set free

Blessed are you, Sovereign God of all,
to you be glory and praise for ever.
In your tender compassion
the dawn from on high is breaking upon us
to dispel the lingering shadows of night.

(CCP, Tuesday morning & Advent)


It comes strangely early this year, at the time of new beginnings of childhood memory: beginning of September, beginning of term, beginning of something new.

I have been in Durham for three weeks now, and I am just emerging from happy hiding.  I am amazed at how long it can take simply to live.  To unpack the boxes and settle the house and do the shopping and enjoy cooking a meal.  Days have been full and spacious all at once, a glorious release of strain and tension.

And that is what I notice most.  I am more relaxed than I have been in a very long time.  I know:  it is easy to be relaxed when there is literally nothing to do, no one making demands, every breath is free.  It is unrealistic — not a pattern of life that we can often achieve.  But still, the contrast is lovely, and it shows me sharply how the stress we carry can get in the way of relating.

I find myself chatting to waitresses, laughing with young mothers as they pass on the street.  I find myself coping, even, with plumbers and bus drivers and strangers in the queue.  I remember I used to do these things, easily, joyfully.  But it had been a while.

The difference is in the freedom.

I cannot tell you how great the relief was when I waved the movers off and closed the door, knowing that for the first time since student days I was in a house that was not owned by my ’employer’ (either church or school).  A house that I had chosen, which was of interest to no one else.  And because I know I can come home each night to a room of my own, a space that is free, I have the energy to engage better with those I meet. I see more, and am more immediately present.

I used to believe in rectories.  I thought it was hugely important that the priest be available, on sight, recognizable.  And maybe it is.  But I cannot live that way.  I start feeling trapped and hemmed in and I find myself running away from what is supposed to be my home.

‘Time off’ meant restlessness.  Driving all around, looking for a place to be.  And so the house would be ignored, and the rooms would never be finished, and I had no space to rest.

I should have seen it coming.  My first week of training as an ordinand, I went into Old Saint Paul’s for the Friday morning eucharist, and the reading was ‘Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the sun of man has nowhere to lay his head’.  I burst into tears.

I guess I did know.  A priest dwells in the eucharist, in the liturgy, in the church.  But not in the rectory.  We are just visitors there, weighing up the relative cost of paying for new carpets or living with swirls of brown.

No more.

I sit now in church and I miss standing at the altar.  I miss preaching.  And I cannot imagine that I will not somehow return to these things.

But I cannot imagine ever wanting to return to a rectory.

I have more to offer — as a priest? as a person — when I have a space in which to be free.  A room of my own.

‘For freedom Christ has set us free.’   And it is glorious.

(my camera has been taking a break too, but there are a few new photos at

soon and very soon

In this giddy phase of fantasy, my ‘sabbatical’ feels like an extended holiday.  I suppose that is indeed what it will be for the first month or so, once all the boxes are unpacked.  So I find myself full of anticipation, and it’s the little things that I’m looking forward to most:

  • being able to enjoy the (long) walk into town, without any sense of time pressure
  • wandering the city in the early morning and at dusk when it is quiet and still and the tourists are elsewhere
  • new libraries to play in
  • new places to explore
  • endless people watching, with no deep obligations
  • watching autumn turn on the banks of the river
  • first frost, making fields glisten
  • a reasonable prospect of enjoying the frost without fear of being snowed in for six weeks
  • soaking beans and cooking them without burning them because I was multi-tasking
  • baking bread again, and cinnamon buns, and the first cranberry-ginger muffins of the season
  • cooking meals generally
  • and eating them.  at a table.  slowly.
  • carving pumpkins at Halloween
  • preparing for Christmas — domestically, rather than liturgically
  • being able to worship anywhere I like (though I do wish I were more confident of finding good incense somewhere)
  • not having to wear black or button nasty buttons at my neck.
  • being in a house I have chosen, that has no communal rooms whatsoever  (no parish room, no photocopier, no, not even piles of seasonal supplies moving to and from church)
  • having the cathedral to drift around, pray in, haunt
  • choral evensong any day at all
  • freedom.  in all sorts of ways.  freedom.

starting again

I’ve forgotten how to do this, it seems.  Six months without blogging.  Two years without blogging well.  It is one of the many things that got lost since I moved to Dunblane.  But now we begin again.

Molly-cat and I are setting out for Durham next month, for what I am thinking of as a ‘sabbatical’.  These past two years have been hard, though it will do no good at all for me to explain why.  Indeed, I suspect that if you are still reading this, you know anyway.

Lots of people have been remarkably kind and understanding about my going, and many good friends have expressed their relief.

No one seems to find it hard to imagine why I’m going.  But people are rather curious about what I will do.

And so am I.

I have a vague plan.

I am going to a place I have always enjoyed, and where I have good hope of being happy for a year. I am going to be nearer to my godchildren — and most especially, to my god-daughter, who is ten this month, and whom I hope to beguile with theatre tickets and chocolate cake and choral evensong.  I am going to try to write.  Though I’m not sure what that means. Yet somehow the vagueness is part of it, as my parents understood instinctively:

KB: ‘I’m going to try to write.’
Hershe (to Dad, quickly): ‘I always said she should write.’
Dad:  ‘write what?’
Hershe: ‘Anything!’

Yes, that’s it.  Anything.  But nothing definite yet.  So far, suggestions have ranged from ‘The Adventures of Molly-cat’ and ‘Vicar-Becky’s Big Idea’  (children’s books with perhaps too limited appeal); to All-Age church resources, ‘proper theology’, or some sort of book of images and words for prayer.

I suspect I’ll spend quite a lot of time with my camera, one way or another.  Durham is a good place for photographs, and photography is a much safer pass-time than baking, which is my other hobby-love.

And then after a proper rest, I will seek bits of work.  Someone suggested Open University tutoring.  Someone else said that a local theology course might be able to use me.  And I suspect that a priest with time and a car might not be wholly unwelcome in a diocese that often seems to be overstretched.  But that is to presume too much when the bishops of Durham and Jarrow do not yet know I’m coming into their patch.

It is all very exciting, and just a little bit scary.  But whatever comes next it could not be more difficult than the past two years have been, nor more traumatic than the thought of having to pack up the house.  Again.  Already.

I should have asked if Pickfords has a loyalty card.