Wednesday, December 29, 2004

29th December

Well, that's it, then. First ordained Christmas done and dusted. You imagine all sorts of things beforehand, though I have to confess that losing my voice completely half way through Midnight Mass was one contingency that I'd not forseen. Mercifully, said voice recovered sufficiently to get me through the remaining 3 services; indeed, it was a positive advantage during the Family Service, where a husky whisper lent - well, to be honest I'm not sure what- to the Legend of the Glow worm...but the congregation definitely had to listen intently, even with the mic.
I'd been told that Midnight was "huge" and indeed it was....between the Crib Service at 3.00 on Christmas Eve and the final service on Christmas Day well over 500 people must have come through the doors of the church, a high proportion of whom were totally unknown to me.
Spent much of Boxing Day asleep (having failed to wind down enough after Midnight to achieve much the night before, what with the advent of children for stockings at 6.45 am) so woke rather later than the rest of the world to the appalling news from the Indian ocean. Everything else seems incredibly trivial now, doesn't it. Glad I'm on holiday...I'm having enough problems of my own along the lines of "how does a loving God allow this?" without having to come up with coherent answers for other people. I just know he is weeping too.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Oh Rejoice with me...

with exceeding great joy for this my penguin which was lost is found....and the totally wonderful St Valentine's Liquorice Company , having despatched my order weeks ago nonetheless responded to my panic stricken email about empty stockings (the order never got here) by sending out another by special delivery at no charge. I therefore sit here surrounded by signs that Christmas may actually be happening here in the Curate's House as well as, rather less chaotically, up at the church. I've a Bishop to babysit later and still haven't iced the cake, so had best log off now.
It only remains for me to send you all (any?) my love for a Happy Christmas, my thanks for for your virtual companionship in recent months and my hopes that you will find the Christmas Reality amid everything else that is happening for you.

Talk soon xKx

Wednesday, December 22, 2004


You know how it is just before Christmas....there are never enough hours, and the study/spare room/kitchen table all disappear beneath piles of shopping which you cant really afford to have bought,but seem to have amassed anyway (note to self: a daughter is the sort of luxury that you really ought not to have indulged in without a large annuity in place)....and then, just when you are confident that you have everything sorted you realise
a)that your husband's nephews, both in their 2os and apparently uninterested in anything you might think of buying for them (specially when sister in law limits spending to about £2.50 per head) are both going to be around on The Day and
b)that assorted small and insignificant presents which were going to make all the difference to offspring's stockings, and which you purchased with glee months ago have vanished as if they had never been. My youngest collects penguins, and I snapped up a good example of the genus months ago...but, despite being flightless, the bird has apparently flown.....together with sundry other small but desirable objects. Humph.
Of course, there is so much chaos in the study that they might well be there somewhere under 200 crib services and it is almost certain that come 27th December they will emerge to taunt me...but right now...nothing.
Washing socks suddenly looks like quite an attractive option.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Deck the halls

I took Saturday off from being a G. L. C.* to concentrate on being part of my family for a change, and it was lovely. This time last year there had been a fair bit of emotion about the place as we prepared for the last Christmas in our old house...which being old and pretty, with huge fireplace and flagged floors, lent itself rather well to the season. Even as we have settled down here, "How will Christmas work?" has been a recurring question and anxiety for all of us, I think. So it seemed only fair to halt the mad scramble through Christmas services and carol outings to focus on this for a while. It was, I have to say, a huge success. We found a supply of Christmas trees on a small-holding just outside the town, where we had to wade through the obligatory mud carrying the tree in the time honoured fashion...The spot we chose for it at home worked as well as we'd hoped....We even managed to find the essential recordings of carols from Kings to play while decorating it...and the fairy lights worked after only 2 return trips to HomeBase (yes, that's traditional too ;-) )
Now, suddenly, our rather neglected sitting room feels like the centre of a home again. I realised how much I'd been missing us just spending time's too easy to lose that, in this job where there are so many other human contacts all day long that you barely notice failure to engage properly with your nearest and dearests. Recently the teenagers have spent most of their time crammed into G's small bedroom, where computer and tv both reside, while I'm largely in my study and A. and the youngest have the sitting room to themselves.I don't think this has been symbolic of more alarming disintegration, though it does show how these things could happen all too easily....but now it feels as if we are back together.
Yesterday, all the singers of the household did the obligatory visit to old people's homes in the parish...musically unremarkable, but very satisfying to be doing together...and last night we walked home from the 9 lessons and carols under the clearest of frosty skies,- together.
I think it might be time to thank that family of mine again for all they do to make the rest of my life manageable...

