Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Anecdotes

Sacred Heart Hanley in the snow 18th December 2011

The Staffordshire Sentinel asked me for some stories from parish life at Christmas for a piece on Saturday (Christmas Eve). Not so easy! I've no "Vicar of Dibley" stories about Christmas Dinners, nor can I think of funny incidents at Christmas Services (though there must have been some). However, here are a few things I did think of.

(Photo - Sacred Heart in the snow, 18th December 2011 © Peter Weatherby)


My 6 year old granddaughter said to me recently, "Grandad ... I know who you really are!"

A bit surprised, I said to her, "Who am I then?"

She said to me "Well, you've got a fat belly, and a white beard, and I've seen a lot of presents in the room upstairs."



I was lost for words.

Then she added, "Please ... will you come to my house first on Christmas Eve?"


I've often been asked to play Father Christmas at schools. I've always been reluctant to do so for a very good reason.

Many years ago I was asked to be Father Christmas for a party at a local primary school. I wanted to be nice and friendly and helpful, but I felt very self conscious as I put on the costume somewhat awkwardly (it was a bit small), and the false beard was uncomfortable (It was necessary equipment, because in those days my own beard was brown and not white).

When the signal came, I walked out into the school hall. There was a moment of hush, then suddenly one of the children shouted out "it's the church man!".

My cover was blown.

I never played Father Christmas again!


A few  years ago, I baptised 12 children at Sacred Heart, Hanley on Christmas day.

It was during the main mass of Christmas morning. I thought it would be a charming and appropriate way to celebrate the birth of Christ.

However it was totally chaotic, hectic, and difficult to manage! The children were noisy, the families confused and the congregation perplexed!

Before even the service was over, I decided never to do this again!





Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Changing the Wallpaper

A couple of weeks ago I decided to change the wallpaper on my computer.

Now, when I log in, I see a stern and determined, bearded face staring intently towards me. There is no doubting the resolve in the eyes. It is a face which invites trust, but also has a certain edge. It is a face not to be denied, not to be resisted. And a left hand touches the chin, the edge of the beard, as if to indicate both thought, and decisiveness.

It is, what they call, an ‘iconic’ image.

But it is not a religious icon. It is not a picture of Christ or one of the saints. It is a black and white photograph, taken in 2006. It is an image of a man who died on October 5th 2011, the technological inspiration and entrepreneur, the founder of Apple, Steve Jobs.

So why would I, a religious man, a priest of the Catholic Church, have a picture of a business man - even a successful one - for his computer wallpaper?

Well, firstly, and I must be honest here, it is because I love the stuff he created. First it was an iPod, then when my old computer needed replacing it became an iMac, then an iPhone … It almost embarrasses me to continue. Like a religious convert, I have become an Apple geek and, in my worst moments, look down with technological snobbery on run-of-the-mill laptops and mobile phones. In my defence, I have to make clear that these are not just the most beautifully designed gadgets, gadgets which have broken new ground and have been widely copied, but also ones that work extremely well and without doubt help me in my work.

But in addition to the worldliness of my purchases, the devout might also complain that Jobs is an unworthy hero for a Christian minister. After all, he could be ruthless in his determination. Even his admirers admit he could be difficult to work with. And his own religious beliefs seem far from Christian. He became a Buddhist, and said “Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking.”

In a sweet irony an evangelical pastor in the United States summed up the dilemma. He tweeted that Jobs, an unbeliever, would now be suffering in the fires of hell. Unfortunately (for the pastor) he forgot to delete the automatically inserted conclusion of his message: “- sent from my iPhone”.

I, despite my adherence to dogma (which Jobs so clearly rejected), cannot share the cruel certainly of the American pastor. For good reason. God’s judgment is precisely that, and is not for me to pronounce.

I do believe what my Church teaches, that on death we proceed not straight to heaven, but immediately to God’s judgment. And he is a just and merciful judge who rejoices in human achievement and laments human frailty. In Catholicism we recognise that there may be those who come before God not in soaked in wickedness, yet not ready to enter immediately heaven. We call this sensible dogma “purgatory”, an occasion for preparation for eternal life.

