Too much of a good thing

13 10 2010

Another thing called Sanctuary. A dodgy sci-fi show off the telly.

Rebranding has something of a bad press. The most notorious in this country is the renaming of the Royal Mail as Consignia. So furious was the reaction that it wasn’t long before it was changed right back again. It’s frequently mentioned by the tabloids whenever they’re having a good old laugh at the ‘millions’ that get paid to branding consultants to redraw a familiar logo or rename something that had a perfectly good name all along. It’s one of those things that is popularly regarded as an example of the emperor’s new clothes or the exchange of wedge for not new rope.

Back when I had a proper job, I got involved myself in branding and corporate identity work. It’s a bit of a soft target for that sort of scorn. A lot more thought goes into the process than it appears when you just set an old logo against a new one and write a headline saying how much this change cost. There is often a much more thoroughgoing root and branch reform of the organisation’s communications. But in the end, much as it pains me, I have to admit that branding and advertising is, essentially, cack wizardry. [<–for a fine example of having one’s cake and simultaneously eating it, see the preceding paragraph.]

You’d think, given my years of experience in the field of cacromancy, including the dark arts of nomenclature, that I’d be all right at coming up with names for stuff. And to be fair, it wasn’t a bad moniker for a chat about faith and stuff in the pub or for a bit of breakfast and some stories in a room in a tower block. But I probably should have done better than just calling them both pretty much the same thing. Thus, Sunday evening faith chat in the pub: Sanctuary; Sunday morning breakfast and Bible Stories: the Sunday Sanctuary.

It got interesting when some people started coming to both.
‘Will I see you at Sanctuary?’
‘Which one?’
‘The one on Sunday.’

But the straw that broke the camel’s back for my somewhat lazy nomenclative twinning was the establishment of our new evening service. For a dreadful moment I considered, and maybe even suggested, that we call it, you guessed it: Sanctuary. I thought about naming it Sanctuary 2, renaming my pub chat, Sanctuary 3, and Sunday mornings Sanctuary 1.

Sanctuary 1? Sounds very much like Sanctus 1! I think our friends in the North would justifiably have prosecuted us for ‘passing off’. We would have been the Fresh Expression equivalent of ‘Ken Lucky’s Fried Chicken’. Another possibility I explored was calling the evening service ‘Presence’ — a name I’d nicked off David Cundill, pioneer blokey in Leicester.

The business of naming fresh expressions is getting a bit like the business of securing a domain name. Names are getting more and more obscure and ridiculous in an attempt to be simultaneously unique and memorable. I mean: ‘moonpig’. What’s that got to do with customised greetings cards?

So in the end, we plumped for…

The colon is part of it. The colon is an important part of our gathering… its name; its name. It’s a fairly pretentious way of suggesting that whatever space we manage to create is both full of possibility and awaiting interpretation. More about that (the gathering, not the colon) in another post.

And at the same time, I decided it was time to perform separation surgery on the conjoined twins of Sunday mornings in the tower block and Sunday evenings in the pub so that they were free to live their own lives. And so, having secured the domain name ‘’ (still congratulating myself on that one) I decided to rename my Sunday night pub chat ‘PUB:FAITH’. There’s that colon again. I was obviously concerned that the backlash on changing such a well-loved and nationally renowned brand would be difficult, just as it was for the Royal Mail/Consignia, but I suspect it won’t quite have the power to force me into a reversal. I am braced though.

That’ll ’ave ’em flocking in.

16 06 2010

This is a poster I came across at Portsmouth and Southsea station. It’s great to be inspired by some cutting edge compassionate evangelism like this 😉 Someone obviously thought this would be a good idea! In fact if everyone who is the least little bit proud is an abomination, that’s me stuffed! Now I know it is in the Bible, but honestly, of all the things this lot could have chosen as God’s message for people getting off a train at Portsmouth and Southsea station (which is dreary enough as it is) they chose this. Well done! Good work fellas!

It’s just that you’re dead for such a long time.

12 06 2010

Here follow some things you’re probably not supposed to say.

I am resentful.
I resent my kids. I resent my job.

Got your attention? Then perhaps I’d better clarify. There are moments — my weaker moments — when I feel resentful. Trouble is, as time goes by, I don’t feel like I’m on a trajectory to fewer weaker moments. As I get older, I feel I am subject to a sort of creeping curmudgeonliness. I’m not that old of course (I turn 39 this month). But as Indy said, it’s not the years, it’s the mileage. And with three kids and a challenging ministry, I’m clocking up plenty of miles, and wondering how long I can keep up this pace of life — especially as I’m essentially a lazy sod.

As the t-shirts say: It’s not that life’s too short, it’s just that you’re dead for such a long time.

I’ve always been kind of conscious of mortality. So, for instance, I’m not entirely comfortable in the company of people over 50. It’s not that there aren’t people over 50 that I like. There are. Some of my best friends are over 50. It’s just that there’s this question grumbling away in my mind and one day I’m afraid I’ll ask it out loud:

‘What does it feel like to have more of your life behind you than ahead of you?’

And I’m very conscious that the time is fast approaching when I too will cross that line. And as time’s wingèd chariot draws near, I have begun to feel a little unsettled and a little, well, resentful, as I said.

How can I possibly say I resent my kids? I have childless friends who would dearly love to have children. They know it’s not a bed of roses but honestly, they’d give their eye teeth to be ‘blessed’ in the way we are.

