Grantchester: small screen or book? Haddon Willmer explains why for him the printed word wins hands down

Have you watched Grantchester on the TV?  Try to forget it.  Are you tempted to watch? Resist and desist!  Why?   Because the original books by James Runcie are much better and will give you a richer experience.  Why drink muddied water when fresh living water is on the table?

Sidney Chambers appears in the first of the series as a young vicar of Grantchester. As time goes on, he rises up the ecclesiastical ladder – to be an Archdeacon, and maybe a Bishop beyond that. Always, he goes about his work as a priest seriously, praying, thinking the Faith with insight, sharing it in sensitive pastoral responses to people around him.  

Here we see Anglican Christian humanism at its best – all the more Christian for being so human.  Sidney seems to be accident prone – not that he gets hurt himself, but he is forever stumbling across bodies of murdered people. Then he cannot hold back from contributing to the investigation: he is a very good detective, appreciated by his local policeman friend, Geordie. 

He enjoys the intellectual puzzles and the skills of the chase, but much more: he sees victims and perpetrators alike within the perspective of the love of God for his children who are caught and overwhelmed by the complications of life. He is a praying detective.

The depths and subtleties of human being and the mystery of God don’t transmit on TV. This seed falls on stony ground there. They are there on the page, and we can linger over them, for the books give us the chance to enter into the spirit, even while we are being entertained by the intricacy of the detection and the earthy ordinariness of life.  

The titles of the books are themselves invitations to think about the Gospel and the Christian way:

Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death (2012)

Sidney Chambers and The Perils of the Night (2013)

Sidney Chambers and The Problem of Evil (2014)

Sidney Chambers and The Forgiveness of Sins (2015)

Sidney Chambers and The Dangers of Temptation (2016)

I would recommend reading them in order. I have just read the most recent, Sidney Chambers and the Persistence of Love (2017), a wonderful book, but don’t spoil it by going straight to it.

It wouldn’t be a waste of time to read these stories and talk about them together in small groups.  

I will say no more, I don’t want to spoil the books for anyone.  

Promentum – MBC Youth Prom, 24th June

We want to recognize the changes and challenges this year has held for each young person. We also celebrate their growth and for some the exciting opportunities which await them as they head of to University. On the night there will be a live band, a silent disco, a scalextrics racing track and a whole lot more!

Tickets cost £10 for all this including food! Please RSVP by the 11th June. Or alternatively ring or text 07852388530 to let the youth team know you are coming.

Three Girls – the need for respect and responsibility

The recent Three Girls drama on BBC1 gave a powerful and troubling focus on the Rochdale child sex abuse scandal. The series is well worth a watch; check the BBC I player

The portrayal shows the lack of respect shown to the teenage girls who were groomed, the courage of a health worker and the struggles faced by parents in showing support.

As a Trustee of Parents against Child Sexual Exploitation ( )  I have some knowledge and a perspective on all this. I recognise that ‘Three Girls’ tells an unfinished story powerfully and in compelling terms.

I think that we can draw out some lessons:

We need to respect those with a lived experience and not simply box what we see to fit our predetermined positions. This means looking carefully at what young girls (and sometimes boys) are going through, what they are saying and why. This means hearing what parents and carers know, recognise their knowledge. It means encouraging professionals to pause and follow through on what they observe. I suggest that girls (boys) and parents are not simply victims caught up in events but powerful and courageous advocates. Front line workers are in position to cause matters to be taken seriously. Parents and children need respect and workers need training and support.

On the other hand, we need to practice responsibility. We do everyone a disservice if we just view these as personal stories that just happened. People and institutions are responsible in different ways. Most obviously abusers need to be held responsible. But statutory bodies need to take responsibility to ensure that whoever faces similar challenges, wherever they live, shall be respected and taken seriously. We also need communities and institutions to take responsibility not to foster a climate where difficult issues are shunned and positive messages not spoken.