And I also believe that those who do not embrace the Christian faith, may nevertheless in this life have a glimpse of its truth.

In a moving biographical speech in 2005, Jobs said:

“Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”

Or as St Paul wrote “Death where is your victory? Death where is your sting?”




Sunday, August 14, 2011

I can't believe it!

The "EXPLICIT: PARENTAL ADVISORY" warning on iTunes is intended to indicate abusive or inappropriate language - you know, the very bad, generally very short words that seem to be normal discourse of rappers and some comedians, and I don't really know who else (as I don't really interest myself in these offerings). It is also used for violent or sexually explicit content. Just as some will avoid this material, I guess there are also those who look out for the warnings.

If so, they may be in for a surprise, just as I was, this afternoon, when searching for a version of "I'll sing a hymn to Mary" which might be suitable to be played at a funeral tomorrow. When I saw one version was marked with the warning notice, I was at first a little sad - some blasphemy put out in the name of art or comment I guessed … But when I saw that the artist was the Choir of the Church of St Peter and St Paul, Wantage, then I went from sadness to astonishment.

Sure enough, their album Walsingham Way, a collection of hymns and songs to the Blessed Virgin Mary, popular and traditional in the Catholic Church, receives the warning notice, as do most of its items. This has to be seen to be believed:


How could this have come about? Some mischievous technician or editor?

Or, given that not all the songs received the tag, could it have been caused by an automated system flagging up a particular word … Such as "Virgin"?

We should be told.

(Note: Click on the image to go to the page - which may now have been updated!)


(Click on the image to go to the page - which may now have been updated!)

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Back to the 80s …

If, like Rip van Winkle, I'd fallen asleep 30 years ago (1981) I'd now be waking up and marvelling at all the things which have changed.

Mobile phones. Handheld computers. Multi-channel TV. Marathons are now called Snickers.

Yet so much is the same. Tory Government (sprinkled with a few 'Wets' to provide minimal reassurance). Cutting back to 'pay our way'. A pointless foreign war. Weak political opposition. Disaffection and destruction in our cities. Violence directed towards police and property. Young people wrecking their own communities.

But the most extraordinary is that this time the riots begin in London ... Not in Liverpool.

Now that's worth thinking about.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Thou shalt have fun!

This article was written for publication in the Staffordshire Sentinel on Wednesday August 10th 2011.

It's holiday time! While the news revolves around riots, and global economic collapse, phone hacking and massacres, most of us are focussed on getting away from it all. Holidays are, of course, a complete waste of time. That's what we enjoy! While politicians may be criticised for being on holiday when crisis arises, and a Prime Minister forced to return home, most of us would rather sit by the pool or feed the seagulls.

Many of our fondest family anecdotes centre around holidays, whether it be Hi-De-Hi or Benidorm: fish and chips on the beach, ice creams, candy floss and seagulls, city sight seeing, cruises and all-inclusives, wet days at the seaside and sunburn in Disneyland, sand and sangria, airport delays and traffic jams, caravans and cable cars, stunning views. All of these frame cherished memories.

Have you ever wondered who invented holidays? It's not such a difficult question.

The word 'holiday' itself is just a shortening of 'holy day'. Holidays originated in the celebration of holy days, saints' days, religious festivals.
The first holiday of all has come to us from the Jewish tradition, with the weekly holy-day of the Sabbath. Yes - holidays are written into the Ten Commandments! For the Jewish people every Saturday commemorates the creation of the world. The Christian church took the idea and made Sunday, the day of Christ's rising from the dead, the day of the new creation, the weekly day of celebration and recreation.

