This weekend I will be preaching in Ellesmere Port at the recognition service of a young Local Preacher friend of mine. Please hold Craig in your prayers as he sets out on his preaching career.

Moorgreen County Show

Bank Holiday Monday was spent attending Moorgreen County Show at Watnall. I particularly wanted to go to this as I was amongst the Eastwood Clergy who first expressed an interest in having a Christian input at this annual Bank Holiday event. I have never been able to attend before due to mission work which always fell over this weekend.

It was an interesting experience. The Christian tent had been in operation for the full weekend, staffed by a variety of people from a variety of Churches. On the Monday there was a Punch and Judy show at regular intervals. For the full day there was some wonderful children`s work taking place with balloons, face painting, crafts and more; alongside this there was a prayer area which always seemed to have visitors (indeed I was to learn later that there is now an extensive prayer list for the volunteers to work through); elsewhere in the tent was a huge catering area offering refreshments which were warmly received all day. This was probably the busiest part of the tent as there was a constant flow of people wandering in and out.

Holding it all together was a live band from one of the local churches who played regular slots of Christian music, almost as background music, but warmly appreciated by those who sat to listen. They were of a top quality.

Talking to some of the organisers of the Christian input I enquired of their aim and they felt that it was about having a presence in the community. It wasn`t about pushing the Christian faith in an openly evangelistic way but it was more about Christian service to the community and showing thast in all walks of life the Christian faith has something to say.

The committee will be holding a debrief next month and will consider what happened and what can happen towards next year; there seems to be a real drive to develop year on year and not sit back and simply accept “how it is”. I did suggest about the possibility of a Sunday act of worship next year, about the possibility of an advertising board of Church events (alpha courses etc.) in the local area etc.

The advertising bumpf for the whole show declared this to be a champion day out for all the family. I really felt as though the Church met this statement and  more.


So what are to make of it ? Is it an interesting day out for Christians to show that they are `nice` people ? Is it simply a means of assuaging our guilt over not evangelising enough and giving us the feeling that “at least we`re doing something” ?

I feel that its possibly a mixture of all those things, but my mind keeps going back to Peter trying to walk on water; his sinking into the water wasn`t failure but in many ways was a huge success for as he sank he needed to rely on Jesus; I believe his faith would have grown that day. No, the real failure was in the other disciples who didn`t get out of the boat and `have a go` !

Maybe this was a venture in `niceness`, or in safe evangelism, or in serving the community, but I feel that more than that it was a venture in trying to do what Jesus is asking of us despite our fears, our inadequacies, our supposed failings, and therefore it is a success in relying on Jesus for guidance.

Looking forward to next years show already.




Horse Racing Community

This has to be one of the best kept secrets in Methodism but one of the best pieces of work carried out by a Methodist Minister that I have come across !!

Rev. Graham Locking is a Methodist Minister who works full time as chaplain to the Horse Racing Community in this country. Based at Newmarket and appointed through the Score organisation, Graham treat me to a fascinating insight into the world of horse racing  and his work in particular. 


The night before, I stayed at Grahams manse and we were up till the late hours talking theology (and Grahams passion for clocks !!). All that we spoke about was carried through the following day as I observed Graham at work.

We rose at 5.00 a.m. as Graham likes to be out and about early enough to catch the morning training on the Heath. Consequently by 6.00 a.m. we were watching the trainers, the jockeys and the horses on the gallops. Graham commented that he liked to do this as many trainers would come across and have a few words with him while waiting for their horses to approach. Its about building relationships and although there were no life changing conversions (as such) those conversations about the other persons life sometimes led into situations which could be deemed to be more meaningful, baptisms, funerals, searching questions etc. How often do we miss out on the simple day to day chat as if it is not a vital part of relationship building.

After this we returned for breakfast at 8.00 a.m. and then out again to visit the stables. As a complete novice to the racing world I hadn`t realised how many stables there were just in the vicinity of the town; Grahams job is to relate to them all if they`ll let him. We went to visit one where I was entertained by listening and watching the banter between Graham and the owners daughter who Graham would like to see married !! So would her Father ! It was good natured banter that would keep open the door of friendship. Graham used this opportunity to chat to the stable owner who had played a major part in the setting up of the chaplaincy. Interesting parts of the conversation centred on the owners daughters marriage or no marriage, his recent barge holiday and his new member of staff in the office. The subject of racing didn`t really figure but Graham  made sure that the gentleman knew that Graham was interested in him beyond the sport.

