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Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Guest Post: Reverend Richard Littledale - Secrets of the clerical cloakroom

It’s a little known fact of being a Minister or Pastor that some churches are ‘blessed’ with a bespoke minister’s loo. Many years ago, as a young student touring Scotland with a travelling theatre company I paid a visit to the wonderful Coats Memorial Church in Paisley. There I was allowed a sneak glimpse of the church’s spectacular blue and white porcelain ministerial toilet. Did this unwittingly start me on the road to ministry, I wonder? Many years and three churches down the line I discovered that there was actually a ministerial loo here in my current church, but no-one had told me about it for the past thirteen years! Meanwhile, in my previous church, there was a bespoke ‘vestry’ toilet, tucked like an en-suite onto the vestry. One Sunday I came into church after a women’s conference the previous day, to find that some of the seminar labels had been left on the doors. Outside the minister’s vestry, with its private toilet, was a label reading “elderly and isolated”. Hmm…

Sadly, it looked nothing like this...

In these days of connectivity there is really no excuse for being isolated, is there? From the comfort of my desktop or laptop I can zoom across the earth’s surface, communicate with people the other side of the world and connect with people whom I would never visit. Fourteen months ago I started a blog for preachers and communicators, and it has now received almost 10,000 visitors from the UK, America, and places as far away as Saudia Arabia, Iran and Saint Vincent.

Connectivity brings responsibility, though, which is where Toilet Twinning wins out. Toilet Twinning takes the ready connectivity which the internet allows, and puts it to work on behalf of some of the world’s poorest people. With the investment of £60 and a few clicks of the mouse button, a toilet in this country (ministerial or otherwise) can fund the building of a safe and hygienic toilet elsewhere in the world with which it can then be twinned. Twinning your loo in this way is a reminder of the life and death issues surrounding water and sanitation in some countries. Not only that, but with a ‘twinned’ toilet you are likely to be reminded of it several times each day! You can visit ‘your’ loo on google maps, and encourage your friends to do likewise so that the project grows.

A recent post on my blog issued a call for serious thinking about digital ethics. Some people think that Christian behaviour online is governed simply by digital etiquette – such as keeping posts and updates polite and not unfriending people without warning. Surely there is more to it than that? Surely we must think about the new kind of moral responsibility which our international and instant connectivity brings us? Perhaps it is time for a set of digital beatitudes? Whilst you are thinking them up, why not think about twinning your toilet today?

The Rev Richard Littledale is Pastor of Teddington Baptist Church in Middlesex and is a graduate of Spurgeon's College, London and Saint Andrews University. A tutor at The College of Preachers, he has a particular interest in innovative and effective communication. His preaching has featured on BBC Radio 4 and he is a regular on BBC Radio 2’s Pause for Thought. He is the author of Stale Bread?: A Handbook for Spreading the Story and The preacher’s A to Z and writes as a columnist for The Baptist Times. You can find his blog at http://www.richardlittledale.wordpress.com/

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