The feasts of saints became also times of special celebration. The days after Christmas were piled up with saints - St Stephen (December 26th), St John (27th), Holy Innocents (28th) - to prolong the fun and frivolity!
Many parish churches - surely by deliberate choice - had saints days which fell in the summer months: Barnabas (June 11th), John the Baptist (24th June) Peter and Paul (June 29th), James (July 25th), Bartholomew (August 24th), and most important of all, Mary, August 15th, a day commonly known as "Our Lady in Harvest". The evening before the Church festivals there was a vigil of prayer - known as a 'Wake' - and so the time of partying on or after the festival was called the Wakes Week.

And this is probably the ancient origin of the 'Potters Holidays' - the first around the feast day of St Peter, the Patron of Stoke, the second in August, near the feast of Mary, Our Lady in Harvest.

In a time when there were no trades unions, or health and safety regulations, minimum wage and employment laws, it was the Church who stepped in and insisted that rest and recreation are an essential aspect of human life. It was time wasting made compulsory by order of the Church. The festivals established a basic human right that we cherish even today.

And there's an even more important reason.

It is all too easy to think that life is about getting and spending, having and consuming, working and being 'productive'. We live in a society which focusses on growth and the economy, which sees education as a preparation for work rather than for life, which knows the price of everything, but the value of very little. We measure traffic accidents in terms of journey delays rather than their consequences for life and limb. We talk of cutting waste and restructuring, rather than measuring effects on people and their families. Yet life is so much more.

And God says this: thou shalt rest. Thou shalt waste some time (once a week). Thou shalt have a holiday. Thou shalt have fun!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Is religion a force for good?

Stuart George
I was interviewed this morning on BBC Radio Stoke on the topic of 'Is Religion a force for good in the world'? Or some such. This was during the morning programme of Stuart George (pictured). I only had about an hour's notice of the interview and I was broadcast live just after saying Mass. I had little notice of the questions - though they were quite predictable, but challenging all the same.
Click this link to hear the interview.
I was standing outside the Church in the rain! (You can hear traffic and some noise from the wind on the mic)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

BBC Radio Stoke: In praise of God

On Sunday 19th June, I am fronting the BBC Radio Stoke Programme "In praise of God" which was recorded just a couple of weeks earlier.

Here follow my words, or at least the draft of what I said.

You can listen to the full programme here

Sacred Heart is a very popular name for a Catholic Church - we have three in North Staffordshire alone (Silverdale, Tunstall and Hanley) - but it is one you hardly come across elsewhere. In fact post to our Church is often addressed to the "Scared Heart" - which conjurs up all sorts of strange pictures, in my mind at least.

So today I want to explore how this image of God's love, so characteristic of Catholics, is something which really all Christians can share.



Don’t you think its funny how we describe people and things by just by referring to parts of the human body?

We might say to someone “I’ve got my eye on you” or tell them “You haven’t got the guts”. If  someone is “cheeky”, “mouthy” or “nosey” we may say they are “a pain in the neck” or that we “hate their guts” or that they need a “kick up the backside”.

If someone “gives you the elbow” you may need “a shoulder to cry on”. You could feel  “fed up to the back teeth”  or you could just decide to “take it on the chin”.

And some of these sayings come from religion itself. To “turn the other cheek” comes from Jesus’ teaching in the sermon on the mount; to “get down on our knees” is a reference to confession and prayer.

And sometimes these expressions go far deeper. We feel fear in the pit of our stomachs - we really do. St Paul spoke about being moved in his bowels with affection for the Churches (a phrase usually translated more delicately in modern Bibles).

But he part of the body understood by everyone as the seat of the emotions and symbol of love, is of course the Heart.

Lovers carve their names around a heart. Cities advertise their attractiveness with a heart. It is a simple shape to draw and one which is instantly recognised.

Why? Because without the heart they can be no life, and without love, human life is dry and fruitless. When we fall in love the heart beats faster. When we moved with emotion, the heart races. Our feelings our rooted in our hearts. This is not just a symbol - but a truth.

And the expression is found in scripture too.

The prophet Jeremiah tells us  “the law will be written on your hearts”.

The old man Simeon warns the young mother, Mary, that a “sword will pierce her own hear too” - and Jesus himself says “ I am meek and humble of heart”.

