Big World Small Boat

Private Diary of A Priest. OK, so we're not all angels...Everyone needs a place to get things off their chest! And yes, I do talk to God about it all! Even He has a sense of humour! Want proof? Well, he made me, didn't He? Oh, one last thought-If you don't like what I've written, please keep in mind - it's MY diary. Go write your own!

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Location: England, United Kingdom

I've been serving children in crisis for over twenty five years. My goals are not to raise money, but to find organisations and individuals who can help change lives! What may be outdated equipment for you could change the life of a child in Eastern Europe! To learn more please visit our site at:


Redefining Poor Taste

Permit me to share a brief thought which I believe holds some historical certainty. Whilst there's so little that is known about him, most of the legends about St. George, the patron saint of England, are apocryphal and indeed incredible. However, I’m willing to lay wager that St. George, or anyone in the Roman army for that matter, ever ate at a Little Chef restaurant!

So I’m certain there have been a few raised eyebrows when Little Chef began distributing the flag of St. George emblazoned with Little Chef’s logo. My son and I were surprised to have received one this week, due to the fact we had each consumed a Coke, along with our grease soddened meal.

For those of you on the ‘other’ side of several ponds, the Banner of St. George is the red cross of a martyr on a white background. It was adopted for the uniform of English soldiers during the reign of King Richard I. It later became the white ensign of our Royal Navy and the flag of England. And as with any country, we’re extremely proud of our flag. But not with a commercial logo emblazoned upon it.

Our country is awash with national pride, with virtually everyone flying the flag in support of England’s team playing in the World Cup. But I’m not so certain there are many people who would look favourably upon a small, insignificant, and highly mediocre restaurant chain choosing to deface our flag in such a manner.

For the benefit of those who are not familiar with Little Chef’s, I would love to try to describe one. However, I simply lack the vocabulary to do so. In the states, one might toss up (no pun intended), the name ‘Waffle House,’ but that would be a denigrating, maligning, and inappropriate comparison. I love Waffle Houses – their food and their staff. But size wise, it’s comparable. Take away the creatively cooked breakfasts, fresh salads, plus the inimitable colloquial and friendly style of its staff and you ‘might’ have a Little Chef.

For those of you ‘down under,’ I recall hearing an affectation once used to describe such a restaurant as the local ‘choke and spew.’ And with second grade salad bits from a pre-mix bag, fried eggs that are literally brown and dried on the bottom, and underpaid staff who have lost any motivation, whatsoever, to serve, you get a good impression of the ‘new’ Little Chef.

I realise the Little Chef restaurant chain has recently been purchased. But I should hope that the new owners would have consulted a public relations team before deciding to desecrate our country’s flag. Perhaps I shouldn’t pick on Little Chef too much; there are other companies who are equally culpable. (O2, are you listening?). And whilst I'm on this rant; Madison Avenue please take heed: simply because there's a bit of white on something doesn't mean it's an enticement to put a logo on it!

It’s a pity our country doesn’t have a national chain of roadside restaurants that provide friendly service, good food, and reasonable prices. It could well do with one.

But for now, since Little Chef have deemed it socially acceptable to redesign our country’s flag, perhaps they’ll forgive my small peccadillo by slightly revising one of the greatest poems in the English language:

But on his breast a bloody Cross he bore
The dear remembrance of his dying Lord
For whose sweet sake that glorious badge we wore
And now we vow
To eat at Little Chef

I just wonder what Diocletian would have done?

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When A Crisis Must Take A Backseat To Need

My heart is breaking for the children in Moldova. We have such a crisis on our hands at present.

During my visit over the Orthodox Easter, I told Vasile Batcu that the children would need to be out of Aschiuta Home and in Summer Camp by the 10th of June, in anticipation of the arrival of volunteers, as well as the funds to renovate the children’s bathrooms.

If you read one of my other blogs, ‘Anglicans,’ you will be aware that not only did the volunteers not arrive, the funds to pay for the supplies and local labour failed to materialise as well. We did receive two contributions: one in the amount of USD$850.00 and a subsequent contribution of USD$250.00. There were never any volunteers organised, there was no fund drive at one of the churches. It was an awful situation that affected so many and I only had myself to blame for not following the most basic of due diligence.

