The Revd. Dr Alister McGrath, Professor at Oxford University, and an Associate Priest, offers a reflection this weekend on the proposed changes to theological training and formation for ministry.

I chaired the Fulcrum Pivot^Point Thursday just gone (April 16th 2015), (recording available soon here) looking into this with Presbyter Revd. Dr Ian Paul and Bishop Rt Revd. Pete Broadbent.

I find myself somehow stuck.

I am impressed by visions for simplification, a necessary pragmatism, a being able to see the wood for the trees.

I have to simply trust that this is what simplification, in terms of theological training for clergy, is all about. It is a right clearing of the pathway so that eyes can focus on the death and resurrection of Christ and all the implications that brings.

I have to trust that we will not be throwing any babies out with the water that might seem to be filling the sinking ship.

I also need to bring wisdom, holding dear the academic and spiritual training that I was given as a full time, residential student in those formative years that were my own, towards becoming a Parish Priest at St John’s College, Nottt’m.

I sat under Presbyter Revd Dr Ian Paul with his high regard for this pathway and so I was rightly able to take a more academic approach. I did this consciously because I was also told that curacy would train me for pragmatics.

I was told that the first 18 months of incumbency instil in you further everything that you need to do and be, to fulfil the tasks ahead. It is in incumbency that one grapples with Church Representation Rules, The Churchwardens Measure, Ecclesiastical Law, how to run Annual Parochial Church meetings, how to recruit paid and voluntary people under Diocesan Safer Recruitment processes etc.

I did not cover these aspects as part of my initial residential training for ministry. At St John’s, I learnt about prayer, liturgy, Anglican Communion history and exegetical and hermeneutical approaches to the scriptures. I learnt about preaching and spiritual discipline, I looked at some Greek and Hebrew. I took a module on the Patristic Fathers, learnt how the church over time has articulated the events that are the saving and reconciling acts of Jesus Christ: Atonement theology and the liberation theology born of his resurrection and more.

I was theologically informed, I was sometimes painfully discipled. I was nurtured, my character was formed and chipped away at. It was formation, I learnt to become rightly accountable. I learnt about prophetic edge. I made mistakes, I picked myself back up again, as we all continue to do but I gained a love for the scriptures and came to know them as my life-blood, I became rightly reliant on God.

I am now an incumbent under the lead of Rt Revd. Pete Broadbent, he is my Bishop. I am sure that none of this is just random coincidence.

I want to learn to combine the theological rigour, which I believe the diocese to which I am new, is also committed, with the simplification process that Pete is championing. I have to believe that each complements and informs the other. Together they provide a very hope-filled and appropriate pathway forward through the journey that is Parish ministry with all its knowns and unknowns.

The Revd. Dr Alister McGrath writes about how the Church of England needs a “significant increase in the number and quality of ministerial leaders” to meet this challenging situation. We have to believe that quality and number can be created.

With individual dioceses being given greater autonomy over the training pathways for their ordinands, we have to pray that dioceses secure gifted theological educators. We have to hope that any investment into those who are ‘gifted’ both the educators and the educated, really does recognise ‘gift’ from God and worldly talent ‘pool’. I don’t want to force a split here but it was interesting to begin to explore this with Presbyter Revd. Dr Ian on Thursday with his ‘leaders are born not made.’ How much will the church be able to retain that emphasis, clearly there in the scriptures that this seems to be the case. The church has to hold tight to its development of ‘character’ (together with its approach to the accumulation of technique and approach which can be taught and nurtured.) The great “nurture or nature” debate, that is at the heart of any analysis into leadership, can not be dispensed with.

The Revd. Dr Alister McGrath is right to speak prophetically with his warnings that we are to guard against a purely ‘corporate, management-driven institutional approach to ministerial training.’

I want to know where we really are going to advocate an ‘explicitly theological engagement with ministry’ because indeed this is not something ‘peripheral’ or luxurious. I remember saying to a former colleague ‘By Jove, if God isn’t in it, I ain’t doing it’ because you know what? It’s darn hard at times and sometimes you are only able to keep going because of God’s accompanying presence and equipping. There is no leadership course on this planet that can guarantee me God himself.

The Revd. Dr Alister McGrath puts it like this:

“To be asked to minister without an informing vision of God (which is what theology is really all about), however, is like being told to make bricks without straw.

Give me straw!

Indeed I need to be energised ‘through engagement with the realities of the Christian gospel.’ In fact, more than that, this is my life-blood for the task ahead.