The heart is the greatest symbol of love - of human love and of God’s love, because it tells us that this is not an ideal, a principal or a law - but flesh and blood. Not an idea to be understood - but a life to be lived.




Sacred Heart of Jesus

One way to tell that a house is a practicing Catholic home  will be that somewhere in that house will be a picture or statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. To those who aren’t Catholics it may seem very odd - it is clearly a traditional representation of Jesus, but he also seems to be pointing to his open chest and his beating heart. Not without reason have some, a little disrespectfully, seen the statue or picture and surmised that Jesus is saying “look at my operation”.

But this image of Jesus expresses something much deeper, of course than this first reaction. It is an image of God’s love - using the physical expression of the heart with which we are so familiar.

The reason why Catholics bless their homes with the Heart of Jesus is because this is not simply a symbol of the Love of God, as if it were some abstract idea, some principle or theology, or some wishfulness of prayer.

We worship God in this way because - as St John puts it - “The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us”. The love that Christians talk about is no abstract idea, but a principle of life.

When Jesus teaches us about God’s law he makes it very simple - love God and love your neighbour - and these are not two loves, but the same love.

We believe in a God whose clearest and fullest expression is one who not only stilled the storm, and fed the 5,000 but even more importantly who suffered and died for us. Our God is one who shared our lives and who knows not only physical pain, but also the pain of desolation and sorrow as his followers deserted him. Christ, the Son of God, Word made flesh, is also the one who said ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me’?

He is a God who loves us, and love embraces joy and sorrow, plenty and poverty, sickness and health, fortune and adversity. Love is what we need more than anything when things are difficult. And this is no abstract idea, because this is what we mean when we speak of his Sacred Heart.

It is a heart which beats for us, a heart which suffers with us, a heart which bleeds for us, the Heart which loves us.


Matthew 11:28-30

‘Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.’


Tuesday, June 07, 2011

A good man ... and the international language

Submitted for publication in the Staffordshire Sentinel for Wednesday 8th June 2011.


I’ve always had a fascination with language. It was given particular stimulus when I learnt the international language, Esperanto, as a twelve year old at Sandbach School, Cheshire.

Our teacher was Alderman Horace Barks, who had been Lord Mayor of Stoke on Trent almost twenty years earlier. To us boys he was a most eccentric figure. Old and grey, stout and moustached, he was rather like Hercules Poirot with a potteries accent. His curiosity was increased by the weekly sight of him riding into school (all the way from Smallthorne) precariously balanced on his moped.

It is amazing that any of us took the subject seriously - but I did, and became a friend of Horace till his death in 1983.

Horace introduced me to a language to overcome  misunderstanding and confusion, an ideal to bring people together rather than drive them apart, an aspiration for human unity in diversity, rather than division and distrust.

And thanks to what I learnt, I was able to travel throughout Europe and converse with French, German, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Hungarian, Japanese, Swedish, Finnish and many others at the same time and in one language.

I could always give a good answer to those who thought that Esperanto had “already died out”, though I suppose the idealism of Horace Barks, who had been a stretcher bearer during the Great War, who saw so much death and destruction in his own youth, never quite found its fulfilment in the universal language.

Though it did inspire me. I developed a fascination for languages. I found an interest in words, their origins, their meanings, how they can make things clear - or obscure.

And as my faith grew, so did my awareness of the place of language for belief. Christian scholars expend much time and ink arguing over the meaning of words. Muslims hold that the Koran can never be translated from the Arabic, but only interpreted. And in the Catholic Church, we are now anxiously preparing for a major new English translation of the Latin Mass. There can be much hot and holy air exhaled over the printed word!

Two stories in the Bible deal with the diversity of language.

The first is in the book of Genesis. We read of the arrogance of the people of Babel, who built a great tower, believing that nothing was beyond them. But their society fell apart in a babble of languages.

