At the beginning of December, 2011, the man who is to be crowned, Archbishop of Canterbury, tomorrow, was sitting here in my home, in the very seat I am sitting in now After a pleasant hour or so of conversation he stated that I definitely had a priestly vocation. I told him that his plan to visit all the clergy of his new diocese was the best idea he would ever have because clergy need to feel loved. He thanked me for the advice and left.

Tomorrow, Justin Welby will begin a new and exciting ministry in which he will travel the world and be feted by the high and low alike. At the end of this time he will retire on a substantial pension and will continue to enjoy a worthwhile vocation in both church and society.

I asked him for help and he would not help me.

All I wanted was permission to officiate and a church to assist in. No pay, no accommodation. Just a lousy bit of paper.

Tomorrow will be just another boring, hopeless, lonely, useless day for me.

I give in.

Why is the grace of God so random?



    • Of course, people can stand in the way. Would the world be in such a bloody mess, if people couldn’t stand in the way of God’s grace? God created humans with the ability to make choices, for good or for ill.

    • I am about to fall of the edge of the world. At the edge of the world you look down and there are no hands to catch you. If you are safe and happy in the middle of the world, a long way from the edge, it is easy to pretend that there are hands waiting to catch you if you fall.

    • Jonathan, you know very little about my life, because I don’t tell you about my life. I’ll just say that “safe and happy in the middle of the world” is hardly an accurate description of my life, but I do find a way to go on, because I choose, with the help of God’s grace, yes – God’s grace – not to be overcome by adversity.

  1. Been there, done that, got mad at God, toyed with maltheism, blamed God some more, got depressed, wondered about suicide (lousy idea)Wallowed in self-pity and sunk deeper into the pit until every moment was drowned in tears. Yeah, God’s got a blimmin black sense of humour, it was when I decided that I didn’t believe and nothing was worth living for that he started to use me, I no longer presumed to call myself a Christian but prayer after prayer was answered in astounding ways.
    Our timing isn’t God’s and he doesn’t let go as easily as we do. Actually a good therapist did help too. She said, ‘your problem is spiritual.’ Don’t you dare give up. The impossible does happen.

  2. Well, I have all kinds of advice and personal stories that I could share with you, but this is obviously not the time. However, I can say that encountering the thoughts and ministry of Jonathan Haggar have had a great impact, mostly for the good, upon me, and who can understand the reason or grace of that?

  3. There’s no faulting your logic Mad One. It doesn’t auger well for the church over there. The new Archbishop meets a drowning Priest and in response to his plaintive cries says. “You know what? I think you’re a bit manipulative!”

    It’s a bit Pythonesque.
    “Help! Help!”
    “Bloody manipulative peasant!”

  4. Jonathan, I feel very deep sympathy for you. You are currently stuck, absolutely stuck. I’ve been in that position thinking “something has to give.” In fact, I’m in that position now, with regard to my working life.

    Something will give — in a good way — it will. For me, the key has been getting out and connecting with people. By meeting people, I’ve gotten a lot of affirmation and encouragement, and I’ve come across a good, solid idea that is basically an escape plan for me. I’m working on it!

    I know that I live in a different place from you, and I have a different career, but in case it’s helpful to you, I’ve found Meetup a good way to find people with common interests. I just put in Durham, England, and here is TinyURL link for what it came up with:

    Here’s the entire link if you prefer

    I see a dog lovers’ group, for example. You can also state your own interest, create a group, and see who is attracted to it. What’s to keep you from starting MadPriest’s Theology Discussion Group? or Bible Study or Theological Cartooning? You would have to work to get the word out, but over time, you could create such a group.

    I don’t know you well, and don’t know if this suggestion will be helpful, but it’s the most practical possibility I can think of. One of these interests and ways to meet people may help you get unstuck from this awful place in your life.



    • Justin Welby said he had tried to find a parish for me to assist in but he was unable to. In the whole year Welby was here I was only sent to visit one parish. The priest said “yes” and we arranged when I should start. Then the next day the rural dene rang me to say the vicar had changed his mind because I was “too pushy.” Actually, I was “desperate, but I take his point. That was the last I heard from anyone concerning finding me a parish. Unfortunately, the suffragan bishop (now in charge) won’t give me PTO unless I go back to the laity for 6 months. For reasons of pride I am unable to do that. This is a shame because a priest in the diocese has now offered me the opportunity to help her out. She wrote to Welby before he left but he didn’t reply.

    • I agreed to spend 6 months “settling in” to a church and now have PTO and my incumbent is about to ask for a full licence. If you do the 6 months they would need a very good reason NOT to give you PTO.

    • It doesn’t make sense for a priest who has not been disciplined to have to be laicised for six months if priests coming into a diocese to take up a post don’t have to be and retiring priests don’t have to be. I am clinically obsessed with things having to make sense. I have tried to go to church but it is too painful for me to explain to people why I cannot preside or preach. I feel like I’m guilty for something and on probation. I think they will think I’ve been sexually abusing children or screwing around as they are the usual reasons that priests have their licence removed from them.

      Look, I know all about the stuff about humility and I can see how sensible it would be to jump through their hoops, but I just can’t do it.

    • If you’re not willing to play the game (which in this case is quite a gentle game) then I’m not sure what other option is open to you. I think the Diocese is being perfectly fair – it’s pretty normal for priests that are new to a Diocese and not coming to a licensed position to have a break to let them “settle in” to a new worshipping community. Nobody batted an eyelid about the fact that I wasn’t preaching or presiding because frankly very few people knew that I could!