I wouldn’t go as far as Alister McGrath with conclusions that ‘the promotion of the well-being of an institution, and compliance with its culture seem to take priority over the gospel itself.’ I am far more hope-filled than that and from what I have seen of the church’s structures to this point in my ministry, I am convinced that this is not going to happen: there is being modelled to me that vital engagement with the gospel that is surely our mission here on earth.

Alister McGrath insists, rightly, that, as ministers we need to ‘have a personal knowledge of the Christian gospel, to have assimilated its themes, and to appreciate how this informs and stimulates pastoral care, mission, preaching, and spirituality.’

Alister McGrath believes in the local congregation and that their desire, like his, involves their wanting ‘help in reading the Bible and understanding its message. They want help in deepening their faith and their life of prayer (they might not always use the word “spirituality”, but that’s what they’re getting at)… perhaps the people I talk to are not representative. But this gathering of the felt needs of congregations needs to be done, and done properly, before we take new directions in ministerial education which could cause us to lose something vital and irreplaceable.’

I look forward to working with the Church on approaches to how we best gather and assimilate and analyse the desires of our congregations.

I look forward to working with the Church in my own formation of the priest and will share with the Church my desires for what that might look like. I am sometimes also one of those who wonders …. Alistair McGrath captures my internal dialogue with his: ‘To its critics, the study of theology distracts from real life.’ However, I also know that in my own strength and without a thought-through, prayerful, biblically-grounded approach to the tasks ahead, my own personal boat will simply row around in circles, as I had a habit of doing accidentally in the River Wear, as I holidayed in Durham over Easter.

I will watch the training pathways of my future colleagues with interest and continue to pray that my own future and continual development is nourished through that combination of simplification and theological equipping.

Ever hopeful!


Why is saying no so difficult? How often has someone asked you to chair a committee leaving you with a sense of dread, yet out of your mouth came “I’d be glad to serve,” followed by irritation every time that committee met.

Most clergy serve small parishes where by necessity they function as generalists. They often believe that they have to do everything and cannot say no. Setting limits is complicated for clergy by the survival anxiety driving many mainline congregations. Fearing for their long term survival these congregations put significant pressure on clergy. Congregational pressure increases the probability of burnout and potential misconduct, and decreases the energy available for the pursuit of pastoral excellence.

Our book, Saying No to Say Yes, explores a powerful interaction between the internal needs of many clergy to be liked and validated, and the chronic anxiety of many congregations.

Previous material on clergy boundaries focused mostly on clergy sexual misconduct, the initial cause of mandated boundary awareness training. While helpful, these trainings often do not go far enough to understand the complex interaction between anxious congregations and the internal needs of clergy.

To say yes to the pursuit of excellence in ministry, several issues must be addressed. First, clergy must wrestle with powerful, but often unconscious needs for validation and the need to be liked. The need for validation and the inability to say no often lead to over functioning which can block the pursuit of excellence.

Usually, the need for validation is rooted in old roles from our family of origin where clergy became the over-responsible child, the hero child or the peacemaker. What we may not be aware of is how these roles were validated and praised by family members. Statements like “we can always count on her to come through for us,” or “he is the one who gets us through difficult times” are dangerous because the validation from family reinforces the over functioning behaviour. Congregations become our home away from home as we play out the same dynamics of our families of origin.

Once we begin to see how our roles in our families are played out in our congregations, we may recognize that our “congregational home away from home” is often driven by anxiety. When confronted with chronic anxiety it is easy for clergy to default to old, more primitive patterns of over functioning. Our difficulty saying no is underscored by a powerful interactional effect between our old roles and needs for validation, and the profound pressure from our anxious congregations.

To pursue excellence in ministry, the most important boundary for clergy is to gain awareness of our need for validation, our family of origin roles, and how both are getting activated in anxious congregational settings. Saying no and setting appropriate limits are enhanced as we work through difficult yet practical suggestions for how to increase our differentiation of self. Self-differentiation enables us to thrive as we stay connected to key congregational members, say no, and achieve room to pursue the excellence we dreamed of when we answered God’s call to ministry.

David C. Olsen is executive director of the Samaritan counselling centre of the Capital Region and an adjunct faculty member of the Sage Graduate School. Nancy G. Devor is senior staff psychologist at the Danielsen Institute at Boston University.

