Changed but not stopped

I spent the last week unable to access Chester Cathedral.  We took the decision to close the doors last Monday and there has been a moratorium on the use of all Church of England buildings since then.

Three weeks of change

The reasons for closing the doors and exercising a discipline of restraint on ourselves were clear.  We needed to take responsibility for the number of times we were in proximity with other people whilst there was such risk of spreading a dangerous virus.  The Prime Minister reinforced this speaking later in the day that we closed confirming this was the right thing to do.

What a change these last few weeks have brought about:

  • At first we thought that washing our hands every time we went out or handled a foreign object was sufficient.  Skin was going dry, moisturizer and hand sanitizer were in short supply.
  • On the Wednesday Liverpool FC played what was to be their last match to date.
  • On Friday we hosted a Graduation for the University of Chester with over a thousand people carefully seated in the Cathedral without hustle or bustle and with many litres of alcogel.
  • On the following Sunday we removed three quarters of the seats from the nave and arranged them in small family groups of two, three or five, with ample space between the groups.
  • Early in the next week we sent vulnerable members of staff and volunteers home telling them to take care of themselves.
  • Later in the same week we closed the office to everybody except one who was to collect the post and sent all volunteers home bar a few hardy under 70 year old chaplains and ministers.
  • The second Sunday of the COVID-19 period resulted in only two ministers and three musicians well-spaced out leading a live-streamed service on YouTube with 1.5k views over the course of the day.
  • The week that followed led to a steep learning curve:  Meetings and Daily prayer over the internet on Zoom, recordings on YouTube, using Teams to keep the office going, large staff meetings using video conferencing every morning…..
  • And this Sunday I presided at a Eucharist alone in my living room, the Cathedral in the window behind me, colleagues joining in over Zoom.

Where will we be by next Sunday?

I am left pondering what this is doing to me. I notice my dependence on other people so much more, valuing the presence of the fragment of family that currently resides in our house and missing so many others: family, friends, colleagues.  Our meetings over the internet have become much more functional than normal (I just about remember normal now):

  • Have you got all the food you need?
  • I think this needs to go on the agenda.
  • Turn your microphone back on!
  • You’re breaking up.

Still, the human spirit is rebelling and subverting platforms designed for business and enterprise.  People are praying and worshipping together using MS Office tools, caring for each other on Skype for Business, singing on Teams. I notice that the things of God are bubbling up in unexpected places.  And there are unexpected places to be found even whilst confined to the house.  These places are often in cyberspace, but they are inhabited by real people.

I have also been impressed about the way my Cathedral Community has organized itself to care for its members.  It did not take the clergy to do this.  People have organised their telephoning lists and are looking after each other, especially those who will need help and support over these difficult weeks.

And we have become much more aware of our human frailty and mortality.  The myth that human beings are masters of everything is blown as we are threatened by something as microscopic as SARS‑CoV‑2.

I wonder how much of this will stick.  I hope that we quickly regain our confidence in human contact and enjoy the presence of one another. I hope too that the humanizing of enterprise, the care and compassion and the humility of our human race continue to remain strong too.

Blessings to you all in these anxious and difficult days.  

Helter Skelters, Crazy Golf and LEGO®

The summer holiday weeks present visitor attractions with many more people. Cathedrals are among those places that need to respond to this – which is very demanding.  One approach is to develop installations and exhibitions that people want to see or experience. Not everybody agrees that these things have a place in church.

LEGO® Mako Shark at Chester Cathedral

Libby Purves writes in today’s edition of The Times, “Are there plans for the Basilica di San Marco in Venice to bolt its horses on to a carousel? How far have the Notre Dame restoration team got with the dodgem track and waterslide, and will the pilgrim journey on the Camino de Santiago now include a Crayzee Cakewalk Hall of Mirrors in the cathedral … Are the great mosques, temples and synagogues of the world in talks with Disney?”  These are testing questions – provocative and eye-catching!  

