Welcome …

August 16, 2009

… to the Vicar’s Blog. Why another blog, I hear you cry? Well, our main blog says what’s happening in our churches, and the ministry blog provides the sermons. But how does all this come about? What’s it like to be responsible for a church like St Michael’s and St Barnabas? Indeed, what does a vicar do?

IMG_5727I can’t say all will be revealed here, as lots of what I do is confidential. But I hope some of what I say will be useful, and maybe even encouraging! Comments and feedback, as always, more than welcome.

Every blessing,

Rev Tim

The way ahead?

June 27, 2020

You may have heard that places of worship are going to open on 5th July, and you may well be wondering when our churches are once more going to open their doors on Sundays. The short answer is, “Not yet” … for reasons that I hope will become clear.

Even when the churches are able to hold services, the number of people who can be there will be very limited. We will not simply be able to welcome in anyone who turns up. We have spent the past couple of weeks at St Michael’s establishing strict hygiene protocols, working out how many we can sit at a safe social distance of 2m, and carrying out a full risk assessment. (We are carrying out a similar assessment at St Aubyn’s next week, in conjunction with the library.) At St Michael’s we are also working out how to livestream our services for those who cannot be there.

It is important to understand that even should we gather, services will for the time being be very different. There will be no singing, no sharing of the peace, no refreshments, no Holy Communion. We cannot produce notice sheets, hand out literature, even have Bibles on our seats. We are still waiting for further guidance from the Church of England but what we can do will be restricted for the foreseeable future. Do we really want to meet in such circumstances?

However as we search for the way ahead, it is important we have a common vision of where we believe the Lord is leading us. So I am going to ask some questions, and I really would value your answers, so we can start to see how and when we might think about reopening. Please do spend a few minutes thinking through your answers, and let me know by e-mail, phone, message, letter – it will be very good to hear from you!

What has been good about online church you want to keep on doing?

What is it about online church you don’t want to continue?

What is it about church before lockdown you miss?

What is it about church before lockdown you don’t want to return?

Hopefully the more answer these questions, the more we will understand the Lord’s good, pleasing and perfect will. In the meantime, keep on watching online. It is always great to see you!

Thy Kingdom Come 2020

May 18, 2020


Thy Kingdom Come starts this Thursday – Ascension Day – and runs until Pentecost, so from 21st to 31st May. It is a period of prayer and outreach run by many churches of all denominations and commended by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.

How can we get involved this year?

Prayer for five  – As in past years, we can spend ten days praying for five we know to come to faith. We can’t physically invite them to an event this year, but why not invite them to any of the online events we run?

Prayer room – The theme this year is the “Upper Room.” The first disciples were together in an upper room behind locked doors, praying for the Holy Spirit to come. We may feel we are similarly isolated and afraid. But we can join with others. The diocese is holding a “prayer room” where churches can take hourly slots to pray over Zoom. I have gone ahead and booked next Sunday from 3pm to 5pm as a time when we can pray for ourselves, for those we want to know the Lord, and for our local communities.

Send us your photo! – At Pentecost the disciples were all gathered in one place. We can’t gather in the same way, but could you send us a photo? Someone has offered to make a collage out of church photos, and this would be a powerful reminder we are all one, even though we are scattered at the moment.

Please do spread the word, and make sure everyone knows what is happening. Other suggestions are also welcome! Let’s use this time as a real opportunity to pray for God’s kingdom to come in Stoke and in Devonport.


Two months in….

May 13, 2020

It’s nearly two months since we stopped meeting in a building. It’s been a difficult and disorientating time. We have faced challenges we have never experienced before, from the loss of loved ones to struggles with unfamiliar technology. We have had to confront fears of the unknown, and make brave decisions about when to leave the house and why. Some of us are feeling particularly isolated, and some are struggling with physical and mental health. 

