Pilgrimpace's Blog

sharing justly

I was interviewed this morning on BBC Radio 4’s Sunday Programme, calling for a just sharing of historic assets between dioceses so that mission and ministry at the sharp end can be supported.  You can hear the interview here (it is towards the end of the segment that begins at 6 minutes).

This is a vital and urgent issue.

Here are some further thoughts to try to take the issue further and deeper.

The situation we are in is that there is a huge disparity in wealth between the different dioceses.  Some (particularly the newer urban dioceses in the north and midlands like Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Birmingham) have very little in terms of historic assets and reserves.  Other dioceses are in comparatively very comfortable situations.

Why should ministry be harder in these places because they are newer dioceses, formed without historic assets?

This is not posturing.  My greatest concern as someone who is a parish priest and who visits and supports a lot of housing estate parishes around the country is that this directly affects mission on the ground.  There is clear evidence that dioceses in more economically deprived areas with less historical assets have fewer stipendiary ministers per head of population.

This has a clear effect on our parishes and their ministry. If you have to pay more Parish Share, or your parish is larger, or your diocese is concentrating on reorganization, or you are affected by all the fear and stress that this can bring, this is going to affect your capacity for imaginative and creative mission.

The Church is investing in estate churches and estate evangelism at the moment – something which is wholehearted Good News – but the lack of fair assets in some place endangers this.

What does the Gospel say?  well, it certainly does not advocate a Postcode Lottery where if you live in one place, the historic assets of the Church mean you pay less for more ministry; while if you live in another (which may well be more economically deprived), you pay more for less.

We need urgently to work out ways of justly sharing our historic wealth.  Bishop Philip North reminds us clearly that The first Christians dealt with their wealth in so daring and counter-cultural a way that it proved powerfully attractive (Acts 2.44). Property and income was pooled so that there was no distinction between rich and poor, slave and free. (Read his full Church Times article here).  We can do this for dioceses – we are Christians, we are part of the Church of God, we are generous.

Can we find ways of tackling this in a root and branch way, or – at the very least – with wealthier dioceses funding some things in those with least.  Bishops and Diocesan Secretaries – over to you!

And the rest of us – pray, share this issue, and keep the pressure on.

hungry prayer

I came across this very good account of true prayer by P Juan de Jesus Maria (Arravalles), a sixteenth century Spanish Carmelite who knew St John of the Cross in his Treatise on Prayer:

“Contemplation must always lead to virtue.  That is, indeed, one of the tests of its reality. ‘On coming out of its prayer, (the soul) will proceed to seek ways and methods wherein to practice the virtue that has been contemplated.’ Indeed, ‘contemplation that does not lead to the practice of virtue is not contemplation at al, but idleness (ociosidad).’ It must also – a Teresian counsel – be combined with humility.”

– E Allison Peers, Studies of the Spanish Mystics Vol III

This was very much in our minds and hearts – and I hope our actions – this morning as we reflected together on the Feeding of the Five Thousand.

These words of Pope Francis are also very apposite, remembering of course that part of our action is addressing the unjust causes of poverty


advent journey – gaze
December 12, 2014, 1:33 pm
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'Jesus on the Soup Line'. Mural at the Catholic Worker House in Los Angeles by Gary Palmentier

‘Jesus on the Soup Line’. Mural at the Catholic Worker House in Los Angeles by Gary Palmentier

Advent is a season that deals with tough things.  It would be easy and tempting to avert our gaze and hurry on to the joys of Christmas.

But it is important to keep our nerve and to keep our gaze steady.

In the last days we have seen a major report on food poverty in Britain.  It is clear from the report and from living here and knowing those around me, that food poverty has increased massively over the past years.  In short, people are hungry.  Many of these are in work but paid very low wages.

The Churches and many others have stepped in with massive generosity, setting up a raft of formal and informal foodbanks.  Such spirit should be encouraged.  However, as a basic point of justice and human decency, no one should go hungry or have to depend on charity to eat.  Structures need to be changed.  Let’s get on with this too.  Let’s all be hungry for justice.

It is all too easy to avert our gaze from people or situations which disturb us.  An Advent challenge is to pay attention, to give time and energy, even when it might be hopeless.  A good friend near to here as given a great amount of hope to us this Advent by becoming righteously angry about someone being made homeless.  It has tested him to the limit, but he has succeeded in keeping the person housed.

