Breaking up is hard to do…

“It’s not you, it’s me, but we just can’t be together any more…I’m sorry…”

This week I have thought, then whispered, then stated these words, defiantly.

No…it’s not the world’s shortest marriage! It’s a conversation I am having with my FitBit*.

*(other step counters and smart watches also apply)

I’m sorry, FitBit; I know we have been together for such a long time and have shared so much fun together. We have been to some amazing places, and you have counted my steps – every single one of them – literally every step of the way. I mean, if you weren’t there, did I even work out??

I have hovered at the top of the FitBit leaderboard for weeks at a time and, when my trusty friend beeps at me to say I haven’t done 250 steps in *this* hour, I have got up and walked…or waved my arm around in the car as I drive…(surely it’s not just me who does that?!).

But I’m having something of a midlife crisis I think, and I’m completely re-evaluating diet and exercise and body image and self esteem and I am terrified and excited about this, in equal measure, and I want to share it with you at this point; the point where I have so many more questions than answers; the point where I don’t really know what I can do or be or become; the point where I feel challenged right to the very core of my being; this point, where I realise in a scarily profound way that I have been a slave to ‘being thin’ for at least the last 30 years, probably longer. And it has to stop. Beginning with the loss of my FitBit!

We have just come back from a glorious honeymoon, which was wonderful in every way. We sampled some of the most amazing food and wines from the stunningly beautiful wine regions of Western Australia. We have eaten and drunk our way around the Swan River and Margaret River, and beyond, and it has been blissful. And as we have travelled, so I have been reading a book called STRONGER (you can find it here…

In this book, Poorna Bell writes some incredible truths that have been hidden from me for decades. She writes that exercise can simply be for fun (what? Not for burning the most calories and ‘getting rid’ of last night’s curry?!). She says that exercise can be used simply to get fit and to become strong. And I never knew, not fully, that this was true. Society, the patriarchy, social media, and my own inner voice, have all told me that exercise is to get thin, stay thin, maybe get fit (but only to help with the thin thing)…and if you happen to enjoy it then you’re lucky, but, even if you don’t, you have to do it anyways because otherwise you will be F A T – and there’s nothing worse than that.

Friends, this inner voice talks bullshit. And she needs to be taught to sit down and shut up.

So I find myself here, on 10th November 2021, almost certainly weighing more than I ever have before (because I’ve not counted a single calorie since England, and I haven’t topped the leaderboard on my FitBit either), wanting so desperately to be free of this addiction to what the scales say…wanting to be free from the obsession over how many bloody steps I’ve taken today…wanting, really longing, to know the answers to some of these questions…

  • What does it feel like to be hungry?
  • What does it feel like to be comfortably full and then STOP eating?
  • Why is my sense of self worth tied up in what I weigh?
  • What if the ‘some foods are good and some foods are bad’ premise is actually a lie?!
  • What if exercise was purely for fun??
  • What would happen if I never weighed myself again, and just ate what I fancied, when I was hungry, and stopped when I was full???

You might be reading this and thinking ‘you can’t really mean that?’ but, genuinely, truly and honestly, I don’t know the answers to these questions but MAN, I want to find out. And I am determined to go on a journey of discovery to try to answer them because I’ve tried the whole diet-exercise-binge-starve-gain-lose-self-love-self-loathe cycle for way too long and it’s not right.

I would go as far as to say it’s not what God wants for me! I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Psalm 139 tells me so. And my addictions and obsessions do not lead me to live life in all its abundance, as promised in John 10:10. I’ve got it wrong. Really wrong.

And. I. Am. Done.

So, I am breaking up with my FitBit first. And I am going to walk along the beach because IT IS STUNNING and it is only 2 blocks away and because it makes my heart and soul glad and gives me space to thank the Creator of it all – and not because I have to hit 15,000 steps.

And I am going to try every last one of the crazy workouts available to me in this amazing part of the world – if they sound like fun to me. And if I enjoy them, I will do them again – BECAUSE THEY ARE FUN, not to burn off food that was delicious.

And, can I also say, I am scared of this? I am worried about embarking on this stage of the journey. And I don’t quite understand what my fear is (except the irrational fear that, as I said, I will get fat…and my brain is conditioned to believe that fat is bad…which is absolutely wrong).

So I am committing to blogging about it because it feels significant (to me) and maybe like something others might have thoughts and feelings about. I would love to know what you think.

Right: first up…aerial yoga!!

Jesus’ 4-word Sermon

Mark 12: 28-34

If feedback from congregation members was, in any way, a measure of the ‘success’ of a sermon I could reliably inform you that my two ‘best ones’ so far were the first one, where I told you I only have one sermon – many of you have asked me about that statement – and the other was the one where I mentioned Bunnings – largely because of my terribly British pronunciation of it, and your inherent love of the place!

Anyways…if it were true that there really is only one sermon, then Jesus seems to be the true modeller of that theory. And today’s gospel reading really boils down all his teaching, all his life, into just four very simple words:



And that is it. Jesus’ message and life’s work, in 4 words – Love God, love others.

I seriously considered just saying those 4 words today and then sitting down, and if there is anywhere in the world where I could legitimately do that, it is almost certainly here, and some of you are almost certainly longing for me to do exactly that, but I want to say a few more things before we take time to sit and reflect.

Love God. Love others. The 4 most important words in all scripture.

Imagine if those 4 words were the measure by which we made every decision, every choice, every single deed. Does this thing demonstrate I love God? Does this choice enable me to love others more?  How can my time be used better in the quest of love? That is how it is supposed to be. It’s not a golden aspiration or aim we can never reach. It’s the plan! The greatest of all commandments. It is possible. Everything we do, don’t do, spend, give, take, everything we even are is intended to be for love of God and others.

So, the question is not, should we love God or could we love God. The only question is how. How Lord, how can we love you and love others well.  Better.

