Monday, February 28, 2005

Humble Access, George Herbert and The Fountain

Yesterday was a looong day which began at 7.30 with Morning Prayer before the 8.00 Eucharist, and ended in the pub after some wonderful peace, space and inspiration thanks to The Fountain. As we stood in warm darkness round the altar, where bread was broken and shared (take some bread and give it to someone you don't know well...or several people....receive as much as you are limits....) the staggering reality of it all nearly overwhelmed me. I'd spent much of the day assisting at the Eucharist, together with a battery of servers, with bells rung, candles elevated and beautiful settings of the Agnus Dei,- but while we shared that loaf it seemed to me that all that had gone before was an elaborate way of ensuring that we kept our distance. In our liturgy, the `Prayer of Humble Access' ("We do not presume to come to this your table...") is the last prayer of the congregation before they come to receive the bread and wine. It's a good prayer, but its current position, immediately after the invitation to Communion "Draw near with faith", always feels like an additional stalling device. I imagine the Lord, tapping his fingers a tad impatiently, thinking to himself "I've told them to come to me....why don't they just come?"....and it hit me last night that all the ritual with which we surround that moment of receiving God in bread and wine has something of the same stalling quality.
I was blown away by the immediacy of our Communion with God and with each other at The fuss...we were invited to share, to partake, and we did.

Yesterday the Church remembered George Herbert (whose poetry was the subject of my never completed PhD) and as I drove home from Gloucester I realised that in the course of the day I'dbeen living through possibly his greatest poem,Love (iii)
"So I did sit and eat"

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

I think we've missed something...

I've just been listening, in a desultory, day-off sort of way, to Women's Hour, where they were having a phone- in on loneliness. Nothing too startling there, perhaps, with all those familiar statistics telling us that more people now live alone than ever before. All sorts of perspectives were represented, with a groundswell of opinion that it wasn't always helpful to be offered companionship solely through networks of those in a similar position . Young mums were adamant that the toddler group wasn't always the answer, while pensioners lamented the narrow client-base of the groups offered to them. One lady suggested that the local council could promote situations in which people were able to encounter diverse ages and backgrounds, to offer mutual companionship and support.
'Sounds like the church', I thought to myself....but neither callers nor "experts" so much as hinted that this might be an issue that the church could engage with. Not even a nod in our direction. That hurt, really....and made me think, too, about how we square the circle of creating an inclusive community while embracing the insights about network society that are so much on the agenda for us. No conclusions, just sadness that we are so clearly missing the mark and failing to reach out even where there is a perceived need.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Into the Wilderness

Right, all you kind souls who've been enquiring as to the success or otherwise of "Into the Wilderness".
In the cold light of dawn, having swept up sand from all sorts of unlikely places and surveyed the damage that one carefree teenager can wreak with a taper injudiciously applied to a length of sari fabric, I can nonetheless record that on balance it was a Good Thing :-)
There follows more information than any of you will either need or want...but it's good for me to review it aloud, so here goes. Feel no obligation to read on!

The church adapted itself beautifully to this new phenomenon...I was really pleased with the way the lighting worked, with the uplights on their dimmest setting and pools of candlelight at many of the stations. The meditations music from Late Late Service Deep Peace CD was absolutely right, and stilled almost everyone instantly.
I never got round the whole trail myself, but had a pretty good time just sitting by the door, with it all unfolding gently around me.
Due to time constraints and the size of the Youth Group, we had to start people off in groups of 4 and despite suggestions that they might prefer to alter the order of stations, provided they remained within the same zone (there were 3; the inward journey; encounter with God and the journey out) they seemed rather intent on clumping together to start with at least.
We used the font for a "letting go" meditation at the very beginning and one rather lovely thing that happened was that people started using the water the cross on each other's foreheads before they moved on...pilgrimage is a group activity.
Some stations held them for ages. One, "Shaping", involved reading lines from ps 139 and then using clay to respond to them. EVERYONE spent ages with this and even those who'd been rushing round at top speed seemed to become still as they worked here
They moved on from this to holy space...bread and grape juice set out on a tablecloth just inside the altar rails, with beanbags and suggestions that they just chill and be with God; again something I'd not envisaged happened...because they tended to arrive there in twos, though they weren't talking, some groups gave each other the bread. It felt as if some powerful stuff was going on here.
All of them had a very positive response to the "Impressions" station (that's right, the one for which I need the sandpit and the not-so-dry sand) .and the buried treasure scrolls seemed to strike a chord too.
Initial feedback suggests that even those who mostly whizzed along the trail say they got something out of the experience...and two or three specifically came to find me and tell me that they'd found it helpful. (I do have the Visitor's Book...but feel rather that I shouldn't be reading that, since most of the comments are addressed to God).
So...all in all...

