Letter from the Vicarage Sept 2017 – Canal Adventures

Letter from the Vicarage September 2017

Dear Friends,

It is traditional at this time of year for Vicars to write about the changing of the seasons, Harvest Festival, Remembrance Sunday and to even look forward to Christmas.  I know that I have done all of those things in the past, and will probably do them again in the future.

However, I am going to take a slightly different tack on this occasion and I beg your indulgence whilst I do so.  As you probably know Eve Griffiths is the editor of this august publication and I received her email asking for articles whilst I was driving a narrow boat around the Four Counties Ring (Shropshire, Staffordshire, Cheshire and the West Midlands since you ask) and I decided that I would share with you something of my passion for the canals.  Being a Vicar there are some lessons to be learnt from life on the canal, and I will come to those, but principally I wanted to let you know why I spend most of my holidays in places not normally associated with holidays.

Actually, it is something of a miracle that I enjoy narrow boating at all as my first two experiences were not exactly auspicious.  My very first time on the canal was when I was a sixth former and went on a school trip.  My main memory of that holiday was motoring through the centre of Coventry, which looked extremely run down at the time, feeling quite hungover (this was the 1980s and the teachers seemed quite relaxed about sixth formers drinking on school trips) and seeing something dead and smelly float past.  I felt rather ill.  Glamorous it was not.

The second, inauspicious, trip was around the Avon Ring with my in-laws.  Let’s just say that there were quite a few people in quite a small space and that in such circumstances it is possible to be less than harmonious.  Whenever I got on the tiller I always tweaked the speed up in the hope that it would get us home earlier, but to no avail.

But, despite these early experiences, I still harboured a desire to give it another go and periodically pestered Vivienne about it.  She was a bit less keen as she also remembered the previous trip and, for a while, the children were both too young.  Eventually, when Henry reached the grand old age of 3, she was persuaded and we rented Gustavus for the week.

Our adventure for the week was to be the Stourport ring.  This started and finished in Worcester and went up into Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Stourport and then back down the river Severn.  Although we had a marvelous week it was very much a ‘full on’ introduction to the world of canals as we had to tackle the Tardebigge locks, a flight of 30, on our second day and, it turned out, that this ring is better suited to a two week rather than a one week trip; this realization dawned on us about half way through the week and we ended up doing some long days motoring!

However, that is not actually as bad as it sounds. A day of motoring the boat could not be more different from a day of driving a car.  Firstly you cannot go more than 3 or 4 miles an hour – often less if you are passing moored boats or going through locks.  There is therefore none of the stress normally associated with travel; it is slow, you know it is going to be slow and you have no choice other than to fully enter into the slowness.  This, in itself, is a marvelous antidote to so much of modern life and is one of the reasons I would not hesitate to recommend this holiday to anyone who just needs to slow down a little.  The other major difference with driving a car is that you are standing in the open and often travelling through some wonderful landscapes, both rural and even post-industrial.  We have been through some traditionally beautiful countryside where the canal feels many miles from anywhere else, passed lock-keeper’s cottages which were so remote that they had no road going to them (Vivienne is still worried about how one gets deliveries there), but also motored through landscapes which used to be full of factories and warehouses (the reason the canal was there at all of course) and these are equally fascinating as you have time to ponder how different things must have been in their heyday.

Anyway, at the end of the Stourport Ring the bug had well and truly bitten and there was little doubt that this was something we wanted to do again.  The problem was how.  Narrowboats in the summer are not cheap and stipends are not high.  We had largely paid for Gustavus using several years worth of Tescos Clubcard points, but this is not something one could rely on annually.  Fortunately I had spotted a boat sporting the livery of the ‘Canal Boat Club’.  Through the power of Google I discovered that this was a timeshare style company that allowed you to buy a week on any of their boats for much less than a traditional hire.  This we duly did and, for the next few years, we had one week each summer on board a different Canal Boat Club boat.