Hi.  I am Laurence Hillel, Willesden Area Inter Faith Adviser and I would like to share with you something which might be a model for training, being ambassadors for Christ, and for meeting our neighbours across faith boundaries

Chris is curate at St Gabriel’s, Cricklewood.  Chris rang me up to organise a meeting and a walk around his Parish to learn something about the other faith institutions in his area.  For both of us this was a chance to learn from each other exchanging information about what is the current inter faith scene in Cricklewood & Willesden Green.

We met on a cold dank day early in December.  We set off from St Gabriel’s towards Cricklewood Broadway.  I filled him in about a Mitzvah day event I had attended recently at the Cricklewood Mosque on Chichele road, organised by a Jewish group in cooperation with a Muslim organisation in Willesden, Rumi’s Kitchen.  Rumi’s Kitchen fortnightly provide a meal for the homeless open to all. Now they were joined by volunteers from the local synagogue and some members of St Anne’s and St Andrew’s.   This was an impressive example of inter faith cooperation in helping out the needy of the area.

We walked passed another mosque in Anson Road, and I explained what I knew about the differences in the membership and beliefs of the various mosques in Willesden.  Innis Bowen, in her recent book on British Islam, has identified eight different groupings within Islam each with their own beliefs and practices; several of them have mosques or community centres in Willesden.  Meanwhile Chris mentioned the old synagogue next to St Gabriel’s which had been recently acquired by a Muslim group.  This led us into a conversation about the declining presence of Jewish adherents in Brent.

We reached Cricklewood Broadway.  Both of us had been aware of the presence of a Muslim bookshop on the Broadway, but knew nothing about it.  Spontaneously we decided to pay a visit.  The fact that we were two made us feel that much braver (I am reminded of Luke 10.1, the Lord appointed seventy and sent them ahead of him in pairs…”)

We went in to a small lobby where there were a few adult men of different ethnic background talking or looking at the items for sale.  A… came and asked us what we wanted in a slightly defensive manner; but as we explained who we were and our purpose; that we were just visiting to make ourselves known and to say hello, we found the defensiveness transformed into a warmth of welcome and hospitality.  We were invited into the prayer room at the back and all our questions about the background to the institution and who used it were answered.  The Imam wasn’t present when we arrived, but later came into the shop and greeted Chris “Hello neighbour!”  They lived two doors apart, and had always exchanged greetings, but the opportunity to converse had never presented itself until now. What was most encouraging was the work being done by the bookshop to divert young people from radicalisation.  There were numerous leaflets to take away on such themes as “Why Isis is wrong”.

We left burdened with gifts of dates, and full of information; we had discovered friends and in the process learnt a lot about not just this place, but all the surrounding mosques as well!   Later Chris shared with me a bit about his own story and interest in interfaith.  We left with a sense of shared experience and shared discovery and were richer for it.

If you are interested in a paired walk contact Laurence at laurence.hillel@londoninterfaith.org.uk

Capital 2020 Made Simple

Blog piece by Steve Morris

A Capital idea can get a little grassroots help from its friends

Capital 2020 is one of those great ideas (in a previous life I’d have called it a brand) that everyone can get behind. The call to be Confident, Compassionate and creative is surely on the side of the angels. Which church wouldn’t want to be any of these?
But even great ideas need a bit of help to really sustain them and build momentum. And key to that is helping see that this isn’t just for the mega churches with plenty of oomph who can set up new churches and put in worship bands and the like.
The hidden beauty of Capital 2020 is that anyone can start straight away for free. And that what a church is already doing probably already fits into 2020 and so they have a head start. You might say, that this great brand idea has a very low point of entry, which is all to the good. The good news is that this is a movement that works and one that you can get into PDQ.
An example. In our place we started Foodbank collections. It was no big drama. We just plonked an old bin at the doors of the church and hand-wrote a sign saying of to the foodbank each week. I did a talk from the front ot on it. Someone volunteered to drive the food down each week. Hey presto! A simple idea. A step onto the Compassionate rung of CV2200,
Loads of free and single ideas tick boxes. The coffee club for older folk is Compassionate, so would something like the knitting club set up at St Hugh’s Northolt. The new idea of going and singing carols in the town centre is creative. And the list could go on.
We are going to collect loads of simple ideas. Ideas that come for free. Ideas that regular churches, perhaps with a single vicar and no administrator can do. This CV2200 Made Simple…or as I have taken to calling Homespun 2200.

