where have you been?

The past few months have been wonderfully, bizarrely busy.  The thing about a year off is that everyone else says ‘aha. she is free!’.  So, since Easter, I have have been constantly, intensely catching up with friends and travelling.

It began with the swings-and-play-parks tour of Durham.  An old univeristy friend came to visit with her nearly two-year old, and we spent the week getting cold, getting wet, taking naps, and evaluating where we could find the best, the very best, place to play.  (Chester-le-Street, as it happens.  Thank you Mumsnet.)  I even persuaded my sceptic little house-guest to try Boston Brown Bread and Baked Beans alonside her hot-dog.  Success.

Next, another visitor from Scotland.  Simpler this time (no nappies), and blessed with better weather.  We did the usual sorts of things: walked by the river, visited the otters, enjoyed the sudden (brief) burst of Spring.

Then, it was time to welcome an old school friend whom I hadn’t seen since I was 16. The next time I hear someone say that facebook isn’t about real friendship I will offer this: without facebook, this friend and I may never have spoken again.  Instead we have chatted and laughed through major changes in our lives, and when the time was right, she flew from Los Angeles to Newcastle so that the conversation could go deeper.  We had a fabulous (albeit chilly) few weeks, drinking tea and visiting Roman Britain.

After that, I broke the news to Molly-cat that it was now her turn to go on holiday, and off we went to the cattery.  I love this cattery. The owners have a great sense of humour and send twitter-pics of the cats for our amusement and reassurance.  (@RGLCH)

I flew to Newark, took the train up to Connecticut and spent a few weeks with my parents.  I watched loons on the lake and swallows in the orchards.  I visited old haunts and enjoyed the ice cream.  I caught up with friends and met the amazingly passionate owners of Extra Virgin in Mystic, CT, who gave up the rat-race to start a business that they love, and are turning tourists into connoisseurs bite by bite.

For Assension Day, I was thankful to be at Christ Church, New Haven and delighted  in the smoke.    On the Sundays, there was all the joy of St Thomas’, New Haven, with its slightly chaotic but beautiful liturgy and the most creative normal-church (rather than cathedral) music I have come across in a long while.

I came home and rescued Molly from the cattery, spent the week offering her a lap and getting over a bug.  I met friends in York and watched my god-son get the hang of bungee-jumping.  Then another friend came down from Scotland.  We walked the beach and found amazing rock-pools at Warkworth.  We visited the Southern Crested Screamer, and the fluffy chicks at Washington Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, and we wandered down to Whitby to share fish and chips with the gulls.

It has been a fabulous few months, which could never have happened without the gift of this year off.  And now, I am looking forward to a few weeks of quiet:  to read again, and to write, and to see what comes next.

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act of faith

Learning outcomes for today:

  1. all clergy tailors should have tattoos, piercings, and a healthy sense of the absurdity of clerical shirts.
  2. being measured by someone who simply doesn’t care who you are or what the tape measure says is liberating
  3. it is much more fun to hunt for clergy-shirts in pairs (especially with someone who does not habitually wear black)
  4. some clerical outfitters have a very good sense of what their customers want and are skilled at giving it to them.
  5. nonetheless, there is no reason on God’s good earth that a clerical outfitter should stock a pale-pink poly-cotton, with silver-glitter butterflies.
  6. the A1 is not the M1.  Forget this at your peril.


Today is the feast day of Aelred of Rievaulx. I have been meaning to read Aelred for a long time (rather like I have been meaning to remember how to spell Rievaulx), but it hasn’t happened yet.

Still, he is worth pondering on his feast day.  Aelred’s gift to the church was the gift of friendship.  In a time when ‘special friendships’ in the church were held suspect, Aelred suggested that such friendships were the very path to God.

Now, ‘special friendship’ had particular meanings in Mediaeval religious communities, and it is not always easy to be sure what is meant at any given moment.  Sometimes, it seems to refer to what we might call ‘falling in love’; sometimes to desire; other times to the child-like, but still potent, concept of ‘best friends’; and otherwise, to any noticibly strong friendship that exceeds the depth of relationships around it.

Friendship comes in many forms, all of which are worth treasuring.  But I think Aelred is right to single out the deep friendships that shape us and draw us more fully into God.

Spiritual friendship is a particular thing.  It exists when we know that the other is as forever committed to us as they are to God; to our journey with God as much as their own.  And that commitment is not diminished by time or place or changing circumstances.  Not even by occasional neglect or misunderstanding.

Spiritual friendship has the givenness of the eucharist.  Though we have done nothing to deserve it, it is given for us, and remains true.

So, we give thanks for Aelred, today; and for all those we have been given in friendship.

Pour into our hearts, O God, the Holy Spirit’s gift of love, that we, clasping each the other’s hand, may share the joy of friendship, human and divine, and with your servant Aelred draw many to your community of love; through Jesus Christ the Righteous, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

The Collect for the Feast of St Aelred, 12 January
see also:  The Patron Saint of Integrity



diverse forms

Friendship manifests itself in funny ways.  Today:

  • a dripping jogger, determined not to run through another week with out pinning me down to a time we could see each other
  • someone who asked a difficult question and listened unflinchingly to a difficult answer (the opposite of the answer hoped for, I suspect)
  • (most extraordinarily) someone who saw Mandelbrot’s obituary, and immediately sent word —  having not yet seen my blog.  There are few people in this world who know me well enough for that.

I sometimes get myself in trouble for saying that I don’t think priests should be friends with members of  their congregation.  When I am really brave, I also say that most relationships in church should not be friendship.  Friendship is far too precious a thing to think that we can sustain it across hundreds of relationships, all at once.

Friendship demands time and commitment and a willingness to be ignored, hurt, and forgiven time and time again when one of you gets it wrong.  It demands laughter, and perseverance, and trust at levels of our being that we’re not even sure we want to traverse, but learn face together.  It demands holding on, even when you profoundly disagree.

And of course, a lot of those things are also a part of the relationships we build in churches.  I hope that there will be real friendships in church — that everyone in a congregation will find someone, or hopefully several people, with whom they can build deep friendships.   But there are other sorts of relationships too.

I may have said this before.  (I have a feeling I have said this before.)  When I think of some of the relationships I have most valued in church, I have valued them precisely because they were other-than-friendship.  We didn’t try to share all of our lives, get to know each other’s significant people, or expect that the other would always be there.  We just focused on something shared:  a ten year conversation about prayer; a six month exploration of the enneagram; a vision for the church that we were both figuring out, that we could shape and sustain together; the experience of someone we loved coming out; the conflicts between our growing sense of what God was calling us to and what others might have expected of us.

By not aiming for breadth, some of these church relationships reach a remarkable depth.  There is genuine love and affection, care and concern.  Companionship and conviviality too.

But for me friendship is other; and that may make my definition of friendship somewhat odd.

And I will even concede that we all make exceptions.  When both understand the need for boundaries and are willing to keep switching hats, there can be a fair deal of creativity in defining the nature of a relationship.

But today, I wish to keep the distinction:  for the sake of the wet jogger, the brave questioner, the kind minder of my strange idiosyncrasies.  Friends indeed.