Ambivalence, reluctance and the Jesus scale

About eight months or so ago, I started talking about the concept of a scale of faith in Christ. I christened it the Jesus scale. Here is a diagram:

The Jesus scale.
Created with PGF/TikZ, the tool I used to create the figures in this post.

On the far left, you have antitheism, hard determinism, militant atheism, and frankly a lot of rage. Moving along the scale, you come to spiritual but not religious, vague belief in some sort of higher power but no deity, and moralistic therapeutic deism. Somewhere along the line there is baptism, cultural Christianity, regular churchgoing. Heartfelt profession of faith. Further up the scale are people more churchy than you and that is where it gets unsettling. The scale goes further still: the religious life, say. Anchoresses. At some point we move out of my comfort zone entirely: young-earth creationism, Biblical literalism. Damaging fundamentalism. Again: rage.

Political extremes are not a scale but a cycle. Communism becomes fascism if you follow it far enough. So it is for religion. Both antitheism and fundamentalist Christianity use their doctrines as justification for oppression. A pair of inflexible positions rooted in fear and in hatred.

One weakness of this model is that it fails to account for other faiths. I would be interested in exploring how this concept plays out there. Anyhow, my coming to faith meant moving up the Jesus scale so fast I ended up with spiritual whiplash. Just about now, as that seems to be resolving, I have hit a new problem.

All possible means

I was prompted to come up with the Jesus scale after noticing that when I have conversations about faith, and sometimes other topics, I carefully figure out where other people might be on the Jesus scale, and pitch my words and behaviour so that my range on the scale presents as overlapping with theirs. If I do not do this, in either direction, I alienate them fast. When I dare to think about what type of priest I can see myself being, I want to be the guy who can hit all the bases, with the exception of the extremes. This is not a new desire. As the apostle Paul puts it:

20To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.

Middle-class, middle-England Brits feel comfortable with the weak-tea-and-unthreatening edit of Christianity beloved of western Anglicans and expressed well by David Cameron (right). When I am around people who fall in this camp, we talk about how church is “just like any other organisation really” (yes and no), how Christians are mostly just kind people (hah!), and lean heavily on jokes about the CofE being, well, mostly tea.

Fear not.

I reassure them,

You’ve not lost me to those people.

gesturing at the terrifying other. I keep quiet about my relationship with Jesus and how my prayer life is going, and am careful never to describe how by the time the weekend rolls around I ache for the absolution and Eucharist. That would not go down well and might make them afraid or hostile.

At the other end of the scale are prayer warrior friends who think nothing of grabbing our hands and praying openly during teas and coffees after the service (yes, really) and describing their lives in terms of the work of the spirit. During that prayer bit, I felt a prat. But we were planning a New Year’s Party at the time and had hit a roadblock. We prayed that the Lord would guide us to the right venue, that a lot of people would join us, and for hot men. Reader, we got all three. But if this kind of shenanigans makes me feel awkward, no wonder when I try to talk about my sense of vocation with James, I clam up, feel horribly vulnerable, and become all thumbs.

My Lord I beg you to send someone else, not me.

13But Moses said, “My Lord, I beg you to send someone else, not me.”

At our most recent meeting, James explained the expectation that I would be able and willing to articulate my sense of calling. Not keen on this prospect, I closed out the meeting by saying

Right, I’m off to cry to my therapist

He seemed not to understand. James is at a different place on the Jesus scale.

I sought solace in a video call with a supportive friend. I explained the Jesus scale to him.

What I’ve gotta do

I continued

is get more comfortable talking a bit further up the scale. I have to be able to articulate it.


I indicated, gesturing some sort of mid-range of values

your range is here, but once I start talking about my relationship with Jesus…

and my friend visibly winced. The cringe is real, right? Zealotry is alienating. But the opposite is also true. Priests who joke about not believing in God provoke a related sense of disquiet for the nascent Christian.

When I am with a different cohort of people, such as my friend who led us in prayer for the New Year’s Party, others in discernment, and God-fearing clergy, I flinch less, because our conversation is pitched different on the Jesus scale. For myself, I am now tasked with pulling what I am confident conversing about up in line with my inner experience. The outer and the inner are in different places. I am not worried about being not Jesus enough, but I do tend to frame my experiences with God in terms of defensive jokes.

My flinching friend digested what I am up against, sat back, and reflected:

I don’t envy you.

This made me feel validated, but hardly reassured. I am determined to get past this, but at this point in time I do not know exactly how. It matters not because I need to successfully navigate the Church of England discernment process, nor because I need to somehow convince James. Those things are in God’s hands. I could not fake them and nor would I want to. It matters for the sake of possible future ministry to others. If I am going to be a religious leader, I need a faith that other people can lean on – I like Matt Redman’s description of an unswerving faith – and it needs to be visible. Being able to articulate it, without shame, without flinching, without wanting to hide behind a cushion, is part of that.

15…Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, …

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Desires of my heart

Let the little children come to me

14Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

St Mary’s volunteer lanyard

A St Mary’s volunteer lanyard, on seemingly semi-permanent loan from the church.

Once St Mary’s clocked that I was not working and was willing, I got pulled in to assist with all sorts of activities. My experience with art-making made running a preplanned craft activity at the Light Party seem feasible. But things progressed fast.