*Good Little Curate

Friday, December 17, 2004

Family only, by request

Today's funeral, the last of our current run, was rather a strain for all concerned. This was because the deceased had decreed that she wanted a "quiet service" with only her closest family involved....
Because she also wanted burial in the local cemetery, their only option for the service itself was our church.
"Why should that be a strain?" the innocent reader wonders.....
Well, our church is on the large and ornate side, and is so crammed with pews and other bits of apparently loved ecclesiastical jumble that there is no alternative to the nave large enough for a coffin to be, widower, 2 adult children and 2 of the 7 grandchildren duly occupied the front pew...and the vast empty acres of the church pressed close upon us as I tried to say something meaningful, consoling and appropriate about a lady whom I had never met, and whose family were less than eloquent in their reminiscences.
Thanks be to God, it all went reasonably well...though it was hard to get the balance between reassuring and intrusive eye contact during the address (which was, I promise, nothing like as forml as its official label might suggest)....but it was hugely demanding not only of me but, far more to the point,of the family. Even the partners of the children were excluded from attending, so everyone seemed very much alone with their grief, unable to articulate it and feeling that they had to carry the whole things without a wobble, because there was nobody there to help cover the cracks.
I'm sure that Mrs X had only wanted to make things easier for her nearest and dearest when she laid down such a prescriptive funeral plan...but in the event, a "quiet funeral, close family only" was far harder work for them than a larger scale service would have been. Moreover, so that nobody turned up uninvited, the family elected to keep news of the death under wraps till after Christmas, which deprives them of the messages of love and support which are startlingly helpful in the wake of a death.
I came home resolved that my only request for my own funeral should be that my family do whatever feels easiest for them.........though there are certain pieces of music which, if chosen, would cause me to rise from my grave there and then!

God rest you, merry gentlemen...?

Sorry, Caroline...and anyone else who has been wondering. Too busy being a whirling dervish to blog till now.
This week has been a bizarre and exhausting mixture of carol services and funerals. We have 2 junior schools, an infants and a secondary school in the parish (not to mention 2 independent RC schools) and it has been a lovely experience to have the church full to bursting with enthusiastic children and their parents.
It has, though, been rather confusing when I've had to switch abruptly from one mode to the one case, the funeral (for a member of staff from the infants) was almost a carol service in its own right...and then there was the funeral at the crem where I realised that, having sat on some moulting tinsel (long story...not worth repeating) my cassock was covered in red sparkly bits..too late to do anything much about it. Finally hopefulamphibian
whose son has obviously been an undercover observor in this parish, summed up the whole week beautifully
"I weeded out the card my younger son had made, which contained the wonderful words 'Rest in peace this Christmas' -"

Discerning lad, he said it all :-)

Now, all I have to do is devise 2 child friendly services by Monday (please, somebody, remind me in future not to say what I think about previous models, unless I have time to really improve on them) ..........oh........and do a couple of funerals then too.
Meanwhile, on Sunday we have............yup........the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.
Are you sure it's only nine??

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Another gem from today. Edwin Muir on "The Annunciation"

'I remember stopping for a long time one day to look at a little plaque on the wall of a house in the Via degli Artisti [Rome], representing the Annunciation. An angel and a young girl, their bodies inclined towards each other, their knees bent as if they were overcome by love, 'tutto tremante', gazed upon each other like Dante's pair; and that representation of a human love so intense that it could not reach farther seemed the perfect earthly symbol of the love that passes understanding.'

The angel and the girl are met,
Earth was the only meeting place,
For the embodied never yet
Travelled beyond the shore of space.
The eternal spirits in freedom go.

See, they have come together, see,
While the destroying minutes flow,
Each reflects the other's face
Till heaven in hers and earth in his
Shine steady there. He's come to her
From far beyond the farthest star,
Feathered through time. Immediacy
of strangest strangeness is the bliss
That from their limbs all movement takes.
Yet the increasing rapture brings
So great a wonder that it makes
Each feather tremble on his wings.

Outside the window footsteps fall
Into the ordinary day
And with the sun along the wall
Pursue their unreturning way
That was ordained in eternity.
Sound's perpetual roundabout
Rolls its numbered octaves out
And hoarsely grinds its battered tune.

But through the endless afternoon
These neither speak nor movement make,
But stare into their deepening trance
As if their gaze would never break.