Thankfully child sexual exploitation is now widely recognised. What we need to ensure is that children receive safety and respect, that parents are not excluded by agencies from processes to tackle CSE issues. If this is not the case children will remain vulnerable and parents will be force outside the system and away from the bodies set up to deal with such matters. For agencies working in the field (social services, police, schools and the legal bodies) there should be a required level of training and awareness support by strong protocols for action.

I continue to listen and speak with people with various experiences on matters of child sexual abuse. We have moved from denying the issue, to achieving prosecutions and now to producing dramas. But we are kidding ourselves if we think we have resolved how we tackle child sexual exploitation or that we have settled and consistent practice. I am grateful for courageous young people and parents and appreciative of good practice but provision is patchy across the country.

An award for Sara Rowbotham and appreciation of the ‘Three Girls’ drama is well deserved but neither will change a great deal if we don’t offer more respect and take more responsibility.

Graham Brownlee, May 2017

Pray for Manchester, Pray for us

The suicide bombing at the Manchester Arena on Monday night has shaken so many people. Today I have felt and been aware of a stunned quietness around. Experiencing this in Leeds may be because this happen close by in Manchester, or maybe because it happened at an Arena concert which many of us would go to.

Then come the messages…

From someone who knows someone effected

From people expressing strong opinions

From people offering to help

From people pulling together.

Now is a time to pray for the strength of spirit in Manchester and across the country. Also, to pray for comfort for those who have lost so much. We give thanks for the care, hospitality and courage of Police and emergency services as well as community members.

Terrorism seeks to spread fear, to undermine society from the inside out, it seeks to divide us to control us. Horrific events take our breath away and cause us to loose our focus.

So, what can we do?

We can recognise that there are people of hate, but they are not us. We can be strong together. It seems to me that it is vital to keep talking and listening to one another at times like this. To say what we know and what we feel. This is a counter to fake news, isolation and rumour.

We can also talk about our experiences. This incident will disproportionately affect children and young people. By definition younger people have gone through less so have less experience and context to relate to. I heard the Andy Burnham (the mayor of Manchester) and Richard Leese (the leader of Manchester City Council) talk of the things the people of Manchester have been through in the past. It is so helpful to talk of things we have been through before and gain perspective and strength from that.

Cities in England have been through bombings and atrocities before. People have been through personal tragedy.

I find help from the paraphrase of a Proverbs, which is obviously old writing that has been tested over time:

“When you are disappointed and your hopes are deashed, the heart is crushed, but when hope for the future comes true it fills you with joy.” Proverbs 13: 12

We are light years from joy but we are experiencing hopes dashed and hearts crushed. Hope remains and grow, even though sorely tested.

Let us pray, talk to one another, share feelings and experiences. Let us consider the traumatic stories unfolding before us and the great resilience which will shine through. Life cannot go on as if nothing has happened, but life does go on more carefully, intentionally and more hopefully.

Graham Brownlee, May 2017

MBC’s unofficial feeding station proves irresistible with runners

After what must seem like an endless drag up Stonegate Road I can only imagine the relief that the near on 9,000 runners in this year’s Half Marathon dwhen they saw that once again MBC was stepping in with a much needed sustenance.

Okay, so maybe jelly babies and popcorn aren’t the top of every athletes dietary plan but I can assure you that for many they were exactly what the doctor ordered.

Below is a gallery of images captured as the runners streamed past us.  

Caroline Brown says farewell to MBC as she returns to her Anglican roots

After two years worshipping and ministering here at MBC Caroline Brown said her farewells on Sunday when she told the church that she was “returning to her roots.” In other words, returning to the Church of England, but this time with the intention of becoming a priest.

Revd Caroline began her final Sunday standing on the roundabout watching out for her sister who was competing in the Leeds Half Marathon. It was then a quick sprint in to church to announce her news.

Surrounded by members of her Home Group and also by regulars at our Monday Morning Café Caroline was thanked for all the work she has done here at MBC and wished God speed as she takes her next steps in ministry.  

