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‘Online Mission And Ministry’ by the Revd Pam Smith

pam 001
“In 2004 two online churches started in the UK, the Church of Fools and i-church. They were considered so unusual that they both attracted headlines all over the world and hundreds of potential members had to be turned away. While that level of novelty has worn off, people still do a double take when I tell them that I am the priest in charge of an online church. After the double take come the inevitable questions…this book is my attempt to answer all those questions in the depth they deserve” (extract from Introduction)

“Motivation and Longevity (Matthew 13.3-8) (p.113)

As Christians, we seek to be both culturally relevant, so we are heard by the people around us, and counter-cultural in challenging the assumptions and habits that take people further from God or prevent them from hearing the gospel.

The digital world is built for speed. It is possible to have an idea for an online campaign or initiative and set it up within weeks, if not days. If your project is unusual, or you have someone with a high profile involved, it is possible to gain a large amount of publicity very quickly. The downside of this is that things can disappear as quickly as they appear.

One approach to digital ministry is to go for high-speed, high-impact campaigns that have a short lifespan, arousing interest in the Christian message, hoping that people will be motivated to connect with a church that will take them on the next part of their Christian journey.

The counter-cultural strategy is to stay with our online ministry for the long haul, waiting for the seeds we are sowing to germinate and nurturing people in their Christian journey. This is a challenging and possibly a personally costly option. It may be possible to set up an online mega-church of millions of people but it is more likely that a long-term online Christian community will be small and quiet rather than large and exciting, and may not be understood by the wider Church…the commonest question I am asked about online church is ‘What do you do?’ and it is hard to explain that we don’t ‘do’ church – we are church to each other, despite the lack of sacraments or a building, because we are committed to each other’s journeys in the faith and in Christ’s love.

I have been conscious while I have been writing this book that it may sound rather daunting, with large amounts of space given to dealing with the more difficult aspects of online life. The downside of online mission and ministry is no greater than the downside of anything we undertake for God, but there is also a great sense of excitement and enjoyment in exploring a new form of ministry with others who are equally enthusiastic. Because the digital world moves so fast, one of the most striking statements we can make about the  gospel and God’s love is to be there for people and to remain there, praying, welcoming, teaching, comforting and being the good news for whoever needs us.

In the words of the visionary Mother Julian of Norwich, ‘He did not say ‘You shall not be tempest-tossed, you shall not be work-weary, you shall not be discomforted.’ But he did say, ‘You shall not be overcome.’

In the ever-changing digital world, what will not change is the person and nature of Jesus, his ministry of healing, his teaching of God’s love and his death and resurrection. While we have those, we have nothing to fear. ”


A review by Joyce Hackney

This new book by Rev Pam Smith, the Church of England’s web pastor, is one of the most helpful books I’ve read for a long time. The subtitle ‘A theological and practical guide’ lives up to its name as far as I’m concerned.


In clear, plain, non-patronising language,  Pam Smith explains the use of the internet for Christians. She does not assume any reader knows anything, but takes us through the technology and theology in a way that a beginner – or expert – can understand. The reader is led through the history of the internet to the present day.


Whether readers already make Christian contact via the internet, or wish to, or have misgivings about starting, this is an ideal guide. There is advice for everybody, including clergy and others who are led to ministry. She describes the similarities between online and real-world interaction without forgetting to mention the need for caution. We are informed of the advantages and drawbacks of using the internet as a field for Christian work. At all times her information and advice is backed up with Biblical references.


I’m sure many of us here in Lay Anglicana will recognise what she’s saying. I was drawn-in more or less as soon as I began to read. Good job I wasn’t on a bus or train while I was saying, ‘ Yes. I did that’ and ‘that’s true’ or ‘I remember discovering that.’

Joyce Hackney

 Some additional thoughts by Laura Sykes

I met the Revd Pam Smith about four years ago, when I first ventured onto Twitter. As she had finished something she was doing and had a spare half hour or so, she tweeted ‘Entertain me.’ Ernie Feasey (@minidvr) and I took her at her word and we began a very silly, but very entertaining exchange about liturgical dance, Joyce Grenfell and her song which begins ‘Stately as a galleon…’. I felt I had found a friend, someone to laugh with in this strange, rather frightening world to a woman in late middle age (all right, old age) venturing into social media for the first time. It didn’t occur to me at the time that what she was offering me was pastoral ministry, but it was exactly that, as I came to realise. We continued to engage on twitter and Facebook despite the fact that, although we agree about almost everything in the Church, in ordinary politics we are at different ends of the spectrum. When we met face to face a few years later, we didn’t need to introduce ourselves and it was like catching up with an old friend.