Many of our Cathedrals sit in busy commercial and shopping centres and must speak the language of the High Street if they are to say anything.  Libby Purves’s questions are as much a challenge to the culture of our British high streets as they are to the Cathedrals situated in them.

A question that exercises our minds in Chester Cathedral is “how can we capture the imagination of our visitors to think more deeply about the wonderful world we are given to live in and the God who presents us with the gift of life itself?” Commissioning artists to help with this in provocative and eye-catching ways is one of our answers to this question.

At Chester Cathedral we want to be accessible and fun, real and deep, challenging and reasonable, dealing with the stuff of life. Our LEGO® exhibition, “The Deep”, has raised a few eyebrows. It sits alongside an exhibition made by local North Wales artist Jacha Potgieter called “Saving the Deep” ( His work is made from plastic waste collected on just three visits to Criccieth beach. He has provided fifteen stunning installations depicting sea creatures made from the very pollution that is killing the living animals.

Jacha’s Blue-Fin Tuna made out of waste plastic washed up on the beach

The LEGO® exhibition builds on this, demonstrating the beauty of the undersea world in a way that enthrals children (and adult fans of those familiar colourful building bricks). In order to publicise this my Cathedral colleagues thought it would be a great idea to send me into a tank of sharks. This was not in my job description. The kind people at the Blue Planet Aquarium assisted and I had my encounter with Wilma the Sand Shark (all fifteen feet of her) and her family. It was truly transformative to be amongst these magnificent creatures. Is it naïve to hope that others can be nudged into deeper insight and wonder of creation and provoked to act differently?

Face to Face with Wilma at the Blue Planet Aquarium

One unexpected effect of this LEGO® exhibition has been to highlight the widespread use of plastic. All our models are of course made from the familiar coloured blocks . We are well on the way in our Cathedral enterprises to dispense with single use plastic. The Deep has opened our eyes to the reliance we have on plastic in almost everything – clothing, furniture, buildings, technology, everyday basics, toys and tools. Many of Jacha’s installations are made from parts of these objects collected on the sea-shore (though no LEGO® bricks). Responsible living needs more care and attention than just avoiding carrier bags in the supermarket.

If you come to our exhibitions you will not be able to avoid thinking this through.  Cathedrals stand in the centre of most of our cities.  They are places that intrigue and people of all ages visit them.  They are places of discovery, encounter and faith. And what we do should not be seen simply as mere gimmick but invitation to go deeper.

A few holes in the wall

Haram al-Sharif
Praying in the Mosque at Haram al-Sharif

I cleared the office on Friday ready to move from Leicester to Chester.  After an ice cream with Wendy, my PA for the last six years, I sat down and surveyed what was left.  Just a few holes in the wall where the pictures had been.

When I have left other places I have mostly been able to put my finger on things and see what difference being there has made. Somehow that is harder after six years as an Archdeacon.  The most important things are not so material.  It has all been about people and relatedness to one another.

The holes will eventually be filled in and get painted over. The more important things are less tangible and hopefully more permanent.

Six years on

High Cross
High Cross Shopping Temple [sic]
The world is undoubtedly different six years on but it is not easy to know what contribution one person can have made to that difference apart from leaving a few holes in the wall.

Nevertheless, six years in Leicester have been full and rich.  There have been heights and depths of emotions.  I have learned a great deal about myself and am changed as a result.

Faith beyond the wallpaper

Brihadeshwara Temple
The Brihadeshwara Temple in Thandjavur

I came from a city where Christian faith was the wallpaper that it was hard to talk about.  In the diverse confluence of world faiths that is Leicester I expected that the challenge of representing faith in the public square would be multiplied in difficulty.  But here it is impossible not to talk about faith.  The opportunity to walk the streets of Jerusalem with neighbouring Islamic leaders and to spend some time with the Christian Church of Tamil Nadu in a predominantly Hindu nation have provided profound insights of what it means to walk with Jesus in a world of complex human relationships.

