Some books what I have read

Raven BlackWhen we were on Iona I thought I’d have another go at Wolf Hall but no, I just couldn’t get into it. Something about it is just not grabbing me at the beginning when I know I have a pile of murder mysteries waiting. So I gave up after 3 nights of reading the first few pages over and over again and tore into the first in the Shetland Quartet by Ann Cleeves: Raven Black.  Now there is a bit of a similarity with the Lewis Trilogy by Peter May in that it is set on a Scottish island although Cleeves does not give us as much of the ‘tourist info’ that May does.

I discovered as I was half way through that some of it seemed familiar. That was because it was made into a BBC drama called ‘Shetland’ which I watched a few months ago. I much preferred the book to the TV programme.

Teenager Catherine is found dead in the middle of a Shetland winter. Elderly Magnus Tait, a simple soul with a secret, is an easy target. Enter Jimmy, the lonely detective and watch the story unfurl. Great character analysis and good suspense. I didn’t guess whodunnit at all.

I’ve put the rest of the Quartet on my wish list. 4 stars.

The next book I read was Simon Parke’s A Vicar Crucified. I’m a fan of Parke’s column in the Church Times. He was a CofE vicar who gave it up and worked in a supermarket for a few years, I think. Sometimes that is tempting to me too.  He is also a fan of the Enneagram, of which I know little but always mean to find out more.  He has published a few books on various subjects including Pippa’s Progress which I really enjoyed. I think his Publisher suggested Crime as it always sells so this is the first in the upcoming Abbot Peter mysteries. (Oh how we love a series of murder mysteries.)

The blurb says this:

Abbot Peter has recently swapped leadership of a remote monastery in the Sinai desert for retirement in the bleak and stormy English seaside town of Stormhaven.

When the local vicar is discovered crucified naked, in the vestry, the Abbot is invited to act as a Special Witness investigator. He partners the attractive and ambitious Detective Inspector Tamsin Shah – and discovers a surprising connection along the way.

Shocked by such cruel death, the church community adjusts to the knowledge that the murderer is one of them. The curate? The bishop? The treasurer? As cold waves crash against the winter shoreline, suspicion replaces friendship at St Michaels: no one safe and no one trusted. Abbot Peter believes the mystical nine-point enneagram symbol can help. But as the ravenous press descends on the town and secrets unravel, there will be more victims and a desperate climax before the hidden truth becomes clear.

I read it quite quickly because I enjoyed the style of writing and humour and who doesn’t want to know which of the Vestry or clergy dunnit? I’m not sure that the Enneagram stuff added anything to it and the book could easily have done without it. For me anyway but that might be because I don’t know much about it. (Other than being told I’m probably a 4?) Again I didn’t guess the killer and it did seem a little unlikely. Don’t let that put you off because on the whole, most of it was really good. 4 stars for the churchy stuff.


In which Ruth is impressed by the Methodists

I missed our Synod this year, because we were on Iona. I’m not sure then whether the debate on ethical banking got another airing or not. It is something I’ve been thinking about lately and I know some churches have already made the move so some bank whose name I don’t remember.

However, while catching up with 4 Church Times, I was most impressed with an article about the Methodists who are taking a firmer line against companies in which it invests when they fail to appoint women to their boards. Yes, I had to read it twice too before I could believe it. So while the CofE still haven’t agreed on Bishops who happen to be women, and we still haven’t appointed one, the Methodists are so passionate about equality they carry it in to their banking.

“In future, it will vote against the reappointment of all directors responsible for boardroom recruitment in FTSE 100 companies if there are no women on the board and no plans to put that right.”

I wonder if we even attend the AGMs of companies in which we invest. Someone must, I guess. Does anyone know?  The Methodists are also toughening their stance on companies that fail to report their greenhouse-gas emissions clearly, and also keeping an eye on executive pay.