Maybe resent isn’t the right word. It’s not that I don’t love my children. I love them fiercely. I only have to think about what it might be like to lose one of them to know that. But there is just this niggling sense that our lives are so absorbed in theirs that we’ve lost ourselves a bit.

We waited a few years before starting a family. In that time we had a couple of memorable holidays. But I can’t help feeling that the world offers such a breadth and richness of different experiences and that we’ve missed our chance to really travel and experience the world.

Some of you reading this might be thinking that there’s always the time when our children have left home. Actually I’d dearly live to share some of those experiences with them.

But it’s not just that. It’s actually a concern for my children and the sort of life we’re modelling for them.

We’re putting ourselves to not a little trouble to try and ensure that our eldest has the opportunity to go to a secondary school that will give him the best chance to make the most of his ability. We will do the same for his brother and sister when it comes to it. But not just so that they can do the same for their children, if they eventually have families of their own. I want them to get something out of life for themselves. To have a life. To do stuff. To have interests. To experience the world. Raising children is one of the most rewarding things one can do in itself. But I think there might be a difference between living for others and living through them. My faith calls me to be committed to seek to live in a way that puts others’ needs before my own. But life is also for living — life is a gift to be enjoyed in all its fulness. As the old lyric goes: ‘I did not put you here to suffer/I did not put you here to whine/I put you here to love another/And to get out and have a good time now’ (Rainmakers: Let my people go).

Living a miserably selfless life now because there’s heaven to come seems to me to be a denial of that gift. Enjoying life doesn’t seem to me to be at odds with a life of faith. It’s just that lots of enjoyable things require resources!

Which brings me to my second resentment: my work.

Being a stipendiary priest in the Church of England isn’t a bad gig. It’s not a proper job for goodness sake and we’re a lot better off than most of the population of the world and a lot of people in this country, even. But it’s hard not to cast an envious eye over at friends whose earnings give them the freedom to go to the places they want and do what they want. It’s not about getting more stuff. I really don’t much care what car I have, for instance. All right I would quite like an iPad and an iPhone 4 and… and… Okay so maybe it’s a little bit about stuff.

This is all sounding so shallow. Well believe me, I do have hidden shallows. Sometimes they’re not even that well hidden.

I guess what I’m getting at is that I thought having the chance to be a priest would just mean I didn’t really care about what other people get to do by virtue of their earnings. But it turns out I do. And I guess I want to have a life, and I want my kids to have a life in their turn, that isn’t just about the kids. The loss of other opportunities because of the choices we’ve made is not insignificant.

I don’t expect any sympathy for my middle class, middle-aged angst. It’s all a bit pathetic. But maybe sharing this waffle might just make someone else feel less bad about themselves if they’ve got these feelings too. Does any of this ring any bells for you?

Horror vacui

27 04 2010

The old idea that nature abhors a vacuum is false. Because there is no such thing as a true vacuum. Even the space between particles in an atom is not empty. It is teeming with the energy of possibility.

What’s all that got to do with all this? (This being my little bit of the Anglican mission in Portsmouth.) Not much. But I was reading about it last night when I should have been doing something else. And maybe it’s a helpful metaphor for the empty space that has characterised this blog for two or three weeks now. I took a break after Easter, but since coming back, I haven’t managed to sit down to write. But that’s not because my head is (any more) empty (than usual). It’s not a problem with coming up with things to write. The problem is knowing where to start. The empty space between my ears has been fizzing with possibility. I hope I can make the time to get it out there before the time moves on and it’s irrelevant.

I hope therefore you’ll bear with me and continue to watch this space. Because it’s not empty…

Joining the apologensia – or why you always wait ages for a post and then they all come at once.

20 01 2010

Blogging inevitably involves apologising from time to time for having gone silent. I’ve done that more than once on this blog and I’m sure I’ll do it again. I hope I don’t have an overblown concept of my own importance but I do know some of you personally who have said that you read my blog. So, for all of you, sorry I haven’t posted anything in the last 25 days. It has felt like a phenomenally busy period. But if I get out of the habit of reflecting on what it is I’m doing, not just with colleagues but with ‘the world’ (alright maybe I have got an overblown idea of my own importance!) – if I get out of that habit, then without the chance of encountering correctives from a variety of sources, there’s the potential for drift.

There is actually a lot to bring y’all up to speed on, so rather than trying to write a mega post that will never be finished, I’ll post a few shorter updates. So like the clichéd buses, you’ll have waited ages and then several will come at once…

All quiet on the Western Front

18 02 2009

Hi Pioneer followers. The blog will go quiet for a few days as this week I are mostly been spending time with my family. See you next week!

The Metropolis that is Portsmouth

10 10 2008

So why Mark’s musings on metropolitan mission?

According to, metropolitan means: “of, relating to, or characteristic of a major city”. Now some would argue that with a population of around 200,000, Portsmouth – where I live and work – doesn’t really qualify as a ‘major city’.

Some might even say that Superman wouldn’t find enough to do if he’d left sleepy Smallville, moved to Portsmouth instead of Metropolis and taken up his secret identity as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent of the News.

I say, pah! Pompey may not be large but it’s surely at, or very near to, the centre of the known universe and what it lacks in scale it makes up for in prominence and character. So why wouldn’t the man of steel make his home in our fine city?

And besides, ‘urban’ doesn’t begin with ‘m’ so it would have spoiled my little bit of alliteration…

BTW, did you notice, if you followed the link, that metropolitan can also be used as a noun for both an urban sophisticate and a person of episcopal rank? Need I say more?