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Hobbling Christ’s Church: Hollowed out Bishops in a House of Betrayal February 9, 2017

Posted by Phil Groom in Church, Life.
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27 January: it’s a date that’s etched permanently in the minds of anyone who has connections with the Jewish community. It is, of course, Holocaust Memorial Day.

But this year, 2017, the date gained a new twist, and it is now etched—perhaps just as permanently—in the minds of the UK’s LGBTI community: it’s the date the Church of England chose to publish its much-vilified report GS 2055: Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations (Full Report, pdf | Press Release). Was the date chosen intentionally, a subtle act of defiance by someone inside the C of E’s communications office, or was it simply a case of crass insensitivity? We shall never know, but the grim irony has certainly not been lost on the Church’s lesbian and gay members  or their families and friends.

The report begins innocuously enough, a gentle and gracious tone, reaching out from “wellsprings of prayer” in gracious humility:

This report is offered from the wellsprings of prayer, careful thought, and, mindful of our calling as bishops, listening, both to the Christian faith as we have received it, and to our Shared Conversations. We affirm the integrity and value of each person affected by what we say here. We recognise our deficiencies and offer this paper with humility. (Preamble)

It acknowledges “the core missiological issue” that is at stake, that was highlighted so well by Canon Mark Russell in his foreword to Amazing Love:

I try to be an evangelist at my local gym. The guys I work out alongside know I am a Christian and they are interested in spiritual things. I would love them to know God’s amazing love in their lives but despite my best efforts they are not church attenders (yet!). When I talk to them about Church they ask me why the Church doesn’t like people who are LGBT…

So also the Bishops:

If we are heard as lacking in love, our ability to proclaim the God of love as revealed in Jesus Christ is damaged or negated. No Church that is committed to God’s mission can live comfortably with that situation. (Introduction, para.2, p.2)

They recognise the challenge of holding together the wide range of theological traditions that exist within the Church, but whilst the difficulty for “those holding a conservative view of scripture” is spelt out,

the underlying issue at stake is that of faithfulness to God’s word and this raises “first order” questions in relation to the heart of the gospel

the difficulty for “others” is reduced to an “imperative to read scripture differently” that “stems from a parallel conviction” — a conviction that, bizarrely, is never spelt out. Nonetheless, the report continues,

It is our present determination to remain together as witnesses to the unity of the Triune God that forces us to try to hear the scriptural, theological and missiological arguments of those with whom we disagree profoundly. (Introduction, para.8, p.3)

It is clear by now who has the upper hand, who is hearing but not listening, and it is not long before that opening tone of humility is lost under an avalanche of assertion and legalese:

The House hoped to sustain the atmosphere of careful and respectful listening that had marked the Shared Conversations, but was clear that the current situation requires some clearer assertion of where the Church now finds itself. (Beyond the Shared Conversations, para.14)

Note that phrase: the current situation requires not further exploration but “clearer assertion” — and that is precisely what comes as Canon B 30.1 is drawn upon:

‘The Church of England affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching, that marriage is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong, for better for worse, till death them do part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, for the procreation and nurture of children, for the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections, and for the mutual society, help and comfort which the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity’ (Beyond…, footnote to para.18, p.5)

Why, one might ask, is the whole Canon relegated to a footnote? Simply this, I venture to suggest: to facilitate a selective reading, a reading that homes in on the description of marriage as being a union “of one man with one woman” but conveniently disregards those parts which describe marriage as “a union permanent and lifelong” which is “for the procreation and nurture of children”.

O my Lord Bishops, what have we here? “Little support for changing the Church of England’s teaching on marriage” in a House of Bishops that has already changed the Church of England’s teaching on marriage in order to accommodate heterosexual divorcees (not to mention those heterosexuals who are incapable of procreation). “Our Lord’s teaching” indeed, my Lords, for well you know what our Lord—your Lord and mine—said about divorcees who remarry whilst their spouse is yet alive; and well you know that he did not declare that marriage is for procreation; and equally well you know that he said not one word about same-sex relationships.

But all of this you ignore, set aside, taking hold of the Canon to support a view of marriage as a privilege and a rite that belongs exclusively to heterosexuals, the very people whose adulterous liaisons and promiscuity have brought the institution into such disrepute down the years.

You also know what our Lord says of those who take man-made rules and turn them into doctrines:

He said to them, ‘Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
“This people honours me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.” (Mark 7.6-7, NRSV)

Terrible words, my Lords; but see what comes next:

From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. (Mark 7.24-30, NRSV)

You who know Scripture so well, who live and breathe our Lord’s teachings, know also that this is no accident. Mark did not throw his Gospel together at random. The contrast between the hypocrites with their exclusive teachings and the rank outsider who wins Jesus’ approval could not be made more clear.