Chocolate box Leicestershire

But it has mainly been the big heartedness of Leicestershire people and colleagues here who have sought to walk through life being shaped by God that has left its mark on me.

So thank you

Thank you for letting me have somewhere to hang my pictures.  I am sorry about the holes in the wall. I trust that God blesses the many holy risks being taken here and look forward to seeing what can come of things begun.


A new place to call home

Joy and excitement are good words to describe how I feel having been appointed as the next Dean of Chester Cathedral. This is tempered by the feelings of sadness and loss that accompany winding down and leaving after my time as Archdeacon of Leicester.

St Werburgh’s Chapel

I am delighted to be joining the Cathedral and Diocese as Dean. When I was growing up in Liverpool, Chester was the historic city “over the water” where we would go for a treat and a day out. The opportunity to get to know the City and County of Cheshire from the inside and to make a difference will be a privilege.

The Cathedral is a beautiful and historic building in the centre of the city that draws people to visit. But it is more than that too. It is a place where people can encounter the presence of God and get a sense of the things that ultimately matter beyond the here and now. I hope that over the years I serve as Dean, the Cathedral will grow strong as a sign of our spiritual futures and heritage.


These last few years as Archdeacon have been challenging. My life has been located solidly in Leicestershire but work and ministry have been largely peripatetic. I have had an office and a home, which have both been creative, but I haven’t had a church and I have missed that. Sometimes it has felt like I belong to 180 churches and that Sunday by Sunday everything changes. I am looking forward to a worshipping community to which I belong again.

Leicester Cathedral and the Bishop of Leicester’s Leadership Team have been important places of fellowship over these years. But recently the Cathedral has done something radical. No longer do the canons have a seat to call their own. Portable furniture – the flexibility to re-pitch the tent as circumstances require – has been a bold decision for changing times. This has been energising, but at times dizzying. There is a cost to not having a place. I am reminded of Jesus saying, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” For me now, I must try to avoid becoming so settled that God’s creative Spirit has no space.

So in July it will be a sad goodbye to Leicester for Jen and I. We have felt loved here and have come to love so many great friends. We hope these friendships can continue to be as renewing and life-giving as they always have been.  In September, we begin a new life in Chester. We look forward very much to what God has in store.

Chester Cathedral
Chester Cathedral


(Festival of Mary Magdalene)
3:00pm on Sunday 22nd July 2018
Goodbye Service at Leicester Cathedral

(Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary to whom Chester Cathedral is dedicated)
2:30pm on Saturday 8th September 2018
Installation and Welcome at Chester Cathedral

Churches – what are they for?

I must have spent too much time this summer in churches and it has left me wondering what they’re for. I know what I think they are for but it is perfectly apparent that different people have different ideas.

Bordeaux Cathedral
Bordeaux Cathedral

I caught an image of votive candles in Bordeaux Cathedral whilst tourists walked by.  Some had come to light a candle and say a prayer, others to look at medieval architecture; some to consider history and others to look at the art; some to find shade from the heat of the sun and others to take photos; and for some, all of the above.  The picture sums it up.

Sword sharpening scars
Pillars at Dunton Bassett

Back in Leicester, over a relaxed August, the DAC had a day out to visit some churches it has an interest in.  The scars on the pillars at Dunton Bassett church tell us that this was once a good place for sword sharpening!

These things just serve to provide a glimpse of the competing expectations those who are responsible for church buildings are confronted with.  The fundamental mission of the church, which is the people of God, is to draw the whole of creation into the love and worship of God. Among the many ways that our buildings can serve this are the magnificence of architecture pointing to the heavens, imagery and artwork telling the stories of salvation and the symbols of prayer, word and sacrament.

Bitteswell Extension
Bitteswell Church – new extension

But this can become a millstone too.  When the church community that is responsible for an historic church can no longer adapt it to the needs of their neighbours, the vitality of the building is neutralised. And if a church community is not able to use the building they have inherited to serve their mission, they should perhaps chose to direct their money and energies somewhere else.

