Back from holiday on Arran, we finished off with a night in Liverpool and the Liverpool vs Manchester City game at Anfield this afternoon. Holidays are disorientating. My mind goes all over the place. I managed to read four novels in the week, but spent most time playing with my two year old grandson whose speech grew enormously. You can almost see the synapses joining up in the brain as he puts language together with self-consciousness.

But, that's all incidental. My mind has been, as I said, all over the place. The novels – all by Patrick Gale – made me think about family, church, ethics, storytelling, humanity, God and other interesting stuff. But, it was someone else whose words teased my imagination and made me muse on church, football and leadership. I haven't had time yet to read the full text of Elisabeth Murdoch's MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival at the end of last week, but one paragraph near the beginning did grab my attention:

A great creative organisation is like any successful community; it's a place of honesty, integrity, and an environment where curiosity and enthusiasm are the norm. It's a place that demands personal accountability, collective responsibility and true self-determination. It's a place where opportunity doesn't have to wait for a board meeting; a place that stimulates self-expression and encourages collaborative endeavour.

Here she is speaking about the culture of an independent creative media business. But, I wondered if the same could be said about the church – even if only thinking ideally. Even though people in the church are always complaining that if we were more like a business we would do things better, I also have experience of business and the rhetoric in business is not always matched by the reality.

But, whereas honesty and integrity should be fundamental to a church community, 'an environment where curiosity and enthusiasm are the norm' sounds strange. Yet – and I have often argued for this – curiosity is the 'key to the Kingdom' and something Jesus seemed always to be wanting to stimulate. If you don't believe me, just read the parables and use your imagination.

Perhaps if the church were characterised more by curiosity and enthusiasm (for its core purpose – as Murdoch seems to go on to suggest) it might become a more attractive and less intensely conflicted body. It might also bring into sharper relief the importance of 'personal accountability, collective responsibility and true self-determination', understood theologically as the purposeful driving motivators of those who claim any sort of allegiance to the church. Purpose puts conflict in its rightful place – which is not at the forefront of every conversation.

Move on from this to Anfield this afternoon. I know: this is weird.

I am always deeply moved to see, hear and join in with over 50,000 people singing 'You'll never walk alone'. I grew up with it. I don't often get to see Liverpool play these days, but when I do I get choked as the music starts when the teams come out. Why?

I have sometimes heard it said that if church were more like a football match more people would come. There is a common purpose (but also a common enemy – the opposition); there is a communal anthem (but not everybody joins in); the participatory event lasts for a limited time and the rules are clear (but some people, having paid a fortune to be there, still behave like morons); there is a measurable outcome at the end. So far, so good.

But, there are also loads of people who couldn't run down the garden path who scream indignantly, offering their advice to the athletes on the pitch and criticising their competence, credibility, intelligence, fitness for the job and parenthood. I heard one woman say she was bored with the match – despite it being fast, creative, draining on the nerves and frequently exciting. In other words, perhaps the footie experience is a bit like church in that the 'worship' brings together a broad range of people around a single event, allows expression of a wide range of emotional responses to what is being witnessed, is necessarily participatory, involves a shed load of activity aimed at claiming allegiance and commitment (financial as well as time and emotion), and makes space for whiners, moaners, hypocrites, the hard-to-please and the self-righteously arrogant. As well, of course, as the gloriously optimistic, the blindly proud, the wonderfully realistic and the hopefully celebratory.

I'm not staking my life on this stuff. I just thought about it on the way back from Liverpool to Bradford. I love Liverpool, I love the media, I love business, and I really love the church. No illusions about any of them and loads of fantasies about all of them. But, ultimately, I just love the fact that all of them involve real people with real lives, real contradictions, real glories and real stories. And – this might sound a bit obvious – I love the fact that when thinking about the church particularly, I refer to a narrative that presents a warts-and-all picture of a broad community of real people whose curiosity has been teased and who, despite all the other stuff, can't help being grasped by the wonder of it all or the enthusiasm of purpose which it excites.

(And Liverpool should have taken all three points. Scrappy defending for Man City's first goal and a terrible back pass for their second allowed a draw. But, Liverpool's passing game is getting better – and I would be more optimistic for Liverpool's season than City's on the evidence of today's game.)

What a wonderful start to 2012.

