Yesterday I attended the AGM of an association of which I’ve been a member for 25 years.  For the past 15 years, it has been steadily going downhill.  There has been no vision, no fresh input, no energy, no direction.  Little things have been constantly argued over, and nothing gets done.

Although I was on the Exec Committee for most of the 1990s, I left when we went to Romania, although I continued to pay my subs.  One by one, many of my friends and colleagues, disenchanted with the lack of movement and vision, left the association.  New deacons are very wary, wanting to be involved and willing to be agents for change, but aware that the whole thing has been stuck for a very long time.

After the usual nonsense of an AGM – reports, minutes, etc etc which took 2 hours – we finally got on to the real meat of the agenda, which was to discuss the future of the association.  Should we close it completely?  Or something else?

I found it a very disappointing discussion.  There was no long-term thinking at all about the future.  Most people felt that, these days, things are done locally or regionally – it is part of our individualistic culture.  And of course national organisations are by and large no longer trusted.  But does that mean that our association is no longer needed?

However, nobody addressed some of the fundamental issues:  why had membership plummeted?  Why was there such a reluctance on the part of newer deacons to join?  Attending to these questions would have shed some light on some very muddled thinking.

Privately, it’s been the opinion of the association members and most of the Exec that it is no longer fit for purpose, no longer addressing needs or providing practical support.

I have done a lot of thinking about this over the past few months, and had put together a few thoughts for the discussion which I felt were constructive and realistic and arose out of my present work as Warden of Deacons for my diocese.  I made a number of practical suggestions as to how the association could become much more of a resource, not just for deacons, but for the whole church.    But what became abundantly clear, and was voiced by several people, was ‘we are retired – we don’t have energy or time – (or inclination, clearly) and anyway, we’ve tried all this before.’

Really?  I’ve been a member for 25 years and have never seen any indication that this was so.  But I was not surprised.  I realised long since that if I wanted to get anything done, then I could not expect any support from the association and I would have to get on with it alone.  So the response, or lack of it, was what I expected and I felt relaxed about it.

What bothered me though was that God was not mentioned.  Apart from some set prayers at the beginning, it was all about how we should organise ourselves, if at all.  The president suggested providing some space before a decision was taken, and I agreed.  I said that we all knew that the Holy Spirit was moving in different ways in different places, calling people to be deacons.  It would be helpful to give ourselves a limited time for reflection, prayer, and canvassing the opinions of deacons we know, to see what is going on round the country.  Is there a pattern?  If so, what?  It’s my opinion that our organisation, if any, should arise organically out of what we see God doing, not imposing a pre-set pattern from outside.

In the end a personality clash decided the outcome, and I was sorry about it.  That’s not a way to make good decisions, especially not in a Christian organisation.

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The vote was divided, but in the end, with everyone weary of the circular discussion, it was decided to start closure proceedings.

As I reflect on it today, I am not at all convinced the right decision was made.  Sure, I was as fed up as most other people at the inadequacy and limpness of the association.  But by getting rid of our only national organisation, I have the uneasy feeling that we may well have cut off our noses to spite our face.  All because of a personality clash.

Meanwhile, I am getting in touch with young, lively deacons that I know, to see what their thoughts are on the necessity – or otherwise – of a national organisation.  As Jesus said, while it is still day, we keep working.



I had part of my right thumb amputated last week which has held me up a bit with the writing part of my fundraising challenge for Tina and Anna. However, that’s nothing compared with what Tina is going through. She has just come out of hospital after 3 days of very demanding treatment for her liver cancer, which has been extremely painful and has left her very weak. It was traumatic as she was the last patient to receive the treatment, and could hear the others crying with the pain.  She’s now at home and resting.

Anna is being cared for by a church member who is taking her to school and to visit her mother.

However! I’m back at my keyboard and today have reached 22,140 words out of my target of 25,000! Best of all, thanks to your amazing donations we’ve reached 88% of our target.




Thumbelina is still tightly bandaged and has had to be kept aloft for 72 hours … and when I tried to do my hair yesterday the effect was disastrous.

So I did something I have never done, which was, to phone the hairdresser and ask if I could come and have a wash and blowdry.  Normally I only go for a cut.

Anyway, I really like my hairdresser:  she has a lot about her.  Instead of getting off her face with her friends at weekends, she loves  fishing and goes out with her Dad and sister for all-night fishing trips.  She’s been going since she was little, she says.

Today she said she has reached the stage when she wants to be independent.  She’s been with her boyfriend for 4 years – she’s 22 – and living with his parents.   They get on well, she says;  but she would love a place of her own.  And, she adds, not just so that I can call it my own – I want to be responsible for paying the bills and the mortgage, and buying my own food.  And being a grown-up.

I think that’s brilliant, I say.  I’m all for young people being as independent as possible.

