Faithful Connection

P1030333.jpgAs a self-confessed gadget geek who left my software career to spend a couple of years in a monastery, I was once asked to help create a retreat workshop on the benefits of giving up technology. Who are we when we’re disconnected from Google, Twitter and the rest? Leave your smartphones behind and experience life first hand!

Sadly, I knew I was a fraud.

During my time as a novice nun, the internet had only reached as far as an antiquated PC in the bursar’s office, and a tentative proposal to permit the sisters to use the internet during a one hour window on a Sunday afternoon was soundly defeated.

But I had come prepared.

Knowing that I was supposed to live in poverty with no access to money, I prepaid for a year’s data on my phone and hid it in my luggage when I came to stay. Since the sisters’ rooms are private and sacrosanct, I could lie in bed checking the news after lights-out with no fear of discovery… that is, until the week the whole community went sick with a vicious stomach bug and the infirmarian came into my room to treat me and discovered the gadget I was too sick to hide.

Once I recovered I was summoned by Mother Abbess who told me with a wry smile that I had “committed a grievous sin, sister”. I dutifully handed over my phone, promising repentance and conversion of heart. Of course, as a true addict I had a backup plan – my old Kindle with the always-free 3G connection and basic internet browser. What aging nun would suspect my innocent book-reader was also a window onto the outside world?

What compelled this need to be connected? I went to the abbey seeking silence in which to pray and learn to be a better person, and I’d really begun to appreciate how mental knots unravel and relax when there’s nothing to be done except the job at hand. When you’re spending the next hour ironing veils in silence, and there’s no benefit at all to getting it done any sooner, your senses open up and simple things like the smooth texture of the fabric and the smell of the steam iron and the light slanting through the laundry window and the clanking of the ancient pipework, all become elements of perfect satisfaction in the moment.

But as soon as you start wanting your task to end so you can do something more entertaining or more important, time gets slower, frustration increases, people seem more irritating, and life is something that gets in the way, rather than a source of joy and wonder.

My own fear was being left behind by the zeitgeist. In the summer of 2012, hidden in the abbey, I completely missed the London Olympics, and I felt like I was losing my identity. Everyone else had this profound shared experience and I stepped out of the room and missed it. I came to understand why the sisters were only allowed to read newspapers a week old: we can really get addicted to being ‘up to date’.

It all comes down to our sense of identity. Where is our treasure? The rich young man couldn’t give up his wealth to follow Jesus, but it’s not just wealth that gets in the way. It’s anything that’s so central to who we are that to let it go would be like tearing off our own limb. Jesus is ruthless. Just cut it off, he says, pluck it out. I’ve seen from the monastery that he’s right. But…

(This post was written by Tess, warden of the Way2 Community,
for the All Saints Highertown blog, while she was on placement there.)



I am the gate for the sheep

As part of our engagement with our placement churches we are given the opportunity to preach (with some coaching from our very helpful and encouraging clergy). So here is Christine’s attempt to make sense of Luke 10:1-10.

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.  They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Well, I am a city girl. I grew up in an apartment block wedged in between the motorway and a busy high street, and the only little bit of green was the watercress and chives we grew in a flowerpot on the balcony. No sheep in sight – apart from the little cuddly toy I brought back from a holiday in the countryside, where at least I learned that real animals don’t have a lot in common with Shaun the Sheep.

But I have to admit that it wasn’t until I did a bit of research for this sermon that I learned that sheep stealing is a thing. And I am not talking about sheep stealing in the church here. Yes, there is that thing where the vicar of the newly founded church in the neighbourhood figures out that in order to boost their numbers it is much easier to invite your congregation over than to actually convert people to Christianity. But let’s not open that can of worms; let’s stick to four-legged animals for the moment.

Call me naïve – it never actually occurred to me that there is a lot of profit to be made by stealing actual life sheep from other people’s fields. It’s a big thing though. In the UK there are almost 90000 sheep stolen every year, at a cost of more than £6m to farmers. And apart from insurance, there is not a lot farmers can do about it. You mark your sheep and put a padlock on the gate, but that is not going to stop serious rustlers. So, it is an issue, and it seems it was just as much of an issue at Jesus’ time.

