How can a Priest also be a Magistrate?

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I started sitting as a Magistrate or Justice of the Peace (JP) on the East Kent Bench in December 2010, whilst still a curate in Woodchurch. The Magistrate’s Court is the first tier of the English criminal justice system and deals with about 98% of all criminal cases.  The vast majority of magistrates (like me) are part time volunteers, some are retired but many have other day jobs; I trained with teachers, journalists and others.

Before being ordained my first career was as a solicitor and, although I did not practise criminal law, I felt very ‘at home’ in the legal system.  I wanted to be a magistrate as I felt that it would be an interesting way of serving the wider community (i.e. beyond the parish boundary) but that it would also enhance my parish ministry by exposing me to a whole part of society which may otherwise not appear even on a parish priest’s ‘radar’.  I am really pleased to say that for the last two and a bit years my experience of being a magistrate has ticked both of those boxes and more.

However the range of reactions to a priest being a magistrate has been very interesting.  When I was being selected the interview panel was split between those who were worried that I might be a wet, liberal, vicar who would want to let everyone off and those who thought I might be too ‘old testament’ and want to have everyone stoned to death!

The interesting reactions continued while I was going through the process of moving on from my curacy to being a vicar.  The most extreme came from a very angry sounding lady (who was part of a panel of 16 interviewers) who asked how I could be a magistrate when the bible says that we should ‘not judge others lest we are judged ourselves‘ (Matt 7:1).  My reaction was that this applies to all Christians (not just priests) and that if we took her point to its logical conclusion it would mean that no Christians could work within the criminal justice system and, in my view, that would be detrimental to the system.  This is not to mention that the bible also contains plenty of ‘laws’ and even has a whole book called Judges!  Maybe that makes me a little ‘old testament’ but it seems to me that God brought order out of chaos and that the proper rule of law, with a seasoning of Christian compassion, probably trumps a text taken out of context.

Although that was the most extreme reaction (and one that stays with me, as you can tell) the most common reaction was concern about a priest spending any time on an activity outside of the parish.  One interview panel seemed very proud of the fact that their previous Rector had to give up all his outside interests because the parish kept him so busy.  I said that this sounded very unhealthy both for the priest and the parish; I didn’t get that job!  However, it was quite illuminating to see, time and again, both a generalised concern about the vicar having a role away from the parish and a more particular concern about whether a vicar should be a magistrate in the first place.

Fortunately the people of St Mary’s Hadlow were not overwhelmed by that concern and I continue to believe that being a priest helps make me an even-handed magistrate and that the experiences I gain from being a magistrate makes me a better parish priest.

Holy Land trip 2016

Dear Friends,

Some of you, I know, followed my recent trip to the Holy Land on Facebook but I also know that many of you were not able to do this. I therefore wanted to take this opportunity to share with you some of the ‘flavour’ of that week, to share some of my favourite photos and to encourage you to think about joining a parish trip there in Spring 2018.

On 22 June our party of pilgrims (a group of clergy from Rochester Diocese) arrived in Jerusalem in the late afternoon after a long day of travel. The hotel was called ‘Jerusalem Walls’ and it was well named as it was opposite the Roman era walls, specifically the Damascus Gate.

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That evening, after dinner, a group of half a dozen of us ventured into the city for an initial exploration. It was an incredible experience. The streets in that part of Jerusalem are a maze of narrow, mostly covered, walkways with open fronted shops on both sides. This is the suqs, or souks, or marketplaces.

It was crowded and hot; the smells of spices, sweets and food were overwhelming and it was a real labyrinth, with every corner and every street looking exactly the same as every other to the untrained eye. It was marvellous. But we were reminded that this was also a place of tension as there were many groups of police around. And these weren’t police as we may think of them, rather they were very young people with machine guns. Although this was a slight shock at first it was interesting that as the week went on how quickly this became the ‘new normal’.

Although it was a labyrinth fortunately one of our number had spent some time in Jerusalem previously and so led us, almost unerringly, to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Sadly, it was closing time, and they were just shutting the door and posting the ladder back through the letter box when we arrived. A proper exploration would have to wait for another day.

The next morning I was awoken at 4am by an explosion outside my window. As you can imagine this did cause something of a ‘frisson’. Then I remembered that we had been warned the previous evening that because it was Ramadan there would be such explosions both morning and evening every day to mark the start and end of fasting for the city’s Muslims. Unfortunately the mosque from which the explosion was detonated was right behind the hotel. It looked like over-sleeping was not going to be an issue this week.