In the four short Sundays we’ve been together we have already had some great examples of what loving God and others looks like. We explored the need to lay down all we have, even our very lives if we need to, and come to God hungry and expectant, willing to place ourselves in the very hands of God that we might, as that gorgeous Methodist Covenant Prayer says ‘be employed for you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you….’  Last week we considered how we might love God by throwing ourselves upon God’s mercy….and love others by extending that same mercy to them.

Jesus preaches throughout scripture but the message is always the same:

Love God, love others.

Yesterday I went along to the diocesan training on keeping children safe from sexual abuse. Many of you have been on the course, I know. It was shocking and deeply concerning and the church has a long way to go until all God’s children are safe within her walls but, do you know, one of the things that really shocked me, (particularly as I was thinking about this morning’s reading) was when the trainer shared words from scripture about forgiveness. She seemed to be saying we should forgive those who abuse children and extend love to them. And then she said, ‘but only the ones who are repentant’.

But I don’t think that is what Jesus says in his 4-word sermon.

You see, love is a gift from God; a fruit of the Spirit. It is the very source and essence of who God is – not just something t we somehow muster up. Friends, loving like Christ is life giving, life threatening. But there are no caveats; it is not ours to arbitrate or ration. Like mercy, it is a gift we are given, in abundance, not to keep, but always to pass on – whether or not we think the recipient deserves it. And when we love we become more and more like the Creator. More and more like the One we seek to love.

Love God. Love Others.

And our most perfect example is found in Christ. And how does Christ Jesus love?

He Loves, outrageously and indiscriminately.  He Loves, even when the world tells us to hate.  Or even, especially when the world tells us to hate. 

Jesus loved his disciples with everything he had and everything he was and everything he did. He loved them when they were loveable and when they were utterly unlovable. He loved through healing, feeding the hungry and welcoming the outcasts.  He loved the sinners and the untouchables.  He loved through touch, hospitality and welcome. He loved all people; Jews and Gentiles, men, women and children, those who were sick, paralysed, possessed with demons.  He even loved the dead…and loved them back to life.  He loved and loved and loved, in every thought, word and deed…and then commands us to do the same. 

Giving our lives over to love is crazy and bold and all-consuming and life altering and Jesus said it over and over.  It was his one and only sermon!

And in these pages of scripture He is speaking to us as individuals, and to the church as a whole; this is our commandment.  This is how we should behave to the person next to us and how the church should be behaving to the world.  This is what we should be known for.

Love God and Love Others, Jesus says. Love Extravagantly and unconditionally.  Love in every thought, word and deed, and continue to keep on choosing to do so, even when it hurts, even when we don’t want to, even when we aren’t thanked or noticed, even when we aren’t loved back.  Love more abundantly, more outrageously, more like Christ. 

Jesus’ teachings are simple. Easy to understand, but world-changing if we take them seriously. If we are serious about joining and remaining in this Jesus movement, it will take us to the very edge of ourselves. It will cost us everything and give us back even more. All through this crazy revolution of love.

You know, sometimes I’d really like to just say 4 words as a sermon, and then sit down. Maybe I should.

Love God. Love Others.


Sermon from 24/10/21

Mark 10: 46-52

Every day that we get to live in this place, something else strikes me as beautiful or amazing, and reminds me how incredibly lucky I am! Drinks around the fire-pit, conversations with new friends, clear blue skies, another vegan cake to try, and yesterday it was the stunning display of poppies in our grounds. They’re simply beautiful, aren’t they? And they’re everywhere! And yesterday, what really struck me was this one little poppy, popping out of the concrete outside the garage door.

Have you looked closely at a poppy lately? Their petals are paper thin, and their stalks are whispy and easy to snap – especially when they are small and young – and yet, something inside this plant is so strong, so tenacious, that it can burrow its way through inches of concrete and push its little poppy head through and out into sunlight. Now, to me, that speaks volumes about the intricate care and concern of the Creator – the commitment of a tiny plant, to reach the surface and survive, says a great deal about the Divine, but it also says something to me about the man we met in this morning’s gospel passage. The tenacity of the poppy resonates somehow with the ballsy blind Bartimaeus.

Bartimaeus, unashamedly and purposefully rejects his place in society, shouts aloud, refuses to be silenced, throws off his begging cloak and runs to Jesus. And what does he ask for? Yes, he asks to be able to see again. But what is it that he first asks for? Mercy. He asks for mercy.

Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me. Again he says it; son of David, have mercy on me. As tenacious, bold and ballsy as those poppies, Bartimaeus throws himself at the feet of the one he is declaring as King and begs for mercy.

The healing of the blind man is amazing, miraculous, the bit of the story we always focus on, but this week I’ve been unable to get away from this desperate cry for mercy. It’s the same cry we have heard from Job these last few weeks; it’s the same cry the wretched psalmist writes of, it’s the same gift that each priest – since the dawn of time – begs for, because we can’t follow this calling in our own strength – it’s there in each one of our readings; Son of David, Creator God, Holy One, have mercy.

And I wonder if this gift of mercy is one of our best kept secrets.

I wonder if mercy is what the world today, what the people of our parish, are really searching for. Because what does mercy look like, with skin on?

In our gospel reading, showing mercy meant the blind could see.

But if we were to greet everyone we met, or every person we heard about, with mercy, what transformation might occur?

When we see through the eyes of mercy, we become agents of reconciliation and forgiveness, the homeless are given somewhere to live, the lonely find company, the hungry receive food, the stranger knows warm welcome. When we choose to act with mercy the poor no longer languish in poverty, the naked get to wear the best clothes, the chains of oppression are broken, there is no us and them, just one community, one family. Could we be merciful people? Could we be known for our mercy?

And what about if we place ourselves on that roadside, in that cloak of Bartimaeus? What about when we are the ones who need mercy? Might we begin to recognise again, or for the first time, our absolute dependence upon the mercy of the One we are tentatively trying to follow, and, perhaps even more exposing, our very need of the mercy of one another? Imagine if we forgot about ourselves, cared much less about what people thought, and threw off our proverbial cloaks, leapt to our proverbial feet and cried out ‘Lord, friends, have mercy on me’.

