A sermon for BBC Radio 4 – 7 July 2024

We were asked to produce a service to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 7 July 2024 a few weeks before the General Election was called. The service had to be recorded in advance as the date for the broadcast fell within choir holidays. Once the election was called, I soon realised that the service would be broadcast amidst all the Sunday morning chatter about the election result. So, that meant trying to think about how to speak into that situation without actually knowing the result of the election. That’s not an easy thing to do but I soon realised that we have skin in the game here. People from St Mary’s have been involved in the election as candidates, activists, tellers, agents and pundits. This is part of what we do here. I wrote most of the script for the service, which can be found here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0020xkw but the reality is, these things are a team effort and some of the wording needed to be very carefully chosen for this one. I was the preacher for this service, and this is what I had to say:

The thing that I remember most is crawling around on the floor. That and the feeling in my stomach. People refer to stomach churning moments. I never knew what that felt like until that moment.

I asked people to pick up all their bags and coats and shuffle their chairs. And I got down on my hands and knees just to check one more time that nothing had gone missing.

I was looking for a bundle of votes that might, just might,  have fallen off the counting table onto the floor.

20 years or so ago, that bundle of votes meant the difference between victory for me and victory for a political opponent.

The imagined bundle of votes on the floor never existed. Victory wasn’t mine that day and I soon had to concede that someone else had won. Less than 20 votes were between us after weeks of frantic campaigning.

There is something incredibly moving to see votes being counted and stacked up in your favour. And it is gut wrenching – there’s no other word for it, to miss out by just a few votes.

Our procedures for choosing leaders, using stubby pencils to mark slips of paper seem a long way away from David being chosen as King of Israel by the acclaim of the people. But there’s things to learn even from that account.

David and the people entered into a covenant with one another. And that word, Covenant is laden with meaning as it echoes the various times that the bible speaks of a covenant being made between God and the people.

Speaking of the relationship between leaders and those looking for leadership as a covenant relationship is to speak of the trust between them as being nothing other than sacred.

A covenant sets boundaries on what someone can do. Sacred boundaries.

I’m not involved in party politics now. But when election times come around and I get to cast my own vote, I have a strong sense of the deep, deep significance in casting a vote in a land where everyone gets to be involved if they choose. That does feel sacred to me. Who I vote for is my business. The act of voting feels like an immense responsibility – an act of faith in a common desire for our land to be governed well.

And as I vote, there’s one thing that I long for, for all who stand in elections. And that’s also a deeply biblical notion – I long for all those seeking to make decisions on behalf of others, to be blessed with wisdom.


Lord of wisdom, lord of truth, lord of justice, lord of mercy.  Walk beside us down the years, ’till we see you in your glory …

I’ve stood in quite a few elections. Elections to public office and elections within the church. And looking back, I started doing it by standing in student elections whilst I was in college.

More often than not, things have not gone my way. Losing elections seems to be one of my hobbies.

And I’ve learned you get better at losing elections as time goes on.

I’ve also learned that having wisdom and having a win are not the same thing.

Indeed, many of the biblical writers are, at best, ambivalent about the powerful, but passionate in proclaiming that God’s love is particularly poured out on the powerless and the weak.

In one of the readings that we heard this morning and which will be read in many churches today, we hear of Jesus feeling powerless himself and then starting to send out his disciples to proclaim his message – a message of repentance, a manifesto for changing everything.

Repentance means nothing other than changing everything and turning yourself around to face a new direction.

But those disciples who were sent out with this message were far from being the powerful of their day. They were mixed up, muddled up and much of the time they didn’t seem particularly bright. They were argumentative and squabbled about who was the most important. They got themselves into factions and when Jesus really needed to depend on their loyalty they all ended up running away.

And yet, these were the ones who carried a message of love from God to the world. These were the ones who brought good news to the world. These were the ones who did indeed turn the whole world around with the stories that they spread about the Saviour whom they each knew intimately.

As they carried that message, somehow they knew that God was with them wherever they went. Somehow they knew they were cared for and nourished and beloved. The love they knew, was the grace of God that they had seen in Jesus and which Christians still see and proclaim with confidence and love for the world today.