Then we went to the largest stud farm in the area where the security was very tight, but Graham has an all areas pass. Once again it was interestng to see the ease with which Graham related to the employees, thinking of their families and their lives beyond the sport.

Finally we went to the British Racing School where potential jockeys are trained and given life skills beyond the sport. Rory Macdonald, the chief executive, was generous with his time in talking about how the young people are trained, looked after and cared for. He was also, like others, full of praise for Grahams role and especially the part he played in the life of the school, where he would be on hand to offer advice and support to all. Indeed, I had the privilege to see Graham in action as he offered advice to one of the members of the school.

Throughout the day I came across people who had nothing but respect for Graham and the work he is doing. However, I was more than aware that Graham is a national chaplain and as such has to relate to other stables, race courses, jockeys and members of the community up and down the country. Consequently part of his work was to travel the motorways to race meetings and to visit a wide variety of stables. Graham acknowledged that the work at Newmarket was a full time job in itself without the addition of the rest of the country. He spoke about the need for a second chaplain, but I wonder if there is a need for more, or for stadium based chaplaincies similar to rugby and football ?

Certainly, I was impressed by the work and world in which he operated. It was a truly fascinating day and I thank Graham for it.

In our conversations we explored how Graham is heavily influenced by Rick Warrens book “The Purpose Driven Church” which is one of my favourites also. In it Rick Warren urges Christians to see life through the eyes of  surfers; we need to paddle in the water waiting and looking for the next big wave of God, then get on and ride it for all its worth. In other words we need to see what God is doing instead of expecting him to follow what we are doing. As with all surfing it involves a lot of paddling. We reflected on how the paddling is symbolic of talking, listening, being a presence, reflecting and the wave is the move of the Holy Spirit raising up opportunities.

In a similar fashion Jesus told his disciples to “wait in Jerusalem until the Spirit comes……” We need to be led by the Holy Spirit. True evangelism is listening and getting involved in the lives of others before the subject of Jesus arises. True evangelism is NOT having the answers but being part of Gods answer even if you don`t know what it is or what God is doing.

All this related to how Graham approached his work in the racing community. It is a world of strong, ripe language, a world of broken relationships, of bankruptcies, of cheating, a world of loyalty towards ones own, of incredible generosity and a world of strong community. It isn`t a lot different to the world that the church often doesn`t get involved with. Consequently Graham saw the work of a chaplain as ……..

being available

being accepting

being respectful

We spoke of Johns Gospel of life. The Church needs to accept that there is a life to live and we need to help people enjoy it, not hinder them with guilt, sin etc. We need to offer them “life in all its fulness”. Jesus said “I have come that they may have life…….” Jesus didn`t seek to condemn people but he wanted to lift them up; we too are called to love others not judge. I think that there is a major lesson here for the church.

I came to the end of a fascinating, enjoyable, tiring, busy day in which I felt my understanding of Christianity to be affirmed in a way that circuit life often fails to do with our determination to uphold the church as it has always been and our failure to deal with the hurting world; our detemination to maintain a middle class institution rather than meet the needs of the ordinary person who is seeking to make sense out of life; our preoccupation with sexuality rather than our enjoyment of what God has given us.

Here endeth the rant for today !!!!!

This has been one of the most enlightening and challenging days of the whole sabbatical and I wsould love to visit a race meeting now, to see the other side of it all. You never know I might take a day off to visit Nottingham or Southwell !!!!





Only 3 weeks to go…….

Just thought as I typed tonights blog that there are just over three weeks left and then I`m back at work. Its flown by, and I`m going to have to start preparing my first sermons soon ………………… Still only another seven years till the next one !!!    

Tomorrow I travel to Newmarket for a couple of days visiting the full time Methodist Chaplain to the horse racing fraternity. Knowing nothing about horse racing this should be an interesting experience.       



