Prayer. What is it all about.

Prayer is a concept common to all religions. At it’s most basic level it is simply communication with a higher power. offers this definition


a devout petition to God or an object of worship.

a spiritual communion with God or an object of worship, as in supplication, thanksgiving, adoration, or confession.

the act or practice of praying to God or an object of worship.

a formula or sequence of words used in or appointed for praying: the Lord’s Prayer.

So in most religions it is a way of petitioning the higher power for support in some way and in Christianity that has often been the case. Beyond that though, in Christianity at least, it is a way of having a conversation with God.

The strange thing about Christianity is that, unlike many religions, God did not choose to position himself at the top of a hierarchy but instead looked to human beings as companions. He created people to be in relationship with them and the Bible can be read as having an over arching story about God trying to rebuild that relationship he had with us at the start. There are lots of sub plots but the main story is about God wanting a relationship with us, up to and including sacrificing his own son to free us from Sin.

If that is the case then it has to affect how we pray. We can follow formulas if we want to request God to intervene in a matter. Structure can help make those requests clear in our own mind and have enormous value for us in those circumstances. However, in the same way that you wouldn’t only talk to your best friend when you want something, you can turn to God for other things, to share worries or good news or just talk about your day in a time of isolation. In those circumstances your way of talking, of praying can change. It can become more informal, more conversational.

My favourite prayer goes like this

Dear God


If God knows what is in your heart (and he does) then the words that you say may be more about you than him. When I first became a Christian and prayed publicly my prayers were short and to the point. Sometimes they were as simple as “what are we doing today?” Other times they were a verbal equivalent of the scribble as frustration robbed me of coherence. As I prayed publicly I began to consider the needs of others too. Some people appreciated structure and frequently invoking the Lord’s name was part of how they had learned to pray. Others required a time of silence, to listen for God. And some were new to prayer and God and Church and were feeling their way and one day their prayer could sound like the curses of an Old Testament Prophet and the next show the simplicity of a child.

As time went on I met people who prayed through dance, through painting, through doodling and in so many other ways. Prayer doesn’t have to be about words any more than worship needs to be about song (but that’s another story).

Jesus said we should shut ourselves alone in a room to pray but prayer fulfils another function too. It let’s us know we are not alone. We have faith that God is there and listening even when we cannot discern him but when a brother or sister prays with us or for us we know we are not alone. That is the value of corporate prayer. We know someone stands with us. In unity.

Prayer is a conversation of words, images or movements. However we feel best able to communicate, God understands our meaning.

Peace be with You


The Elemental Tent Consultancy

Part of my role as Missioner is to promote the Elemental Tent as a way of doing mission and evangelism. Promoting something that is essentially a fluid idea is difficult to say the least. The Elemental Tent is about a handful of core concepts that can be dressed to match the environment in which you are using it. But people want to see the dressing.

God provides though. This August’s outing for the tent and its volunteers was cancelled because of Covid 19 health concerns and shortly after the festival at Wickham was cancelled too.

It occurred to me that we could take certain elements on line to share them with a much wider audience of people who might be able to make use of it in their own locales. I needed straight forward and easy but adult friendly crafts to video and mix in with a raft of Celtic Christianity and open spirituality to give a feel for the core of the tent.

The tent is built around 4 pillars, hospitality, delivered through free drinks and cakes and sofas and conversation, crafts, craft sessions offering a variety of family friendly but not kiddy things to do, Open spirituality, demonstrated through a willingness to find a connexion with everyone and the use of Celtic Christianity and Ignation meditation techniques and acceptance that we are all created in God’s image, no matter what we may believe.

Beyond that, the tent is dressed in a manner appropriate to where it is. It’s at a music festival so the tent is decorated with wall hangings with Celtic crosses, labyrinths, and images reflecting the elements. If you were to take it to a library festival you would dress the tent differently. If you took it out to a car festival or a steam rally you would dress the tent appropriately.

The tent works best as almost guerilla evangelism. People can’t tell what you are but are drawn in by the offer of free crafts or sofas or a cup of coffee and then in conversation you learn more about each other. Where those conversations lead can be a wild journey, a heart breaking story or a restoration of faith

Visit the tent on Facebook, just search for @ElementalTent.

Please check out the 40 or so posts and videos that make up 4 days of living on-line in a virtual tent. If you think it is something your church might be able to take to a big event near you and you want to chat, I’m here and available.

The responsibility of being part of the priesthood to all believers.

When lockdown was seen to be inevitable back in March the pastors at the church I regularly attend met together to figure out how we stayed in touch with each other as a church. There was a recognition among the leadership team that the Head pastors would have a lot on their plate with the difficulties and changes that lockdown would undoubtedly bring.