When everything seems mixed up and muddled up. God still loves us. When there is fighting and division, God still loves us. When we need to know love most. God’s love is right there.

Worship and prayer often connect people with that love. And prayer connects us with all who are in need. My colleagues Oliver and Maggie now lead our prayers for the world.

10 Things I learned from being a General Election Candidate

Ten years ago today there was a General Election in the United Kingdom and 10 years ago today I was a candidate in it. Indeed, 10 years ago as I write this I was wearily standing at the polling station for the last 20 minutes of polling, thanking a few final voters for turning out. I was standing in the contest to become the Member of Parliament (ie the Westminster MP) for the Stirling Constituency.

Here’s 10 things I learned

1 – You don’t have to win to do well.

I never expected to win and in the end I was rather pleased with myself, doubling the vote that the party I represented had previously got and moving them up a place, knocking the SNP into fourth place. (You can see the results here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stirling_(UK_Parliament_constituency)

2 – Lots of people know almost nothing about the democratic process
You find out when you knock on doors canvassing that lots of people just don’t have a clue how it all works. Very many people don’t realise that those who come knocking on the door are looking for people who might vote for their party and that’s about all. They want to encourage likely voters to turn out. They are really not interested in those sure they will vote for someone else.

But frightening numbers of people don’t understand how to vote at all. Vast numbers of people don’t understand devolution and have no idea which things are reserved to Westminster and which are devolved to Holyrood. (One discovers that this even applies to some candidates whom one might be standing against).

3 – You are always going to be asked about Trident/Abortion/Euthanasia/Palestine

You are also not going to be asked about them by many people at all. You are far more likely to be asked about the economy, jobs, transport (train fares/cars speeding/cycle paths) and dog poo. Dog poo is a topic that unites people of otherwise different political interests.

4 – Some people trust you if you are religious and others distrust you for the same reason.

It evens out in the end. However, if you happen to be a member of the clergy standing for election, one can find oneself stopped short by nice people saying, “Well we want to vote for you, but you are identified with the church and so we don’t trust you to be a decent person.”

5 – There’s nothing like working with a team all focussed on one thing

I had brilliant people around me who worked their socks off. I had an agent who worked morning, noon and night to get other people working morning, noon and night. Brilliant organisation pays off in the end. But there’s a buzz that is very satisfying about all that which I’ve never been able to capture in my work in the church. In politics, people unite (if things are going well) around the idea of just trying to get more votes than anyone else. It is a simple aim which leads to various tasks that can be easily monitored. In the church there are a thousand reasons for every person being present. Motivation is much more complex.

6 – Activists have more in common with activists from other parties than with non-voters

There were comparatively friendly relationships between political activists where I was fighting, which is why I feel the pain of some public bad behaviour in the current election campaign so keenly. Particularly after the election, we had informal pacts to take down one another’s lamppost posters. (Except the Tories, which we left in place for their own people to go round taking down, obviously).

7 – People are often nicer to one another in politics than the church

I know, I know. People don’t like to be told this, but it was very much my experience.

8 – It is incredibly moving to see the crosses by your name

It is one of the most extraordinary things going to count where your name is on the ballot paper. I was always moved to see the number of people who trusted you enough to make their mark by your name. Even if your stomach is churning with what might happen (which could change your life forever) it is still incredible to see that you’ve been winning people around.

9 – All politics are local

You don’t realise this until you go knocking on doors and delivering leaflets. “So Mrs Voter, I hear that the roads round here are terrible?” “Oh no, the roads here are fine, the road surface at the top of the street is terrible”.

10 – You learn more by standing in an election about mission than you do by anything anyone teaches you in the church

You learn that everything is a communication problem. You learn that every communication problem is worth trying to solve. You learn that change can happen. You learn that change will happen anyway so you might as well try to influence it. You learn the limits on power. You learn how hard it is to change someone’s mind. You learn that democracy is a sweet thing and not to be taken for granted anywhere. You learn that you need to aim to speak to 50 000 people as though you are addressing them each as an individual. You learnt that ideas matter, campaigns matter and above all that people matter.