Talking Hope

This week it was my privilege to speak at the Interstitial Lung Disease Conference in Birmingham. Health professionals from across the country came together to listen and to share their experiences with the aim of improving the care they gave people with a chronic lung disease which often will be the reason for their death.

They had asked me because of my nursing background to talk about creating spiritual space. They did this because they knew that the care they gave to people often did not involve spiritual care.

From speaking to them it was clear that they mirrored the research undertaken by The Royal College of Nursing (2011 Spirituality Survey).  It found that nurses often found talking about matters spiritual was difficult because they were worried about offending people, they lacked training and they lacked time.

It was amazing how talking about the HOPE questions as a practical tool for spiritual assessment (Anadarajah G & Hight 2000 Pearson Education Inc) gave a language for those of faith and no faith to talk about the spirit. The questions included ‘What are your sources of hope or comfort?’ and ‘What helps you in times of difficulties’


I believe that talking about things spiritual doesn’t always need more time, it is more often about how you say thing not what you say. However, I was struck by how the health care professionals talked about the pressure that they were under and how to find time to practice such questioning is almost impossible.

I am a great supporter of the NHS but it appears to me that by missing the opportunity to talk about things spiritual is not just about hope but also about how we enable people to use all the resources they have to find life in all its fullness.

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Mutual Flourishing

Friday saw the publication of the report by the Independent Reviewer Sir Philip Mawer into the nomination to the See of Sheffield. It was a carefully written report which demands us to reflect on the issues with equal care.

When it was announced that I would be the next Bishop of Crediton New Directors ran an editorial which said that if any where it would be possible to appoint a Traditional Catholic Bishop it was to the See of Crediton and they got me. The Five Guiding Principles have been part of my ministry on a daily basis. When I arrived in the Diocese of Exeter I spent a lot of time meeting with those who would find my ministry difficult and my question as always “What can I do to enable your ministry to flourish?” In understanding this I believe that we have not only found a way of working but I have been blessed by the ministry of those who cannot accept mine.

This does not mean that life is always easy, I am aware that the way some women clergy have been treated is unacceptable, there are times when I have found opposition personally difficult and it has meant sacrifice. But as Sir Philip Mawer highlight in his report we are called to look not to our own interests but to the interests of others.

“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy,  make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” Philippians 2:1-5

Having read the report by Sir Philip Mawer I am more convinced that we should all ask the question of each other – what can I do to enable your ministry to flourish – not just for finding away forward in unity but for the flourishing of the Church in seeking to be more like Christ.


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Teachers of Tenderness

I spent this week with clergy from across Devon praying, studying and having fun. I was encouraged by the gift that we have in our clergy but I was reminded that if we are not careful we can miss the Teachers of Tenderness.

As part of my homily on Wednesday morning I spoke about Lisa. Lisa was part of a community of people with learning disabilities who worshiped in one of the churches where I was Team Rector.

Each week Lisa with her smile would delight in telling how many she scored in archery and where she had stopped for coffee and a cake. Lisa did not read so she always repeated the congregational responses – it added a wonderful pace to the service although it did catch visiting ministers out on occasions. When we started the administration of communion she would not wait to be directed she would come up to the altar when ready – often to the frustration of those who wanted to keep order. After she had received she would put her hand on my shoulder and bless me. I was aware of the muttering this caused from those concerned it was not liturgically or theologically coherent. Lisa and I could not have explained what had happened but we knew that God had happened and I carry her blessing with me today.


In the words of Jean Vanier she was a ‘teacher of tenderness’; In rephrasing the words of St Paul ‘God has chosen the weak and the foolish to confound those caught up in their heads’. Tablet 19/26 August 2017 page 6

Lisa gave what she had in a way she understood and God Transformed it and I am sure she did not know the impact that it had.

The passage given for the morning was John 6:1-14 the miracle of the bread and fishes and many of us who preach on this passage will suggest that the most obvious theological purpose is to show us that Jesus is the new Moses repeating one of the greatest acts of Exodus (Exodus 16:9-15); the Israelites being fed in super abundance with manner from heaven. The similarities are unmistakeable, both Moses and Jesus crossing the water into the desert; like Moses he sits down in the companies, appoints helpers to distribute the food and feeds them with miraculous bread in such quantities that baskets are left over.

The primarily symbolic meaning of the bread is the Word of God, the message of salvation. But I worry that being caught up in our heads we miss that it was a boy with 5 small barley loaves and two small fish – a teacher of tenderness.

In his small act he gave what he had in the way he understood without any understanding the impact it was going to have transformed by Christ – feeding and nourishing.

One of the wonderful things about living in Tiverton is being able to walk along the canal path with my dog. However, my dog is not always well behaved and much weights on my mind and there is a risk that because of my grumbling I miss the quail and the mana and caught up in my head I miss the Kingfisher catch fire.

