Saturday, May 28, 2005

Belated thanks...

to everyone who prayed for me this week. Assorted issues still loom large in various directions, but the whole thing feels infinitely more manageable and I'm reminded again what an amazing gift of God friends can be, especially friends who pray.
What with major exams for both my older offspring and priestly ordination a mere 5 weeks away, I'd be very happy if you felt able to keep it up. Bless you all.


or "Server Dependency Syndrome" is something which affects clergy of a certain churchmanship, and can strike at any time. It is the result of being surrounded by so great a cloud of acolytes, crucifers, thurifers and the aforementioned servers that you become incapable of doing anything for yourself.
Symptoms: can range from inability to pour wine from flagon into chalice (taking the lid off the former would have helped, but I was so busy focusing on not pouring too much, as I'd be drinking the left-overs, I didn't notice for a minute the obstructive lid...) to total paralysis when the marker in the Gospels is in the wrong place. A Curate I know spent what felt like 25 minutes staring blankly at what was clearly not the Gospel for Corpus Christi (it was actually the Collect for some other feast altogether) because she was so certain that if the book had been prepared by our Sacristan, the marker must be in the right place if she only looked at it hard enough.
In fact, it was one page on. Had she known the 1928 Altar Book well enough, she might have had the nous to turn over and lo, all would have been revealed (though even when the vicar came to the rescue, the lurking Gospel was not immediately obvious).
Cure: while continuing to enjoy the freedom from time-consuming details provided by the goodly company of servers, the sufferer should ensure that s/he knows how to do things herself, and where to find things at all times.
I'm sure that hole into which embarrassed curates can vanish must be somewhere in church: I know, I'll ask a server...

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Really random

Last night I watched the BBC 2 series Compulsion, the story of Jonny, a young man with drink, drug and gambling addictions. He was the oldest child of an Anglican priest, and his father's parents had died while he, the father, was still young. As a soon-to-be Anglican priest whose parents died when I was 18, this did worry me slightly for my beautiful daughter...but the fact that she kept floating in to stand in front of the tv and offer Jonny hugs and understanding made me feel marginally better .

A shopping trip with One Pedestrian yesterday, from which I brought home some really cool lights. They are basically thin plastic tubes, filled at regular intervals with small bulbs in assorted colours ...can't find a picture anywhere on the net, but I reckon they'll be very handy for alt.worship and meanwhile, I've popped them in a vase and they cheer up the study no end.
What's more, their packaging entertains as well as educates, as it reads "bulbs not replaceable" and "If you have any problems obtaining replacement bulbs please phone the 24 hour premierbulb hotline....."

Which brings me to a poster, the work of the Sunday School, which I encountered in a church hall near here (no, not ours). It read, loud and clear
So there you have it. Have a good day!

What price the diocesan arsonist?

Thanks all of you for your comments. Obviously the Bishop was quite right, and it's well worth blogging even those books you're not sure about: the quality of the debate justifies the time spent reading :-)
Ron wondered what there was about buildings to justify the time and trouble spent on them...I feel quite strongly about the need for an available sacred space in each community, and have covered most of my reasons in an earlier post, "Blessings or millstones". However, I would certainly be in favour of whittling down the ridiculous number of churches there are about the place. Here, we sit neatly in the middle of the old "village" area of Charlton Kings, and the church is literally on the way to many places, so people do drop in for a quiet prayer at odd moments in the day. Equally, in my last parish there was just the one church, open daily, often visited. If I found myself in a situation where there were 2 or 3 Anglican churches within a short walk, not to mention other denominations, then I'm sure I'd see things differently. An ecumenically shared building would be much more appropriate in that context, but it has has HAS to be open. The hospitality of Christian homes is great for those who know about it...but what about the person who just wakes up one morning feeling sad, or prayerful? I'm sure there are ways to ensure they don't slip through the net, but I'd need to know what they are. The much-trumpeted upsurge in numbers of people attending worship in Cathedrals suggests that there are many out there who are ready to risk an encounter with God in anonymous safety. Ringing the doorbell of the man down the road, who hosts a Christian cell in his home, is a very different matter.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Secular Lives, Sacred Hearts

