A tad embarrassing!

Dear Friends

Having recently overhauled St Cliff’s somewhat lacklustre and faith-deficient prayer ministry team so comprehensively that even the early church would have been proud (and by that I am not alluding to St Cuthbert’s up the road who have added an 8am service in an attempt, I suspect, to cream off the ‘Sunday trade’) it is none other than my goodself who has now gone and let the side down.

In fairness to me, the gentlemen who came forward for prayer last Sunday talked rather quietly and whilst it might have appeared that my attentive and forward-leaning posture was one of empathy and concern it was in fact nothing more than an attempt (and an unsuccessful one at that) to discover what on earth the mumbling fellow was indeed saying.

Rather than send him away ’empty-handed’ I finally decided to plump for my best guess at what he was asking me to pray for. Laying my hand on his bald pate I proceeded to command the renewal of the absent hair follicles, much to his surprise I might add.

It was only after I had pronounced a hearty and faith-filled “Amen” that I discovered, to my utter embarrassment, that the gentleman had actually wanted me to pray for his family whose pet rabbit had recently passed away and thus for ‘their loss’ and not, as I had mistakenly imagined, ‘hair loss’.

I think I will probably absent myself from the prayer ministry rota for the next week or two until its reputation is once more restored.

Onward and upward



‘A change is as good as a rest!’

Dear Friends

‘A change’, so the old adage goes, ‘is as good as a rest’.

Unfortunately I cannot vouch for the validity of this sweeping generality as I am, what the other old adage identifies as, ‘the exception that proves the rule’.

I write to you from the cramped and rather damp confines of our ‘luxury’ caravan at the Estuary View Holiday Village where my good lady wife and I have come to recharge our ecclesiastical batteries.

I confess to not yet having enjoyed what the brochure somewhat elastically refers to as the ‘sun-kissed golden sands’ and instead have as yet only managed to enjoy the rain-soaked utility block which is positioned but four feet from our window.

Our plans to visit a local church were scuppered when Mr Bradshaw, the proprietor of this latter day Colditz, discovered that a man of the cloth was in residence and promptly volunteered my services to lead ‘Hallelujah Hour‘, his desperate attempt to keep any of the faithful amongst the inmates from escaping to the village church, whereupon seeing the myriad B&Bs that line the village street, they might succumb to the lure of their charm and warmth.

I can only but think that the Hallelujah Hour derives its name from the cry of relief that goes up whence these sixty painful minutes are up. It is a preacher’s worst nightmare to be faced with a congregation whose constituents are but one man and his dog. It must be presumed that on this fated day one half of this infamous duo was off chasing rabbits or some such canine pursuit. This left just me and Mr Jolly, the resident white coat (a bleaching accident having drained away every last colourful memory of his days at Butlins) to go through the motions.

I was beginning to wonder how two unaccompanied voices might survive the rigours of Mr Bradshaw’s extensive list of suggested hymns (my wife and able pianist being bedridden with a suspiciously sudden outbreak of something vague), when Mr Jolly whipped out from his top pocket two teaspoons which he proceeded to play, without respite, for the duration.

The trauma of his interminable clattering was such that I fear there are some hymns that I may never be able to enjoy again.

The upside of this was that, unbeknownst to me, Mr Bradshaw took it upon himself to pipe this calamitous hour to the furthest corners of the site and Mr Jolly’s dubious talent was not only heard by a holidaying minion of the Songs of Praise television programme’s production team but Mr Jolly has also now secured himself a slot when the show returns to the parish next spring.

That Songs of Praise is broadcast at the precise same time as St Cliff’s evening service is something for which I will be ever grateful.

Onward and upward


‘The longest day!’

Dear Friends

I have spoken little of our incumbent youth worker Millie for some time and finally, when the opportunity arises, I fear that it is one that I would now rather avoid.

Having been charged with holding on to the reins at St Cliff’s a little too tightly of late (by some in my congregation who had obviously been absent the particular Sunday I preached on the subject of submission to leadership) I decided to prove my critics wrong.

With that in mind, young Millie was more than up for my suggestion of her doing my monthly children’s talk. Mustering all my best efforts not to meddle (and thus give my accusers further ammunition), I gave her carte blanche to ‘do as she willed’.

As Sunday arrived my heart was cheered as Millie launched into what I believed to be an illustration on faith and reliance upon God. As far as I could see she appeared to have gone one better than the oft-used ‘fall backwards and I will catch you’ example.

