How do you cope with your vicar?

Why do you need to cope with a vicar?

If you have a problem coping with the church, is the vicar part of the problem? In some churches the title is rector, curate, priest, pastor or minister, but the point is that someone is in charge. If you can’t relate to that person, you will find it hard to feel at home in the church. I know, because I’ve had experience, but it’s something I didn’t cover in my book How to Cope with the Church or in my recent blogs on the subject.

My book: it does not say much about coping with your vicar
My book: it does not say much about coping with your vicar
What could be wrong with your vicar?

The issues I’ve encountered come in various categories.

  • Doctrine. You don’t agree with his/her take on the Bible or some aspect of church policy.
  • Preaching. Not ‘what’ but ‘how’. Over your head, patronising or just too long?
  • Leadership style. You find it too dictatorial, or too laissez-faire.
  • Management ability – lack of. Someone who is inefficient, disorganised or unreliable can be really irritating.
  • Personality. Too distant or too in-your-face? Too serious or a would-be comedian?
Do you need to change your vicar by changing your church?

I have experienced all of the above, and, looking back, I can see that some of the issues say more about me than about the vicar. I learnt from each of them, even when I decided to move to another church, which I did only once, not counting times when I moved home, when I could not accept his High Church beliefs. Even so, I am glad of the experience, as it made me really question my own beliefs. What mattered? What did the Bible really say?

Does your vicar have good points too?

I have learnt that a lot of the qualities listed can be seen as good or bad depending on your personality. Can you learn to value different types of leader and see that nobody is ideal for everyone? Do you need to examine your priorities? By the way, some of these things are addressed in some churches by having team ministries, where one person’s weaknesses are offset by a colleague’s strengths.

How God answered my prayers for coping with my vicar.

I once had a vicar whose annoying features seemed to be getting worse, or at least they were annoying me more and more. It was mainly about inefficiency and personality. I prayed about it with someone who felt the same way but was coping better and God helped me to see the man’s good points, which were Faith and Love. Then I saw that the rest of it was far less important. Perhaps God wants to show you something similar, if you pray about your problems coping with your vicar.

What if none of this applies to your vicar?

There are some vicars who don’t tick all the right boxes but just inspire you and share their vision with you. None of the above apples to them. If yours is one, you won’t need any advice on coping, because you won’t notice their shortcomings.


When and why did I find it hardest to relate to the Church?

Do you find it hard to relate to the Church?

Many people, even people who believe in God, cannot relate to the Church. I wrote about this in my book How to Cope with the Church.  Some say that the one thing it lacks is an account of my journey. How did I learn to cope with the Church?

I wrote recently about how I learnt to relate to the Church at University and in the years immediately following. Two things happened next which changed my life dramatically.

  1. I got married
  2. We moved to Wales.

Marriage is a subject in itself. It certainly added a new dimension to the problem of relating to the Church as well as adding a new dimension to my life. Perhaps I will write about that sometime. But for now, Wales.

Why did the move affect my ability to relate to the Church?

In a few years we were to live in North, Mid and South Wales. An interesting experience (or three experiences, if you like) but with certain challenges.

  • Often, we were in a new place, new jobs and having to choose a church.
  • We found people in Wales had more attachment to their denominations than was usually the case in England, and were often suspicious of people from a different church background.
  • It was harder to get different churches to cooperate to put on events.
  • In some cases, Welsh-speakers regarded English-speakers with caution, especially in Welsh-speaking chapels.
  • A lot of people didn’t welcome change, of any kind.
  • Many people focused on the events in Wales in the early twentieth century, although not all interpreted them in the same way.
  • One church we went to for a time was more of a social club than anything.
What could we relate to?
  • The words of the Bible and most hymns were as true as they always were.
  • In the Anglican Church, the words of the liturgy, the set prayers, were as valid as ever.
  • In every church, we found at least a few people we could relate to. They cared for God and for other people more than for the institution.
  • Sometimes  we visited churches that were changing, even if it meant a bit of a journey on those Sundays.
  • We got some good teaching from books and tapes (remember them?) by preachers who could communicate.
  • We went to some Christian conferences to get encouragement and teaching.
  • There was something to learn from every church and every Christian we encountered. (One pastor said, ‘chew on the meat and spit out the bone’.)
  • We supported each other.

Note: that was many years ago. I believe the churches in Wales have moved on since I left. Was there a connection?

How did we relate to the Church when we came back to the North West of England?