An Open Table: Rublev's Icon of the Trinity

An Open Table: Rublev’s Icon of the Trinity

This, my Lords, is the contrast between your House of Bishops and the LGBTI members of the Church writ large; and as I sit here writing these words, on the wall facing me hangs a print of Rublev’s famous Icon of the Trinity, an Open Table inviting the viewer into the table fellowship of our triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This is Church as it should be, for where you see demons, where you see sin, where you see cause for exclusion, our Lord sees the broken, wounded hearts of those who seek only to be welcomed as equals. Our Lord sees faithfulness and resilience, and tears of both joy and sorrow run down his face as he says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11.28, NRSV)

Our Lord’s message is welcome. Yours is welcome, but—and that ‘but’ drains all the joy, all the hope, all the expectancy of the Shared Conversations away. It is as if the Syrophoenician woman had met the challenge, given her answer and Jesus had merely patted her on the head like a dog and said, “Of course, dear.”

The “underlying issue at stake”, my Lords, is not so much “faithfulness to God’s word” as faithfulness, period. You choose to honour and dignify unfaithfulness amongst heterosexuals by permitting remarriage of divorcees—in a blatant disregard of both our Lord’s teaching and the Canon you claim to be upholding—whilst refusing any dignity, any honour for the faithfulness of LGBTI people. All your fine words, all your talk of meeting “in a context of prayer and meditation”, all your promise of “a fresh tone and culture of welcome and support for lesbian and gay people” rings hollow, rings false in this light: you are Hollowed out Bishops in a House of Betrayal and you are hobbling Christ’s Church.

I urge you, my Lords: look not to the conservatives in your midst but to the faithful in your flock. Be faithful to your calling as Bishops, as Chief Shepherds of the flock, to tend the poor and the lame, to reach out to those on the margins. Do not be exemplars of the hard-hearted Christ before his encounter with the Syrophoenician woman, as if the Shared Conversations had never taken place: be rather examples of the transformed Christ who not only heard but listened and went on his way to yet another encounter:

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’ (Mark 7. 31-37, NRSV)

No coincidence that this comes next either, my Lords: our Lord heard and listened to the voice of an outsider then went on to give both hearing and speech to a deaf mute. This is what you are being called to do, to give freedom and joy to the LGBTI community who took the risk of the Shared Conversations only to find themselves shut out of the subsequent discussions, rendered deaf and speechless until you—given the opportunity to reset the table and welcome them in—deigned only to offer them further crumbs.

This, my Lords, is not the way of our Lord. You have followed the way of the Scribes and Pharisees by building walls, creating a gated community, planting a hedge around the Law—and worse, the Law which you uphold is not Christ’s Law of Love but man-made law presented as if it were God’s Law.

Faithfulness has never been about following rules but honouring relationships. Take note, therefore, my Lords: not of your report but of our Lord’s calling upon your lives. Be Good Shepherds like Christ himself, who was drawn by love to self-sacrifice, lest you find yourselves face to face with God addressing you as Israel’s False Shepherds of old and saying,

I will take your Shepherd’s Crooks and your fine robes and mitres and give them to others more worthy of my Calling.

Is this the Word of the Lord? May it not be so, my Lord Bishops, may it not be so…

~~~

DLT Books: Affirming LGBTI People and Relationships

DLT Books: Affirming LGBTI People and Relationships

What now for the rest of us?

I, as a lover of books, have but one gift to offer both to and on behalf of my LGBTI friends: read more. Be informed. Equip and renew your minds for the conversations, debates and struggles to come. To that end I give you, courtesy of DLT Books, 50% off their entire sexuality range* with the discount code LGBT50 – simply apply it in the online shopping basket.

All the recent titles are included, as well as all the backlist: 119; Amazing Love; Fierce Imaginings; More Perfect Union, Nomad; Permanent, Faithful, Stable; This Is My Body; and many, many more. Whether you buy them for yourselves, for your Bishops, for your General Synod Reps, they’re yours at half-price throughout this month, February 2017.

Dare to imagine a Church transformed and be ready to play your part.

*eBooks and Print-on-Demand titles excluded.

