The last 24 hours have featured more church than at almost any period in my life before, I think...Yesterday morning began as always with Morning Prayer...both vicar and curate feeling a bit delicate after the recent alarms and excursions , so this was precious and healing. Then on to the Cathedral for my first experience of the Chrism service, renewing vows that I made only 9 months ago in that very place. It felt strange but rather wonderful to be there with the same group and to see the 3 jugs of oil brought in, knowing that the third caraffe, for the oil of chrism, would be used at our priesting. Certainly made my heart lurch a bit...
Hopeful Amphibian was part of the phalanx of priests renewing their vows, and has a rather different perspective on it, but though I do see his point, it was rather lovely to feel a part of such a positive expression of church, after a bruising week. Catching up with friends over lunch in the sunny cloister wasn't 'alf bad, either....then home for my own programme of furniture removal (those dreaded wavy chairs) and the dotting of i's for the evening's sermon (thanks to Dylan for launching me...) Left home at 5.00 pm....and returned at 4.00pm today...having had wonderful Maundy Service, with first ever foot washing here. Another first was for the final psalm, during which the altars are stripped, to be sung....there had been murmurs from the old guard again, but the senstive singing of the choir in the gathering darkness will probably be my strongest memory of the evening.
I then spent the night in the Parish Centre with the Youth Group, who plug any gaps in the all- night Watch and were also doing a sponsored Psalmathon to Send a Goat to Africa. They were a joy to be with...I did get some sleep around 4.00, but whenever anyone else came in to crash, there was this gentle murmur of psalmody from the stairs (the only spare space, once hall was taken up with silent football tournament, while other rooms were stuffed with kids doing creative things for my Easter service) and a very loud cheer at 4.50 when ps 150 was completed by all who were still awake. Leading prayers with them for the end of the Watch was awe-inspiring...when each of them had spent time on duty in the chapel, they had left a votive light behind them, and walking into that space, made bright by their presence twice over was in itself a good reason for having stayed up all night. Pretty good to spend some time in the silence with God too.
Busy busy Good Friday. Eucharist 9.15 from the reserved Sacrament (and I only got one thing wrong in clearing the chapel and sorted it out without panic...which feels like a real achievement, under the eagle eye of our Sacristan) Ecumenical Walk of Witness 10.30...for which my family were deputed to provide music when the Community Players
presented the Seven Last Words in the shopping precinct. This was a really positive experience, perhaps to counter the effects of the Palm Sunday procession, and it was good that my kids were both willing and able to be involved, as I think they've rather missed being the essential parts of the church community that they were in Great Rissington. G played his flute for some Taize chants, which was a real treat...he's not taken it out onto the streets since we moved here (used to play lots for village carol singing etc).
The Walk wound its way through much of Charlton Kings, with a good sized crowd which was genuinely representative of all 5 churches.I loved the way larger children gave the smaller ones piggy backs, just for fun, and the skill of one Guide Dog and one Hearing Dog who took their owners safely from start to finish. We felt like a community...young, old, healthy, broken, happy, sad...but TOGETHER..and finally we were in real country...walking behind the cross up a farm track to plant it in a field with a wonderful view over the whole of Cheltenham. We stood there to sing "When I survey" and it was a definite "YES" moment.
I left L talking to the Youth Worker from the Baptist Church about Gap Years in Africa and maybe, just maybe, about the possibility of considering (maybe) Youth Work after uni...and cycled at top speed back to church for the 3 hours led by Alan Luff, who proved to be as good a preacher as he is musician.
Finally, I sat in the church and listened as a muffled bell rang 33 times, then picked up my prayer stool and headed home.
Hard to believe, after so much packed into just over 24 hours, that we are only beginning the Triduum. If I survive, I'll report more later...if not, well, I'm hugely happy with my lot.