I was then asked to help deliver an exploration of the Nativity to local schoolchildren. The step up in what was being demanded of me felt considerable. Experience Christmas focuses less on crafts and more on Jesus. The evening before, I was in the pub with the bellringers. When the bellringing gang looked dismayed at my leaving early, I told them

I’ve got to go. I have to get up in the morning. Gotta go indoctrinate some small children.

They told me

You don’t seem wild about this.

The Youth Minister at St Mary’s bashes the kids over the head with a Bible less than I had feared. Still, the Experience was a bit overwhelming and when I confessed this to Chloe, she said breezily

Don’t worry. There will be more for you to do at Easter.

I thought:


Command them to … be willing to share

Art materials are a vessel. They contain my anxieties. Art-making distracts and serves as a shared focus. By my third or fourth time volunteering with the kids, I have given up on reticence. I get called in to help facilitate a visit to the church from the local primary school. In contrast with previous times when I have delivered a pre-planned craft activity, this time I am to devise an activity myself in line with the themes for the day: faith, community, diversity and inclusion.

18Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.

When given a problem I do not know how to solve, my first strategy is this: find someone who has solved this problem before, and ask them. I fired off an email to my art psychotherapist asking for suggestions. I needed a ten-minute activity with a one-word prompt, to go along with the themes for the day. After a brief exchange of ideas about structure, art materials, and underlying motivations, I went with the theme of sharing.

Year 3 from St Mary’s Church of England Primary School rotated around different tables at church in small groups, thinking about and discussing different aspects of our themes.

At my table, we asked

What might we share? What do people share with us?


Why do we share? Why is sharing important?

Answers ran the gamut from my Nintendo, the Bible, food and toys through to things we should not share: your credit card number. Among motivations for sharing, joy was commonly put forward, a bit of a surprise as I was expecting answers based on physical needs.

Then we got stuck in the the creative process, drawing pictures of what we might share and assembling a giant collage.

Sharing collage

Sharing collage.

Take delight in the Lord

Year 3 took their collage with them back to their classroom. I am left exhausted but exhilarated. I am finding it hard to accept how much I am enjoying It All. Early on in the journey, in the free fall furnishing my vertiginous descent into Christianity, I plied one of my disciplers with

But how can I trust this? How?

By this I meant Jesus, God, the Bible. Anything.

With that circular reasoning characteristic of an Evangelical, they offered scripture. As if that would help.

3Trust in the Lord, and do good;
so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
4Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
5Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act.

A year later, it is dawning on me that the desires of your heart routine is a double-edged sword of laser precision. You will be given, in time, everything that you never knew that you wanted.

Not for human masters

23Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

As Richard moves into job-hunting territory, I, with God’s will and a following wind, move out of it. All of that getting stuck in at St Mary’s this past year has paid off. I have been offered a job in the St Mary’s church office.

I feel I can breathe again. That stage of the job hunt seems to be over. I have concerns though. When James mentioned the upcoming vacancy my first response was

Isn’t that really risky, working for your own Vicar.

To which James replied


At least we are on the same page, then.

The congregation seem delighted it will be me in the role, but I am wary. Will how they see me, change? I have been off work for some time now. Will I cope? What the heck does God have planned for me next?

At least, provided I do start as planned in a few days, I will have a new job title. Thus I have solved one problem which was bothering me: what to put on my LinkedIn.

This post comes with particular thanks to: nwg of Essex, the cheer squad, and everyone who cajoled, commiserated, believed in or prayed for or with me during the job hunt; everyone who agreed to provide a reference, met me for coffee, or pointed out a potential job. Most of all thanks to God for his guiding and guarding hand over all of us, and thanks to the good people of St Mary’s for giving me this opportunity.

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What do you do when God comes for your LinkedIn?

My Father’s house has many rooms

2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

In September 2022, The Guardian published an article Divine comedy: the standup double act who turned to the priesthood. The article sketches out what happened when two university friends of the author became Christians. Both friends explore whether or not they had a vocation to the priesthood.

I remember this passage:

Recently Jack has started picturing his life as a great house comprised of many rooms. There are rooms for your friendships, your love life, your career, rooms that you put signs outside declaring: I do not want this changed by my religion. Gradually, though, God starts knocking on the doors of more rooms, asking to join you in there, too. “And it’s difficult and painful and annoying,” he told me.

Born-again blogging

19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

If you become a practicing Christian as an adult, there is a process of coming out to go through. Whilst God rifles through all of those rooms in your life, forcing you to come out to yourself over and over, the question arises of who to tell. In the years before I made any sort of commitment to Jesus, I observed I was being told stories of faith, commitment and conversion by friends and colleagues. The colleague who video-called me up from abroad and confessed she had gotten baptised; the friend I met through Imperial who talked about the tension between her faith and her work, and later took me to her place of worship; a colleague and friend who said he would pray for me when I was going through the divorce.

Telling people mattered. I needed to explain that something significant was happening, a bit change. I was nervous coming out on the blog. If you recall this blog was born under New Atheism – close inspection reveals that the blog launched the day after the launch of the fundraiser for the Atheist Bus Campaign. In the blogging community of the time, I remember vociferous and to me somewhat stupid seeming below-the-line arguments loosely centred on faith. I was terrified of a hostile reaction to a position I did not yet know how to defend.

