Some articles written by Stuart

Guernsey Post, 6 November 2021

“So long, and thanks for all the fish,” said the dolphins when departing planet Earth in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams. In other words, goodbye, and thank you for all the good we have received.

As we continue packing up, preparing to leave Guernsey and move to Wales at the end of the year, this phrase seems so apt although, as I admitted to the Dean before accepting the call to become Rector of the Vale, I’m not really too keen on seafood. 

The ministry of a priest, pastor, church minister, is one of upheaval. We start exploring whether God might be calling us to move to and minister in a particular place, with no idea how long for. Then, at a later date, we start feeling that God jut might be nudging us to explore something else again. We step out in faith, take a risk.

A fellow priest once compared ministry to that of a hitchhiker. You jump in, maybe suggest a change of radio station, or a slightly different route, maybe journeying for a long time, maybe a short time. In the end, you jump out and the car continues on its way while another hitchhiker jumps in as the cycle repeats.

It has been a pleasure and a privilege to live and minister amongst the people of Guernsey for this last three years, trying to make sense of how to navigate the peculiar times of pandemic. Now, though, it is time to move on, with my life enriched by my experiences here, and hopefully Guernsey enriched in a small way through my ministry.

I am thankful that we had the opportunity to have made this bailiwick our home, we have been blessed. As we leave I say – “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

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Guernsey Press, 5 June 2021

During this 15 months of lockdown it seems many of us have all learnt new skills and almost a new language – Facetiming friends, Zooming church services, WhatsApping people, and so much more. We have watched live streams of CCA media briefings, some of which were video conferences on Microsoft Teams, to name but a few. It is as if we speak a new language!

We have been unable to travel, and have been cut off from so much which we normally take for granted. Replaced instead by letters, emails, phone calls, and even video calls.

Wonderful as this technology is, we miss normal contact with friends and family who don’t live in Guernsey. And, as time goes by and we move towards the borders re-opening, we both eagerly await it, and dread it. What will life be like when we can travel again, we wonder? Will the virus come back we worry?

When relying on technology for communication it is so easy to get it wrong. Whether that’s ending a message with “lol” thinking it means “lots of love” rather than “laughing out loud”, or simply saying something we immediately know we shouldn’t have. And, as this pandemic continues, sometimes we can allow the pressure to get to us in our responses to those around us.

Life is normal. Except, in all honesty, it isn’t. Accepting that is quite painful, it hurts. We tell ourselves we should act normally; but our worries about the virus, vaccinations, travel restrictions, isolation from loved ones, and so on all eat away at us.

As we continue to move through this pandemic, hoping there isn’t a third wave in Guernsey, may we try to be kind to each other – and to ourselves – because, in all honesty, most of us are struggling with the pressure.

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Back to theological college – sort of, 20 April 2021

Every term at Ripon College Cuddesdon, where I spent three years training for ordained ministry, there are occasional “Themed Studies Weeks” – a week of being immersed in a particular context. One which helped me as I prepared to serve in rural parishes after ordination was the “Rural Studies Week”. It was a chance to consider some of the unique aspects of ministering in a rural context, which was quite new to many of us.

One of the facilitators of that week was Dr Martin Hodson and, since then, we have remained in contact with our paths crossing every few years. Martin is a great environmentalist and has been quite influential in my consideration of how we are stewards of the environment – and so indirectly helped persuade me to buy an electric car a couple of years ago.

Last year, just before Guernsey went into Lockdown, Martin came to speak in Guernsey for A Rocha UK and offered to preach here at Vale Church. So it was a great delight to have a message from him a few weeks ago asking whether I might be available to be on the clergy panel for the Rural Studies Week at Cuddesdon!

And so, on Monday lunchtime, I joined three clergy ministering in rural contexts across England to be grilled by a group of ordinands. Throughout my ministry I’ve always been committed to helping people grow in their own ministries, so to be involved in this week was quite special. Mind you, ministering in the so called “industrial north” of Guernsey with only a single parish meant I initially felt like a cuckoo in the nest. But, as the session went on, it seemed that I had something to offer both from this unusual context and from my previous ministry posts.

The difficulty of travel, and the necessity to put so much training online, is frustrating – but in this case it allowed me to be involved in something which otherwise would have been quite difficult. And for that I am thankful.

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Deep Fakes, 13 March 2021

In St John’s account of Jesus’ passion and crucifixion, Pilate asks Jesus, “What is truth?” it is a question I regularly ponder when preparing for the Good Friday liturgy, when this part of John’s Gospel is read, but recently I have been thinking about it a bit more – from President Trump’s claims of “Fake News” through to suggestions that the pandemic is a hoax.