In response to my rash promise to my Bishop, here’s the first of my attempts to reflect on recent reading. Secular Lives, Sacred Hearts works from the premise that
“The traditional sociological view of secular Britain is misleading. The Church would understand its contemporary minsitry and mission better,…if it thought of the nation as “culturally Christian”.”
Hmmmn…..I finished the book a week ago now, and the more I think about it, the more it feels to me as if its main purpose is to make clergy feel better about our failure to evangelise the nation. Alan Billings' message seemed to be “Go with the flow” and, if I understood him properly, this felt to me something more than simply trying to meet people where they are and inviting them to an encounter with God. It was rather suggesting that our concept of God encounters needed revision, so that we softened our boundaries to include much that would otherwise have been labelled “folk religion” and ceased forthwith from making demands of any kind on those outside our regular congregations.
Much of what Billings writes about the contemporary context resonated loudly with me, and he has a lot of helpful ideas about reaching out into the community. What about inviting a local school to provide a series of Advent Stations, for example? That's one that could really work here. I loved, too, his suggested definition of ministry
“Making real for people the grace of God at particular moments in their (increasingly secular) lives”.
But I was worried by his implicit message that if we were failing in the task of mission, it was time to change the nature of the task rather than our approach to fulfilling it. He concludes the book with what he calls 3 “tendencies of the contemporary church”, against which he sets his 3 preferred “Principles for the contemporary church”. Perhaps I’ve been too thoroughly indoctrinated by the system, but my gut feeling was that in following his principles we would be in danger of losing track of the Gospel in an ambient spiritual mush.
They read as follows….
First tendency of the contemporary Church: Make a clear line of demarcation between “the Church” and “the world” and see the over riding task of the Church as evangelism.
First counteracting principle for the contemporary Church: Recognise that not all Christians are members of the Church and see the Church, including its occasional offices,as a spiritual resource for members and non members alike”

(This might sound fine….very much in keeping with “Mission shaped” ideas of allowing people to be church where they are…but a closer reading reveals that he is not expecting these “cultural Christians” to do anything very much as a result of their faith…there is no sense that they will want to gather together, to learn or to pray…no idea that they might benefit from being Church, in whatever expression)

Second tendency: Assume that God wants everyone to become a member of the Church
Second principle: See Church membership as the particular vocation of some Christians for the sake of others

Third tendency: to see buildings as of secondary importance or even of no importance at all in sustaining the spiritual life
Third principle: recognise the vital role played by sacred buildings in sustaining the spiritual life of members and non- members.

(OK…as you may have gathered, I quite like this one! The value of a sacred space at the centre of a community is something I blah on and on about….and I like Billings concept of building as sacrament..the visible sign of God’s presence with his people, though I do worry about those who only expect to meet him there)

Fourth tendency: move away from the parish church towards the gathered congregation
Fourth principle: value and support the concept of the parish church.

This last is, he contends, his underlying principle throughout the book. The church should be there for everyone so that we avoid a situation in which “Ministry is assimilated to mission and those who do not attend but think of themselves as Christians will ask the Church for bread and receive none”

Of course, my reaction to that last scenario is “God forbid”…but while I believe with every fibre of my being that the church exists to serve God in all his children, I believe too that an encounter with God should elicit some response in us, and that it is not unreasonable to expect that response to be articulated within some sort of Christian community. What I'm wondering now,though, is whether it is either significant or alarming that I seem to be less woolly in my liberalism as the months in full time ministry whizz past. Have I bought into the system, or are elements of the system still "right" however startling this realisation may be?

If necessary, use words...

