Monthly Archives: October 2013

Sacred Space

Bishop Edward King Chapel, Cuddesdon

Bishop Edward King Chapel, Cuddesdon

In my experience, there are often places that you come across that give you an inexplicable sense of holiness. Whether it is on a wind-swept hermit’s island off of Lindisfarne or a grandiose cathedral with its intricate arches and gilded altars. These are places that faithful people over many years have gathered and worshipped in. These are sacred spaces.

Often these places resonate with something deep within our souls. The Celtic people would have identified them as ‘thin places’ – where you could imagine the thinnest of veils between heaven and earth. Where connections could be felt most keenly between God and his people

During my recent ‘Worship Weekend’ at Cuddesdon, when we learnt amongst other things about worship, liturgy and church paraphernalia, our worship itself was held in the Bishop Edward King Chapel. This building is new. Its footfall so far light in numbers, its interior still pristine and its audacious appearance still startling on entry. Yet it feels immediately like a sacred place

The Chapel Interior, BEK Chapel,Cuddesdon

The Chapel Interior

The architect of this incredible building, Niall McLaughlin, talks about creating something from an image of a buoyant, tethered boat, with its elliptical shape resembling the nave of a boat with “Jesus asleep resting on a cushion in the prow… and the community gathering within mirroring the expectant disciples’ or of ‘ people collecting together around a hollow in ground [there is a natural hollow on the site of the chapel] ‘This hollow would represent the still place of origin. The tethered boat above would float above it, pulling up as if at sea…. you are drawn upwards yet your feet pull down to ground you. It is this dual motion of cleaving to the earth and being lifted that we want the building to communicate.”

Exterior View of the Chapel

Exterior View of the Chapel

And communicate it did… celebrating Communion, as rainbow patterns chase each other across the nave floor and flickering sunlight bounces off the walls, as the trees that surround the chapel move in rhythm of hymns and breeze, leaves you feeling that God is not only filling this space with his presence, but that the space the building occupies has become part of his creation

The Natural Lights of the Chapel

The Natural Lights of the Chapel

“As the priests were leaving the Temple, it was suddenly filled with a cloud shining with the dazzling light of the Lord’s presence” 2 Chronicles 5:13-14

Hopefully, the pictures give you some sense of the college and architect’s vision, but if you do every get a chance to visit maybe you will discover it for yourself

God cannot be contained in one place….. but containers can be a place to meet him!

The Chapel's Soaring Beams

The Chapel’s Soaring Beams

Follow this link to find out more about the Bishop Edward King Chapel and the vision behind it

A Place to Study!

Cuddesdon Library

Cuddesdon Library

‘But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.’ 2Timothy 3:14-17

I LOVE LIBRARIES!… Shh….. Sorry, I think I said that a bit loud! I’ve mentioned before about how much I love books – so a room (or rooms) that are stacked from floor to ceiling with them is equally as exciting. There’s that unique smell of printed paper and leather; the burnished gold lettering on some of the oldest books and the fact that the books on the top shelves, whose titles you can’t quite make out, could be reached by climbing up the librarian’s special step ladder!

A cosy study corner

A cosy study corner

Added to all that is the fact that I get to set up my own little workspace right there in the room itself – I have officially died and gone to bibliotheque heaven!

Knowing that I simply have to walk over and pick the book I need off of the shelf makes studying so much easier – it’s all there at my fingertips, although to be honest it wasn’t that easy the first time……I went in, clutching my list of suggested books and tried to find out where they might be.  I was quite familiar with the Dewey system that most libraries use, but then this system covers vast ranges of topics.

Here, it is more specialised – broken down into various religious and theological categories. Each of these categories is labelled A-Z and then further broken down into even more specific grouping before being alphabetised by author. No wonder I was confused. Added to that is the fact that Cuddesdon library is also not just in one room, or indeed several rooms, but is also on various levels – involving walking along corridors and climbing different flights of stairs!

Cuddesdon library skylight

Cuddesdon library skylight

But when you got this as one of the skylights it doesn’t seem such a problem!

Thank goodness for the librarian whose kindness and patience got me started and pointed in the right direction, because no doubt in the future this will become a haven into which I can tuck myself away as essay deadlines loom.

What I am very much aware of is just how lucky I am to be in this situation and I certainly don’t want to take it for granted. There are many millions of children and adults around the world who not only don’t have access to libraries, but who don’t even have the facilities or the option to an education.

As Malala Yousafzai pointed out in her speech to the United Nations, books and pens are the most powerful weapons we can equip people with, they are the basic tools of education that can begin to eradicate poverty and provide opportunities for better job prospects and life goals.