It was, however, viewed as vital that the community of the church be maintained even though meeting together was impossible. Somewhere in the discussion someone realised tha virtually everyone in the congregation had a good connection with someone else. The church body had fulfilled that part of its role. Everyone was connected somewhere. Not everyone was connected directly to the leadership but they knew, if the need was great, that the leadership were aware of them and would contact them if necessary.

Mostly though we had our little groups and huddles, checking on each other, making sure people were staying safe, providing a safety line for those with health and mental health concerns. We pulled together like the early church. We recognised that, as a priesthood of all believers we had a responsibility to each other. To be honest, I valued more a check-in text from another member of the congregation who had similar depression and anxiety issues to me than a call from the lead pastor.

We were learning what “priesthood of all believers” meant in a practical way. A text or a call from the guy who sat at the back of services and struggled with much of what he heard, had no more and no less value than the same from the pastor. In the body of the church we were all equal in the eyes of the Lord.

Not everyone was happy. Some put a greater value on contact from “leadership” but in doing so they missed out on what was key to the early church. The community, the realisation that we’re all in this boat together and we can’t look to one human being, we must work together.

Last week I had a meeting with our pastor. I learned just how busy they have been over the last four months. I discovered that leadership is like an iceberg. There is so much that happens that you don’t see and would likely never know about unless it didn’t happen. I also learnt how valuable to them it is that they have a congregation that looks after each other.

It is a real blessing to be part of a priesthood of all believers. It keeps you connected to the reality of the church and stops it being something you just do on a Sunday.

Be blessed as you go about your day.

Be blessed for all you do as the body of the church.

Be blessed for all you do as part of the priesthood of all believers.

A difference of opinion

One thing you learn early on in this business is that Christians disagree about a lot of things. Life, however, is too short to list them all so I’m going to focus on one that has come to the fore for me this week. Healing.

There are many differences of opinion over the idea of God answering prayer and healing people. There are those who believe things like healing don’t happen anymore. They were just for Bible times. And there are those who believe God can and does cause miraculous healing to happen.

Its that last group I’m interested in today. Now the thing with healing is that there is no empirical proof that it happens. I believe it does but I could not prove it to someone who disagrees. There is much anecdotal evidence from eye witnesses but that can always be argued with. There is occasional scientific evidence of cancers disappearing after prayer and things like that, but that is only proof that it happened, not that God made it happen. Healing is a matter of faith. And that is good. How a cancer is healed is the province of science as far as I am concerned. The why is more important from a faith perspective. You were healed because God loves you.

And that is where the problem can set in. It is very easy for someone who has prayed and been prayed for extensively and not been healed to take away from that situation the idea their faith wasn’t strong enough. Its like a video game, you have to level up a certain number of times before you have enough faith power to get God to defeat your illness.

So what if it’s a difference of opinion between us and God. We live in a world where celebrities and sports people are looked on as the physical peak to aspire to and that cannot help but permeate into our church culture. We see something that doesn’t fit that “norm” and we can want to pray the heck out of it. But what if, at the end of all that prayer, you still have lupus, you are still a wheelchair user, you still have chronic depression or you still… Well you get the picture. What then? Why hasn’t God healed you?

Could it be that our idea of a whole person is different to God’s idea? Could it be that a person’s spiritual wholeness is more important to God than their physical wellness (I’m not saying God doesn’t care about physical wellbeing by the way). Physical healing is wonderful and inspirational when it occurs. It is a demonstration, a manifestation of God’s great power. But when he focuses on healing or growing someone spiritually, that can change worlds. If our focus is too much on healing of physical issues, we risk making those who have long term physical or mental or emotional disabilities feel like second class citizens. That is not our intention but that is an inevitable result of an ablist approach to healing.

If God’s çoncern is spiritual health however. I was listening to an old friend, Amy, speaking on a podcast. Amy was diagnosed with lupus when she was 18, it’s a chronic and debilitating illness that seeks to rule your world. She is a Christian and the daughter of church leaders and she received shed loads of prayer for her healing. Now married with two children she still has lupus but the things God has wrought in her spiritual life are incredible. I cannot do her story justice so I’ll link to the podcast at the end. God made her what she is, a powerful advocate for God’s grace and love, from a position of weakness. Because of her illness she is able to speak into the lives of others living with chronic illness and tell them God loves them how they are.

If you are spiritually and emotionally whole, if you recognise that God loves you exactly how you are then surely that is good. If Christianity is a journey of becoming more like God until we meet with God, maybe we need to let go of our anthropomorphic images of God, stop looking on him as a white, bearded old man in a long robe and take an alternative scriptural view and see Him as the pillar of cloud or the pillar of fire, and consider that the healing God wants most to bring about is spiritual because God is spirit.

