The things I’ve been called…

I was in Westminster Cathedral today when a chap came up to me trying to jump the Confession queue.  I was not in the confession queue, I was standing looking into the baptistery.

“Father can you hear my confession?”
“Sorry, I’m not a priest I am a deacon, so I can’t”
“No it’s OK, my Parish Priest says you can”
After a few seconds thought I said “but I don’t know the words of absolution”. He went off and left me.  It was amusing to think he thought I would not know if I could give absolution or not.

Shortly after I had just left the St Joseph’s chapel where today they had prayers for Paris when a lady approached me and said “Father there’s a long queue for confession, can you hear my confession please?”
“Sorry I can’t, I’m not a priest I am a deacon”
“a gherkin?”
-pause- “yes, so I can’t hear confessions”.

So next time I am there, do I wear a collar with pride, or do I cover it so I do not disappoint people when I cannot help them receive the sacrament.

Flu jabs, doodahs and wassnames

Yesterday someone on Twitter mentioned ‘flu jabs’ and it reminded me of one of the funniest yet disquieting episodes of my teenage working life.  It has rattled on for nearly 40 years

It was 1976, I was 17 and was an Office Junior, I worked with six other people, five others aged between 18-32 and a gentleman old enough to be my dad who, in those days, kept himself to himself.  The company was privately owned by the chairman.  His grandson, who was three years older than I was being groomed for great things.  There were five managers and a Personal Assistant also in the office all of whom we called by their surnames.  Sales and portering staff numbered thirty three.

The chairman sent his grandson round in late October ’76 to ask each of us if we wanted a flu jab, this was the first time he had done this and he was paying for it himself, a kindness I have always appreciated. While five of my close colleagues were, like me, somewhat quiet, one of us, we will call her Karen, enjoyed being the centre of attention.

The question came to all of us, “would you like a flu jab?” I was the first and said yes please.  ‘Karen’ was the second and bless her heart she did not understand what she was being asked;  “a flu jab?  Yeah I’ll have a flu jab, I’ll have a doodah and a wassname while I’m there too” she answered.  We all laughed, we all answered and the grandson went off happy that we had all said yes.

One of my other colleagues, let’s call him Don, said “what’s a flu jab, what are we getting?” with that the phone rang, and the question went unanswered and forgotten.

Until two days later.   When the doctor arrived to give us our injections Karen, Don and our older, notably quiet colleague found out what they had signed up for.  Trouble broke out.  Don was ok with having the injection but Karen and Mr Quiet were not.  This was the strangest of alliances, these were not two people who would normally seek or cite each other’s views.

The chairman was not happy, he had paid for the injections and two perfectly eloquent people were saying they did not know what was meant by ‘flu jab’.  Our chairman was polite but stern with them, they were the only two people on the whole company of 45 employees who were not having the injection so he told them they can decline the injection if they wish, but should they have time off because of flu, they won’t get paid.  Mr Quiet acquiesced. Karen did not, vociferously.

The following day I was among 10 employees who tipped up to work but had to go home again as we reacted badly against the injection.  Karen did not let this go, and she reminded us of this every year for eight years while I worked there, and beyond.

The whole episode left us all feeling very uncomfortable at first and for a long time we  too.  Eventually, after a good couple of years, we were able to laughed about it.  Even Karen and Mr Quiet.  Although we have not worked together for over 30 years,  we all five, know where each other is, Mr Quiet having died ten years later, but even now, we refer to ‘flu jabs, doodahs and wassnames’ with amusement, even throwing ‘thingamybobs and effergies’ into the mix.

The midnight train to Putney

….or Banstread or Whetstone or Kirkby-in-Ashfield, anywhere you care to name.

We awoke this morning to the news that Labour Leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn would consider, after consultation, the idea of women only train carriages.  Nothing new there,  I remember the stares when I, as a spotty acrylan clad seventeen year old got into a women only carriage, this must have been about 1975/76 as I was on my way to a Caister Soul Weekender (I’ve never been cool).

Corbyn’s idea was being slammed left right and centre (pun intended).  He had put this idea forward in the light of figures showing a 25% increase in sexual assaults on public transport.

Fellow leadership contenders Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham said it was turning the clock back, which it is, the Everyday Sexism Project, which only speaks of sexism against and not by women on their website, said Corbyn admitted defeat in the fight against sexism with this move and a good few journalists and commentators made silly sniping comments.  Matilda Murday wrote a very balanced piece here where as a feminist she gives good arguments for not undertaking this initiative.