Would I do it again?
Another "Yes". In fact I'm hoping to use much of the same material, plus some specific Passion tide material, in the week leading up to Palm Sunday. (If anyone has any bright ideas of how I could somehow combine alt.worship with traditional Stations of the Cross, I could do it in Holy Week itself....but at the moment that looks rather a daunting impossibility...).
But it was, as all you alt.worship gurus know, a very labour-intensive activity, which I would really have struggled with if my family had not been on half term and feeling obliging. At the moment I cant see anyone in the congregation who looks a likely ally for future creations, so they'll have to be very thinly scattered through the year, unless that changes.
It was a water-shed for me, as I've really struggled with the building's limitations since arriving here, but last night I saw the whole thing differently...but then, transformation is rather the point of the exercise, I think.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

You have to laugh...

No doubt seasoned alt. worshippers could have warned me about this, but I'm sure I didn't ignore a crucial para in the books nor even among jonny's worship tricks. Yesterday I purchased, from a local toy shop, two small but adequate plastic sacks of sand. I kind of assumed they contained sand, as it said on the label...instead of which, when I opened them this afternoon (thankfully I was being atypically prompt in my preparations)there seemed to be a glutinous sand-based mud. Several pints of water, definitely.
This was fine for the "Making an Impression" station....but less satisfactory for the "promises in the sand" one, where I was burying dozens of little scrolls with bits of Scripture written on them. So......
Husband, son and curate spent much of the afternoon wielding hair dryers, ovens, gas rings and any additional forms of heating/drying we could think of in a desperate attempt to dessicate the sand sufficiently for my purposes. The boys were still at it when I left for Evensong...
If son were not now in bed, sleeping the sleep of the righteous sand-dryer, I would be able to post photographic evidence of this. Maybe tomorrow...when I might tell you all about "Into the Wilderness" too.

Surprised by joy...

Not a reference to dearly beloved C.S. Lewis, great though he is, but to my experience as Deacon at the Eucharist this morning. As usual I read the Gospel, which in my current context involves a procession, assorted acolytes, crucifers and book-bearers. The accompanying anxiety at getting from A to B without falling over any of them meant that I was well into the story of Nicodemus from John 3 when I realised that, instead of ending at the end of the page the reading continued overleaf..up to, and indeed beyond, verse 16.
To stand there in the middle of the assembly of God's people and speak those words aloud was the most mind-blowing privilege..the words were so real that they almost burned on the page and I was allowed to share them with others.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him should not die but have everlasting life."
Thanks be to God, indeed.

Friday, February 18, 2005


Yesterday evening my husband came home with a sandpit...yes, a sandpit ...which he'd spotted on a skip while visiting a customer. Even I had to concede that this was little short of a miracle. I even managed to be nice to him for at least an hour afterwards.
The reason for my joy?
Now I have something in which footmarks can be left on Sunday evening.
Did anyone claim that God doesn't take care of details? :-)

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Curate's Surprise!