The Church of England has a document called ‘Ministry in the Church of England’ which includes the following by ++Rowan Williams in the preface:

‘At the very heart of this calling [to ministry] is God’s invitation just to be there, in the middle of the Church, holding it in prayer, seeking God’s will for the Church’s future, trying to put yourself completely at the disposal of God for that future. It isn’t a role that lends itself very easily to self-congratulation, a nice clear sense that you’ve done the job, because there’s always more to discover of God and God’s purpose for the future. You have to become a certain kind of person, not just do a certain number of things. And that can be hard, since we all like to know we’ve done all right, that we’ve ticked the right boxes. But it can also be liberating, because this is a role in which God is helping you become yourself more deeply and fully, through your relationships with the whole community of God’s people’

You will look in vain for any element of self-congratulation in Pam’s book. But that is not the only part of the above description which could have been tailor-made to fit her. Pam, thank-you for all the help which you have been to me (mostly without your knowing it). Thank-you for all that you do, online and offline, to be at the centre of the Church and to offer inspiration to those around you.

Pam2‘Online Mission and Ministry’ is officially published by SPCK on 19 February. This is what they say about the book:

Clergy and churches are increasingly being encouraged to use the internet and social media to promote their ministries. But they may worry about some of the difficult pastoral and theological issues that can arise online.

‘Virtual vicar’ the Revd Pam Smith guides both new and experienced practitioners through setting up online ministries, and considers some of the questions that may arise, such as:

Are relationships online as valid as those offline?
Is it possible to participate in a ‘virtual’ communion service?
How do you deal with ‘trolls’ in a Christian way?
What is appropriate for a clergyperson to say on social media?


Online Mission and Ministry
A theological and practical guide
Pam Smith
SPCK Publishing
Additional information
144 pages. Paperback. (216 x 138 mm)
Our Price


Music at Midnight: Taylor Carey

There’s a story that the great Anglican poet and priest George Herbert once made himself late for an important rehearsal by stopping to help a poor man in distress. Herbert re-saddled the man’s horse, and helped him on with his pack, making himself filthy in the process. Upon arriving in the midst of proceedings at the Cathedral, Herbert was asked why he had even bothered to waste his time with such a pathetic figure as the poor man on the road. Herbert replied that his deed would ‘prove music’ to him at midnight, ‘for if I be bound to pray for all that be in distress, I am sure that I am bound, so far as it is in my power, to practise what I pray for’. ‘And now,’ he added, ‘let’s tune our instruments’.

Music is a theme to which countless Christians have returned when considering matters of social justice. A striking vision of Christian society, after all, is of a well-balanced orchestra in which each player understands both the unique contribution they bring to the sound, and also the context of dependence upon others in which they operate. St Paul’s understanding of ‘gifts’, expounded in his First Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 12:12), was centred on a vision of diversity and harmony in the Body of Christ, in which each member might exercise their talents as an indispensable part of a greater whole. All the while, as Psalm 69 bids us, we are called to ‘sing a new song’ of praise, ever more closely caught-up in the glory of God. That imperative to perform God’s song afresh often draws seekers of the Kingdom into the wilderness to discover the ‘still small voice’ (1 Kings 19:12) of the One who stands in judgement.

The Swiss theologian Karl Barth firmly believed that no composer could ever be thought to rival the genius of Mozart. In his own words, ‘Mozart has apprehended the cosmos and now, functioning only as a medium, brings it into song’. ‘One marvels again and again,’ he continued, ‘how everything comes to expression in him: heaven and earth, nature and man, comedy and tragedy, passion in all its forms and the most profound inner peace…It is as though in a small segment the whole universe bursts into song’.

The whole universe bursts into song. The point, for Barth, was that Mozart had simply allowed God’s continuous action to take over and shape his art. Mozart’s own emotions and ideas were always responses to, and in the service of, the ‘original music’ which is God’s constant creativity. In the words of Joseph Ratzinger, surely one of the most significant theological aesthetes of our time, ‘the joy that Mozart gives us…is not due to the omission of a part of reality; it is an expression of a higher perception of the whole’. And so, for all that his works present to us the unbearable tragedy of the human condition, and God’s judgement over against us, they also carry over the reality that God’s mercy, forgiveness, and Grace is already forthcoming and overflowing.