Much to the annoyance of Alison I went to visit Rev. Henry Corbett the Chaplain to Everton football club, a team she has followed all her life !! Unfortunately I could only go on a day when she was at work (talk about rubbing salt into the wounds).

It was an excellent visit and Henry gave so much of his time and himself. I really felt at home in his company

Henry is a co~chaplain with Rev Harry Ross. A life long sport lover he described his passion for football chaplaincy as “wanting to be a pastoral safety net” and like many others he was determined not to be seen as someone who could `get stuff` (like free tickets etc.)

Henry started with the youth work at the training ground about 20 years ago, with Howard Kendalls (the then manager) blessing. Over that time his routine has developed into Tuesday visits (12~1.30 p.m.) and on a Saturday morning watching the youth academy playing. He felt that this was an important aspect of his work, to support the youth. Another important area was getting to know the background staff. So often sport centres on the sportsmen and women, and yet there are others working hard behind the scenes who need support as well.

As with all the other Chaplains I`ve met th two keywords that came out were confidentiality and trust. To thi sHenry also added that he always sought out “people of peace”. By this he referred to those who were not openly atagonistic but who would be supportive, understanding, friendly etc. These were the people who would often smooth the way in for the Chaplain, by their very presence in the club.

Again Henrys attitude was one of   serve, support, encourage. The servant ministry is a holistic ministry seeking the whole person and so he would often ask questions about family life, life away from football etc. The Chaplain should exude the fact that there is life beyond football.

However, underneath it all was the need to live out what was being said. In other words the integrity of the Chaplain depended on his or her consistency with people. If you siad one thing you needed to be seen doing it. We spoke about the need to be culturally relevant; the Chaplain needs to be aware of what the current films, books are as that may be what the players are interested in and that could be where the questions come from. We reflected on how our congregations face this (or ought to) every day in their work places. What are our work colleagues interested in and how does Christianity relate to that ?

The Chaplain (and I would suggest the work place Christian) can often be a sounding board for people to `test` their own spiritual searching. We must learn to let people ask…….

Henry always prays before visiting the club for openings, people of peace, conversations etc. He is mindful that going to visit the club is going into their territory and it needs to be respected. Similar to our congregations going to work (it is a work territory, not church). Just as Henry is taking Christ into the club, so we can take Christ into our workplaces, but with similar sensitivity.

Increasingly football is recieving people of other faiths as well as a variety of Chrstian backgrounds and none. How does Henry see the role of Chaplain in this ? His view was that one is there to help not judge the persons spiritual life. If a Muslim needed help Henry would do what he could, whether that would be to search out someone of the Muslim faith or sitting talking was immaterial. The important thing was to honour the person and help where possible.

Henry spoke about evangelism wihtin a pastoral context, and reflected that true evangelism is getting alongside people, being interested in them and letting your faith rub off on them.

Evangelism should therefore always be

in context,

in giftng

and in timing.

Conversation is bread and butter ministry.

In closing I asked about Parish/Chaplaincy conflicts. Henry felt that his Parish was largely supportive of his work, although he kept the Chaplaincy low key. However, he also fet that it was good to have something outside regular parish work as it helped to refresh his ministry.

His closing comments were excellent and summed up so muchof what I`ve seen in sports chaplaincy.

Its not about “just making good footballers, but about making good human beings.” 

Today was an excellent visit and I promise to take Alison to see a game sometime by way of apology.

Solace ~ Church in a bar


48 years old and last Sunday I could be found en-route to Cardiff to go `clubbing`!!!   Well, to say this, is a bit of an exageration as it was more of an event held in a nightclub.

Beginning on April 1st 2007 by James Karran (a Baptist Pastor) and Wendy Sanderson ( a Church Army worker), its aim is to make Christianity relevant and accessible in the 21st century post chrstendom society. When many young people are not even considering Church life, but ARE interested in spiritual matters this is an exciting and bold initiative to meet their needs. I first found out about this through their website http://www.solace- and felt I needed to go and find out more, and so began a 6 hour round trip of 400 miles just to go for a drink !   I was glad I did.