The circumstances were slightly different: Unlike in Cornwall, food and water were quite sparse in the arid climate in Israel, and therefore sheep needed to be moved much more frequently to avoid overgrazing. There were also a lot more predators around: Wolves, panthers, hyenas, jackals, possibly even bears and lions. So, leaving the sheep on their own in an enclosed field was not an option. Shepherds had to be in continuous attendance. During the day they moved the herd around, and to protect them at night they often penned them in in a stone wall enclosure. The only entrance to the enclosure was a simple gap in the wall, and rather than closing it with a gate, the shepherds would personally guard it by settling down for the night right in the gap. The shepherd himself quite literally was the gate – as if to say to any wolf or lion: If you want to get to my sheep, you have to go through me first!

This is the mental image that Jesus tries to evoke when he talks of himself as being the gate of the sheep. He is the sort of shepherd who in order to protect those in his care puts himself in the line of danger. He does not stand far off, but rather, when it comes to it, he leaps right into the breach. This is why he gave his life for us on the cross.

The other interesting thing about these sheepfolds is that they were often shared by several shepherds. The herds would freely mix and needed to be separated out again in the morning. This was possible because up to this day, in the middle east sheep are trained to recognise their shepherds voice. They are normally not herded by driving them from behind, but follow the calls of the shepherd who goes in front. Therefore, they are so used to walking towards their shepherd’s familiar voice, that they can easily be separated just by calling them. Mix-ups are unlikely because the sheep simply do not follow the call of a stranger.

It makes me wonder: Whose voices do we follow?

There is such a plethora of voices around, all of whom claim to lead us in the right direction. We hear of fake news, email scams, we are smothered in political campaigning and commercial advertising. There are differences of opinion on everything, even within the church. Whom can we trust and follow? How can we distinguish between a good shepherd and a thief? It is an age-old question: How do we recognise the voice of God and distinguish it from all the other voices?

Thankfully, wiser people than me have wrestled with this question, one of whom is Ignatius of Loyola. Apart from founding the Jesuit order, he developed an elaborate system of Spiritual Exercises that are designed for people to find their true purpose and calling. A lot of it boils down to the question: How do I know if my plans and desires are in line with God’s purpose, or whether I am being led astray? Ignatius says: you actually already know it. Deep down in your heart you can feel if your plans are good or not. Modern day Jesuits put it like this: “Ignatius realised that if you act in accord with God’s desires for you, you will feel a sense of rightness, tranquillity and peace, what Ignatius called consolation. The main feature of feelings of consolation is that their direction is toward growth, creativity and a genuine fullness of life and love in that they draw us to a fuller, effective, generous love of God and other people, and to a right love of ourselves.”

So note, this is not as simple as “Oh I just do what makes me feel good.” It is not about any sort of selfish short-term gratification. But neither should we make the mistake of thinking that following God has to be onerous and joyless. Because our God is a God of life and resurrection. In his parable, Jesus makes this distinction between himself as the good shepherd and the thieves: The thief comes only to kill and steal and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

There is just one gate, Jesus Christ, but a variety of shepherd’s voices that might be calling us in Christ’s name but also thief’s voices that lead us astray for their own gain. So here is my challenge to you: When you are faced with a decision, when you are unsure what to do, whom to follow, which voice to trust, ask yourself: Does this make me listless and numb or does it fill me with joy and peace? Is it life-giving and life-enhancing, not only for me but also for others?

And actively look for this shepherd’s voice. When you have a moment of quiet, why not look back over your day or your week, and ask yourself: What have I done or experienced that has strangely warmed my heart, that just felt like the right thing to do, that has made me and others come to life? This is when you know that you are following the voice of the good shepherd who wants all his people to have life, and have it abundantly. Amen.


Hello everyone – things have picked up pace now and it’s been a busy couple of months here in Stithians. Time seems to have flown by, it really doesn’t feel like we are already three months into the year. the last couple of months have been busy with finishing our placement at Saint Petroc’s and arranging our current placements, becoming more involved in the cluster, helping to lead a lent course and attending a local worship leaders course on top of what we were doing previously.

I am currently on placement with the chaplaincy at Treliske hospital in Truro, shadowing some of the chaplaincy staff mainly as they visit people around the hospital. There are two main styles of visiting that the chaplains do, the first is by referrals, were family, friends, hospital staff or the patients themselves contact the chaplaincy and request a visit. The other style is less formal and involves visiting a ward, clinic, or other area of the hospital without a specific person in mind and being open to talking with those who are free. I find this like my experience street pastoring, as it is about being a visible presence in these places, listening to people, offering some company for those who are feeling lost and/or alone and providing care for the person rather than their ailment. Some of the chaplains are more comfortable with one style or the other and it has been interesting shadowing them and seeing their different styles. It has also been good talking with them about their experiences of chaplaincy and ministry.