How then do we hear God’s ‘music’ in our own lives? One answer is provided by Jesus in an episode recorded by each of the synoptic evangelists. ‘Let the little children come to me,’ says the Lord to his baffled disciples, ‘for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these’ (Matt. 19:14). We are to become as children, so that we might inhabit God’s new creation. And, on a practical level, this perhaps means two things above all. Firstly, we are called to a purging of our ‘adultness’, which binds us to our unthinking habits, and continues to perpetuate structural injustice in a broken world. Secondly, by a rediscovery of our imagination (through what Nicholas Lash would call asking ‘childlike’ questions), we are called to an anticipation of the Kingdom. We must live in a world ‘charged’ with the energy of God – ‘It will flame out, like shining from shook foil,’ as Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote – and always alive with the possibilities of the Divine. This must be our continual witness, in thought, word, and deed.


So, Herbert was right. The greatest ‘music at midnight’ is the truest resonance of God’s own perfect harmony, echoed through generations of Christians who say the Creed and transform the world. ‘The whole universe bursts into song’. Indeed. And it’s about time we listened.




“The Collage Of God” by Mark Oakley

collage of god
Wow! Just wow…
In relation to our conversation about Christianity and the rules, someone from the Wychwood Circle Community  very helpfully linked to this piece in the Huffington Post by Mark Oakley about his book. I have ordered it straight away, but meanwhile, here is the opening of his article. I suggest you visit the page to read the whole piece and perhaps also buy the book and we can discuss it here.

Broadly speaking, Christian people fall into two types: resolvers and deepeners. Resolvers are keen to clarify and solidify doctrinal and ethical matters. They like systems of thought, information, prose, full-stops. They often speak of their conclusions being somehow “revealed,” either through their reading of the Bible or the teaching authority of the Church they belong to.

Deepeners, on the other hand, distrust systems and jigsaws of the mind where everything fits together nicely. They prefer poetry to prose, intimation to information, and feel that full-stops need turning into commas because, with God, everything is as yet unfinished. Deepeners will talk of divine revelation but feel more comfortable with God-talk that takes human experience seriously and which is as unafraid to reason as it is unashamed to adore. For these, the mystery of God should be deepened by our God-thoughts, not resolved, and revelation cannot be monopolised by the interpretations of religion.

A healthy Church will undoubtedly need a good conversation between these two types always on the go. Individual Christians probably have a similar dialogue going on in themselves from time to time. At the end of the day, however, they can usually identify which of these two approaches they feel more drawn to.

My book, “The Collage of God,” is written for deepeners. Ever since my experience working in a hospital chaplaincy as part of my ministerial training, I have had to admit to myself that neat and tidy theologies just don’t add up for me. The only way I can make any sense of faith is to see it not as a system but as a collage. By which I mean it is a life-long collecting of fragments, epiphanies, hints and guesses, lit and shadowed — all slowly pieced together into something that often feels painfully senseless close up but which, taking a step or two back, can appear with some surprise to have an integrity and beauty to it. Faith is therefore a beach-combing enterprise and the shores we walk along include the Scriptures, the Christian tradition, relationships, beauty, justice and imagination. The pieces of the collage are placed with truthfulness, prayer and, where possible, a playful delight in the gifts that are being placed into our hands. The pieces don’t all fit neatly with each other but that’s OK. One of the best collages of faith we have is the Bible, where many images and memories jostle together to stir up our response.

Wikipedia has the following:

His initiative of having a series of sermons which explored plays that were currently showing in London, to which the actors and production team of each play came and took part in conversation, is an example of the way Oakley tries to open a dialogue between people of faith and the work of the artistic community. A lecture given by him in Westminster Abbey and Keble College, Oxford in 2002 argued that the Church in its search to be relevant was ironically becoming too secular for the British public and that it should be the deeper human resonances that the Church seeks to identify, explore and dialogue with.[3] The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, wrote in 2004 that Oakley’s thinking and approach is in the tradition of Westcott.[4] A more recent article by Oakley in the Church Times, entitled “An Issue! An Issue! We all Fall Down”[5] argues for the renewal of theological generosity in the Anglican spirit. In 2010, the former Poet Laureate, Sir Andrew Motion, wrote a poem dedicated to Oakley entitled “In Winter” and said of him that: “It’s extremely unusual to meet anyone who isn’t a specialist who has such a subtle feeling for language as he does”. Motion has since added that he believes Oakley to be “the best sermoniser I’ve ever heard. And he’s funny, and he knows a lot, and he’s lived”.

Mark Oakley is also the author of ‘Readings for Weddings‘, an anthology of poetry and prose. And his book, The Splash of Words: Believing in Poetry is being re-published next February by Canterbury Press. 

Meanwhile, here is Canon Oakley talking about ‘The Collage of God’ recently at St Paul’s, where he is Chancellor:

Can You Be An Anarchist Christian?