Spent the morning at a supervision with my vicar. Gloucester curates have the benefit of a training manual, "The First Four Years", which aims to help us join the dots between what we are doing in our parishes and the way that this should equip us for future ministry. At the end of the book there's a sort of profiling exercise, which looks at the main areas of ministry, divided into subsections, and invites you to grade them according to competence. The theory is that this happens at the beginning of each year, areas for action are highlighted, and the whole thing is revisited at the start of the next year. However, life being real and earnest, things haven't actually worked out quite like that, so we're still working our way through these rather substantial topics, and today it was "Mission and Evangelism".
This has been something that has become very immediate and real for me in the past year, as I realise the full implications of the new context in which we live and work. To state the obvious, things are quite different in a suburban parish with a large proportion of young families, as opposed to a small Cotswold village with a settled population, most of whom you know fairly well. M. and I had a helpful and ( I hope) productive discussion, and identified some points for the future. However we foundered when we came to the question about "ability to present the Gospel to those of little or no church background".
We both agreed that relationship was very important...we felt that we had to earn the right to share the Gospel, if we wanted it to be received positively. Neither of us felt really confident that we were ready "constantly to give an account of the hope that is in us", though when pressed, we could each see that we were able to use our own faith stories to encourage others to encounter God. St Francis's words "Preach the Gospel. If necessary use words" seemed far more in keeping with our preferred styles, though we agreed that there was a danger that this would be a cop-out. After all, the Anglican Church has often tended to engage optimistically in social action and community work without proclaiming the Gospel, in the hopes that people might somehow work out the motivation from the action. History suggests that this is not entirely successful....I just wish I'd read ron's post on the subject earlier. As part of our efforts to convince the congregation that ministry is something we all do together, and not a peculiar habit of consenting adult clergy, I've been preaching about the universal Christian calling to be God-bearers to the world...and now he has tied up the ends beautifully for me. Listen to this bit, and then make sure you go and read the rest.
"The early disciples had little ritual but a mighty realization. They went out not remembering Christ, but experiencing him. He was not a mere fair and beautiful story to remember with gratitude - he was a living, redemptive, actual presence then and there. They went out with the joyous and grateful cry, "Christ lives in me!" The Jesus of history had become the Christ of experience.
Some have suggested that the early Christians conquered the pagan world because they out-thought, out-lived and out-died the pagans. But that was not enough: they out-experienced them. Without that they would have lacked the vital glow.
We cannot merely talk about Christ - we must bring him. He must be a living vital reality - closer than breathing and nearer than hands and feet. We must be "God-bearers."

As for me, I came home to the sort of email that makes me realise that if I'm a walking book at all, then it's definitely not so much gospel as rather bad news. I've managed to upset a friend even as I tried to help, so I would really value prayers as I try to put things right.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Our duty and our joy

This was the title of an excellent CME presentation yesterday dealing with the Church’s attitudes to disability, which Mark has already covered on his blog. I came worrying that it would be all ramps and loop systems (which, though excellent in themselves are unlikely to be anything over which I have huge control, specially in my current context) but my fears were groundless. Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t get One Pedestrian out of my mind as I know that many of our well-intentioned thoughts and fumblings towards a theology of disability would probably seem deeply unsatisfactory from her perspective. On my own doorstep, I was disturbed by the realisation that our church, while not bad at the physical practicalities of access, was probably not yet ready to welcome anyone who fails to conform to perceived norms of appropriate behaviour during worship. Heck, they find it hard enough when the Curate forgets that they prefer to kneel for the Eucharistic Prayer! By the end of the day, I found myself praying that God would, at top speed, send us a family with learning disabilities to challenge us to move beyond our comfort zone.