A good start made
Capital Vision 2020 has made a great start. It is inspiring and people are really doing some great things around it – see the videos on the website. It has the great advantage of being a well realised idea.
In brand terms it holds together. It has a simple core idea and then some very effective descriptor words. These words – Confident, Compassionate and Creative – are a masterstroke.
As a a strapline it means anyone can get involved. Who would not want to be creative? What Church would not thieve by being more compassionate? And are we not called to be confident in our proclaiming and living the message of Jesus?
How to grow ideas into action
There are certain things that can stop really good ideas growing into action. And some things that can help them.
1. The idea looks good but seems complicated to get into
2. It seems like you have to do a lot to get started
3. It seems good for well-resourced outfits, but not for us….
The key is:
1. To make the entry point easy
2. To show how some of things we already do fit into the idea _ we are already on the path.
3. There are different entry points that lead to the same destination.

A fresh idea – Homespun 2020
The videos are really good on big initiatives, by mainly big and well-resourced Churches. HTB-type churches are very good at this kind of thing anyway. They thrive on creativity and are really confident in their presentation of the gospel and the use of new and social media.
But what about the masses of other churches and clergy who are starting from a different place? Here in Neasden, what could we do? And what could we do now, for free, straightaway.
Any big idea like V2020 has to have word of mouth and begin with lots of small ideas, easy to implement to get people going and feel part of it.
So let us put together, say, 50 things you can do now that can get V2020 going – even if you are vicar who has no admin support, or a church with no money, or a church that is a bit stuck. 2020 Made Easy.
Here’s another thing. Many churches will already be doing V2020 without knowing it and these can then be used to show how we are part of this big idea.
For instance at St Catherine’s we did three simple things and looking back they all were free and helped us start V2020.
1. We got an old plastic bin, hand-wrote Food Pin on It and I asked people if they could help. Stephen Chamberlain came down and did a talk. We now fill the tub. And what could be more on-brand Compassionate than this. An easy win.
2. 2 We have been stuck in our church and joyless. Last Christmas we decided to get our winter coats on and go and sing carols in the pubs in Neasden. 40 turned up from St C. It was wonderful really. Looking back that was Creative.
3. I am a big advocate of helping us to answer people’s questions. I studied apologetics and helping Christians be able to deal with the big 5 questions really helps them to be confident of sharing their faith. I know the London Challenge wants to train a select few to do media. But I feel we can help a whole congregation listen to their friends and give a reason for their hope. Questions come up all the rime like doesn’t religion lead to war. I ran a five sermon series where we tackled one question a week. Isn’t this about the value Confidence?

V2020 Top 50s
Can we put together/build up under each heading 50 (100) things any church can do to start the ball rolling? These could go on the web ad be printable fact sheets. I am thinking homespun ideas.
Do something on the 5 big questions on the website. Perhaps INTERVIEW SOMEONE LIKE Alister McGrath for each question and signal other resources? Offer workshops?
Recasting Confident and Creative
1. Can we add an apologetics dimension to Confident? Confident is also being confident about sharing our faith in conversation etc….reasons to believe.
2. Creative is a state of mind as much as a set of skills. Many traditional activities (clubs for lonely people, bingo) can be creative in a church that wants to reach people.

What peace?

