Tuesday, November 30, 2004

A little light word-eating.

Sorry folks....I'll have to climb down a bit on the subject of Alpha. Firstly, because last week's session "What about the church, then?" worked really well as a topic for our small group, thanks to very skillful leadership (emphatically not mine). We recognised that as a congregation we are really NOT good at making friendships and welcoming strangers...heck, it's quite common for me to witness the introduction of 2 people, both of whom have worshipped at St M's for years, but on opposite sides of the church."I'm a North Aisle person myself". From this revelation of self evident truth came a wish, in that group at least, for more small groups to redress the balance. We do have a couple of house groups in the parish, but they are very well-established and would find it extremely hard to reshape to include new-comers, so something more is called for. It's very heartening that this need is being recognised in the congregation, and isn't something that the clergy are imposing to meet our perceptions of what we should be about. I'm not sure we would have got to this point without the space provided by Alpha.
Also, everyone involved has so appreciated the opportunity to talk, over excellent food and we are exploring the possibility of running our Lent groups on this basis. For me, this has been the chance to engage with parishioners without any preordained agenda. Hugely valuable, as I'm still finding my way and getting to know people here.
Finally, on Sunday I spoke to one of the group who had been able to attend the "Holy Spirit Away Day" this Saturday. He was bereaved in June and has been finding the journey tougher than many. A lifelong church member, he said that he felt a reality in the worship on Sunday morning that he had never experienced before, and which he could only attribute to something having been "unblocked" the previous day. In itself, he said, the day had seemed unremarkable, but now......
So, what was I saying earlier?? Alpha may not be my preferred approach...but I have to be glad that we were involved. A learning curve in all sorts of unexpected ways,- but then, God's like that.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

I look from afar......

Just back from our Advent Service. Very traditional…indeed almost indentical to the services I remember from my chorister days in teens and twenties, …..but nonethless rather beautiful. Anything starting with the Palestrina Matin Responsary was likely to score highly for me, I’ll admit, but there were other joys too. Our rather cluttered church is at its best in candle-light, and I was totally unprepared for the emotional impact of our youth group arriving to light the huge Catherine- wheel type candle stands in the three aisles. Month in, month out, the congregation indulge in the ( equally traditional?) mutterings that "the young people don’t come to church in the way they used to" , but tonight there we stood, a motley group of adults of a certain age, waiting in the darkness…and those young people brought us the light.
Then I got to read one of the most perfect of all
Collects .Not too bad really.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

What, me?

In recent months, some of you may have picked up that I tend to get anxious if I'm not sure exactly how I am supposed to be using my time on any given day. Part of this is the legacy of constantly having at least 3 times as much to do as I could reasonably hope to achieve, for far too long, and all within a fairly rigid timetable. Since ordination, this has changed...There is undoubtedly even more that I could/should be doing, but the timetable element has largely vanished and so it is scarily possible for me to reach the end of a day quite convinced that I have left undone those things which I ought to have done (and, no doubt, done those things which I ought not to have done as well) and completely failed to justify my stipend.
It was therefore less than comforting to be told today by someone I respect hugely that one hallmark of clergy professionalism, as it is presented in the Guidelines for Professional Conduct, is sacrificial self discipline.
I find it hard to envisage a more terrifying concept for one such as I....I know I have some virtues but I really don't think self discipline is even an outside contender for the list.
At the same meeting, our Deanery Chapter were also told of the rapid move towards two models of ordained ministry...one predominantly a ministry of oversight (for those aspiring to incumbent status) and one, largely non stipendiary, for everyone else....Alot was said about extraordinary skills and gifts needed to exercise the former ministry...and there was huge affirmation for the locally based, pastoral holiness which seemed implicit in the latter. Feeling short on gifts and having moved out of my nurturing congregation, I'm now wondering what on earth I'm doing....Is there still room for the likes of me,- or does sacrificial self-discipline begin with recognising that I'm mismatched with the vision of ministry that is currently abroad?

