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.
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