But, to be fair, it is a question I have always grappled with. Trained in Cybernetics, questions about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning have long fascinated me. At university I was intrigued by the Turing Test, in which a computer attempts to convince a human that they are having a (typed) conversation with another human rather than a computer, with the associated suggestion then that the computer was capable of conscious thought. For so long it was thought it would be impossible for a computer to trick a human in such a way.

Last Christmas, having failed (as is so often the case) to send Christmas cards in time, I discovered an app, JibJab, which would take a photo of someone and add them into a music video. I thought it was quite amazing at the time.

At Christmas, Channel 4 had some bad press for their alternative Christmas message, whereby a Queen impersonator voiced a message, while an actress mimed. Computer wizardry then transformed the actress to look just like the Queen. The message was to be careful of what you believe.

This technology has been improving at an incredible rate. By feeding lots of videos of a person into the computer it is possible to generate completely false – but believable – videos of a person. Likewise, a report just last week suggested that soon voice artists in cartoons could be replaced by a computer, if it studied enough previous recordings of that voice.

Over the weekend, though, I discovered two quite startling things. First was a new addition on the “MyHeritage” website called “Deep Nostalgia”, whereby you upload a photo of someone and it takes on a new life of its own. It was quite striking to see the statue of Our Lady in church come to life.

MyHeritage’s Deep Nostalgia showing the statue of Our Lady at Vale Church

As if that wasn’t enough excitement for me in the middle of the night when I was unable to sleep after receiving a COVID-19 vaccination, I stumbled upon Wombo, a lip-sync app. You upload a photo, or take a selfie, and choose which song you want that person to appear in. Someone on Twitter had great fun inserting most of the Church of England bishops into a video.

Technology really is advancing at an unbelievable rate, and it is difficult to know what to believe sometimes. And, with the growth of social media we so often get into the habit of only following (and reading the views of) those who are likely to think like us. And so any different opinions and thoughts might be missed completely.

What does it mean to exist, what does it mean to be human, what does it mean to have intelligence, are all important questions – and many of us have probably struggled with them to some extent or another while confined to home while unable to visit friends and family. And they can get us into a bit of a mess, with a distorted view of reality.

As we journey through (and, please God, out of) this pandemic may we be, as Jesus suggested in Matthew’s Gospel, wise as serpents but innocent like doves, able to step back to see whether something is true or not.For the record no, I was not singing by the beach; but yes, Jesus is truly God and truly Man – and that is real truth to keep hold of.

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Guernsey Press, 2 January 2021

Growing up in the 1980s, one of the iconic Christmas songs of my childhood was Band Aid’s “Do they know it’s Christmas”. I memorised the words and, later, learnt how to play it on the piano. It gave (and continues to give) us much to ponder about how, when there is so much in the world, inequality causes so many people to suffer.

When the song was re-released in both 2004 and 2011, I started to struggle with it the words. Initially it was the line “there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmastime”. After spending some time in South Africa preparing for ministry, I was increasingly irritated – countries in Africa are either nearer the equator than us (and so invariably warmer), or in the Southern Hemisphere (and so Christmas falls in the middle of summer). Bah, humbug!

But, this year, the line which has really got to me is “tonight thank God it’s them instead of you”. Yes, of course we are thankful for what we have. But surely that doesn’t mean we are glad some other people are unfortunate enough to suffer instead, does it?

Reflecting upon this line has lead me to think, invariably, about the pandemic we continue to be affected by. We are (at the time of writing) in such a fortunate here in Guernsey, while observing in sorrow the situations in Jersey and the UK. It is so easy to gloat and say “they should have responded as we did, it’s their own fault,” or even (as in the song) thank God it is them, not us, suffering.

But, they are our friends, our family, our fellow-humans, many of whom we long to see again. We should not gloat, but rather stand with them in solidarity, looking in hope towards when we can meet again.

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Guernsey Press, 22 August 2020

What a year it has been! As we look expectantly (and with some trepidation) towards Phase 6 and the ability to travel freely, I have developed a habit of looking at what’s happening in other places, and in particular churches.

I think it began when some former colleagues were ordained as bishops at Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s residence in London. I was able to watch it, live, over the internet, and it suddenly struck me about how fortunate we are here – as I saw everyone wearing masks, keeping their distance, and unable to sing at what was a joyful occasion.

Through the wonders of technology it has been possible to watch friends be ordained priest across England and the USA, and the different situations have been fascinating – who wears a mask, and when; how long a service lasts; whether there art pre-recorded segments from other places; whether there is background organ music or an individual singer, or not. And so on.

None of these services have shown anything like what we are able to experience in Guernsey, and it reminds me constantly of how fortunate we are – something further emphasised by the comments (and surprise) from those I speak to in other places.

