The poor deaf!

Address delivered to Bristol Diocesan Synod, 23 November 1991

I am sure that if you were asked how many native languages exist in the British Isles you would list: English, Welsh, Gaelic, Erse, Manx and Cornish, and there it would end. Yet there is another language in daily use among over 30,000 of the population and one which has recently been recognised as official by the European Community. It is a language which is never spoken, and one which is almost too impossible to write down in an easily intelligible form. It is gaining hugely in popularity so that teaching classes are always heavily over-subscribed. British Sign Language is enjoying a boom. Arcane and exotic to the outsider; as ordinary, at times, to the user as a note for the milkman.

Who are “the Deaf”? (And there’s a mistake – almost as bad as calling them “the disabled.”) People who are deaf do not look upon themselves as being ‘disabled’, only disadvantaged. Centuries of well-meaning but misguided attitudes have left the deaf community as an oppressed minority culture – and no linguistic group can exist without a culture to which the language gives expression. One major feature of deaf culture is cold dinners: you cannot sign clearly when holding a knife and fork!

There is so much confusion about the terminology. Those with a hearing loss – hard of hearing – those who become deafened, through meningitis, rubella or road accidents, are lumped together with the profoundly, pre lingually deaf – as if they were all the same, except by degree. Ten and a half million people in the UK, skilfully ignored until they open their mouths or hands.

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A thief in the daytime

Sermon preached at School of Ministry, Almondsbury Conference Centre, 9 November 1985

When talking of virgins, I have a recollection that they numbered four and twenty and came down from Inverness. In the passage before us [Matthew 24:45-25:13 – SJC] they numbered ten, of whom five were wise and the others foolish; perhaps half the number suffered the fate of their Scottish counterparts?

Young maidens (from the Greek parthenoi) is perhaps a less emotive way to consider their role in the narrative. This parable is so full of strange and quirky details that it is better to treat it gently and, like young ladies themselves, not to squeeze too tightly.

One of the first questions I want to ask is: what were they all doing out at night? Seems a strange time to have a wedding. Not too much is known about marriage customs in Palestine at that time, so it is difficult to be certain; even so, ten bridesmaids does seem somewhat excessive. If it was midnight then it would be even odder for any shops to be open for oil. Those making long journeys seldom travelled at night, unless with some nefarious purpose… you can see the dangers of lifting a story out of its context.

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The lost sheep and the lost coin

Sermon preached at unknown location – but the manuscript is appended ‘Swindon’; exact date unknown, but headed “Trinity 5” so likely to be in July.

You’re on the bus. Suddenly you find that you are one penny short of the fare. You look in your pockets. You turn out your purse. Very embarrassing. All the people behind you in the queue are becoming more impatient. That one penny becomes the most important; all the others just aren’t enough, however many you may have. Then at last, you find one under some old toffee papers. Oh, the relief! Oh, the joy! You can sit down and enjoy the journey. How important is one penny.

People are important, too. Let’s suppose you’ve had a row with your teenage daughter. She has stormed out of the house at eleven o’clock at night, promising never to come back. Do you go to bed? Do you say to yourself, “oh, she’ll come back. There’s nothing for me to do”? No. You wait up, worried and anxious. Perhaps you go out into the dark streets and call her. You do this, because you love her.

But what about people you don’t like? Can you do the same for them? The outcast is hardest to love. We all have to deal with unpleasant and difficult people. Their nastiness is often a silent plea for love – but often the heart is closed. A horrid man is often one who has never learned nor been able to love himself. Never having received love, he cannot give it to others.

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Sermon preached at the Eucharist, Christ the Servant, Stockwood, Bristol, 29 October 1972

[I am unable to source the poem quoted at the beginning – if any reader can help me, I would be grateful. – SJC]

In the beginning was the pain

Of water, and the scalding nerve

In the rotating muscle, the fierce tears

And the wet child

From the baptism of his mother.


In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was without form and void…


In the beginning was the Word…

Three accounts or, more accurately, impressions or experiences of how things started, and such expressions or revelations come about when men begin to wonder, “where did I come from? What am I here for? What’s the point of it all?” – and one of the ways his thoughts and meditations start off is to begin at the beginning. These three meditations begin with something happening. Something changed, something was done and something started, and finally something just was… something without a beginning or, presumably, an end.Read More »

Look back in anguish

Sermon preached at the Eucharist, University College Cardiff Anglican Chaplaincy, 13 June 1975

Long, long ago in the society of geese, they too had their worship and their church-going. Every Sunday they would gather together and the Head Gander would get up to preach. The sermon was roughly the same every week.

“What a glorious end their Maker had prepared for them. They were to use their wings to fly away to distant pastures, for they were only pilgrims on this earth.”

At the end of the service they’d all waddle home, and turn up for the same fare next week. They all grew sleek and fat, until at Christmas time they were killed and eaten – and that was as far as they ever got.Read More »


Sermon preached at Bristol Cathedral (unspecified service), 11 October 1987

Almighty God, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless

until they find their rest in you…

Alan Bennett’s famous sermon which begins so unhelpfully,

“but my brother Esau is an hairy man, but I, I am a smooth man…”

contains nevertheless certain grains of truth about our human dilemma. Life is likened to a tin of sardines, and we are always searching behind the kitchen dressers of this life for the key. Many of us think we have found it, don’t we? We roll back the lid on the sardines, and we begin to enjoy them. But there is always little bit in the corner which we can’t get out.Read More »