How we talk about suicide.

26 01 2016

It isn’t a new idea.  Or my idea.  But it’s one I support.  Let’s stop saying that someone “committed suicide”.

Suicide is still a stigmatised death.  You only have to have one pastoral encounter with a heartbroken survivor of suicide (a family member, a friend, of someone who has died by suicide) who is afraid that the way their loved one dies would permanently prevent them from being received into God’s loving care, to understand that the way we speak about suicide, and the theological legacy it points to, needs to change.

While there are no explicit Scriptural prohibitions of suicide in Judaic or Christian Scriptures, teachings have arisen out of the prohibition of murder. There is a suggestion that shifts in Christian theology occurred in the early church under Roman rule, when some Christians died by suicide rather than be captured and tried, or to hasten their experience of an afterlife with God. Some considered these Christians to be martyrs, but writing in the fifth century, Augustine condemned such thinking declaring suicide to be self-murder and therefore an unpardonable sin. Aquinas, a significant thirteenth century voice in the shaping of theology in the western church developed Augustine’s idea and suggested that heaven would be denied to those who died by suicide.

I don’t believe that to be true.  And I’m in good (theological) company.  People who die by suicide can receive a Christian burial, be buried in the churchyard (if you happen to find one with plots still open), and the way that they died is not an unforgivable sin.

We say “committed” about sin.  We say it about crime.  We say it about adultery.  So how about we give up using that construction about suicide?  How about we say “died by suicide” or “died of suicide”?  It is accurate.  Suicide survivors’ organisations have asked us to make that shift.  And it points us away from the historic connection with criminality and unforgivable sins.

One surivivor of suicide writes, “By shifting our language around suicide, we have the power to reduce some of the massive shame carried by survivors of suicide. If you feel scared or helpless about what to say to someone who’s lost someone to suicide, take comfort in knowing that, by changing your language about suicide, you’re offering a countercultural act of kindness”.

Read more:


Serene 2016

23 01 2016

Mellon’s Bay.  Ideal spot to increase one’s serenity quotient!

A friend of mine has adopted “serene 2016” as her slogan for the year.  To be fair her 2015 was a year with more than a fair share of dramatic life changes.

My 2015 was less dramatic, but wasn’t straightforward.  It turns out that studying full-time and working half-time isn’t as feasible as it sounded when I compared it to the undergraduate life of my 20s! There were some health glitches along the way: an immune system that one specialist at the hospital says is best described as “hinky”.  It isn’t clear whether this is a continuation of the sarcoidosis that hit so hard in 2011, or something else, but there have been a lot of hospital appointments and quite a lot of outpatient physiotherapy.

So now it is 2016.  And I’m going to study half-time and work half-time as that equation seems to make more sense! I also plan to walk the dog, swim in the sea, do the exercises prescribed by the physio team, knit many things, and try to stay a bit more connected to friends and family this year.

In the meantime there’s a literature review about teenage dating violence to work on, a research proposal for a dissertation about counselling and contemplative practices to write, a resource about Lent and Easter worship with children to publish for the Diocese, and a hat to knit for a friend.

I also sit on the Board of RevGalBlogPals Inc.  It’s an international organisation of women clergy and their friends that grew out of a community of bloggers.  There are over 200 blogs affiliated with our community, and over 3000 members of the Facebook group.  Once a month I get to read all the blogposts published that week by writers around the world, mostly women clergy, and it has inspired me to begin to write again.


15 06 2015


The rainbow came out while my back was toward it.

Of course.

Actually, by the time I reached the edge of the bay, the tide limiting our onward path, and turned back towards where the rainbow had been, it was gone.

Fortunately there was dog poop.  As I turned from picking up after Charlie, I saw the rainbow.

It seemed, in that moment, so true.  That the rainbow comes out while our back is turned.

I thought about what to write.