On Wednesday we visited the holy site of the Baptism of Jesus. An interesting place that offers the suggestion that the place where John baptised Jesus was ‘just about there’. There in fact 2 places; one where it might have happened and where Christians have come to visit and conduct baptisms going back to the Early Church and another where the River Jordan now runs. The first place, in my opinion, is more likely as you can see that the Jordan did flow through that place quite freely, but doesn’t any more. Also I am inclined to trust the early Christians. The second place is where the Jordan now runs, but that has been diverted by the Israelis due to their claim on the water – as far as I understand it..
It is worth noting that at the time of Jesus national boundaries were understand differently, if at all. That Jesus came to what we now call Jordan is obvious. Other biblical characters originated here, so what we understand as ‘The Holy Land’ is important and needs to be broadened.
In a world of conflict the commercial benefits to having a claim on a special site is huge and the political issues that are related usually complicate this further. It is good that the Pope came here a few years ago and authenticated the site in the presence of the King of Jordan who has done much to protect it as a ‘holy site’ and is not over exploited commercially.
When we came to the River Jordan it was interesting to see such a small river. On the Israeli side they have gone to a lot of trouble to develop the experience. The Jordanian side has a wooden construction to keep out the sun, and a sizeable baptismal font for any baptisms that are booked. It is far less sophisticated. On both sides is the presence of the military. The Jordanian soldiers are placed approx. 200 meters away and the Israeli ones were sitting opposite looking at us.
I looked at both and reminded myself that after baptising someone we share the Peace. Terminology is important because in places of conflict it is crucial, when speaking of ‘peace’ to be clear on the meaning of peace. Common to Jews and Christians is the phrase, “Peace be with you” and for Muslims the phrase, “Asalaam Aleikum”, means the same. However, when you look at our shared history it begs the question as to whether or not we are all meaning the same thing. In thinking about the bloodshed and violence we have meted out to each other throughout history, one wonders if ‘peace’ connotes the same thing to all of us? I wonder whether a lack of consensus and clarity about the concept helps us to appreciate why there is an absence of peace in the world?
For some it means a lack of violence, held together by strong institutions maintaining stability and relative safety. For others it is related to a state of tranquility where there is no disagreement or dispute. Conflict is rejected and people live in a place of calm. And for others it goes beyond a preoccupation with an absence, but rather the transformation of destructive situations and relationships into more co-operative and constructive ones.
Peace and peacemaking are not about having techniques that are used to sort out differences when conflict erupts. People in this region hear a lot about Peace Plans or Roadmaps etc. It seems to me that peace is a philosophy, a way of living with values and principles which provides a way to understand, analise and regulate human relationships in order to create a more human world.
This helps me when thinking about those 2 sets of soldiers divided by a little muddy river, but much more than that. I was desperate to stand in the middle of the river and get them on either side to talk to each other – but our Tour Guide wanted us to move on and I was warned about being bitten by catfish! I may still get my chance as Br.Andrew the Institute’s Director has been discussing with me a church presence near to this site where people from all backgrounds can come together and meet each other. I have suggested a concept for this and he is interested. Each of those soldiers will have their own view as to what constitutes peace. I wonder what they are?
What peace? What kind of peace?
FYI – the swim in the Dead Sea later was brilliant!! The soft oily water, and the mud made my skin so smooth – I had a great time!!

How many worlds?