I was inspired , too, to revisit the work of John Hull, who had spoken to us during ordination training. He has much to say about the negative images of blindness prevalent in the Bible, and startled us with his announcement that he neither expected nor longed to recover his sight in heaven. His website is full of challenging stuff…I wanted to weep when I read
When I studied the New Testament as a sighted person, it did not occur to me that you, Jesus, were yourself sighted. We were in the same world, but it did not occur to me that being sighted was a world. I thought that things were just like that. When I became blind, then I realised that blindness is a world, and that the sighted condition also generates a distinctive experience and can be called a world. Now I find, Jesus, that I am in one world and you are in another.
(John Hull: Open Letter from a blind disciple to a sighted Saviour)
By inhabiting a specific culture, Jesus seems to have become trapped by its particular constraints. Hull contrasts his attitude to the blind (and, by extension, to others with disabilities) with his attitude to women (not among the 12, but nonetheless affirmed and given the joyous task of witnessing the resurrection) and other outsiders…tax collectors and sinners. The blind, deaf and lame are the recipients of ministry but not included among the disciples until they are healed. It seems almost as if Jesus had bought into the medical model of response, which sees disability as a problem to be fixed, rather than an essential part of the identity of the blind or deaf person….
So the blind disciple comments
On an individual basis you are sensitive and tactful towards blind people, and while acknowledging their condition of economic deprivation, you insist upon their inclusion. Nevertheless, you did not include a blind person in your closest circle. In your presence blind people felt the hope and discovered the reality of the restoration of sight but you did not offer to blind people courage and acceptance in their blindness. You would have led me by the hand out of blindness but you would not have been my companion during my blindness.
(Hull: source above)

I'm left wondering if there are disabilities and degrees of damage so extreme that it is only through healing that the person can truly be freed to be themselves? I cannot presume to answer that...Hull arrives at a resolution when he understands that Jesus too experienced blindness in his last hours. Blindfolded by the soldiers who whipped him, plunged into the great darkness that filled his time on the cross, he shared even this element of the human condition. Meanwhile, Urban Army quotes Mother Teresa, anxious that we should avoid giving
“people a broken Christ, a lame Christ, a crooked Christ deformed by you”. In the light of Hull's views, this could open a whole new chapter in the discussions....

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Building Dreams.

One way and another, architecture has featured quite heavily in my thoughts this week. Tuesday revealed a huge gap between clergy and PCC understandings of what our church building says about our theology...or perhaps it's more a question of the gap looming between our theology and theirs. Then rhys aired the topic , inspiring some rather good thoughts about butresses and the ways in which pillars may not always be totally supportive. Our church, you see, has so many pillars, both literal and metaphorical, that it's impossible to tell which ones are useful to hold the roof up and which simply block your view! Dave had some entertaining insights too, after attending a training day on the future shape of the Anglican parish. Clearly, there is something in the air...
Thursday saw me visiting our link parish of St John's, Ladywood in Birmingham, where re-ordering has certainly said some pretty radical things about being church in that community. When the current incumbent arrived there, the church was under threat of closure and he and his curate of 15 years have done some amazing work in creating an arts and community centre in the body of the church. When we visited on Thursday the place was buzzing with primary school children visiting an exhibition of World War 2 memorabilia "Ladywood at War", and there is no doubt of its value as a community space. My only reservation (which feels rather churlish under the circumstances) would be that though the church is open when there are exhibitions running, it's not possible to leave it open as a place of prayer at other times, and when there are events, finding peace and space to pray would be distinctly challenging. So in some ways it remains a "Sundays only" church, as far as connecting with God directly is concerned.
In contrast, yesterday saw me in Hereford, where the St Mary's Choir were singing Evensong at the Cathedral. We arrived in time to explore, and I was treated to a delicious lunch at the cafe@allsaints, which occupies the rear of the medieval church of All Saints. Thanks to clever use of split levels, the "church" element of this project had far more integrity...The cafe part is raised (with an additional gallery for extra tables) so that you can sit with your salad and look into the church...but though this might sound odd it really works, and there was no feeling of embarrassment or compromise in pausing for prayer after lunch. I loved it...definitely on my short-list of dream churches, though I know precisely nothing about any other feature of parish life!
Maggi had good things to say about reordering at Michaelhouse, Cambridge after all that, when presented with Isaiah 6 as the text to preach from tonight, how could I resist discussing the relationship between the Old Testament vision of God, awe-inspiring and remote, and His architectural seclusion in the holy of holies? I took a deep breath and suggested that much of our architecture and our style of worship here presented the same image, of an inaccessible deity, with whom no connection is actually possible. He is honoured in beautiful liturgy, but kept safely behind the altar rails, to be approached by only a few of those who come to worship.
"But", I went on,
"something happens for Isaiah that speaks of something amazing for us too. That burning coal which the seraph brings to him from the altar symbolises so much, because it represents God’s willingness to engage with us, despite all our inadequacy. It is a sign not only of our cleansing but of our commissioning.
Suddenly we are in a new kind of relationship for God has reached out to us and made us fit for his purpose.
“Your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out”
The whole Bible is full of this kind of divine initiative, realised supremely, of course, in the coming of Jesus. We remain dust and ashes, yes, but we are dust and ashes so precious in God’s sight that he sends his Son to transform us, to remove our guilt and blot out our sin.
We remember that when Jesus died, the veil in the Temple split in two, as a sign that God was no longer “in light inaccessible, hid from our eyes”. The God we know in Jesus is both eternal and unchanging, and also a God who suffers with and for the world he loves so much, a God constantly at work bringing about its transformation."