By contrast, in the Acts of the Apostles, we read how, 50 days after Easter, the timid and fugitive apostles suddenly emerged into the crowds of the city of Jerusalem and, in many different languages, told the story of hope in the Risen Christ to the astonished pilgrims.

The tales tell us all we need to know about languages. They can create and consolidate division, cause misunderstanding and drive people apart. Or, they can be an illustration of the colour, vibrancy and dynamism of human life.

The second story is commemorated by Christians all over the world this weekend as the day of Pentecost, the final day of Eastertide, when the gift of the Holy Spirit drove out fear and division and inspired the Apostles to teach the whole world in its many languages.

In our Church in Hanley, this coming Sunday, we use many of the 20 plus languages spoken by our congregation for our readings, our prayers and our songs of worship in a great celebration of the Feast of Pentecost.

It is a moment of joy in the unity of our faith. Our languages do not divide us - but they express the wondrous diversity of God’s creation, our Hope in Christ, and I believe, express something of the idealism of that good man Horace Barks.

(The Pentecost celebration is at Sacred Heart, Jasper Street, Hanley at 11am on Sunday 12th June - followed by a party!)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

ITV ... wiser than you'd think

Lewis & HathawayI've just downloaded an episode of Lewis which didn't get recorded while we are away on pilgrimage. Apparently it's about the murder of a woman bishop. (No irony there, then).

I had to get it from iTunes - and pay for it (!) - because the itv player only supports flash. Do they realise that if their site used HTML5 - and so supported the iPad- that I would be able to watch it for free?

Mm. Perhaps they do.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Ash Wednesday - and school budgets

This article is my submission to the Staffordshire Sentinel to appear in the "Yours Faithfully" column on March 9th 2011.

To read the published article click here.

Today Christians celebrate Ash Wednesday. It is not a "festival", but a rather sad and solemn day which marks the beginning of the season of Lent, a time traditionally focussed upon sin and forgiveness as we prepare for Easter, the high point of the Christian year.

For many Christians, Lent is a time for giving something up, making a special effort for recollection and reflection. For Catholics, the beginning of Lent, Ash Wednesday, has a special place as a day of fasting and abstinence, a time of cutting back, doing without, in a more particular way.

And there is also the custom that gives the name to the day - the celebration of the ashing, when ashes are smeared on our foreheads with the sign of Christ's cross..

Ashes are a sign of destruction, and of human weakness, and of the end of all things. They may seem quite negative. But as the ceremony to begin Lent, they also mark a beginning: the beginning of a struggle against evil; the start of a journey bearing Christ's cross; a journey which ends with the victory of Easter.

The importance of Ash Wednesday is such for the Catholic community that these ceremonies will be taking place not only in our Churches, but also in our schools. And it is this that gives me special pause for thought.

Ironically, we are celebrating the Ashing at a time when Schools are undergoing especially difficulty. Those who will be taking part in the ceremonies this week, are also looking long and hard at the recent tough budget settlements and considering the consequences. As we wear ashes on our foreheads, another kind of dissolution and destruction faces us: the reductions of hours, ending of temporary contracts and even enforced redundancies.

And of course, these anxieties don't only affect faith schools. These are worrying days for all those involved in education. Staff are concerned about their own livelihoods, and also how the work which needs to be done in schools will continue to be done.

It would be easy, and rather glib, for me as a priest to draw a very simplistic comparison. I could portray these severe cutbacks as just like the ashes of our religious ceremonies which will lead to new growth, a temporary destruction which might engender new opportunities.

It may be the case and I hope it will be, but it is all too simple.

For those who are caught in the midst of this difficulty - those who have mortgages to pay, those who will be forced out of jobs which provide a sense of purpose and social usefulness, those who no longer will get the full help and support which they truly need - for these the promise of better days later is cold comfort.

No, hope of the type which says "what goes around comes around" is no hope at all. It would make a mockery of the people and institutions affected.