No..not a new kind of cocktail, nor even an ice-cream sundae, but the heading for this week's session with the Youth Group. A long long time ago, I apparently agreed to provide some sort of game/activity/think spot for this coming Sunday...the surprise element, I imagine, was not intended to reflect my degree of preparedness for this, but, as is the way of things, a little ambiguity spices up the mixture.
Faced last Sunday with the realisation that it was coming up next week (how on earth did that happen??) I went into free-fall panic mode and then decided that this must be the moment to try a teeny weeny bit of an experiment.
So...the Curate's Surprise will be "Into the desert: a interactive Prayer Trail for Lent" (not a labyrinth in the space to lay one out, due to overabundance of our blessed pews, and insufficient time to do so anyway, as I can't begin till the last soul has left after Evensong). To-day's surprise is how very rewarding I've found it trawling through resources (where would anyone be without jonny or sue ?), planning and praying till it feels as if I've something that God wants to use with those teens. Those of you well-versed in alt.worship would be totally underwhelmed by the whole thing, but this will be my first attempt at putting something like this together and it will certainly be an unknown quantity for most of the community here. Many of the youth group are largely there for the football... Prayers for Sunday evening would be much appreciated.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The CME wasn't all wasted...

Thanks to Ian for this, which feels scarily close to the likely reaction of most of the people here. You think I'm joking??

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Can't win em all

Clearly God knew what He was doing when He sent me that little boy this morning.
This evening featured my monthly session at the local care home where most of the residents have kind of lost track of who they are, and most other things too. I thought it was going really well. We sang a hymn, heard a reading, prayed a bit, I wittered about Lent, we prayed and sang some more,= including Amazing Grace...three request.
Finally, after another prayer or two I suggested we close with the Grace, which we did.
In the silence afterwards a voice from the corner piped up
"So, are we having a service tonight then?"

One of those moments ...

.... when you know for sure why you are doing this job.
Curate to small boy at altar rail
"May Jesus bless you today and every day. He loves you very much."
Small boy with the sort of smile that lights up a whole week

Was I ever under the misapprehension that I was the one doing the ministering??

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Dust and ashes

Every so often, liturgy really seems to get it right and achieve what it describes....This evening I heard again and again "Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return.Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ" and the effect was inescapably humbling. Saying those same words to my much-loved boss, I felt as if I was somehow passing sentence upon him...which was both weird, uncomfortable and deeply moving,- though of course the whole point of the service is that the sentence is common to all humanity.
Then, the solemn effect was rather ruined. I had been warned that this year's ash was "tricky"(clearly the sacristan did need Tom's recipe :-) ) and that I would need to apply it with some force if I wanted to achieve a visible cross at all. I followed this advice, so for the rest of the service, poor M looked as if he'd had a target painted on to his forehead with creosote. I may only have had to ash him this year, but by gum I ashed him well and truly...No half hearted little smudges here. He was branded, poor man...

Still not sure what I'm trying by way of Lenten discipline, which doesn't auger well...but am seriously considering trying to give up guilt for Lent, in line with Rhys wonderful 10 Commandments. I've been inspired to read Stephen Cottrell's Lent book from last year I thirst
and there are one or two others about the place that I would really like to get into as the weeks go by,- but the big one is prayer, and for that my strategies are rather lacking... Giving it a sensible portion of time is at least a starting point, so start I shall.

Wise advice.

I spent yesterday, along with many others, at a pre-Lent Quiet Day in the Cathedral, led by +Stephen Cottrell....His theme "A Pastoral Letter to Myself" had emerged from a "build a better bishop" course which he and our diocesan had recently undergone, as part of their first year induction training. Among many gems, the mantra I came back with was
"Make time for prayer, make time for sleep and then do what you can."
On the verge of what looks to be a rather frantic season, I hope to hang onto this...and am grateful to the noble three who turned out this morning to give meaning to the Bishop's vision of churches open for prayer and people praying together this Lent.