With a budgeted cost of circa GBP£4000, or USD$6900.00, we are left in an absolutely dreadful situation. The bathrooms are simply unusable. And with up to thirty-four children in the home at any given time, plus house parents and volunteers, even the absence of one of the two toilets can create a crisis.

I received a joint telephone call this morning from Vasile and Inna, asking me to advise them what we should do. My best guess was that the funds we’ve received will have to go towards some of the camp costs, as the children are already there and utilising the services. However, it doesn’t address what we’re going to do when they return.

It has been an emotionally challenging week. The sadness of the child’s funeral at the end of the week overwhelmed many. Plus my friend Sarah slowly moves in and out of a coma now. I still talk to Sarah, as I know she can hear me, but the lines on her face deepen as the cancer spreads.

As I was leaving the ward yesterday another patient called out to me. Her name is Mrs Pearce. I had not met her before. She was wild eyed and frightened. I had heard her, as I sat with Sarah, calling out to no one in particular, that she wanted to go ‘home.’ Although the ward they're in is not generally for the terminally ill, it just happens that Mrs Pearce is suffering from cancer as well.

Mrs Pearce asked me to stay with her for a bit. She said she was afraid and she wanted to go home. I held her hand and stroked her forehead. I asked simple questions: how many children did she have, grandchildren, where she was born – all truthfully intended to help her mentally escape from her present surroundings.

I promised that I’d bring her some fresh strawberries tomorrow. I’ll need to purée them as she's unable to manage any solids. But I suspect she still may have difficulty in eating them.

It had been my hope that the children and I would escape for our own ‘Star Picnic,’ on Saturday night. I needed a bit of a diversion from the challenges of the week. It wasn’t to be.

As I stood at the nursing station, disinfecting my hands with Isopropyl, one of the ward nurses came up to me. I’ve known her for several years. In fact, I celebrated her mother’s funeral sometime last year. ‘Father, would you mind if we had a word?’ she asked with a sense of urgency in her eyes. ‘Of course,’ I smiled.

As I followed her into the small office I thought she was going to tell me that Sarah would most likely not live more than a day or two. I had already thought this myself, so my heart was prepared and I had imagined how nice it would be for her finally to be free of her pain.

The nurse sat down with me. I glanced over at her desk and saw the photos of her two children; Laura is three and Michael is five. ‘Father, I thought you should know, I’ve just been diagnosed with bowel cancer.’ She said it matter-of-factly.

‘I’m so saddened to hear this,’ I began. ‘Let’s take a break now and talk about it.’

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Dodging One Of God's Salvos

Don’t you just hate it when you hear something that makes you choke on a drink you’ve just put into your mouth? So was the case as I stood before the television listening to the morning news. I’ll have to learn to control myself better, but there are times when I hear things on telly that are so far-fetched, so outlandish, and egregiously inappropriate that my internal organs involuntarily constrict.

This time, it was a brief film clip of a well known, well respected, American religious leader, endorsing and evidently tacitly encouraging, someone in a high enough political position, to sanction a hit man style assassination of another political leader; In this instance, the president of Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez.

I was so stunned that I was unable to capture precisely all of what he was saying, other than the fact he was waxing lyrical over the fact that the US certainly had the wherewithal to accomplish such a task. It’s just that I had never envisaged Rev Robertson to be a Jihadist.

Apparently, the comment from the venerable gentleman was either a rerun or a rehash of the same comment he made sometime last year. I’m not entirely sure. It didn’t matter. It was the fact that a gentleman, who stands (I think?) as a beacon and model for Christian ethics could advocate such a thing.

Now, I must make it perfectly clear; I haven’t a clue what it was the Honourable President Chavez said to have infuriated the Venerable Rev. Robertson to such heights that he would openly talk about having another human being murdered. Perhaps it had something to do with oil? Who knows?

But I do have to wonder, is this what God would have wanted from one of His children? And is this in following with the Christian mantra ‘What would Jesus do?’ I certainly hope not. Perhaps it’s Rev. Robertson’s desire to move towards a theocratic or caesaropapist government. I wouldn’t care to guess. I’m just surprised, and yes, profoundly disappointed.