Perhaps I will do well to remember that, especially when I’m feeling a little stressed and anxious about how I’m doing, and instead look to the fact that part of what my training will be about doing whatever is in my power to seek relative fairness and social justice for those in need. Therefore, when I stop for a moment and glance out of the window it will be a good reminder not to be complacent, because there’s a whole other world out there beyond the tranquil fields, hungry for knowledge and education as well

Tranquil views from Cuddesdon library

Tranquil views from Cuddesdon library


Pearls of Wisdom

Pearls of Wisdom

Pearls of Wisdom

During my recent course on Leading God’s People Today (LGPT) we had the opportunity to create an Open Space in which a question of our choice could be asked by two or three of us, who then proceeded to set up ‘market-stalls’ in different venues, where the only thing on offer was the question and a request for thoughts or answers. The other participants could then choose to come and browse your ‘stall’ for a long or as short a time as they wished, drift off to another stall and return again if they wanted

I felt this was too good an opportunity to miss! Here were about a dozen ‘leaders’ of various types. Some with vast knowledge in their particular field, some who were still learning as they went along and others with lots of concrete life experiences. The majority of them were clergy with a sprinkling of lay people thrown into the mix.

My question?…… What advice would you give to a new Ordinand? Subtext – Spill the beans on all of those things that your training establishment might neglect to tell you

Their answers turned out to be not unsurprisingly good and honest. In fact they were not only valid points for a clergy person but could also be useful to anyone whose life involves meeting, caring for and engaging with other people. I share them with you here:

On finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it’ Matthew 13:46

Value Friendships – Remember friendship like any other relationships needs time and effort on both sides. Hold on to those who have travelled longest with you, don’t leave them out of your lives even though your job may mean that you are having to meet lots of new people. There will probably be many who will want to know you simply because of your position; some of them will turn out to be true friends others pastoral  acquaintances.

Take care of yourself – You’re of no use to anyone else if you end up being the one who needs looking after. Give yourself time off and don’t feel guilty. If you’re feeling stressed recognise that it’s time you found a safety valve in order to let off steam. Find a hobby that’s completely away from your line of work – collect orchids, take up tap dancing, play online computer games with the pseudonym Daft Vacar

You’re in it for the long haul – Things may be new and exciting at first and you might be buzzing with ideas, but you have to pace yourself. You are not going to change the world overnight or the choir’s penchant for repeatedly singing the Wesley brothers 18th century top twenty hits. These things take time… make the most of making memories for the future.

However – Be aware that change is inevitable – You may think after a few years that you’ve got it just right and it will be all plain sailing from now on; but there’s no time for complacency. You only have to look back over the last ten years and realise how much things have already changed, not only in your life but in the world around you. So be flexible and accepting of change – it might not be as bad as you or those around you think

You won’t get it right all the time – so be prepared to admit it was all your fault and ask for forgiveness. Sometimes it may be easier to take the blame anyway as this will allow things to move forward. Moreover, on those occasions where you so very clearly were right, suppress the urge to do a victory dance up and down the aisle shouting ‘Go me, go me!’* and instead be gracious and forgiving yourself. After all we all make mistakes!

Don’t forget to laugh a lot – We know that Jesus wept, and no doubt there will be plenty to be sorrowful about over the years. There are also bound to be days when you want to scream at the world to sort itself out. However, maintaining a sense of humour should be a priority. Laugh at the absurdity of life, laugh with your friends, laugh out loud – it really is still the best medicine. Be mindful though that not everyone is going to be appreciative of your sense of comedy – they may not laugh at your jokes…. or if they do it might be out of pity!

Remember to laugh a lot

Remember to laugh a lot

Some really valuable advice then to hold on to – genuine pearls of wisdom

*This apparently is particularly unhelpful during the Sunday morning Eucharist service

Glossary – Or What That Word Means In Plain English!

Words, Words, Words!

Words, Words, Words!

It was suggested that I might like to add a Glossary* to this blog as there are occasions when I use what might be described as a ‘technical’ word. Being an believer in plain English I hope the following may be useful. I will add to the list as I go along but if you spot a word that you’re not sure of then do ask me to explain. If you are still confused after reading my explanation then there is always a good old fashioned printed dictionary you could turn to and this online dictionary can be useful too

Apostolic – something or someone that has the characteristic of an apostle – one of the twelve people chosen by Jesus to become his first disciples

Boruachelohim – This is the title of my blog and when written as separate words – Bo Ruach Elohim means ‘Come, Spirit of God’ in Hebrew

Compline – or Night Prayer. This is a lovely, quiet service held at the end of the day usually before going home or going to sleep

Ecumenical – This refers to the whole Christian church and all the different ways this is expressed, for example: Church of England, Roman Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Free Church to name just a few

*Glossary – a list that explains difficult or unusual words used in the text

Lectionary – a book or list of readings to be used in church services

Ordinand – someone who has been selected to be put forward and trained for holy orders, that is to become a Vicar or Pastor in a Christian church.

Reader – within the Church of England this is a lay or unordained person who is licensed to teach and preach. They are also able to officiate at funerals, but not weddings or baptisms

Theologian – a person who knows about theology (see below)

Theology – the study of God and the different forms this may take


Follow the Leader!

What Style of Leadership Do You Have?

What Style of Leadership Do You Have?

Over the last six months, I have taken part in a course entitled ‘Leading God’s People Today’ (LGPT). Over the ten sessions we worked on developing collaborative leadership skills, and learning all sorts of management techniques. A lot of these were not specifically for church leaders but could be thought of as tools that may be useful in our ministry.