So when I cited Jerry Coyne in the first blog post in the Faith category, I did not tag him on the socials lest I brought forth an argument I was ill equipped for.

But bit by bit over the past year or so, God has taken over my web presence just like He is working on the rest of me. Priest friends warned me that Anglican Clergy Twitter is a tough space but I have seen worse in those early science blogging days.

On Instagram, I follow churches and cathedrals, flooding my feed with photogenic buildings. When I joined Threads and BlueSky, craving a Twitter replacement, the first people I followed were – well, you lot. Thank you all for being there. And for not attacking me. I was scared of what I might lose.

Let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you

From The Methodist Covenant Prayer

Put me to what you will,

let me be employed for you,
or laid aside for you,

A Christian without a job feels like the oxymoron I am. I left the workforce when my health precluded; recovering, repent-and-believing, and returning to the job market happen for me in one and the same moment. But where was I headed? I set out with not a lot more than scripture to guide me:

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

For the first half of 2023 I hedged my bets, applying in parallel for Church-based roles and stats ones. By the middle of the year, six interviews down and a corresponding half-dozen rejections in hand, I sacked off the stats thing for now and focus on doing the Church thing.

LinkedIn is my current least favourite social media platform, in part because it reminds me of the former career for which I continue to grieve. I thought I was going to leave LinkedIn when I decided to put a soft pause on my biostatistics career, but I have too many friends in my former colleagues on there. Even if scouring the LinkedIn job listings for the term Church leads mostly to jobs in Church Stretton.

My friends at St Mary’s placate me with tales of their own job hunting eras, trust in the Lord, and the multipurpose epithet wheeled out after every failed job interview

Rejection is God’s protection.

The bellringing crowd assign themselves as my cheer squad, not once questioning my change in direction. They take me to the pub and cajole me into not overthinking, telling me instead of Church job openings they have heard about. I double down on morning prayer and the gym, and give up trying to explain why I think I might be headed for ministry rather than the glorious career in middle management at Glaxo once understood by others to be my assured destiny.

My social media platforms fall one by one. I go from being a statistician with a tongue-in-cheek thread about church, to a Christian nostalgic for stats.

I face remarkably little pushback over my new worldview, online nor off. A few relatives struggle at first. I infer they are concerned I might be being drawn into some sort of cult. But they come around quickly. I think they can see the difference this is all making. I get little challenge from friends of friends, and my oldest friends draw close and defend me, caught up in excitement for me and fascination.

But now I need to out myself to LinkedIn, which at the time of writing is portraying me as a statistician-scientist with an oddly long CV gap. I have been stalling, thinking I will update my profile – or take it down entirely – when I finally land that church job. It is every bit possible I will get rerouted back to stats later. Roughly a third of clergy in the Church of England are self-supporting ministers and a proportion of those are bivocational, juggling another career alongside the ministry for which they do not get paid the equivalent of a salary. Conscious that some of my former colleagues are religious and unsure what they might make of it all, I write draft after draft in my mind. I am acutely aware of the ambiguity of my current situation. Leaning towards something light and humorous I call to mind the difference between the statistician joke and the church one. My working tagline, which I test out on my new profile on BlueSky:

Statistician for Jesus. What are the chances?

I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am


His name will be on his servants foreheads, and they will worship him.
From Revelation 22:4 and The Brick Testament

Cutting deals with God is ineffective; threats of vengeance liable to backfire. Ask me how I know this.

Advice from a priest friend

Advice from a priest friend.

However, in ambivalence, it is hard not to think, teeth gritted

when I get to that house, with His many rooms, I’m gonna take my time and rifle through all of them. See how He likes it.

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You’re reading again.

my brother remarked, last fall.

You said you couldn’t read before.

I jolted. It was true.

When I am depressed I lose the ability to read books. This is one of the worst symptoms. Staring at the same paragraph over and over, unable to make words stick, knowing I need distraction and unable to escape. My brother loves books, and conversations about them. I envied him ploughing through novels, plays and biographies. But by the second half of last year, I was talking about books I was reading again.


Bible Study

Four years earlier, abruptly in need of a Bible, I consulted Amazon. The choice overwhelmed me so I asked Fiona

which Bible should I get?

She picked one out for me. When I screenshotted the dispatch notice email to assure her – and myself – I had gone ahead with the purchase, she spotted that I had thrown a box of posh chocolates into my basket too:

can recommend eating chocolate when reading the bible

Clergy-approved approach to scripture.


Bog standard Bible

Bathroom cabinet containing a bible.

Blasphemy or pragmatism? You decide.

I found getting to grips with God’s word one of the toughest parts of the journey, In true depressed fashion I berated myself for this. Was I sceptical? Faithless? Stupid?

With osmotic ambitions, I acquired lots of Bibles and put them everywhere. I carried paperback Gospels around with me, only for my copy to get soaked by the rain. I bought an NT Wright commentary on the New Testament which I thought might be easier going but was not. A Dorling Kindersley commentary on The Bible aimed at younger readers with lots of timelines and illustrations is a surprisingly useful reference.

I even bought a cheap copy of the New Testament NIV from a thrift store, to put by the loo.