I fully agreed with Ms Murday and I think I still do, but then the mental cogs started whirring and I got to thinking.  My initial thought when I heard Corbyn’s thoughts was “it’s a train Jezza, not a mosque on wheels” and the idea of segregation was what concerned me.  But hang about, segregation has existed on public transport all my life, and it still does.  What about quiet carriages on trains where you cannot bore your fellow passengers with the ins and outs of the job interview or your cousin’s funeral, is that not segregation?  It was not all that long ago smokers were segregated on trains and buses, and as I said at the start, women only carriages existed as recently as colour televisions and trimphones, so why is it such a bad idea now?.

What would be the purpose of this segregation?  Surely it would be to help some women feel more comfortable travelling on public transport, particularly those who have had occasion to feel uneasy or unsafe.  Can we really say to them ‘no you can’t have what you want to feel safe because other people won’t like it’, we are not talking about weapons here.                                                                                                .
Various arguments, all with merit have been given against this initiative, segregation in the third millennium is wrong, men need to know how to behave, passengers need to work together to keep each other safe, a woman who is attacked in a mixed carriage will be blamed for not using the women only carriage, women still get attacked by other women on trains, these ideas all have merit, but so does the ‘feel safe’ argument.  

Ultimately I would have to agree with Ms Murday on this, I just don’t like the idea for no other reason than I just don’t like the idea, and if it was proved not to be effective, somehow, women would get the blame.

My peace I give to you

Recently other more eminent gentlemen than I have written on how Catholics treat each other on line, this is a very pedestrian account of some recent events. I cannot begin to reach the eloquence of those who have written before me, so I won’t try.

This time last month saw a bit of a kerfuffle happening on social media.  A threat had been made on a blog and it was believed I was responsible.  I was blissfully unaware of all this as I was on holiday with everything but Facebook and my personal email account deactivated.

But then the emails started to come, I asked to be told no more and deactivated this also, checking in every other day on a hotel computer in case I missed some exciting news.  Towards the end of the holiday I received an email telling me I had been exonerated, and a second from the man who’s blog had received the threat offering the hand of friendship.

To say we had not been friends before is an understatement and I was most grateful of his action.  I have upset people in the past and offered apologies only to be ignored.  I accepted, delighted to put any discord to rest although I am uneasy with my own view of those to whom I have apologised and heard nothing.

In the past two years or so I have made mistakes on Twitter and I have never been shy to admit it, I have also looked to correct my errors, in fact the very reason this blog exists is due to the need to correct a perceived misrepresentation on my part.  In that time I have also made friends with people who have watched from the peripheries and offered me support.  Some of these had made me aware of a group referred to as ‘The Other Place’ which had been started by a very small group of people to coordinate sockpuppet accounts that would post on a specific blog and defend orthodox Catholic positions from liberals and non Catholics.  I had referred to knowing of this group in the past, I once asked on Twitter if one of their accounts, called Wylder Hall would be joining us, it appeared to go unnoticed.

My new friend made me aware of more recent activity in the group, I had been the focus of attention to someone with whom I believed I had made peace, I was told by she and one other in the spring of 2014 that they had nothing against me so please leave them alone.  Although it was upsetting to see both these accounts make unkind comments about me from time to time.  I have been encouraged by others in the past to take such comments further, I have even had offers of funding for legal action. My stock answer was I would need a year to see how i felt, knowing that the statute of limitations of defamation and libel is a year and a day.  Such action would do nobody any good, least of all me or my patron. And the man who was man enough to offer me a hand of friendship is now among those whom I admire most in all the world, not for what he has done for me, but for what he has done at his own personal cost.

Another Twitter account which had been raised using the name of a blog contributor of 1 June 2013 which attacked just about everything I tweeted, was also discussed at this time.  A name for the author of this account was put forward, whether this name is correct or not I have no interest but it’s a clear indication that such toxic accounts damage people other than those whom they target.

One or two others have been in touch privately offering a hand of peace after I had we had fallen out over my unwillingness to acquiesce to my detractors and pretend none of this was happening, I am delighted to have these friends back again.

“The Other Place” is more or less deserted, by choice or otherwise  This will not see an end to the overzealous heresy hunting we witness but hopefully might see an end to the name calling (ie Strawman) and ad hom hashtags (ie #heterodox #epicfail) used by some of Twitter’s more excitable contributors.

At this time a quieting from a couple of the attacking anonymous accounts has also been observed.  I believe this might be that they have been reminded, one subtlety on not so, that their true identity is known.  This has seen a decrease in their bravado, if they want to throw of the sock and join us in reasoned debate it would be great, the rest of us are all getting on like chums now.

All that was hidden…..

