Asking the big questions

I , along with half the world, watched Pope Francis’ inauguration yesterday. Beautifully filmed, it was a moving occasion, and compelling drama. ++Justin Welby will be enthroned tomorrow, and I am sure it will be an equally momentous occasion, though perhaps with a smaller crowd.

The last time both heads of the church changed, at almost the same time, was in 1294. They were two weeks apart.

Both men seem to have a fair bit in common, and even look uncannily alike. They both demonstrate a humble, almost diffident approach to the positions of power they have been chosen to take on. They both eschew the ostentatious trappings of their roles, and embody Jesus’  foundational teaching of service – that ‘the first shall be last’.
Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the Pope too, when    exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross.
It is an upside down world view, that the world will never understand.

It may be an apocryphal story, but it is said that St Francis was overheard at prayer. The cry to Heaven from Francis lips was in the form of a crucial question..
  “Who are you and who am I, that  you should choose me?”
I don’t know whether he ever received an answer, but certainly history has answered in full why God chose that particular young man.

It is a question that I imagine both Pope Francis, and ++Justin may have asked themselves of God, in recent days. Not only the inevitable ‘why me?’ cry, but the deep, important questions about who they are, and what is the nature of the God who has called them to serve.  History in time, will tell us too, what God has been about in selecting these men but the signs so far, would seem to indicate a  fresh wind of the Spirit blowing through the church.

St Francis’ prayerful cry was the subject of a talk given by the person leading my BAP (Bishop’s Assessment Panel)  three years ago. It struck a deep note within me, and I have never forgotten it. I am now approaching my priesting in the Summer, and the question is as relevant now as it was then. It is one I have to keep on asking, and keep listening for the answer. History, I suspect, will have very little to say about me, but what God has to say when I get through Heaven’s gates, is what really matters when all is said and done.

Called to Fish, Shaped to Serve

A year ago today, it was DAY 2 of my BAP ( ordination selection panel).  It was bitterly cold and there was snow on the ground in Ely. In the talk you have to give, I spoke on the subject of vocation and call, and used the following poem.

What a journey to that day a year ago …. and what a journey since.  I titled the talk

Called to Fish – Shaped to Serve

Follow me


Follow me !

and with those words

He turned my world

downside up and

upside down.

My heart caught fast

within His net

He hauled me in

and I could only kneel.

His words would call me on

As I stepped out of

all I knew

and tried to put my

footsteps in the sea.

Sometimes I

followed at his side,

And laughed and loved

And learned;

But there were times

He strode ahead

and I could not

see his face of flint.

Then they led

my Lord away

and I could only

follow from afar.

Once again he called

me from the shore,

bidding me

cast my nets

afresh, where I

had toiled, and

failed to find;

filling my heart

as well, and

straining both

to  breaking point.

His call was

then to feed his flock,

carry his lambs,

and give my hands

to those who

would lead me

towards my death.

“Follow me!”

though path be hard,

and way unknown;

taking His word

and flame to

peoples yet

outside the fold.

What could I

do but go?

He calls me still..




In one of their last recorded conversations, Jesus calls Peter to feed his sheep and carry his lambs, and the rest, as they say is history..

However to transform a fisherman into a ‘fisher of men’ , a  shepherd/pastor and a foundation stone of the church Christ was building – he had to shape him for purpose.

That shaping started with his initial call to Peter to leave his nets ( and the biggest catch of his career) and follow him into the unknown.  Many further calls would follow, that would challenge, shape and equip Peter for the role he was being asked to take on.

In musing on the subject of vocation, it seemed logical to start with one of the first to be called to build the Kingdom. Peter is someone I very much identify with-not least for his endearing quality of always having his foot in his mouth, but also for the way God turned his life upside down, and shaped him for the purposes for which he called him. We are not all like Peter, and I believe God honours our very different and unique personalities, by calling us in equally unique ways.  In His continuing calls in my journey, and in those I work alongside in parish life – I see God’s shaping hand.  It has not always been easy for me to hear Jesus call to follow him,  some times I may have wished for selective deafness!  It is my passion nevertheless, to  be a part of assisting others to both hear and heed God’s calls on their lives – to be a shaping tool in other’s journeys, even as I am myself encouraged, challenged and shaped by them.