What does it mean to be a Christian? After sixty-five years of trying to be one, I thought I had got the general idea. In particular, I thought I had got what it meant to be a member of the Church of England. I had thought that the point of Anglicanism is that you don’t need to be a theologian to be one. For those who think like me, Jesus offered an executive summary:

And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

Mark 12.29-31 KJV

For all these years, I had taken it as read that the Church of England encompasses such a wide spectrum of theology and ecclesiology that, whereas all would presumably go along with this ‘rule’, any further detailed prescription would result in schism. After all, we have always teased priests that buttons could be left undone on cassocks to indicate which of the Thirty Nine Articles caused them problems. And it is apparently even possible to be an atheist priest, though I am not advocating this.

And then the diocese in which I happen to live decides to impose a few rules on the rest of us.

Strategic Priorities

Under God, delighting in His grace and rooted in the Diocesan rule of life, we will be a Diocese in which:

  1. We grow authentic disciples, going out as individuals passionately, confidently and courageously sharing their faith, and coming together as creative church communities of prayer and worship that live out Kingdom values.
  2. We re-imagine the Church intentionally connecting and engaging with our local communities in culturally relevant ways. We will rejoice in the richness of the “mixed economy” of all ministry and proactively promote vibrant parochial and breathtaking pioneering ministries amongst ‘missing’ generations, eg children, young people, under 35s.
  3. We are agents of social transformation using our influence as a Diocese to transform public and personal life. We will demonstrate loving faith at work in local communities and across the globe bringing healing, restoration and reconciliation, eg through education, social enterprise, health care, spiritual care teams.
  4. We belong together in Christ, practicing sacrificial living and good stewardship of all that God has entrusted to us. We will combine radical generosity, care and capacity building with a clear focus on directing finance into the mission of Jesus. Sharing and multiplying local good practice, using people, buildings and other resources wisely, we will seek to boldly prune, plant and invest in building for the Kingdom.

All right, it is the spelling and style of the above which offends me as much as anything else. If someone targets advertising at you which is illiterate, do you not simply dismiss it?

But the chilling part of this document – apart from the fact that it has a whole page to itself on the diocesan website – is the expression ‘Diocesan rule of life’. What on earth is this? Not in my name, at least. I gather it is based on the Benedictine Rule, a splendid document. However, I am not a Benedictine. Nor do I aspire to be one. And if I did, it would be my own business, emphatically not that of the diocese. I might choose to be a Franciscan, Ignatian, Augustinian, Thomistic…., by what right does the diocese I happen to live in aspire to dictate the characteristics of my spirituality?

I find it disconcerting, to say the least, that my bishop and I have completely different understandings of what it means to be a member of the Church of England. But a shepherd’s crook is meant to guide the sheep, not to be a set of handcuffs supplemented by a prod. I am pretty sure that the bishop cannot impose his rule of life on me, not in this sceptred isle, this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

So I reassert my life as a pew-sitting Anglican in the parish of my choice, free to classify myself as a liberal catholic if I choose.

And then my friend, and occasional sparring partner, Peter Ould, puts a teasing message on his Facebook page:


Steps to break through a liberal’s theological nonsense.

1) Ask the question “Do you want to live a life that is surrendered to the will of God for you?”
2) Ask the question “Do you think it’s unfair that God would permit you to have a sexual desire you shouldn’t act out on?”
3) Repeat asking questions 1 and 2 until the penny clicks.


I try this for several days. The penny does not click. I think my problem is that Peter assumes that if you are a Christian you will have to answer his first question in the affirmative. Whereas my answer is more like ‘sometimes, yes, sometimes no’.

But for me, this is the wrong question about the nature of my relationship with God. Perhaps because I am a cradle Anglican, even my confirmation was an affirmation of everything that had gone before and a hope for things to come rather than any road to Tarsus.  I know there are ten commandments and thirty-nine articles and many other suggestions for our lives, but I do not wake up in the morning filled with a desire to learn and obey all the rules. It is rather like good manners and etiquette. If you understand that good manners is consideration of other people, you do not need the rules of etiquette, they flow from the understanding of the general principle.

For me, Christianity is like that. It matters not whether you know or care about the finer points of theology – so long as you love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your might, and your neighbour as yourself, all else flows from this. Or, as Jesus put it, ‘On this hang all the law and the prophets’  (Matthew 22.40).

There are many hymns which make the same point. What about ‘Immortal love’?

Immortal love, forever full,
Forever flowing free,
Forever shared, forever whole,
A never ebbing sea!

Our outward lips confess the name
All other names above;
Love only knoweth whence it came,
And comprehendeth love.

Blow, winds of God, awake and blow
The mists of earth away:
Shine out, O Light divine, and show
How wide and far we stray…

But warm, sweet, tender, even yet,
A present help is He;
And faith still has its Olivet,
And love its Galilee.

