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What happened at Synod with clergy pensions?

The session of General Synod this February 2024 contained a large number of contentious issues, so there was a general sense of dread as the sessions began. But there was an outbreak of unanimity when it came to discuss my Private Member’s Motion on clergy pensions. 

I had been concerned for some years at both the decline in clergy stipends, and the related question of poor pension provision, and as a result had spoken against recommended provision in recent meetings of the Archbishops’ Council. (You can find the details of recent changes here, and more general discussion of the issues in thinking about stipends here.)

My motion read as follows: 

That this Synod request the Archbishops’ Council, the Pensions Board, and the Church Commissioners to work together to find a way to make use of the whole range of assets and resources across the Church to enable the restoration of the clergy pension to its pre-2011 benefit level as soon as possible.

My deliberate aim was to avoid the technical complexities of pensions (my paper supporting the motion had a financial appendix added to it, and was then followed by no fewer than three papers offering technical commentary!) and also to avoid commending any particular solution—that was for others to work out. My goal was simply to say: there is a problem here that needs solving, and please can someone solve it. 

Carl Hughes, the Chair of the Finance Committee of the Archbishops’ Council, proposed an amendment which changed the language to the more cautious wording of ‘seeking’ and ‘sustainable’, which I did not mind—but I insisted (in negotiation with him) that the reference to restoring the pre-2011 level of pension was retained. Importantly, Carl included reference to the National Minimum Stipend, on the basis of which the pension is calculated.

 

Why does Jesus cleanse the temple in John 2?

The gospel lectionary reading for Lent 3 in Year B is John 2.13–22, the Fourth Gospel’s account of Jesus ‘cleansing’ the temple and driving out the traders and money-changers. After quite a bit of immersion in passages from Mark’s gospel, it is an interesting contrast to be back in John. No driving narrative here, but a much more crafted, ‘literary’ shape to the passage, with careful structuring. And instead of teaching us things through the placing of one event after another—communicating by putting things next to each other in parataxis—this gospel does its work by double meaning—communicating by overlaying things on top of one another!

Our passage follows on from the miracle of water into wine at the wedding at Cana, but in between there is a brief topographical and temporal reference: ‘He went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days’ (John 2.12). The comment combining his biological family and the new family of faith is intriguing; we only know of Capernaum as his ministry base from Matthew 4.13, but here as elsewhere the writer of the Fourth Gospel assumes that we have read the other three.

From Cana in the hills, you must ‘go down’ to Capernaum by the lake, and similarly you must ‘go up’ to Jerusalem, since it is at a higher altitude. (In both Greek and Hebrew, the phrases ‘go up’ and ‘go down’ are a single verb.) Whereas we tend to view movement by compass direction, looking from above at a map with north being ‘up’ (so from where I live in Nottingham, I would ‘go down’ to London), here the movement is viewed from the ground, so what matters is whether you climb or whether you descend. Such topographical detail marks out this gospel, which (despite being thought of as the ‘spiritual’ gospel) has more and more accurate topographical references than the others.