I will write about that soon. Meanwhile, perhaps you want to read How to Cope with the Church?

If you are a determined atheist this book is not for you. If you are strong in the faith it is not for you either. If you are somewhere in between, if you have problems with Church, Bible reading, prayer, if you have not been for a while and are nervous about going back, if you have doubts and questions and do not like to ask, then this book could be just what you need. John Harvey Murray shares insights gained from experience in many different churches on the journey of faith and life. If he can cope, so can you.

How to cope with Church by [Murray,John]


Why did I often find it hard to cope with the Church?

I promised to write about myself, so as to fill a gap some of you have found in How to Cope with the Church. I said I would tell something of my own journey. Here are some of my earliest memories of that journey.

What did I first find hard to cope with?

Firstly, I have never really been religious. I have never liked ceremony, dressing up or any of the obvious physical aspects of religion. My parents were not atheists, but were not regular churchgoers either. We went at Christmas, Easter (sometimes) and to weddings. The language of the King James’s Bible and the 1662 Prayer Book were as offputting as the hardness of the pews. In addition, I found kneeling uncomfortable, distracting me from whatever was being said. I was not sorry that my parents valued our time together, often going into the countryside. Therefore, they didn’t make me go to Sunday School (whatever that was).

What was easier to cope with?

When I went to Bristol University, I was amazed to find that quite a lot of people went to Church voluntarily, even getting up on Sunday mornings. Some students ran lots of Christian activities through the week. There were Bible studies and prayer-and-fellowship meetings. On Saturday nights, they held sessions of singing relatively modern hymns, followed by teaching from visiting preachers. It was all more relevant, interactive and understandable than Church as I had known it.

Did this help me cope with Church?

Yes. I gradually got around to going to Church too. By then I understood what it was all about more than I had done, but I still struggled. At least, I was accompanying some Christian friends. There were also quite a few other people of my age in some of the churches we went to. Some churches were experimenting with updated versions of the Prayer Book and the Bible. There were meetings after the evening service, where we could discuss the sermon or some other topic.

When did I almost fail to cope?

The years immediately following university were difficult. I moved to another town where I didn’t know anyone. After a search, I found a church with some young people, where services were in fairly modern English. It was, however, led by older men and was very conservative in outlook in many ways. They did not encourage us to question anything much. On top of all that, in hindsight, I think I was suffering from culture shock as I came  from the student World to the nine-to-five. I was dealing with people who were far more set in their ways than those I had been living among for the previous three years.

After about three more years, just as I was beginning to cope, big upheavals were to come to my life, including my church life. I will write about those, and how I coped, in another blog or two. Perhaps this series will help you get more out of my book, How to Cope with the Church.

How to cope with Church by [Murray,John]

If you are a determined atheist this book is not for you. If you are strong in the faith it is not for you either. If you are somewhere in between, if you have problems with Church, Bible reading, prayer, if you have not been for a while and are nervous about going back, if you have doubts and questions and do not like to ask, then this book could be just what you need. John Harvey Murray shares insights gained from experience in many different churches on the journey of faith and life. If he can cope, so can you.


What do people say is missing from my writing? Myself!

Who wants to know about myself?

You might have thought I didn’t need to write about myself, if you’re interested in what I have to say rather than who I am.  However, there are people who like to know all about the writers they follow. There is quite a lot on my website and on my business website as well as on my Linkedin page.

I am as I seem.

I am not hiding myself behind a mask
I am not hiding myself behind a mask
This really is myself with my book Accounting for Murder
This really is myself with my book Accounting for Murder
Why do I not say more about myself?

Like many of you, I expect, I think people who talk about themselves a lot are boring and probably egoists. To use a cliche, “It’s not about me”.  I’m more interested in what people have to say about whatever topic they are writing or talking about, than in what they do at work or at home.

What do I not say about myself?

The one thing some people would like is an account of my journey in life, especially my spiritual or religious journey. They wish I had included it in How to Cope with the Church.


Cope with Church

They want to know how I learnt to cope with the church. Did I make steady progress or were there ups and downs? (The latter. Oh, yes!)

Now prepare to read about myself – or not!

Over the next few weeks, I will be writing about my spiritual journey. I hope this will add clarity and credibility to my blogs on faith, as well as to the book. For those of you for whom that subject holds little interest, I will still be blogging about risk, business, statistics and such, on my other site and I might publish the occasional article on this site on other subjects, to give some variety (for me as well as for you).