As well as our personality types being revealed (one for a whole other blog!) we role-played group discussions using Appreciative Inquiry – ‘I have a problem’ …. Action Learning – ‘What you could do is’…. and Open Space – ‘Well, what do you think?’ …. all of which will be great when I get to chair PCC meetings!*

Now before you leave this ‘marketplace’ – sorry blog, thinking that you’ve stumbled on a Richard Branson type guide to ‘Running a Successful Business‘ let me share with you one other thing that I found particularly interesting.

Over thousands of years there has been much discussion about whether leaders are born or created. Consider the likes of Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela, born into humble beginnings yet rising to become two of the greatest leaders of the last century or Horatio Nelson and Winston Churchill, both from prosperous backgrounds, whose superb grasp of strategy and unconventional tactics saw them become inspirational leaders. What is clear is that all leaders have a particular style to their leadership

How then is a humble vicar-to-be to compete and what might be their leadership style? Well Keith Lamdin’s book, ‘Finding Your Leadership Style‘ breaks this down into six different styles which I have precised. Read through them and decide what YOUR style of leadership might be – then read my take on ‘How to Become a Great Leader’

  • The Monarch: His or her word is law and because they don’t have to waste time on consultation they are often able to get things done quickly with little fuss. People look up to them because of their desire to feel safe and protected, however they may also feel unable to challenge this type of leader
  • The Warrior: This type of leader frequently performs exceptional deeds. They have a deep desire to bring about changes in social welfare and are energised by charitable work. With charismatic personalities they lead by pursuing a clear direction and have a certain knowledge of what is right and wrong. Their devoted followers live by a simple mantra, but what happens if the leader turns out not to be right? Do they recognise their own flaws?
  • The Servant: Their belief is that humans function best when they are part of a community. They are good listeners and are skilled at identifying people’s needs. There is a great acceptance of others with whom they seek to empathise and build up a relationships. They do, however, need to be aware that people may try and take advantage of their loving nature
  • The Elder: One who is perceived to be wise; who will invite you to talk with them about what needs doing but will leave you to reflect and then make up your own mind. They place great importance on listening and their life experiences often enable them to discuss things as broadly as possible. Their leadership can be liberating to their followers but frustrating when clear, decisive direction is needed
  • The Contemplative: There is no attempt to overtly lead you, believing that it is God’s job to bring about the work of mission. They call on people to hold God in their heart’s, recognising that we are not necessarily called to be successful but to be faithful. Therefore, prayer is an important tool and they will encourage people to pray into situations. To some people though, this may look like a lack of initiative and purpose.
  • The Prophet: Their success as a leader is not measured by numbers, despite the modern obsession with numerical growth. They are closely in touch with local issues and take a prayerful and meditative approach, preferring to wait on God

So which style do you fit into? On a personal level which style do I fit into? What I do know is that ‘Great leaders rally people to a better future’ (Marcus Buckingham, ‘The One Thing You Need To Know‘) so here is my own guide to how to be a great leader

How to Be a Great Leader

Choose your team carefully. Having a team with a range of skills will give you more flexibility. It is important to check people’s availability; if they are able to come together fairly quickly then they will be able to bond together and identify themselves more easily as part of the team.

Get to know your team on a social as well as professional level, showing a interest in their home lives, perhaps visiting them or their relatives or attending conventional social occasions such as weddings and funerals. This will not only give you an insight as to what makes them tick but will show them that you are interested in them as whole people

Share your knowledge with your team: there are many ways this can be done and you should be aware of the different learning styles of the group, whether they are auditory, visual or kinaesthetic learners. Some will learn best through question and answer sessions; others by seeing you demonstrate these skills, and then having a go themselves. It is important for you to be able to assess their progress from time to time by setting them specific targets and providing opportunities for reflection afterwards.

You will soon find that one or more of your team will clearly show potential to take on more of a leadership role themselves. Build up their confidence with positive encouragement at the same time being prepared to provide a safe environment in which to allow them to make mistakes. Make it clear of your expectations for them as individuals, whilst being fair but firm about the standards you require

Eventually there will come a time when members of the team will decide to leave, perhaps after being head hunted for a new career; often it will be you. It would be good therefore that you prepare your team for this eventuality. You may have to deal with their feelings of fear, resentment and abandonment, as the team adjusts to your absence and reorganises itself. A testament of your leadership skills will be how the remaining members of the team pull together and go on to continue and expand the work you started.

Reunions can be tricky things as people will often have moved on emotionally. However these can be joyous occasions, seeing how people have changed and sharing fond memories. In years to come you may be proud to know that they still hold you in high regard and have remained true to the basic tenets that brought the team together in the first place. Surely the marks of a great leader!

Now I wonder…  just who might fulfil that description?

The Holy Lamb of God detail in stained glass window, St John the Evangelist, Hedge End

The Holy Lamb of God detail in stained glass window, St John the Evangelist, Hedge End

*PCC = Parochial Church Council meetings. These are notorious (although not in all instances I hasten to add) for being very long and micro-focused on the minutiae of church management such as whether custard cream biscuits are too extravagant for after church service refreshments – I kid you not!