About Me

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I was commissioned as a Church Army Officer in 2000, and spent 9 years working in parishes, mainly with children and families. In 2009, I began ordination training at Ripon College Cuddesdon. I married Clare in July 2000, and our first child, Nathan, arrived on September 22nd 2010.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Cenobite's Community - version 2!

OK, the new blog is re-created! You can find it here:

Cenobite's Community

Blog Malfunction!

lol, well, the new blog didn't last too long!

My account has been terminated because, apparently, I either "had too many tags" (6) or "posted too many links" (2). Hmmm.

So I won't be using that site again! I changed from here because the other one seemed to be a lot more visually appealing, but I never had that problem here! So I am coming back!

Cenobite's Community will return later today - as soon as it is created, I will post the link here. Unfortunately, when they deleted my account, they obviously deleted the blog too, so I am going to have to try and remember everything I put in my first post - that may take a while!

Thanks for your patience :)

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Goodbye Captain, hello Cenobite!

Many thanks to those who have followed this blog faithfully over the last 2 years. As my ordination is now exactly a month away, it is time to close this one down.

The blogging will continue, however (and hopefully a lot more regularly!) over at Cenobite's Community. Do hope to see you there!


Friday, 10 June 2011

Leavers' Service

That's it. My time at Ripon College Cuddesdon is over. (Notice I don't say that my training is finished - there's still a lot more of that to come, both during my curacy and afterwards).

We finished our time here with the Leavers' Service this morning. It was a good way to end, with the whole community coming together to celebrate the Eucharist. At the end of the service, those of us who will be ordained later this year went forward to have our deacon's stoles blessed, and then our families joined us to be blessed together. It was very important to me to have Clare & Nathan there at the end, as my ordination will have a profound effect on their lives as well.

After that, there were lots of goodbyes, although we'll still see a few people as we are not moving until Wednesday next week. The good thing is that there are a few ordinations we will be going to next week, so friends will be seen again very soon! The challenge is to make sure those friendships are maintained past the summer.

I will post again before we move with a few reflections on my time here at Cuddesdon, so look out for that one!

Thursday, 9 June 2011


Today we had our Leavers' Retreat - a day at Highmoor Hall, led by the college chaplain, Raymond. He gave us some thought-provoking insights on baggage (what we need to leave behind), luggage (what we will be taking with us) and buggage - the recognition that there are some things we would like to leave behind but for whatever reason can't quite do so, at least not completely, not yet.

In addition, I did a fair bit of reading, walking, and (unusually for me in the daytime) napping. We then ended with Raymond anointing each of us with the oil of joy and gladness, which was a lovely way to finish, and prepare us for the Leavers' Service tomorrow morning.

I will blog about that and how I feel to be leaving later. But what I really want to pick out from today is the importance of retreats. It is shameful to admit that I did not have one retreat in my time as a Church Army Officer (9 years) - which is shocking, really. I will have a pre-ordination retreat in September, but I am determined to make the time for one retreat a year post-ordination. It is so important to take proper time out with God, and to do so away from the parish. Ask me in a year's time if I have managed it!

Monday, 23 May 2011

Leavers' Course

The Leavers' Course started today, and suddenly it's starting to hit me that we finish in less than 3 weeks! I've always known this, but with things like exams and Themed Study Weeks to think about, it's been something that's there but not totally on the radar. But now there's nothing else to focus on!

There's lots of different things happening. We will have some spiritual and theological input, as well as practical things like Child Protection (not that I've done any of that before!) and Canon Law. Today we began by thinking about 'desert island theology' - basically what might sustain us during curacy. One thing we were asked to do was to think of three books that we would have on a desert island; my three were:

Love's Endeavour, Love's Expense (Vanstone) - a remarkable book about God and authentic love
Restoring the Woven Chord (Mitton) - a book about Celtic spirituality
The Lord of the Rings (Tolkien) - my all-time favourite novel!

Martyn (the principal) gave us a long list of books which sustain him - I have read a grand total of one of them! But that does mean I have a lot of suggestions of things to read in the future!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Community Mission

We are currently in the middle of the latest Themed Study Week, this being one of the weeks where we get to choose out of a number of options.

I am doing a week on 'Community Mission', a fascinating topic which has already raised a number of questions for me, arising out of the experiences and stories of those who are facilitating the sessions.