Having selected four couples (each with a young child in tow) she proceeded to ask that they hold their offspring above their heads, the husband holding the upper body end and the wife the lower limbs. What faith indeed that these little ones so fully trusted their parents not to drop them, I mused.

O that my musings had not been so naive. What happened next not only surprised me but also Mr Dowsett our visiting preacher who had come to venture forth on the rise of paganism in our fair isles.

It had not occurred to me that Millie had so arranged the parents and their children that they resembled (as it soon became apparent) a mini version of Stonehenge, no less. It had also not occurred to me that the summer solstice was but two days hence, (it not being a date that the Anglican church calendar chooses to pay homage to) nor that Millie’s theology might have strayed a little from the straight and narrow since I first interviewed her for the position.

I do not believe that the incantation Millie proceeded to chant was taken in any shape or form from our beloved Book of Common Prayer. Neither was the unfamiliar song (uttered by a group of hoody-wearing teenagers who joined her in this charade) one which our perplexed organist, Mrs Higginbottom, could find anywhere in Songs of Fellowship.

Their druid-like appearance did not escape me, nor for that matter Mr Dowsett who hastily gathered his notes in disgust and exited our sanctuary without so much as a by-your-leave.

With hindsight I wish that I had given more consideration as to how to redeem the situation. Stepping onto the platform in my flustered state I was unwise to ask Mrs Higginbottom to launch forth into a song which I had hoped would swiftly rid us of the unfortunate pagan influence.

Perhaps if I had been a bit less hasty I might not have selected ‘From the Rising of the Sun’ as my song of choice and thus given the appearance of my approval to the proceedings.

Onward and upward



A Whit wash!’

Dear Friends

You will be heartened to know that I will be leading the forthcoming Whit Sunday service at St Cliff’s and not a visiting speaker, as was the case last year.

Had I but known that the gentleman in question (and his accomplice) would pull a ‘fast one’ I would not have allowed the fellow carte blanche to summon our expectant congregation to the front to receive their very own personal pentecost, as he put it.

Having lined these modern day ‘tarriers’ across the front of the church he proceeded to move along the line, pressing his outstretched hand firmly onto their foreheads and commanding them (in a somewhat aggressive tone), to “receive!” One by one the subjects of his dubious ministry crumpled at his feet as if under the power of God.

What I had not immediately noticed was that whilst he was busily drawing attention to his flamboyant theatrics his side-kick was moving behind the row in perfect synchronicity with him and at each turn ‘kneeing’ their clientele in the leg joints from behind so that they could not help but physically buckle.

To all intents and purposes this gave the outward appearance that the recipient had been slain in the Spirit but in reality ’twas little more than a trick of the trade for this pair of charismatic charlatans.

With yours truly at the helm this Sunday I am hoping for the ‘real deal’ with a particular emphasis on the gift of discernment so that last year’s events are not repeated.

I am also hoping that none from St Cliff’s prayer ministry team noted the aforementioned techniques being employed and the ‘guaranteed 100% success rate!’ which appeared to accompany them.

Onward and upward


‘Brain ache!’

Dear Friends

My mind is presently somewhat addled and I have only but myself to blame for this cranial disorder.

I share this with you en route to partaking of some much needed medication for this painful condition.

Much against my better nature, and the advice of my good lady wife I will admit, I have been reading up on the rival teachings of Arminianism (the notion that people possess free will to accept or reject salvation) and Calvinism (that God sovereignly chooses those whom he will bring to himself) in attempt to impress the theologically stunted of St Cliffs.

My good lady wife considers it the height of foolishness on my part to over tax an intellect which, to my shame, saw me having to re-sit my Cub Scout Astronomer badge on account of not knowing the difference between the subject in hand and its more dubious cousin, namely astrology.

The net result of this unfortunate error was that I informed our all-too-easily influenced (some would say gullible) Akela that the present alignment of Ursa Minor and Saturn suggested that it was a good time to find himself a wife.

What the young Derek did not know was that his esteemed leader not only had ‘another half’ already but that the fruit of this sacred amalgamation was about to break into double figures.

If it had not been for the timely intervention of Baloo (a fervent born again Christian who even went so far as to remove the horoscope page from his daily newspaper before his wife had the chance to indulge herself in this ‘dangerous daliance’) who knows what terrible marital calamity might have ensued.

That Akela did not forsake his wife and children in pursuit of pastures new on the basis of my misguided celestial ‘heads-up’ is something for which I will be eternally grateful and for which Baloo (even to this day I know him as nothing but this childish moniker) must surely take the full credit.

