MADPRIEST’S SERIOUSLY WEIRD WEEK

It all started with a marvellous weekend.

When Mrs MP arrived home from work last Friday we popped the dogs in the back of the car and drove down to the riverside at Chester-Le-Street for an evening walk. Our lazy perambulation through the park and along the bank of the River Weir was followed by a very tasty supper and a pint of Timothy Taylor's at the DUN COW on Primrose Hill. Then home to bed, as Samuel Pepys would put it.

On Saturday we drove down to Willington and walked half way to Bishop Auckland along the disused railway and back along the banks of the River Weir. After our walk we drove to Escomb to visit the Saxon church there (THE MADPRIEST GANG GO TO AN OLD CHURCH). Then home for dinner and an evening in front of the television.

Sunday started off in extreme laziness but after lunch we popped into the BEAMISH OPEN AIR MUSEUM (we have annual tickets)  where there was a classic and vintage car rally going on. After a lazy promenade around the museum grounds we picked up the dogs and walked them across the fields from No Place to the outskirts of Stanley, along the old railway to Beamish and back to the BEAMISH MARY INN where we had parked the car earlier.

A drink in the pub proved disappointing. It used to a be a great place to drink but since the landlord who had built it up moved on to the GREY HORSE at Consett it has gone downhill. The beer is still well kept but the bar staff are unfriendly and the locals stare at you when you walk in. Mrs MP, who used to work in the motor trade and is not usually sniffy about such things, even complained about the language of the regulars.

So we left quickly and drove to THE STABLES at the Beamish Hall Hotel where they brew their own excellent range of ales and have a fine courtyard where we sat with our dogs enjoying the Indian Summer evening. After all that we couldn't be bothered to go home and cook dinner so we drove to Consett for a MacDonalds and then home to bed.

Monday was a big day for me. I went to see the Bishop of Jarrow to seek his permission to officiate in the diocese (at the moment Durham has no diocesan bishop in post). I had waited nearly two months for this appointment and, naively as it turned out, I had very high hopes that it would be a changing point in my life for the better. We had deliberately moved to County Durham to get away from the Bishop of Newcastle and make a fresh start. Unfortunately a priest can never have a fresh start in the Church of England because bishops always check with your last bishop (off the record, of course) before they meet you.

I cannot fault the Bishop of Jarrow's manner, he is a very nice man. But I had hoped that the meeting was going to be about me. But it was not to be so. I came away with the distinct impression it had been about keeping the Church of England safe from me.

I was particularly disappointed in the bishop's lack of understanding of community life on the Internet. He definitely believed that the locus of the Christian life should be the bricks and mortar parish church. He would not consider giving me permission to officiate until after I had spent an unspecified amount of time worshipping as an inhibited priest in a church building. However, after I explained to him that I had pride problems around having to admit to people that I was a priest banned from presiding at the sacraments he suggested I worship at the cathedral, because I could remain anonymous there. I thought this somewhat contradicted his insistence that the church was all about "real life" community and, although I really didn't want to, I came away suspicious of the motives behind his instructions.

The bishop was also concerned about who I was accountable to as an internet minister. Again, this showed a lack of knowledge of social media. To run a successful blog you have to take accountability very seriously. If you ignore your "congregation" they will simply go away. And readers of my blog are not shy in bringing their complaints about me to my attention. This is a good thing. I believe that the honest interaction between myself and my online friends over the years has led to a Christian(ish) community that realises the dreams of the liberation theologians of the 1970s and 80s and conforms to John Henry Newman's concept of "the reception of the faithful." In other words, I can get away with a lot less than parish priests regardless of the management style of their bishops. I am definitely under authority, but it is a negotiated authority not one imposed without discussion.