Though it felt quite brave, speaking these thoughts aloud, they were not accompanied by any noticeable earthquake....So it would appear that the building is destined to remain standing for tbe moment at least, and I'll go back to seeing visions and dreaming dreams.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Tidying the study

On Wednesday, the Bishop compared the rather cluttered altars he often meets around the diocese with "the study on a bad day".
Just now I walked into my study and realised it bore an uncanny and depressing resemblance to the high altar at St M's at the Sunday Eucharist.
So I guess I can postpone sermon prep yet again by settling down to clear the decks. Maybe.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Another day, another Bishop!

Yesterday was supposed to be my day off, but instead I found myself departing at top speed (essential if like me you never leave for anywhere until you’re actually supposed to arrive) for our diocesan Bishop’s home. He’d invited our cohort* of deacons for a training morning on celebrating the Eucharist, beginning with the service itself, in his chapel. Note to anyone listening: when I grow up, I want a worship space exactly like that...but without the job, please.

Since he's definitely no slouch where liturgy is concerned (or in any other area, from what I can deduce) this was a real treat and a fantastic antidote to a week in which my vicar and I encountered some rather difficult attitudes to the conduct of worship here. It also reminded me how very much I love being taught by an enthusiast who is so generous with his knowledge. Indeed, when I whinged to him about some of our liturgical issues, he even suggested that he might come and give the parish a teaching day on the Eucharist before we’re too much older. Good, eh? I’m soo so glad to be ordained in this diocese at this time. :-)

To compensate for rather a churchy day off (the afternoon was taken up with a Social Responsiblity session on Asylum Seekers, an issue that needs a post of its own), I met up with a girl friend for a Thai meal at Siam Smile last night. Despite living only a few miles apart, we'd not seen each other for months so this was just the job, and the food was fab, with "one chilli" rating on a good variety of dishes for wimps such as I. Excellent day and happy Curate.

*Collective noun, anyone?? There must be something, surely...

Monday, May 16, 2005

Comments on Comments

Seem almost to deserve a post in themselves...though perhaps I'm just being daft?
Anyway, in response to your comments on A Rash Undertaking and in no particular order...

It's OK, Caroline . It's not the drugs! I promise nobody would ever accuse you of making sensible comments, honestly :-)

re paranoia (Tony and Mark)...quite enough has been happening to one blog friend as a result of unexpected visitors from work to her blog to make me ultra cautious for a while at least. But I'd already come clean about the blog in my essay to the Bishops, in the hope that this would prevent my lapsing into indiscretion. Friendly policing very welcome, though.
Ooh...and Mark, +J did say he would ask my vicar about my joining all ye fresh expressions types:I'm really hoping that happens.

As to the other Caroline and her sensible comment...yes, I think you're right, though I'm not sure that the current book is inspiring me to do anything different. This is a nightmare week, though, so I'm unlikely to get much chance to find out. No time, no here I am, blogging. Ah well, will keep you posted.

Pentecost - too late to grid.