Manchester Utd lose at home to bottom-of-the-table Blackburn Rovers. Then Manchester City lose to a last-gasp goal by Sunderland. Add to that the return of Steven Gerrard to Liverpool’s growing-in-confidence team and the sun is already shining though the clouds of a Yorkshire winter.

But, there’s more.

Since Bradford City FC came to the Cathedral for the Carol Service they have been scoring goals and winning. I’m just saying…

Anyway, today saw me standing in for the poorly Dean of Bradford in the Cathedral pulpit and thinking aloud about God’s knack of changing people’s names. To understand ‘Jesus’ we have to go back to the beginning and God’s covenant with Abram in Genesis.

  • Abram becomes Abraham and is called to be a blessing to all peoples. Not just himself and his own nearest and dearest. Not just his own tribe or class or race. Not just those who are like him.
  • His wife Sarai laughs at God when she is old that God likes to bring new life where it all looks a bit dead – fertility out of barrenness, newness after loss (as Brueggemann put it). She calls her son Isaac – laughter opens the door to a future.
  • Jesus might well ‘save his people from their sins’, but what does that mean – even when we hear it from an angel? The clue lies in Abram and that invitation to be a blessing.

God’s people are to live and give their lives in order that other people might see who God is and what he is about. Failure (despite the warnings of the prophets) led to the loss of all that spoke of God’s presence. Jesus fulfils the calling that was always the calling of God’s people – and lives and gives his life in order to show the world who and how God is. His church is then called to bear his name – that is, to reveal in its life, priorities, values and character the life, priorities, values and character of the Jesus we read about in the Gospels. In other words, the Body of Christ is to be … er … the ‘body of Christ’ – that when people see, hear and touch ‘us’, they see, hear and touch something of the Jesus we read about in the Gospels.



Simple. If only.


But, this is the only test of authenticity the Christian Church has. And, if we take it seriously, we must face the challenge of allowing everyone else a change of name that opens up a future and doesn’t condemn people to being trapped by their past or present. That is grace and it is what Jesus does all the time for those who have been allowed to believe that Immanuel is God for some people, but not for them.


Anyway, all that came out of Luke 2:21 and the naming of Jesus in the Temple. Unfortunately, the sermon began with me showing a paperweight my in-laws gave me for Christmas about ten years ago (and which I still use on my desk) which tells me that Nicholas means ‘Victory of the people’ and ‘thinks winning thoughts’. We’re still looking for that one…


So, a start to 2012 that involves good football results and a renewed challenge to be Christ-ian. OK for starters, I think. (And sympathy to fans of the Manchester clubs. Er… Hmmm.)

There’s not alot of time for blogging these days because the days are all full. All good stuff, but full. There is loads I’d love to think and write about – Putin’s nomination for the Russian Presidency, the so sad suicide of Gary Speed, Syria, Egyptian elections, the Leveson hearings on phone hacking, and more besides. But, my head’s full of other stuff.
So, here’s some easily lifted material aimed at answering a question I was asked three times by non-church people in the last week: “What does a bishop actually do?”It is easy to give an answer that sounds either surreal or pious, but the reality is simply that it is very varied. At risk of attracting criticism for doing all the wrong things, having the wrong priorities or sounding pretentious, here’s a glimpse of my last week and the days ahead this week. (Every day begins with and is shaped by prayer.)

Last week began with two Confirmation services on Sunday. Each service lasts around an hour and a half. I get to the church between 30-45 minutes beforehand in order to prepare, talk through practicalities, attend to paperwork, meet the candidates, etc. After the service I stay behind to meet people and chat – often for an hour or more. I might have to drive an hour and a half each way (last Sunday was only fifteen minutes in the morning and thirty minutes in the late afternoon. This means that one service can take between three and six hours in total – excluding preparation time.

Monday was the Bishop’s Staff Meeting. This happens once each month and involves the two Archdeacons, the Diocesan Secretary, the Dean of the cathedral, my chaplain, two ‘Bishop’s Officers’ (for part of the meeting). We begin at 8.30am, break for coffee at 10.30am followed by Communion, then we resume business. We finish around 3.30-4pm. I then went straight into a ‘safeguarding’ meeting for an hour and a half. I then drove into Bradford for an interfaith consultation and reception hosted by the Lord Mayor, organised by the Dean, facilitated by me. Over 100 people contributed to a very good event that encourages us to develop the engagement in 2012. I got home and dealt with correspondence and emails.