How many worlds are there for us to experience? I have now arrived in Jordan and will be staying at the Holy Land Institute for Deaf and Deaf Blind Children. It is a project administered by the Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East and takes children from particularly poor circumstances. It is a boarding school so the children live on the premises during term time. Currently, the teenage group are having their exams and so the concentration levels are pretty high. Although it is definitely a ‘Christian’ school most of the students, and staff, are Muslim – a factor that does not seem to bother anyone.
Salt, the town is half an hours drive from Amman the capital and could have been the capital before Amman was the eventual choice. We are near to various holy and tourist sites and I hope to be reflecting on visits to some of those in future posts. We have an itinerary worked out.
Back to my question – how many worlds are there?
This is my first visit to the Middle East – an interesting phrase because it begs a few questions – Middle of what, and East of what? If anyone can help me with the history of how this phrase came to describe this wonderful place I would be grateful to know.
But I am definitely in the Arab world. I am not sure to how to describe this yet, but life progresses in a steady and spontaneous way. It is a male dominated culture, although maybe it is to early to see how women impact on the culture. A visit to a large ‘post office’ yesterday highlighted this. I went with Br.Andrew, the Director of the Institute, to this place as he is selling 2 cars and has to register them and their value – that’s to do with tax – before the sale can be completed. On arrival at the complex, I was amazed at the hundreds of men around and inside – the only similar context I am aware of at home would be a football stadium, or the clergy changing room at St Paul’s Cathedral before a big service. Thankfully though, that demographic is changing! The noise of animated conversation was high and the seeming inability of forming queues was evident. I felt sorry for the clerks behind the desks dealing with about 5 different inquiries all at once. The atmosphere was good natured and somehow tasks were being addressed. I will never complain about a British Post Office ever again!
After about an hour with the paperwork complete we returned to the school, the journey being one of seemingly random forms of driving with each driver needing to be alert compared with the programmed and overly organised driving conditions in the UK these days. I am in a different world, I like it and the adjustments, were I to be here much longer, would be huge.
There is the world of the church and diocese. I heard that there are 26 parishes – a figure I had difficulty appreciating as the deanery I am in, Ealing borough, has 36 churches, many more clergy and a way of relating very different from my church world here. The 26 parishes/churches extend right across from Jerusalem and the Arab world. That is challenging to support.
Then there is the world of the school. This is a well run and disciplined establishment, shaped by the Director Br.Andrew who has been here over 35 years. He has immense drive and vision and the service it offers to the country is clear to see. It is a model institute for how to educate deaf and deaf blind students and has developed a teaching component that others come to from various parts of the Arab world to learn from. The world of a boarding school is new to me and I am interested to see how it works.
The world of other languages highlights my own weaknesses. I do not speak another language, one of my life regrets, and the starkness of that reality is clear here. However I continue to be amazed by the skills of others and also the human desire to communicate and find ways of doing so. This was true of life on the Camino, with people from all over the world, and no different here. I am grateful to the local staff and international volunteers who all speak some form of English for accepting me and being willing to speak in my language. I realise that to know another language is to enter the world of another and inhabit with them a world of possibilities. Sign language may be lacking in me, but with the adults and students who are deaf I have found ways of expressing myself to them and they to me. Whatever the incompleteness of our interactions, a smile and good eye contact help greatly. That is a gift as far as the deaf are concerned, eye contact is crucial for them.
But then there is the world of the deaf blind. It seems to me that their world exists as long as their arms and no further. The space beyond appears to be really, beyond them. Students who are deaf blind have 1 – 1 contact with a teacher and staff member all day. This is an intense relationship and the commitment of the staff is incredible. Hearing and speaking people like me can take human interaction for granted, and that became clear to me yesterday afternoon. I was being shown around the school by an English missionary. We met a teacher from Germany who is spending time here and stopped to say hello. She was working with a girl who is deaf blind. This young woman was found in a cupboard in the family home. She had been rejected by the family, who in poor circumstances did not know what to do with her. Government provision and education about this area is minimal. The girl was learning to walk (about 8 years of age) and she stood there. We talked. Another local member of staff in typical Jordanian fashion, gently yet firmly, suggested to us that we were not helping the girl as she knew we were there, but hadn’t established contact. I thanked the staff for this and immediately moved my hand to the girl and touched her hand. She responded and then explored my arms with her hands. I could see her visibly relax. I had entered another world and it was only 12 or so inches from me. The gesture was not much physically, but the potential it opened up was immense.
While on sabbatical I am exploring issues related to conflict and reconciliation. Maybe conflict arises when 2 worlds clash in some way and the boundaries around each one are fairly rigid? Perhaps the path to reconciliation becomes possible when, one at least, allows the boundaries to soften and moves towards the world of the other. In my case with this girl it really didn’t take much other than the willingness to reach out. The invisible boundary between us was breached and human contact was possible. In relationships where there is conflict how much better when this happens and is met with a similar response by the other.
All this and I haven’t mentioned the religious world. I think that is because I am seeing that it does not seem to matter. God as a reality in life appears to be taken for granted. Believers of Islam and Christianity live side by side and church and mosque too, as the call to prayer from the Minaret 5 times each day reminds me. I don’t think the issues in this world, inhabited by Arab, Palestinian and Jew are religious, rather it is political. A simple truth that can lead the way is to extend the hand into the world of the other – and how much better if it is met by an open response. I know it is easy or simple to say, but it seems to be the way, at least to begin with.