In hindsight writing this all down now I can see that in a large part the challenge was not that I was unable to read the Bible, but more that I was unable to read at all. It was also last fall that, frustrated with my progress, I hit the start button on the Bible in a Year plan on my app. To my astonishment I have stuck with it ever since. At the time of writing I am more than a third of the way through, often reading the day’s assigned portion on the bus.

You might call it God’s timing.

Room at the Inn

Ask an Anglican, get a book

was a trope Fiona taught me.

They hand you a book when they don’t know what else to do.

True to form, whilst depressed-me set to work trying to convince myself I was too deep a miscreant to ever be worth of God’s love (Ha! Nice try!) Fiona dispatched me a copy of The Ragamuffin Gospel by sometime alcoholic and former Franciscan priest Brennan Manning. I flicked through the book but the fact I was unable to read seemed to only emphasise my unworthiness of All Of This. I abandoned the book to gather dust under my bed (sorry, Fiona). I returned to Ragamuffin later, won over – finally – by among other things, Philip Yancey’s What’s so Amazing about Grace? (Great title.)

I cleared space on my bookshelf for church related books, and for several months found that I had gone from being unable to read at all, to being unable to read anything other than church-related stuff. I quickly graduated from books covering the basics, important though they are. I read books about calling, communion, grace, parish life and ministry; Lancelot Andrews’ sermons and their commentary, biography. Prayers and books on prayer. One of the most bizarre experiences was that when I went to church for those few months pre-pandemic in early 2020, I considered getting confirmed. I downloaded a book on confirmation on Kindle and discarded it quickly, for it made no sense at all. But returning to it around the time of my confirmation for real, last October, everything had fallen into place.

The book had not moved, but I had.

Pretty soon I will have to move those Oxford University Press Very Short Introductions on the right. My bookshelf of faith is running out of room.

Bookshelf of faith

Those small weight plates are fractional plates, for strength training.


I had my First Meeting with James about All That. Mostly, we looked back, on how far I had been brought by God and the good people of St Mary’s during the past year. How much I was gaining from my relationships with my church friends. And from bellringing, and the bellringers, my other church family.

James suggested some things for me to think about, and some things to do. These days, I lead Morning Prayer regularly on Wednesdays. Me, leading worship!

And, like Fiona, James sent me on my way with a book to read. This one is about leading churches.

Unnerving does not cut it.

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Perfect love casts out bitterness

18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.

That escalated quickly.

How was morning prayer?

James asks me, less than a week later. James asked me on Monday if I wanted to lead Morning Prayer on Wednesday, so I did. I prayed with one of the Curates; James was not there. As I was leaving Church, I spotted something that needed dropping into the Church office. I take it over and stick it through the letterbox. James opens the door, and asks how it went.


I say dryly, and shake my head laughing apologetically

I’m sorry.

There were more emotions packed into those twenty prayerful minutes than can be unpacked on the Church office doorstep. Humour as defence. I am still processing.

I feel as if I have to keep explaining myself. It happened the day before, too, first thing. One of the Curates asked how 2024 had been going for me. I replied nonchalantly


When I failed to get the job at King’s last year, the feedback I was given included that in the interview I went too deep too quickly. They expressed concern I would not cope with small talk in the Chaplaincy. Indignant in various ways at the time, I am starting to wonder if they might have had a point. Church life seems to involve a lot of conversations about the weather which read as purposefully benign.

I explain, then, something about humour and my professional background. Comedy among statisticians is particular. Statistician humour blends intellectual prowess, technical expertise and rapier wit. It is a form of in-group bonding, within-group jousting. Starting a story in the middle of it, a pattern of speech I am prone to, fell in well with this. It asks, can you fill in the blanks? Can you keep up?

Statisticians care little for the priors of those emotive biologists. No wonder when I had designs on starting a consultancy, I dreamt of calling it

Nihilism and Graphs.

If you can’t keep up with me, you can’t do anything at all.

Statistical humour is great, if you get it. It can be truly funny. Statisticians joke with plenty of innuendo (lots of references to posteriors), and a surrealist philosophical bent. Reductio ad absurdum a specialty. The joking a form of release, because statistical consulting is relational work and emotionally draining. But the pattern of joking – and more meaningfully, the motivations underlying it – do not translate to the Church.

Competitive banter can become compulsive, even habitual. The consulting statistician has to be careful always and considerate. If you say to a scientist client, deadpan, that to carry out a useful experiment they are going to need samples in the unfeasible millions, and they are used to you jesting, they might feel as if you are mocking both them and the hard work they are putting in. When to you, that is just what the data say.

But statistician-to-statistician, crossed with corporate cut and thrust, the whole thing can become cruel, fast. I am not what you might call a statistician’s statistician. My heritage is biology, not math, and I was not allowed to forget this. My PhD is technical enough but my spirit is applied. So when my boss described me as

not a statistician, but from the point of view of a biologist functionally equivalent to one

she was right, and as a true statistician I ought to get the joke. However if you look closely this is a joke that is doubly hurtful, yet the expectation is that I laugh. Perhaps in the long run it is for the best that corporate life gave up on me.


Being in discernment makes Church life weird. Every opportunity feels as if I am being tested, a sentiment both true and a hangover from corporate days. I feel as if I am always on show. When discerning-me puts on a front, she echos back to my corporate life, and, especially under stress, gets quippy.

