we wonder where the time went as we prepare to celebrate the wonder of God With Us as we prepare to move home and boat as we — phew: got all that? Exciting times here on Planet Groomsville!

Introducing the Next Archdeacon of Wilts
If you saw the announcements in November, you can skip this; but for those who missed it, we’re delighted to announce that Sue has been appointed as the next Archdeacon of Wilts in the Diocese of Salisbury.

So what, you may wonder, is an Archdeacon? Think of it as the Church of England’s equivalent of an Area Manager: instead of looking after her own parish, Sue will be working with lots of parishes, supporting their mission and ministry and helping clergy and PCCs as they deal with various administrative, legal and other issues. Want to know more? See the press release on the Salisbury diocesan website: A New Archdeacon for Wilts

What about Phil?
Good question! He’s handing in his notice at Sainsbury’s with a transfer request to Devizes, where we’ll be based (our new home is only 100 yards or so from the Kennet & Avon Canal) but there are no vacancies there right now so we’re looking at a period (hopefully brief) where he’ll be Archdeacon’s Estate Manager. In other words, baking cakes and looking after house & garden until he finds paid work. Baking cakes? Yes indeed: his new hobby — here’s his latest, this year’s Christmas cake:

This year's Christmas Cake (recipe adapted from Mary Berry; mixed, baked, iced and decorated by Phil)

This year’s Christmas Cake (recipe adapted from Mary Berry; mixed, baked, iced and decorated by Phil)

His other creations (or concoctions, depending on your point of view) this year have included cheese scones, apple cinnamon cakes, apple & apricot cakes and a cherry-lemon loaf.

In the meantime, he’s as busy as ever with various other projects including 5 Quid for Life, the UK Christian Bookshops Directory and a miscellany of church and community websites: paid work or otherwise, he’s not about to run out of things to do!

Research News: almost there!
The end is in sight for Sue’s research as she works on her final chapter (the conclusion, of course) and pulls everything together before submission next year—gulp!

Almost waiting for a lock on the Northampton Arm (July 2015)

Almost waiting for a lock on the Northampton Arm of the Grand Union (July 2015)

Almost Update
No edition of GroomNews would be complete without an Almost update, so here it is: our fridge died. Sob! After 25 years loyal service, no less, on the first night of this year’s holiday! Boat fridges don’t come cheap, alas: a replacement would have cost at least £600; but after much asking around, we found someone who could fix it and it’s back in action, cool as ever, for only £60.

And finally…
Finally, a HUGE thank you to everyone who has encouraged and supported us along the way, with special thanks to the people of Henlow and Langford. It’s been wonderful to see the two churches grow in confidence, faith and love: long may that continue! If you’d like to know more about either or both churches, visit their websites or facebook pages — or even better, visit in person: you can be sure of a warm welcome!

With our love, prayers and very best wishes,

Phil & Sue

PS: Want to keep up with us in between issues of GroomNews? Connect with Phil on facebook and twitter:

Introducing the next Archdeacon of Wilts November 3, 2015

Posted by Phil Groom in Church, Life, News.
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The Revd Canon Sue Groom

The Revd Canon Sue Groom, next Archdeacon of Wilts

TODAY it gives me immense pleasure to introduce the next Archdeacon of Wilts, someone most readers of this blog will already know: none other than my wonderful wife, the Revd Canon soon-to-be-Venerable Sue Groom.

Sue’s present dual-role post as Priest-in-Charge of Henlow & Langford and St Albans Diocesan Director of Ordinands (DDO) requires her to give three months notice, so the lovely people of Henlow and Langford haven’t seen the last of us yet: we don’t leave until the end of January 2016; but both of us would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has welcomed us and made our 6+ years here in Bedfordshire so enjoyable and worthwhile — it’s been a genuine privilege to share this part of our lives with you.

Sue’s last service in the Benefice is scheduled for Sunday 31st January, a combined service with the two parishes together at St Andrew’s, Langford, and we’d love to see as many people there as possible: please do join us if you’re in the area. Her licensing as Archdeacon of Wilts is scheduled for Monday 22nd February  at St John’s, Devizes — close to where we’ll be living, a superb location on the Kennet & Avon Canal — followed on Thursday 25th February by a diocesan welcome service for both Sue and the new Bishop of Sherborne at Salisbury Cathedral: look out for more details of these services nearer the time.

