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The little blue-grey bag

The little blue-grey bag

This is a story about the Annunciation which I wrote for a service on Christmas Eve.


Rosie lived with her grandfather in a little cottage by the river.  The cottage had once been painted white but time had exposed the outlines of the bricks,  reminding Rosie of a riverbed at the end of a long, dry summer.

They didn’t have very much, and what her grandfather did have he shared with Rosie unreservedly, often going hungry himself so that she would have enough.

During one particularly hard winter, Rosie noticed that her grandfather’s plate was often empty and, knowing that there wasn’t enough food to go round she decided that she needed to do something about the situation.

So Rosie set off in search of food.  She put on her muddy green wellies and her big brown jacket and crept over the fence into the nearby woods but it was dark and damp and the squirrels had long ago taken all the half-decent nuts.

So she went down to the river instead, hoping to catch a fish or two with her little yellow fishing net but the water was icy cold and the fish were wily and slippery and she came away with nothing but a dull ache in her fingers and in her heart.

She was on the verge of giving up when she decided to go and have one last look in her grandfather’s allotment plot which sat just up the road from the cottage.  Maybe there would be something there that he’d missed, something to keep them going through the last days of winter.

It didn’t look promising.  The ground was all neatly turned over, and what plants she could see certainly didn’t seem edible.

But then, in the corner of the allotment, she spotted a little blue-gray bag, tucked away under an old yellowing sheepskin fleece.  She looked in the bag and saw that it contained a single golden-brown potato.

Rosie rushed back into the house to find her grandfather and she told him what she’d found.  “Shall I bring it in and you can have it for your tea?” She asked him.

“Oh you mustn’t” he replied, “that potato will feed us for the whole of next winter”

“One potato will feed us for a whole winter?” she said, incredulously.  “Yes,” her grandfather replied, “sometimes the smallest things are filled with the most potential”

That spring, when the days started to lengthen and the frost no longer clung so tightly to the ground, Rosie’s grandfather took her out into the allotment and showed her how to quarter the potato, making sure each chunk had an eye, and plant it deep into the soil.

As Spring turned to Summer Rosie watched the shoots appear and the plants begin to spread their leaves.

When the Autumn came, Rosie and her grandfather went out to the allotment with a fork and a fraying wicker basket and she watched in amazement as her Grandfather turned over the soil to reveal hundreds of golden-brown potatoes.

Rosie tried to count them all but she didn’t know enough numbers so instead she helped her grandfather gently wipe them clean and put them in the basket to take back into the house.

Before they returned home, however, Rosie watched her Grandfather choose one of the potatoes, put it in the little blue-grey bag, and tuck it under the old sheepskin in the corner of the allotment.

As they walked back along the road, Rosie asked him why he used a blue bag to store the special potato.

“Do you know the story of Mary?” he asked her

“I know about the donkey and the manger and the shepherds and the kings with their presents” she replied, closing the cottage door quietly behind her.

“Well”, he said, as the fire crackled into life, “before all of that Mary was just a young girl – not very much older than you.  But God chose her to look after something very small, and very precious.”

“Was that the baby Jesus?” she asked

“Yes, she had to look after him – even though she was only young herself, because that tiny baby growing inside her would one day give life to the whole world”

“Sometimes the smallest things are filled with the most potential”, Rosie murmured, remembering what her grandfather had said back in the allotment all those months ago.

“In pictures”, he went on, “Mary is always painted wearing blue, so that’s why I decided to keep my special seed potato in a blue bag – so that it would be protected, kept safe, just like Mary protected Jesus.

“And when the time is right, when the earth is ready, when the task is done, that precious little gift can go on to give life, and hope, and strength.”

Rosie watched her Grandfather settle back in his chair, and she wondered whether he was talking about Jesus, or the potato, but she decided it was just as true either way.  As her eyelids grew heavier the flames flickered up from the deep red embers of the fire, making the shadows dance around the room like a heavenly host watching over them as they slept.

Rich Clarkson, Christmas 2017


Crib Service poem

For this evening’s Crib Services (1,000 people across 2 services) I wrote a poem with responses for everyone to join in with.  I looked up rhymes for “amazing” and 4 of the suggestions were “grazing”, “stargazing”, “praising” and “self-raising”, after that the poem pretty much wrote itself!


Mary – “Mamma-mia!” (Women)

Joseph – “Knock knock” (Men)

Jesus/baby – “shh…” (Children)

Angel – “hallelujah!” (balcony + choir)

Shepherds – “come-bye” (Left hand side)

Wise men – “wow!” (right hand side)

I want You – “who, me?” (Everyone)


Part 1. Journey to Bethlehem

A long time ago an ordinary girl called Mary (Mamma Mia!) was asleep

when God sent an angel (hallelujah) to wake her with a message that nearly made her weep:

He said I want you (who, me?)