During this time we had some great trips on the Leicester Arm of the Grand Union Canal (Foxton locks, Market Harborough), along the Oxford Canal (including Brauston Turn where we met a boat covered in about 20 clowns, really), the Stratford-upon-Avon canal where we moored near the RSC theatre, the Kennet and Avon canal during which we moored both in the centre of Bath and in the Floating Harbour in Bristol, opposite the SS Great Britain, and the Llangollen canal which including driving over the Pontcysllte Aqueduct, which is basically a long trough of water suspended 126 feet over the River Dee by Thomas Telford’s engineering.

Whilst these trips were all great we began to hanker for the ability to take longer trips and perhaps on a slightly more personal-feeling boat.  Again the question was how.  It was obvious that we could not have our own narrow boat but was there another way to give us more time on the water without breaking the bank?

Again using the power of Google we discovered the joys of boat-sharing.  This involved not buying a week’s timeshare (where we never own anything as such) but joining a syndicate of like-minded people and buying an 8% share in an actual boat.  This gives between 3 and 4 weeks use of the boat each year, again for a fraction of the cost of hiring, and sharing all the running costs between you.  After much research, and a trip to a freezing Nuneaton in February last year, we discovered Tottleworth.  She is a 60 foot long, six berth narrow boat, of whom we are now part owners.

Last summer we took Tottleworth for a two week trip down the Oxford Canal and spent some time moored amongst the dreaming spires.  I also spent some time diving down to the bottom of the canal looking in vain for Vivienne’s glasses, but that is another story!  In the Autumn we motored up the beautiful and remote Ashby Canal.  This was our first time on the boat ‘out of season’ and, although it was quite chilly at times we were comforted by the log burner and frequent applications of hot chocolate.

This summer has seen us cruise around the Four Counties Ring (as mentioned above) and, in October, it looks as though we will be heading up the Bridgewater Canal and mooring in the middle of Manchester, for something of a contrast!

There are over 2000 miles of navigable canals in England & Wales and, despite all these trips, we have only just scratched the surface – there are still all the Pennine canals to tackle, including the ‘Everest’ of the canal system which is Standedge Tunnel on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal.  This involves a climb of 29 locks, a passage through the tunnel which takes almost two hours and a descent of 20 locks.  Can’t wait!

So what do I really love about being on the canals?  Well, it is neither the luxury nor always the weather (although we have often been lucky).  I love the pace of life which cannot fail to unwind you, I love both the remoteness of some canals and being in the centre of cities on others, I love the fact that we have explored so many parts of the country which so many people (especially from the South East) would never venture, I love being amongst both wildlife and human history but, above all, I love the sense of community and ‘otherness’ which pervades the canal world.  People will talk to complete strangers and exchange stories and tips as they pass, people will help each other through locks or out of tricky situations, children (and adults) love to wave at boats as they pass by.  The canals are a real community, and it is a diverse and interesting community.  It contains everything from wealthy retired couples living on their brand new gin-palaces to those who have dropped out of society and live on floating wrecks, and everything in between.  But it is a place where people smile and where people have time for one another.  That seems like a lesson worthy of translating into everyday life.

Whenever I mention going on the canals people nearly always say to me “I have always wanted to do that.”  If you fall into that category then do give it a go – it may be the start of a love affair that will change your life!

Yours in Christ,

Rev’d Paul



Holy Land Pilgrimage 2018

On Easter Tuesday (3 April) 2018 I am planning to lead a group to the Holy Land – would you like to join us?

The full itinerary is here: Holy Land Pilgrimage 2018 but we shall be visited Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Galilee and many other sites which form such an important part of our story of faith.  It is a fascinating and worthwhile trip and, although it is not cheap, it does include all flights, hotels and meals for the 10 days.  As you can see from my experience of being there last year it is a wonderful experience which truly brings the bible to life.

But there is also time for relaxation and fun – from exploring and shopping in Jerusalem to floating in the Dead Sea or relaxing by the pool in Galilee – there is something for everyone.

If you would like to know more please do email me on pauljohnwhite@gmail.com.



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 ‘Golden Walls’ and it was well named as it was opposite the Roman era walls, specifically the Damascus Gate.

Damascus Gatejpg

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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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,




Director of Music and 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


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