But the work of St Barnacles, and indeed St Aubyn’s, goes on! We have:
Sunday services – either online at 10.30am, led by myself or by phone, led by Revd Sue
Small groups – meeting on a Monday and Thursday evening
Junior church – next meeting this Friday afternoon
Morning prayer – every Tuesday at 9am at St Aubyn’s
Open Church – at St Barnacles from 10.30am to 1pm on a Tuesday, and 2.30pm on a Thursday at St Aubyn’s
Quiz nights – the next one is happening this Saturday at 7.30pm.
Monday to Thursday broadcasts – to encourage and strengthen us in our faith

That’s quite a list isn’t it? So I want to thank everyone who is taking part and contributing to all these events. My prayer at the moment is that we wouldn’t see these as stopgaps but we would have more and more a culture of inviting others to join in (with appropriate safeguards, of course), and that we would encourage each other to stay engaged. I recognise as the months pass by it is easy for enthusiasm to wane, or find other online services that are definitely rather more polished and professional!

What of the future? Well, I would very much ask your prayers for the leadership team as we meet tomorrow – 14th May – to take stock of where we are at the moment, and to start planning for the future. Right away, it needs to be said that whatever we decide we will exercise utmost caution, and follow diocesan guidance wherever possible. It may be many months before we can meet as we used to, and how we meet will be very different from the old, familiar ways. 

Some will want to meet sooner, others will have grave concerns about going to church at all, and it is so important that beyond our online events we all keep talking to each other. In this respect I would continue to commend the work of the Pastoral Action Team, who are doing a great job of supporting the church family. But whether you are a regular member of St Barnacles or not, please keep in touch. And even though we may not be physically together, spread the word! The church of Jesus Christ is definitely still very much alive in Devonport and Stoke.


Letter to the church

April 26, 2020


It is strange to think that yesterday (April 25th) would have been our Annual Parochial Church Meeting. We would have received reports on the life of the church in the past year, elected churchwardens, PCC members and deanery synod representatives, considered the church’s finances and taken note of the revised electoral roll. It already seems like a world away.

But nonetheless I want to mark the occasion by doing what I do every year – namely to give thanks to so many of you who have served so faithfully in so many ways over the year, some in official capacities, some in small, unseen roles that really only the Lord knows about. I want to thank all those of you who worked so hard in making the Open Church project such a success. I want to thank you for your welcome to Revd Sue and acknowledge her contribution to the life of the church. I want to thank you for your positive and constructive working with St Aubyn’s and it has been so good to see how our partnership there has been developing.

And I know that many of you are still serving in so many ways even in these strange and difficult times. I want to thank the Pastoral Action Team for their hard work in caring for the church family; for the many who are so faithfully praying; for those who are making a real effort to get to grips with strange and new technologies. 

I also want to thank you for your generous giving. It is remarkable how each year we see the Lord providing for the needs of the church, and that is only because so many of you show such grace in such sacrificial contributions. I am aware, as I write, that this morning would have been our Annual Gift Day. We will need to keep careful watch on our giving over the next few months. I know that for some it will not be possible to give as much as before; however we still have financial obligations as a church. So if you are able to think about making a gift, or increasing your giving, please do let me know.

In this strange world of lockdown I am also grateful for so many who have responded so positively to the online services, and engage with the small groups and my daily broadcasts. Online worship can never be a substitute for the real thing. However it is humbling to see just how many people engage and I can only trust that the Lord is still using His word to change lives even in such difficult circumstances.

The one thing we must understand is that church life will never “return to normal”, even if normal ever existed. Church from now will be very different, and we must prayerfully and together work out how the Lord is leading us on, and what it will mean to be the body of Christ in a community that will have been deeply, deeply affected on every level by the pandemic.

In the short to medium term it may be that lockdown will be eased, although with a second wave this relaxation of conditions may soon be revoked. However many of our congregation fall into the self-isolating category, or like myself into the category of those socially distancing. Even if we hold services at church, we will need to continue to invest in our online presence, and we need to plan now for how we do this. This will involve investing in new technology and in learning how to use this effectively, and it is likely that even after the crisis is fully past we will continue to develop an online presence. 