The healing of His seamless dress
Is by our beds of pain;
We touch Him in life’s throng and press,
And we are whole again.

Through Him the first fond prayers are said
Our lips of childhood frame,
The last low whispers of our dead
Are burdened with His Name.

O Lord and Master of us all,
Whate’er our name or sign,
We own Thy sway, we hear Thy call,
We test our lives by Thine.

The letter fails, the systems fall,
And every symbol wanes;
The Spirit over brooding all,
Eternal Love remains.

‘Musings on Mystery’: Andrew’s New Blog


I want to recommend to you the hoped-for outpourings of a new Christian, whom I have come to know through Facebook. He says this about himself:

Hello! I’m Andrew. History teacher, Christian, identical twin, London-dweller and countryside-lover (among other things). This blog is my attempt to share my experience of the mystery of God, and to create a space for generous conversations.

I do not think any potential followers will be disappointed.


Against all my better instincts, however, I have decided to start a blog. Why?

Longstanding friends of mine will know that, over the last three years of my life, I have changed in one particularly obvious and atypical way: after a pretty secular upbringing (which fared me well for 19 years), at university I came to embrace the Christian faith and started attending church. This process was sudden and intense, like an all-consuming love affair. My parents were alarmed, mystified and embarrassed at my sudden desire to devour theological books in my spare time and throw myself enthusiastically into as many church-related activities as my university life allowed. Although willing to tolerate occasional, discrete Sunday morning churchgoing, they admitted to being baffled by my new-found piety. After realising that it wasn’t “just a phase”, they openly enquired as to whether I was going through an emotional crisis, in which religion was adopted as a ‘crutch’ to aid my self-delusion. Amongst my existing friends meanwhile, my apparently-intense conversion aroused either brief, polite curiosity or embarrassed silence and indifference.

In many respects, these reactions are perfectly understandable. As one fantastic book which I recently read underlined starkly, the gulf between faith and unbelief in modern British society is wider than ever before, particularly in my generation. Only 5% of British people in my age bracket (16-25), for instance, identify as Anglican. In less than 50 years, British culture has rapidly lost its familiarity with Christian language and rituals; faith and unbelief have become mutually unintelligible, and responses to Christianity generally range from ignorance and indifference to scorn and vocal hostility (much of which, incidentally, I consider to be fully understandable). This gulf is one which I feel particularly sharply: I often feel as though my life is torn between two separate cultures (church and non-church), with separate languages and sharply deviating priorities.

So why have I started blogging? At heart, my motivation is pretty selfish: I am dissatisfied with being torn in two! In my blog, I am seeking to generate constructive and honest dialogue between faith and unbelief, in part so that my friends and family can understand me better. With as much honesty, humility and humour as I can muster, I hope to invite engagement with the mystery of Christian faith as I have received it, by sharing my own experiences and inviting critical comment. Although now a Christian, I empathise hugely with my agnostic/atheist friends and family; whilst my blog posts might not change anyone’s views, they might in some small way help us to understand each other better.

Over the next few weeks, my plan is to write around six or seven short blog posts exploring my experiences. They will cover themes such as ‘what on earth is Christian “faith” and what is it grounded in?’, ‘what is Christian morality?’ and ‘what is the point of going to church?’. These are all designed to engage with common assumptions held by friends and family. Before I start though, I want to make some things really clear, to avoid misconceptions:

  • This is not an attempt to persuade or ‘convert’ people to Christianity. There is no ulterior motive here. I sincerely believe that I have undergone an experience which is in some small way interesting, and I would like to share it in order to generate interesting dialogue. I hope that the comments/responses will be at least as interesting (and probably more so!) than the blog posts themselves.
  • I do not consider myself or my experiences to be ‘special’ or necessarily typical. I am not writing on behalf of anyone beyond myself. I do not presume any inherent right to be listened to. I am entirely dependent on your generosity as readers! There is a risk that no one will read it – a risk which I’ll just have to accept!
  • I will attempt to avoid theological language as much as possible, in order to be accessible to all. I do not have a degree in theology, and count myself as an ‘amateur theologian’ at best. I will only quote from the Bible occasionally and if absolutely necessary. I do hope however to say nothing heretical…!



You can read the whole post here. Do visit the blog and offer Andrew some encouragement on his first post.