The news was announced in both parishes on Sunday 1st November 2015, and further announcements and a press release are being issued today via the official St Albans and Salisbury diocesan news channels; all that remains for me to say now is:

Congratulations Sue!

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Where is the humanity? Where is the mercy? October 6, 2015

Posted by Phil Groom in 5 Quid for Life, Mental Health.
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EVEN DALEKS UNDERSTAND MERCY. But not, it seems, the DWP, the Department for Work and Pensions.

That’s the conclusion I reached this week as I signed yet another cheque from 5 Quid for Life for someone whose benefits have been axed after a Work Capability Assessment (WCA). No matter that they’ve been diagnosed with mental health difficulties which affect their ability to hold down a job: the DWP’s decision makers decided that they’re capable of some type of work and can therefore no longer be paid Employment and Support Allowance, ESA:

Because your work capability assessment shows that you can do some type of work this means we can't pay you ESA...

Because your work capability assessment shows that you can do some type of work this means we can’t pay you ESA…

No matter that they’re out of work with no job prospects on the horizon: they’re capable of some type of work and can therefore no longer be paid ESA.

No matter that this leaves them without enough income to live, without enough to cover the basics of rent, heating, utilities or even food: they’re capable of some type of work and can therefore no longer be paid ESA.

No matter that finding work is hard enough for those who are fit let alone for someone being starved by the state: they’re capable of some type of work and can therefore no longer be paid ESA.

Nothing matters, it seems, except the points scored on the WCA scorecard: score less than 15 and you may as well be facing a Dalek repeating its mindless mantra: Exterminate — or as pronounced by the DWP, ESAterminate.

We use a points system to assess whether you have limited capability for work or are capable of doing some type or [sic] work...

We use a points system to assess whether you have limited capability for work or are capable of doing some type or [sic] work…

This, my friends, is wrong. Worse than wrong, it’s evil. It dehumanises and degrades. It turns human lives into number crunching exercises — and for those whose lives are already blighted by mental illness, it drives them even further into depression and despair. It’s no wonder that ESA has been described as “the most bewildering, unfair and badly designed benefit since the abolition of the workhouse.” (Benefits and Work)

But it’s not only the victims it dehumanises: it also dehumanises the decision makers, turning them from fellow human beings into nothing more than DWP Daleks. Any compassion or care they may feel for their victims is overridden by the system as all discretion is taken away: the numbers are all that count. Like Clara Oswald locked inside that Dalek shell screaming, “I love you,” only to find her words translated by the Dalek interface into that nightmare word Exterminate, all they can do is fill in the blanks on their form letter and say, ESAterminate!

It’s strange: when I first started composing this post in my head, I was angry, more angry than words can express, angry at the DWP decision makers destroying people’s lives. But now, reflecting back over what I’ve said, that anger’s been ablated to something more like pity, pity for these DWP workers: I find myself wondering what it must be like for them at the end of their working day, knowing that they’ve successfully trashed yet another vulnerable person’s dignity? What kind of job satisfaction can there be in the knowledge that you’ve driven yet another person to the foodbanks? Or to suicide?

But more than the DWP Daleks endlessly repeating ESAterminate! ESAterminate! I pity their Davros, Iain Duncan Smith, and wonder what it must be like to be so lacking in the human graces of compassion and care? To have no understanding of mercy? To be responsible for so much destruction of hope and so many lives laid waste?

For in this, the real world, there is no time traveling Time Lord who can go back and show him mercy: there is only the dissolution of the present and the bleak landscape of a future in which there are no more benefit claimants to process because they’ve all been ESAterminated. Would that be the DWP’s final utopia, I wonder: a nation without people in need, created not by meeting their needs but by destroying the people?

Yes, I know there’s an appeals process: the ESAterminate letter says so. But the need is now, not in ten weeks time or however long that torturous process may happen to take (although if you’ve been ESAterminated, it’s definitely worth lodging an appeal).

The need is now — and that, my friends, is where you come in, lights in the darkness, driving back the despair to bring hope and life: as one of those 5 Quid for Life has helped recently  expressed it, “You’ve restored my faith in humanity.”