It was through the request (demand, even) for mercy that Bartimaeus regained his sight. Just consider, what might our Lord restore to us if we were to ask the same?

Going back to those poppies: they won’t be stopped. They refuse to be tamed. They will spring up wherever the heck they want to, like it or not. And formerly blind Bartimaeus was the same. He wouldn’t be shushed or held back. He wouldn’t stay seated or keep quiet.

Son of David, have mercy on me, let me see again.

We would do well to take lessons from the poppies and the beggar and throw ourselves on that same mercy, with tenacity and determination, asking for God’s mercy whilst also asking for our eyes to be opened to those around us who also need that same gift that we know and need.

Greater minds than mine, down through many centuries, have taken the words, of this social outcast and have used them as meditative prayer, repeating over and over; Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Books are written about what has come to be known as the Jesus prayer – bishops, monks, and many others swear by it. So, I invite you now to spend a few minutes praying those words silently too, one alongside another, as we ask God to have mercy upon us, and to give us the grace we need to extend that gift of mercy towards others.

Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen.

I wonder…

A sermon from St Paul’s Beaconsfield, WA, on Sunday 17th October, from Mark 10: 32 – 45 – you can read a link to it here…

I received a card from a wonderful friend back home this week and in it she wrote… ‘God gave me a message for you and said this: God is with you in Australia but speaks with a different accent, so you’ll need to listen carefully’. Then Craig and I were in Bunnings and he had this super fast conversation with the shop assistant and I think I caught about 20% of what they were saying, so I’m definitely trying to fine tune my listening skills, but on Tuesday evening I went along to the bible study that John runs each week – 7:30pm in the meeting room, highly recommended – and God spoke, right there, in many and clear ways and I need to share some of those holy riches with you this morning.

We began the study as they do each time – reading the gospel passage twice through and then going around the room, asking ‘I wonder’ type questions: things like ‘I wonder what Jesus meant by drinking the cup he drinks’, ‘I wonder what sitting at the right and left mean, and what glory really is’ and ‘I wonder what being baptised with the same baptism as Christ means’. And nobody offered answers or explanations, we just wondered for a while – just sat with the mystery instead of rushing ahead to the answer. And then we kind of wandered through our wonderings and thought together about what they might mean.

And. God. Was. With. Us.

And it was wonderful – wonder FULL, literally – and also deeply unsettling, really quite uncomfortable.

So, James and John spit out this request that is really quite rude and also pretty familiar, isn’t it? Jesus, we want you to do for us whatever we ask. Can you relate to prayers of your own that might sound similar? Shopping list prayers! Jesus, heal my dad, stop it raining, find me a parking space, give me this job? Some of them are really good requests, but more often they are my will be done prayers, rather than thy will be done.

James and John do it in spectacular style here, but I think it was ever thus. Jesus, teacher, do for us whatever we ask. And Jesus replies, in Jesus’ infinite grace and mercy, ‘what do you want me to do for you?’ What is it that you want? And they tell him – let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory. When we fast forward through the death, flogging, spitting, and mockery you speak of, can we have our own comfy thrones next to you, either side?

And Jesus says, ‘you don’t know what you are asking’. And I think they kind of do know what they’re asking – they want to be seated in full view in glory. They want a reward, to look important, they do know what they are asking. What they don’t know is what it takes to get there, what the path of discipleship really is. And let’s just wonder about that for a few minutes…

Can you drink the cup I drink?

Can you be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?

Friends, listen to that because these two questions of Jesus are not just to James and John. They’re not just questions for 1st century Palestinian followers of the itinerant Rabbi Jesus. They are questions for all of us who are tentatively trying to walk this path of discipleship

Can we drink the cup? Can we be baptised? What does it even mean?!

Well, here’s the thing: it is an invitation to certain death. It really is. Last week we were invited to give up all we had, sell all our possessions, and follow Jesus. And today, we see where that road goes. It is the road that leads to life, never forget that, but first it is the road that journeys through death. It costs us all we are and all we have, even our very lives.

Can you drink the cup I drink, Jesus asks? That’s not just the cup of wine from the last supper, but the cup of suffering that Jesus begs God to take from him in the garden of gethsemane: if it is possible, take this cup from me: yet not what I will but what you will. Can you drink from that cup James? John? Can you? Can we?

And can you be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with? Baptism is the sacrament in which we die – we don’t tell that to parents who bring their little babies in their frilly hats to the font – but it really is the sacrament in which we enact our death – we drown our old lives, drown our sins in those waters of baptism and rise again to new life, to freedom, healing, forgiveness. Can you take that baptism, Jesus asks. Can you die, will you die, for me, that you might live?

And what about this glory James and John ask after? Can we sit beside you, one on your left and one on your right in your glory?  Doesn’t that resound with painful  images of Golgotha – where our Lord hung on the cross with two criminals, one on his right and one on his left – and where his true glory was revealed, where the centurion declared, on behalf of all humanity for all time, ‘surely this man was – is – the Son of God’.

When James and John make their demand, Jesus is so right when he says, ‘you don’t know what you are asking’. Can we sit beside you? Well, I don’t know about that, Jesus says, that’s up to God, but if you really want to be counted there among the glory, this is the way the road goes to get there – it goes through suffering and unto death and then, onwards to resurrection. But to reach glory, the way there is the way of death.

And for those of us who are committing our lives to bear the name Christian, for those of us who are daring to believe that this Jesus stuff is real and has something to say to 21st Century living, we are signing up to death. And how we are also signing up to life!

It is an upside-down kingdom where the first are last, where the greatest are the slaves and servants, and where we only gain life by embracing death. It doesn’t make sense and the world calls it boring but Jesus’ message, Jesus’ call is not for the fainthearted. It is fierce, all encompassing, life changing, REAL. And, as that great hymn reminds us, it demands my soul, my life, my all.