Anyway, here is the conundrum dear friends.

Into this much-debated doctrinal dispute (forgive me but a penchant for all things alliterative is a particular weakness of mine) which has polarised the opinions of theologians into these two opposing camps, I am considering the dropping of a pebble in the hope of seeing what ripples it makes.

My rather clever (and somewhat cheeky, though I say it myself) conundrum is this.

Do the supporters of Arminianism have the liberty as to what they believe only because God has sovereignly chosen them to think like that in the first place?

I am calling this Calvinistic Arminianism (patent pending).

And do proponents of Calvinism hold their beliefs in sovereign election only because God has given them freewill to make such a choice?

I am calling this Arminian Calvinism (ditto).

Onward and upward


Post Scriptum. I fear that this brief forray into the realms of higher theology will rebound on me and my good lady wife will be proved right.
Onward to the medicine cupboard before my head explodes.

‘Good Friday. Bad Sunday!’

Dear Friends

With Easter fast approaching I feel an uncomfortable flush slowly, but unstoppably, colouring my clerical countenance as I recall an Easter occurrence that has left its mark indelibly etched upon my memory.

Each year, in a bid to present a united front, the churches of our fair parish combine forces to partake in a Good Friday ‘Walk of Witness’.

Between you and me I had become increasingly uncomfortable as to the nature of the witness that we were in fact delivering. I could not help feeling that our sombre and silent procession along the lengths of the High Street did little to connect us with the very people we had been charged with sharing God’s love to and instead had the net effect of causing them to feel somewhat aggrieved by the inconvenience we were inflicting upon them.

I do not feel that they appreciated one little bit that not only were we causing traffic gridlock but our cursory glances into their cars as we processed past seemed to also carry with them more than a little of the air of condemnation for them daring to venture out into the commercial heart of the town on this of all days.

Knowing full well the inherent intransigence of the Walk of Witness Organising Committee (it took five hard-fought years to persuade them to allow children to accompany their parents lest the non-negotiable ‘no talking’ rule be inadvertently broken), I hit upon the idea of a companion event for Easter Sunday, but with smiles and joy being the order of the day.

Having circulated details of this new venture to all the churches in the locale I eagerly awaited the arrival of Easter Sunday.

Whilst the march on Good Friday had been its usual solemn reminder to the town that we were still there, (like it or not!), the day was blessed with the most glorious warmth and sunshine. As I inched passed the snarled traffic (avoiding the gaze of the irritated incumbents) my spirits were lifted by the thought that in two days an altogether more joyful representation of the church would be displayed.

As I drew back the curtains of the manse master bedroom on that Easter morn I could not believe the sight that lay before me. Gone were the verdant fields graced by the bloom of spring flowers and in its stead a heavy white blanket of snow as far as the eye could see.

Ignoring the advice of my good lady wife that perhaps I would do well to call the event off (her less-than-convincing excuse for not accompanying me being that she was suddenly feeling a little ‘woozy’ after her Lenten fast from lemon curd on toast), I donned suitable attire for the rather unseasonal weather and ventured forth to the pre-arranged meeting point outside St Cliff’s.

As I rounded the corner it soon became apparent that not everybody shared my enthusiasm for another Eastertide ‘march’ (lemon curd on toast fast or no).

What met my eyes were but three folk primed for the ‘Jaunt of Joy’ (which I had chosen to name it) and a half a dozen men and women of the local constabulary, one who appeared to be holding some form of weapon, though unless the Walk of Witness Organising Committee had taken umbrage with me I am not sure what resistance he thought the good folk of the local churches might be up against.

Having thanked the three attendees (two adults and a child in a pushchair) for their faithfulness in showing up I quickly discovered that the only reason they were there was because their young son was presently teething and they hadn’t slept a wink all night. They were hoping that the bracing wintery conditions might send him to sleep and, that being the case, they would be returning back home, posthaste, to get some much needed sleep.

It soon became clear that this was indeed the sum total of our number and it did not escape me that there appeared to be more than a little sniggering coming from the direction of the officers of the law.

I did suggest that, in the event of the low turn out, such a strong police presence was not really necessary, but they were having none of it. I suspected that this would be fodder for coffee break back at the police station and they did not want to pass up the opportunity of having a laugh at my expense.

There was nothing for it but to proceed as if all was well. Raising the ‘Jaunt of Joy’ banner which I had produced for the occasion (I do hope the St Cliff’s play group do not notice that I have all but drained their supply of poster paints), we set off in the direction of the High Street.