Watch this space! 


Punctuate: ‘caught by a real former detective fiction writer’

Are you caught out by punctuation?

The meaning of the title depends on the punctuation. Try these two examples.

  1. Caught by a real former-detective fiction writer.
  2. Caught by a real former detective-fiction writer.

The first means I was caught by a former detective who is now a fiction writer, whilst the second means I was caught by a person who used to write detective fiction. I expect you could find other ways of punctuating it to give other meanings. As a writer, I have to be careful how I punctuate my sentences. I also value my editors, as they always spot something I had overlooked.

In which way was I really caught recently?

I met a detective-fiction writer who is a former detective. When we discussed reasons for creating an amateur detective, which I have written about previously, he caught me out by spotting one I had conveniently forgotten to mention. As a real detective, he knew all about police procedures and the culture of a police station, but if I wrote about a police detective, I would undoubtedly make a lot of mistakes, damaging my credibility.

A detective with a magnifying glass. Who has he caught?
A detective with a magnifying glass. Who has he caught?
Won’t I be caught by my readers anyway?

Of course, even an amateur sleuth has to deal with the police. Do I not risk being caught by my readers when I make incorrect assumptions about the police? As I write in the first person, any such mistakes can appear to be due to my character’s lack of knowledge in that respect. And police procedures are less central to my plots than they would be if my hero was a police officer. This does not mean that I don’t try to be accurate and realistic as far as possible. It just gets me off the hook.

Have you caught me yet?

Have you read Accounting for Murder, Double Entry? If so did you spot any clangers regarding police procedures or anything else? I would like to hear from you. If you haven’t read it, now could be a good time, before the sequel, Old Money, comes out.

Buy it here on Amazon or here on Kindle. I hope you enjoy it.

Accounting for Murder


When former athlete Patty Rogers decides to divorce her unfaithful husband, Ray, she calls on accountant, Frank Hill, to find Ray’s conveniently missing investments. The trail leads from Cardiff to the financial heart of the City of London and to Aberystwyth, where the mystery turns into a murder. The police regard Patty as their one and only suspect. Frank and his teenage daughter Jane try to find the real killer, unaware of the dangers they are facing from corrupt accountants, racist thugs, a dog-fighting gang, uncooperative policemen and Ray’s mistress, a pop star with many faces and a rock-solid alibi. To see justice done they will need all Frank’s investigative skills and Jane’s youthful energy. And more.




Is time another advantage for the amateur detective?

Do I mean time in fact or fiction?

I have written about reasons why we need amateur detectives in real life as well as in detective novels. Now I will look at the different perspectives amateurs have from the police when it comes to the question of time.

Is crime-solving time limited?

I suppose you will agree that time is important for anyone solving any crime and especially for serious crimes. You may know that the police believe that the first hour is the most important and then the first twenty-four hours. Criminals can destroy evidence. Physical evidence can be lost or damaged naturally or accidentally. If out of doors, the weather can wash away clues. Some people keep CCTV footage for only short times. Memories are best when fresh.

Detectives should not waste time

You will probably agree that the CID should make the most of the first hour and the first twenty-four to secure evidence and follow up leads as quickly as possible. They are likely to be in a far better position than any amateur in that respect.

Risk DiceA man leaning on a question-mark, pondering. Is he wasting time or solving a crime?
A man leaning on a question-mark, pondering. Is he wasting time or solving a crime?
How is the pressure of time a bad thing?

There is a lot of pressure to solve a case in that first twenty-four hour period. If the police identify a prime suspect by then, it is likely that all attention will focus on that person. They are not likely to follow other lines of enquiry beyond that point. This is even more true where the press are taking an interest. A press-release saying, ‘we’re following a number of leads’ is not what anyone wants. There is a strong incentive to ‘wrap the case up’ – which is not the same as solving it.

What is different about an amateur’s time?

Amateur detectives rarely have arbitrary timescales imposed upon them and don’t have the press to worry about. They may need to solve a case before a wrong conviction occurs, but the deadline will be the date of the trial, or of the appeal, not the next press conference.

What about cases that take a very long time?

Some cases take years to solve. Others are re-opened after several years, either because they were not closed in the first place or because of allegations of a miscarriage of justice. Cold case reviews work on a different timescale and will be the subject of another blog.


Be alert – here are more ways to spot fake news

I have written before about fake news, saying why it is a bad thing and suggesting clues to help you tell the fake from the genuine. Here are a few more. Although no one thing can usually prove a story is fake, you should apply some of these tests before you believe everything you read.