Whether you’re supporting 5 Quid for Life financially or by sharing the word that the project is there, you’re making a difference. Please: keep that support coming and keep on sharing so that when the DWP strip away their support, the people who need a mental health safety net can find the help they need.

Thank you.

Contact 5 Quid for Life | Donate | Posters and Flyers

An odd feeling, walking away from the polling station singing… May 7, 2015

Posted by Phil Groom in Current Affairs, Life.
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And the song in my heart?

I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard my people cry.
All who dwell in dark and shame,
My hand will save…

That’s the version in my head, anyway. In the official version, that third line ends with the word “sin” but as I’ve approached this General Election, it’s not sin that’s been bothering me: it’s shame. The shame imposed on so many people by the Tory government whose reign of abject terror for the poor, the weak and the vulnerable is about, I hope, to come to and end.

St Andrew's Church Hall, Langford: Polling Station for the 2015 General and Local Elections

St Andrew’s Church Hall, Langford: Polling Station for the 2015 General and Local Elections

I’m thinking of people like my friend Ros Bayes, whose Open letter to George Osborne posted back in April has had more than 800 facebook shares, more than 150 tweets and whose petition to Jeremy Hunt to stop asking families of disabled young people to discuss Do Not Resuscitate directives has attracted almost 1,000 signatures — but neither has received any response from its intended recipient.

I’m thinking of people like my friend Kimmie who writes at Stuck in Scared of the fear she feels for herself, her family and so many of her friends who dread the next WCA (Work Capability Assessment) coming around:

Many disabled people have had their lives turned upside down over the past five years – some have not survived the onslaught.

Vulnerable people, who (and I should know) are desperately afraid – deeply affected by right wing ‘scrounger’ propaganda, and increasingly concerned about their future.

People who’s symptoms of illness/disability (in many cases, including my own) have been greatly exacerbated by an overwhelming fear of the next WCA (Work capability Assessment)
An assessment interrogation that often ignores their own doctors opinion in a deliberate attempt to strip them of benefits.

Mentally ill people who are terrified by even the idea of having to expose themselves (face to face) at a ten minute (tick box) assessment (to a complete stranger) who is unlikely to be qualified to assess Mental Illness, and even less likely to empathise.

People who are despairingly aware, that even if they are lucky enough to pass the assessment, it won’t be long before the process begins again.

Many are self-harming, some feel/or have felt that suicide may be a better option than continuing to battle both debilitating mental illness/disability, and the ‘powers that be’.

Do I want to get rid of Cameron? – Hell Yes!

I’m thinking of the people who find themselves depending on food banks, people hit by the bedroom tax who find themselves unable to pay their rent, who find themselves homeless and out on the streets, people who find themselves forced into underpaid part-time or zero-hours jobs. I’m thinking of some of my former supermarket colleagues recently made redundant with their livelihoods stolen by bosses who keep themselves on with multi-million-pound packages. I’m thinking of the mentally ill people who ask, desperately, for help from 5 Quid for Life as they’re hit by benefit sanctions that are supposed to motivate them into work but instead drive them into even deeper despair.

This is the reality behind the spin the Tories put out about their so-called “Welfare Reforms” and their much-vaunted support for “hard working people” — ordinary people, hard-working people doing their best to take care of themselves and their families, having the support they need stripped away, layer by layer, until nothing is left except desolation, despair and the possibility of a shame-filled death at their own hands.

So I went out this morning and I cast my vote. I voted Green because I believe in Britain, because I believe in the British people, because I believe in the politics of hope rather than the politics of despair, because I believe that a society in which proper care and support for the poor, the weak, the vulnerable is possible, because I believe that it’s possible to live in harmony with the world rather than rip it apart for selfish gain — because I believe in sharing and in the common good.

As I approach the end of this post, there’s  another song playing in the background, this one from Coldplay via my iPad:

My song is love
Love to the loveless shown
And it goes up
You don’t have to be alone…

It gets to the heart of what this post is about, the message that I’d like to see our nation sending out to its most vulnerable people: you don’t have to be alone. The shame this government tries to impose upon you is a lie: hope is possible.

Whether that message gets home to the people who need to hear it is, of course, is down to you and me, the voters, as we cast our votes today. Please don’t waste the opportunity you have today by not voting. Get out and vote for what you believe in too; and when you do, I hope that afterwards, like me, you’ll feel a lightness in your step and a song in your heart — because every vote counts before the God who hears our cry.