Yet whatever difficulties the bankers and politicians may be plunging us into, there is still much cause for hope. Not hope because of the difficulties faced, but in the commitment that exists despite them. We should be optimistic not because of the contraction and cut backs, but because good people who care about children and families and their education strive to overcome them. We can take confidence in the determination of teachers and educational leaders to pursue their vocations whatever obstacles might be thrown their way.

I truly admire that. And perhaps, after all, that is the message of Ash Wednesday: not despairing in human weakness and frailty, but gathering the strength to overcome it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Why I would not have joined the Ordinariate

Several times I have been asked why I have not blogged about the Ordinariate, this special arrangement Pope Benedict has made for anglicans now wishing to join the Catholic Church. As a former anglican who was received into the Catholic Church in 1994 and ordained a priest in 97, surely I have something to say about it?

Well, yes. And perhaps too much.

There has been some comment - especially in the more conservative catholic blogs - that the Bishops of England and Wales are less than enthusiastic about the ordinariate. I can't comment on that, though I am pretty sure that those like me who became catholics in the 1990s look upon it with mixed feelings. It is also the case that many ordinary Catholics - those who inform themselves and follow Church news - are also somewhat puzzled. I am also told that many anglicans, especially their bishops, are furious about the whole thing.

Now this, admittedly, is anecdotal, though I challenge anyone to produce solid evidence that the contrary is the case.

So - just in case you don't know what the ordinariate is, and haven't already given up on this post, let me explain.

The Ordinariate is a special, indeed unique arrangement set up by Pope Benedict in the Catholic Church to accommodate groups of Anglicans (Church of England and linked churches around the world) who wish to become part of the Catholic Church, but keep something of their common life. It is not a separate 'church' within the Catholic Church (like the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church or the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church) but more - in organisational terms, at least - like the Bishopric to the Forces, which crosses Diocesan boundaries but which operates alongside the other bishops. The arrangement raises so many issues, but I want to focus on just two.

Firstly, the Ordinariate is a kind of 'fast track' for anglicans wishing to come into the Catholic Church. Bishops who became Catholics at the end of 2010 have already been ordained priest, and we are told that groups of priests and people will be received together into the Church at Easter, just a few weeks after leaving the Church of England, rather than after a year or longer. The former anglican bishops (a photograph from their ordination to the priesthood is above - more are here) have already been given some of the trappings of episcopacy and will retain a leadership role of the group. Not a few raised eyebrows on the Catholic side over this - though not unsurprisingly much delight amongst those making the journey.

Secondly, the Ordinariate has a common identity which preserves some aspects of the Anglican Patrimony which will be maintained in the Catholic Church. The idea here is that while members of the Ordinariate will have fully embraced the teaching of the Catholic Church, there will be some cultural elements, particularly in the Liturgy, the Church's worship, which they will be able to retain, and be encouraged to allow to flourish.

Now there are some interesting aspects to this whole process without a doubt. The 'fast track' itself raises issues about selection and training of clergy, and also concerning the reception of lay people into the Church.

However, my discomfort really focusses upon the whole idea of the Anglican Patrimony which is supposed to be preserved and fostered by the Ordinariate. I readily acknowledge, that many aspects of the scheme would have been very attractive to me, and others like me, in 1992 when our journey into the Church began. I left full time ministry and had to retrain to find paid employment. I did, and don't regret it at all, but at the time what is on offer now would have been much more attractive.

I feel that those of us who entered the Church in the 90s brought much of our education, experience and outlook, and our approach to pastoral ministry into the Catholic Church. But I am really intrigued to know what exactly is intended by the idea of the Anglican patrimony.