The alarm went early yesterday, but I didn’t much mind as it was the most beautiful morning….periwinkle blue sky, chestnut candles blazing all over Charlton Kings and birds doing their best to wake the long departed in the churchyard as I made my way up to the 8.00 Eucharist. It was a morning full of possibilities.
Rather belatedly, we’d decided that I should learn how to set the Table for the Eucharist. With such a noble army of servers at St Mary’s, it’s not a regular part of the job here, but I’m well aware that it’s now or never for learning these basic skills of vicaring. It gave me an interesting new perspective on the service and underlined how very anxious some of our servers are. Very sad. With some surprise, I found myself praying my socks off for the Holy Spirit to arrive in force and sweep the whole lot of us off our feet. I’ve never experienced charismatic worship, but even I with my full crop of catholic prejudices know that there are times when it would do us all a power of good to have a Power of Good arrive.

Sadly, this wasn’t a day for obvious answers to prayer, though, but rather an ecclesiastical assault-course. I survived a full Sung Eucharist with Procession, a Youth Group lunch for Christian Aid, a Churches Together Pentecost Party and even Choral Evensong (for which I did indeed complete the sermon in the very nick of time) with a growing sense of deflation. Rather grumpily I blacked out the parish centre for my session with the youth group, wobbling precariously on a table to reach the velux windows and wondering why I was bothering.

Then two things happened.
First, Chris, of the late lamented know:follow blog just happened to drop in as he was passing…reminding me that not only is there a whole world out there beyond Charlton Kings but that God has introduced me to all sorts of wonderful people in it.
Next, the youth group session actually worked. I’d not tried a guided meditation with them before, but they seemed receptive as they sat in the dark, around my Pentecost fire*, and let me lead them through the events of that memorable day in Jerusalem. Later, I gave them space, and some cut out "flames" and invited them to dream their dreams and God’s dreams for the world.
I ran the session four times, for groups of six, and all of them were different, and all valuable. Our older youth group is currently split between those who come largely for the football and those (mainly choristers and their friends) who are more willing to engage in discussion, take part in community projects, and generally challenge the image of the Yoof of Today. But, as I learned through Into the Wilderness and the Maundy Watch, I can’t make any assumptions about which kids will more readily become still before God.
My short term dream for the group, is a trip to Taize next year. I suspect my family will see this as “work”, but for me the time spent with the young people last night was a badly needed restorative and their company in the silence a real gift from God.

*btw, in case you’re interested, (and with deep gratitude for all your suggestions) , I finally opted for the no-tech variation approach to the flames of the Spirit…lots of tea lights in a sand-filled glass bowl, which I wrapped round with a sort of crown of orange crepe paper. It sounds naff, I know, but actually looked remarkably effective, since the flames flickered constantly. It would have been even better if I’d remembered that a black-out might present me with problems when it came to reading my script…but heck, if I don’t know the story of the coming of the Spirit by now I’m definitely in the wrong job ;-)

Saturday, May 14, 2005


A simple, non techie means of creating a flame or flame effect, for a brief "talk spot" for the youth group tomorrow night...Maggi's experiences have convinced me that a last minute flash of brilliance is unlikely (though of course a literal "flash of brilliance" is almost exactly what I'm after) but I would be very glad of any ideas for some sort of visual focus. The plan is to take the kids through a guided visualisation of the coming of the Holy Spirit, including Peter's use of the Joel passage, give them time to reflect (in the dark, looking at the flames?) and then hope for a discussion or creative response to what God's dreams for the world and the Church might be. I know I ought to have planned this years ago, but I have procrastination down to the finest of arts, and still have a sermon or two to complete as well. Actually, "complete" is a euphemism. Make that "write". Which is of course why I am blogging. The sermon I should write, I do not write, while the blog I should avoid, I visit constantly. Who said that?