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Is this the right queue for Hogwarts?

Just back from our graduation ceremony, - a strange way to spend a snowy Saturday.It was great to catch up with some very special people, but the general feeling seemed to be that today was totally irrelevant to where we now were and what we were doing. Seeing us all togged up in academic finery and wandering through the cloisters of our Cathedral, I felt mainly that I'd been co-opted as an extra in the next Harry Potter film. It was specially odd to be back in the same Cathedral where we were ordained only 5 months ago...many of the same people...another collection of outre outfits...but an unbelievably different atmosphere. Thinking about the debate on theological training which is currently looming large in the blogosphere
here and here I don't think anyone there this morning was under the illusin that they had emerged from the course "trained" by virtue of their academic qualifications....The former Principal, who moved on just before we did, said once that his main task was simply to give us the tools to reflect theologically. I guess we did learn that...but for us, certainly, the journey together was the important thing.
Arrival?? That's something I can't imagine happening for a long long time...

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Do I really....

dare to say any more about Alpha? I've emailed Jennifer direct, as I'm rather hesitant about posting more on a public board, since I know that my knowledge of the course remains partial..I've only been to half the sessions, nor have I read all the material from cover to cover.
However, I don't think I'll lodge a precautionary apolgy with HTB just in case, as I suspect that they are every bit as prone to make assumptions about "liberals"...
To quickly pick up Humble Secretary's point, though there may be no direct teaching on homosexuality in the course, the high view of Scripture which is held means that there is a latent tendency to add two and two and make "an abhomination". That's horrid in itself, but my greatest problem with the course is that it purports to provide answers to all questions and a pill for every ill. Those who buy into this approach and are then presented with life experiences which conflict with the Alpha version of The Christian Life often find it almost impossible to hang on to faith at all...I've had too many anguished conversations over the past few years with Alpha refugees, many on the verge of abandoning Christianity altogether, unable to believe that they could possibly be acceptable to God....Honestly, I would much prefer to leave the judgement to him. He knows alot more about love than we do!

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Redeem my foul-ups

I'm now into the third week of minding the shop for my vicar, as he relaxes in sunnier Antipodean climes, and thus far all is going startlingly well. I'm beginning to appreciate that being the curate of a good incumbent is one of the best jobs in the C of E...to be given so many opportunities and protected from so much hideous admin is a truly blessed state. This was brought home to me forcibly by last night's Standing Committee which lasted from 7.30 till almost 11.00...as it was largely setting the agenda for PCC in a fortnight, at which the same issues will be trawled through by an even larger and chattier cast the whole thing felt remarkably pointless...but the good news is that when M is at home, I don't actually have to be there.
It is alarming how easy it is to be occupied with this sort of stuff, though...and I so nearly mucked up hugely last week. The vicar had suggested that I might usefully visit S, a great stalwart of the church, who had been ill for ages and was currently hospitalised...her condition had been deteriorating in October, but she seemed now to be improving gradually, and I knew she was being visited by a huge army of Mothers' Union ladies, retired bell ringers et al, as well as her devoted husband. So, though I planned to go, she didn't feel like a top priority.
However a phonecall from her frightened husband last week galvanised me into action and saw me visiting the following day...S was feeling better again by then, and it was a good visit..our conversation ranged far and wide and I looked forward to spending more time with her soon.
Yesterday morning the phone rang...she had taken a sudden turn for the worse and died on Sunday night...BUT she had had a happy afternoon in being pushed around the hospital grounds by her husband, the chaplain had responded to my email and taken her Communion that morning and now her husband wants me to do her funeral, despite the fact that his son is married to the daughter of a former (Forward in Faith) incumbent of this parish. I feel as if I've been rescued from the very brink of disaster...I so nearly got it all wrong...so nearly didn't make time for the right things...so nearly let S, D and most of all God down...but now, having spent time yesterday and this morning with the whole family, it all seems to be gloriously all right. During our ordination training, a hospital chaplain came to talk to us and I'll not forget him saying that his regular prayer, as he went onto the wards was "Lord, redeem my foul-ups"
Today, I'm so very very grateful that he has.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

This is Ridiculous!