      And yes, the humility thing *is* important. Besides, to be laicised for involve defrocking you. No-one’s suggesting that are they?

      Play the game Jonathan. The path to PTO and beyond has been laid out clearly for you. It’s not that onerous and your refusal to engage in it and to then complain that no-one is giving you a PTO just strikes me as a tad childish. Needed to say it.

    • I have been constructively defrocked without due process.

      But I cannot do that which does not make sense. If you can explain how it makes sense and square it with my point about imported and retired priests, then that would be more useful to me than getting on your high horse and preaching at me without any regard for my mental abnormalities. Would you insist that an autistic person allows himself to be cuddled?

    • “I have been constructively defrocked without due process.”

      I don’t think that’s fair. You are demanding a different treatment then others in the same situation. Compare yourself to other clergy who move into the Diocese and ask for PTO. If they are being given PTO straight away then you can complain.

      At the end of the day the path to restoration has been offered to you and you have turned it down. Others have faced loss, loss of job, loss of children, and have come through. But my real sense is that you are not prepared to let they system work and, more importantly, you are not prepared to accept what God actually has in store for you.

    • Believe me, Peter. I find the way you think as baffling as you obviously find the way I think. Fortunately for you, most of the world is prepared to do things simply because they are told to so I doubt that you feel as lonely as I do. Me, I have a personality disorder that makes me obsess on things having to be morally right. It is not morally right that I should be treated in a different way to an imported or retired priest. At least, it doesn’t seem so to me. Perhaps you could help me here by explaining to me how you think it does. If I am proved wrong then I assume I will be able to jump through the hoops.

    • FROM Peter O:

      “It is not morally right that I should be treated in a different way to an imported or retired priest.”

      Well let’s look at those two situations. In each one the Diocese already has an established relationship with the priest. Those who are retiring whilst in the Diocese have held a license there for a number of years and so there is no problem giving them PTO. Those who come into the Diocese through the process of interview and assessment for a new position have equally established a relationship and have been assessed by the necessary channels.

      But a priest coming into the Diocese who is not stipendiary or performing an official function does not have that relationship. In this circumstance you would expect the Diocese to just want a few months for the new priest to settle in before undertaking a CRB check and then granting PTO. This period allows for a formal relationship to be established and for each party to understand each other.

      The granting of a license or a PTO is *not* a right. There is a duty of care on behalf of the Diocese to ensure that the priest in question can represent the Diocese in this manner. New imports and those retired within their Diocese have already had such a duty of care assessment conducted on them. Someone who simply moves into the Diocese and then wants to minister (the exact situation both you and I found ourselves in) have not.

      So how would you move forward? Very simply, find a church you want to worship at (not preside, worship), patiently attend and participate for 6 months and then go back to the Bishop. At that point he would need a very good reason not to grant PTO.

    • An incoming priest does not have any more of a relationship with the diocese than I have. And the suffragan is not after the building up of a relationship. He even suggested that I attended the cathedral so that I could remain completely anonymous. Although I have asked I have never been invited to chapter or sent diocesan newsletters/emails. No. There is simply no indication that the diocese wants to get to know me. In fact, the opposite appears to be the case. The six month thing is just another way of keeping me out. Also, they would not insist that a retired priest from another diocese wait six months before getting PTO. It is traditional for a bishop to retire outside of their own diocese. Do they have to wait six months before they are allowed to preside? No.

      Do bear in mind that it is a double whammy. A priest without PTO cannot serve a congregation and cannot become a member of a congregation. They are not represented in the church whatsoever. They are not lay and they are not clerical as far as the structure of the church is concerned. They are nothing and I cannot cope with the shame of that for six months. I don’t expect you to understand my embarrassment because you obviously view the world far more pragmatically and less symbolically than I do.

  5. “An incoming priest does not have any more of a relationship with the diocese than I have.”

    Yes they do. They have been through an application and assessment / interview process. The very fact that they are incoming into a licensed position is because they have already established a relationship through this process.

    What would be wrong with attending the cathedral for 6 months? The team there are very good (Michael Sadgrove in particular) and you would enjoy the style of worship surely? And as for 6 months being about keeping you out, you really need to leave this pity party of yours behind – never at one point did I feel waiting 6 months for PTO was an attempt to keep me out. Rather, it was a clear process with a defined end designed to have me in rather than out.

    A priest without a PTO *can* be a member of a congregation. I managed it absolutely fine and many others do equally. There is no shame in it and indeed, the Bishop’s suggestion that you simply attend the cathedral means that no-one will even know that you are anything other than everybody else gathered for worship. You need to get beyond this embarrassment and actually try it. What are you expecting – a bunch of people who don’t know you, who have never met you before and have absolutely no idea that you are a priest to suddenly have a word of knowledge and for them all to turn round to you in the Nave pointing fingers and calling you names?

    For some of the members of SMB (where I attend) it was an absolute revelation when one Sunday I suddenly turned up presiding. They had no clue I was a priest and they never made any assumptions. For those who did know I simply said, truthfully, that I was taking some time out from ministry so that I could settle in. In this way I took control of the situation, owned it for myself and didn’t let others dictate to me what my position was. I willingly chose to not do ministry and in owning that choice dis-empowered anybody who might want to use it against me.

    The path towards PTO is less painful then you think it is, but I recognise that it is still a huge barrier for you. Perhaps you could try going to the cathedral this Sunday? You would be utterly anonymous and you could enjoy the Easter celebrations without anybody thinking you are anything other than a normal Cathedral attendee.