Their initial target group when they began, was the student community but this has gradually evolved into a wider group of anyone involved in the club/pub culture. They meet in different nightclubs. The night I attended the meeting was in clubiforbach, the premier student club in Cardiff. The club actually make a loss on hosting these evenings as they only charge £50, but they see it as helping a good cause; it also gives them good publicity. James felt it was important not to be in a church setting as this made them more approachable to younger people. The staff of the club are non~christian and they certainly seemed to enjoy what was happening.

James felt that it was important that there be no cringe~factor in this work; it has to meet the people were they are. I couldn`t help thnk about the number of times Jesus met people in the marketplace, on the streets etc. Although he obviously attended the Synagogue and considered this important, he also went to where questions were being asked. John Wesley was later to do the same with his field preaching. James and Wendy have ensured Christ is known in the nightclub scene.

It is a mixture of entertainment (straightforward gigs), speakers, and discussion topics. They`ve just completed a series of themes about sex and are aware that in their venue it is sometimes easier to look at issues the church finds harder to tackle. The very name, solace, refers to a place where people can feel safe to ask questions.

Solace is asking and searching the question of “What is an authentic Christian community ?” and so it needs to be relationship based, not simply church on a Sunday in a club. Consequently they`re exploring the question of what does church look like in this situation ?

The night I attended was a gig. Apparently they usually have a Christian and a Non~christian band, but unfortunately the Christian had pulled outdue to illness. Thankfully the manager of the other band BENSEM offered to fill in. She was very good, as were Bensem themselves. Loud (very), but the quality was there and there seemed to be a special presence over the whole evening.

What was the Church content ? The notices at the beginning simply consisted of a welcome and an advert for the following week, and then we were into the music. On the face of it there was little if any Christian input, but there was a lot of prayer befrete evening began, especially prayer that God would open up conversations that could begin relationships. How often do we pray that in Church life ?

I raised the difficult practical issues of finance and church. The evening was free but the band still had to be paid and the club itself, but there was no collection or anything similar. The principle is that the Gospel should be free. Where does the money come from ? Grants from the Baptist Union. Church of England, and also from the local council, as well as personal donations from interested supporters give a backbone to the work, but its a real hand to mouth existence.

The flak from the established church sometimes come in the question of “wheres the Sunday evidence ? an accusation leveled at many different types of work in many different churches up and down the land. I asked how James and Wendy gauged success. They saw success in terms of the local councils support for the work, by seeing the numbers increasing week by week and by seeing relationships developing.

Advertising is largely by word of mouth or by the internet. They have their own website and also advertise on so if you`re going to Cardiff over a Sunday why not lok them up and have a bar experience of Church. I`m glad I did and I would love to go again and take some others with me.

Thanks James and Wendy for all your time, support and every blessing on you and your work.

 I want to close with some famous words that were displayed on a screen over the performance area at the beginning of the night, while people were milling around. You might recognise them………………………….

“Are you tired, worn out

burned out with religion.

Get away with me and

you`ll recover your life”


Newcastle Falcons

Rev Dave Elkington is the chaplain to the other North Eastern sporting giants, Newcastle Falcons, the local Rugby Union team (; Dave has been chaplain to the Falcons for 4 seasons now, although has been a ticket holder or much longer. His Christian journey is one of an ex sports teacher who has a passion for Rugby and Cricket, so to take up a chaplaincy such as this is a natural progression of skills, gifts and passion. How often does the Holy Spirit develop and build what he has already put there ?

Dave shared with me how Score approached him and the club, but initially the club were wary. One of the key influences was Inga Tuigamala, the great Rugby international, who is also well known for his Christian faith.

Although it was acknowledged that each club operates its chaplaincy differently Dave seemed to be in a unique position of having open access to the club at any time; a very visible presence. Under the nickname of “Rev” Dave makes it his policy to try and visit the club every Wednesday, as well as match days and other occasions. In this way he becomes available should he be needed, without pushing himself forward and in a non~threatenng way. Dave seems to put a lot of effort into keeping in touch with club developments, especially checking the club website every day. As with other chaplains he considers it important to see beyond the playing side and see the players as whole people, with lives to live; lives which include the same day to day concerns as the rest of us.