Review by Bryony Taylor of ‘Hilda of Whitby – A Spirituality For Now’


I have known Bryony Taylor online for three years and am proud to call her my friend. (How online relationships can develop into a friendship is an interesting phenomenon, and one I have found to be 1237607_263938527117624_1016119992_ntrue). She tweets as @vahva and is a fellow digidisciple. I have also met her at CNMAC conferences, where she has lectured on a variety of topics. She is studying at Cranmer Hall and is to be ordained deacon this Petertide. Her home page says she is ‘on a journey sharing my passion for love, life, faith’ which neatly encapsulates some of the things we have in common and which, if you do not already know her, I hope you will come to share too.

Here is her review of this book by Ray Simpson, which she has kindly shared with us. Thank-you Bryony!


I have been fascinated by Hilda of Whitby for some years now and so when this new book was published I ordered it immediately. What we know of Hilda is rather like the equivalent of the ruined Abbey of Whitby (we have a few foundations from Bede but not much else) – we have to use our imagination to fill in the gaps. Here, Ray Simpson, therefore, attempts to create an ‘artist’s impression’ of the figure of Hilda.


I enjoyed the overview of the historical context into which Hilda was born, the tour through the different places in which she lived and the characters who influenced her faith such as Paulinus and Aidan. I was often irritated, however, by some rather audacious inferences taken from the text of Bede, such as “his description of her as a ‘woman of energy’ was perhaps a hint that she loved the boundless and natural forces of God”(p.46). The constant assumptions and ‘what ifs’ did spoil my enjoyment of what is otherwise a fascinating book and made it feel a less scholarly work.


Interspersed in the text are some biblical reflections and meditations which would lend themselves well to a small group reading the book together. I would have preferred to see these as a separate section at the back of the book – I found they interrupted the flow of the story somewhat.


There is reference to the different spirituality encouraged by the Irish saints from Lindisfarne in comparison with the faith brought by evangelists such as Paulinus from Rome – there is no doubt which the author prefers! I was interested to read about the Christian communities founded by Hilda which were unusually for the time for both men and women – there perhaps could have been more connections made between this and new monasticism. There is a fun chapter at the end that looks at connections between the fascination with vampires in Whitby and Hilda’s battle with evil (Hilda’s name means ‘struggle’ or ‘battle’).


The focus of this book is not to provide a historically accurate depiction of Hilda but rather to inspire the reader to explore the spirituality suggested by Hilda’s life. I suspect I would have enjoyed the book more if I had realised this from the outset.


Overall, the figure of Hilda truly does shine like a jewel through the pages of this book – she really was a remarkable woman, an English saint we can all look to and whose ability to hold together people of very differing opinions makes her very much a saint for today.


Published by BRF: 21 Mar 2014
Hilda of Whitby – a spirituality for now, priced £7.99, ISBN 978 1 84101 728 0, pb, 160 pages. Download a free sample chapter.
Hilda was born into a pagan, Anglo-Saxon family in the province of Deira (land to the north of the Humber) in 614, and her early life was to witness much of the brutality and darkness for which that period has become most famous. Her own father was poisoned in the continuing battle for power between ruling claimants. Her first encounter with Christianity happens after her uncle Edwin wins power, encountering a vision of Christ which leads to the family’s baptism. But victory is short term and Hilda is forced into exile in the Christian kingdom of the East Angles, holding on to her new-found faith while others cast it aside. Hilda returns north after power passes to the Christian ruler Oswald, who now sets out to reconvert the people of the area, inviting Aidan of Ireland to lead the work. Hilda had only known Christianity with Roman roots. She now comes into direct contact with Celtic Christianity for the first time and discovers a stark difference in terms of lifestyle, approaches to mission, models of church and the requirements of soul friends to assist personal faith development. She was planning to become a nun and depart overseas but Aidan convinces Hilda to stay and sets her on the path of her life’s work of pioneering monasteries and establishing learning for men and women. The Celtic church has no qualms over women leadership, unlike the Roman church. Having set the scene, Ray goes on to unfold the story of Hilda’s work at Hartlepool and Whitby, drawing out key lessons for our own age from her life, work and legacy, and through questions for reflection, encourages personal application. Just before Hilda’s birth, Hilda’s mother had a vision of light cast across Britain from a necklace – a vision that St Bede, writing in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People (completed 731AD), regarded as being fulfilled through Hilda. This light Ray Simpson now projects into our own age. Published to coincide with the 1400th anniversary of the birth of Hilda.

rayAbout the Author

Ray Simpson is a founder of the international new monastic movement known as The Community of Aidan and Hilda and is principal tutor of its Celtic Christian Studies programmes. He has written some thirty books on spirituality and lives on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, where many Christian leaders come to the Community’s Retreat House and Library and for consultation. He tweets a daily prayer @whitehouseviews and writes a weekly blog on

Ray is ordained an Anglican priest and as a church planter has been recognised as a Methodist and as a United Reformed minister, as a minister to Baptists, as a Quaker adherent and he was commissioned by a Catholic Diocese to ‘build one family of Christians’.