It's the 11th November, for heaven's sake, and here I am sitting in a chilly study trying to write a Christmas letter for the Parish Mag. Never mind that it is actually Armistice Day. Never mind that the magazine will appear on 1st December, so an Advent letter might be more helpful...
This is it....the first page of the Christmas magazine is mine, all mine and I've no idea what to do with it.
Challenge? Don't think that's exactly what they are hoping for.
Reassure? Somehow, that doesn't feel like quite the right note to strike either.
Resort to vacuous humour or greeting card morality? Please God, Noooo.
The deadline is tonight, so whatever else, I'll have to get on and do it.
Right now I'm inclined to hope that the Second Coming intervenes, and nobody has to read the thing....

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Taking Faith Seriously?

I spent this morning at an excellent CME event on preaching from St Matthew...two good speakers and lots to take home and ponder. What struck me most, though, was not directly related to the subject, but an incidental observation which was offered. As one who comes firmly from the Catholic end of the spectrum, and has in any case far more confidence in my ability to ask questions than to furnish answers, I've never been a great one for stressing the importance of the sermon. However, it really did hit me when someone said that to rely on 10 to 15 minutes each week as a sufficient input to allow faith to grow, and to resource congregations to share that faith in the world, was clearly absurd.
Put like that, of course they are right.
Someone else compared the C of E unfavourably with ECUSA, where "Sunday School" for all is an expected pattern, with an hour of study of age appropriate material preceding the main act of worship each week...
Yes, that does sound thoroughly demanding, but exciting too....Somehow, though, I suspect that lead balloons would positively soar in comparison with the likely reception of such a proposal here...so, how to persuade our people that to be serious about their faith means to engage with it with minds as well as hearts and souls? I'm sure that someone will remind me that simply because there are few parish initiatives promoting study, this doesn't mean that nobody is doing any, and clearly we should neither hope nor expect to corner the market....but it is so much more rewarding to explore together.At the moment, I'm left wondering how much of a priority faith really is for a high proportion of my congregation, and in the gloom of a damp November evening, I'm tempted to answer myself with a negative.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

My hero!

Though I'm not as careful as I should be, I do usually try to do something to disguise individuals and issues when I blog. Tonight, though, I want to tell the world how hugely and utterly grateful I am to our utterly wonderful Church Warden....If this blog had a sound track, there would now be the sound of tumultuous applause.
You see, he found the lost Communicant!! :-)
Let me explain.
Before the vicar departed for foreign climes on Monday, he drove me round at speed to the house of an elderly man, D, who wanted to receive Home Communion in M's absence. D was very charming and welcoming, we chatted for a few moments and I promised to contact him in a week or two to arrange a convenient time for me to call. M had already handed over a pile of papers, with details of everything he hoped I could attend to during his absence, and I confidently assumed that the essential surname/phonenumber would be included in the lists...I then went home and succumbed to the incipient migraine which had clouded my vision as we drove to the house. It was only after M was well on his way that I realised that the list of visits included no hint of a D anywhere...and I had no clue as to his surname, still less his phone number.
No problem, I thought. The Parish Administrator will have a list of everyone who receives Home Communion.
Only she didn't.
Nor did anyone else know anyone who sounded remotely like my gentleman.
As the week wore on, my panic mounted...
I drove round the general area we had visited, but none of the houses looked familiar.
It felt way too early for a major mess-up, and from my perspective losing a communicant felt fairly major.
Would I have to place an advert in the Gloucestershire Echo
"Would D, who is hoping to receive Communion, please contact..."?
or worse still, would I have to email the absentee vicar and disrupt his holiday with details of my stupidity...??
Today, thanks to Antony, we have a happy ending :-) Seeing a curate teetering on the edge of hysteria, he braved the study at the vicarage, opened the parish diary, and there it was. The name and address I had been pining for. Full details are now engraved on my heart as well as the psion..and I'll be in touch with David very soon.
Things I have learned:-
1)never try to memorise a journey when in the grip of a migraine....my grasp of lefts and rights just isn't up to it
2)never assume that a vicar with a phenomenal memory will think of everything that those with more limited capacity might need to know
3)when in doubt, thank God for a good Church Warden