On Tuesday I drove to Wakefield for a non-agenda meeting of the three West Yorkshire diocesan bishops (Bradford, Wakefield and Ripon & Leeds). I then had a pastoral meeting in my study followed by phone calls on a variety of matters. I then had my regular meeting with the Diocesan Secretary. She was followed by the Diocesan Youth Officer who briefed me on developments among children and young people in our churches and schools. When he left I also left to drive back to Wakefield for the first meeting of the so-called Preparation Group, comprising five members nominated by each of the Bishop’s Councils of the three West Yorkshire dioceses (proposed by the Dioceses Commission to be dissolved into a new single diocese). This first meeting was intended to agree the terms of reference, set out who would lead on which issues, what our work should look like in 2012. I got home after the two-hour meeting to attend to correspondence and emails.

I caught the 7.14am train from Shipley to London on Wednesday in order to chair the Meissen English Committee – the last one of this quinquennium – at Church House, Westminster. This finished early (11am – 2pm), so I fitted in three meetings with people at Church House before a briefing meeting with the Church of England’s excellent Rural Officer. This was follow by a pastoral meeting. I eventually checked in to the hotel in time to deal with phone calls and emails before meeting my youngest son for dinner – I hadn’t seen him since we moved up north. A late end to a great evening.

Thursday began with me doing Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2’s excellent Chris Evans Show. The script has to be written a day or two before (in order to go through compliance), so I’d fitted that in on Tuesday. I left the BBC and walked to Church House, Westminster, to chair the Sandford St Martin Trust meeting – which this week covered future development strategy, the 2012 Awards ceremony, finance & investments, routine business, and an invited guest from another media trust (who we embarrassingly kept waiting for an hour – he was gracious, but needn’t have been). I left as soon as the meeting ended in order to get the train back to Bradford to chair the Bishop’s Council (which included several important policy decisions) in the evening. I always work on the train, but was too tired to deal with correspondence and emails when I eventually got home.

Friday was my day off. I went through to my office to offload some work stuff and then bumbled around the house for the rest of the afternoon before going out to the Alhambra Theatre in the evening to see the Rambert Dance Company perform. (I had never in my life been to ballet or dance, but this was beautiful and brilliant.)

Saturday I was in Shipley for a training morning for churchwardens from across the diocese. I worked in my study all afternoon (clearing correspondence, preparing for the next day and the week ahead). In the evening we drove to York for dinner with the High Sherriff.

On Sunday I baptised and confirmed at Haworth (the Brontë church) before heading off to Liverpool to see Liverpool versus Manchester City at 4pm – with my elder son (who lives there) and one of my colleagues – my first time at Anfield for a match for over twenty years. Great atmosphere, OK result (1-1), excellent day. Back in the evening.

This morning I began a three-day visit to one of my deaneries – the seventh of eight deanery visits in the diocese, the last one (very rural) coming next week. I meet all the clergy individually and together, and will lead an open evening for all-comers tomorrow evening.

I will be back in London on Thursday for communications meetings and Friday for the Chris Evans Show on Radio 2 before catching the train back to Bradford.In the margins of all this are the phone calls, the crises, the correspondence and emails (of which there is an abundance and a variety). I try to respond to emails within 24 hours, letters as soon as they hit my desk, phone calls as soon as I can call back (if not available).

So, that’s it. Illustrative. I write it to give an idea, not to justify myself. I write it simply because people ask what we actually do. If it annoys you, ignore it.

The world appears a bit weird when Man Utd lose 6-1 at home to Man City. Wonderful (says the Scouser who is worried that two Manchester clubs now rule the Premiership).

But, more interesting is the response by atheist academic philosopher Daniel Came to the refusal by New Atheist academic biologist Richard Dawkins to debate with William Lane Craig. Dawkins gave his reasons in the Guardian here – and then got a response from Came. (Paul Vallely has also contributed in yesterday’s Independent.)

Not surprisingly, I am with Came on this. The New Atheists give atheism a bad name by substituting assertion for argument. Watch this space – the debate between Dawkins and Came might be even more interesting than debates between the theists and the New Atheists.