Gerard Manley Hopkins in his poem ‘as the kingfisher catch fire’ uses a number of images to identify congruence between what a thing is and what it does.

The kingfisher, dragon fly catching and reflecting sun brightness, a stone tumbling over the rim of a well, a plucked violin string and the clapper of a bell sounding – ‘What I do: is me for that I came’.

The last image Hopkins uses being Christ who loves and acts in us in such a way that our lives express the congruence inside and outside, this congruence of ends and means –‘What I do: is me for that I came’

Eugene Peterson in his book ‘as the Kingfisher catch fire’ writes ‘Christ as both the means and the end playing through our limbs and eyes to the father through the features of our faces so that we find ourselves living almost in spite of ourselves, the Christ life and the Christ way. (Eugene Peters page xix As the King fisher catch fire)

In giving what we have to Christ he transforms it to life over following.

So let us not miss the bread and the quail by grumbling or miss the teachers of tenderness by being caught up in our heads.

Let us give what we have and trust the Christ life and the Christ way.

As the kingfisher catch
Gerard Manley Hopkins

 As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

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Learning from the15th August 1965 – Lynmouth

On 15 and 16 August 1952, a storm of tropical intensity broke over south-west England, depositing 9.0 inches of rain within 24 hours on the already saturated soil of Exmoor.

A guest at the Lyndale Hotel described the night to the Sunday Express:

From seven o’clock last night the waters rose rapidly and at nine o’clock it was just like an avalanche coming through our hotel, bringing down boulders from the hills and breaking down walls, doors and windows. Within half an hour the guests had evacuated the ground floor. In another ten minutes the second floor was covered, and then we made for the top floor where we spent the night.

Overnight, more than 100 buildings were destroyed or seriously damaged along with 28 of the 31 bridges and 38 cars were washed out to sea. In total, 34 people died, with a further 420 made homeless. The seawall and lighthouse survived the main flood, but were seriously undermined. The lighthouse collapsed into the river the next day.


At the same time, the River Bray at Filleigh also flooded, costing the lives of three Scouts from Manchester who had been camping long side the river. It remains the worst flood in the UK.

There are stories of those who acted with great bravery for example Derek Harper who had just completed his police training clambered over the hills towards Porlock to the only phone which worked to call for help. He was later awarded the George medal for his bravery. The generosity of others was seen in the setting up a fund for the victims of the disaster and raised more than £300,000 by the end of the first month.

Remembering and retelling the story is part of any culture, remembering occurs as parents tell and retell to their children and grandchildren what is most prized in their community.

In Hebrew Scripture or the Old Testament we see the telling and retelling of the stories which belong to a community of faith.  As God’s people journeyed through the Wilderness, into slavery and exile in Egypt then on into freedom in the Promised Land they would remember.  They would tell and retell their stories in exile to remember who they were in order to remember who God was for them, and his generosity and grace. Their continuation as a community was often due to this retelling.

Today I joined the community of Lynmouth to remember and retell the story of the flood 65 years ago of those who fought to save life and of those who died. Some there remember loved ones lost all those years ago and others will remember those affected but who have since died but who are still loved and missed.

We remember and retell their stories, not just out of a mark of respect, not just to give thanks for their lives and for the bravery of others but because in retelling their stories we remember God’s faithfulness and hope for a future where this could not happen again.

Bishop Robert Mortimer preaching at the memorial service said that when it was all over a cross should be erected where the water broke though he said: ‘A cross is a sign, not simply of death, but of death followed by resurrection’. The cross was made from English oak from the Watersmeet Estate felled on All Souls Day 2001.


The cross speaks of the love of God which is in Christ. The author of Romans reminds us that neither death nor life, neither angles nor demons; neither the present nor the future nor any power, neither height nor depth nor anything else can separate us from that love.

The cross speaks about what God did in the past in the death and resurrection of Christ that points to a future where there will no longer be death, tragedy or suffering but until that day is holds us in our present firm and secure – it speaks of hope and it is hope which is the anchor of the soul.  To have hope doesn’t mean that we won’t face suffering or times of disaster but the cross reminds us that in the midst of the chaos Jesus is our anchor.

But hope should also motivate us to be part of that future. In retelling the story of what happened 65 years ago we should learn lessons – lessons about flood management, the construction of bridges and tree planting, the impact of new developments and climate change so that we reduce the risk of such a tragedy happening again. We need to be part of the change that we long to see and learn from the past.

The new exhibition retells the story of that night and of the resilience of those who lived through those days. It speaks of a community who has continued to flourish but I hope it also encourages those who come to that come to question what should be learnt and we can prevent floods like the one in Lynmouth 65 years ago and the mud slide of today which we have seen in Sierra Leone.




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Random Acts of Kindness

Last year as hundreds of firefighters worked around the clock to tackle the fire in Cathedral Green the people of Exeter made sure that they were looked after supplying food and drink – the fire fighters spoke about random acts of kindness similar to those seen more recently around the awful fire of Grenfell tower.