Winter, for me, often means entering into journeys with those who are very ill and their families and loved ones.  If you pray, could you pray for several people here who are very ill and those who care for them.  And for me that I may have the resources, grace and energy.

Let’s keep looking for love, for hope in the darkness.  Let’s keep looking for what we are required to do.  And let’s get on with it.

compassionate activism

“Spirituality anchors the activist in recognition that the divine spark animates all creation, making responsibility personal and wellbeing corporate.  A compassionate activist’s only authority is the One, referred to by St John as ‘Love’, who is discerned with humility and mutual aid.  Any other authority needs to be held in permanent suspicion relative to this Love.”

– Keith Hebden Seeking Justice

summer reading – 2
July 23, 2014, 3:40 pm
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I’m reading or re-reading these two very fine books:


Jesus: A Pilgrimage by James Martin and Jesus: An Historical Approximation by Jose Pagola.  They are extremely well written books that bridge the gap between the time the Bible was written and now.  I feel myself becoming renewed through them.

As I read them I also read the terrible news reports.  The horrors in Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Ukraine.

I pray for inspiration for myself and others to work for and to be people of peace and justice in this world.

Jesus have mercy on this world.


A beautiful couple of days to help build up the foundations that underpin the practice of love here.

I went to Yorkshire.  I took my father in law back to Leeds – he’d been staying with us for a few days for a wedding.  I then headed off into the Dales.  One of the fruits of my recent research into the Carmelite Mystics has been building new friendships.  One of these has been with one of the nuns at a Carmel there.  We spent a chunk of the afternoon talking and laughing about the deep and important things.  I have some more shape and support in my praying and reading.

And then to the city of Bradford to see Gordon Dey, the remarkable outer estate priest who has developed Jesus Shaped People, the way of reshaping the life and culture of these parishes that we are benefitting from so much here.  After wonderful hospitality, we went to a meeting of Welfare Reform Impact Bradford where it was inspiring to hear local activists here about the effects that the reforms are having on local people, and what is being done to change hearts and minds about this.

Next day was a gathering of clergy from the churches in Bradford which have done Jesus Shaped People.  Rather than meet on an estate we went here



although heavy rain kept us inside admiring the view.

It was good for me to meet with others in similar situations, to reflect together on our ministry, to see how JSP is working in practice in other parishes, to pray and think together, to see the wonderful creative and loving energy of some very impressive colleagues.  I have a great deal to reflect and ponder upon in the coming days.

And then back home and into work today, May 8th, the Feast of St Julian of Norwich


Here is a Collect for her by Janet Morley:

Christ our true mother,
you have carried us within you, laboured with us,
and brought us to bliss.
Enclose us in your care,
that in stumbling we may not fall,
nor be overcome by evil,
but know that all shall be well. Amen


I’m enjoying a little space this early evening mulling over preaching during the services of the next few days.  I’m thinking quite a bit about night, darkness, love, justice.  Tomorrow morning I will walk to Birmingham Cathedral along the canal or the River Rea to reach the Chrism Mass, being fed in all sorts of ways before feeding others.

Thinking of those at the End Hunger Fast Vigil in London this evening, those who will go to bed hungry this evening, those with the power to do something about this.

Two poems below.  The last section of Thomas Merton’s Hagia Sophia, then some John of the Cross:

The shadows fall. The stars appear. The birds begin to sleep.
Night embraces the silent half of the earth. A vagrant, a destitute
wanderer with dusty feet, finds his way down a new road. A 
homeless God, lost in the night, without papers, without 
identifications, without even a number, a frail expendable exile
lies down in desolation under the sweet stars of the world and 
entrusts Himself to sleep.

The Dark Night of the Soul

St John Of the Cross

On a dark night, 
Kindled in love with yearnings–oh, happy chance!–
I went forth without being observed, 
My house being now at rest.

In darkness and secure, 
By the secret ladder, disguised–oh, happy chance!–
In darkness and in concealment, 
My house being now at rest.

In the happy night, 
In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught, 
Without light or guide, save that which burned in my 

This light guided me 
More surely than the light of noonday
To the place where he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me–
A place where none appeared.

