Sabbatical, Day 24: No Sleep Till Brekkie, More Lectures And The Bristol Tourist Trail

I don’t do well on first nights in new locations. Not on the evidence of this sabbatical, anyway. Having barely slept before 4 am on my first night at Cliff College a fortnight ago, I didn’t sleep before 1:30 here, then woke at 5:30 with a vile headache. (Not that I know what a nice headache would be, you understand.) At 7 am, I decided I needed a large dose of tannin, so I took the pint-sized mug I’d brought from home and made my first tea of the day. The pain slowly subsided over a period of several hours, until it was gone by late afternoon.

Trinity does worship differently from my time. Twenty years ago, nearly everything was Alternative Service Book. Except when Paul Roberts inflicted chanted Book of Common Prayer services, that is. Though the ASB has been replaced in the C of E by Common Worship, the college seems to have themes for particular weeks. This week it’s Iona Community worship, widely popular in many parts of the British church but something that drives me nuts. I have no problem with a liturgy that emphasises social justice and makes no division between work and worship. However, I have found several of their liturgies and some of their songs hectoring and lecturing. Not only that, the confession used this morning was fundamentally inadequate. I like the mutual confession approach of Iona (service leader confesses and congregation pronounces forgiveness, then the process is reversed), so I’m not critical of everything. But this confession started from the point that we had hurt ourselves, then others, then the world. Absolutely no reference to the rupture between humans and God that is central to confession. Remind me never to use it in worship.

There were good things – not least the brief testimony of a student as to what God did in a prolonged experience of a spiritual desert. And the guy who read the Gospel reading did so with great feeling. Those were highlights.

Lectures were more relevant this morning. The operating paradigm (I’m at a theological college – out come the long words!) was still that of the large church, but I felt that more of today’s material was translatable or adaptable. We began with a session on team leadership and issues around teams. We then looked at how to run a meeting, largely taken from the old John Cleese video ‘Meetings, Bl**dy Meetings‘. Finally, a few thoughts about some common mistakes made by leaders.

This afternoon had an optional session. I opted out. It comprised some BBC videos on assertiveness training. While that’s an area I could do with improving in, I needed some air and some exercise to counter the effects of the much improved food. I decided I would try to find some old haunts. Off I went across the Clifton Downs, down two roads whose names may just betray Bristol’s slave trade past – Blackboy Hill and Whiteladies Road – and on down, eventually to Park Street, where I used to frequent three shops. I knew that SPCK would have been long gone after the business atrocities that have been inflicted on that chain of bookshops. Sadly, Rival Records is no longer around – I remember buying Bruce Cockburn‘s World Of Wonders in there during my first year. And the Evangelical Christian Literature bookshop is now a branch of Wesley Owen, stocking everything from N T Wright to Joel Osteen. Insert words such as ‘sublime’ and ‘ridiculous’ as you see fit. I think I’m right in remembering that ECL had been founded by George Mueller.

Not being home today means I’ve missed Shrove Tuesday with the family, but Debbie told me tonight she and the children had decided to postpone pancakes until Saturday. I’m glad they have. Pancakes and their toppings are one of those simple pleasures where it is a joy to see the fun Rebekah and Mark have. Two small pancakes with toffee ice cream here at lunch time were delicious, but no replacement for being with the children. As to toppings generally, I’m a fan of those English Provender jars – no, not the garlic, ginger or horseradish, rather the raspberry coulis or the Belgian chocolate sauce. The latter has been harder to find in the supermarkets recently, though.Looking at the website tonight, I’ve noticed they now do a Fairtrade chocolate sauce, though.

More seriously, I had to miss a hospital out-patient’s appointment Rebekah had this afternoon. Eighteen months ago she had grommets inserted in her ears after protracted episodes of glue ear and consequent poor hearing. They still haven’t solved the problem. One grommet fell out a few months ago, and today they could see congestion in it. She may have to have more grommets fitted, poor lass. Recently, we’ve let her start answering the telephone, but conversations with her are punctuated with “What did you say?”

Tonight, I’ve just spent the time quietly reading. Next stop a spot of supper then an early night, I hope, to catch up on last night.


  1. I was in Bristol at the weekend for the Methodist Heritage Forum, at the New Room. It was good to be back to my student haunts (Wesley College/Bristol Uni 1976-80). The satnav wanted to take me out of Broadmead via the M32, but I decided to come back via Whiteladies Road and the Downs – crossing the Downs in early sunset was wonderful. I’ll be back in July for Convocation (30 years since my BA!) – I look forward to enjoying Bristol again. Lovely city.


  2. but Debbie told me tonight she and the children had decided to postpone pancakes until Saturday.

    With a smile, the ‘catholic’ in me is probably having a similar reaction to your reaction to the confession.

    Today is the start of Lent. You can’t postpone Lent and you can’t feast in Lent.

    As Linus in Charlie Brown would say ‘Good Grief!’ 😉

    (Which reminds me that I have a very good epiclesis for you.)


  3. Tony,

    Yes, Bristol is a beautiful city. Walking down Whiteladies Road yesterday afternoon and again this morning (more on that in tonight’s post), it struck me what a combination it is of the prosperous and the run-down. I don’t know whether that is a decline since I was previously here, or that, in having come here from urban North London in the eighties, anything looked more upmarket than that!


  4. Pam,

    Well, yet, you’re right about not feasting in Lent – to a point. The Sundays were always excluded from the fast days (otherwise there are more than forty days in Lent) and were still regarded as feasts, so if we ate the pancakes on Sunday rather than Saturday I figure we’re still observing Lent. And if I really want to give gainful employment to sophistry, then maybe we’re having to do whatever you call the reverse of ‘proleptic’. 🙂 Poor Debbie as a Baptist hadn’t even heard of Lent before she met me!

    Interested in the epiclesis …


  5. Olive,

    And I’m glad too it isn’t only me! Well, there were a few of us at Hartley Victoria College, Manchester, who got sick of almost non-stop Iona worship from some of the Baptists.

    It was a better Iona confession at Morning Prayer today. Again, I’ll post on that tonight.


  6. I’ll send you the entire Communion service. The epeclesis is:

    Empower our celebration with your Holy Spirit,
    feed us with your life,
    fire us with your love,
    confront us with your justice,
    and make us one in the body of Christ
    with all who share your gifts of love.


    1. Phil,

      Thanks for all you do to keep the issue before people. In the light of what happened to Dave Walker, I’m glad to see informed detail on your site.


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