This Generation January 24, 2015

Posted by Phil Groom in Life.
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TO WHAT shall I compare this generation?

To what shall I compare the strong of our nation?

They are like clowns, clambering to reach the top of a ladder, heedless of whom they trample in their race to the top; and when they reach the top — look out! The ladder falls! For those who should have been holding it up are gone, bleeding, wounded, dead, trampled to death by the very ones who needed them.

And then they do it all over again.

Wealth does not trickle down: it topples — again and again and they never learn.

What then can we do?

We can start again.

Those who are poor, those who are weak, those whom the wealthy have trampled: look not to the ladder but to one another. The ladder is a fool’s game: let it lie where it has fallen. Start again.

How, you ask? I say it again: look to one another. Behold the angel’s face in your brother, in your sister, in those weaker than yourself — for in their weakness lies your strength: lend them your strength and your strength will grow.

How, you ask?

Start small. £5 per month. Less than many spend in coffee shops each week: even you, perhaps?

5 Quid for Life: a mental health safety netYou know my chosen cause: 5 Quid for Life, a mental health safety net. It saves lives. It provides crisis support for people who’ve had everything stripped away: finance, dignity, hope. Everything stripped away by a government so wrapped up in its austerity measures and so lacking in imagination that the only way they can see to offset the crimes of the rich is to punish the poor. If you’re not in that place, you’re only a hair’s breadth from it: do you think that if the company you work for falls, that if your business fails, this government will care, will help you to pick up the pieces of your broken life?

Not so, my friend, not so. Go read my friend Boudicca Rising’s latest 5 Quid for Life blog post: Where we are. As you read, reflect: it could be you.

The time has come. Time to get down off that ladder. Time to let it lie. Time to stop scrambling and fighting and trampling. Time, rather, to love. To give. To stand alongside the poor, the vulnerable, the weak and the outcast.

Lend the weak your strength and your strength will grow. Trample them underfoot and you will land face down, a fallen clown.

Which is it to be?

Choose wisely: choose life.

Finally: I understand that 5 Quid for Life may not be for you. There are many, many other worthy causes. If 5 Quid for Life is not for you, choose one of them. If you can, choose several; for the more you give, the more your strength will grow.

May God grant you grace and the wisdom you need.

My thanks to Jean Vanier for his words of wisdom as he was interviewed this morning on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, words that inspired this post: the strong need the weak.

GroomNews Christmas 2014 December 20, 2014

Posted by Phil Groom in Advent and Christmas, Family, Life.
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GroomNews Christmas 2014: Printer friendly version (fold in 4 to make a Christmas card)

GroomNews Christmas 2014: Printer friendly version – fold in 4 to make a Christmas card (pdf, 3.1mb)

WELCOME to another edition of our infamous annual newsletter, in which we shall attempt to entertain, inform and perhaps even enlighten you rather than bore you too much with the minutiae of our lives…

Don’t Shoot: Sue made a Canon!
That, beloved reader, is Canon spelt with a single ‘n’ in the middle and it’s essentially the Church of England’s equivalent of a New Year’s Honour, which Sue received from the Bishop of St Albans in March this year. Read the churchwardens’ announcement here: Revd Sue to become an Honorary Canon

Research Update: Paper delivered in Durham
Sue’s write-up of her research is proceeding in fits and starts as she struggles to balance it with the demands of her work as a parish priest and DDO (Diocesan Director of Ordinands). In June, however, she was able to give a paper at a research conference in Durham outlining some of her findings. It’s all about the use of the language of formation in ordination training: feel free to ask her if you want the details!

Almost passes Hull Survey
Last year it was the cabin sides and roof that received lots of TLC; this year it was the hull — and we’re delighted to report that after 25 years the deepest pitting in Almost’s 6mm steel plate proved to be only 0.6mm, so at this rate she should easily outlast us. Here she is in dry dock:

Almost in Dry Dock 2014

The weather was much kinder to us this year for yet another cruise along the Nene to Peterborough and back — and we even managed to fit in a day-trip on the Nene Valley Steam Railway: whoooo-whooooooooooo! Here’s Phil’s video:

Groom Family Weddings
It’s been another year of wedding bells ringing amongst our nephews and nieces: congratulations to Ben & Laura, Catherine & Pete and Andrew & Cheryl.