Our world is already deeply divided and sadly the abyss widens every day. Using provocative and potentially dangerous language can only serve to increase discord. But I do understand that sometimes, powerful messages such as these can be all that is required to get a point across.

The passing blip on the BBC had moved relatively far back into the cobwebs of my mind. And I’m reasonably certain that I would not have ever bothered to write about it; that is until just a few days ago.

It was announced last Friday that Rev. Robertson’s aeroplane crashed off the coast of New York. Sadly, as I understand it, two people lost their lives. Rev. Robertson was not on board.

And as I say, I do understand that sometimes, powerful messages such as these can be all that is required to get a point across.

Take heed Rev. Robertson, God does hear us!
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Matthew 5:9

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Judicial Compassion

I attended court this past Friday. I went on behalf of a girl I’ll call Jeanine. I met Jeanine last December when I was asked to bury her baby. When he was born the doctors immediately placed him on a respirator. He had a hole in his heart and was too unstable for the surgeons to even consider surgery. The infant died six days later.

Jeanine had spent most of her life in ‘care.’ This is what we call a centre or home for children who are unable for one reason or another to live with their natural parents. In this case, having met Jeanine’s mother, I clearly understand why. I took Jeanine to visit her, primarily to act as a buffer between them, but also to be available when Jeanine told her mother that her baby had died.

Her mother didn’t care. In fact, her mother launched a vitriolic attack on Jeanine, telling her that she was incapable of caring for the ‘bastard’ child anyway, so what difference did it matter. Presumably for my sake more than her daughter’s, the mother then began to lob a litany of insults towards Jeanine, blaming her for all of the problems the mother had ever had. The woman wrapped up her denigrating summation of her daughter by accusing her of being the reason she was alone and without a partner.

By this time the mother had become red in the face and I intercepted both physically and verbally by slightly stepping in front of Jeanine and asking her mother if she wanted me to contact her regarding the funeral arrangements. The woman looked at me with hon
est amazement. She spat at me, ‘you’re going to bury that trash? Why the hell would you do that?’

I saw that the visit was a waste of time and I took Jeanine by the arm and lead her away. She sat in the car in silence. I had expected her to cry. But she didn’t - not once. She was just numb. ‘That’s the way it has always been. She blamed me because her boyfriend liked me more than he liked her.’ And in an almost inaudible voice she added. ‘I was only ten.’

Jeanine told a teacher at school what had happened and the man was arrested. Her mother blamed her daughter. Consequently Jeanine was removed from their home for her own safety. As I understand it there had been a history of domestic violence involving numerous other partners the mother had over time. Social services deemed that it was safer
for Jeanine not to return to the home without supervised visits. Her mother never chose to see her daughter. That has been over a period of eight years.

Since that time Jeanine has had a plethora of social problems. At sixteen she became addicted to drugs and spent several months in a facility. Approximately three months later she was admitted to a different facility under a suicide watch. She was no longer taking drugs, but she couldn’t cope with the emotional pain of her rejection from her mother.

When Jeanine left hospital the second time she was returned to her small flat where she was again alone. She had been prescribed psychotropic medications and was unable to work. In fact, I doubt she was able to do much of anything.

Trying to escape herself she left the safety of her flat and went to London. She told me that at the time she really didn’t know what she was going to do, other than try to find a girl
she was in care with several years before. She had an idea where the girl lived, but wasn’t too sure, but she thought that by asking people in the area she could find her. She described the girl as the ‘closest thing to a sister she ever had.’

Having never found her friend, Jeanine slept rough on the streets for several days. A man befriended her and offered her a place to stay. She told me that at first he was nice to her, but later when he wanted a physical relationship and she didn’t, he became abusive. She said she finally let him do whatever he wanted. He gave her £10 the next morning for food. She used it to take the train back to the coast. She learned two months later that she was pregnant. She told her doctor that she would be a good mother and now her life would change for the better.