The first time I met James in person, I was stressed and going a bit quickly. I had just had a garbled conversation with one of the Curates, and when James asked over post-Sunday-service-coffee, how I was doing, I confessed

I think I might have scared Freya

When he tried friendly reassurance

She’s very unflappable

I deadpanned unthinkingly

There’s a challenge.

James looked more shocked than I have seen him before or since. But to the statisticians I worked with that shock factor is the victory.

Perfect love is not very trendy

One of the people I have supporting me lives outside of my parish entirely. During one of our early email exchanges, they explained

Overall I think one key issue is that Christianity itself is kind of naff. Like, being too genuine and too innocent—that’s always kind of embarrassing, isn’t it?

I disagreed in my reply, but a year on, I can see how naïve I used to be. They are right. Back then, I did not know enough of His love, yet. I had grasped not the depth, height, width, vastness. Paradoxically, I fear that I still have not.

I am trying to draw out the contrast between corporate comedy as thinly veiled combative tussle, and the self-deprecating, forever gentle laughs that land well in Church settings. I pray, sometimes, for faster formation, because I feel as if I keep putting my foot in it.

Because one thing Christianity isn’t is a club. It is not an in-group for those in the know. You do not have to make the room laugh and admire you to garner a seat at the Lord’s table. Throughout the gospels, and on the cross, Christ’s arms are wide open for everyone. Whether through prejudice, or physical barriers, or misunderstanding, or fear, or, as in my case, with the witticisms which I know to be ego and my own terror, we must not hurt, we must not mock.

We can joke, but only in love.

A favourite Christianity-related joke.

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Milestones and Morning Prayer


Morning Prayer is said each weekday at St Mary’s. Last year I took to going semi-regularly, on Tuesdays.

Because it gets me out of the house,

I explain.

I go to the gym on Tuesdays, in the morning,

I add.

I joined the gym near the church,

I continue.

Double virtue,

I joke, unable to admit to myself that I am starting to need the church more than I need the gym. Then one Tuesday, James raises an eyebrow at me after morning prayer and comments

See you tomorrow

I have been holding back and I know this. Don’t want to hassle the clergy. Surely, that service is for them? I am trying, at this point, to keep a low profile at St Mary’s. This seems not to be working. I keep getting added to rotas. Weeks start to go by where, what with the gym, morning prayer, job hunting, Sunday worship, bellringing practice and sundry excuses, I end up in one church or another for seven days straight.

There are a handful of us in the congregation who attend Morning Prayer semi-regularly, like me. Some days, it is just me and one of the clergy. From this I infer that there are days when it is just one of them, praying, alone-together with God. Other days, five or six of us cluster. Strangers, visitors and friends, and lively discussions about what we read into the readings and psalms.

One day early last August, two of us laity sat, app in hand. I am yet to master the analogue version. The clock approaching the appointed time, we discuss how to proceed absent clergy. We might just have to crack on ourselves. But the curates tumble through the door just in time. My friend remarks that we were just discussing what we would have done had they not materialised. To which one curate says decisively

Erika, why don’t you lead it?

My inner monologue screams

I am not even confirmed yet.

Out loud:


Inwardly I pray frantically

Lord, be with me. Let me not cock this up.

I dole out the readings, draw us into silence, and began with the preparation:

O Lord, open our lips.
And our mouth shall proclaim your praise.

I seem to remember we were partway through the psalms, but it might have been during the readings (ah! I can relax a bit!) when it dawned on me that I would have to lead the intercessions for the day, on the fly. I offered more silent prayers.

Lord, let me not forget anyone. The world, and Your church, and this place and its people, and the sick, and the dead, and the nearly dead…

The overall experience left me a little teary. But when Freya and Josh explained to a visitor who arrived after we got started but whom they knew from theological training,

That was Erika’s first time leading.

he replied generously that he couldn’t tell.


This year begins. I give in.

I need to start swimming a little, I reason, on alternate days when I am not in the gym. I have a trip booked when I will have the opportunity to SCUBA dive and I am not at all swim-fit. And I can’t land a job, a whole other saga. It’ll do me good to get out of the house in the morning. Might as well pray more, the solution to most things.

Church was closed on Monday, New Year’s Day. I was there Tuesday as usual, then the gym. I wonder if James sensed what had shifted because after Morning Prayer Wednesday, before the swim, he mentioned that all the clergy would be off today, Thursday.

I can do it,

I found myself offering,

if someone can open the church up.

I continued,

I’ve done it once before.

So here I am, praying alone-together with God. No-one else came. Just me, and Psalm 89, and Ruth (Chapter 3, cliffhanger), and Paul (Colossians 3:12-4:1). This time I did cry, during the intercessions, as I tried not to forget anyone, the world and His church and the sick and the dead and the nearly dead. I am overwhelmed by the brokenness of the world and the calling in front of me.

It’s fine

I lie to people,

It’s fine. It’s just a lot to take in. That’s all.


I add hurriedly, furiously, as if I can imagine ever desiring anything else,

anyway, it might not be that.