Online and Interactive
In between stacking the supermarket shelves, Phil’s been as busy as ever with his various online projects, including revamping our own church website (links below) and keeping the UK Christian Bookshops Directory updated, christianbookshops.org.uk. Find him on twitter @notbovvered or on facebook at facebook.com/philgroom if you’re incurably curious.

With our love, best wishes for Christmas and prayers for peace in the coming year,

Phil & Sue

www.langfordchurch.org.uk | www.henlowchurch.org.uk

Do I look sane to you? June 11, 2014

Posted by Phil Groom in Life, Mental Health, Music, Short Story.
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No, don’t turn away: look me in the eye and tell me. Do I look sane to you?

C’mon, it’s not that hard a question… ah, I get it: you need another drink. Don’t worry, this one’s on me — waiter, over here please! What will it be? Really? Sure, no worries: iced water for my friend here, please; another Guinness for me. Thanks.

So c’mon: whaddaya reckon? Ah, I see: you’re scared. Scared in case you give the wrong answer and I react badly. Well there’s no need to be, that ain’t gonna happen. It’s a long time since I killed anyone, 2,000 years give or take, another life, might as well have been another world too, y’know, and anyway it was perfectly legal. Horrible way for someone to die, though.

Look, it’s OK: even if I did pull a gun, it wouldn’t be you on the wrong end of it, it’d be me. At least it would silence the voices. There are at least three of us in here so yeah, it’s kinda crowded, but apart from when we argue we get on OK, and that’s the only time the gun ever comes out.

Huh? Yes, yes, I have got a gun. Well no, not me: she has; but she’s not in control right now, I am, so we’re safe. No, I haven’t got it with me right now, we left it at home: if ever she does use it, it won’t be somewhere public like this, we never bring it out. She’s laughing now: says she wouldn’t use the gun, she’d use a knife. Nothing wrong with this body, she says, that she couldn’t put right with a sharp knife. Yeah, I wince when she says that too, you’ve got the idea.

Her name? Seriously? You want to know her name? Sorry, mate, but if I tell you that, odds are you’ll start talking to her instead of me, then she’ll be in control. That’s where it starts, y’know: get control of the voice and you’ve got control of the whole body. Scary. Best if you let me stay in control, I’m the sensible one.

Yeah, you’re right, never get lonely. Chance’d be a fine thing. It’s the music that did it, tipped the balance I mean. I was perfectly happy bashing away at things, as y’do, getting on with the job, just the usual background noises of the factory and other workers down the assembly line. Then they decided we needed music to cheer us on so they started piping it over the PA: a repetitive mix of noisy, thumping rock and mind-numbing pop with the odd bit of hip-hop/rap stuff thrown in, same tracks over and over and over, day in, day out.

How many days? Four’s the regular shift — four on, three off, round and round, week after week. Long shifts, yeah: ten hours plus. Works well for the business, though, means they can keep it going 24/7. Kinda dull but a good crew, friendly, mostly part-timers; easy-going management too, long as we hit our targets. Ha! That’s a laugh: hit our targets! That’s what made us think of the gun: shoot out the PA system, restore the silence. “Go on,” she said, “do it.”

“No way,” I said. “Yeah, we’ll get the silence back, but they’ll throw us out. Then what’ll we do? Not many jobs around here; and pull a stunt like that and no one will take us on.”

“So what?” she said. “We’ve been saving for years, can live off that.”

“Live where?” I said. That shut her up, for a few minutes anyway. Coz if we did that, we’d be out of a home as well as a job. So we didn’t. But hell, yeah: would’ve loved to’ve done it, would’ve showed the management a thing or too. Thing is, it’s not the music itself: we love music, we’ve got our songs that we sing. But we sing them in here, and this stuff, it was pushing them out, taking over. Earworms, y’know? Intrusive at work, invasive after. Relentless, stealing our minds. Yeah, minds. Don’t look at me like that, I’ve seen that look too often: “Got a right one here, haven’t we?” That’s what you’re thinking, innit?