There will also be great changes as to how we meet to worship. We will need to observe good hygiene, so we will need gatekeepers to make sure everyone washes their hands on exit and entry. The cleaning rota will suddenly take on far more importance. We will not be allowed to hold paper so everything – readings, notices, liturgies – will be on screen. How practically we will take Holy Communion, that is somehow I have not even begun to work out. 

Some of these changes will no doubt continue into the long-term, and there will be some changes we can’t even yet anticipate. I believe that when this pandemic is fully over (and that may be a matter of years, not months), there will be such a hunger for human contact and for physical worship we may well see even more people use our buildings. That is why I believe we need to press ahead with our plans to extend the kitchen (which we should note wasn’t able to meet hygiene regulations even before the lockdown) and to provide an additional room for children’s work and prayer. 

One very simple reason why we cannot “return to normal” is that we have lost, and may continue to lose, saints who have gone to glory. Again, we will probably have to wait until lockdown is fully lifted until we hold thanksgiving services for those who have so far had only the briefest and smallest of funerals. But I very much hope and pray that at the same time our online presence will eventually lead to others joining us, and we have to remember that no matter what happens Jesus is still Lord of His church, and there are plenty of chapters yet to be written in the story of St Michael and St Barnabas.

Right at the beginning of the outbreak the Lord led me to Ezekiel 37, and the vision of the dry bones. If you have ploughed through the previous 36 chapters, you will see there is an awful amount of death and destruction in this book, and apparently very little hope for God’s people. And what is so striking is that when the Lord asks Ezekiel, “Can these dry bones live?”, Ezekiel doesn’t say, “Of course not, they are dead.” He says, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know”. We too need to renew our faith and trust in the resurrection power of Jesus, and trust that He can still bring life out of death. 

So as I have been walking the streets of Devonport and Stoke, I have been praying for that same resurrection power to work in our local communities, that through the sharing of his word and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we will once again see new life, and men and women, boys and girls, coming to a living faith in Jesus as His Saviour. 

In the meanwhile it seems to me that even though the physical and mental toll of this crisis is great, we need to stay faithful, to keep praying and reading our Bibles, and to meet for worship wherever we can. I know this isn’t always easy, which is why more than ever we need to be the body of Christ, caring for one another, encouraging one another, and bearing one another’s burdens. 

This is why, finally, I want to thank all those who provided such love and support to myself, to Lynda, to Lizzy and Mary over the past year, and especially in the past few weeks. Without this love and support neither I nor Lynda would not have been able to continue the ministry the Lord has given us here. May the Lord bless and keep you all, and I look forward one day to seeing you all again “on the other side”.

Revd Tim Buckley

26 Apr 20


Lenten Isolation

March 14, 2020


The promise of new life

The promise of new life

I have been away on a very special retreat and am now off sick, but it has been impossible to ignore all the news coverage about COVID-19 – indeed there has been a fantastic group of workers here at St Barnacles who have worked so hard behind the scenes making sure we are following the appropriate guidance. I have also read many excellent articles looking at the social, scientific and spiritual impact of the pandemic, and there has been so much information to take in!

One thing I haven’t heard mentioned much is the simple fact we are still in Lent, in the season of the year where we remember Jesus choosing to isolate Himself for forty days in the desert. Having just spent three days not being able to do very much at all, it seems to me that there are two ways we can spend any time of enforced isolation.

We can amuse ourselves by:
– watching all the old box sets we have seen many times before
– playing our favourite computer games until we reach grandmaster level
– expose ourselves to endless daytime TV (believe me, I watched four hours of programmes about traffic police yesterday in a semi-comatose state – the roads are even more dangerous than I thought out there!)
– listen to our radio stations recycling the same stories again and again throughout the day (although we of course need to keep updated)

Or we can spend such time as we can manage in following Jesus’ example and:

– pray for God’s kingdom and God’s will to be done
– go deeper into God’s word
– reflect on God’s priorities for our lives
– deal with the temptations and sins that perhaps we would not otherwise confront

And we must not forget, Jesus’ isolation in the desert was only a season of preparation for a radical ministry of service to others, as He went about in the power of the Holy Spirit to preach the good news of repentance and forgiveness, and to bring healing to others.