Jonathan hearing for the first time in a Youtube clip I posted yesterday evening got some nice comments on social media

Not only were there appreciative comments there were also links to other similar videos.  Like this one: –

And I shown videos of babies seeing for the first time, this one is heart melting.  There’s more on this story here 

But then came this one, hands up, I had a little weep.  If you are on public transport, don’t watch it.


On the up!

Last week, on 30 July,  The Tablet published this article about a Portsmouth parish being taken back in time by an order of monks who had been invited by the Bishop to take charge.  In the article two parishioners, mentioned by name, give their opinion that this has not been a good move and that people have been driven away.

I am guessing The Tablet got this story from the local Portsmouth newspaper that ran this story on 20 July, in this article unnamed parishioners voice their discontent.

The story was repeated on a couple of blogs run by parish priests from other dioceses. One of the priests is able to lay to rest any concerns about the Portsmouth parish as he is reliably informed otherwise.

Why both these periodicals would want to publish such incorrect information is baffling, but I have first hand experience of the press being ‘economical with the truth’.  The Tablet is often accused of doing so.

On 22 July the Tablet published an article about the latest change of priest at Blackfen. Reporter Christopher Lamb does little more than relay information directly from the statement the parish priest read at Mass when he announced his resignation.  His article can be read here.  Oddly one or two people on Twitter denounced Mr Lamb’s article as incorrect.  Having seen the parish priest’s statement, I cannot find anything incorrect, see for yourself: –

I have an announcement that I need to make to you. I would have made this announcement sooner but certain things had to be put in place before I could tell you. I regret to inform you that I will not be your parish priest for much longer—I am leaving Blackfen this Summer. I must add at the outset that this is my decision, and not that of the diocese. I have not been asked to move!

I would like to begin by thanking you all for your kindnesses to me over the last year. I think we could all agree that the transfer from my predecessor to me was not as smooth as any on us could have wanted. This is not the place to go into the reasons for that. All I will say, at the moment, is that the personal cost to my physical and mental health was high. The kindness of many of you during this period towards me was greatly appreciated, and I am sad I was not able to be more open and honest with you at the time.

With all that being said, I eventually made the decision that I needed an outlet from parish life. Since January I have been teaching Maths part-time at St John’s Comprehensive School in Gravesend. In due course I informed the Bishop that I wished to make that situation full-time and permanent, and tendered my resignation as parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary, to take effect at such time as a suitable successor was found. That time has now come.

So today I can announce that, with effect from 1 September Fr Oliver Antao will be Parish Priest of Blackfen. Fr Oliver is an experienced parish priest who brings many gifts and talents to the parish. I know that he will continue to take the parish in the direction that I initiated, and build on what we have achieved in the last few months together.

I will be leaving you on Sunday, 16 August, and supply priests will look after things before Fr Oliver takes up the reins.  This is a wonderful parish that has a bright future—but I am not the right person to make that journey with you.

Please pray for me as I leave parish ministry and begin the next stage of my life—teaching maths to our teenagers. Also remember me as I begin to learn how to live in the ‘real’ world, dealing with such things as paying rent, bills and so on.

Thank you.

In the article putting our minds at rest about the Portsmouth parish, we are told attendance there had dropped by fifty per cent in twenty years.  We can all agree the Bishop of Portsmouth would have nothing to lose by trying something else there. Numbers at Blackfen has also suffered.  The figure for Mass attendance recorded for 2008 is 554, in 2013 that figure falls to 459, a drop of 95, which is 17%, in just five years. These figures are submitted by the parish and published in the diocesan directory.  Like our priest blogger I too have a reliable source, not in Portsmouth but at Blackfen where the 10.30 Sunday Mass, which had an attendance of approximately 40 now has an attendance of approximately 150.  It looks like the missing 95 may have returned.

As an aside, something else odd that happened at this time was the amount of curiosity raised about the outgoing parish priest.  No less than three blogs, written by middle aged (but still all younger than I) married men speculating on his private life were published.  Why they would would be so interested is best left to our curiosity.  One of our priest bloggers noted these, and other comments, and said in a post it had  “captured people’s prurience and some pretty unpleasant speculation.” Quite.

The Bishop of Portsmouth did not ask an order of monks to take of a parish to destroy it, at Blackfen the outgoing parish priest has worked hard to serve his community in a way they wanted, and they have responded generously.  If the secular press want to make something negative of that, we can’t stop them.  We, however, who know the truth, should be celebrating it and sharing it like the good Father did about the Portsmouth parish.