Here in Britain, when you’re expecting a baby, you would typically register with your doctor for antenatal checkups. Additionally, if you’re receiving any social benefits, registerin
g the birth of your child would provide a small supplemental stipend to help with costs and living expenses after the baby is born.

Britain has an excellent midwifery programme and home visits are part of the scheme after your child is born. During that time the midwife will check both the baby and mother’s progress. Should the midwife feel that either requires further attention or referrals to other agencies, typically, they would take care of that as well.

But since Jeanine’s baby died several days after her birth she was never referred to the midwifery programme. When she was released from hospital she was sent home and told to come visit her baby in hospital. She had been out of hospital two days and had made the trip to hospital by bus on both days to see her baby.

The morning that the infant died Jeanine wasn’t aware until she arrived at hospital. She didn’t have a phone or mobile. She took the morning bus for the fifty-minute ride to the hospi
tal. She says she doesn’t remember how she came home.

No one came to see Jeanine. No one cared about her. In fact, no one knew her. She was just another statistic.

When I first came to her small flat I immediately noticed mountains of mail overflowing from a small box near the door entrance. Some were clearly marked; water board, Gas Company, many brown envelopes from social services. I couldn’t notice the others.

At the time my focus was on helping her get through the burial of her baby. She had no idea what to do or what she wanted. She admitted to me she had never been in a church and wasn’t even certain that she believed in God. She did ask me, ‘if God lets these things happen why is He supposed to be so good?’

Most funeral services charge no fees for children and this was the case for Jeanine. She asked me if she could go to the funeral home and hold her baby one last time. In many instances this isn’t prudent. But thanks to the professionalism and compassion from a friend who works at the home, Jeanine was able to hold her baby, wrapped in such a way that she could see her son’s face one last time.

Again, she didn’t cry. I stood with her and watched as she held her son as if she were caring for him, just as any mother would care for their own healthy baby.

On a cold dark December morning, just a few days before Christmas, we laid one of God’s children to rest. It’s a pitiful sight to see a tiny white coffin lowered into the hard cold eart
h. And as I committed his soul to God’s care, Jeanine broke into tears. She kept apologising to me and towards the grave. Through her tears she kept saying she was sorry. When I asked what were her apologies for, Jeanine said that God must think she is bad to have let her son die. I couldn’t hold back my own tears.

I’ve visited Jeanine regularly since December. I’ve encouraged her to become involved in community activities, coming to church, meeting people. But sadly, my endeavours have been unsuccessful. I’ve watched her lose weight and I’ve carried meals to her in the evenings. And when I’ve insisted on remaining with her until she ate, she would politely say that she was just too tired and say she wanted to sleep.

I spoke with her doctor on several occasions and we both share the same concerns. As
the doctor has explained to me; Jeanine is not ill enough to be hospitalised again, yet she is not mentally well enough to be on her own. She’s been placed on a home-visit scheme for visits by a mental health officer. But Jeanine tells me the man seems rushed and attempts to push her into taking ‘mental exercises’ which she describes as ‘stupid.’

I couldn’t imagine more happening to Jeanine until my visit with her two weeks ago. When she answered the door I asked how she was. She told me that she was going to prison. I was shocked and asked her why. She handed me a piece of paper. It was a warrant that had been served on her for her failure to notify Social Security that her son had died. (to be precise, ‘receiving benefits to which she wasn’t entitled’). They had been paying her benefits since his death. And when she failed to answer their letters about the baby’s death, whoever the paper pusher is at Social Security decided, without a scintilla of curiosity or compassion,
that she was being dishonest.

The mountain of unopened mail would suggest otherwise. She simply didn’t know or care. I had ignored the mail myself, only because during my visits I was trying to focus on her immediate needs and I had referred her to both social services and her doctor. Therefore I assumed (wrongly) that they had been helping in those matters.

I told her that I would go to court with her and I would speak with the judge on her behalf. Jeanine cried with exasperation. I made her a cup of tea and sat as she fell asleep on her sofa.

I gathered her post and opened all of the envelopes. There were many bills from the uti
lity companies along with a number of ‘final notices.’ Inside some of the Social Security envelopes there were giro cheques. She hadn’t even cashed the last two months worth of cheques. She simply didn’t have the presence of mind to think of contacting anyone. The child couldn’t take care of herself, much less societal responsibilities.