We are incredibly fortunate, but the lack of travel options is hard – most of my family are in the UK, as are many friends. Technology has allowed a lot of contact in ways we couldn’t have imagined a few years back, and it has allowed me to join with friends all over the world as they take their next steps in ministry. But it isn’t the same as being with them in person.

I look forward to the time when borders are fully open, but also appreciate our experiences in Guernsey during this pandemic.

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Guernsey Press, 7 March 2020

Last Sunday, many churches heard a reading from St Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus went into the wilderness and the devil tried to tempt him to turn away from God. I started thinking about the different wildernesses we might experience at times.

There was the milk advert in the UK from when I was growing up. “He says if I don’t drink lots of milk, when I grow up I’m only gonna be good enough to play for Accrington Stanley! Accrington Stanley? Who are they? Exactly!” A formerly great football club now remembered only by a milk advert. A club in the wilderness, forgotten.

There are children in school, having difficulties with friendships and relationships feel they have been cast out by others – forgotten, unloved. It’s a kind of wilderness.

And people struggling with depression or anxiety, pulling back from people and situations, isolated, struggling with life itself. Another wilderness.

At this time of concern about coronavirus, there are many people self-isolating. Maybe because they’ve been to a place deemed to be at risk, or simply because they are concerned about the potential for infection. This too seems a like a wilderness – shut away from others, feeling isolated and vulnerable.

When we are stuck in a wilderness, I guess there is a tendency to wonder and worry about what might happen while we’re away. Will everything move on and we’ll be forgotten? How will we get out of the wilderness, we wonder? Will we ever get back to where we were, we ask ourselves? Will anyone remember us, we panic?

My hope is that we may notice those who are in a wilderness, cut off and forgotten, and may play our part in showing they are remembered, loved, and cherished.

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Guernsey Press, 28 September 2019

Someone once asked Jesus what the most important commandment was. In response, Jesus gave two commandments, saying that these summed everything else up – love God, love your neighbour as yourself.

Love your neighbour as yourself.

Over the past few weeks there has been much in the news about the UK Government & Parliament (I hadn’t previously registered they were effectively two different things), questions about equality legislation here in Guernsey, and coverage of Greta Thunberg’s protests regarding climate change. Three apparently quite different things, but with a common theme – do we love our neighbours as ourselves?

It seems to me, having left the UK 18 months ago, that there has been a tendency within politics to worry about the party, about the ideology sometimes, rather than noticing the effect various policies might have on normal people (who might not be members of that group). There almost appears to be an inability to see the bigger picture.

Similarly with issues of equality, there appears to be an underlying question of whether some people are more equal than others. Do we need to ensure that those who struggle in some way should receive appropriate support, or should the strong thrive to the detriment of the weak?

Greta Thunberg seems to have played her part in reawakening the consciousness of many people, of diverse ages and backgrounds, to the need to consider how our life decisions effect others. Are we, without necessarily realizing it, adversely affecting other people (and the whole of creation) by damaging the world now and for the future?

These three things bring home Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself”. What are we doing to support other people, what are we doing to help others thrive, what are we doing for those who come after us?

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Guernsey Press, 27 April 2019

As a football fan, the approaching close season is a time of being hopeful. No matter what Reading FC may or may not have done the previous year, you wonder what the coming season will bring, hoping for success. During the season that hope can appear justified, or seem to have dashed in devastating fashion.

Around Christmas, Reading appeared doomed. Everything at the club was wrong. The whole culture seemed most unnatural and uncomfortable. And, then, new management was put in place. Players were told to leave. New players arrived. Fans were sceptical. In all honesty we had lost hope. Even the local radio were continually slating the new manager before a match had been played.

We were going down. My daughter Bridget tried to reassure me, but I wouldn’t listen – they were rubbish.

As I write this, there are two matches to go this season and we are six points clear of the relegation places with a vastly superior goal difference. Hope has been restored, there’s a very good chance of us staying up.

At that first Easter the hopes of Jesus’ followers had been dashed. He was the Messiah, they had believed him. But he was arrested, crucified as a common criminal, and buried. All was lost, or so it seemed.

Early in the morning Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and found it empty. She went to tell Simon Peter and the others – but they struggled to believe what had happened. Even the empty tomb caused more questions rather than answers.

But they started talking. Something was happening, maybe all hope wasn’t lost. Later they met Jesus, and believed. Since then, countless people have heard the accounts and come to believe themselves, having faith that this is true. They hear of this hope, and have faith that Jesus did truly rise from the dead. And so Christians have a hope that this life is not all there is. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, there is more to come.

Hope changes lives. It affects how we look at everything.

I wonder, is my hope in Reading avoiding relegation misguided?

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St Austell Voice, 13 August 2008

Soon after my arrival in Cornwall the local press wrote an article about the new curate.

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