One of the good things about suffering from a mental health problem in England is that you get a lot of free access to information and advice services. When I moved into County Durham at the beginning of August I contacted my local MIND branch to get some advice on unemployment benefits. They fixed up an appointment for me with a person from Citizens Advice at the MIND office. This meeting didn't lead to any change in my financial circumstances but it did introduce me to the staff at the MIND office. One of them suggested that I met her every Tuesday for a while for counselling. Now, I'm not one for naval gazing therapy but she seemed a practical, straightforward type so I accepted her offer (it being free of charge helped). The course started off well with some real progress being realised in my attempt to let go of my all-consuming anger towards the Bishop of Newcastle. My move to Durham had created a situation where I was able to finally turn my back on the past to some extent. However, for the last few weeks we had reached a point of impasse. My counsellor had been trying really hard to get me to accept the reality of my situation and let go of my insistence that the only job I would consider had to be a priestly one. I was having none of it. But my meeting with the Bishop of Jarrow on Monday had resulted in all my naive delusions about my priestly future being blown away. So I went into my counselling this Tuesday with a resigned, calm acceptance that I was never going to realise my dreams and that I had to think of another way to pass my time productively until released from this mortal coil.

But we didn't talk about my future employment. We talked about my phobias instead. I have two biggies. I cannot eat food unless it has been prepared by Mrs MP or myself or by a professional cook. For example I cannot accept dinner invitations from friends unless they agree to buy the food in. I also have problems with buffets at church socials and the like. This can be socially embarrassing. No matter how much I explain my problem to people they are always still offended when I refuse to eat their lovingly created dishes. My second phobia is a fear of washing. You will be pleased to know, I'm sure, that, although I cannot overcome the former phobia, I am able to regularly wash but I have to force myself and it is painful every time.

My counsellor gently got me to discover when these phobias had kicked in. I think I have had a bit of a food phobia since being forced to eat the vile muck they called school dinners back when I was a kid (the teachers wouldn't let you leave the table until you had eaten everything). But both phobias, I realised, really became a problem thirteen years ago when I was ill and in hospital. The main symptom of my illness was that I felt compelled to lay perfectly still, all day and all night, willing myself into unconsciousness and completely consumed by an unspecified but extreme terror. I spent every moment dreading having to move from this position and, of course, the two main reasons I was dragged from my bed were to eat and to wash.

But this wasn't the major breakthrough of this session. It suddenly dawned on me that I had been wrong all these years in believing that my present state was the opposite of the semi-catatonic state of my breakdown. I had an epiphany moment. It became clear to me that I was still lying still refusing to move and that my comfort zone had merely expanded. I realised that I was still a prisoner of my terror. Now, of course, this realisation didn't immediately lead to me throwing off my chains and embarking straight away on a new and marvellous life. But it did lead to a feeling of having something very heavy lifted from me and my counsellor is going to work on the phobias as a first step towards my freedom.

Later on Tuesday I had a brief exchange of emails with the future Bishop of Durham, Justin Welby. I expressed my frustration about not being granted permission to officiate but his replies left me feeling that he had the wrong impression of me. So, for the first time since it happened, I wrote down the experience that led me into madness, and sent it to him. I had never done this fully before because, quite honestly, I did not want to think about it. I cannot, at this moment in time, post it because it involves such evil and misconduct  that revealing it publicly it would ruin lives and be, no doubt, disputed in the courts. I have not, as yet, heard back from Justin.

Then, yesterday, I discovered a floating sphere on a photograph I had taken inside Escomb Church last Saturday (see SPOOKY). Now, I expect it was some fault in the camera or something similar but I really don't care. I tend to view life, not as a series of facts, but as a narrative and I am interested in knowing what this photograph, taken during this strange week, has to do with my narrative. I am sure I will come up with something interesting.

Last night I bought fish and chips from Isabel's Pantry in Perkinsville. The fish is bought from the fish quay fresh everyday and is cooked in a batter so light that it does not detract from the taste of the fish. It is to die for.

***

One thing both Mrs MP and myself are firmly convinced of is that this weird week will effect my ministry on the Internet and that this ministry should continue in an expanded form (Nij came up with a good idea yesterday regarding this). But there will be no more blogging if I cannot support myself financially. So, please, if you do not do so already, please consider becoming a supporter of ST. LAIKA'S and OCICBW.... Many of you do already and very generously too. But I need to double the subscriptions to make the project feasible.