This proved to be a very hot but quite wonderful day. We boarded our coach (the “Nazarene Express”) and headed a short way out of the city and uphill to the Mount of Olives. The tradition is that Jesus spent time ministering here as it was where many of the ‘outcasts’ from Jerusalem would have lived. From here we walked down a steep hill to the Orthodox Church and Monastery of St. Mary Magdalene and then onto the Garden of Gethsemane, where there are olive trees said to date from the time of Jesus (they certainly looked very old) and a most church which is bathed perpetually in the purple light of Lent.

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Then onto the ruins of the pool of Bethesda (the site of Jesus healing a man in John 5) and then we followed the Via Dolorosa, the route Jesus walked on the first Good Friday to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is the traditional site of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial and, at the foot of the cross, there is a stone on which Jesus is believed to have laid after being taken down from the cross. Above this place icon lamps burn continually. This is a fascinating church with a numinous atmosphere and history but also an interesting present: It is looked after by a number of different Christian denominations but, in order to stop them squabbling, the ‘key holders’ of the church are local Muslims. Have a Google.   I love the story about the ladder.

We then went to the ‘Garden Tomb’ which is an alternative (i.e. not traditional) site for the place of Jesus’ burial. The rather evangelistic guide spent much of the tour trying to convince us that we ought to live out our Christian faith publically. Then someone told him we were all Vicars.  He was a bit more subdued after that. The Garden Tomb was certainly interesting but our guide from McCabe told us that his Master’s thesis was written on the subject of why the Garden Tomb was not the real site of the burial but was a mere modern interloper. I have to say that I much preferred the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The following day (after another 4 am wake-up explosion) we left Jerusalem on the short drive to Bethlehem. Although it is only a short drive it is still a significant journey as it involved crossing from Israeli controlled territory into the Palestinian controlled area. The long, graffiti-strewn wall which separates the Palestinians from the Israelis is remarkable.

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Although the wall is an oppressive presence in many ways I was reminded that walls here are nothing new – witness the Roman walls outside our hotel. We were also told (slightly later in the week) by the Dean of St George’s Cathedral that we should refrain from picking sides in this complex dispute. Rather we should pray for all in the Holy Land and, most especially, for peace.

In Bethlehem we visited first the Shepherd’s Fields, the place where the choir of angels appeared to the shepherds on the night of the Nativity, and we celebrated a special Christmas Eucharist in the church there. Our tour leader (Rev’d Chris Dench) made the point that most clergy never get to enjoy worship at Christmas, for obvious reasons, so he invited us to enter to enter into the Christmas spirit. Despite the searing June heat it was a treat so to do.

But the highlight of this day was, undoubtedly, a visit to the Church of the Holy Nativity, built above the place where Jesus was believed to have been born. Sadly much of the church was undergoing a restoration, but this did not affect the grotto itself. Earlier that day I had purchased a Russian icon of the nativity and, when we went into the grotto, I had an opportunity to place my icon of the nativity on the place of the nativity and to spend some time in prayer. This was probably my spiritual apogee of the week, although an event of later that afternoon came a close second.

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In the middle of the star there is a hole through which you can put your hand and touch the rock which is believed to have been the ground on which Jesus was born. Rocks and stones actually form a large part of this pilgrimage. There was the stone on which Jesus lay in the Holy Sepulchre, this rock at the Holy Nativity and there are still more to come.

That afternoon we returned through the Israeli checkpoints and back to Jerusalem. The last item on our itinerary was a visit to the Western Wall, aka the Wailing Wall. This is the last remaining part of the Second Temple and the Jewish people pray at the part of the wall that is closet to where the Holy of Holies existed, prior to the destruction of the Temple by the Romans. The Holy of Holies was the central part of the Temple where the Ark of the Covenant sat and where the presence of God dwelt. Of course this place is holy not only to the Jewish people and to Christians but also to Muslims as the Dome on the Rock is built (and named after) the rock on which Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac and, according to Muslims, the place from which Muhammad ascended to heaven. In the early days of Islam Muslims prayed towards this spot, as the Jews still do, rather than towards Mecca. The Temple Mount therefore features heavily in all three ‘Abrahamic’ faiths and many view this place as the centre of the religious world.