It is 5 am and I am sitting in a closed Burger King section of Cairo Airport’s main terminal. I am looking through a wall of glass out to the airport where a plane is moving towards the window. I am staring at it’s nose wondering what might happen? A group of energetic people of African descent are into their 3rd bottle of wine, enjoying hearty conversation, a local is asleep on a bench,and there is me.
I am taking stock of my sabbatical thus far. To begin with I journeyed further along the Camino Way in Northern Spain and delighted in the simplicity of every day life with my fellow perigrinos, Tricia and John from home and also the many others from all over the world. I mentioned my journey with ‘pain’ my recent friend and all we are learning together. The joy of achievement, in reaching the destination you have set for yourself is wonderful to experience, so the pain is forgotten amongst the celebration of a job well done. The top of the Galician hills at O Cebreiro, did much to encourage me on the journey of life. Whatever the future might hold, challenges still await and I will have the strength to go forward.
The Forgiveness Project Exhibition, which I have yet to write about, was a wonderful time spent with interested people, in forging a way through the pain of suffering to a better world of healthy relationships towards dealing with violence and pain with a different approach. It was humbling to be with such people, to share experiences and to dream for the future.
The course in the US took this journey to a new level. The wonderful melting pot which was the university summer school’s community of about 100 people – enabled me to hear of stories from even further afield, of dreadful tragedy and suffering, but also to hear with wonder the humanity, compassion and strength of will to make a better world. I felt in awe of my fellow students and grateful for the wisdom and hope communicated by such knowledgable and experienced tutors. I left deeply touched by pain and very hopeful for tomorrow.
72 hours at home was not enough to re-connect with my family, but I was grateful for time spent with Shiobain, Elliot, Renee and Josh my nephew. And there was Joey, our dog. Some of my time involved investigating Joey’s health as we discovered that he is riddled with cancer and needs to be ‘put down’. This was a shock to us all and dear Joey knows nothing about it, although I am sure he cannot feel very well. The news has spread throughout our little grapevine at an enormous rate with text and phone messages of goodwill flooding in and some family and friends wanting to visit Joey and say goodbye. He is to be ‘put to sleep’ at 5.30pm on Monday. This friendly and mild-mannered dog will be missed, even by me who didn’t want a dog in the first place!! However, his good nature has reached through and we all have been touched by him. Indeed, one member of our extended family attributes, in a sizeable way, Joey’s contribution to his return to personal well-being.
I will write again, when I have had more time to reflect on our relationship with the natural world. We discussed this on the course, emphasising the need to be reconciled with nature. While at home and clearly unwell, I looked into Joey’s eyes and wondered what he might say to me? Animals seem to address suffering in an accepting kind of way.
While in the airport I have just finished a book on forgiveness, and much else, by a Palestinian doctor, Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish entitled, I Shall Not Hate. Tempted as I am to offer a book review, I shall resist and enthusiastically recommend it to you – it is inspiring that someone who has experienced such pain, tragedy and abuse has not resorted to hate, as well he might. Instead, he works so hard, together with the remaining members of his immediate family, to foster understanding and healing between people. Out of terrible pain has come so much good.
My home felt different when I left to journey to Heathrow Airport. I remarked to Shiobain, my wife, that pain and suffering, even that of a dog and those suffering with him, has humanised the place. Attention was being paid to each other just a little bit more than usual. Sensitivity to others was noticeable, just a bit more. It is natural to want to avoid pain, and we go to great lengths to do so, but given it is a reality of life it leads me to ask if we can learn from its existence and use it to make the world a more human place?
I soon board a plane to Amman in Jordan. I will be visiting the Holy Land Institute for Deaf and Deaf Blind Children, a project that works with children traumatised by the conflict on the West Bank. Another type of pain and suffering, together,no doubt, with shared joys and smiling faces, with plenty of love and humanity to share. Keep watching folks, there will be much to digest, but I am keen to touch heaven again. Maybe that is something of what it might be like, having touched pathos and affected by it, you hold it and go on to the joy that flows. Easy to say I know, but I am finding people who have experienced this and also know how to smile deeply.
While writing this I am pleased to say that the plane journeying towards the window, and me, at the last minute took a turn to the right and parked right at the terminal entrance. I assume it was told to go there – but encountering that plane is a source of pain I have just avoided, for which I am grateful!

A few remarks about the blog:
i hope you are enjoying reading it? Please leave your comments and thanks to those who have already.
i am learning all the time about how to supervise a blog. Please bear with me.
I will add some pictures when I have learned how to do it – but I am also keen not to have people in pictures unless I get their permission. One of the things I don’t like about certain social media is how some post pictures of you without asking. However I will post pictures when I can.
to those who want a linear way – timewise (chronologically speaking) – in reading the blogs in order to understand the development of thought, I am sorry to disappoint. Experiences are coming thick and fast and I have found it difficult to keep up to date with the blog as much as I might. I will try to do better.
however thanks for the feedback and keep it coming!! Sorry, must go I have a plane to catch.