There might be a poem, if there wasn’t an essay due tomorrow.  Some finely crafted piece of writing, if I didn’t need to hastily garden before the green waste collection service comes in the morning.  I would work that metaphor for its truth about walking down the beach in a bad mood, or about the graces I don’t or won’t see…  Or something.

But there is an essay due tomorrow (and it isn’t finished yet).

And the garden does need weeding and the bathrooms need cleaning.  And the dinner needs making. And that essay, even when it has all the words and ideas it needs, will need editing.

So let it simply be said: the rainbow came out while my back was turned.

Also: thank goodness for dog’s doing their business.

There’s a Woman in the Pulpit

5 05 2015
A woman in the pulpit with "A Woman in the Pulpit"

A woman in the pulpit with “A Woman in the Pulpit”

It began for me in 2009.  I was awarded a sabbatical scholarship and began to write a blog as a way of sharing the fruits of my study.  I had enjoyed reading other blogs – and found a community of women clergy (and their friends) from around the world who were also publishing their words on the web.  I found company in their writing: challenge and friendship and words of hope and grace.  And when I moved to China where there weren’t many English-speaking, liturgical ordained women, the virtual friendships became even more important.

Now there’s a book.  And it’s a great book.  And I’m not just saying that because it includes a story about the community I was a pastor with when I lived in China.  I’m saying that because in it you will experience challenge and friendship and words of hope and grace.  It is full of women writing with warmth and wit and wisdom about what it is like to be a woman in the pulpit, and a woman in the home, the hospital, the baptistry, the paddock, the graveyard and all the other places our ministries take us.

When you enter ministry you don’t really know what it will be like.  You cobble together some impressions and you get some education and you take careful notes at the field education seminars.  Then they let you loose* to preside at communion and to baptise; to sit with the dying and to show up for the bereaved; to be invited into the moments of joy and vulnerability and ordinariness that comprise people’s lives.  What a life! (*in my tradition they less let you loose and more ordain and license you but it still feels a bit wild sometimes!)

If you would like to catch glimpses of this life, ‘There’s a Woman in the Pulpit’ is a great book to read.  If you need company in your ministry, this is a great book to read.  If someone you know is in ministry and you’d like to understand a bit more about what their life is like, this is a great book to read.  If you are interested in the diversity of women’s experiences, this is a great book to read.  If you like funny books, this is a great book to read.  If you like books that challenge and provoke, this is a great book to read.  If you want to get up close and personal with life and death and hope and love and grace and mercy; with water, word, wine or wool; with women in ministry from 5 countries and 14 denominations… with any or all of that I highly recommend this book.

All the ordering information is at the RevGals site.

You can also order it from Good Books and support Oxfam at the same time.  The price includes shipping worldwide:


25 04 2015

I’m a member of the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship and, as such, believe that the waging of war is incompatible with Christian life.  It is also true that other Christians believe differently, and, however we believe, war is an ever-present reality in our world.

I have family members who served in the war and others who were members of the Armed Forces.  They, in good conscience, believed that it was the right and good thing for them to do.  My mother served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service.

It is complicated.  We should remember war, those who died and those who mourn.  We should remember because war is costly and I long for the day when war is only to be remembered.

Here are some words I wrote for the beginning of worship this Sunday at All Saints in Howick.  The bit about hoping war will bring a better world is the tricky bit for me.  I’m not sure war can make the world better, but I do think that those that go to war hope that things will be better than they are.  That the tyrants and bullies will be halted.  That peace will come.

Yesterday was ANZAC Day and this year we have remembered the 100th Anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli.

Some of you are have family members who served in the First World War,

some of you served in other wars.

This morning we remember.

We remember not to glorify or sentimentalise war.

We remember because war is bloody,

war scars people and places,

even as we hope that it will bring a better world.


We remember the soldiers.

We remember the soldiers who fought,

those who died,

and those who mourned, who still mourn, their passing.


We remember the medics, the nurses, the drivers.