Except.  She’s not sure how her boyfriend will like it.  He’s always lived with his parents and he doesn’t want to move.  He’s never had to do anything for himself and when she remonstrates with him, counters with ‘why should I do the chores when the family does them for me?’

If they move in together I foresee a lot of discussion …

But it made me think.  She’s so young, and ready for independence.  She could be having adventures and trying out new ways of doing things.  Instead, she feels she’s likely to become an old nag.

I’m not sure about young people getting hitched up at such an early age.  What would have to happen, to persuade them that they don’t have to move in with each other so soon?  It’s as if her identity has already been swallowed by the relationship, before she’s had a chance to find out who she is and what she wants out of life.

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(image from the.iapolis.com)




We first met Tina (whom I called Serena in previous posts on this blog) when she came to our church in Birmingham in 2009. She had been trafficked to this country from Burkina Faso, had a daughter, Anna, of two years and had been abandoned by the father. When we met Anna she was an elective mute – she would not speak. Gradually, with the love and security of the church, things improved for them. Today Anna is a healthy and confident nine-year-old doing well at school.

We left that church to retire to Devon in 2012, but have kept in touch. Two weeks ago mutual friends rang us to say that Tina has been diagnosed with terminal cancer of the liver.

She now faces the very sad task of providing for her daughter, which will include making a will and arranging guardianship, which is likely to cost lawyer’s fees. We can’t really bear to think about it, but there will also at some point be the cost of a funeral, unless there is a miracle. Although Tina is extremely careful with the little money she has, there is no way she will be able to meet these costs.

Would you sponsor me to raise money for Tina and Anna? I am writing a memoir, and I’m committing myself to completing 25-30,000 words by the end of this month, September 2016. I  update regularly on the Justgiving site to let you know how many words I’ve added. You could either sponsor me for the whole project, or per each thousand words. Whichever way you do it, I can assure you that Tina and Anna will benefit from your kindness.




So Marie Anthumbette’s time has finally come, after all the trouble she’s caused me. She’s been in the Bastille for years, with clever lawyers arguing the toss.  She’s ducked Mme La Guillotine time and again and has lived to torment me.  But today – today, Robespierre finally gets his way.

Ah, oui.  She has had doubts for some time now about her head anyway, given that her hair has turned white – only with these stubborn black streaks, which have brought her so much attention.  But helas!  they are poisonous, n’est-ce pas, and Mme La Guillotine is always starving.

So she’ll be bound and put in a cart and taken through the streets to la Place de la Revolution, and the sans-culottes will jeer and lick their lips …

OK, it’s not that bad.  But the thumb which has given me trouble for so long with black streaks of melanoma is not getting any better, and today the surgeon said he thought that amputation of the top joint was probably the best thing to do.  He gave me a skin graft 4 years ago, but the melanoma keeps reappearing and is now spreading, so …

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(image from polyvore.com)



I was riveted, watching a guy digging apparently randomly in the sand on the beach yesterday with a garden fork. He had a red bucket and I could see he wasn’t just building sandcastles. I ambled nearer and he said ‘I’m digging for sandworms (lugworms). They make excellent bait.’ He showed me the wormcasts on the beach,

which you see all the time … but then pointed out that not far away was a little hole in the sand.

That is where the worms burrow, and the casts are what they chuck out of themselves … worm loos, I suppose …. ‘if you dig there you’ll find the worm between the hole and the cast.’ Suiting the action to the word, he produced a large wriggly object looking like a live bit of intestine.

LOATHSOME!! – but apparently the fish love it, and he had caught two bass yesterday just by fishing from the beach as the tide comes in.
You learn something every day.



I love the way the poet in the MRI scanner sees himself being ‘scanned’ in the same way that he ‘scans’ his poetry.  Great fun and very clever.  (And by the way, when he got the results from his scan he was fine).

How To Scan A Poet

My doctor tells me I will need a scan;

I tap a nervous rhythm with my feet,

‘Just count to five’, she says, ‘and then sit down.


The gist of it is printed on this sheet,

So read it over when you are at home.

We’ll have a clearer picture when we meet’.


I read the letter in a waiting room,

It’s language strangely rich for one like me

Image, Contrast, Resonance; a poem


Slips into view amidst the litany

Of Latin terms that make our medicine

A new poetic terminology.


The door is opened. I am ushered in

To lisp my list of symptoms, to rehearse

The undiscovered art of naming pain.


‘Its called deep inspiration, says the nurse,

‘Draw deep for me then simply hold your breath

And stay composed.’ So I compose this verse.


She says ‘We dye for contrast, to unearth

Each hidden image, which might bring

Some clue that takes us closer to the truth.


Be still and I will pass you through the ring,

Three passes, all in rhythm, and you’re free,

The resonance will show us everything’

Be still and I will pass you through the ring

And now my Muse says much the same to me,

Scanning these lines, and calling me to sing.

(by Malcolm Guite)