He says this about the book:

The author unfolds the story of Hilda’s work at Hartlepool and Whitby and each of nine chapters explores nine facets of Hilda’s life and how her spirituality can transform us:
1. Spirituality in a hard place – How God can use visions and dreams to speak to anyone who seeks to do what is right.
2. Spirituality of exile – the unfamiliar need not be feared but can be embraced as an opportunity to learn from new faces and so to broaden and deepen life.
3. A spirituality of human warmth –she meets Aidan’s gentle Irish approach and inspires people through relationship.
4. Wholeness – training apprentices and nurturing vocations by helping people re-connect with God in the soil and the streets, the scriptures and the Spirit, the soul friends and the silence.
5. Unity in diversity – seeking unity from a position of love even at stage-managed church synod.
6. Awakening the song in every heart (Caedmon) – releasing the divine creativity within each of us.
7. Struggle, praise and holy dying –visualising sufferings as birth pains, bringing Christ to birth as a seed that is buried gives birth to new shoots.
8. Wisdom and the role of women – the importance to community of spiritual mothering.
9. Fruits, vampires and victory…. vampire fans discover a divine blood transfusion pouring out of Hilda’s legacy.
An appendix outlines pilgrimage routes associated with Saint Hilda. A Kindle edition is available on



Jim Cotter’s Prayers Inspired By Psalm 23


Shep01The Shepherd and the Host

That we and all human beings may draw close in friendship and in God.

Dear God, you sustain and feed me:
like a shepherd you guide me.
You lead me to an oasis of green,
to lie down by restful waters.
Quenching my thirst, you restore my life:
renewed and refreshed, I follow you,
a journey on the narrowest of paths.

ps23 001


Even when cliffs loom out of the mist,
my step is steady because of my trust.
Even when I go through the deepest valley,
with the shadow of darkness and death,
I shall fear no evil or harm
For you are with me to give me strength,
your crook, your staff, at my side.

Dwell in me that I may dwell in you.

Even in the midst of my troubles,
with the murmurs of those who disturb me,
I know I can feast in your presence.
You spread a banquet before me,
you anoint my head with oil,
you stoop to wash my feet,
you fill my cup to the brim.

Dwell in me that I may dwell in you.

Your loving kindness and mercy
will meet me every day of my life.
By your Spirit you dwell within me,
and in the whole world around me,
and I shall abide in your house,
content in your presence for ever.

Dwell in me that I may dwell in you.

Wise and loving shepherd, guiding your people in the ways of your truth, leading us through the waters of baptism, and nourishing us with the food of eternal life, keep us in your mercy, and so guide us through the perils of evil and depth, that we may know your joy at the heart of all things, both now and for ever.


Jim Cotter‘s death was announced in Holy Week. Simon Barrow’s memories of him can be read here. He published his own material, but was also published by Canterbury Press.

This is his description of himself on his website:

How can I sum up in a paragraph or two the common threads running through my adult and working life? I have been writing and speaking publicly for forty-five years, and haven’t stopped yet! I think I have been exploring, as a pilgrim soul, what it might mean to unfold afresh my spiritual and religious inheritance, and it has been both a personal and a public concern to try and connect that tradition with the experiences of being gay, undergoing two years of serious depression, and, more recently, living with leukaemia. In their time each of these has been a stigma, information that few people would wish to reveal when applying for a job. Hence much of my work has been as a free range writer, speaker, and publisher, sometimes precariously on the edge of organizations, though with much support and friendship from within them.

My hope is that the work will help those who are younger than I am both to renew their faith and to integrate it with their sexuality without getting depressed and without the stress which may well contribute to a cancer becoming symptomatic sooner than need be. And in that spirit I dedicate this new website to those who, in their generations, pioneered enlightenment, wisdom, and treatments, at no little cost to themselves, so that my life has been richer than it would otherwise have been.
Jim Cotter, Aberdaron

Easter Sunday: A World Electric With The Presence Of God – Jane Williams


The Gospel accounts of the risen Jesus suggest that when people encounter him they do not immediately know him. On the whole, they are not terrified…they recognise what is in front of them as a living human being, but not a familiar one. Even the people closest to him need help to connect the risen Jesus with the man they loved. In today’s reading from John’s gospel, you can, if you like, think of all kinds of reasons why Mary does not immediately see who Jesus is as he stands beside her in the garden….the simple explanation must be the true one – that real life is something we are poorly equipped to understand. So Jesus gives Mary the gift of sight, the gift of being able to connect the new life with the old. He says her name, and makes a bridge for her to see who he is, in all his extraordinary life.