Church as art gallery
Amsterdam: an art gallery in a church presenting visitors with spiritual meaning in a contemporary register.

The history of our many ancient listed church buildings is one of constant change and adaption to the needs of society.  What we see carved in the stones is the constantly changing means the Christian community has used to present faith to its neighbours with authenticity and relevance. But today it seems different. Local churches do not have a free hand in what they do. The other interests in play often have more concern for conserving or preserving what has pervaded in the past than serving a living faith in the present.  So we often encounter contention about such matters as:

  • The introduction of a kitchen and toilet – twenty-first century hospitality basics, although they were luxuries in the early twentieth century.
  • Replacement of pews with flexible seating – the structure of Victorian society neatly set out in rows no longer pervades.  People relate differently today. A colleague recently quipped, “Christians are not like carrots – they don’t grow in rows – Christians grow in circles.”
  • Improved heating and lighting – contemporary people are not familiar with wearing coats indoors, yet at the same time are more conscious of the financial and environmental cost of energy than their predecessors.  Heating hundreds of gallons of water to keep a church warm and burning incandescent light bulbs is no longer acceptable.
  • Use of high value metals such as lead and copper for roofs. Stainless steel and plastic membranes have many advantages although they are not traditional materials.
  • Installation of audio visual facilities.
  • Updating decor and softening the floor and furnishings.

Victorian church preparing for growth
St John the Baptist, Clarendon Park

I wonder what sometimes is being conserved.  When we preserve the stones of a building we can do so at the expense of the purpose for which they were hewn.  These were often radical and extravagant public buildings that innovated and challenged the mores of their day. Bodies that today oppose their ongoing development should ask themselves whether this is in the spirit of that which inspired them.

Of course church communities themselves can also misunderstand the nature of the building for which they are responsible.  I once visited a church where a curtain had been strung across the arch between the nave and the chancel.  The Victorian Choir and Sanctuary served as a storage space for a lawn mower and step ladders.  The congregation met in the nave.  This seemed to me to represent too many violences to the building to even count.  How would any visitor read what is important here?

In a little book from 1979 (1), Harold Turner discerns two fundamental patterns for sacred buildings:

Domus Dei – House of God, and
Domus Ecclesiae – Meeting house.

Newly built church interior.
St Andrew’s Tower Hill

Many of our churches with Victorian interiors, whether they are medieval or nineteenth century buildings, are conformed entirely to the former pattern.  The raised chancel and sanctuary with an altar at the east end serves to locate the presence of God in the place where Communion is celebrated. But the contemporary church is growing most noticeably where people meet in good relation with each other and experience the presence of God in their daily lives. Perhaps church buildings need only be a meeting house to serve this growth.  Turner sees the most developed forms of sacred space as both (Domus Dei et Ecclesiae).  The story is not one of compromise but of building on what others have done with respect.  Maybe this is the spirit today’s church and conservation lobbies need to recapture.

(1) Turner, Harold, From Temple to Meeting House: The Phenomenology and Theology of Places of Worship (The Hague: Mouton Publishers, 1979).

A question of identity?

Victorian Black Vestments

I need to get up early in the morning for Radio Leicester. It is because General Synod have approved new legislation that means clergy need not always wear robes when leading worship in church.  This comes in that same month that the Queen opened parliament without wearing a crown and the Speaker of the House of Commons has relaxed rules on members wearing ties.  I am not sure these things are directly connected but they do seem to capture something of the spirit of the times.

So I have had to do some thinking – and I have found a picture I took a few years back to go with the thoughts.

I have clocked that the clothes we wear say something about us. If you wear a blue top and shorts in Leicester you are going to be identified with the Foxes (a football team if you don’t live in these parts). When the Queen dressed down to open parliament she conveyed a message that this was not such a great threshold of national life as new parliaments sometimes are; “Business as usual!” And I guess that MPs who choose not to wear ties will be dissociating themselves from the managerial classes. They may identify more closely with the majority of people as a result – unless the majority of us want to see politicians cast in such a mould.