We have been attending a local worship leaders course called Sunday Plus with some of the other members of the all age planning teams. The sessions have been interesting, discussing the different areas of ministry lay people are allowed to take part in and lead and focusing on how to lead other people into worship.  Each session begins and ends with a time of prayer or worship. Christine and I created and led the opening worship for the session entitled ‘signs, symbols and sacred space’. We created a central focus point that we invited those attending to add objects of special meaning to. We then lead a meditative reflection on the ‘I am’ verses found in Johns gospel. It worked well in providing a time for people to focus on god and leaving behind the stresses of the day.

In the cluster I am working with the churches in Stithians and Devoran.

In Stithians I have been helping plan the all age services with their team and have been added to their reading and intercessions rota. At the beginning of the month I help to lead their all age service with our deputy community warden Melissa. It went well splitting the service between the two of us, giving the congregation another voice to listen to, especially as we were both also involved in a dramatized version of the reading.  I have also continued to attend their community choir which will be singing at different events throughout the year. Hopefully I’m not too out of tune and don’t breathe too noticeably in the wrong place- there are just some lines that I can’t get out in one breath.

I am also working with the all age team at Devoran and have been deaconing at their normal Eucharist services. Last month I lead their Book of Common Prayer Evensong service, which is a new type of service to me. I’m still trying to get use to the wording of the liturgy and the tunes of the different parts of the service but am slowing picking it up. At the beginning of April I wrote the homily for the evensong service. While I was nervous to begin with, I think I settled into the delivery quickly and was able to find a good pace. I focused on the “I am the resurrection and the life” verse in John 11 and how I find this passage about Lazarus to be a call for us to live now. Finding examples of how to live our lives in the five people named in this passage. It was a really good experience writing the homily, discerning what I felt I was being told in the readings and how to convey that to other people.

Have a happy Easter.

God bless





Slowing down to Godspeed

There’s a beautiful new short film online that’s all about how a fired-up American pastor came to live and work in Scotland, and discovered that sometimes ministry is a lot slower and filled with far more pauses than he imagined.

It’s thirty minutes long and you can watch it now.

There are a lot of similarities I think with rural ministry in Cornwall. Life can become so busy and frantic even here, but actually, if we pause and take in what’s actually going on around us…

There’s a quote from Jeremiah used in the film, from Jeremiah 6:16. It’s not a verse I was familiar with – perhaps because it’s surrounded by terrible prophecies of doom.

Thus says the Lord: “Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls”. – Jer 6:16

So Good! As someone hoping to be ordained in a couple of years, this verse and this film both speak loudly and wonderfully about the sort of priest I hope to be, and the sort of ministry I feel called to offer.

It’s so easy to get caught up in rushing around doing a hundred jobs and writing dozens of emails and checking Facebook and Doing All the Things, but actually contentment I think comes from stability and peacefulness and allowing yourself to become vulnerable so that you can really love others and be fully known. And these things take a lot of space and quiet to sink into and realise. When I spent two years in an abbey as a novice nun I reckoned it was at least three months before I managed to stop worrying every day about the life I had left behind. Even after you disconnect the motor, it can still be quite a while before the wheels stop spinning and you look up in amazement and wonder at where you are.

Here at the Stithians Community we try to offer some of that space to allow our interns to find out who they are and what God is calling them to. If you watch the film and it inspires you, and you’re youngish (18-35) and are wondering if you might be called to listen and be with people in this way of ministry, do consider applying to live in community with us.

Over the last month or so…

Sorry for the delay, it seems that none of us have gotten into the schedule of writing about what’s been happening and it’s taken me too long to finish writing this. Hopefully you won’t have to wait so long in the future.  We are posting more regularly on Facebook so remember to look at what’s happening on there. I won’t bore you by giving another post about what we do normally during the week, Christine gave a great review last month so go and read her post if you haven’t already. Instead this is more of an update on some of the opportunities I have had recently over the last month or so.