There are indeed great cultural and pastoral riches within Anglicanism. In worship there are the literary and musical riches of the Book of Common Prayer, the Kings James Bible, Anglican Chant, Hymnody, Cathedral Choirs, Evensong. There is also a strong pastoral sense, in England at least, that the Church ministers to the whole nation, and that every citizen is anglican by default and that the parish ministers to the whole community, not just parish 'members'. This is evidenced particularly in anglican schools and other institutions which are seen as part of the church's mission to every member of society. The trouble is that anglo-catholicism mostly rejects the cultural and liturgical aspects and cannot deliver the pastoral ones. Anglo-Catholic worship (in England at least), while more consistently elaborate than Roman Catholic forms, and sometimes ostentatiously self-conscious, nevertheless almost always uses Roman Catholic service books. There might soon emerge an awkward situation when Rome will impose one liturgy for the ordinariate, which, respecting the much larger ordinariates in America and Australia, will be based on the thee-thou language of the Book of Common Prayer, thereby requiring English Anglo-Catholics to embrace something they had previously rejected as 'uncatholic'.

Considering my own experience over almost two decades, I am convinced that what happened to me and others was much better than what the ordinariate might provide. When I took my break from active ministry, I did not fall into some kind of limbo, but was immersed into a Catholic parish and joined in its life. I read at mass, became a minister of communion and helped with the Youth Club and Children's Liturgy. I became very aware of the Irish heritage of much of the Catholic Church in England. I became familiar with prayers and acts of devotion which had not been common amongst even the most extreme Anglo-Catholics. I became immersed in a catholic life which was not self-conscious or strident, but natural and living. I became part of a community which laid great store by particular moral values and precepts which were either ignored by anglicans or set aside with ease. I became familiar with some of the traditional Latin prayers and songs which Catholics still know and sing. And - always having loved Walsingham - I came to realise that that wonderful place is just an outpost of a much bigger world. I went to Lourdes and experienced the internationality of the Church of which I was now a member.

My worry - and I hope to be proved wrong - is that the existence of the Ordinariate will make it more difficult for these new catholics to inculturate themselves into the Church. They will be bringing with them few cultural or liturgical riches, but they may carry with them, by the very nature of the Ordinariate, the defensive and introspective approach to their spiritual life which enabled them to survive during their anglican days, and a suspicion of Roman Catholicism which presumably prevented them from taking this step earlier. While I do not anticipate any antipathy towards Ordinariate priests or groups, it may prove difficult for other catholics to understand them or warm to them and in the worst cases they could find themselves isolated from the rest of the Church.

Don't get me wrong. I am not against the Ordinariate. I don't oppose it and wouldn't consider campaigning against it. In other parts of the world, where these small and geographically isolated anglo-catholic communities have existed I can see its logic.

But here? Well, for those who feel they are jumping into the unknown it may well provide great comfort to do so holding someone else's hand - but once on the other side, there are very many more hands to embrace.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Why I tweet ...

StaffsLive (@StaffsLive), a local news website run from Staffordshire University, asked me for some comments on how I feel about being the most followed priest on Twitter in the UK. It set me thinking, so I wrote a whole blogpost about it! More than 140 characters here. When and if they publish anything from this, I'll add a link.

I discovered last year that I - @frpeter - am by far the most followed priest (that is to say, Catholic priest) on twitter in the UK and Ireland. The most followed priest in the world is probably the dutch priest, Fr Roderick Vonhogen, who runs an international catholic New Media organisation called SQPN. He has about 5,000 followers on twitter - I have only around 1,500.

It is a little bit surprising to me that there are very few catholic priests in the UK and Ireland who use twitter. There are a number of excellent bloggers, some of who use twitter to promote their blog, but very few are otherwise active on twitter. In the Church of England there are far more clerical tweeters (they call themselves 'the Twurch of England'), including several bishops. I don't know of any English Catholic bishop who tweets. I know of just one Catholic deacon (@noggerules - a colleague of mine!) though there may be a few more. Even so, it seems that there are just two Anglican bishops and one Anglican priest who have more followers than I.

I think to understand this - and understand why I have so many followers - we need to understand what twitter is. It is not quite the same as some of the other "social media" out there.

Blogs are great for outlining opinions, reflecting on the news or life in general. For many people it feels good to write a blog - it 'gets it off your chest'. In some ways it is like keeping a diary (though rather publicly). In other ways it is like writing a letter to the newspaper. Often it is the blogs with the strongest opinions which gather the most readers. It is fun to read someone venting their spleen even if we don't entirely agree with them.