You can donate anything from £1 upwards on a monthly basis or make a one off donation. Simply use the widgets below to do so. You do not even need a PayPal account of your own.

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Comments

MADPRIEST’S SERIOUSLY WEIRD WEEK — 35 Comments

  1. Say, let me ask you a question, if it’s ok….

    Does the food phobia extend to raw foods, like what you’d find on a vegetable tray, like carrots and broccoli and cherry tomatoes with some dip? Those aren’t cooked foods, so it seemed that perhaps the phobia centers around cooked foods only.

    If I say “wow, I feel quite grateful that I do not have this particular issue (I’ve got plenty of other ones, believe me)” and it sort of motivates me to eat as healthy and nutritionally soundly as I can afford, because I CAN, please understand that I do not mean this offensively. I’m really very grateful for this and ever since I saw a TV show about it, I’ve been quite *humbled* by the fact that I can just happily nibble on whatever without even thinking about it.

  2. You do realise that Isabelle’s Pantry is almost within walking distance from my house, don’t you? You’re always welcome to pop in for a cuppa, and I promise never to offer to cook for you.

  3. I have no problems with raw foods, Tracie. However, I couldn’t eat a ham sandwich prepared by a friend even if all the ingredients are brought. However, I can eat a ham sandwich bought from a shop. Go figure!

  4. Seriously weird, indeed, MP. I would term it “eventful”. And your awareness and curiosity about it all displays some of the sanest thinking I’ve read in a long time. God bless you, Jonathan, and doubly so for Mrs MP.

  5. Whatever the Church may say, I don’t think your madness is really what they have a problem with. I think it’s more the way in which you use your own personal distress so creatively and constructively to inform a ministry and a theology to provide challenges with which the Church cannot or will not yet engage. One day the Church will listen to and include and learn from the experiences of those living openly with mental health issues, and one day the Church will get the hang of the internet. But possibly not within our lifetime. You are a prophet in every sense of the word…

  6. However, that’s not to say that I don’t appreciate the awkwardnesses and nightmares involved in only being able to eat pre-packaged ham sandwiches. With all belief in a God of healing, if you were to regain the ability to eat sandwiches prepared by others, I would drop anything to come and make us both ham sandwiches. Even as a vegetarian 😉

  7. Thanks, Heather. You remind me of the fact that when I fist started my blog my sole intention was to make contact with Christians with mental health problems who felt they were excluded from the Church. Of course, I soon found out that we were by no means the only group that were treated as lepers by the bigoted, Bride of Christ.

    Ironically, the blog was my reaction to over five years of putting up with the bishop of Newcastle’s prejudice and discrimination. I would never have been a problem for them if they had treated me with the same respect the law of the land demands secular employers treat the disabled.

  8. Your whole post is very intriguing and moving, too. I’m so glad you’ve experienced the insights you have shared with us here.

    I may say more later; I’m just not able to put my thoughts into words very skillfully at the moment…

  9. From you pain have come blessings for many and community around the globe. I would not wish your pain on anyone but you have used it redemptively and I thank you for all the joy, comfort, and challenge that has come to me through the community I have met largely through here.

    May this evidently significant week lead to paths forward. We are cheering for you, MP.

  10. I’m really thrilled that your therapist has helped you so much! That’s got to feel good and empowering you to deal with the other parts.

    The problem with the church (“the”? perhaps “A big”) is that as a large institution inevitably it is set up to reward a uniform average, and doesn’t function well with those on the edges of the distribution. It pushes to the middle, the average, and at times, the mediocre.

    Academe does better in that regard; the number of far-out colleagues I have is pretty high, but we all manageto survive together, albeit with occasional flares and fireworks.

  11. Now…everyone go buy a Kindle (thru the Amazon widget) and start buying e-books for it (via the Amazon widget).

    E-readers are awesome. The Kindle Fire is coming out soon!

  12. I hate you, Tracie Redhead!!!!

    I’ve just this moment been complaining on IT site about the fact that Kindle Fire will not be released for sale in the UK and blocked for import because of something to do with US law and data protection.