I helped Rev. Dom Jones welcome the children from Stithians pre-school into Stithians church for their harvest service.  It was great to see so many of their members of family there and to hear about the children’s favourite fruit and vegetables, although it took weeks to get the ‘cauliflowers fluffy’ song out of my head. I really enjoy being able to welcome people who don’t normally attend the church into the church and hopefully encourage them to come again. I recently joined one of the Open The Book teams in Stithians and went in to help lead an assembly. It was great seeing the welcome from the whole school and how much they engaged with the story, especially the student involved.  

Christine and I have helped Rev. Simon Bone lead the Book of Common Prayer communion at Feock. I think it went well for two people how had only been to one BCP communion service before, we only got confused once and missed the collect before the readings. We promise we won’t forget next time. Since then we have expanded our experience of BCP by tending BCP Matins at Stithians. I think I’m still starting to get my head (and mouth) around some of the wording. As you can probably guess it is not the style of service that I am used to but I can appreciate the style of worship and enjoyed evensong at Truro Cathedral.

We have had our second tutorial session in New Testament Greek learning the different word endings for present tense words, masculine, feminine and neuter nouns, and different forms of the definite article – the word ‘The’ appears 19867 times in the New Testament. The key phrase for me is “the context will make it clear” as most of the time it is the answer to my questions. After finishing the third chapter we translated our first bible verse Mark 1:1 ‘The beginning of the good news of Jesus the Messiah the Son of God’ seemed like an appropriate first passage to translate, reminding us that we are only at the beginning of this experience.  Our third session is this week and I still have lots to go over beforehand. It’s taking me a long time to go over the chapter on prepositions and remembering the different cases.  

We seem to be settling in now and have started attending the different churches we will be working with during our time here on a more regular basis. Hopefully we will be able to work out transport so that we can still attend the other churches in the cluster. Being someone who is used to running around to get things done, it’s been a learning experience to just sit and partake in the service with the rest of the congregation. It feels good now that we have had the opportunity to start becoming more involved. We have all joined the choir that has been set up in Stithians in preparation for the carol service in a couple of weeks. The plan is to have the choir perform two songs and to help lead the others. I have trouble getting through the whole line in one breath and but I’m trying, with varying degrees of success. It nice being able to be a part of the wider community in Stithians and to meet people that aren’t regular members of the churches congregation. I think that we are all having fun regardless of our abilities and enjoying time together getting ready for advent and Christmas.

We have now entered advent. It is one of my favourite times of the year. The season of waiting and preparing for the year to come and to reflect on what has already happened. For me the beginning of the year didn’t start in the best of places (not physically, I still love Torpoint). I wasn’t sure what I was meant to be doing. I can honestly say that the year is going to end in a much better place (again I’m not talking about location). I feel that I’m on the right path again.

Love and prayers


A week in the life…

So now that we have had four weeks to settle in, what are we actually doing all week?

As we are still quite new here, a lot of our time so far has been spent getting to know people. There are eight churches in the Cluster, five potential placements, various mentors, tutors and other wonderful people who will guide us in making sense of our new experiences, there are neighbours, local shopkeepers and a good few of these people who you just bump into everywhere. We have only met a fraction of them so far and I am already desperately failing to remember all their names.

So until we get assigned one or two churches each to permanently work with, we travel around the different churches in the cluster for Sunday services, to get to know the different characteristics of each church and congregation. That typically involves fitting in two services each Sunday morning, catching a lift from the clergy who dash out of one church halfway through coffee to make it to the next one just in time. And now the poor folks also have to get up earlier to pick us up and postpone lunch to drive us back as we don’t have a car. At other times we also tag along with members of the clergy team for midweek communion services, funerals, weddings, charity AGMs, harvest lunches and where ever else it is acceptable for them to show up with three interns. And if there is a Messy Church going on anywhere in the Cluster, you can be quite sure to find us there, moving tables, writing name tags and running crafts activities.

On Mondays we travel into Truro to volunteer with St Petroc’s Society, a homeless charity who run a resource centre where clients can get clothes, showers, GP treatment and housing and benefit advice. St Petroc’s also do outreach work and run supported accommodation and cold weather provision. So far we have mostly observed the reception staff at the resource centre and sorted massive piles of harvest donations, but once we are properly inducted and our DBS checks have gone through we will also be able to work with clients more directly. On Wednesday afternoons we invite Josh, who is an intern in a similar project in Penzance, and our deputy warden Melissa over for games or movies and dinner, before Melissa drives us to Truro for our SWMTC evening theology classes. This term we are doing doctrine and next term will be church history and ethics. On Thursday mornings we take part in the ministry team meeting, on Thursday afternoons we learn New Testament Greek, Friday is our day off and Saturdays we are given time to study and research.