By ourselves we do not have the power to see or understand God’s vitality. By ourselves, we plod on, trying to be satisfied with the poor imitation that we call ‘life’, which is all about separation and death. But Jesus gives the gift of connection to the only true life, the life of the creator, which is about unity and sharing in the utterly real life of God…life is not ‘natural’ to us, but is a gift, reflecting the giver. Jeremiah puts into God’s mouth the words ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you’ (v.3), and that is the heart of it.

…But for the moment we must be content with the sudden and fleeting reminders of God’s eternal life that are available to us day by day. We have always before us the vision of the risen Christ, which helps us to recognise God’s life where we see it. We have his voice, calling us by name so that, like Mary, we suddenly look up and see the Lord of life, standing beside us.

And then, like Mary, we have to turn back to a world, utterly changed, yet devastatingly the same. We know this world now to be electric with the presence of god; we know our own lives now to be zinging with the resurrection life, and yet all of this is tantalisingly ‘hidden with Christ in God’ (Colossians 3.3).

We are not called to cling to the presence of the risen Christ. Instead, like Mary, we are sent to shout out what we have seen We are God’s spies, now, searching for evidence of him in the robes of the gardener, listening for the familiar sound of the beloved voice of the Lord in the unrecognised strangers around us, helping to build the bridges of love that will enable others, too, to hear Jesus’s voice and recognise the vast, free, unchanging, faithful love of God.

This is an extract from my favourite readings on the lectionary, by Jane Williams. (pages 58-59)

Alleluia, he is risen!

He is risen indeed!

A very happy Easter to you all!

‘A crust of bread’ by Chris Fewings

Supper at Emmaus, Caravaggio, 1606

Supper at Emmaus, Caravaggio, 1606 (now in Milan)


I left you a crust of bread for lunch on Friday.
You might not feel hungry when someone has just died.
Celebrate on Sunday, when the daffodils are out.
I’ve pressed olives for you, trodden out grapes.


The Cross, The Crucifix, And The Tree Of Life



‘Processional cross depicting Our Lord at the center of the vine which depends on Him for life.’

I am the vine, you are the branches (John 15:5)


In the dim morning light

A simple brass cross stands on the altar,

Flanked by the minimum two candles,

In this otherwise austere Norman church.


The congregation slowly assembles.

The lights go up ready for the ‘performance’,

Transmuting the base metal into glistening gold.


In a trick of the light the flat surface of the cross

Becomes a bas relief of Our Lord, a crucifix.

This happens most weeks,

Nothing unusual.

Forcing your eyes to focus can make it disappear.


I look away, talk to a friend.

When I return, the cross is transformed once again,

This time to become a living thing –

Cross and vine and tree and Saviour

All indissolubly intertwined,

With arms as branches, torso as trunk,

And ripe grapes fruiting extravagantly.


Shocked at this hallucination, I blink and rub my eyes.

I invoke the minor gods of normalcy and routine

(We have reached the second hymn)

But they refuse to answer my call.

The Arcimboldo crucifix is apparently a reality, at least to me.


Later, I walk up to the aisle to test my eyesight.

The image remains intact until I reach the communion rail.

A month goes by, but the impact does not fade.

My conscious mind can neither absorb it, nor dismiss it.

At the moment of his death, the cosmic Green Man breaks

The laws of physics to become Dionysus?


I try to recreate the moment

But of course it will not happen again –

That door is closed for now.

Gradually the image becomes part of me

(But demands I attempt to share it).


Good Friday and Easter Day are one to the Lord of life?

“We live together, we act on, and react to, one another; but always and in all circumstances we are by ourselves. The martyrs go hand in hand into the arena; they are crucified alone. Embraced, the lovers desperately try to fuse their insulated ecstasies into a single self-transcendence; in vain. By its very nature every embodied spirit is doomed to suffer and enjoy in solitude. Sensations, feelings, insights, fancies—all these are private and, except through symbols and at second hand, incommunicable. We can pool information about experiences, but never the experiences themselves.”

So said Aldous Huxley in “Heaven and Hell” (1954).

I am very conscious of the difficulty of communicating experiences of this sort, and I have of course failed. But sometimes it is impossible to resist the urge to try.


Epilogue on Easter Monday 2019

Looking through my Twitter feed before breakfast, I find this (hitherto unknown to me) piece by one of my favourite Christian poets, R S Thomas.

“Not the empty tomb

but the uninhabited

cross. Look long enough

and you will see the arms

put on leaves. Not a crown of thorns,

but a crown of flowers

haloing it, with a bird singing as though

perched on paradise’s threshold.”


R S Thomas

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