~~~

For the Avoidance of Doubt…

  1. The views and opinions expressed in this post are mine and mine alone. My wonderful wife has not been consulted or collaborated with me in any way whatsoever over what is written here.
  2. I am well aware there are a number of Bishops—diocesans, retired and suffragens—who are actively engaged in reaching out to and supporting the LGBTI community. Those I know of include: +Paul Bayes, Liverpool; +Nick Holtam, Salisbury; +Rachel Treweek, Gloucester; +David Walker, Manchester; +Alan Wilson, Buckingham; and +Ruth Worsley, Taunton. There may be others similarly engaged: I salute you, each and every one, and I apologise to any I have missed out.
  3. I personally fully support the remarriage of divorcees as practiced by the C of E (and the availability of marriage for those who do not wish to or are unable to procreate). I simply raise these issues to highlight the inconsistency of the House of Bishops’ stance on marriage and their selective reading of the Canons.

~~~

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GroomNews Christmas 2016 December 10, 2016

Posted by Phil Groom in Advent and Christmas, Life, News.
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WELCOME to GroomNews Christmas 2016 — and what a year it’s been! We’ve moved home, moved boat, both started new jobs, met lots of new people, lost and found the Christmas wrapping paper… but that’s getting ahead of ourselves: back to the beginning.

Farewell to Henlow & Langford
A huge thank you, first of all, to the wonderful people of Henlow and Langford, not only for giving us a very generous send-off but also for taking the time to travel to Devizes and join us for Sue’s collation and official welcome as Archdeacon of Wilts back in February.

Discovering the Archdeaconry of Wilts
Sue is thoroughly enjoying exploring Wiltshire, visiting the 123 churches in the archdeaconry and getting to know so many different people. Much of her time is spent on appointments: it’s vital to find the right priest for each post. She’s also now making a point of visiting the area’s 53 church schools, where she loves leading collective worship and meeting pupils, staff and governors. Other responsibilities include taking the lead on Safeguarding within the diocese and attending various regular meetings about finance and buildings.

The Venerable Doctor Sue Groom, Archdeacon of Wilts, in her graduation gown (Durham, July 2016)Forget Doctor Who: Here’s Doctor Sue!
Sue submitted her DThM thesis in January before we moved, then came the viva in May and—yes!—she passed with flying colours, not even minor corrections required. The graduation ceremony followed in Durham in July and Sue now enjoys the title of Venerable Doctor. A chapter from the thesis is due to be published in the Anglican Theological Review in Spring 2017. What comes next? If the plan comes together, an LLM in Canon Law at Cardiff, studies commencing next autumn.

Swimming the Channel…
Virtually, that is, 22 miles length by length in our local pool! Sue took up the Aspire Channel Swim Challenge in September, swam the width of the Channel twice, and raised over £1,200 in the process to support people with spinal injuries. A huge thank you to everyone who sponsored her.

Onto the Kennet & Avon
We moved Almost onto the K&A in the summer, cruising up the Thames to Reading and across to Devizes, where Almost is now moored, just a short walk from home. It’s a lovely 87 mile long waterway that stretches across the south of the country to Bath. Phil is getting to know the canal well as he now works part time for CRT, the Canal & River Trust: look out for him at the Caen Hill welcome station if ever you’re out on the towpath!

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Moored at Kingston upon Thames, en route to Devizes

Back into the Book Trade, and still baking!
Phil is also working part time with DLT Books (Darton, Longman & Todd), helping with publicity and promotions to raise awareness and reach out to people and groups that traditional trade routes aren’t reaching as well as they might. You can find out more and read excerpts from lots of books on the DLT Books Blog, and right now the entire backlist—everything published in 2015 or earlier—is half-price in the Christmas Sale: simply use the discount code xmas in the online shopping basket to activate the discount!

… and yes, Phil is still head chef, baker, bottle washer and gardener, as well as collector of firewood for our lovely open fireplaces!

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

— Phil & Sue

Open Fireplace, December 2016

Keeping us cosy: our lounge fireplace (December 2016)

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!

crtfundraising-caenhill-13052016

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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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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DO I LOOK SANE TO YOU?

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.

What matters to the Tories: somebody fetch me a sick bag, quick! February 14, 2014

Posted by Phil Groom in Current Affairs, Life, Watching.
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I HOPE THIS makes you feel as angry and sick as it makes me…

So, here we are. Disabled people clearly don’t matter. Poor people clearly don’t matter. Older people matter a bit, but not enough to ensure social care is properly funded. But suddenly, after lots of people and communities have been suffering from dreadful flooding for many weeks, the Thames breaks its banks. As if by magic, the Prime Minister tells us “Money is no object. We are a wealthy country”. I feel sick.

When disabled people can’t get suitable housing, we have no money.

When we need accessible public transport, we have no money.

When poor families can’t afford both food and heating, we have no money.

When people who appeal an incorrect “fit for work” decision need money to live on while their decision is “reconsidered”, we have no money.

When those who care 24/7 for family members are penalised financially, simply to remain in their homes, we have no money.

When A & E departments are under severe strain and sick people are waiting hours even to get into the hospital, we have no money.

BUT, when homes in middle England are flooded, money’s no object and we’re suddenly a wealthy country. Sorry, but as I said, I feel sick 😦

Now we know. The shrinking of the welfare state is ideological. We ARE a wealthy country, and we need to make the right choices in 2015. Flooding is awful – but extreme poverty, isolation, freezing cold homes and hunger are as well.

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