Yes you to follow me

I’m going to do something amazing

I want you (who, me?)

Yes you for you see

that bun in your oven is self-raising!

Mary (Mamma Mia) woke Joseph (knock knock) who’d heard the same thing so, with a yawn,

They headed to Bethlehem where, in a crowded room, Jesus (shhh…) “God with us” was born.


Part 2. Shepherds and angels

Later that night some shepherds (come bye) were out on the hills with their sheep

when God sent some angels (hallelujah!) with a message that woke them right up from their sleep:

They said I want you (who, me?)

Yes you to follow me

In Bethlehem there’s something amazing

I want you (who, me?)

Yes you, come and see:

God is with us! leave your sheep to their grazing.

So the Shepherds (come bye) went down into town and found Mary (Mamma Mia) and Joe (knock knock)

Then when they saw the Lord Jesus (shh…) fast asleep they praised God before heading back home.


Part 3. Wise Men
A long way away some wise men (wow!) watched the skies in a far off land

So God sent a comet to blaze night and day. A message that they could understand:

It said I want you (who, me?)

Yes you to follow me

over there there’s something amazing

I want you (who, me?)

Yes you, and you’ll see

the king prophesied by your stargazing

So the wise men (wow!) packed and got on their way, and found the baby (shh…) who was also a kkin

Gave Mary (Mamma Mia) and Joseph (knock knock) the gifts they’d remembered to bring!


Part 4. Talk

In this church, in this town, on this Christmas Eve God is speaking to his people again

through Mary (Mamma Mia) and Joseph (knock knock) and Jesus (shh…) and Shepherds (come bye) and Wise men (wow!)

God says I want you (who, me?)

Yes you to follow me

This Christmas do something amazing

I want you (who, me?)

Yes you come and be

like the angels (hallelujah!) with your whole life God praising.

So in this season of peace and goodwill there’s a choice that each one of us here ought to ponder

God is not just for Christmas, he’s for our whole lives. God is with us, are you with him, I wonder?

Maundy Thursday service

I think Maundy Thursday is one of my favourite days in the Church year.  It offers a chance to look afresh at something that is at the core of our weekly worship –  the Last Supper.  The story is so familiar as we retell it almost every week in communion but sometimes that familiarity can mean we don’t engage with it as much as we should.  Maundy Thursday gives an opportunity to dwell more deeply on that familiar story and allow it to speak to us anew.


I have been privileged to be able to lead several Maundy Thursday services over the past few years and each one has been special in a different way.  This year we are celebrating our first Easter at St Andrews, Avonmouth, the church we are placed in while I am at theological college, and I am really excited about leading the Maundy Thursday service this Thursday.


This year we will be moving slowly through the story, pausing to reflect on five aspects:

Preparing for the story (preparations) – Luke 22:7-13

Entering the story (footwashing) – John 13:3-5, 12-17

Exploring the story (bread and wine) – Luke 22:14-20

Expanding the story (Holy Spirit) – John 14:15-17a, 25-27

Leaving the story (Going out) – Matthew 26:30


Each aspect will include the reading, a short reflection, a response/action and after each one we will sing this Taize chant together:

Stay with us o Lord Jesus Christ, night will soon fall
Then stay with us o Lord Jesus Christ, light in our darkness


Service sheet


I can’t wait!

Advent candle poem 1

Through Advent I will be performing a series of poems at Church as we light the candles on our advent crown.

Here are the lyrics for the first one, based on Revelation 1:


Advent is here

The waiting begins

Anticipation feeds our expectation

As the hope of salvation lies in incubation

The heavens sing in exaltation

As all creation waits

for the coming of the creator


[pause to light candle]


So we light this candle

One solitary light

Reminding us of those first words

“let there be light”

And his promise that in our darkness

He is our light

And at the end we’ll need no sun or moon

for he will be our light

As the Alpha and Omega

gives us vision, gives us sight

So this candle is a reminder

As we wait in the night

That the dawn is coming soon

When we will see our creator

Reflections on the place of music in mission

If music be the food of love, play on”

wrote Shakespeare some 400 years ago.

He knew that there is power in tune and song

in melody and rhythm’s ebb and flow.


A message can be told within a rhyme

and find a home in those unwelcome ears

which, were it told at any other time,

would turn away with mocking cries and jeers.


Jesus had an awesome way with words,

His parables and teachings have endured

as each successive generation heard

and passed them on in turn as they matured.


