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notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK
Sunday, December 24, 2006My Christmas letter, for those who've not seen it
Last year my epistle used satire to spice it up a bit. In other words not everything in it was true. It misled some readers. So just to clarify: I didn't actually get married in 2005, nor did I pose naked on Crosby beach with the Antony Gormley statues. Not that I wasn't tempted. However it is entirely true that in 2006 I appeared on Channel Four's Wife Swap and was spotted wearing a braided wig in a Shropshire country mansion [see notes below, if you're still interested in any of this nonsense]. This year I shall attempt, just for once, to get real.
This life [as a clergyperson] can be crippling: always in the public eye, constantly dealing with people projecting their hopes / anxieties / hang-ups / expectations on you, forever returning home exhausted to find more messages on the answerphone to deal with there and then. People complaining you're never here. Actually, you're always here. It's exhausting. That's why you have to try to get away as often as you can. And though you may get away physically, you find it harder to get away in your head. But then again this life can be very creative: you can make time to engage in your particular concerns or interests, you get excellent opportunities to help people shape their lives - working creatively and at depth with families around funerals, weddings, baptisms, giving young people the space to ask questions and explore. The collar gets you into all sorts of fascinating places and conversations and the variety of those encounters - even within the space of one day - can be staggering. Many people, for most of the time, like to have you around. Bit like being a plumber, maybe. That's pretty special.
You do live a lie of course. People think you're some sort of superhuman (or subhuman) constantly oozing niceness, tolerance and grace. That's absurd. You know the truth is far darker and that on your way out of the sanctuary after another encounter with someone with a dose of bad religion, those words you're muttering under your breath are closer to the vocabulary of Wayne Rooney than Francis of Assisi. People think you spend your leisure time reading weighty commentaries on the Book of Ezekiel when in fact you're burying your head in your whisky-stained hands listening to radio commentaries on Everton's latest let-down. Someone reading my website emailed me this year amazed that a vicar could like Julian Cope and PJ Harvey. Like them? They define me, get your head round that, was the gist of my reply, pretty shaken by their presumptions.
Sometimes you want to give up - when another one of 'the faithful' tells you, 'I know I shouldn't really be saying this, but those Muslims....' and you realise once again that you've allowed yourself to be licensed to an organisation defined by crippling conservatism and bigotry of the worst order (because it masquerades as respectability). Sometimes you want to run - when you're holding the dead baby, your heart pounding and head empty, and the parents are staring at you waiting for a word of comfort. Sometimes you want to laugh - when in the old folks home your communion service is punctuated by an unhinged woman shouting 'HOUSE!' at every pause. And sometimes you want to cry with joy - when, in talking one-to-one, that same woman in a moment of clarity tells you something about her life that reveals to you the fullness of her humanity and the depth of her maturity and you realise once again how complex, mad and wonderful are these human stories you've opted to weave yourself into.
My great joy this year was to present some talks and workshops, prompted by Radio Merseyside and Greenbelt, on ideas around the value of reading the everyday, of finding heaven in the ordinary. They've been really well recieved, encouraging me that I may be onto something. And that after two and a half years adjusting I may now be settled enough in my work to be starting to get creative with the mess and miraculous which is life in Norris Green.
1. Vinny and Nancy, of our parish, were on Wife Swap and they did a bit of filming in our church.
2. Our October parish weekend was at Cloverley Hall, Shropshire, and in an evening cabaret slot I portrayed Cinderella.
2006 FROM THE WEBSITE WWW.JOHNDAVIES.ORG
GOOD WALKS IN GOOD COMPANY
Mon, Jan 2 - circuit of the Tilberthwaite Fells
Fri, Jan 27 - adventures in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire
Sat, April 8 - Mis-Guide launch, a derive around Horseguards Parade, London
Sat, Nov 25 - Hightown to the Pier Head, the Gormley Statues and Dock Road walls pilgrimage
Fri, Feb 24 - Julian Cope, Manchester Academy: 'A writer of some subtance... a self-aware rock-and-roll cartoon'
Fri, May 12 - Handsome Family , Birkenhead Pacific Road. With The Burning Leaves, a really fine young duo.
Wed, March 15 - Gervaise Phynn, St George's Hall: education for the children, hilarity compulsory.
Sun, Nov 5 - Doreen Massey, FACT: geography for the people, and debunking globalisation's myths.
Thurs, April 27 - Billy Bragg, in the Far East Restuarant, before his Liverpool gig. Exchanged jokes about overeating.
Mon, Aug 28 - Bill Drummond, in a tent at Cheltenham Racecourse - I interviewed him on stage about The 17.
Mon, March 20 - organised a reading of Eliot Weinburger's What I heard about Iraq, on the third anniversary of the invasion
Sat, April 29 - wrote an open letter to local people at Local Election time, discouraging the BNP vote
May 22 - 26 - co-led a week on Iona for folks involved in working with socially excluded groups
DAYS OUT IN THE GREAT INDUSTRIAL NORTH
Sat, June 24 - Picnic between M6 carriageways, Shap
Fri, July 28 - Manchester Ship Canal Cruise
Tue, Feb 7 - Dafydd Owen, Bangor Cathedral
Mon, March 6 - Peter Firth, St Luke's Crosby
Wed, April 26 - Lancel Ledward, Tarporley Chapel
BOOKS OF THE YEAR
Roger McGough's autobiography, Said and Done
Nick Thorpe's boat-hitching gem, Adrift in Caledonia
Shrinking Cities Project: Manchester/Liverpool report
SOUNDS OF THE YEAR
Lou Rhodes: Beloved One, Current 93: Black Ships Ate the Sky, Gravenhurst: Fires in Distant Buildings, V/A: Folk, my 06 compilation - ask, I'll burn one for you today.
January 23 - 27 - Radio Merseyside Thoughts for the Day series on the Stars of Norris Green.
Sun, April 16 - I rewrote the set-list of The Manchester Passion using only songs by The Fall.
August 7 - 11 - Radio Merseyside Thoughts for the Day series of Common Prayers including the now-celebrated We give thanks for the Purple Wheelie Bin...
Mon, Sep 25 - I rewrote the spiritual Over My Head to describe 24-hour police helicopter activity around a local gangland funeral.
NEXT YEAR'S (SABBATICAL) PROJECT
Sept - Nov - To walk the M62. An idea well received so far by artists, geographers, industrial chaplains, vicars, playwrights, and all sorts of others each preparing to walk me around 'their place' on a pilgrimage from Hull back to Liverpool. Plans well in hand. Join me for a day or two...?