Oh, night that guided me, 
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover, 
Lover transformed in the Beloved!

Upon my flowery breast, 
Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping, and I caressed him, 
And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.

The breeze blew from the turret 
As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand he wounded my neck 
And caused all my senses to be suspended.

I remained, lost in oblivion; 
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself, 
Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.


end hunger fast

As followers of this blog will be aware, I and members of my Churches have been deeply concerned about the increasing amount of food poverty people here are facing.  You will have seen the media coverage today of the Church Leaders’ letter to the Mirror criticising the Government’s Welfare Reforms which are causing hardship and hunger.  This is all part of End Hunger Fast, a national campaign for Lent 2014.  I am proud to support it and urge you to get behind it.


A national campaign for Lent 2014

End Hunger Fast is a national campaign for Lent (5th March – 18th April), inviting as many people as possible, of all faiths and none, to fast, pray, speak, give, and act, in solidarity with the half a million people who are going hungry in Britain each week. There’s lots of information and resources at: http://www.endhungerfast.co.uk and there will also be a ‘National Day of Fasting’ on Fri 4th April, and a vigil in Parliament Square on Wed 16th April.

We had a great start this week with 42 Christian leaders signing a letter published in the Daily Mirror, calling on Government to address the growing amount of hunger in our communities but we need your help if momentum is going to be kept up and our voices heard this Lent.

Here in Birmingham, there are a number of ways to get involved and we love to hear from groups considering one or all of these:

1. Come to the ‘launch’ in Cathedral Square on Ash Wednesday (8am), for an open air service of ashing, engaging passers-by in the action

2. Creating a ’40/40 prayer space’ in church for people to use throughout Lent (we can help you plan this)

3. Volunteer for a stint at ‘the Hunger Hut’ in Cathedral Square, from 10-2 on a day during Lent – where we’re offering a place for people to come and find out more, offer their prayers and make their pledges to act.

4. Commit to giving regularly (£10 a year) to SIFA Fireside, to provide breakfast for homeless people

5. Share your own stories of hunger in a Birmingham ‘Hunger Journal’, gathering stories from across the city

6. Come with us to the Houses of Parliament for the concluding ‘End Hunger Fast’ vigil on Wed 16th April

The best place to find out more and get local resources is our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/endhungerfastbirmingham

To order a set of postcards for your prayer space or church, or just for more information, please contact matthew.neville@endhungerfast.co.uk

do justice now
September 21, 2013, 9:07 am
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In his excellent Transit Notes Blog, George has put the following passage from the Talmud, inspired by the Book of the Prophet Micah:

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.  Love mercy now. Walk humbly now.  Do justly now.  You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.

I love this.  It is so full of wisdom, humanity and passion.


It can be tempting to think that the Lenten Journey has finished with the arrival of Easter.  Certainly there is a different tone as we meet the Risen Christ.  Yet, as George rightly points out in his comment on my previous post, suffering and injustice fall disproportionately on much of the world.  Here, on this freezing Easter Monday, we enter a time of shame on welfare where many of those with least (a good number of whom are in work) are hit by welfare cuts.

I am reminded this year very strongly that Easter commits us to a way of life, a way of Easter living.  We see some of this in the story we have been living through these past days.  On Thursday night I and many other priests and deacons washed our people’s feet following the pattern of love and service shown to us at the Last Supper.  We saw this very  beautifully in the action of Pope Francis washing the feet of young offenders.  The challenge and grace now is to go on living the same.  If Easter is to mean anything it must be to free us for a new way of living, a way that brings love and forgiveness into the world.  How can we do this practically?

Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio washes feet of shelter residents during 2008 Mass at church in Buenos Aires

There is something of vital importance here too about small, vulnerable and broken things.  Love does not have to be (is not?) big and powerful.  When the disciples met the Risen Christ they recognised him by his wounds.


On Friday I had the privilege of being present at the Learning Disabilities Chaplaincy Easter Service at Monyhull.  One of the women there sang from her seat:

I will praise the Lord
I will praise the Lord
I will praise the Lord
With my whole life
With my whole life
I will praise the Lord
Let all God’s people
Praise the Lord
This was utterly beautiful, pure gift.  The Easter journey continues.  Let’s live some loving and practical compassion.