Then there is the daily community life, of course: We hold morning and evening prayer together in the Community House Chapel every day at 8 am and 6 pm (except Wednesday evening and Thursday morning when the timings are different) and we make an effort to cook and eat together whenever possible and have a great house-clean once a week. There are lots of people who provide mentoring and advice: Tess, our community warden holds weekly reflection talks with us. Jane, the DDO, comes in regularly and leaves homework in the form of reflection pieces and essays to write. Lucy, our theology tutor comes to chat, Simon, our very own Priest in Charge, comes to chat, David Stevens tutors us in Greek once a month, and, oh yeah, Bishop Chris is coming for dinner in December. And then, there is the social life of the village: Stithians seems to have about two or three charity events a week, so we go to eat some excellent cake on Friday mornings and our diaries are rapidly filling up with Charity Candlelight Dinners and Charity Burns Night Dinners and … we are certainly not going to get bored anytime soon.

Hello from the new interns.

Two weeks ago the three of use moved into the Stithians Community House to start our journey of discernment regarding our vocations. Unfortunately, the person who was going to be the forth intern was unable to join us, so it does leave a space free.

This is just a short post to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Christine Schmaus grew up in in Essen, in a former mining area in Germany, attending a Protestant church and a Roman-Catholic school. After a degree in Chemistry, she moved to the UK seven years ago to undertake some research in Chemical Engineering at Cambridge University. She fell in love with the Church of England, getting more and more involved in her local parish, including being their churchwarden for the last two years. At the same time, she got more and more disillusioned with scientific research, so she took some time out to figure out where her life was going instead. She earned her living by working in the conference centre of a Cambridge hotel, until her vicar suggested that she’d give the idea of ordained ministry some serious thought. Christine waited for a few months for that ‘clearly crazy’ idea to go away, but alas, the thought was rather persistent, so actually trying it seemed the better course of action and she is looking forward to gain a wide range of experience while serving the people of the Eight Saints Cluster. She is also rather keen on exploring the local area in her muddy walking boots and eating lots of Cornish Ice Cream

Daniel Heaton was born in Aberystwyth in 1996, six weeks later he moved to Malvern Link where he lived for nine years. He attended Malvern Link Pentecostal Church to the age of five and then Great Malvern Priory where he sang as a chorister. He then moved to Durham for three years while his father studied for a second degree, and then moved to Bewdley where he started Secondary School. In 2011 he moved to the Isle of Man where he sat his GCSEs and later A’ Levels in English Literature, Mathematics and Physics. Last year he undertook a one-year internship with the Diocese of Sodor and Man working in Peel Cathedral and St Matthew’s Church, Douglas working in a deprived housing estate. He has been a Cub-Scout leader for six years. Daniel has felt called to ordained ministry from an early age and is looking forward gaining more ministry experience while serving the Eight Saints’ Cluster.  He enjoys Rugby, (He plays Hooker), Sailing and Hill-walking.

Sophie Troczynska was born in Park Royal just outside of Central London. She grew up attending church in the hall of St Marys West Twyford for the first 18 years of her life, while the church struggled with the refurbishment of the church building. From a young age she was involved in the life of the church and Sundays would normally see her jumping from sacristan duties, to intercessions, to putting the kettle on and back again. Attending Twyford Church of England high school in Ealing, connected Sophie to Christians of her own age and brought to life the faith that she already had. She moved to Torpoint to study Fine Art at Plymouth College of Art six years ago. While worshiping at Saint James Torpoint she became involved once more in the daily life of the church. While working different part-time jobs she felt called to do more for the church. Two years ago Sophie became a Street Pastor -who provide someone to listen, to help and to care- helping to take the love of God out to the streets of Torpoint and Plymouth. Around the same time with the new Curate she helped setup a youth group for the youth of the Benefice and this summer lead their camping trip at Soul Survivor.

We are looking forward to all of the experiences and opportunities our time in the community will proved and to sharing them with you.