On the course this week, we have been exploring what reconciliation might mean. Terminology is important as words mean different things to different people – so we needed to deconstruct this word a bit in order to understand its complexities. This was done by looking at reconciliation with – God/or spirituality, self, others, internationally and lastly with nature.
Our professor asked us as we approached the weekend to think about reconciliation in our lives and what that might involve. With a 2 day break, I took off to the mountains (Blue Ridge) and Shenandoah National Park – beautiful places.
Being reconciled with the natural world is important to our connectivity with creation as modern lifestyles despoil so much of it. We are in the habit of using what is available without taking the time to stop and explore creation and what it is saying to us. So for me,being in the mountains, walking in the woods with trees and being near to flowing water, including breathtaking waterfalls was a delight to behold. All of this did my soul good.
Not all of nature is easy to reconcile with though? On my way back up the hill, I almost stepped on a snake. This wasn’t a small garden snake, but a few inches thick and about 3 feet long. Yes,like a fisherman who has lost a big catch and tells the story,”it was that big!” When approaching it the snake looked like it wanted to be ‘reconciled’ with me, but I wasn’t so keen. I stepped by hoping it wouldn’t attack, which it didn’t, thankfully. However, on returning to it in the hope I might get a photo of it, the snake clearly took offense, felt rejected and wouldn’t co-operate.
Undeterred, I continued the climb and about 15 minutes later, turned a corner on the path and found a bear standing there starting at me – yes I have the picture, this time! After the picture taking, I followed the park instructions and walked backwards slowly in order not to be a threat to it. The bear soon walked in to the forest and I returned to the climb, grateful for this wonderful encounter – although I am not sure how reconciliation took place between us?
Today has been a lesson in that reconciliation with nature can be fun, but not as easy as might be expected. However,my soul was ‘settled’ or centred by 2 lovely days in ‘the wild’. It should be, for me, a regular experience and built into my weekly timetable; although I am unsure where reconciliation is more challenging, with nature or humans?!

I live with pain. In many ways I have always done so, especially throughout my adult life. Back pain has been constant since early adulthood, but over the last 5 years, pain has really moved in and become a close partner. The pain is in my legs and reminds me of it’s presence from the moment I place my feet on the floor at the bedside. It is with my until I retire at night.
Every step I take is painful and you might wonder why I am walking 100 miles on the Camino? Good question. Yes I have been to 5 West London hospitals for different investigations – all negative which is good. But still the pain and it sometimes affects the way I walk, with people occasionally asking why I am mildly limping.
A Pain Free Life is a book that has been recommended to me. The theory proposes that muscular and joint pain is due to body imbalance. Exercises are suggested which promote skeletal balance and thus reduce pain. I have been trying these and some improvement is being made, but still the pain.
Maybe pain is there for a reason? Facing my mortality is important, although not easy to do – I am getting older and cannot hide that truth. With a consultant we did talk about pain management and he offered all kinds of pain killing tablets. I rejected these because it is an important way the body speaks to me about what is going on. There is a need to be exposed to life as it comes, and that includes pain. We do make vain attempts to avoid it, by deadening ourselves – perhaps that is where addiction comes from, the desire to numb the pain,but it only makes it worse when it returns. Ask any former addict. Pain is there to remind me, lest I forget, of the importance of balance in my life. Not just physical, but in every area of life. I try to give attention to the work/life balance, but need regular reminder to make space for my personal life. It is tempting to focus on those things that are easy and comfortable to do or what we are driven towards.
For example, I exercise most days and if I am honest have to discipline myself to engage in a wide range of exercises. I will enjoy resistance training, but avoid cardiovuscular work if possible. There are other areas of my life where imbalance exists too and needs attention. Maintaining balance is vital to healthy living – that reminds me, it includes my spirituality as well!

Hello to feet

Nothing animates perigrino’s (pilgrims) more than a good blister! When walking on pilgrimmage covering anywhere between 12-20 miles a day, feet are a primary concern. Back home I rarely give my feet any attention, only when hurredly cutting toe nails.However, for the pilgrim feet are centre stage. Hardly a step is taken without some instant assessment about the health ofmy feet. Sensitivity to, and awareness of, feet, is important.
When reaching the ‘refugio’ (a pilgrims refuge where we stay) feet are inspected with extreme care and if a blister is discovered, others will rush to look, compare and share medical aids. “Are you going to leave it or drain the blister?” might be some of the dialogue that ensues, together with strategies for ongoing maintenence. I will spare you the rest of how this conversation might develop! It is amazing though, how lovingly the care can be offered from people you don’t know, who come from anywhere in the world, who might be sleeping next to me tonight in the dormitory, but may not see again in the morning. The comeradery of pilgrims has to be experienced to be appreciated.
Feet are considered extremities of the body but are obviously crucial to a healthy life. They are often ignored or even neglected, even though Reflexologists highlight the intimate relatedness of feet to vital organs of the body.
So far, I have not had any blisters so I must be doing something right!
I have often wondered about Jesus and the Maundy Thursday activity of washing the feet of his friends. Why did he do that? Yes it was a social custom and yes I realise he was demonstrating sacrificial love and what needed to be central to his future community. Maybe it is also about extending love to the extremities of our lives, nothing is beyond the reach of love. Is he wanting us to know that all of life is touched. And if so,maybe I can give my feet more attention on a regular basis! It would be a helpful reminder.