Anyway, we arrived at the Western Wall and were told that there was no problem with non-Jewish people praying at the wall. I donned a kipah (skull cap) and, feeling rather self-conscious made my way through the Orthodox Jews to say a prayer. I prayed for a while and then decided to put both my hands on the wall. I can honestly say that I felt a real ‘zing’ of something more than mere heat from the stones and I was flooded with a real sense of blessing. Not least I felt blessed that in the course of one day I had laid my hands on both the birth place of Christ and on this holy place. And, once again, it reminded me that the places we talk about almost in the abstract are real physical places and that our faith is not simply ephemeral but came through real people who inhabited this real space.

The following day was slightly less ‘holy’ but was nonetheless interesting: we headed out into the Judean wilderness and into the 40 degree plus desert heat. Leaving Jerusalem we drove east to the Qumran National Park. Qumran is the site of a Jewish ‘monastery’ and the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1946.

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We then headed south along the coast of the Dead Sea until we came to Masada. This is the desert hill-top fort, created by Herod the Great, and according to Josephus the place were the first Jewish-Roman war ended in the mass suicide of some 960 people, although modern archaeologists seem to dispute this story.

Finally we continued along the road south to our final stop at the Dead Sea and a chance to float in the unique water. Definitely a ‘bucket list’ moment.

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This is the lowest point on the face of the earth. The land on the other side of the sea is the Kingdom of Jordan and Chris Dench was worried that I might be floating there at one point!

The next day was Sunday and we visited St George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem for the Eucharist. It was a wonderfully international affair, as the liturgy took place in both English and Arabic and a visiting choir from Maryland sang for us. A great reminder, should it be needed, that Christianity does not just belong in rural England. In fact we were reminded that the Arabs became Christian long before the English – have a look at Acts 2:11.

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After some superb coffee in the courtyard we set off on the Nazarene Express, heading towards Jericho for lunch. Jericho is said to be the oldest continuously inhabited town in the world. Perched high above the town is a Christian monastery and, evidently, there are caves all around that monastery inhabited by hermits who rarely, if ever, leave their caves and exist on a meagre diet of dates and bread lowered down to them in baskets. As we sat eating our lunch I couldn’t help thinking of those hermits perched in caves above us and the fact that they were still there. And, as I write this now many weeks later, they are still there. Sitting in a cave, eating dates and engaged in constant prayer. It is worth thinking about from time to time…

From Jericho we drove north, along the length of the Jordan river to our new home for the next three nights, in the town of Tiberias on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

The next day (Monday) we visited the ruins of the town of Sepphoris, which would have been a wealthy Roman town in the days of Jesus and, as it was only a few miles from Nazareth, would have been a place where many builders and carpenters (perhaps Joseph and Jesus) would have plied their trade. From Sepphoris we headed into Nazareth itself. Firstly into the Synagogue Church, which is where Jesus is believed to have read from the scroll of Isaiah (Luke 4:16) and then to another of my favourites, the Church of the Annunciation. This is a rather modernist structure which is not overly attractive in itself but which is built over the site of Mary’s house, in which the birth of Jesus was announced to her. For me this was another particularly holy moment, kneeling in prayer here as the Franciscan brothers and priests carried out a short service of thanksgiving and the bells rang out.

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Tuesday was our final full day and this was centred around the Sea of Galilee itself. This is, of course, the Sea on which many of the early apostles fished before they were called by Jesus and which plays an important role in many biblical stories, not least when Jesus calmed the storm (Luke 8:22). We started the day by also crossing the Sea by boat but, fortunately the weather remained calm. What I found particularly beautiful here was that, unlike the other places we had visited, this was largely unchanged from the time of Jesus. Being on the water and looking at the surrounding vistas was, once again, to place oneself squarely within the story that we inhabit.

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We then celebrated a Eucharist in an open air chapel overlooking the sea (and one would really struggle to find a more beautiful spot so to do) and then finally we spent some time at another rock.

This was the Mensa Christi, or the table of Christ. It is a very large flat rock on the shore of Galilee over which a small church has been built. This rock is where Jesus and the disciples ate and spent time together both before and after the resurrection and, importantly, where Jesus commissioned Peter to be, you guessed it, the rock on which his church would be built. (John 21).