Thank you for listening to the ramblings of an old man. All views expressed are entirely my own.

Interview with Amy

The Woes of the Pharisees or How some Christians can be stinky

The Bible is full of lists, my wife loves lists so trust me I know a list when I see one. From what happened on the various days of the creation to those “begetting” genealogies, to the 10 commandments and that barely scratches the surface. One I wasn’t familiar with was the Woes of The Pharisees. This is a list of problematic behaviours Jesus attributes to the majority of the Pharisees. Last night though I had a bad night, woke around 1am feeling hideous and went down stairs to read. And for whatever reason I found myself reading about the Woes of The Pharisees.

God is beyond our understanding. That’s my starting place in my life as a Christian. His thoughts are not our thoughts and his decisions do not make sense to us all the time. It’s like a two year old watching their parent use a washing machine. The two year old knows, maybe, that dirty clothes go in and clean ones come out. Only the parent has a true, more complete view of what is happening.
The Pharisees thought they knew all about the inner workings of God’s mind and focused on the minutiae of the law, often man made rather than God given laws. They thought themselves better than others and, in Jesus’s eyes, put on a show, more concerned about looking pious than living a Godly life.

Jesus’s advice to them was that unless they changed they were not destined for the kingdom of heaven. In many ways these were sinful, broken men, no different from the tax collectors Jesus spent time with so why did Jesus condemn the Pharisees but not the tax collectors? The tax collectors were hated because they were viewed as greedy collaborators working for the occupying Roman forces, the Pharisees were respected members of Jewish society.

I think it came down to their understanding of themselves. The tax collectors would have had no illusions about themselves and their position in society so when a rabbi, a teacher, chose to spend time with them they listened with respect and, at least in the story of Zacchaeus, changed their ways because what Jesus said

The Pharisees on the other hand believed they were beyond reproach. They knew their scriptures and their prayers, they made exactly the right offerings at the right times and perfectly observed the many laws that governed them. But Jesus described them as ”whitewashed tombs” beautiful on the outside but filled with dead bones. They were all but unreachable and unteachable. They were the only group that made Jesus angry.

We’ve all met someone like this.

These days we don’t have Pharisees as such but most of us know people made in that mold. Many people who don’t like church can point to a Christian with a similar spirit to the Pharisees as the core of their dislike. There are whole churches built around the core ethic of “meet our standards” if you want to belong, churches where the command “love your God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself” has been edited out of their Bible. Most Christians have met other Christians like that.

These people do not represent Christ though. God can and does work miracles in the hearts and lives of those who let him in. Those who are broken often have a love shaped hole that needs filling and, as Christians, that’s where we become part of God’s work. Modern day Pharisees though, I’m not sure they can be changed by anyone other than God alone. When that happens they break and we can help God with rebuilding them. Sometimes you have to knock the old down before you can build the new up.

So that’s where your brain can end up a 1am. Trying to get thoughts down from that hour in a way that can make sense can be very difficult so I hope my ramble makes sense.

If you’ve ever felt Jesus’s call on your life but have been put off by a bad experience, please give him and the church another chance. If you walk into a church you will know what it is like by the greeting you receive. Take this strange time we are living in to take a look around at on-line services and on-line Alpha courses and blogs and YouTube videos. There are people out there who will speak of the Bible in a way that will make sense to you, you just have to look.

Elemental Tent on-line

So Wickham Festival has had to be cancelled this year and we have thought creatively about what that means for The Elemental Tent. And we’ve decided, for the period when the festival would have been happening the Elemental Tent will do the kinds of things on line that it would at the festival. It won’t be quite the same of course but we’ll have a mix of interesting crafts and open spirituality over those four days.

We will open each day around 10.30 with a coffee and a morning blessing livestreamed on our Elemental Tent Facebook Page.

The current planned time table for Thursday 5th August

That will be followed by a craft video and on Thursday that will be about how to make a zine. Don’t know what a zine is? Then you’ll need to join us but it’s a great craft idea for all ages.

There will then be a midday Celtic Prayer and an opportunity to try out a one to one Jesus Deck reading on Zoom. We’ve no idea how that’s going to work so anyone who signs up will be a part of an interesting experiment in long distance spirituality.

We’ll have a couple of music videos in the afternoon featuring some of the less well known acts that would have been at the festival and are now signed up for next year.

Also in the afternoon we’ll be experimenting with various types of Christian meditations.