The thing which is really becoming central for me is to reflect upon what my calling to be a priest is in this context. There are a number of factors that have caused this:
  1. We were asked to do an exercise in which we write what we would like to see in our own obituary. The first question to help us reflect on this was, "What has been achieved?" I really struggled with this because I just don't think in terms of 'achievement'. My aim is basically to 'act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God'; if I can do this, and in some small ways contribute to the human flourishing which is God's intention for all his people, then I will be happy. 
  2. One visitor was very honest with us about an experience he had with a parishioner, in which he was so focused on bringing about transformation within the local community that the parishioner voiced how she felt pastorally neglected. Having done a Long Essay on liberation theology recently, I am very enthusiastic about tackling structural sin, but at the expense of neglecting the pastoral needs of individuals? There's a balance there which is fine and full of tension.
  3. Today, the question was asked about what a parish priest is called to be: chaplain to the congregation or to the community? On paper, the answer is simple: 'the cure of souls' is for the whole parish, not just the congregation. But when the congregation have the expectation (be it explicit or implicit) that the priest is there primarily for them, then how does one handle that?
Lots to reflect on, therefore! Tomorrow we will be visiting a project in Reading, to see for ourselves an example of 'community mission in action'. Then on Friday we will reflect on the whole week together. Should be interesting!

Friday, 13 May 2011

Pastoral Ethics

Yesterday and today I sat my two papers for the ethics exam; having completed them, I have officially done everything I need to do before I leave college! I still need to do 3 modules in order to complete the BTh, but those do not have to be done before ordination.

The exam yesterday was a mix of ethical theory and application - we had to write three essays, at least one from theory and one applied. I wrote on natural law, capital punishment and homosexuality.

Interesting as those topics were, today's was both more relevant and a lot harder! Today was the Pastoral Ethics paper, in which we were given a fictional case study (from parish life), and had to both identify the ethical issues at play, and state how we would respond to the parishioner. Without going into the details of the case study, it highlights how we can talk and talk about what the ethical response might be in an ideal world, but we willl be pastoring to real people in hurting situations, where the answer will always be more complicated than the ideal. It is helpful to have theories and ideals and theology in our 'resource boxes'...but, as has been said more than once in my time here, people in the parish won't care how much I know until they know how much I care.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Essays finished!

Today I finished the last of my essays, and so all four are bound and ready to be handed in tomorrow. The plan now is to have a break over the weekend (to have some quality family time) and then hit the revision for the ethics exam on Monday.

The end is most definitely in sight!

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Easter at college

We've had a very full few days at college, experiencing the 'Triduum' together as a community (this is the 'technical term' for the days from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday).

I have been a part of the choir for this experience, and have absolutely loved it! It makes me wonder why on earth I haven't sung in choirs before - it's been great singing psalms, anthems and Taize chants with others. Some of them have been sung in unison, but the best part (for me) has been learning how to sing the Tenor part whilst others are singing the Soprano, Alto or Bass parts.

That said, the most moving song was the final piece on Maundy Thursday, when we sang Psalm 22 (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?) We sang the verses, whilst the congregation joined in with the above refrain throughout. It was a haunting experience, and I felt myself empathising (as much as is possible) with what Jesus must have experienced in that desolation upon the cross, abandoned by all, including his Father. If there's one thing we can be sure of, it is that God will never abandon us - the Easter story tells us that.

Christ is risen! Alleluia!

Nathan update

A good friend has (rightly) chided me for the lack of photos of our son on this blog! So here's a few of the more recent ones:

Nathan's Baptism (January 23rd)
With godparents Richard & Emma, plus Rebekah & Christopher

Fun in the doughnut! (5 months old)
With Mummy, 6 months old
In the last week, our Nathan has really developed a taste for food! He loves putting all sorts of different things in his mouth - not a lot is being actually eaten yet, but some of it is! Mealtimes are very messy affairs right now, but it's totally worth it to see him having so much fun trying out these new tastes and textures!

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Work nearly done!

I finished writing my last Long Essay earlier today - this one was on what Liberation Theologians have to say about the Christian Doctrine of Sin. I discovered a lot of interesting things in the course of writing it, but perhaps the most interesting was what the feminist theologian Daphne Hampson had tosay.