How I wished that I had chosen to wear a scarf. At least I could have wrapped it around my visage to cover the increasing reddening shades of embarrassment.

I could not help feeling that my fellow marchers were also sharing the ignominy of the occasion and it did not go unnoticed that they very soon overtook me and appeared to be giving the pretence that they were in fact simply window shopping and not part of the debacle.

Just when I thought things could not get any worse a latecomer crept in behind us.

Having nutured all the while the fear that the ‘icing on the cake’ of this tortuous procession would be one of our number breaking into song, the nightmare was fully realised.

With a voice that would awaken the dead, (and then wish themselves deceased once more) this lady launched forth into a cacophonous rendition of ‘He is risen’.

Whilst this song and its sentiment has long been an Easter favourite of mine this was no longer the case.

Contrary to the impression that they were trying to give me, I do not believe for one moment that our police escort were simply keeping themselves warm by employing a brisk motion of their upper body. Rather, I am convinced that they were unable to contain their mirth a moment longer and were veritably guffawing inside at the comedic outcome of the occasion.

With Easter once more looming large and the remembrance of all that Jesus achieved for us on the cross it is with gratitude that the burden of my sin no longer afflicts me.

That cannot be said for the mental anguish that is stirred up when I recall that less than uplifting, unfortunate Easter day.

Onward and upward


‘There’s no fool…’

Dear Friends

April, that month of fools, is indeed upon us and my one and only attempt at giving in to the irresistible urge to see a fellow human being come a cropper as they succumb to some childish prank or other has not resulted in the hoped for outcome, at least not from my perspective.

While I would not wish to make too strong a link with myself and St John and his Patmosian revelation, it would not be too far off the mark to suggest that the idea that somewhat impishly popped into my head whilst in the final stages of setting the communion table was a wondrous inspiration indeed.

April 1st, Sunday morning services and old Mrs Higginbottom’s name on the organ roster are probably as rare a convergence as any solar eclipse and, in that respect, far too good an opportunity to pass up.

In but a trice an ample quantity of superfluous communion wafers were whisked away for summary re-housing within the darkened depths of St Cliff’s trusty old pipe organ to await a terrifyingly discordant and turbulent fate.

Pride, as they say, comes before the a fall and the smug expression that was working its way unstoppably across my face in eager anticipation of the fruitful culmination of my mischievous master plan was, unbeknownst to me, already packing its bags and preparing to leave.

My downfall lay squarely in my fateful choice of first hymn.

Whilst ‘Guide me O thou Great Jehovah’ is as good a stirring an anthem as any to get the circulation flowing through the veins of St Cliff’s comatose faithful, its hearty refrain could not have been employed on much worse a day.

Such bad timing as you could ever have wished for was only compounded by the very first usage of the wafer-stuffed pipes coinciding in unfortunate synchronicity with the singing of the lines, ‘Bread of heaven’.

The raucous cacophany of Mrs Higginbottom’s failed attempt to do this old favourite justice was only outdone by the ensuing stampede as the congregation, en masse, thrust forward to catch the apparent miraculous supply of manna that cascaded earthward.

My futile efforts to come clean and to put the record straight that I was to blame for this ‘miracle’ were simply seen as unbelief on my part and not worthy of someone of my calling.

To make matters worse, (if that were at all possible) some bright spark suggested that we should forsake our Sunday lunches and instead wait upon the Lord for a complementary supply of quail to be visited upon us.

We would probably still be sitting there waiting with unabated hunger had not Mrs Higginbottom seen fit to pass the time by inflicting on the captive audience her reminiscent-of-Les Dawson version of ‘The Entertainer’.

Her painful rendition had the effect of dislodging a lagging communion wafer thus revealing my folly and saving our ears from the ravages of death by organ recital.

Such was the gratitude of the congregation for their timely salvation from the latter that they were more than magnanimous in letting me off the hook, just this once.

Onward and upward


‘Does God lol?’

Dear Friends

Some time back I was asked the question, ‘Does God LOL?

Before I proffer my answer  I will confess to once concocting a ‘gag’ (as I believe it is called in the business) and it would be remiss of me to let the moment pass without recounting it.

Those of you who have followed my journey for a while will be aware that it was with much trepidation that I entered onto the World Wide Super Highway and I am still somewhat wet behind the ears when it comes to the popular vocabulary employed by my fellow travellers.