Is old news fake news?
  • Does it say when the incident happened? How relevant is it now?
  • Something people did when they were children or teenagers may not be relevant now. Imagine reading Candidate in drunken brawl, and it didn’t say it happened when he was 17 and he is now 40?
  • War declared on USA would be misleading if it did not state that it was declared in 1812. Things are different now.
A mediaeval scribe writing old news
A mediaeval scribe writing old news
Read beyond the news headline.
  • Headline writers tend to go over the top. Read the article, or at least some of it, to get a feel for the whole story.
  • I remember a headline saying cure found for cancer. In the article, it said scientists could cure cancer in mice. They were about to investigate whether the treatment would work in humans.
Whose news?
  • If news is genuine and important, it will be in several papers, bulletins, blogs and news-sites.
  • If only one is carrying it, be wary, especially if it is only on social media. Why is it not on the BBC or in the papers?
  • Most social media sites do very little to check their facts, unlike TV and newspapers.
A picture can tell a thousand lies
  • If there is a photo or video with a story, try to find the connection. Is the picture just a general illustration of, say, soldiers going into battle or trees being cut down by contractors, or is it the actual ones in the story. How similar are they?
  • Pictures and videos can be altered or edited. This can be for good reasons, such as to cut out unnecessary detail but it can be for bad reasons, such as to give a different impression.
  • A photo shows only one moment in time but, without knowing the context, you can get a wrong impression. A kiss, a punch, the handing over of money, can all be wrongly interpreted out of context.
  • Even a video can be misleading if it is out of context.
  • Beware of letting a picture or video, especially an emotive one, determine your reaction to supposed events.
Get a second opinion on a news story
  • Do you know a reliable website or other source for information about stories on the same topic? Can you check the facts?
  • Even general background information can help make sense of a story.
Know yourself!
Two masks. Which shows the real you?
Two masks. Which shows the real you?

Try to be honest about your own biases and don’t just believe things you want to believe, things that will confirm your prejudices. (What do you mean, you haven’t got any?)

Truth is important. Let’s all beware of fake news and expose it for what it is.


The reason we need amateur detectives in fiction and fact

Do we need amateur detectives in fact or only in fiction?

You probably know I have chosen to make my hero an amateur detective. But that’s fiction, isn’t it? What about real life? I have also written about trusting the police. Unfortunately, there are times when the police fail and someone else comes to the rescue. Sometimes there is a far-reaching scandal, such as Hillsborough, the recent Gosport Hospital story, the Jimmy Saville case or the Rochdale abuse saga. Other times it is an individual miscarriage of justice, where innocent people have been convicted,  arrested or ‘merely’ smeared.

Who are the amateur detectives?

Most of the cases I have mentioned came to light only because someone kept on challenging an injustice. Often it was a relative of the victim of the injustice. Journalists (that much-maligned class) played a big part in many cases. Sometimes it was a determined solicitor (another undervalued profession, in all senses except financial).

What’s wrong with the police, that we need these amateurs?

In all the examples I have cited, the police either failed to act, failed to act properly, or managed to arrest the wrong person. Some people say this is evidence of widespread corruption and/or incompetence. I do not believe that our police are all corrupt or incompetent. Of course, some must be. But that’s not the real issue in most cases.

What can an amateur do?

Once the police focus on a prime suspect, they seem to abandon all other lines of enquiry and look only at evidence relating to that person. Even when there is a successful appeal, all too often the police do not look for the real culprit, because they convince themselves that the person they arrested was really guilty and just ‘got off on a legal technicality’. We need an amateur, if anyone is to look beyond the obvious suspect and solve the case properly .

What is my amateur detective, Frank Hill, doing?

I am still rewriting the second in my series, Accounting for Murder. I hope you enjoyed the first, Double Entry.

The subtitle of this second book is Old Money. Frank has to solve a murder, while looking into an apparent haunting, which may or may not be connected. He also has problems in his relationship with his wife, Sian.

Frank is going to find plenty more cases to solve in future. He seems to have a knack for discovering bodies and for disagreeing with the constabulary. It’s fiction. But only just!


Are the Quakers trying to abolish God?

What are the Quakers doing?

The Quakers, or officially the Society of Friends, have aroused some controversy by discussing rewording things to avoid using the word ‘God’. They are asking whether a belief in God is a precondition for being a Quaker.