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Surprises: Notes from my first year as a practicing Christian

  1. Christmas 2022, Christ Church, Harpenden: a riot of 200 people in a school hall.
  2. An invitation to join home group.
  3. Joining the Teas and Coffees Rota. Learning the drill, and the importance of the ministry of hospitality.

    The Tea Rota Dave Walker

    The Tea Rota © Dave Walker

  4. Contemporary Christian Music. Commercially obvious melodies, catchy drum beats, repetitive choruses and frequently dubious theology. I love pop music so this was a natural intersection. Terry Scott Taylor hits harder than most. He gets the video with his supergroup The Lost Dogs.

    …He wants our faith,
    But that’s never enough;
    He wants our hearts,
    That’s how He Lo-o-oves…

  5. My phobia of cut flowers got cured.

  6. Flowers a gift from my lockdown neighbour.

    A gift from my neighbour in Lockdown

  7. Easter
  8. Ringing for the King.
  9. Holloway Ringers and Friends

    Holloway ringers and friends ring for the Coronation, 6 May 2023. Photo: Claire Lorenc

  10. The Feast of Corpus Christi, All Saints Margaret Street. Processing the Blessed Sacrament round Oxford Circus.
  11. Spending my Saturday afternoon Googling “Why was Simon Peter fishing naked?” I was reading from scripture that weekend (John 21:1-14, NRSV). Why did he put his clothes on to swim to the shore?
  12. Surprising conversations with the Vicar Part I:

    Erika: Tell me you really need bellringers for the Ordinations. (The Ordination of Priests in Stepney and Two Cities was taking place at St Mary’s, a sell-out event. I wanted to be there. – EC.)

    Vicar: You know, actually we do need bellringers for the Ordinations.

    Ordinations 2023

    Ordinations 2023

  13. I now have the same hairdresser as Rosemary Lain-Priestly. It is a funny story.
  14. Surprising conversations with the Vicar Part II:

    Erika: Why does Paul talk about the gift of exhortion? Doesn’t that mean beating someone up and taking all of their money? (Romans 12:8, NRSV).

    Vicar, patiently: No, Erika. That’s extortion.

  15. Grace
  16. Surprising conversations with the Vicar Part III:

    Vicar: What did you make of today’s Bible Readings? (The Gospel Reading was Matthew 14:1-12, NRSV, “Bring me the head of John the Baptist”)

    Erika: Well, it makes me sad, because I like the Benedictus.

    Vicar: Oh, you like the Benedictus?

    Erika: Yeah…

  17. Helping to run the Study Group. We taught The Prayer Course 2: Unanswered Prayer. Incidentally Pete Greig runs a church in my hometown of Guildford.
  18. Ringing the Bells in St Martin in the Fields. We also visited the Ringing Room and Bell Tower in St Paul’s Cathedral.
    The Bells of St Paul’s.

    The Bells of St Paul’s.

  19. Prayer.
  20. That I no longer flinch when conversations end with “Well, that’s something to pray about.”
  21. Reading the Bible on the bus. I used to wonder, years ago, about the proportion of people reading religious texts to people reading other sorts of material, on public transport. Is the ratio higher on trains than in homes? Now I am the one reading the Bible on the bus. Gotta get my daily dose in.
  22. Communion
  23. How certain things make sense in hindsight.
  24. That one time I was asked to lead Morning Prayer. It felt funny, with the responsories the wrong way around, and having to pray the intercessions on the fly. (If I know I am to lead the prayers, I write them ahead of time.)
  25. How many calf-length dresses and skirts got added to my wardrobe. Sunday best, anyone?
  26. My mental map of London got overlaid with churches.
  27. Ten thousand Christians in a field, what’s not to like? Volunteering with the Access Team at Greenbelt, August 2023.
  28. Failing my way through eight job interviews and several more applications. The first church-based role, they gave me the feedback that I “didn’t talk about God enough” in the interview. Rookie error, I thought. Rookie error.
  29. Getting stuck in with the children’s ministry: a gentle start manning the craft table at the light party and then the same duty again at the Christmas Fair so that their parents could shop. Being invited to help teach the Nativity to local schoolchildren was a bit of a jolt, and felt like quite a step up. But if I don’t say yes, what am I doing here?
  30. Making monsters using stickers at the Light Party

    Making monsters using stickers at the Light Party

  31. My sister-in-law telling me that I seem like a down-to-Earth Christian.
  32. Getting a selfie with the Bishop: Confirmation, October 2023. How enthusiastic my fellow bellringers were about assembling a band to ring for the occasion, once they realised I was the one getting confirmed. Explaining I couldn’t join in the ringing because at the time they will be ringing, I will be being prayed for. Being prayed for as the bells rang.
  33. Selfie with the Bishop.

    Selfie with the Bishop. Confirmations at St Mary’s, October 2023.

  34. How far one can travel in a year.
    The best Christmas present?

    The best Christmas present?

    Leading the prayers, St Mary’s Islington, Christmas 2023.

    Leading the prayers, St Mary’s Islington, Christmas 2023.

With thanks to the good people of St Mary’s Islington and elsewhere, for walking with me on the journey. And to God, walking with us too.

Stepping out in faith, I guess.

Stepping out in faith, I guess. Confirmation Day at St Mary’s, October 2023.