    Not that I want the internet capability. I would, however, like a bog-standard Kindle with colour capabilities so that I can subscribe to magazines. Unfortunately, at the moment, this is only going to be available on Kindle Fire.

  13. I have refrained from asking this question all these months because I’m ashamed of my fear of technology, and my paranoia re same, but here goes: if I start a donation at a certain level, and then want to change that level, say, to increase the subscription, can that be done or does it come out as a second subscription?

    And more important, I’m most interested in the music things on Amazon that seem to be digital, which I take it means they are not cd’s which will be shipped and arrive in the mail but somehow be given to me in some cyber way, and I have no confidence I’ll be able to negotiate that. But more important, when I did try this morning to order the music from last night’s Midnight Jukebox, it said digital music can’t be ordered through the widget (actually I think it said it couldn’t be ordered through eAmazon?) and so I don’t know if you would get any credit for the purchase, which was part of the purpose of the whole taking my tech phobia in my hands and trying this on.

    : (

    wv=hytedsc. Some kind of code, I think, for what technology thinks of me.

  14. I’ve been weighing whether the cost of having SOME sort of portable computing, is outweighed by the cost of NOT having portable computing (that it leads to me be trapped @ my “domicile w/ dad”, and trapped SRSLY).

    If I do find the latter cost is (unbearably) greater, I will look into making said purchase via your widget, MP.

    Blessings in your discernment…

  15. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m making inroads. I may have identified their causes. To be honest I can live with my phobias but maybe getting over them might impact on my wellbeing in ways I would be pleased with.

  16. This is excellent news, Jonathan. Identifying a problem is a major step to being able to treat it. You also appear to be in a better place to deal with these long-standing conditions, and that beats a sharp stick in the eye any day…..

  17. You are such an incredible blessing. Thank you so much for sharing your journey and Ministering with such courage and honesty. It’s not always pretty, but it’s always real – and that matters to me more than you could know.

  18. Mad Priest, I’ve consulted my Freud For Beginners and I’ve come up with a theory.

    You can’t eat food prepared by friends. You can’t eat food if its prepared for you.

    Now as a priest you prepare food for the congregation. You prepare the bread and the wine and then you hand it to people and they eat it in front of you.

    Similarly, as a priest you can wash others. Wash their feet, etc. But, also not so easy to wash yourself.

    According to the book there is likely to be a connection between your phobia and your priesthood. Especially given the time frame.

    What the connection is, I have no idea. If only I had Freud For The Advanced!

  19. What a story! It sounds like you’ve really shifted massively over the last few weeks, even if you don’t yet know where this will take you.

    I so hope you will get a gentle and understanding reply to your courageous act of sending the bishop your mental health history.

    And thanks for still speaking out, still pushing the boundaries, still putting church right out there for all of us to share.

  20. 1. I regard demons as metaphors for the things that “bedevil” us. That said, the first step in dispatching the things has traditionally been to name them. Good on you for doing this.
    2. I’ve learned that things usually don’t work one way. The times that I’ve been troubled by something or someone, they, also, have had a part.
    3. Have you told your counselor about the precipitating event? Practical people can usually shed some light on such things and take the mystery, and therefore the terror and power, out of them.
    4. A touch of semi-relevant humor: have you seen the movie, “Cold Comfort Farm?” It’s delightful, thoroughly hilarious. There’s a character who will not leave her room because, several years before, she “saw something nasty in the woodshed.” A Holywood style producer says to her, “Yeah, babe, but did it see you?” She thinks it over and decides to go on a world tour.
    5. You’re right about social media and the role of the Internet, and your blog is cutting edge. I think that you’re fulfilling God’s call in some ways that will continue to surprise and delight us all. If the expansion should include a subscription, I’m sure that it will be a fair one, since you’re a fair as well as an extraordinarily compassionate person. Strangelove and I well be charter subscribers.
    Prayers ascending for you and Mrs. MP, and the Fur People in your family.

  21. Thanks, EHC. One of the problems I’ve got is that the hierarchy has well and truly covered up the precipitating event. I think they’ve been trying to demonise me ever since so they don’t have to uncover it again.