As I said last week, and will say often, it is costly and compelling. And it is for you.

I wonder, will you follow? Amen.

First Sunday: The Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10:17-31)

Last Sunday – 10th October 2021 – was my first Sunday as Priest-in-Charge at St Paul’s Beaconsfield, having been commissioned a few days beforehand (you can watch the commissioning service here if you missed it… ). I promised I would blog my sermons each week, and then promptly forgot, so forgive me for the delay, but here it is; my introductory sermon to the wonderful people at St Paul’s, and my thoughts on giving up all we have, selling it, and giving the money to the poor…

This week has been something of a whirlwind!

I have met so many people, heard many stories, tried to find my way around this precinct, tried to understand what a precinct is!, driven an automatic car for the first time, spent 2 days at Synod with hundreds of strangers – all trying to figure out what the Anglican Church of Australia is and does… and all the while trying to come up with something to say to you this morning.

Everywhere I went, people were said, ‘I don’t usually come to church but I’m going to be there on Sunday to see what you do’…no pressure then…And, in one such conversation someone helpfully said, ‘it really doesn’t matter what you say; people just want to know something of you’, and while that feels a bit odd, it stayed with me and made me wonder what you might want to know…

So here are a few things about your newly arrived priest.

I am a brand new wife to my shiny new husband of 10 days, which also makes me step-mum to Craig’s four children. I am a daughter, a sister, an auntie, cousin, granddaughter, relative, friend and dog-mum to Maggie, who will join us in January.

I love to get behind a cause, so I am vegan, an active campaigner to end slavery and promote women’s rights, I am a feminist, and an advocate for those who are poorest and most oppressed. I believe black lives matter and am, like many, counted among the #metoo number.

I say the wrong things at the most inopportune moments, have a hundred ideas before breakfast, and have a phobia of pre-packed sandwiches. I love Jesus and beach walks and drinks that fizz and being a wife and my dog. And I only have one sermon…

Like genuinely, I only have one sermon.

Many years ago, I went on a course for those starting out with preaching. In the first session the leader told us we all have one sermon inside us and we just need to figure out what it is…and then preach it forever. I thought that was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard – I mean, how can you preach the same thing about the good Samaritan and the nativity?  But it turns out this man was right.

And many years from now, whether it is your first or millionth visit, you will likely hear me say, fundamentally, the same thing, which is this…

Jesus says this amazing thing

We should do this thing

You will need the food of this holy meal to sustain you to do it.

Oh, and always lean heavily on the side of grace.

So, in today’s gospel we meet this guy who is often called ‘the rich young ruler’ and he comes to Jesus and asks, ‘good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’  Jesus tells him that he must keep the commandments, which he says he’s done since his youth, and then comes the kicker…

‘Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said ‘you lack one thing, go, sell what you own and give the money to the poor…then come follow me’.

Wow. Jesus doesn’t sugar coat it, does he?

Give up everything and come to me with empty hands and an open heart and we can get to the work of seeing the Kingdom of God.

Friends, following Jesus is costly. Man, it is so costly.

Jesus doesn’t ask for a bit of this – a few dollars here, and slightly less time with family – he literally asks for everything we own, everything we possess, every relationship we have, all we are and all we do – give it all up, he says, and follow me.

Following Jesus costs everything.

It is hugely costly, but it is also utterly compelling.

It’s like the most terrifying rollercoaster ride for a rollercoaster fanatic.

It’s the journey that leads an anxious priest to leave family and friends and home and church on the invitation of this crazy God who says ‘come and join me on a holy adventure. Let’s get up to mischief’. It is insane and doesn’t make any sense.

Sell what you own and give your money to the poor?

Leave house, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, children and fields?

And then follow me.

And here’s the crazy thing – Jesus is on his way to certain death and that is the path that he invites us on.

Now, forgive me for saying this Lord but it’s not a great invite, is it?

Leave everything you know and love?

Give up all you have – give it all away to the poor – and then walk the path towards death.

But here’s the thing. We worship a God who turns everything upside down.

We follow a Jesus – or at least we are trying to – who asks us to die in order that we might live.  The path of radical discipleship asks, well demands us to give away everything we have in order that we might gain all we need.

We give our wealth so the poor may have more, but in doing so we reap the greatest of rewards – a hundredfold, Jesus promises, and not just when we die but here and now too.  It doesn’t make sense. It is all-consumingly costly, but it is also utterly compelling.

And today we begin our holy adventure together.

I have heard this call to leave everything behind.

I have heard this call to give up everything so that others can have more.

I have heard that invitation, just as the rich young ruler did.

And today we have heard it again.

The question is, will we together, return to the feet of Jesus and tell him we, I, the people of St Pauls, the parish of Beaconsfield, we are in? Will we tell Jesus we will give it all up, all away, and follow Him?

The invitation the rich ruler heard still echoes down through the ages and it rings out here today, for you. Will you say yes?

And will you put down, give away, give up, whatever Christ asks in order to follow Him with empty hands and open hearts?

As you approach this altar a few minutes from now I invite you to commit afresh to this eternal invitation to walk with Christ towards the building of God’s Kingdom. I invite you, as you hold out your hands to receive our Lord’s very body, to hand over whatever you are carrying, whatever you are still clutching, in order that you might be able to claim real life, true life, instead.

Follow me, Jesus says – for us it feels impossible, but for God it is possible.

So let’s set off together today thanking God for all that has been and trusting God for all that lies ahead as we see God’s Kingdom come here among us.  May it be so, Amen.

What about when God seems absent?

I don’t want to write this blog. I don’t want it to be where I’m at or how I’m feeling…but it is. And I feel challenged to not just write about all the highs, right? Sometimes life is a low. This past 24 hours has been a low.