God bless

Christine, Daniel and Sophie


Goodbyes & Welcomes

Nearly two years ago, I moved from a smoky London street into the beautiful vicarage-turned-Community House in Stithians to start my time as an intern on the Way2 Project. Now, as my second year draws to a close, I’m cramming books into boxes and preparing to drive four hundred and fifty miles northwards to the other end of the country to start ordination training at Cranmer Hall, Durham.

The Community House, meanwhile, will be welcoming four new interns who’ll be kicking off their time here in September – and also a new Community Warden, Tess Lowe. We’re also very pleased to announce that Melissa Goodrum, who has been involved with the Community House since its inception and can be found almost every day at evening prayer with us, has accepted the position of deputy warden. All of the new Community members will be introducing themselves via this blog, our facebook page and twitter, so do follow us across those various platforms to stay in touch with what’s happening at the House.

As my internship wraps up, I’ve been reflecting on what the time has held: lots of working with kids at Messy Church and all-age worship, getting involved with leading and preaching in new ways, working at the hospital chaplaincy and St Petroc’s homeless charity. I’ve had the chance to work with an incredible team of clergy right here in the Eight Saints Cluster led by Fr. Simon Bone; it’s been a pleasure to work alongside and learn from their wisdom, energy and resilience. And all of this has been held in the context of morning and evening prayer every day in our little house chapel.

It’s been an incredible experience, and one that will stand me in good stead for years to come.  As Jonty and I move on to other things, I’m confident that the new interns will have as rich and formative a time as I have.

So long!

The Wormwood & The Gall

This morning in prayer we stood alongside victims of violence, sexual assault, terrorism, captivity, suffering and grief, using this passage to cry out before God:

‘I am the man who has seen affliction
by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.
He has driven me away and made me walk
in darkness rather than light;
indeed, he has turned his hand against me
again and again, all day long.
He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
and has broken my bones.
He has besieged me and surrounded me
with bitterness and hardship.
He has made me dwell in darkness
like those long dead.

He has walled me in so that I cannot escape;
he has weighed me down with chains.
Even when I call out or cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer.
He has barred my way with blocks of stone;
he has made my paths crooked.

Like a bear lying in wait,
like a lion in hiding,
he dragged me from the path and mangled me
and left me without help.
He drew his bow
and made me the target for his arrows.
He pierced my heart
with arrows from his quiver.
I became the laughing-stock of all my people;
they mock me in song all day long.
He has filled me with bitter herbs
and given me gall to drink.
He has broken my teeth with gravel;
he has trampled me in the dust.

I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
So I say, ‘My splendour is gone
and all that I had hoped from the Lord.’

[Lamentations 3:1-18]

This Holy Week, may we find ourselves in Christ’s wounds, weep with him in the garden, and echo his unanswered questions in the tombed silence of Easter Saturday.

Theology Colleges: Cranmer Hall

This is the last in a three-part mini series on theology colleges.


The Cathedral square

I’m going to be totally honest here: the only reason I went to visit Cranmer was because my DDO told me to. I am a good Cornish maid, born with the (slightly damp) summer sun on my skin and the gulf stream lapping at my toes. Cranmer is in Durham – Durham, as in, north of York, Durham, County Durham, as in, all that’s stopping you from being Scotland is a few ancient saints and a handful of villages with names like ‘Otterburn’. That is how desperate their lives are, readers. It’s so cold up there they burn otters.

So however many times people exclaimed, “Oh, Durham – it’s so beautiful!” all I saw was a chattering of teeth and a blank, frozen gaze. I fully expected to arrive on the back of a wolf-sled, surrounded by white walkers.

First Impressions
Oh my word. Turns out Durham is beautiful. I crossed over a wide bridge and gaped up at golden medieval stone, glazed in sunlight – a castle! A freaking castle! On a river!

Durham Cathedral

This is not the castle – this is Durham Cathedral; also on the river, also beautiful.

Not a white walker to be seen. I strolled* along the river bank, up behind the warm stone of the Cathedral, onto a curved, cobbled street by St John’s College. Here some confusion. I knew Cranmer was nearby – all the maps told me it was next to St John’s College. And here was St John’s College. But where was Cranmer? After ten minutes of bewildered searching I eventually realised that St John’s College…was…Cranmer. They are one and the same. Or, at least, Cranmer resides within St John’s and they form some sort of symbiotic entity. Don’t ask me to explain it properly: the important parts are that Cranmer students are university members, with the free run of college grounds that implies, and St John’s and Cranmer share a bar (cheap student drinks!).