The Handmaid of the Lord

Stunning Quiet Day at the diocesan retreat house, led by the man who conducted our ordination retreat. Despite the catholic ethos of my current church, I've tended to suspicion of the cult of the BVM and only D's unnerving knack of hitting whole rows of nails on the head where I'm concerned had encouraged me to attend the day. Typically, I spend the first part of any retreat experience agonising about my spiritual shortcomings and becoming increasingly panicky. D's earlier broadside on sacrificial self-discipline had left me rather raw and uncertain about what I was actually for in ministry, and I found myself journalling these feelings madly through the quiet times of the morning, feeling progressively less adequate and more anxious. Then, after lunch, we looked at Raphael’s
Madonna of the Pinks
Not only is this stunning in itself, when you have time to look at it properly, but it’s good theology too.
The longer you look at the picture, the more aware you become that all the initiative lies with the child. He is offering his mother those pinks…(dianthus apparently a sign of betrothal,evoking the Song of Solomon) turning Mary into bride as well as mother, and looking forward to the crucifixion when as she is given into the care of John, a new family the church is created. So…Mary is the symbol of the church. But she is more.
All she has to do is to be loved….and this is where she becomes a role model for us.
We don’t need to try harder.
We don’t have to work on holiness.
We just have to accept the stupendous reality that, with all our complexes and contradictions, our messes and failures, we are nonetheless loveable and loved.
We love, because he first loved us. Simple!

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

So where has it gone?

Maybe I'm becoming paranoid, what with assorted people either abandoning or considering migrating from blogger, but I would love to know why the post I wrote earlier today, which appears in my blog index has yet to materialise on the blog itself....Everything is taking forever with my puter right now, - whether or not as a result of changing to firefox is another question,- but I would love to know if the problem lies here or with blogger. Can't imagine changing to a paying blog,'s too much something I do for my own amusement...not seriously helpful writing to anyone.
Oh, a little learning is a dangerous thing, sure enough!

More Light?

I think it was Einstein who called on his deathbed for "More light" but it seems to be something the church could be doing with, as we wend our way through Advent to celebrate the coming of that Light into the world. It's only just over a month since I rejoiced at the number of "unchurched" who had come to our "Journey On" remembrance service....where one of the central parts of the evening was the lighting of candles to commemorate those loved but seen no longer.
This weekend they were back...not the bereaved, this time, but around 200 children and their parents, some part of our church groups, Brownies, Guides etc but a huge majority those with whom we have no regular contact at all. What drew them out on a winter evening? Not, surely, the knowledge that they would go home with a free orange and a handful of jelly tots....Ive no idea what was going on inside them as we stood there in the candlelight of our Christingle service but at least they were being given an invitation and an opportunity to engage for a few moments with the God-story that lies at the heart of history.
There was lots of good will as we said "Good night" at the door, and more than the usual crop of children greeted me as our paths crossed en route to school next day, but my fear is that we are wasting these windows of opportunity. Our church desperately needs those young families....but the families need God so very much more. It's good that there is a penitential flavour to our liturgy now, as it seems to me that we are failing on too many fronts,- and it is not just a question of the survival beyond the next 30 years of the ancient church at the heart of the village.
I'm told they will be back for more candles on Christmas Eve: that's great, but how do we bring them more Light?

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Proud Mother alert...

Last night I was at the launch of a new CD.
That looks deceptively commonplace, as I type it….but it’s not the sort of thing our household does on a regular basis, and even in more high flying families I suspect that this might be a wee bit special. For the past 8 years my children have been privileged to sing with a wonderful group, The Cotswold Children's Choir
L was a founder member, and has grown up with the choir, moving from “Going on a Bear Hunt” to singing Mrs Sem in a millennium production of Noye’s Fludde in Burford Church, and last summer takng part in the national Festival of Music for Youth at RFH. Now on the brink of leaving school and home, choir is the one bit of her childhood she says she cannot imagine growing out of….so it was lovely that she had the opportunity to say some of this as one of two choristers speaking at the launch.
She was very emotional (she’s my daughter…she IS very emotional) but very natural….and I was loaded with of compliments after her speech. What sent her home with a Cheshire Cat grin, though, was some words of Brian Kay's.He told her that one reason that he loves his periodic “guest conductor” slots with the choir is because of the way that L. so takes the music into herself that they seem to become one, something, he said, that many pro’s never manage.
Bless him. What a lovely thing to say to an anxious teenager on the eve of important interviews.
I spared him the grateful mother hug,- so blog readers have to put up with the verbal equivalent….
And do, please, go to the choir’s site and listen to the clip from the CD…I don’ think I’m totally biased…but you won't know if you don't listen, will you?