When I was almost at the end of my quarantine in NSW, I had to apply for permission to enter Perth. It was a tense time, but my application came back with the glorious word ‘APPROVED’ stamped right across it. There was some confusion because the travel permit seemed to suggest I would both need to quarantine AND not be required to do so, based upon the decision of the border officials on my arrival into WA.

Throughout my time in Sydney, I had countless people contact me to say they were praying that I wouldn’t need to go through a second quarantine, particularly because, needing to do so would mean our wedding plans would have to be cancelled and rearranged, for the third time, and that felt like just too much to imagine. Plus, with 4 negative covid tests and a double vaccination certificate, I’m probably the safest person in the whole of Australia right now! Logically, a second quarantine didn’t make sense, and, on top of that, hadn’t God promised me it would be sorted??

On my first few nights in Sydney, I woke up each night in a panic, worrying I would never reach Craig and would have to repeat the quarantine experience. It felt beyond what I could manage, and my heart was heavy. Over and over, I felt this reassuring voice of God, saying to me, ‘I’ve done it before, and I will do it again’.

Flying into Perth was surreal. There were 5 of us on the whole plane and 300+ empty seats. We took off early and landed early. Check in at Sydney went like a dream and the whole trip was just perfect. I managed to balance the ideal cycle of sleep, read, watch TV, drink fizz, repeat and I arrived in WA so excited by what lay ahead. My faith in getting through border force and heading off into the sunset with Craig was so strong. I just knew it would be OK. ‘I’ve done it before and I will do it again’, God had kept saying. Let’s see your miraculous works, Lord. Let’s do it!

So, when the border official told me I had to quarantine for an additional 14 days, I broke down right there and simply wept. I showed them the travel permit that clearly stated that if I arrived in Perth within 12 hours of leaving Sydney I would not need to quarantine. I told them my wedding was scheduled for one week’s time. They looked at one another, scratched their heads and came back with the same information: Go directly to quarantine, do not pass go, do not collect £200…

My precious Craig found me sobbing and disorientated in the baggage claim area and folded me up in his arms, stroking my hair and reassuring me it would be ok. He drove me to my quarantine address and sat outside the closed door all evening, calling to me as we shared our first meal in 20 months (and 9 days, to be precise), and we contacted hotels and wedding venues and hairdressers and make-up artists, and caterers and cancelled our wedding for the third time. And I was sad, heartbroken, miserable…and then I realised I was fuming. I was livid!

Yes, I was mad at this crazy system that meant this 4-times-negative-double-jabbed arriver had to be locked away, despite already doing that time, but I also realised I was mad at God. So mad. Didn’t you promise me Lord, ‘I’ve done it before, and I will do it again’??  Did I hear wrong? Did you mean something else? Was it just wishful thinking? And what are you saying now Lord because you’ve gone very quiet over there… Silent. Silence.

This morning the police called at my door to check I am where I said I would be. They asked me question after question, and I could see they were getting increasingly confused. Then they said to me ‘I can’t understand why you’re in quarantine! Call this number and ask them to overturn this decision. It doesn’t make sense’.

Ah! Was this it?! God was going to swoop in at the 11th hour and save the day. The wedding would go ahead, and it would be all the sweeter because it had been snatched away, only to be miraculously reinstated. Was this the holy celestial plan??

I called the number. Nobody could believe my story, but they also were not able to change my situation, but they gave me an email address and coached me in specifically what to write, even down to the subject line. My heart revived as my hands shook while I typed and then I waited…

God was going to pull it out of the bag, I knew it.

An email pinged back: ‘thank you for your email… as you are now aware if you arrive at Perth Airport within 12 hours of completing Supervised Quarantine in NSW, you are subject to a further 14 days self-quarantine… We empathise with your situation however are unable to further assist’.

It was a no. it felt like a bigger no than the one at border control yesterday. And I was reminded of that Proverb, in the bible, that says, ‘hope deferred makes the heart sick’ (Proverbs 13:12). And my heart is sick. It’s really freaking sick. And I don’t know where God is, or what God is saying, except I must accept that God is the only other being in this quarantine with me – even if I am mad at him.

And I don’t understand this situation. I don’t know how it will be redeemed, or how it will, like all things, work together for good. I don’t even know if God did say ‘I’ve done it before, and I will do it again’ and I don’t know whether God has gone on holiday or is busy sorting someone else out or didn’t get my forwarding address or what. But I’m in Perth and the more I hear and the more I read the more I see that is a miracle.

I know God is good and hasn’t forgotten me. I know God has good things for me. I know God was there on that deserted flight. I know God was with me as I wailed at border control. I know God was with the shocked police officer who didn’t know how to deal with the weeping vicar in front of him.

I know all that. I just don’t feel it. 🙁

The Door is Open…

Do you remember that day, back in March 2020, when the whole of the UK gathered around their TV sets to listen to Prime Minister Boris Johnson say those fateful words, ‘go home and stay home’?  AND WE ALL DID…

That still chills me to the bone, to be honest. People said there would be revolts and nobody would do it, yet we did. I remember walking my Maggie, right up the central white line of the main road, just because there were literally zero cars on it.

And the same is happening here in Hotel Quarantine. When we each arrived, we were told ‘stand on that red spot’, ‘leave your luggage there’, ‘do this’, ‘do that’ and then we were each delivered to our room and told to stay there for 14 days – only opening the door to receive a meal or a visit from the nurse. AND WE ARE ALL DOING IT.

Today is day 13, the day I got my release papers so I can leave here in the morning. I was handed my letter from NSW Police and from a medical professional, to prove I have ‘fulfilled the requirements’ of the stay. I got a band secured around my wrist with huge letters on it, saying WEDNESDAY and then the official asked me what time I want to leave (incidentally, that’s the first and only choice I’ve been able to make in a fortnight. It felt good). I opted for 7am and he said this remarkable thing: ‘just open the door and leave at 7am and walk out of the building’.