*Pantingly heaved up hill

Once I’d finally found my way inside and been scooped up by a friendly and hospitable ordinand, we toddled across the road to the chapel for evening prayer. Knowing Cranmer to be evangelical, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect – but wafts of incense hung in the chapel and we were greeted by a white albed ordinand and the strains of Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, so I figured we were there for anglo-catholic hour. The Tim Hughes guitarist threw me a little, but when our service leader knelt before a low table with a giant old Bible in front of him, I settled into my pew (in the round), comfortable I knew what was coming.

Not so. After the first few sentences, our reader suddenly stood up, strode to the middle, and proclaimed the passage, word perfect, with the passion and presence of Henry V in, well, Henry V. The aforementioned Tim Hughes guitarist wove subtle eastern chords around him as he declared the arrival of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon’s court. We shivered as he painted gold leaf and spices around us, and simmered when he described the dusty, shimmering train of camels and jewels from across the desert.

Startled awake by this unexpected drama, the service continued with a comparatively normal exegetical sermon (another ordinand), followed by a period of intercessions in the chancel. Once again, I settled into the familiar use of tealights and pebbles for interactive prayer. Soothing familiarity. Soothing calm chapel. Soothing, and quiet – until SOMEONE LITERALLY CAUGHT FIRE.

It was like a second pentecost. I thought tongues of fire had descended from on high. Perhaps this was the beginning of revival? A new age for the north. Maybe God was miraculously reaching down and setting us alight with power for mission!

No. No it was just someone literally burning on their head. A poor girl whose red hair got suddenly and dramatically much, much more red when she leant over a tealight. After a screaming sort of upside-down head dance to extinguish the flames, the ashen-faced service leader apologised profusely to her for his dangerous anglo-catholic candles. Back in her place, the shocked, singed ordinand turned to me. “Welcome to Cranmer,” she intoned.


Second Impressions
Cranmer worship is genuinely a mixture of different traditions. The students I met ranged from conservative evangelical to charismatic catholic and everywhere in between. Nobody seemed to feel the need to differentiate between ‘types’ of ordinand, because it was a proper mash up of southerners, northerners, over-educated, hardly educated, dads, young singles, metalheads and cassock-clad traditionalists. Nobody seemed to notice that anyone else was different. The worship reflected this in that during my short stay there (Thursday afternoon to Friday lunch time) I took in contemporary sung worship, contemplative silence, colouring in, incense, celtic liturgy, candles and fingering pebbles. Every morning is Common Worship morning prayer, and evening prayer includes All Age Worship, a service of the Word, the eucharist and small discipleship groups.

Cranmer’s evangelical heritage gives it an emphasis on mission and placements, exemplified by its contextually-based ‘urban track’ where ordinands live and work in deprived urban parishes while studying. Ordinands following the normal track spend eight weeks on block placements which can range from the local hospital to Hong Kong, San Francisco or anywhere else your heart may take you. As they describe, the aim is ‘to ensure theology is rooted in the gritty reality of contemporary ministry and mission.’ This earthy grounding is complemented by Cranmer’s close links with the best theology department in the country (according to government statistics). Durham University’s theology department is two minutes from St John’s College, and the library and resources are open to all Cranmer students, regardless of whether they study for the University degree or Cranmer’s own Common Award.

All in all, I found Cranmer a wonderful combination of down-to-earth friendliness and unpretentious godliness. Everything from their worship to their placement scheme reflects their genuine commitment to diversity, and their location in the far north, in an excellent university, means they truly get it.

Besides which, they gave me presents:


Lasting Impressions

  • Breathtaking location in an ancient and beautiful city.
  • Links to an excellent theology department.
  • Genuinely diverse, without seeming to notice or make a fuss about it.
  • Happy clappy worship for those what want it, mixture of other bits for those what need it, plenty of catholics in cassocks roaming the corridors.
  • Part of St John’s College – so undergrads everywhere. Pro/con, depending on your perspective!
  • Generally younger student body than other colleges.
  • No quad! Makes a surprising difference – no ‘centre’ other than the (slightly cramped) common room. On the other hand – the Cathedral square is flanked by the theology department and is thirty seconds away.
  • It’s in the north. Bitter cold vs cheap beer: your call.