A new point of focus on MBC’s “grand” Plant Sale

Once again MBC’s Plant Sale has proved a great success. With only a few specimens left unsold and with a very healthy contribution coming from the donations for coffee and cake Jenny Dixon and her green fingered team are well on the way to sending more than £1,000 to this year’s chosen charities.  

From the word go there was a steady stream of visitors each of whom left us carrying considerably more than they had brought.

Simon on the Streets and The British Heart Foundation are this year’s beneficiaries so very soon a cheque will be heading their way.

Alongside Jenny’s adult helpers there was this year a new member of the team… 10 year old Nikou Mohammadai who when not helping arrange the cakes was our assistant photographer. In fact, so good were her pictures that almost half of the images in the gallery below are hers.

So all in all a good day, once again many thanks to Jenny and all the team… see you all next year.



Are you listening for that still small voice? How Messy Church can help

I don’t know about you but sometimes life just gets on top of me.  I know it’s happening when I shout at the kids and can’t focus on a task at hand, when I am talking to someone but my mind is wandering even though I really want to be present in the moment.

At times like these I realise that I have lost my focus.  For when I retreat into my ‘cave’ and try and find some time to listen to God all I can hear are the earthquakes, wind and fire around me.  I am doing most of the talking and God, well I expect he is listening and trying to say something.  It isn’t until all that noise around me stills that I can hear the voice in the silence.  The Hebrew word for ‘still’ is only used three times in the whole New Testament, it alludes to a calmness that comes after activity that could be seen to be frightening.  It is a word that exudes peace and a definite presence.

The peace and calm, the stillness that is experienced in the prescence of God Almighty is overwhelming but not in the same way as the things going on around us.  In fact his presence puts everything back in its place and reminds us that God is in control.  We are not alone, everything doesn’t depend on us, God is our strength and our provider, and He never allows us to take on more than we can bear.

So this Friday, I invite you all to come along to Messy Church and find out more about this God who brings calm and stills the storm.  Our God who is able to do immesurably more than we could ever hope or imagine.


Trouble with our history… Graham’s blog

Just over a year ago a campaign to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes from Oriel College in Oxford (above) was in the headlines, as it tackled the apparent honoured prominence given to an architect of apartheid. In the past week European athletics has proposed striking off records set before 2005, because drugs tests at that time weren’t up to today’s standards.

Apartheid and drug cheating cannot be condoned but it seems to be a bit of a gesture to assume that such actions will change a great deal. Indeed, it is easy to be wise after the event.

It seems that the greater value and yet the harder task is to reshape our current attitudes and future priorities.

It strikes me that Jesus was repeatedly pressed to apportion retrospective blame when faced with the injustices of his day. He refused to fall into this trap. Instead he focused upon attitudes, what can be done now, hopes and the future. “This happened so that God’s work might be revealed…” “Blessed are the poor, for yours in the Kingdom of God. Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied”

In speaking in this way Jesus turned us to what is happening in the present, and what can be hoped for. He also directly confronted those who were oppressing in the present rather than those who had got away with it in the past. This turns us away from gestures and towards ongoing behaviour and what we seek to build for ourselves and future generations.

Now Christians can fall into a similar trap when reviewing our difficult past, as individuals and church, and when facing disconcerting passages in the Bible. Once again, their uncomfortableness should not be cheaply expunged but rather help us to be real about the past and better able to engage in the present.

Graham Brownlee, May 2017

WARNING – road closures, Sunday 14th May

This coming Sunday, May 14th, runners taking part in the Leeds Half Marathon will once again be streaming past us at just about the time our Sunday morning worship starts. This means you will need to plan your journey carefully as there will be a certain number of road closures.

However, unlike in previous years this time MBC finds itself sandwiched between two feeding/water stations which means there will be no need for us to give out drinks. We are though keeping up the tradition of handing out jelly babies.  If you want to help just turn up on Sunday, make your way onto the roundabout and join in the fun.


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