*Sigh* … well, I guess you’re right. Question now is, what do we do? The gun’s a no-no, I know that: don’t want to get locked away. We’re thinking maybe give them a recording studio. No, the songs: if we can build a space for them in here, shut them away in their own soundproof space, then they can get on with it without disturbing us. That’s the dead guy’s idea. Yeah, he’s in here too, the guy I killed. Says he used a similar sort of technique when we killed him, was the only way he could manage the pain. He’s OK with that now, says shit happens, death comes to us all, life and death. Lord, let me die while I’m alive, not when I’m already dead. That’s the thing, innit? To die while you’re alive. Like I said, three of us, plus the visiting band now. Nah, nah, it’s OK — don’t need another, but you go ahead.

Sleep? Nah, not getting much at the moment, not with all this stuff going around and around. It’s like a cross between musical chairs and the Magic Roundabout in here, round and round, up and down, wheeeeeee! You have to love it, I guess. Makes it hard to focus, though. Yeah, went to see the GP; no appointments available when I called. Then I got this email from the gaffer, said they’d turn the music off or turn down the volume, that was a relief. Was dreading going back in next week.

Counselling? Well there’s an organisation we can refer to, but they said they couldn’t help with this one, suggested I try ACAS. Emailed Mind too, but got no reply. I think they like people to phone, but I hate phones, you’d think they’d understand that. So we’re gonna go with the dead guy’s idea, build them their own little space. I’m picturing it now, complete with a stage, but behind soundproof glass. Yeah, reckon that’s gonna work.

Really? You think so too? And you think I’m perfectly sane? After all this? Straight up, no kidding? OK, thanks for that. It’s been good. See you again sometime. Dead guy thinks you’re OK by the way. So does she. Hell, yeah, so do I, so apart from the band, that’s more or less all of us. Cool, man. Enjoy the rest of your evening.

Epitaph for an Archbishop? For fear of sailing over the edge of the world, he never put out to sea April 7, 2014

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Church, Current Affairs.
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NO, THE ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY hasn’t died; but he does seem to be doing a remarkably good job at digging his own grave, at least insofar as establishing good relations with the LGBTI community is concerned. In February — on St Valentine’s Day, to be precise — together with the Archbishop of York he signed off the House of Bishops’ now notorious Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage; last month he appeared to signal an end to the Church of England’s opposition to same sex marriage but offered no lessening or withdrawal of the restrictions placed upon clergy in that Pastoral Guidance; and now this month, in a phone-in on LBC radio (full transcript), he has outlined some of the thinking behind his own resistance to change: if the Church of England recognises same sex marriage, Christians in Africa will die.

This is flat earth thinking at its worst (or best, depending on your point of view), refusing to put out to sea for fear of sailing off the edge of the world — in this case, the refusal to put out to sea being the Archbishop’s resistance to same sex marriage in the Church of England and the edge of the world being Africa and the fear of further atrocities by extremist homophobes.

It’s the kind of slippery slope reasoning typified by the so-called Coalition for Marriage, C4M, driven by their fear of unintended consequences, and the moral equivalent of refusing to offer sanctuary to Jews during the Second World War for fear of Nazi reprisals; of refusing to take a stand against racism in apartheid South Africa for fear of worse oppression; of arguing that women ought not to be educated in the UK for fear of Taliban reprisals in India; or refusing to speak out for Palestinian land rights for fear of Israeli bulldozers demolishing homes — the list could go on and on, as the atrocities surely will, for those whose hearts are full of hate will always find reasons to justify their evil.

The dangers are real: all of these fears have at least some validity, but allowing them to hold sway over our decisions is not the way of Christ, who gave his own life rather than capitulate to prejudice and hate; more than that, who called his followers to take up their cross and follow him. That Christians will die is a given, given by Christ himself, but that does not make the scenes the Archbishop has witnessed any less a tragedy.

Archbishop Justin Welby is a man with a massive heart, a heart for the poor, for the oppressed and the underdog, evidenced most recently by the launch of the Listen to God: Hear the Poor initiative with Cardinal Vincent Nichols. As I noted with reference to the House of Bishops, he is right in what he affirms, but wrong in what he denies: he is right to be appalled and he is right to call us to awareness of possible global consequences; but he is wrong to allow fear of those consequences to counter right action. Refusing to do what is right for fear of others doing what is wrong paves the way for evildoers to continue with their evil and it can never be the way of Christian thinking or living: to quote Kes (aka Rebel Rev), the priest who asked the question that led to the Archbishop’s remarks, “What Justin said put the power in the hands of the oppressors and those who wield violence.” (Rebel Rev lives up to her name).