A rash undertaking

I saw the Bishop yesterday for my pre-priesting interview. Since the last major conversation I'd had with him (before my first selection conference, back in the mists of time) had been so gruelling that I'd needed to lie down for the rest of the day, I approached this with a fair degree of trepidation. In fact, the whole experience was entirely benign. My vicar, bless him, had written a very smiley report and since +John is interested in "fresh expressions" he was keen on my continuing to dabble gently and happy to talk about the stuff that excites me. All good, then.
But we did talk a bit about my ENFP lack of focus...the seventeen books on the go at any one time...the piles of half finished projects (I once did the Belbin test, and my score as a "completer/finisher" was a large negative number) and the way this can add to sense of panic that I'm achieving nothing. We agreed that it might be a good discipline to try and write something about each book I finish, and that this 'ere blog was probably the best place for it. So, since I've promised + John, I guess I'd better try. I just hope it doesn't make both reading and blogging feel like joyless, dutiful exercises...Watch this space. I can guarantee not to make this solely a book review blog, though, that's for sure.
Oh, and if anyone wanted to know, I got the distinct impression that he's happy for me to be priested :-) :-)

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Another Planet (well, Cambridgeshire, anyway)

Back home again after my East Anglian jaunt...and I had such a lovely time. Maggi is a wonderful hostess (no surprises there, then...but I'm glad to report that chocolate with chillies is infinitely more pleasurable than it sounds), who gave me a lovely spoily evening. So good to chat without worrying about the impact on our phone bills. The worship she'd put together for the On Another Planet day was splendid too. Perhaps if we ask her very nicely, she'll post it on her blog :-). It was based on Elijah's interlude in the wilderness, - time out to eat, drink and sleep,and to be loved by God. Maggi has a splendid giant wineglass, which holds a full bottle...and we were invited to drink from it, and to help ourselves to brioche and to share with others. I loved that said so much about God's extravagent generosity, in contrast to our inhibited tendency to only accept sad little wizened fragments of his grace.

She, Jonny, Paul and Nick (who doesn't seem to have a webpage to call his own, unless you count his high powered job for the Diocese of London) gave us lots to think about...Thanks to the many hours I've spent trawling the blogosphere, I was comfortably familiar with much of the info being shared, though I'd guess there was a wide range of experience among the audience, including a proportion who would indeed have seen emerging (or fresh?) expressions of church as life on another planet. Nick's "Post modernity for duffers" session was extremely entertaining; I may yet get the hang of it.There was some good discussion about appropriate leadership for emerging congregations, and the training such leaders might require and a range of responses to the question of what makes church to be church. Now all I need is a bit of time to process what I heard, and maybe to read some of my acquisitions from the 10% off bookstall. I've bought soo many books in the past few months, it really is getting slightly scary. (Not sure I'm too impressed by the current one Secular Lives, Sacred Hearts but I'll plough through to the end before subjecting it to the withering judgement of the curate :-))

From Cambridge, I drove to the second loveliest city in East Anglia, where one of my very favourite godsons and his family welcomed me with open arms. His mum and I have been friends since we were 13 and time apart never seems to interrupt our friendship. We've done first boyfriends, births, marriages and deaths together and there are no corners of my life I wouldn't welcome her into. Had another happy evening, giggling over old memories (A. is one of my few close friends who really knew my parents) and comparing notes on the trials of the UCAS system and our worries about A levels, Gap years and the like...One way and another, it felt as if our conversations hadn't moved on that much over the years!

Rapturous welcome from the offspring when I reached school this afternoon, and it's clearly my week to be pampered, as L. has just summoned me to eat the supper she's prepared. I could get to like this....