There will be another craft, a drawing tutorial on the Thursday, and an invitation to message us if you would like us to pray for you or anyone you know.

Closing out each day around 9pm will be our traditional Celtic Night Prayer where you’ll be able to just listen in or join in the responses in your own home.

There will also be a variety of downloads available to support the crafts and prayers and meditations when needed.

Do come and check us out at

And if you’re not already doing so please like and follow.

Wickham Festival

It was a sad moment last week when The Wickham Festival finally had to surrender to the current situation and cancel. Wickham is a great little festival attracting some top names in the folk (ish) world. I’m not a massive music fan myself but Wickham always has a bunch of stuff I like and this year was due to feature a musician I’ve wanted to see live for almost 40 years.

The Festival is also the tent pole for my role as missioner. We take the Elemental Tent there each year for the duration of the festival. My role is about encouraging mission and this is a great way of introducing people to mission (sharing the Gospel) in an environment where the so many have some form of spirituality and are wonderfully open to respectful conversations on the subject. For me mission, in a modern context, is about conversation. Its about sitting down over coffee, listening to someone’s troubles and offering to pray for them. Mission, in my personal definition, is like being a Gardner. You want to encourage something to grow and have roots. Evangelists are builders, looking to put down a foundation and build on it speedily. Both approaches are valid but, to me, speak of different approaches to Christianity and suggest why historically mission has been closer to my definition of evangelism.

John Stott suggested that mission should be viewed as everything the church is meant to do. He saw it as a combination of evangelism, preaching the word of God to non-believers, and living the word of God, standing for social justice, whatever that looks like. This more modern approach to mission reflects the early Church. Spending time with people, doing life with them, supporting them in the face of injustice, offering them an insight into another world and being willing to be their guide through it. The early Church lived in the midst of communities, when it was able, sharing, supporting and helping. The Elemental Tent worked on that basis. The tent was part of the festival from start of day to end of day, welcoming visitors, giving an oasis of peace with no expectation of even listening to our Christian faith. People ask though, why are you doing this? Why is it free? What’s it about?

Conversation is where mission starts in this context. It’s not about “turn or burn”, it’s not about “have you accepted Jesus as your personal saviour”. Most people are okay with the person of Jesus, it’s Christians they have a problem with. The first job of mission like this is for Christians to show they are flawed human beings who try not to judge and don’t have everything sorted. It’s about presenting a true picture of who we are because people won’t talk to you about more than the weather if you are not authentic.

Social justice is a much misunderstood term in my opinion. It has been tagged as this left wing, hippy, often violent objection to something society has been happy doing and ignoring the consequences. Social Justice Warrior is flung around like an insult. I have to wonder why anyone would be against social justice, particularly people of faith. Social justice can, however, be as simple as being the first person to actually listen to another’s complaint. Social justice can be sitting with someone in their moment of grief rather than let them sit alone. It’s about our reactions and the actions that follow on.

So that’s The Elemental Tent approach to mission, serve, listen and share when when you can.

The best laid plans o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley

Robert Burns wrote those words in his wonderful Scots language poem. Translated into the barbarous English as the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

After a successful 2019 there were many plans in the circuit for individual churches to take the prayer caravan or a mini Elemental Tent to local fetes and carnivals, to go out into the community, talk to people about the church and pray with and for people in 2020. Unfortunately 2020 had other plans.

2020 has been a time of contemplation, repositioning and learning for the church. It no doubt came as a shock to many to realise that the Church of England once had slaves and received sizable compensation when they were forced to free them. Freed from their buildings churches of all denominations have had to learn new ways of doing things, tackling the positives of both modern technology and old fashioned ways of keeping in touch and their seems to be general agreement that we want to move forward, to take on the good we have learned and not just return to the old status quo.

We do not know what the future will bring. As I write this churches have been told they can be open for private prayer and that they will be allowed to open for socially distanced services but with no singing. If a second round of Covid 19 strikes and we go back into lockdown that may not last. Hopefully this pandemic will eventually pass and we will be able to engage in our new normal.

My role is to support the circuit as we reach out to our communities, to help people who have ideas or even the start of an idea and help them bring it into being. Some things are all ready up and running, like Open the Book, but there are a wealth of gifts and talents around the circuit that need an outlet.

Here’s a list of things I’ve encountered at various churches that might speak to someone who reads this.

Creative Prayer art groups. People coming together over a meditation to try and share the pictures God gives them

A taste of things others have done

Messy Church. A family oriented service of food, crafts and a talk and worship. Ideal for families on the fringe.

A taste of things others have done.

Book groups. A popular idea but bringing a Christian perspective.