She notes that most Protestant theology speaks of pride as the root of all sin, mainly due to humanity's desire to be autonomous - a desire which generally ends up in either ignoring God or trying to put oneself in the place of God. But for women, pride is actually an inadequate way of looking at sin.

This is because pretty much the whole of history has been patriarchal, in that society has been structured by men in the interests of keeping men in positions of power. Women, in contrast, have been oppressed - and still are (one only has to look at the continuing resistance by some to women in the episcopate to see the evidence of that). As such, defining sin in terms of pride for women is tantamount to asking them to continue self-abasement and self-sacrifice - something which is appropriate to those in power (men), but actually perpetuates the oppression of women.

What, then, is an appropriate way to view sin for women? The argument is that sin is basically colluding with this oppression by accepting the domination of men. Rather, women should look for salvation through becoming 'more grounded' in themselves, thereby attaining the status intended for them by their Creator. There is an element of responsibility here - women are called to claim the power that has been denied them.

I find all this very interesting, particularly with regard to what it means in pastoral terms, for me as a future leader in the Church. One implication is to consider how I, as an ordained priest, will be able to participate in the empowerment of the oppressed (which, obviously, includes other sections of society besides women). It is difficult for me in that, as a middle-class, Caucasian male, I am basically in the group of 'oppressors' whichever oppressed group is being considered (women, ethnic groups, the economically poor, etc). If any readers of the blog can speak from the perspective of one of these oppressed groups, I would be delighted to hear your thoughts!

In the meantime, my academic work is almost done! I need to do some tweaking to all four long essays, but the vast majority is done, which means I can look forward to Holy Week!

Monday, 28 March 2011

One term to go!

5 terms through my training, only one to go now! These last few weeks have been a time of transition, as one-by-one, I have passed on various roles I have had in college life to others. I have organised my last election, calculated my last bar bill, and prepared my last Kids' Church session. If it weren't for the essays still to finish, I wouldn't know what to do with myself!

That's not strictly true, of course! Although it's quite a lot of pressure, I am sort of pleased that the essay deadline is at the start of next term (May 2nd), as it will leave the rest of the term to focus on the awesome prospect of ordination later in the year. I won't actually be ordained until September 10th, later than most of my colleagues here, but we will still be sharing the preparation time together.

In the meantime, however, these essays need to be done! We've had a week away, but now it's regular trips to the library. Ideally, I want them finished by Holy Week, which we experience together as a college community this year. As part of my goal to achieve 'competence and confidence' in liturgical signing this year, I have joined the choir for Holy Week, so am learning to sing in parts for the first time. It's very tricky singing the tenor line, when the tune I know is being sung by someone else!! But I am enjoying learning, and it will be a useful skill to have in the future, for sure.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Stole design

As promised, here is the initial drawing of the design for my Deacon's Stole.

It is an amalgamation of a few different designs that the person in question - Michelle Gillam-Hull - had with her at the Tat Fair. It should be pretty self-explanatory: the Trinity symbol bottom left; a celtic cross bottom right; and the flames of Pentecost traversing the whole. I think it's distinctive, but not OTT, and am looking forward to seeing the finished article!

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Another milestone

I am just back from leading Choral Evensong at Exeter College Chapel!

It feels very good to have got to the stage where I can do this sort of thing at a competent level! I was rather nervous leading up to it, so it was good to be able to practice the responses with the choir beforehand (one reason why I was nervous - since they are all far better singers than I am!) After a couple of hiccups in rehearsal, I felt ready to go for it!

In the event, I noticed myself relaxing into it as the service went on. The chaplain said it was good, and a fellow ordinand who came along (much appreciated, Ant!) said that he noticed how my voice filled the space - which was very encouraging, as anyone who knows me knows that my voice is not the most commanding! Some of the choir afterwards were positive too!

I have signed up to be part of the college choir for Holy Week. There won't be any solo singing...but it will be a way for me to learn about singing the tenor's part in a choir.

Overall, I am really pleased that one of my goals for the year (confidence and competence in liturgical singing) is progressing nicely, thanks to God and several very supportive people.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011


Today we had the annual college 'Tat Fair' - a time when a number of vestment companies visit college to enable us to buy the robes and other things we will need when we are ordained. Being in my final year, it brought home to me how close I am to being ordained! (Even if Rochester does wait until September, a couple of months after most of my year will be ordained).