But here in the Church of England in England, this leaves us with a deep seated problem: we have an Archbishop who has publicly stated his belief that sexual relations are for marriage and that marriage is between a man and a woman, but who also says that there must be no predetermined outcomes to the Church’s ongoing conversations about human sexuality; who has signed off a document — the Pastoral Guidance — that denies his fellow priests the right to follow their conscience but which caters specifically to his own; and the reason the conservative conscience must take priority over the progressive conscience is fear.

Thus we have an Archbishop who perceives himself not as refusing to do what is right for fear of others doing what is wrong but as refusing to sanction what he believes to be wrong and backing up that refusal for fear of possible consequences elsewhere, exacerbated further by a failure to recognise his attitude as homophobic: homophobia kills; he and the House of Bishops merely hold reservations. He most likely would not recognise this statement, but it is as if he has said, “Let us show solidarity with Africa’s homophobes in the hope that they will see that our homophobia is nicer and moderate their behaviour accordingly.” And that, of course, will never work: instead, Africa’s homophobes will — indeed, do — perceive the Church of England’s position as weakness whilst theirs is strength. Thus holding back on full equality here in England has the very opposite effect to that which ++Justin hopes for: rather than moderate their behaviour, Africa’s homophobes dig in their heels, turn up the heat and expect us to follow their lead.

There can only be one way through such a brick wall and that is enlightenment by God. That enlightenment will come, as it came for me, when those opposed to equal marriage see that their fear and prejudice are groundless. It will come not by our screaming, shouting, denouncements and ad hominem attacks against a man caught between the cliff of conservative resistance and the tide of progressive opinion but rather by our willingness to follow Christ regardless of personal cost, by our willingness to show love, to show the better way.

It will come not by calling for ++Justin Welby’s resignation but by prayerful engagement; by those in favour of equal marriage demonstrating that God is, indeed, with us; that the Holy Spirit is at work in the lives of LGBTI believers in exactly the same way as in the lives of all other Christians; by showing that God does not condemn but accepts all of us just the way we are, regardless of sexual orientation; and further, that God does not curse but blesses those committed to loving, faithful marital relationships, regardless of gender difference or identity.

Christ’s message is twofold: first of all, he bids us trust in God, fear not, for he is in the boat and it won’t go down; but then comes another storm and another challenge: suddenly he is not in the boat but out there in the storm, inviting us, like Peter, to risk all, to step out of the boat and walk with him among the wind and the waves of uncertainty. It is as if he says, Who dares wins — but not so, for Jesus says, Who loves wins; it is love that conquers fear, it is love that brings courage, it is love that wins.

Pray, then, with me for Archbishop Justin’s eyes to be opened. Pray that he will discover that love which drives out all fear, and in particular drives out his fear of where it might all end, his fear of sailing over the edge of the world — for the world is not flat, as some suppose, and the answer to that question of where it will all end is this: back at home, when we have circumnavigated the globe (not without some adventure, danger and yes, even death, along the way) and returned to safe harbour, to Jesus himself, the one who is Lord of the Church and who is able, more than able, to keep his Church from falling.

And pray too for our brothers and sisters in Africa…

Some Responses and Reactions Elsewhere

Petition by Revd Mark Kenny to @C_of_E’s House of Bishops to rescind their opposition to equal marriage and take back their recent Pastoral Guidance March 10, 2014

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Church, Current Affairs.
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FOLLOWING ON from my recent Open Letter to the House of Bishops, I have signed and wholeheartedly endorse the Revd Mark Kenny’s petition via change.org calling upon the Bishops to:

  • Rescind their opposition to equal marriage
  • Take back their recent Pastoral Guidance
  • Create a Church where all are welcomed

If you share these concerns and haven’t already signed Mark’s petition, please sign it today:

Petition to the Church of England's Bishops by the Revd Mark Kenny

Petition to the Church of England’s Bishops by the Revd Mark Kenny

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