Friday, February 04, 2005


In my comments box below, Tom penned these words, which I find so very helpful that I thought I'd put them up in lights...

"We need constantly to remind ourselves that we are sharing Christ's peace and not our own meagre human peace. So I have found myself saying to people - well at least offer it, even if that isn't quite where your heart is at the moment - but equally understanding when people find that impossible"

From my point of view, this gives me something I really feel I can work with. It's so horribly easy to be aware of the human perspectives in worship to the near-exclusion of the divine....but it's not about us, is it?

Thursday, February 03, 2005

The dilemma continues

In his comment on passing the Peace below Dave said "sometimes actions have to lead meanings" which set me off wondering how one balances this kind of aspirational behaviour with the need to be honest in our relationships. Could one call tooth-clenched peace-passing hypocrisy, if there is a deep mismatch between feelings and actions?
Certainly I tend to work on Dave's basis (as I've interpreted it...sorry if I read you wrong, Dave) in most things, and try madly to behave lovingly to those whom, frankly, I struggle to like. Sometimes this backfires massively as people assume that I'm their dearest friend and I then find myself taking panicky evasive action for months...but sometimes, though not often enough, it seems to work and to effect the change in me that I aspire to. One of the early Fathers wrote something like
"Not what thou art, nor what thou hast been, but what thou wouldst be beholdest God in his mercy" (prize to anyone who can tell me who and where...I just can't find it)
which would seem to suggest that if we want to live in love and peace with all, but aren't quite managing it on a daily basis, God will honour the intention. On the other hand, there's some rather uncomfortable stuff about whitewashed tombs about the place too. Oh heck. On the whole, perhaps it's just as well that I'm not in the parish this Sunday; perhaps I'll have resolved this before I next have to do any Peace-passing!

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Peace at any price?

A good friend whose integrity and conscience I hold in high esteem has been distinctly "off" God lately and blogged recently on the impossibility of offering the Peace honestly while struggling with a particular relationship at work..For her this had become such a huge issue that it dominated the entire service in a thoroughly unhelpful way. It struck me as distinctly ironic that she, while claiming no Christian allegiance at present, is so much more scrupulous about the need to be "in love and charity with her neighbour" than too many who approach Communion with no qualms (though I guess if we waited to be ready to receive...yes, well, let's not go there....)
On her blog, this sparked the sort of "Peace or not discussion" which seems inevitable in most churches from time to I thought, why not? Let's give it another airing.

So here are a few reasons why I am largely in favour of the Peace...

1) because it CAN and SHOULD be an opportunity to heal broken relationships before receiving Communion...and is good theology, obedient to Jesus's command (Matt 5 22-25) (...make the most of that, it's not often you'll catch me actually quoting Scripture ;-) )

2)because it can break down barriers between groups and individuals in the church family...when we first moved to our previous house, we knew nobody in the village, but the children adopted 2 quite excellent honorary grandparents by dint of moving in on them during the Peace and somehow never quite leaving.

3)because (to repeat my comments on that blog) it can provide a bit of human contact for otherwise lonely and untouched souls

All of this only holds good if you are actually attempting to match deeds with go through the motions while harbouring murderous intentions is clearly never a good idea. I do recognise as well how the Peace can also work against community, isolating those who are not "in the know" still is so awful when you visit a church and find yourself politely shaking the hands nearest to you while all around others are flinging their arms around their dearest friends whom they've clearly not seen least last Sunday!
By nature a touchy feely type, I'm mindful too of those for whom such contact is deeply uncomfortable..the sheer embarassment factor can be huge, I'm certain.

But, despite all this, to remove the rite from the liturgy would seem to me to imply that it is possible for the Body of Christ to operate as though were simply a group of disparate individuals, as if our worship as community did not in fact matter. I think we need the discomfort, the long hard looks at our relationships, even perhaps the occasional embarassment along the way. Sorry Mrs Beamish, but your day is not yet!