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John Jackson OBE (1934 – 2023)

It is good to read about a life well-lived, I think. Especially if you struggle with your own existential dread. (Following Covid, isn’t that all of us, to a degree?)

My mother’s Uncle, John, to us “Uncle John” even though he was actually Great Uncle John, died last month. The funeral will take place next week. It’s a sobering moment for us as a family, because John represents the last living blood relative of my grandparents’ generation on both sides. John leaves behind his second wife, Pat, his two sons and my mother’s two cousins Alistair and Andrew and their families, an enormous number of lives touched, and, well, us. Me.

John Jackson RIP

I cribbed this picture from the Burton Albion FC website. I hope they don’t mind.

I got to know John a little in his retirement, my adulthood. Before that he was someone we went to a football match with one time and a face in family photographs from a time before I have memories. But following the death of my grandfather George, John’s brother, J and I would stop by John and his wife Margaret’s place in the midlands on the way to or from the Lake District. After George and my other remaining grandparents died in rapid succession within a matter of months in the early 2010s, my whole immediate family gravitated towards our parents’ and grandparents’ siblings, as if putting out tendrils, desperate to connect to what remains of each other here on Earth. Redoubling our efforts with more obscure branches of our family trees.

Family photo from 1988

Family photo circa 1988

I knew little of John’s life before he retired, I only read about it just now in two articles in the local press.

I had known that John was active with Burton Albion FC, his local football club, and involved in its work in the community. I hadn’t known, although it doesn’t surprise me to learn, that through his previous role with Burton Albion Community Trust he had been instrumental in enabling the Pirelli Stadium to become a vaccination centre during the pandemic. Our whole family is quite “light under a bushel”, I am perhaps less this way inclined personally but in general it is in our family culture to be understated.

I knew John for his warm hospitality, his unlikely fandom for Russell Brand, the sincerity with which he welcomed us as a newly married couple and with which he talked with me over the years as we grappled as a family with our history and with our future. I remember how he took his own tragedy and worked with his son to make a BBC Documentary on a systematic problem in UK Hospitals, always with care and love and never with self-pity. His late wife Margaret was an astonishing character, and following her death John never wallowed but carried on, welcoming J and I, holding my hand when the marriage failed, building relationships and being at the centre of his community.

I know John’s death isn’t about me, but he won’t mind being part of something bigger – that was him in life for sure. I want to note somehow how different birth and death look once one believes. When John was dying, I felt calm and steady; I prayed because that’s what I do now, and I listened to others grieving and grappling. Coincidentally seeing as it’s John’s funeral this week I held a newborn for the first time in several years too, the much-longed-for son of a friend; I gazed into its unseeing eyes, my heart unable to hold onto this miracle. Babies are have been Simply Marvellous, but Everything Is Different Now.

Lots of love to John and his family, and blessings aplenty to my new friend’s new life, also, as it happens, a “J”.

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I am evangelical about this

PhD students should* consider industry roles; academics should not dissuade them.

Ten years ago today I began my career as a statistical consultant in the pharmaceutical industry. I went directly from my PhD: I submitted my PhD thesis on a Friday, went clothes shopping on the Saturday and started my new job on the Monday. I moved house the following Thursday, in order to cut my commute down by the order of one cross-London Tube journey.

Academia, and academics, can be hostile to this sort of hijinks. After I left Imperial and UCL and went to industry, I missed academia. In the intervening years I negotiated my own time with my employer, enabling my attendance at numerous seminars, workshops and other academic events related more or less tangentially to my day job. For me this was not related to career progression, nor what industry calls technical development. This was a different sort of outlet, a form of nostalgia. I would turn up and listen, wanting a sense of homecoming, only to realise I am overdressed, too direct with my language, and did not belong at all in those dusty lecture halls anymore.

Erika with the GSK pride group ready for the parade to start in 2016.

A statistician who has never felt more awkward: the one time I relented and put on a company-branded T-shirt, at London Pride in 2016.

In corporate life, one was supposed to carefully plan one’s conference attendance for the year during January, jointly with one’s line manager, but I was line managed two layers up from the US. Because time zones I could get away with going to various extra-curricular things during work time, in London, usually, especially if I could find a quiet corner of a conference to dial into any important meetings. Don’t get the wrong impression of working industry life: whilst the work-life balance is, in general, compared to academia, more reasonable, it varies over time and career stage as it does in any profession. The flexibility I was granted with my working hours is by no means a given. I earned trust through the Seattle gig among others, ask me in the pub about that and I’ll tell you. I could turn the handle when needed and hated letting colleagues down; to the extent that I was able, I delivered due work to timelines.

Industry suits some people better. In concrete terms: academia is a zero-sum game. I get the grant, you do not get it. I scoop you, I get the kudos. There are finite prizes, and limited resources. Fighting for academic karma points becomes one’s raison d’etre. I am reminded of Sayre’s law as applied to academia in a quotation usually attributed to Kissinger and rephrased to me as

In academia, the fights are so bitter because the stakes are so low.

I am not saying this is a bad thing. It’s not even true quite a lot of the time, for all that it is quotable. Academia suits some people, seems to let many more of them down, and does not suit some others.