But teenagers and young adults today

have lost that cultural heritage of faith.

It’s gradually declined and gone away,

the challenge is how it can be replaced.


Over the last four years my role has been to use music to build links with the community, and particularly groups who are not being reached by our regular services. In doing this I have spent a lot of time working with children and teenagers and have come to recognise the power of music in breaking down barriers and teaching some of the basics of faith.


I run a monthly Open Mic night which attracts a large number of teenagers from local schools and colleges. I also run a school choir in a local primary school and lead the whole school singing assembly every week. In both of these music is the thing which draws in and engages the young people. It is also the medium by which I and others can “proclaim the good news of the kingdom”.


We get up to 100 teenagers each month to our Open Mic nights, the majority of whom have little other contact with Church. Were we to try and put a ‘talk’ in the middle of the evening (as some have suggested) the kids would both disengage with that part of the evening and also probably stop coming altogether. The integrity of the evenings would be compromised by changing the focus from the music and the performers to our agenda of teaching them about the gospel. However, there are regularly performers (myself included) who sing songs which do proclaim the good news of the kingdom. I recently wrote a song cycle of four songs which tell stories from Jesus’ life. I have performed all of these more than once and have even had a couple of them requested when I didn’t play them. The songs manage to hold the tension between teaching and proclaiming the gospel and maintaining the integrity of the evenings. It is a delicate balance and hasn’t always worked but when it does music can open up amazing doors for the gospel which would otherwise be closed.


My work in school provides opportunities to teach the gospel in different ways but again music, and particularly songs, holds the key to opening doors. My main role with the choir and the whole school singing is to teach songs which engage the children and help them to enjoy singing. Beyond that I have no curricular responsibilities apart from the occasional seasonal requirement (e.g. Harvest assembly). This gives me great opportunity to write and teach songs which tell stories of God. A couple of years ago I wrote a nativity play which I have now taught and performed in two local schools and which has also been performed in a couple of other schools without my involvement. I have also written several songs telling stories from the bible, including Noah and some of Jesus’ parables. Through learning and singing these songs the children are learning more about faith, this is then developed in some through our Messy Church after-school club and other church involvement.


In both these examples, and in other aspects of my work, music has the power to open doors and help people of all ages engage with the gospel. Religion may no longer be at the heart of modern culture but music very much is. There is great missional potential in harnessing the power of music to move and to inform and I for one am only just scratching the surface.


Although for centuries music’s been used

to help proclaim God’s love, we’ve just begun.

There’s so much more to learn, to see, to do,

If music be the food of Love, play on”



714 words

Richard Clarkson, 11th October 2010


Green stripy trousers

Today’s poem is actually a song, you can listen a (very rough) recording of it on audioboo

. .

Green stripy trousers


This is the story of a poor young boy
Who had no clothes of his own
save a new pair of trousers bought specially for him
by a rich man his father had known


Life hadn’t been kind to our simple young lad
it had dealt him a pretty rough hand
and as sad as it may be those trousers were all
that had turned out the way that he’d planned


They were slightly too short and a little too wide
With a belt round the waist made of string
But when he put them on he could stand up strong
Those green stripy trousers made him feel like a king


Soon the war came along and our young boy signed up
as a ships boy he sailed off to sea
And though he was given a uniform
he stowed his trousers on board secretly


and when his watch was over he’d head to his bunk
and peek inside of his chest
where, folded away underneath all his kit
were the trousers tucked safe in their nest


They were slightly too short and a little too wide
with a belt round the waist made of string
But when he put them on he could stand up strong
Those green stripy trousers made him feel like a king


Now one day the cry went up: “all hands on deck
The enemy’s off the port bow”
and if ever he needed his old trousers on
well surely the time was now


As the air filled with cannonballs, bullets and shouts
and the water turned crimson and black
our hero was down below deck on a hunt
for the trousers he’d secretly packed


They were slightly too short and a little too wide
With a belt round the waist made of string
But when he put them on he could stand up strong
Those green stripy trousers made him feel like a king


At the end of the fight, as their ship limped away
by the light from the enemy’s sail
the survivors regrouped and recounted the battle
and soon found they told the same tale


At the heat of the conflict a creature appeared
to take the enemy ship by surprise
And though none had seen this brave man’s face in the smoke
they all saw the green stripes down his side


They were slightly too short and a little too wide
With a belt round the waist made of string
But when he put them on he could stand up strong
Those green stripy trousers made him feel like a king

. .

Richard Clarkson 27.08.2010

Maundy Thursday

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Here are some pictures from our Maundy Thursday service