We perhaps do not have to isolate in the same way as Jesus (but it would be good if we all followed His example more often). We can use modern technology to keep in touch, to develop networks of prayer and care, to spread the Christian faith, all from the privacy of our own room, and indeed over the next few days I will be experimenting myself with some new methods of making contact, as I am able. Coronavirus presents a huge challenge, but also perhaps gives us an opportunity to be a 21st century community of faith that shines brightly in a fearful and uncertain world. Watch this space!

By the way, you will have noticed I have not used the term “self-isolation.” I am not a mental health professional, but there are too many people who already struggle with a sense they are isolated – and not just physically – from others. It reinforces a sense of loneliness and can profoundly affect our wellbeing. As a believer, I am reminded however of the words of the Psalm which tell us that no matter where we go or whatever lies before us, we are never isolated from the presence of God. 

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
(Psalm 139:7-14)

Open Church is now a year old!

February 15, 2020

logo landscape 2020

It is hard to believe that it was just over a year ago when we opened the doors of the church to the local community. Would anybody come? Would we have enough people on the team? What if it didn’t work – would we simply have to give up and start again?

We had an away day last Wednesday and looking back we can see how the Lord has been so clearly at work. We have learnt so much and we have so much more still to learn. It’s hard to calculate but we reckon at least 70 different people have been through our doors over the year, and we see 20-30 people most Tuesdays, and quite a few of these are not “regular church folk.” We did realise during the day that we needed to make some changes (and we will explain these on the main church website in the next few days) but overall we came away with an immense sense of gratitude and a renewed commitment to the vision for Open Church, namely to be Safe, Loving, Open and Welcoming (SLOW church).

So what exactly has been learnt? Well, we quickly filled up a whole sheet of flipchart paper with the various answers:

  • The scale of need – there are so many people confronting so many issues, such as substance misuse, homelessness, unemployment, serious illness, bearing the burden of care, loneliness, and so much more.
  • How much we need to shift our expectations – this year has been one of surprise and discovery as the Lord has taken us on a journey none of us ever imagined we would undertake.
  • The fact God is in control! Yes, we all know that in theory, but we really have seen the Lord showing again and again He is the one driving the Open Church project.
  • Radical acceptance – We all have our moments, and some people are very different from ourselves. So we have had to grow in extending a gracious, loving welcome to all who come through the doors (as well as work out when there are limits to that welcome)
  • Unexpected connections – somehow the Lord keeps bringing together people who have known each other in a completely different context and reuniting them,
  • The diversity of those present – perhaps best illustrated by the young homeless guy chatting with the church member who had just celebrated her 90th birthday. Where else would such a conversation take place?
  • The depth of relationships that have been formed – as we have shared the day not only with ourselves but with those who keep coming back week after week.
  • Church growth, but not as we know it! Yes, our Sunday numbers aren’t great at the moment, but we offer prayer to those who come in, and we have had some really deep and powerful conversations.
  • Links with the community – the profile of the church is being raised and people are hearing that St Michael’s is open for business.
  • We need each other! – we have a fantastic team, but we all face challenges, and we have really had to learn what it means to support one another, cover one another in prayer, and to keep each other going.
  • We have learnt new gifts, and seen gifts developed in others – by the grace of God some of us have found new skills and a new confidence to use those skills.
  • We need more labourers, especially men – there is so much more work to do, and the team needs strengthening. We also need men who can just keep a watching brief and are prepared for the unexpected.
  • We need to share the vision with the wider church – there is a good news that needs to be share with more.
  • We need prayer cover as the spiritual battle is fierce – we are aware so many are already praying for the work, but we have seen at least one case of demonic possession, and there are ways the enemy would undermine our work. So we need to put on our spiritual armour in the knowledge others are covering us.