The code-breakers, translators and chaplains.


We remember those who would not go to war.

Those whose courage was shown in conscientious objection.


We remember all those who live with the consequences of war.


We remember because we are the people who worship the Prince of Peace.


We are called to work and pray for that day

when the lion and lamb lie down together,

when swords are beaten into ploughshares

when we do not know war anymore.

That day is not yet,

and so we keep a moment of silence together.


Amen. Come Christ Jesus come.

For All the Saints

2 11 2013

We’re in a remembering season in the church.  Yesterday was All Saints Day, and today All Souls, when we remember those who have gone before us, that we belong to a community that is larger than just those who are now living.  Tomorrow at church we will have an opportunity to say the names of those that we love and see no longer – to remember and give thanks for them.

Sometimes this remembering is confined to those who have died in the past year.  In our congregation we invite people to remember anyone who they wish to hold close at this time. This year I’m particularly thinking of some of the women in my life who helped me grow into faith.

Mrs Brown, as I respectfully called her, was my next door neighbour.  When I turned five she asked my mother if she could take me to Sunday School.  This seemed very exciting to me, it involved dressing in my “good clothes” and going off to a place with red carpet and beautiful stained glass.  I got to hold a hymnal of my own, and then go over to the church hall for Sunday School classes.  While at first I’m pretty sure it was the aesthetically appealing environment that drew me in, it was the beginning of a faith that has shaped my life.  Thank you Mrs Brown (Gladys).  Your hospitality and care set the course of my life in ways you couldn’t have imagined.

Mrs Flyger.  Ev, as I came to call her, was someone else that Mrs Brown drove to church.  She had a dog called Minka, loved to knit and crochet, and lived just around the corner from our house.  Once I was old enough I would go to visit on a Saturday afternoon.  Ev taught me to cook, to craft, and she had absolute faith in my ability to do anything I set my mind to.  Staying overnight at her house was always a treat – there was always pudding and late-night television and all the love and care a surrogate grandmother could offer.  Ev gave me the celtic cross she had worn on her wedding day for my 21st birthday.  I wear it still for special occasions and when I’m doing things that I’m not sure I’m really capable of!  Thank you Ev.  Your love sustained me through adolescent angst, my cooking and crafting is the better for having known you and I have no idea what you’d make of my living in China but it sure would be fun to tell you the stories!

Grandmother.  She was Andrew’s grandmother actually, but invited me after we were married to no longer call her Mrs Caswell but to refer to her as grandmother too.  It wasn’t ever shortened – that wasn’t the kind of woman she was.  If you gave her a gift she really liked, it was pronounced “most acceptable”.  She didn’t really support the ordination of women, but, ever-gracious, she was at my ordination both as a deacon and a priest.  She apologised in advance that she wouldn’t be able to receive Communion from me but at my ordination it would be alright to bring her Communion in her seat as the Bishop would have consecrated it and that was therefore acceptable.  The following day I presided at Communion for the first time, and to my surprise, she came to the altar rail and received bread into her hands.  It wasn’t proper to challenge the Bishop’s authority – he had ordained me so I was a priest!  I keep a little wooden carved St Francis by my desk that had belonged to her.  It reminds me to be gracious.  It reminds me that it is possible to think about things in a different way, to come to a different conclusion.  Thank you Grandmother.  You were a faithful example of a woman who loved God and served others.  Your strength and determination shone.

May they rest in peace and rise in glory

and may God give us the grace to follow the saints in faith and hope and love…

Lessons in Cross-cultural Conflict

6 01 2012

Lesson One: Just because your taxi driver is shouting at you in Chinese which you do not understand does not mean he does not understand what you shout back at him in English. He may pull over and say to you in beautiful English, “Okay, you get out and walk now”.

Lesson Two: The moment before spitting the dummy is not the ideal moment to have to give a nuanced cross-cultural translation of the phrase “to spit the dummy“.