Earlier this year Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Carnegie UK Trust published a report by Zoe Ferguson called ‘The Place of Kindness’. The report showed how random acts of kindness have a significant impact on the quality of lives. Kindness reduces social isolation and improves wellbeing. It also provides the building blocks for community empowerment and is a necessary ingredient of successful communities.

The report suggested that for the public policy realm talking about kindness is too personal and too ephemeral but we all know when someone has been kind to us.
Churches across Devon make posies of flowers or bake cakes to give as random acts of kindness but as the report identifies there are things which get in the way of us doing this more. People are concerned about opening themselves to personal risk and there are policies and regulations which get in the way. In the public sector the dominance of a model of dispassionate professionalism work against kindness as does the desire to measure everything.

It is good to celebrate random acts of kindness, let us encourage each other to take risks and the church to step out in love. Let us encourage the public sector to pursue kindness and not worry about measuring it. The benefits are not just for the individual but for  society.

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Walking in the foot steps of others

This week I have been walking the Via Francigena. It is not for the weak hearted or soft footed! We started at Orsieres in Switzerland and made our away up to 2473 meters to Great St Bernard Pass in Italy before going down to Etroubles and today we finish our walking at Ivrea. My husband tells me this is a practice for walking from Canterbury to Rome when he retires.

We had made all the necessary preparations; carry a light load, look after your feet and drink lots of water. And this time we had not just the book but also GPS! The air was thin at the top and on the way down the temperatures were hot (36degress) and the Way went up and down. Walking in such conditions teaches you alot about yourself and about God. 

The route was well marked but when the GPS failed and you come to an unmarked junction it was the foot prints of  a those who had  a gone before which made the difference!

It was not an easy walk but I would not have seen or learnt the things I did if I had been in a car – the effort and risk was worth it! I reflect that there are those things in life I do that are both a risk and demand much and I am grateful to those in whose foot steps I often tread because through them I learn not just about myself and others but also about God.

By way of a reminder to myself once you have learnt something about yourself we should not forget it. So when my husband retires and sets about walking from Canterbury to Rome I will be in the support vehicle and take day walks!

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    I commit to action that seeks to heal the wrong which has been done

    This is the season of ordinations. Those who have for some time been discerning their vocation will be ordained deacons and priest in the Church of England. As part of the service of ordination of deacons Bishops will say “Deacons are to work with their fellow members in searching out the poor and weak, the sick and lonely and those who are oppressed and powerless, reaching into the forgotten corners of the world that the love of God may be made visible”. They and we are called to follow the pattern of Christ.

    Jesus says this about himself: “For even the son of man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for the cause of many.” We have been called to follow in Jesus footsteps – footsteps of service.

    Christ the Worker by John Hayward

    Christian service, the service into which men and women are being ordained, should always follow this pattern, the pattern of service, the pattern of the incarnation and the pattern of humility.  However, too often service from a position of strength and security runs the risk of becoming an exercise of power.

    Yesterday saw the publication of a report by Dame Moira Gibb An Abuse of Power. The report is as a result of an investigation commissioned by the Church of England into the serious sexual wrong doing of Peter Ball, a bishop of the Church of England and the failure of the Church to respond appropriately to his misconduct over a period of many years.

    The report is shocking and the details of the suffering of these young men absolutely harrowing. The abuse should not have happened, the church should have responded better and as a bishop in the Church of England I am sorry and apologise for our failings and the terrible damage that has been done to these men. There are and can be no excuses.

    Dame Moira does point to the Church having made significant progress in recent years in understanding abuse and in its safe guarding practice, whilst recognizing we have some way to go. Dame Moira also highlights the fact that trust accorded to clergy and bishops can bring an exceptional level of power.

    Protecting all God’s people and Promoting a safe church, two policies developed by the Church of England both point to the reality that the imbalance of power is often at the heart of abuse.

    Apologizing for the past failings, whether as an individual or as a corporate body, requires willingness to commit to action that seeks to make good the wrong which has been done. The Church of England has made significant progress: new practice guidelines outlining a range of individual and collective safeguarding roles and responsibilities underpinning the Church of England Policy statement this year have been developed, Safe Spaces the primary national church response to improve support to survivors is being implemented, Social Care Institute for Excellence have been commissioned to undertake survivor research, and training for clergy and other members of churches have been revised and rolled out to dioceses.

    However, the question of culture change remains – the culture that relates to our power as priests and as bishops – how do we ensure that the culture of deference and power imbalance changes to ensure we are following the pattern of Christ, a pattern of the incarnation, the pattern of humility, in all we do?

    Our churches must be places where people are accepted with love and compassion and where people are safe. It is our responsibility, my responsibility, to try to prevent abuse and respond well when abuse does occur. For that to happen, we need to follow the pattern of Christ and not a pattern that results in an abuse of power – a life lived in the service of others. I commit to action that seeks to heal the wrong which has been done.



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