What will happen in the next twelve months? We honestly do not know – but the Lord does. Personally, I am hoping and praying that as we share more and more of our lives, we can build relationships and help others come to know Jesus in a new and personal way. This has become our mission as the church, and if you are not yet part of the story, please do consider how you can get involved!

Not by might, or by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord (Zechariah 4:6)

A reluctant farewell

January 25, 2020


This wonderful instrument was donated to the church many, many years ago and has inspired so many to praise and worship. I have enjoyed every minute of playing it and hearing its rich sound fill the church.

However this grand old lady is now over 120 years old, and is need of a complete restoration. An expert from Steinway and Sons has come and carried out a detailed assessment, and estimates that the cost of a full restoration would be in the order of £45000.

So with a very heavy heart, the PCC decided to sell the piano in a specialist auction in London. We know this will be a difficult decision for many, yet we really have no other option. So towards the end of March, we will be saying a reluctant farewell, but with grateful thanks in our hearts for all the enjoyment and inspiration that this piano has given us.

In the meantime we will be looking for a suitable, quality replacement. We will probably be looking for something electronic with an upright action, but we will let you know more details as we have them.

Read the Whole Story 22nd to 24th December

December 19, 2019


December 22nd

Read Luke 22.

Why did Judas, Peter and the other disciples all fail Jesus? What had they not understand about Him?

Pray that, as many worship Jesus at carol services today, they would realise the baby born in a manger came to suffer and die on a cross.

December 23rd

Read Luke 23.

Why was Jesus put to death on a cross? What difference does His death make to you?

As you pray, ask that Jesus might remember you when He comes into His kingdom.

December 24th

Read Luke 24.

How do we know that this chapter is not in fact the end of the story? What difference does it make to you that Jesus has conquered death and is now alive?

Pray that at this Christmas all those in need will find the joy and comfort of the risen Saviour who is Christ the Lord.

Open Church – one year on

December 17, 2019

Christmas meal.jpg

At the beginning of the year a group of us decided to see what happened if we opened the church every Tuesday. We had no idea who was going to come through our doors, or if our plan was of the Lord. So we waited nervously and we prayed…

Over the past year we must have had 70-80 people through our doors. On average we see 20-30 people, some of whom have started coming quite literally off the street. We are building a presence in the local community we never had before, and we are engaging in all kinds of conversations, and discovering all kinds of needs.

None of this would be possible without a fantastic team who have grown closer to each and to the Lord over the past year, and we have seen some discover gifts they never realised they had. Today they excelled themselves by cooking Christmas dinner for 29 people, and nobody went away hungry! We finished the meal with a short carol service, and, as always, we collected requests for prayer we then shared at the end of the day, at 3.30pm.

We don’t know where the Lord will take this work in 2020, but it’s already been an amazing journey. And I mustn’t forget to mention that once a month, if we weren’t busy enough, we hold a family part from 4pm to 6pm on Tuesdays, and we regularly get about 7 children, none of whom regularly come on Sunday.

So Open Church one year on is becoming our main mission and outreach here at St Barnacles. If you aren’t yet part of our story, do join us. The Lord has given us a vision for SLOW church – safe, loving, open, and welcoming to all, and you too are very welcome to be a part of it.

Open Church is now taking a two week break, but we will back on 7th January. I hope very much to see you there!

A Christmas poem

December 16, 2019

Something I wrote for the carol service yesterday:

Imagine the stable was dark, imagine no birth
Imagine the Son of God had not come to earth
Imagine no baby born in a manger
Just think how great our spiritual danger
Imagine the prospect of living in hell
Without Jesus among us, Immanuel

And then rejoice and proclaim
That our Saviour in Bethlehem came
To bring us a hope we could not achieve
And bow down and worship, and this day believe
In Jesus not as child but rather as Lord
And may His name forever be praised and adored.