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This trip was an important moment in my continuing journey of faith (it doesn’t stop when you get ordained, or at least it shouldn’t) not least because it made so alive, so physical, so rock-like so many places that we think we know but have never touched. To be there, to feel the heat of the sun, the crowdedness of the market places and the sand of the shores of Galilee between your toes is to enter into the story of Jesus in a wonderful way. It also, perhaps unexpectedly, really brought home to me the Jewishness of Jesus and his surroundings and I suspect that we would benefit hugely by recapturing something of the Jewish roots into which we are grafted. But more of that in due course.

For now I hope that I have been able to convey something of that week in the Holy Land. I dearly hope that it will be possible to arrange a parish trip there in Spring 2018 and, if we do, I dearly hope that you will be able to join the trip because it has the potential to be life-changing.

Finally I just wanted to share one of the most touching things our guide said on our first day in Jerusalem. He said: “Welcome home.” And the more I dwell on that the more real it seems.

God Bless,

Paul

 

 

Director of Music and Organist wanted

The Parish Church of St. Mary’s, Hadlow, Kent

is looking for a new

Director of Music & Organist

POST NOW FILLED

St Mary’s has a long choral tradition and a dedicated choir.  We are looking for a new Director of Music to raise us to new heights and to make St. Mary’s a local centre of excellence for choral music.

 The new Director must be committed to the RSCM ‘ribbon’ programme for choir members and should also be an accomplished organist.  The organ is a 3-manual pipe organ by Monk dating from 1880.  We are fortunate in having other organists available who can cover for absences and mid-week services as needed.

 As well as supporting our traditional Eucharistic worship we also need someone who is comfortable with more modern music for our monthly family services and to working with a small worship band for those services.

 A stipend comparable to the RSCM recommended rate is payable.

For more information please contact:

 Rev’d Paul White 01732 850238

pauljohnwhite@gmail.com

Canon Andrew White

Canon Andrew White, the Vicar of Baghdad, is coming to St Mary’s Hadlow to speak about his life and ministry in Iraq.    It should be a fascinating and inspirational evening, hearing about Christian ministry being exercised in a frequently hostile and violent environment.  Canon Andrew is coming to St Mary’s Hadlow on Tuesday 2 July at 7.30 for 8.00 pm start.  St Mary’s is in Church Street Hadlow, TN11 0DB.  However parking is limited so please park and walk if possible.

There will be a collection taken to support Canon Andrew’s ministry and more details about that work can be found here: http://frrme.org/

 

Director of Music & Organist Wanted

The Parish Church of St. Mary’s, Hadlow, Kent

is looking for a new

Director of Music & Organist

St Mary’s has a long choral tradition and a dedicated choir.  We are looking for a new Director of Music to raise us to new heights and to make St. Mary’s a local centre of excellence for choral music.

 The new Director must be committed to the RSCM ‘ribbon’ programme for choir members and should also be an accomplished organist.  The organ is a 3-manual pipe organ by Monk dating from 1880.  We are fortunate in having other organists available who can cover for absences and mid-week services as needed.

 As well as supporting our traditional Eucharistic worship we also need someone who is comfortable with more modern music for our monthly family services and to working with a small worship band for those services.

 A stipend comparable to the RSCM recommended rate is payable.

For more information please contact:

 Rev’d Paul White 01732 850238

pauljohnwhite@gmail.com

I would rather be boating…

Annabelle on Gustavus 2011

Annabelle on Gustavus 2011

Although the weather is still perishing outside the days are getting longer and I am hankering to get back on a boat.

My first love is sailing (having been introduced to yachts by doing the North Sea Arctic Challenge in 2001) and my idea of heaven (in the non-technical sense) is a summer’s day sailing around the Isles of Scilly.  However, although sailing may be my first love, I have also become enamoured with narrow boating and I can’t wait to get back on the cut this summer.

My first experience of narrow boating was about 25 years ago (good grief!) when I went on a school trip on the Warwickshire Ring.  My prime memory of that week (apart from the underage drinking!) was of seeing a dead dog floating in the canal in either Coventry or Birmingham.  Isn’t it interesting what makes an impression on the young mind…

A number of years later Vivienne and I had a holiday with the in-laws on the Avon Ring and that was interesting, but there were too many drivers and not enough tillers!  I was determined to have a boat ‘of my own’ but this didn’t happen for a while; the huge price of hiring a boat for a week in the summer (about twice the price of cottage) coupled with having very young children made it impracticable.