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Time well spent

Do you remember when weekends were a time you spent doing things just for you and/or your family? It seems ages since that has been part of life for us...before ordination, there was Readering, and the children have always had busy busy lives, so the idea of time out hasn't really applied for at least the last 10 years. This weekend, though, there seemed to be rather more opportunities just to do happy things, and I did enjoy it.
My good friend Humble Secretary was staying here on Friday night, which was an excuse for a wonderfully lazy and pleasing Saturday. If you find yourself in Winchcombe, then The Plaisterer's Arms do a very good line in baguettes, and some brilliant banter in the bar too, and the drive back through piercingly green Cotswold valleys was pretty breathtaking too.
Then today I was sent on a research mission to Kids Praise at Thornbury
This was a blissful experience: a service which did what it said on the can, in that it was stuffed with under 9s all having the time of their lives singing, and dancing and praising God. I took that hardened cynic, my older son with me, and he too came out positively smiley: the enthusiasm of those children reminded me of just how wonderful worship can be, even in the parish church.
From Thornbury, we headed south to Bristol to spend time with our favourite non- pedestrian, Caroline. She and G have a splendidly subversive relationship, which involves frequent wind ups of the neurotic Kathryn...but we all know our roles and play along beautifully...and we even got to watch Dr Who this time as well.
Excellent to manage a sustained conversation with G on the way there and back, as well: the trouble with a house full of articulate and opinionated people is that it's too easy never to hear each other at all. I guess the infant J may have a point.
Safely home, I realised that tomorrow is finally 9th May...which has had a smiley red ring round it in the diary for a while, as I'm off to Cambridge to see Maggi and sit at her feet, plus those of Jonny and one or two others who are running a Praxis day "On Another Planet"..Very excited. Full details on my return, but too busy smiling for now :-)

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Silly signs

from my day off
"No unauthorised elvering...."


"This centre will be closed on Thursday 5th May due to the General Election and Table Tennis Tournament"

So now we know...all this back and forth exchange of insults is in fact because they think they are playing ping-pong.
Explains alot.

Great Expectations?

Alot of things have come together in the past week or so to focus my thoughts on aspirations versus reality...For one thing, I had that wretched essay to write for the Bishop "Reflections on the Diaconal Year and Expectations of Priesthood"...It's that "E" word, isn't it? Here in this parish there is quite a high view of priesthood, such that I can almost see the pedestal under construction as some members of the congregation view my approaching priesting (others, of course, are busy building the bonfire which heretics deserve ;-) ). I hate to disappoint them, but there's no way that I will become the work of finished holiness that some seem to anticipate, this side of eternity,however much Grace is poured upon me on 2nd July!
But I wouldn't be here at all if I didn't have certain aspirations, would I?
To be an effective (oh what does that word mean?) faithful minister of the Gospel in this try to live, however falteringly, as a "walking Sacrament"...oh, I've plenty of aspirations, as well as a pretty good sense of the rather messy reality.
Now Preacher Mom is considering her life as a series of "let's pretend" games, in which she dons a series of masks, and manages to live up to her appointed roles, despite feeling rather different inside. And I know that I do that too...
Does this make me dishonest or brave? Is it hypocrisy to try to live up to one's aspirations, while knowing that the inner reality is still very different. I've tended to cling to some words which I read a long long time ago. I think they may be Augustine, but nobody has ever been able to confirm this
"Not what thou art, nor what thou hast been, but what thou would'st be, beholdest God in his mercy"
That feels like permission to aspire to much, and to try to hold together that sense of huge hopes and chaotic reality. In quite another context, someone quoted Catherine of Siena to me last week
"You are not called to perfection, but to infinite desire..."
I like that. It means I can go on dreaming...

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Blogging as therapy?

Recently there's been a bit of discussion about the purpose of blogging (always an issue for those like myself who are very aware that we've nothing of startling novelty or brilliance to share). Both Gordon and Caroline R had got me thinking, so when I finally got round to reading last week's stuff from the Henri Nouwen Society I was rather excited to read this. Oddly enough, if I'd been up to speed, I should have read this last Tuesday...which, you may remember, was remarkable for rather alot of different events. In the spirit of Nouwen, I can report that I did find the whole muddly experience far more meaningful having blogged about it than I did while living it...

Writing to Save the Day

Writing can be a true spiritual discipline. Writing can help
us to concentrate, to get in touch with the deeper stirrings
of our hearts, to clarify our minds, to process confusing
emotions, to reflect on our experiences, to give artistic
expression to what we are living, and to store significant
events in our memories. Writing can also be good for others
who might read what we write.

Quite often a difficult, painful, or frustrating day can be
"redeemed" by writing about it. By writing we can claim what
we have lived and thus integrate it more fully into our
journeys. Then writing can become lifesaving for us and
sometimes for others too.

Well, reading that made me feel better anyway. Perhaps it's not purely self-indulgence :-)