Because of this it was important to spend as much time with the academy as with the first team. Not only is this a part of building for the future but it sends a message to the whole club that you`re not just there for the glory of mixing with the famous, but that you do care for everyone. The youngsters also remember the care and concern shown, when they do eventually graduate. Dave used a phrase “they are an important part of our club“. Again lesson to be learnt here by the church; show an interest in the young and nurture them through to maturity. They`re not just the future church, but an important part of the church today.

In a similar way we spoke about the backroom staff. Dave felt that they too needed the care and concern of the club chaplain, but to the average fan are often forgotten because they are not seen.

Returning to the players Dave observed that most of them are highly intelligent living lives that revolve around their interests and hobbies. The chaplain, therefore, needs to be aware of what they`re interested in ready for any questions they may have. This was shown in the recent release of the Da Vinci Code, book and film. For a period of time it became the topic of conversation within the club asnd Dave was naturally the one to focus the questions on. There is a great need to be culturally aware of the world around us ad meet that awareness. Its no good expecting the sporting world to come to our way of thinking before we`ve even begun to understand theirs. How often does the church expect the world to turn to our ways of doing things before we`ve even tried to understand theirs ?

Dav felt strongly that he was often the link between club and church, but needed to show that he is not the exception ! The danger is that the chaplain can be seen as a good person whilst the rest of the church is bad. Daves role involves letting the club know that the church cares for them. Consequently at the beginning of every season every player recieves a letter of welcome from the chaplain. His ticket is to sit with the families of the players so it is another opportunity to get alongside people in a non~threatening way.

The message at all times is “if you want me, I`m here, but if you don`t I`m not offended

As I discovered elsewhere the key words are relationship and trust. Dave was determined (and rightly so) not to betray any confidences (I think I`d have been disappointed if he had). Trust is vital; how many times have I heard this over the pas tmonth ?

In order to build up relationships it is vital to understand personality tpes so that everyone is treat differently but appropriately. There is a need to learn the differece between banter and more serious conversations and all the time to give the message that conversations are to take place at their speed and time. I felt that this was very much a people centred ministry as it should be. It was also acknowledged that in difficult times the chaplain is often the one who takes the flak (hurt, anger etc) but cannot afford to take it personally.

We reflected on the honesty of the sporting world. Life is messy and yet many Christains don`t recognise it or hide their own messiness. Weaknesses are discouraged by and large, whereas in sport the messiness of live seems to be more visible and consequently is dealt with in a different way. Often it can be confronted. Perhaps this is because a club needs to run in a business like manner, tackling issues and causes.

Following on from this w reflected on how a struggling club will deal with its problems by changing whats necessary, players, club structure, club fnances etc. but so often a struggling church doesn`t. Is this because …………..

1) they don`t recognise strengths and weaknesses or because they see closure etc. as failure ?

2) churches have lost recongition of their purpose, whereas the sporting world knows its purpose and mission ?

3) churches are congregational based, thereby meaning the purpose for existence depends on the likes and dislikes of the congregation ?

I feel that it is pobably a mixture of all three but certainly the church would do well to look at the sporting world and model itself more on its ability to change and move with the times. Perhaps we need more of what I call the Lucozade model; dealing with things the way the soft drink manufacturers did years ago, when they changed their appearance and marketing, but retained the content in its truest form. Consequently it is one of the highest soft drink retailers in the world now.

Certainly it is worth checking out the website and discovering the four aims of the Falcons community programme, which are as follows………..

The work of the Community Programme is based on four guiding principles:

  • Accessibility To ensure that professional players are accessible to the community and become involved in all elements of community work.
  • Continuity To make sure that community relationships go beyond being short term or one-off experiences.
  • Quality To make all programmes of the highest quality through management by qualified, skilled and motivated staff.
  • Purpose To make all work worthwhile and congruent with the objectives of the Newcastle Falcons.

Churches could learn much from this.

I rounded off a most enlightening day with a visit to the club, a delightful meal in the club bar “The Hiding Place” and a tour of the ground. If ever I can find out how to upload my pictures there will be a picture of the ground on here. Thanks to Dave for  wonderful day.