I found a solicitor who would represent Jeanine at court. Legal Aid paid for her representation. According to the solicitor it would all be straightforward. He didn’t anticipate anything particularly ‘bad’ happening, other than there would probably be an order for her to repay the overpayments. This was especially in light of the fact it was clear she had suffered so much and was clearly not in an emotional state to manage her affairs.

Our judicial system requires that the defendant stand in a ‘witness box’ to proffer their testimony. I was saddened to see Jeanine have to do this. She looked pitiful. After Jeanine was sworn in the clerk read out the charge against her. I can’t recall exactly who asked what was her response to the charge.

But Jeanine’s response I clearly remember. She looked around the courtroom; I couldn’t see her focus on any one person. But then she looked up at the judge and said ‘I’m guilty. I’m guilty of everything. I’ve always been guilty, so just do whatever it is that you’re going to do to me. I don’t care anymore…about anything.’

The solicitor immediately intervened and said that his client had been undergoing a severe amount of stressful events, including the recent loss of her son. He went on to explain that the fact she hadn’t notified Social Services of the change in circumstances wasn’t with malicious intent and he explained that he had in his possession three of the giro cheques that hadn’t been cashed.

The prosecutor then spoke. She told the court that all HM’s Government was seeking was an order of repayment and ‘possibly’ a fine.

Jeanine stood in the box with her head slumped. If she was aware of what was happening around her, I couldn’t tell.

Her solicitor told the court that I was there to speak on her behalf. I shared what I knew of Jeanine and explained how I had watched her deteriorate since the day I had met her. I als
o told the court that it was my opinion that there was no malice of forethought on Jeanine’s part in the receipt of funds inappropriately. I felt the truth was that everyone she had encountered in her life had either abused her or failed her. I added that I felt all of us, including our government had also failed her.

There really wasn’t much more that I could offer. I wasn’t certain what would happen. I assumed that the courts would issue an order for her to repay the small amount she had received over the past five or six months, plus possibly a fine.

The judge then spoke. He asked Jeanine if she had ever been summoned to court before. She told him that she had to go to court when her mother’s friend ‘touched her.’ The judge ask
ed how long ago that had been. Jeanine couldn’t answer and the solicitor looked towards me with eyes asking if I knew. I volunteered that I believed that had happened when she was ten.

The judge was quiet for a moment. It seemed to be a long time, but I think I just felt nervous for Jeanine.

Then the judge looked at Jeanine. He told her that if he were to make a ruling finding that she had intentionally taken the funds it could possibly have future consequences. I felt my throat tighten when he said this. My immediate thoughts were that she was going to be sent to prison. But then the judge added; ‘if I issue an order instructing you to repay the funds, you will have a reduction in the benefits you currently receive.’

He went on to add ‘And if I were to do that, I believe that it will be an even greater struggle for you to climb above the most horrendous life you have had. Therefore as resolution of this matter, this court is ordering you to sit in the back of this courtroom until the matters of business for the day are concluded.’ The judge asked the solicitor if he understood what this meant.

The solicitor asked the judge to clarify the ruling. The judge said ‘ this court has imposed a sentence that requires the defendant to remain at the back of the courtroom until our normal business of the day is concluded. The order does not include a restitution order. I do not believe to do so would be in the interest of justice. Therefore, upon completion of the sentence, at the close of this court’s business, the defendant is free to go.’

Jeanine didn’t fully comprehend what had been said. The clerk asked her to step down and the solicitor walked over to her and asked her to have a seat next to me. Jeanine asked me what had happened and I told her I’d explain again after the court finished. But to my surprise the Judge then asked the clerk to call the next case.

The clerk advised the court there were no further cases on the docket. The judge looked back towards us and spoke to Jeanine. He told her she was free to go. And on that we all rose and the judge left the courtroom.

We hear so much of how our governments fail people. We may hear, but too easily forget, how often we fail one another.

I give thanks for the wisdom and compassion shown by Her Majesty’s courts. And I give thanks for the wisdom and compassion shown towards another human being.

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