It was somewhat surreal trying on clerical shirts - with the collar inserted!

I have also finally decided on a design for my deacon stole (after having no idea what I wanted!) Rather than try and describe it, I will wait until the person making it sends me their 'artist's impression'...and then post it here!

Sunday, 13 February 2011

"God made it grow"

I had one of those glorious God-given moments today when you know you have made a difference in someone's life. The title of this blog post is to remind me that, of course, it was God working through me (and hopefully to keep me from becoming proud). I share the story to, I hope, encourage those of us who are involved in preaching and wonder if what we say ever gets through to anyone. The answer is an emphatic yes!

A couple of weeks ago, I preached at my placement (Exeter College) for the evening Eucharist for The Conversion of St. Paul. I won't rehash the sermon here, but to summarise it briefly, it was about how God transforms people; who can then transform the world. Paul was transformed after meeting Jesus; the meeting transformed his world view into one in which everyone is one in Christ Jesus; he then went on to transform the world in challenging the status quo, where it was not in accordance with that revelation. So he advocated for the inclusion of the Gentiles in the church, without having to adapt every aspect of the Jewish law; he also began a process of advocating the lack of any functional or ontological distinction between men and women in Christian marriage. Post in the comments if you would like more about this!

Anyway, this morning I was at Exeter again, and as usual went back to the chaplain's rooms for the post-Eucharist breakfast. There was an undergraduate there whom I hadn't met before, so I introduced myself. When he realised who I was, he told me that he had heard me preach at the Eucharist...and my sermon had been the clinching factor in him deciding that he wanted to be baptised and confirmed!

Those of us who preach regularly know that we rarely get this kind of feedback! It's a reminder that we never know who is going to be present in a congregation at any one time, or how what we say may speak to any individual. The important thing is to prepare the sermon prayerfully and deliver it in the same manner, trusting God to speak to people through what we say. It does happen!

Finally, I want to emphasise the above reference to 1 Corinthians - that it is God who has made this seed grow. Who planted it? I don't know. The college chaplain has obviously done a lot of watering. But God has made the seed grow, through many people, including my momentary part in preaching that sermon.

The undergraduate in question will be baptised and confirmed on my last Sunday at this placement - a perfect way to end it!

Monday, 24 January 2011

January update

Thanks to a combination of BT, the Christmas break, and lots of work, it is disgracefully 2 months since I last blogged. Huge apologies, and so here is a whistlestop update.


Over Christmas, I got most of my remaining supporting pieces done. One was for Mission & Ministry, on the issue of boundaries in ministry, and the other three were for Christian Worship - a book review of Paul Bradshaw's work on the Eucharist in the early church, an essay about how WWI affected funeral practice in the Church of England, and an essay on how modern theories of symbolism and ritual can affect our understanding of the sacraments. The latter was by far the hardest one to write, so it is perhaps reflective of the proportionate amount of work that I had to spend on it that I got the highest mark for it!

With the supporting work all but done (there are 3 small pieces still to do), this term is time to focus on my 4 Long Essays (7000 words each!) The aim is to get one done per month; the first is a piece on the thematic coherence of Psalms 42-49, and, with the reading nearly finished, I should be able to start writing it later this week. Ideally, I will be starting essay number 2 next week!


Still loving my time at Exeter College. Will be preaching at a Eucharist tomorrow night (for the Conversion of Saint Paul), and that has been quite a challenge, considering that the congregation will be mainly highly intelligent academics! I have tried to get a balance between having some interesting theological snippets for them to think about and having an appropriate gospel message. I asked a colleague (who knows what it is like in an Oxford College) to have a quick look this afternoon, and he was very affirming, so that was encouraging! We shall see how tomorrow evening goes!

Later this term I will be leading a Choral Evensong there...in front of a very good choir!


Amidst the work, there was time to enjoy a bit of a rest over the holidays, with a week spent at both sets of grandparents. Clare & I even had a chance to go out, just the two of us, for a change! We also went to a Christingle at our old church in Biggin Hill, so lots of people got to meet Nathan there!


Speaking of Nathan, he was baptised in the village church, by the college principal yesterday. It was an extremely moving ceremony, with a number of family and friends, and over half the college there! Will post more about this in a separate blog entry in a day or two.