At the end of the article it proudly states:

The Church of England Ethical Investment Advisory Group advises the Church’s investment bodies to challenge companies that award unduly high bonuses.

Well big deal, frankly. I hope we are all doing that. But the women thing? Now that’s radical – and it bloody shouldn’t be.

Sinking into ecclesiastical despair

I usually look forward to getting the Church Times. Usually I browse it on a Saturday but often it has to wait until Monday before I can open its pages and see who’s doing what to whom in ecclesiastical circles. This week it took me down, down, down into the depths of despair. There was little within its pages to make you glad to be a member of the church.

There was a report from the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly which I suppose might have lifted my heart, reporting as it did on the continuation of the moratorium on accepting people in same-sex relationships into ordained ministry. It seems that it was a good debate, dealt with sensitively.  Sadly, on the same page, there was a report about an email sent by Colin Slee, now deceased, about a vile meeting regarding the selection of a bishop in which the Archbishop of Canterbury lost his temper, people were in tears, and Jeffrey John missed out once more. It seems that the Church of England process for electing bishops (well, its not really election is it?) is not terribly healthy and makes me feel decidedly queasy.

A few pages on and I came across an article on Clergy Stress carried out by St Luke’s hospital. Stress and anxiety were cited as the most prevalent reason for sickness absence in a survey. It is a stressful job and sometimes you do feel as if you are carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. It can be isolating, lonely and exhausting. Thankfully I have some really good clergy friends who empathise, sympathise and will share their hilarious stories at the drop of a hat. But I wonder why we don’t cover more about this in CMD and Clergy Conferences.

Over the page and I see an evangelical pastor is slating the Richard Chartres’s royal wedding sermon. This American visitor to our shores complains that it didn’t preach the gospel. (He was speaking to a Men’s Convention – grrr.)  He is unhappy that the Bishop didn’t talk about sin, about repentance, about the Lordship of Christ. I just despair when I read stuff like this. You know, if we can’t respect one another in the Church what hope have we got of earning respect from others?  And no, I shall never ever preach on sin and repentance at any wedding I take.

In my temper I almost overlooked the wee snippet that said that Religious Hate Crimes have gone up in Scotland by 10%. Sigh.

On the facing page there is a picture of an alarming looking man who looks like he’s sitting on an electric chair at a medium voltage and he turns out to be Harold Camper, the radio evangelist who told us all the Rapture was going to happen last week. Why do we even give column inches to this kind of nonsense?

Scotland didn’t make an appearance in Margaret Duggan’s map of Britain again.

Then we get on to the two big main articles: one on Walsingham and the other on Women Bishops. (I could hear my teeth grinding at this point.)

Walsingham is always a sore point for me. A place of pilgrimage and peace for many and a place of hurt and pain for others. I don’t want to delve into this more closely or I get a pile of hate-mail, but being a priest who happens to be a woman means that I won’t go there until I am permitted to celebrate Mass.

The Guide on Women Bishops covers the same old arguments and again I thank God that I don’t work in the Church of England. Some women bishops interviewed talk of it being a non-issue, and about being accepted for who you are in their own countries. Alongside those stories of affirmation there are the tales of the most shocking behaviour at the last Lambeth conference, about being called names, being sent to the spouses group several times, about 100 bishops walking out of a talk on women and human rights, and about not feeling safe. This is absolutely shocking. Disgusting. That this behaviour goes on in Britain in a church I am in communion with. I think not.

So I’ve folded up the Church Times and put it in the recycling bin. Let’s hope something more positive can come from it now.

Cost of Bishops’ houses

Today in the Church Times there is a report on the rising cost of maintaining CofE bishops’ houses. The total spend in 2002-04 was £11 million. In 2008-10, it is forecast to be £21 million. Some of them are Grade listed. Some of them are castles.

Our bishop lives in a basement flat. Nuff said.

(Although I do think he deserves a proper house. I mean, I think I’ve seen him blinking when he comes out into sunlight.)