Just walk out.  The door is open? I just get to leave?!

Basically, I could have walked out at any point. I could have; nothing was physically restraining me or preventing me from doing so but I didn’t, of course. I didn’t because I was here to get quarantine done and because, the rules of quarantine state that you stay put and you do not leave, for anything (not even a fire alarm. That’s what the ‘welcome’ letter said. Awful welcome that…!). And tomorrow I get to see that the door was open all the time – I can just pull it and let it shut behind me and walk out, all my personal agency restored to me (well, kind of), and go.

And while I’ve been reflecting in here, and thinking about our beloved friends at the Kitchen, I’ve been considering how this ‘open door’ thing is true in so many other ways. How often have I not ‘pushed the door’ due to fear, or anxiety, or worrying what people will think? How often have I thought I was trapped in a place or situation because I didn’t know that the door was open all along?  How often do we succumb to addictions or ways of living because we don’t dare to see if the door is open?  And, heartbreakingly, how often have we just stayed put, in some miry murky place, simply because nobody told us we could just open the door and go? How often?

Tomorrow morning, bang on 7am, I will open this hotel room door and walk right out of here. And as I go, I will make a conscious effort to pray for those who are still stuck in whatever their room is, that they may see that the door is open all along. Didn’t Jesus say something about being the gate?  And being the Way? Maybe the door isn’t just open, maybe it is the Christ…

Thank you for keeping me company here in quarantine. You’ve been my own personal therapists, each one of you. I will continue to journal my Holy Adventures right here, but I can’t promise it will be every day – now it’s time to get up to some of this Holy Chaos so I have something more to right about.

But first, let’s get these doors open!

Lots of love 💚

Trust the Untrustworthy?

I’ve been thinking a lot about trust today. Do I trust God for a miracle to get me into Perth without having to quarantine again 🤔… I guess the answer is, ‘sometimes’? Do I trust that God will go before me and prepare the way and keep me safe? Almost always… Do I trust that God loves me and has unique things for me to do during my time here on earth? Absolutely…

And that got me reflecting on life at the Kitchen again and about my constant challenge to love the unlovable, touch the untouchable (I must tell you the story of the rotting foot I washed one Maundy Thursday… 🤢) and trust the untrustworthy.

When we opened the Kitchen in August 2017 (on St Aidan’s Day; a total divine appointment there) none of us really had a clue what we were doing. I wasn’t sure anyone would actually come but I was proved wrong; 15 on the first week, then 30, then 50 and, by the end of the first month we were regularly seeing 80 people. Our busiest week was one Thursday in the Easter holidays where we had 224 people in church, in search of food and groceries and company. It was a steep steep learning curve and, wow, we made some cracking mistakes.

Addictions are expensive, and they turn people into very clever and crafty liars. These things are fundamental truths that I wasn’t fully aware of. Almost every addict I’ve ever met has sworn to me that they’re not on anything (my favourite is when someone, who is very clearly high as a kite, acts *totally* outraged at the suggestion that they might be a drug user!).  And addicts are creative in their ways of making money. Shoplifting, selling stuff, stealing, tricking naïve clergy… 🙄

Often people would ask me for money. Clergy know, early on, not to give out money, but even so I sometimes fell for it because I had this mantra that I would treat people as good humans, always. That I would always be kind and honouring. And sometimes that meant being shafted, to put it bluntly. Like the day one of our volunteers (who began as a guest) told me she needed £43 – often very specific amounts were asked for – to clear the debt on her gas and electric account and heat the house for some friends coming over. I trusted her and gave her the money. She said she would pay it back, obviously she didn’t. The same woman also told me her abusive partner had sold all her clothes for crack and she had nothing. I raided my wardrobe and gave her half of what I had. And I swear, I NEVER saw her in a single item of my clothes. Not ever. She almost certainly weighed them in for cash for her own drug habit (which she vehemently denied existed, right until the day I was sat beside her bed in hospital after an accidental overdose).

Every week I would be asked for amounts around the £5 mark, ‘for a bus back to the ‘Boro’. Never exactly £5, but always that or thereabouts. My most loved addict, guest and friend eventually couldn’t bear to see the Vicar get tricked one more time and told me that a bag of Heroin is £5 in Hartlepool. Why aren’t they asking for a fiver then? I asked. Apparently because they didn’t want to be that obvious! 🤷🏼‍♀️

I had this fund – the vicar’s discretion fund – which I could use to give money in emergency circumstances. A few times I used it to put a street sleeper into a B&B for the night, that sort of thing. I genuinely dread to think how often my kindness was taken for weakness, and the church ended up inadvertently ‘buying’ drugs…

And yet, I do think it’s true that we are to honour the image of God in one another – yes, be wise, but always, always err on the side of kindness, even when we get it wrong. Be lavishly kind, but not abundantly stupid – so often I was the latter rather than the former, and I gradually learned. Sometimes I clung too closely to my fear of being taken for a ride or being thought of as stupid and made decisions that were actually mean. Striking the right balance is hard!

But what I find myself thinking is this: in each moment, God trusts me to fulfil God’s purposes on earth, and I am utterly untrustworthy for that job…but God trusts me anyways. We are each entrusted with much, so much, regardless of our track record and trustworthiness.  So shouldn’t we do the same? And I don’t fully know what to do with this thought process, except continue trying to show up and make God proud, to keep choosing kindness (even when it lands up being stupidity) and keep rocking the status quo that teaches us to be suspicious, cautious, even mean. Those traits are not my God’s traits.

May God give each of us the grace to be wise yet kind, strong yet gentle, fierce yet soft, generous beyond the norm, and a little bit more like Christ, day-by-day-by-day, amen.