Facebook (and similar services, like MySpace and Orkut) on the other hand, has a different function. It is more about conversation than opinion. It is also used for announcements, to promote people and events - but most use it to share news about themselves and others - to chat in a way which can be very public (watch out!) and can include lots of people. Facebook contacts are called "friends" (though often they aren't) and it is possible to restrict the circle of people who can read your "posts" (as they are called) so that it has an intimacy which blogs generally don't have.

I know very many Catholic priests who are on Facebook, and they use it to keep in touch with close friends and sometimes parishioners. Some find it a helpful way to keep in contact with young adults in the parish or diocese. Big events, such as World Youth Day and the Papal Visit, have made extensive use of Facebook. The ease with which photos and video can be shared helps with this. I also know (fewer) priests who write blogs. They use this as an opportunity to express opinions about the state of the Church and society. A remarkable number of these go ahead priests are (ironically) very keen on antiquarian worship. Blogs give a very good opportunity to express outraged opinions about whatever it is one is outraged about.

Now, twitter is rather different from both the blog and facebook. It has two striking characteristics which make it so. First, a tweet can be 140 characters and no longer (it is based on text messages which have only 160 characters). Secondly, every tweet is broadcast to the world - they are all public. There are no "friends" on twitter, only "followers", those who choose to read your (public) tweets. If you use twitter, you can choose to read the "public timeline", every tweet from around the world as they are posted (tweeted). It is a confusing experience! Alternatively, you can find your way through the noise by selecting interesting people to follow, and even organise these people into "lists". It is also possible to search for tweets being published in a particular locality. Another way of finding your way through twitter is to search for certain words or abbreviations, and in particular "trending topics" to see what people are talking about now. This last point has brought twitter into the news as people have tweeted during international incidents and protests, disasters, and even during tv events such as X-factor (can they find nothing better to do?) The shortness of the messages makes this an exciting and instant medium.

For me, another great attraction of twitter, although it creates a lot of "noise", is it can can also help to cut through that noise. There are hundreds of news site and blogs out there, but if I can follow someone who I know finds interesting articles or gives useful reflections, I can get to the good stuff quicker. If I want news about particular places or events, then I can find what everyone is saying. You really do not need to post any messages to make excellent use of twitter - it can just be your way of finding out what is new and exciting and now. It is a way of making your own choices about what you want to find and read on the internet.

So - this is my reason for using twitter. It is my gateway to the internet, and not just the the internet, but also to the world. It was on twitter that I first read of the death of Michael Jackson, and of local DJ Sam Plank. It is through twitter I keep up with local news. Church news and opinion comes to me through twitter. I also keep abreast of tech news through twitter. It is my main source of information and it presents me with things I know I'll be interested in.

I can't say exactly why I have so many followers on twitter. They just follow. Many follow me, I guess, because other people have recommended me to them. So I guess it must be because of what I tweet. Many of my tweets are 'retweets' - sending on to my followers stuff I have found interesting. My tweets cover the areas I'm involved in - local news and issues, Church news and issues, some stuff about tech and especially Apple, and occasionally amusing incidents from family life. I guess it is the mix which people like. It is not all religion and theology, though I post links to sermons and things I've read I found especially challenging or insightful. I'll post things about Hanley where I live. If I see something beautiful - like a sunset - or amusing - like a newspaper headline - i'll post that too. Its all a bit haphazard. Sometimes I might post ten times in a day, sometimes I could go for a couple of weeks and post nothing. Twitter is quick and easy - it doesn't take up the time writing a blog does, and it can make you think. And make you laugh.

Yes, I love it!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Llandudno,Wales,United Kingdom

Saturday, January 29, 2011

This you must see ...

I had no idea that Douglas Adams was writing Detective Fiction just before he died. Dirk Gently, is, well Hitchikers meets Sherlock Holmes (especially the latest, BBC, Sherlock).

If you've not seen this, you can still catch it on iPlayer. Enjoy!