Thus it was my good lady wife who helpfully enlightened me as to the meaning of the appendage ‘LOL‘ but not before I had got myself in a bit of a pickle with a message on the Facebook internet portal to old Mr McMurtry (a crusty and cantankerous member of my charge; St.Cliff’s).

Having given much of his time and effort to picking holes in my weekly sermons he ‘messaged’ my good self to inform me that my apparently erroneous theology had finally driven him to pack his proverbial bags and to seek pastures new.

Having recently preached on forgiveness (chiefly for my own benefit to assuage the ire of the fearsome matriarchs of St.Cliff’s kitchens after I inadvertently forgot to return a Brillo pad which I purloined in the services of removing some graffiti to a sign outside our church – one particular member of my team did not appreciate the addition of the letter ‘R’ to the end of the warning; ‘SOFT VERGE‘) I had little choice but to send him on his way with my blessing (and love, or so I thought).

It was only later that I discovered that ‘LOL’ does not in fact stand for Lots of Love (as I had imagined) but Laugh Out Loud.

Having ‘signed off’ my reply to old Mr McMurtry with the aforementioned ‘LOL’ (in all innocence) I was therefore somewhat surprised to find a response, by return, recanting his previous exit strategy and informing me that he was now staying put to spite me for my insensitive ‘LOL’, albeit it inadvertent on my part.

It would appear that I, like St.Paul, must also endure a ‘thorn in the flesh’ (in my case, in the guise of old Mr McMurtry).

Anyway, without further ado, here is my aforementioned ‘gag’ .

“Why did the chicken cross the road?”

“That is not the question rather, what on earth was the chicken doing in the story of the Good Samaritan in the first place?”

I will admit that my humour may be a little too clever for some but I trust that, with time, the penny will drop and the joke will be got.

So, to the question at hand – ‘Does God LOL?’.

In that God called someone like me to be a veritable minister of the gospel I can only conclude that he most assuredly does.

Onward and upward


‘What’s missing?…’

Dear Friends

I readily raise my hand and confess that within the body of this apparently respectable clergyman lurks an inner child just itching to get out.

This latent youthfulness recently sprung to life when, on passing the nearby United Reformed Church and noticing that the last vestiges of this once august building had been finally razed to the ground (with the aid of a very sizeable demolition ball I assume) in readiness for their new building, I simply could not resist scribbling a minor amendment to the dog-eared and faded poster that adorned the lonely wayside pulpit that still stood.

Seemingly ignorant of the fact that there was now no church to be publicised it resolutely proclaimed to one and all that time-honoured (and somewhat corny) message favoured of many a church, namely ‘CH_ _ CH. WHAT’S MISSING? UR’.

Utilising the convenient indelible marker pen that lay resident within my jacket pocket (having confiscated it from young Wayne Peacock who I had caught in the process of similarly appending a mugshot of myself that graced St Cliff’s ‘Welcome Desk’ with a Groucho Marx-esque moustache, which, I should add, did not suit me in the least) I cheekily crossed out the second letter ‘C’ (so that it read CH_ _ _H) and then added the letter ‘C’ to the end of ‘UR’ to reflect the present state of this church.

I trust that those passing by this temporarily defunct ecclesiastical establishment will appreciate the cleverness of my witty word play.

I also trust that St Cliff’s property committee takes a leaf out the the book of our URC brethren and considers likewise bringing our ancient meeting place into the twenty first century.

Onward and upward


‘Football is biblical!’

Dear Friends

Oh what joy it is to read the bible with the veritable eyes of revelation and more so to discover something that has lain hidden from others for two thousand years.

For your information, (I am told that letting my guard down and sharing personal details will warm me to the ‘blogging’ community) I am presently employing a more relaxed method of daily Bible study which boils down to closing my eyes, opening the good book at random, running my finger down the selected page and then beginning my studies from there (having first opened my eyes, of course).

Having had more than my fair share of false starts which has found my index finger drawing my attention to (in no particular order) a rather confusing and contradictory map of the route of the Exodus, the ISBN details and most frustratingly, the blank page that sits between the Old and New Testaments, it was a joyous surprise and a relief (my run of bad luck having finally been broken) to find myself faced with the Acts of the Apostles and chapter thirteen in particular.

My joy was increased when I chanced upon the heading to the page: ‘Barnabus and Paul Sent Off‘.

That nobody has ever spotted this reference to football in the Bible is astounding.
I have made a mental note to write to Mr Kevin Keegan, who, if my memory serves me correctly, is presently the incumbent manager of our ‘boys’ in the English team and to share this wonderful discovery with him.

Onward and upward