Are Quakers changing their beliefs or merely changing words?

The Friends have always taken a very broad approach to faith. They have avoided defining God and have welcomed people with various views. They want each person to find God inside himself or herself and are concerned that the term ‘God’ itself is loaded. It may put off some people who would benefit from their meetings and bring something of value to the movement.

Can an Atheist be a Quaker?

The debate is about how far they can reach out to people of differing beliefs. Surely, an atheist could benefit from meditating in a meeting and find much in common with people who hold religious views. Some say you can be spiritual without being religious. It depends on your definitions of both those terms. Perhaps you need a chance to explore what you really believe.

Faith and doubt. There must be room for both in church and in life.
Faith and doubt. There must be room for both in church and in life.
Are Quakers following Christ’s example?

Jesus healed and helped people who were not his followers. There was the centurion and the woman from Tyre, who were not Jewish or worshippers of the God of Israel. Christians down the ages have helped people in practical ways without insisting on conversion as a precondition. Of course, an encounter with Jesus tends to change people, but initially he takes us as we are.

Do the Quakers have a message for all of us?

All Christians need to remember to take people as they are and to offer practical and spiritual help as needed. Churches need to offer space for people to meditate and meet others on non-judgemental terms. This does not mean that Christians should be shy about telling others about Jesus and his teachings, as long as we listen to them too.  If you attend an Alpha course, you will hear the case for Christianity, but you will also be listened to. Go to the Alpha website.

Before you join the Quakers, look around.

If you find your church too narrow or dogmatic, try looking around. You may find the Society of Friends is what you need. Or you might find another church of any denomination a lot more open than you think. Perhaps it is you who needs to be less judgemental, about Christians? About God?

A preacher preaching. Not all churches are dogmatic.
A preacher preaching. Not all churches are dogmatic.

Is #metoo trying to slay the wrong giant?

What has #metoo been doing?

#metoo has mobilised women, and quite a few men, against sexual predation and institutionalised sexism. This is in response to several well publicised cases, where powerful men have, allegedly, misused their status to commit sexual assaults and rapes. The victims either worked for them or were in some  situation where it was hard to say No. They had for a long time been afraid to report the crime. This publicity has given other victims the confidence to speak out too.

Do only rapists need to worry about #metoo?

No! The movement has made many people more aware of male domination, unequal pay and the unfair treatment of women. This is not just about  some individual men. In many workplaces, men think it is all right to treat women badly and women have to accept it. The #metoo movement wants to change this whole culture.

In what way is #metoo wrong?

I believe the culture everywhere should allow women to achieve their potential and not be oppressed or intimidated. I  want to see the Law applied effectively to criminals of all kinds. There are, however, two ways in which this movement could be going wrong. Most of us have heard a lot about one, but very little about the other.

What do people say against #metoo?

The most common criticism of the movement is that it encourages some women to overreact to minor affronts to such an extent that we can forget the serious ones. Some people, apparently, put as much effort into stopping bad jokes as into exposing sexual assault.

Whilst I think we need a sense of proportion in all things, there is often a slippery slope. If someone starts by getting away with minor insults, they can feel OK about treating women badly in other ways. Context is important. Something may be OK as a one-off, or where everyone knows that the alleged offender respects women generally, but it would be unacceptable if the person repeated the behaviour or if a stranger had said it.

What criticism has #metoo not noticed?

Bad treatment of women, as of racial and other minorities, is a symptom of a larger evil. Oppression, injustice, inequality, the concentration of power and disrespect for others. Some people ill-treat men too, because bullying takes many forms and finds many victims. All power tends to corrupt, absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.

Whenever one person is able to determine the fate of others without checks and balances, he or she is prone to abusing that power. Where money is concerned, organisations usually have rules about governance. If such rules do not exist or don’t work, financial scandals often occur. I know, as I have worked in audit. We should not be surprised, if people abuse power in other ways, where there is a lack of accountability.

Where there is temptation, there is usually sin.

#metoo is in danger of not going far enough.

If the movement concentrates on the mistreatment of women, it might leave the real giants unslain. We all need to attack injustice and oppression, wherever they occur and whoever is the victim. All human beings are entitled to be treated fairly and with respect. Power needs to be shared more equally and be subject to constraints. Perhaps, though, the #metoo movement is a good place to start.

A man with a question mark. Is he pondering the right question?
A man with a question mark. Is he pondering the right question?