In 2011, when Henry was five and Annabelle nine, we discovered that it was possible to use Tesco Club Card vouchers to book canal holidays and we duly booked Gustavus and had a great week thrashing around the Stourport Ring, with our friend Arg as extra crew.

Gustavus, driven by Arg, 2011

Gustavus, driven by Arg, 2011

Annabelle & Henry on old lock gate 2011

Annabelle & Henry on old lock gate 2011

During this holiday I knew that I had been seriously bitten by the narrow boating bug but it was not possible to save enough Club Card Vouchers every year to have a serious impact on the price.  So, in order to feed my habit, I would have to do some research to find a cost effective way to get on a boat every summer holiday.  I remembered passing a blue boat emblazoned with the words “Canal Boat Club” and a quick bit of googling took me to their site.  I was very impressed with what they had to offer and we decided to get a one week time share in a six berth boat and we enjoyed our first year with them last summer, going from Market Harborough to Napton.

Mucky Duck in Foxton Locks 2012

Mucky Duck in Foxton Locks 2012

I also took my RYA Inland Waterways Helmsman Certificate, on the Chelmer and Blackwater canal, partly in order to learn to drive properly and partly to get another day on the water.

This August we are picking up our boat in Alvechurch and having a gentle poodle to Stratford upon Avon and I really can’t wait…however, I am starting to worry that one week a year may no longer be enough!

 

Long-distance Lent

Today I have doubled the number of services I have taken at St Mary’s to a grand total of two.  This morning’s family service went really well and Clifford did a great talk on the falling tower of Siloam, aided by some cardboard tubes.  After the service we hot-footed it down to the ‘tin tabernacle’ in Golden Green for another family service and then a quick ‘question time’ for the new vicar.  I had to confess that I do not play the guitar or sing so we may need to rope in some musical support in the future for that one.

We should be moving into the Vicarage in Hadlow straight after Easter, when the work on the house is finished.  Until then I remain a long-distance vicar, driving about an hour each way to the parish.  Whilst everybody has been absolutely fine about that (at least within my earshot) it does feel distinctly ‘odd’ not being present in the community.  In fact I am doing the absolute opposite of what I thought and imagined I would be doing at the start of a new ministry, which is basically being everywhere and seeing everybody.  As my training incumbent always said: “Man proposes, God disposes.”  In other words God looks at our plans, has a little chuckle, and does what He wants to do with us.  I suppose this time of transition is both helping to ease us out of our beloved, adopted, Woodchurch, whilst reinforcing the value and importance of a priest being present in their church community – to use the phrase – ‘incarnating’ the gospel.

On the home front (still in Woodchurch) Annabelle had a big day today as she rode her bike for the first time without either stabilisers or daddy holding on.  I know it probably should have happened years ago but, nonetheless, today I had that rather poignant moment of stopping running and watching her cycle down the road on her own, willing her not to fall and feeling very proud but still missing the ‘holding on’.

Back to Hadlow in the morning for a meeting with the people at Hadlow College for a talk about chaplaincy work there.

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“Welcome to Hadlow”

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These are the words ringing in my ears today.  As I stood outside the church door this morning saying goodbye to the congregation following my first 10.00am service the welcome was wonderful.  The service itself went off without too many disasters and there were about 120 communicants, although that may have been slightly higher than usual as people were coming to see the new Vicar.  And, of course, the slightly weird thing is that today was my first service as a Vicar, rather than being a curate.  Whilst the change in title does not affect my priestliness it does mean that the buck is more likely to stop with me when things go a bit Pete Tong…

Although my Vicaring has started in Hadlow we have still not moved into the Vicarage whilst we wait for some bits and pieces to be done there.  Whilst that is not too much of an issue it did mean a very early start this morning (5.45am) in order to get there for the 8.00am service.  However, as I keep telling myself, lots of people with ‘proper’ jobs commute all the time.  The more important issue is that it is hard to be a priestly presence when one is being a commuter and not being present in the community.  Still, I shall try to be there as much as possible and, before too long, we shall be there more fully.

So, how do I feel after being installed on Tuesday and having done my first services?  The answer is that I feel well and truly welcomed and I look forward to getting properly stuck in!