A day of good things

Today was a very special day for my parish we had a whole parish celebration. Our morning Masses were cancelled and a midday Mass in the grounds of the local primary school was planned.  The scouts and guides volunteered to do undertake all sorts of jobs, the guide groups were most keen as they are celebrating 80 years in our parish.  A special Children’s Liturgy was planned, the choirs combined as they do for big events, the primary school rehearsed a gathering hymn and post Communion hymn… there was so much going on.

I arrived at church just after 10am this morning, I was deputed, along with the magnificent Geraldine to make sure everything arrived from church to the school. Geraldine had been very busy making little pouches to transport the chalices safely and was counting out hosts when I arrived.  We were expecting approx 600 to Mass, this meant the safe transportation of lots of silverware.

The parish minibus had passengers on board by 10.30, we were also using the school minibus to ferry people to and fro and the orders of service were, with the newsletters, all packed and ready to go.

But then came the news; the ground was too slippy after all the rain.  It was a health and safety hazard.  The plug would have to be pulled on being outside.  A Mass for 12.30 in the church was now being worked towards.  Disappointedly I started putting out chairs in the hall to accommodate the extra people.  We had chosen to have Holy Communion under one kind at the school, a la Vatican.  In Church we could now also have the Precious Blood, so six extraordinary ministers were found and told where their position was in a matter of seconds.

The word of the change of venue soon spread, a few people rang the parish office to check, but it was amazing how well the news was communicated in just two hours.  With about 10 minutes to go the hall was about a quarter full, we decided we might take away one ciborium when it came to the offertory, we clergy went to the back of the church to process in as the gathering hymns (one by the school and one for all) were sung.

At 12.30 sharp the congregation stood and we processed in with everyone singing  Here I Am Lord, and my word the singing was spectacular, truly truly spectacular. Getting to the sanctuary and looking into the hall we found it was by now, completely full with people standing.  The whole church was alive with singing, happy, united people.

In the homily the congregation were encouraged to take this day and remember it is their church, their community and to offer themselves to the stewardship such a parish requires.  They were reminded that as prophets in the Old Testament foretold the coming of the messiah, we are the prophets of today, foretelling of the Parousia, it’s our job by dint of Baptism.

After Communion a presentation was made to Bob who has run the 400 Club for 29 years, helping to raise tens of thousands of pounds for the parish.  I have to confess I cannot remember what the recessional hymn was, but I know I was lifted out of church by the magnificent singing.

The plan at the school was to have a parish picnic after Mass.  Well the change of venue did not stop that from happening.  However, the more intimate venue meant that food was put on one long table for all to share and there was so much of it!  I could have eaten my bodyweight in rice dishes alone.

In the meantime, in the back garden of the glorious archdiocese of Southwark, the diocese of Arundel and Brighton were celebrating 50 years of being a diocese.  Newly installed bishop and friend of our parish, Richard Moth was the chief celebrant at Mass.  Social media was alive with Catholics enjoying their day at the Amex Stadium, each tweet and blog post was a joy to behold.

Today has been a  good day to be a Catholic down south.

I wonder

Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock is a research Fellow at UCL’s department of Science and Technology studies, an astro-physicist by trade she is one of, if not the most, successful female scientists in the country.

I wonder what would have happened if Dr Aderin Pocock had opined that when working with men, she falls in love with them,  they fall in love with her and if she criticises them they fly into a mad emotional rage.

I wonder what would have happened if she said other women cry if she criticised them.

I wonder what would have happened if Sir Tim Hunt had opined that other men got emotional and flew into a rage if he criticised them.

I just wonder.

The Body of Christ

I am cribbing a homily I heard on Sunday.

The Body of Christ has: –

  • Aspergers
  • athlete’s foot
  • beautiful teeth
  • eloquence
  • a short temper
  • pride
  • exquisite manners
  • bad manners
  • spots
  • a kind heart
  • courage
  • annoying habits
  • enthusiasm
  • Daltonism
  • a poor reading age
  • a beautiful singing voice
  • leprosy
  • compassion
  • diabetes
  • good taste
  • myopia
  • self control
  • HIV
  • wisdom
  • a generous nature
  • a sense of humour
  • bingo wings

The Body of Christ is: –

  • erudite
  • irritable
  • talented
  • annoying
  • encouraging
  • negative
  • fit
  • black
  • bald
  • illiterate
  • statuesque
  • a bit whiffy
  • smiley
  • white
  • taciturn
  • wealthy
  • angry
  • deaf
  • blind
  • lardy
  • tolerant
  • hungry
  • in debt
  • giggly
  • gauch
  • welcoming

The Body of Christ is us

The Body of Christ is God’s creation

and it’s beautiful
(with thanks to Fr Damian)