The Kitchen and the Mass

When we first talked about opening St Aidan’s Kitchen, I was really determined that the session would end with a mass. For me, it made no sense to just feed the hungry unless we were making those holy connections and sharing the truths that we, as a church, were feeding others because we had been fed in the holy meal of the eucharist. I wanted to clearly demonstrate that the food served at the altar in each mass was served for a purpose; we were fed to give us energy to go and feed others.  And, just as everyone was welcome to come to St Aidan’s Kitchen, so everyone was welcome at God’s Table. Ending with a mass was a non-negotiable for me so, right from the first week, we finished up with a simple mass and everyone was invited to stay.

We did that for the first two years of The Kitchen. We saw amazing things there – people asked to be baptised, we had a confirmation service during one of the masses and seven people were confirmed, and often we had 20 or more people attend. Over time the numbers dwindled, until we were down to 6 or 7 people, all of whom were church members who had received their mass already that day, or the evening before, but hung around to support me. We made the decision to stop celebrating mass at the end of the session and, once a service is stopped, it’s really hard to start it back up again. Stopping that mass is still a decision I really regret, deeply. What might God have done with it if I had continued to keep showing up (inexplicably nervous, every time) – I am really sorry that I didn’t get to find out…

When I look back, all my most precious memories of our time at the Kitchen (and some of the worst ones!) are about encounters with individuals; not huge fundraising successes or front-page news stuff (although those came too), but just a simple interaction, one-to-one, like with Samantha who I wrote about yesterday. Those encounters shaped me just as much as I hope they shaped our guests and friends. They taught me something new, every time – big lessons, little lessons, just a reminder, profound truths, and everything in between. And one of the most amazing teachers was a young man who I think only came once and who taught me about grace, beyond anything I had ever experienced before.

To my shame, I can’t remember his name, but I will call him Chris.

Chris came to us one Thursday, about a year in. It was at a time (one of the many) when there was a bad batch of tablets going around and people were getting really poorly off them. Chris came in and was in a bad way. I can still picture where he slumped in church.  He had somehow got himself a bowl of chilli and was now keeled over, leaning into his chilli, eyes closed or rolling back, half asleep, half comatose, threatening every few minutes to pour chilli over the pews.

As always, I spent the morning wandering around, talking to folk, and every time I walked past Chris I would ask if he was ok, try to shake him awake a bit, check his chilli and the state of the pew, and see if he was stirring at all. He wasn’t. The only change in him was unseen – between checks a bit more chilli had found its way into his beard or down his front. It was a sad sight, and he was not with us at all.

The thing about ending with the mass served another useful purpose too – when we announced it was about to begin, many of the guests would get up and leave. I’m sure they would’ve stayed there all day and all night if there hadn’t been a cut-off point. That day was no different. As people left, still Chris didn’t stir, not a bit. I went over and woke him up and said I was about to say mass, and did he want to stay and move closer to the front. He looked at me, mumbled, and was gone again. I left him where he was.

I lit the thurible, so incense was burning; it was a great mix of aromas of food, poverty and worship filling the air – I’ll never forget that smell. I put my robes on, to show something different, altogether important, was happening and I began to say mass.  I never dumbed the service down – it was a simple mass, with a couple of sung refrains, leaving nothing out, and everyone was invited to come and receive.

I ducked down behind the altar, just before the invitation to take communion, and prayed my own private prayer and then I stood up to begin to extend God’s welcome; ‘come to this table, not because you must but because you may…’ I would say each time. ‘Come not because you are strong but because you are weak’, I would continue. But as I stood so I saw Chris, and he was walking down the main aisle, right towards me. Stumbling a bit, but very determined.

He reached the altar rail, and he didn’t stop. He kept right on going, up the chancel steps, right up to the altar, until he was leaning across and looking me right in the eyes. And he stood there, kind of awkwardly, but almost defiant.  And he stretched out his hands and I said to him ‘do you want the body of Christ?’ and he said ‘yes’.  He said, ‘I want to come back to God and I don’t know how’.  And I gave him the very body of Jesus and told him he could come here and that he was welcome. Because he was, because he is, and God is so amazingly gracious that sometimes we get to see that in new and exciting and outrageous ways.

And, just as I had wanted to connect those dots between feeding at The Kitchen and feeding at the altar, so, in that moment, our gracious God connected a few more for me…

We have received abundantly and freely, and so abundantly and freely we must give. We are loved by God, in order that we might share that love with others.  We have received a welcome at God’s table, unconditionally, in order that we might always unconditionally welcome others.  Over and over again. None of this is ours.  Not to keep anyway. The church is not a vessel of God’s gifts, She is a channel. Everything that is poured into us and into our worshipping communities, is ours to have, hold, use, and then give out again.  Over and over and over again. Never to keep, always to pass on.

And somehow, that day, Chris saw that in ways I hadn’t.  He encountered something of God’s feeding, and welcome and forgiveness and love.  And he knew he could come.  He knew he could approach the Lord’s table, boldly.  Step right up and hold out his hands, because he wanted to come back and he didn’t know how, but he knew this was a good place to start. 

Chris taught me about the smashing of barriers, the indescribable pull of the mass, the beauty of broken bread offered, the irresistible draw of Christ, and the essential nature of coming just as we are – chilli in our beards, grime on our anoraks, stink in our hair, drugs in our system – and knowing God meets us there in outrageous joy.

I never saw Chris again, maybe I didn’t need to, but I remember him often.  Today, I pray his holy lessons might teach you too – so come to the altar, not because you must but because you may. Come because you love the Lord a little and would like to love him more. Come because God loves you and gives Godself for you. Come and meet the Risen Christ because together (you, me, Chris, all the others we meet on the way), together we are Christ’s body. Amen.

Loving Fiercely… 🧡

When I thought about writing a blog in quarantine, my plan was to document the work of St Aidan’s Kitchen, the (more than) Soup Kitchen that was set up in August 2017 in my church in Hartlepool. I had been meaning to write some of the stories for a long time but hadn’t got around to it. I had ideas to write a book, ‘Tales from St Aidan’s Kitchen’, and thought a blog might be a good start but each day, when I’ve sat down to write, the things that have come to me have rarely been about that place or time and those stories just didn’t come. Until today.