If you see any fireworks tonight, that'll be me, celebrating...

Friday, November 05, 2004

Was I foolish enough to describe myself as irrepressibly upbeat?? Oh well…….asking for it, I guess.
Today I’m anything but, having just returned from our monthly ecumenical lunch with the leaders of the other Christian churches here. We meet for prayer and brief discussion before repairing to the excellent Fair Trade Coffee Shop attached to the Baptist Church…nothing too awful there, you might think. I arrived late, to find them in mid discussion of the US election results in the light of Micah
"Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly…" you know the one. Initially, they expressed disquiet about Iraq and about Kyoto, and about the apparent assumption that "God bless America" equals a divine mandate in favour of global dominance. That’s alright, then…
Suddenly, the mood changed as first one and then another commented that, despite all this, Bush’s re-election was a Good Thing. Why?? For the very reasons that so many people on the boards are expressing hurt and rejection…his representation of "Christian values" as expressed in his stance on abortion and on gay rights. Usually, when the evangelical churches are waving a particular flag, the RC priest is a real ally, but this time he toed the party line and applauded Bush’s pro-life policies.I felt completely alone, and, still more depressing, I failed in the courage of my convictions, and challenged nothing. When we moved into prayer, I did ask that God would give us all, leaders and voters alike, the grace of humility, to recognise when we were wrong and to repent, to turn in a new direction. It's not good to realise that my colleagues in ministry here would dismiss me as unChristian if they understood my views on these issues. Worse still, however,is the feeling that by saying nothing I have betrayed myself and my friends for the sake of a comfortable life
Not Good News, in any sense of the world.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Dover Beach? Maybe, maybe not...

Liz's comment on my earlier post here was so startlingly reminiscent of
Matthew Arnold's poem that I couldn't resist putting the two together. OK, Liz is talking about a tide of secularism sweeping in, while Arnold considers one of faith withdrawing, but nonetheless...
I do have one optimistic friend (and a great comfort that is, given the prevailing mood today, with even the children sunk in misery at the thought of another 4 years of Bush) who says that this poem, lovely though it is, is in fact a load of b******s. The point about the sea, of course, is that while nothing can halt the outward ebb of the tide, nothing, equally, can prevent it from coming in again.
Not sure, therefore, whether this is a sustainable analogy for the state of the Church, but, being generally incorrigibly upbeat, I do believe that we won't be allowed to destroy the whole thing completely. I agree that we're appallingly slow to learn the lessons that are being presented to us (certainly my current congregation would put Canute to shame). I know too that I suffer from that awful Anglican tendency to hope that if I'm only kind enough to a large enough number of people, they will somehow get the message...despite all evidence to the contrary. However, I'm still bouyed up by Sunday night as another example of the way that people are still prepared to allow the church into their lives when they come up against the non negotiable realities. Moreoever, I visited one of the non-regulars yesterday, who'd come to the service following the death of her husband last month, and she said that the atmosphere was so full of love and care that she wanted to try to believe...
The trouble is, of course, that if she does come along on a Sunday, she'll find more anxiety about the wherabouts of the Gospel servers than focus on the reality of the Love on offer,- so maybe the church deserves to be allowed to ebb away to nowt. I do love it, though, despite the huge frustrations...so I guess all I can do is work to try to bring about a fractional change in one tiny corner.