So what of us clergy? Well there are times when people want us to be clearly cast in the role of the religious minister. But always? The argument to relax the rules on clergy dress have been strongest in some of our fastest growing churches. It may be that people are more likely to listen to church leaders who identify most with them. There are special times demanding special clothes, but most times are ordinary times.

The way Jesus identified with people gives me pause for thought. He was never associated with religious leaders.  Some people called him Son of God but he always talked about himself as the Son of Man.

Getting up in the morning has never been so complicated. I feel an identity crisis coming on. I am comforted by thinking it will be just as bad for MPs deciding whether to wear a tie or not and the Queen working out what hat to wear.

It’s raining – so I started a blog

I’m hoping to post the odd picture and thought here.  If you know me you’ll know I like taking interesting pictures.  I often have some interesting thoughts too.  I intend to combine both here.

This page is really just to get me going.

It was raining in Thandjavur back in January but the puddles were warm.  I know that because shoes were not allowed in the Brihadeshwara Temple.  It is a awe inspiring place completed over 1000 years ago.  Makes you think. I’m not sure the UK saw anything like this in those days.

Two vastly different culture then and now.  At least we share the rain in common – but in India it is a cause for rejoicing and here it is just disappointing.

Pic:  The Brihadeshwara Temple in Thandjavur (Shiva)

Holy Land blog

The posts from 20-28 March 2014 were originally posts formatted for Tumblr. Click here to see the original blog.

I set out to write this blog after prompting from those who look after the Diocese of Leicester web site ahead of my trip ( The purpose was to participate in a course at St George’s College Jerusalem in a course entitled “Sharing Perspectives: Muslims and Christians in the Holy Land”.

I have written with a little trepidation. Visiting Jerusalem with a group of Christians and Muslims was always going to be a challenging learning experience. So my thoughts below are very much my first thoughts, not I hope my last, as I reflect on what I have seen, done and heard. I am not planning to write any more here but may do so in other places.

Above all things I have learned how important it is to build good relations with those among whom we live. In Jerusalem I have seen the potential of truly good relations reaching across great divides and the destructiveness of bad relations. It is clear to me where human flourishing is to be found and what is most honouring to God.

It has been a delight to travel to Jerusalem with the companions I have had over the last week and to learn alongside members of St George’s College. We have, I hope, shared good relations on which we can build.

Below I have included a few photographs that never made it into the original blog but which I like nevertheless. If you want to see more they are here: ( Please contact me directly through the Diocese of Leicester if you want to use any of the photographs for commercial purposes.

If you haven’ been following this trip as it unfolded but want to read about it I suggest you go to the last page first ( and read backwards.

Photos that didn’t make it

The posts from 20-28 March 2014 were originally posts formatted for Tumblr. Click here to see the original blog.

Photos that didn’t make it
Left to right, top to bottom:

  • Morning bread deliveries in the Arab Quarter
  • The Church of the Ascension seen through the Mosque Gate
  • Me – just to prove I was there
  • Pilgrim marks made on the walls of the Church of the Resurrection (Holy Sepulchre)
  • Muslims using the al-Asqa Mosque Gardens for teaching and learning the Quran – many such groups can be seen dotted across the whole of Haram al-Sharif.

More photos that didn’t make it

The posts from 20-28 March 2014 were originally posts formatted for Tumblr. Click here to see the original blog.

More photos that didn’t make it
Left to right, top to bottom:

  • Early on a Sunday morning approaching the Church of the Resurrection (Holy Sepulchre)
  • One of Jerusalem’s many crows
  • Crosses for sale on the Via Dolorosa
  • Roof lights in the Turkish Bath
  • Lamps for sale in the Arab Quarter market
  • Muslim Graffiti behind the Via Dolorosa
  • A cuddly snowman seemed a little out of place in the Princess Basma Centre for Disabled Children
  • Crowds under the entrance light waiting to go into the Nativity Grotto