Back in 2013 I was working in India with women and girls who had been trafficked and enslaved in the sex industry. I had no idea what I was doing but I couldn’t think of anything more important in the world than trying to end slavery, so off I went. While I was there, I met the most amazing and beautiful, strong, and broken women and girls. Everywhere I went I kept hearing this echo from God, ‘when you tell these people’s stories, make sure their names are safe in your mouth’. Over and over God said it, and I didn’t know what it meant, but I am reminded of that now, as I begin to share the stories of some of my friends from St Aidan’s Kitchen. And I entrust their stories to you and ask that their names* would be safe in your mouth too if you share them.

So, I can only ever begin with Samantha.

Samantha first came to The Kitchen in October 2017. She was cold and dirty, shivering in the pew, and had been sleeping on a car park for the last few nights. She had walked to Hartlepool from Middlesbrough and worn her shoes through. She was escaping a violent relationship and was sporting a real shiner of a black eye; a group of men she didn’t know had attacked her the night before with a vodka bottle and told her that her boyfriend knew where she was and was coming to find her. She was terrified and kept one eye on the door the whole time.

Samantha was wearing every item of clothing she had, and she carried her whole life in one carrier bag, including every single certificate she had ever been awarded.  We gave her a bag of food, a bowl of warm soapy water, a clean towel and a hug and she shook as she cried.  She told me she had been using the public toilets at the train station to wash her face and had been washing her feet in the marina. In the Northeast of England, in October. She taught me that giving homeless people baked beans was a rubbish idea – not because she couldn’t heat them (she didn’t care about that), but because she didn’t next know when she would find a clean toilet and didn’t want to be caught short… She taught me things every time I saw her.   

By the end of that morning, we’d found her a place in a hostel and within a fortnight she had a home that we furnished for her.  Sam was kind and generous and beaming with gratitude.  She was encountering grace and unconditional acceptance, and for a couple of months she really flourished.    In the December, I baptised her and the next day she was confirmed by the bishop.  She knew the love and acceptance of God, and the welcome of the church.  Together, we loved Sam well, and she grew as a result – not physically, of course; she remained just a tiny dot, a little over 5 foot and probably 7 stone, wet through.

My interactions with her made me, I hope, a better priest and a more loving person.  She took our time and our attention.  She would call late at night, anxious and upset, and would stay on the phone until her battery died.  She was at everything that happened at church.  She joined in with all the liturgy and hymn singing (whether she knew it or not!) – loudly – not always at the right times, and she found her way into the hearts of many of us.  It was easy to love Samantha.  Actually, not easy. It wasn’t easy, it was bloody hard work, but it was simple, and it was costly – in time and money and many other ways.

Samantha wasn’t a drug addict, although many would’ve thought she was. She was a drinker, and her alcohol addiction had cost her her children, previous homes and relationships, jobs, friends. It had cost her everything, several times over, but she was doing well with us. She wasn’t drinking, she had new friends and a support network, and she was truly flourishing, in body, mind and spirit.

And then, the day before Christmas Eve, Samantha disappeared.  She simply vanished, and 6 weeks later she was dead.  The police told me she had died of a heroin overdose, which I just couldn’t believe. Had I been so dumb as to take her at her word when she told me how much she hated drugs and would never touch them (God knows I had no idea when others at the Kitchen were lying to me, not for a long time!!)?? Was I that stupid? That bloody naïve?

When we went into her house, everything we had given to her had been sold or stolen.  It was a ransacked mess. And it was hard to not feel like she’d taken our love and our kindness and traded it in for addiction.  It was hard to not feel like the love she had experienced in our church family had been thrown away; that she’d swapped all that love for chaos and drugs. 

Over the next few painful months, the truth began to unfold. Samantha’s violent boyfriend had indeed found her, just as he had promised. He had somehow won her back, moved into her house, and she had begun drinking again. He was (maybe still is) a drug user and regularly injected smack. This man had encouraged Samantha to try heroin. In court he told the judge that she wasn’t keen but eventually gave in, and he injected Sam with his own dose – the dose of a seasoned drug user who is 6ft+ and 16 stone – and Samantha died straight away, on the very first time**.

Her body was wrecked, and the funeral was delayed and delayed while autopsies and police investigations and court procedures happened. Eventually, three months later, I got to lay Sam to rest, while her mum (who had loved her forever but not seen her in years) and son (who she said had been murdered) looked on – one screaming the most guttural cries I’ve ever heard, and the other pale faced and wide-eyed, white with shock.

I went and anointed Sam just before her funeral and I was angry.  I was angry with her and angry with God; I was angry with her boyfriend and at the system and at myself for not having saved her. But I was also so thankful to Sam.  She taught me about the vulnerability of relationships, and what it means to truly love fiercely, without boundaries and restrictions.  That love, my love, and the love of all those who encountered Sam, had been taken, enjoyed; it had really nourished her and done all kinds of healing, but it had ended up sold and discarded.  And that is a risk we take.  Every. Single. Time.

Loving fiercely is costly.  It is uncomfortable, challenging, dangerous even, but it is holy.  And isn’t that our quest?  Don’t we aim for holiness?

If extravagant love could have saved Sam, I expect she would be changing the world right now. She lit up at the mention of Jesus and children and whenever she was cleaning! And she made some truly horrendous choices in her life that cost her it all in the end. But I feel privileged to have known her, even for such a short time. I feel changed and moulded and reshaped by every single one of my encounters with Samantha and I will never, not ever, regret what we did for her and what we gave her, and I would do it all over again, and again, and again (indeed, I have). Because that is the love of Christ, and that is what we are called to.

‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’ Matt 25:40

* Many of the names will be changed, some will be theirs.

** incidentally, he was found guilty of Samantha’s death and was sentenced to only 20 months in prison. Twenty months…