A taste of things others have done

Breakfast clubs. For working parents who struggle to get their kids to school and themselves to work. Also helps poorer families to ensure their children get breakfast without stigmatising them.

A taste of things others have done

Healing on the streets/prayer on the streets. Meeting people on the streets, encountering them where they are and making conversation.

A taste of things others have done

Coffee Shop bible groups. Get together in a local coffee shop to read and discuss the Bible and support a local business.

That’s just a handful of ideas and there are many more. If you have an idea and you want to talk it over call me or message me and we’ll sort something out.

I must go down to the sea again….

My son, Harry, was looking at John Masfield’s iconic poem “Sea Fever” as part of his school work this week and I was briefly amused at how fitting it seemed for this week as thousands flocked to the beach leaving a feast for the gulls.

There have been outcries of indignation over how it’s going to cause a second Covid spike and fingers of blame pointing in all directions but I’ve not seen any attempt to understand it.

Psychologically disturbed, especially as a result of being confined or imprisoned. That’s how my dictionary defines stir-crazy. Extended confinement, such as lockdown, can cause people to act irresponsibly once they are less restricted. And people have a tendency to interpret even the clearest of instructions in the most beneficial way. If someone says “stay 2 meters apart but if you can’t stay at least one meter apart” many people will interpret that as “try and stay 1 meter apart.” in their desperation to get out and be around new faces. People are desperate to get out. Lockdown has been much like being in solitary in a very nice prison. You could have one hour a day in the exercise yard but that was it. If you were with family then months of 24/7 in their company probably strained a lot of relationships. If you were living alone it was probably worse.

Then the prison gates are thrown open and you’re told you are free. You don’t necessarily hear the restrictions on your freedom, you just see those wide open spaces and all the new faces to talk to and you’re off, like a greyhound out of a trap.

Summer madness

It’s important to understand why people behave the way they do and to recognise that understanding doesn’t have to mean condoning. I am disappointed personally in the people who have rushed to the beach in a bacchanalian frenzy but I understand why they did. I have chosen to wear a mask when out, restrict my movements to some local exercise and shopping and behave in a manner I feel is in my family’s best interests.

The Apostle Paul spent around 2.5 years in prison and around another 2 years under house arrest. He has provided us with a good role model for how to deal with such things. He spent his time writing of his experiences and sharing the wisdom of his experience with emerging churches. He learnt to view it as another opportunity to serve God.

It is sad that, if there is a second spike of Covid 19, it may be down to these moments of stir-crazy behaviour but it is what it is. We do our best and live in hope in Jesus Christ.

As Billy Pilgrim says “So it goes!”

Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Statues fall all the time as Shelley reminds us in his epic poem about pride and hubris. Sometimes that fall is met with near universal approval, the destruction of all those statues of Saddam Hussein for example. Other times it is met with condemnation and outrage, the damage and destruction of Confederate memorials in the Southern United States or the toppling of a statue of a slave trader in Bristol. Why the difference in response? Surely we can largely agree that dictatorships are wrong, that slavery is wrong. Why would we choose to protect something that celebrates those things?

I believe it is easier to see the speck in anothers eye than the log in our own. It is easier to see the evil of Saddam Hussein, half a world away, then it is to recognise the evil on our own doorstep.

This past week there has been a lot written about the toppling of a statue in Bristol. The statue was of Edward Colston, a man of means, a philanthropist who made his money through transporting and selling other human beings as slaves. That should be abhorrent to any person with even an ounce of empathy. The fact that people are complaining  about the pulling down of this statue saddens me. The people who say there were proper channels to go through when people have tried and been ignored sadden me. The people who think his philanthropy cancels out the pain, death and suffering his business caused sadden me. The people who think destroying the statue and keeping the results of his philanthropy is double standards sadden me. The people who think this is destroying history sadden me. Ignorance saddens me.

There is a great deal written about Colston being a man of his time and it is true, he was. All his actions, slave trade and philanthropy or history now. But the statue was raised nearly 200 years after his death and 60 years after slavery was abolished in Britain it was raised in a time when Bristol had a large black population because ex-slaves settled there after being freed.

We do not celebrate that period when Britain was key to the transatlantic slave trade. We recognise it, we teach it but could always teach it better. We do not need to celebrate Colston. We can recognise his philanthropy and slave trading fortune and acknowledge their connection without celebrating. We can talk about the people who lived because of him and the people who died because of him and accept that one does not negate the other. We can look at the wrongs done by people who look like us to people who are different. We can find the log in our own eye and apologise for the harm it stopped us seeing.

We can follow Jesus’s second great commandment and if the best way to do that is to tear down a few statues then so be it.