In research in industry, the stakes are not better, nor necessarily higher, so much as they are different. The whole ship is at stake; if one of us goes down, we take others with us. Humans are still humans and whilst turf wars and latent power struggles and empire building and all the rest of it do go on, the overall winners are not always the ones who fought to be first author. The goal such as there is one is to navigate the whole team through current, concurrent economic, scientific and political cycles safely, with the minimium of carnage, and, in pharma, hopefully along the way to play our incremental parts in the process of making a medicine. One goes from being master of one’s destiny with an outcome to an extent proportionate to time spent at work, to a tiny, tiny cog in a hundred-thousand person machine. There are roles for everything, including things that you have never heard of. So I was the statistician who supported the pre-clinical scientists in one or more areas of biology, or one or more technologies; at one point I was the in-house go-to person for the statistical design of transcriptomic studies; another the stats point person to Immunology. A niche within a niche, as it were, but I was perceived to add value nonetheless. If this had not been the case, my role would have been made redundant eventually.

Corporate adjustment is the change in ways of being and doing from academia to industry. It hurts. An academia to industry career transition needs to be made judiciously and with a degree of self awareness. The move is easiest at one of two career stages. One can move, as I did, fresh from a masters or doctorate or perhaps a short postdoc just to make sure one was not at home in academia. At this stage one is malleable, still relatively young and able to learn new things quickly, and not yet quite so wedded to the ideals so important mid-career. The other people who arrived who were successful were professor-level and brought something specific. In my field this was usually technical expertise. If these people came willingly they commanded respect straight away, especially if they were known from the literature and conference circuit.

To conclude: students, think of industry as a realistic career option; academics: your colleagues and counterparts in industry know things you do not. A collaborative and healthy working relationship between academia and industry is a beautiful thing, the best of both worlds, and a joy to be a statistical consultant to. Those roles are some of my greatest pleasures.

Have fun, y’all.

* I don’t really believe in “should”, said breezily with a wave of the hand, used to be one of my maxims. My vocational transition is about as much fun as it sounds.

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Computers these days

When I was in primary school, in the early nineties, Tesco ran a scheme called Computers for Schools. Shopping at Tesco earned paper vouchers which were collected by local schools. When a school had collected enough vouchers, they could spend them on computer equipment.

The window of time when I was in love with technology began when I was five or six years old. My primary school employed the father of one of the kids to teach us the basics on the suite of Acorn computers my school had bought using Tesco vouchers.

The IT teacher taught us two maxims:

  1. It is very difficult to break a computer, aside from using a hammer. This teaching was designed to encourage us, as we learned the rudiments of BBC Basic or word processing, to experiment, to wonder what this button does.
  2. Computers are stupid. They do what humans tell them, and nothing else. If someone’s machine did something unexpected and the teacher was called to investigate, the whole class would carry out a call-and-response exercise:

Mr IT: Computers are…?

Class: Stupid!

I progressed from Acorn computers to Windows. At home we always had a modern PC, cast off from my father’s place of work. Their tech was being upgraded annually to keep up with the demand of that field. I remember vividly the day dad came home and told us kids solemnly that this new computer had a gigabyte of memory.

Wow, Dad.

I said.

What’s a gigabyte?

In preparation for my undergraduate studies, I pored over PC World magazine before picking out a Dell desktop, a gift from my father. I took immense care of it, and used to open up the case to add RAM, virus-check it often, and back up my work to a series of DVDs every month(!). At the start of my MSc I won a MacBook in the essay escapade and became a Mac convert; I worked primarily across UNIX and Mac for the next four years. As well as the trusty MacBook I was furnished with a beautiful 27-inch iMac and a UNIX box with NVIDIA GPUs for my PhD, with thanks to the Wellcome Trust for their generous funding. Further I had access to Imperial’s incredible High Performance Computing service for anything my own tech could not handle – quite the privilege.

On my first day in my first job post-PhD, the hiring manger handed me a laptop with the apology that it ran Windows 7, meaning that the company’s Windows 8 upgrade was still in progress. I replied dryly that I was sorry that it was Windows at all, perhaps the first indication that corporate Erika was not going to be an authentic edition of the self. I installed emacs to do my work in R, and got hauled up by IT whose virus-scanner had picked up one of the extensions I had installed, which makes emacs keybindings work in Microsoft applications and reads to a virus scanner as a keylogger. Oops.

Working with corporate IT is different to working with academic tech, where I had been largely left to my own devices. As the years passed I came to learn that it was in my best interests to get on with the job in hand, and that it was not my job to try to understand what was going on under the IT hood. Outside of work, I had a succession of iGadgets and was aware that I was becoming less and less au fait with how the whole thing chained together.

But it’s not just me. Richard once told me “you have tech chops” and that is probably still true to an extent, but I don’t think Maxim Two holds anymore. iGadgets and their ilk now hoover data up furiously. Behind your back they mine email, social media, calendar, text messages and photos. Your friends end up tagged, your geography monitored, memories and suggestions are supplied to you unbidden. If you have had a turbulent few years involving the loss of the husband, marriage, home, career and worldview that you once treasured, this is a cruel system, worse than human memory that can blindside you with a once-familiar perfume or train station, say. No, I do not want to see a photograph of my honeymoon today, thank you very much.

That window of time has closed, then. Yet another important aspect of my life that my perspective has changed on. Weird.

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