Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Really shouldn't be blogging...

when there is sooo much to do, but that's never stopped me yet.
I'm still purring gently from Sunday morning, - the most wonderful Advent Eucharist, which all the juniors from last night's sleep-over attended, bringing the youth leaders with them, of course. Just before I was priested, the senior YL spoke very honestly to me about his problems with the ordination of women (he actually worships in a more traditional catholic parish than St M's, which has firmly set its face against women's ministry) . It was a good conversation, with lots of respect shown on both sides, and I've been delighted when he has come to me for a blessing from time to time in the past few months. On Sunday I celebrated at the 10.00, - source of blessing in itself, but magnified so many times when T accepted the Sacrament from my hands.
Our final hymn was "Lo, he comes with clouds descending..." which I love at any time...standing on the chancel steps, preparing to give the blessing, I was engulfed in the wonderful sound of the choir behind me soaring into a descant while the congregation were also giving their all. It doesn't get much better than that.
That night we had the Advent Carol service...a church in darkness, lit gradually as the procession wound its way up and down side aisles, into the chapel, and finally reached the sanctuary. Ingenious wooden frames emerge from the deepest recesses of the vestry to encircle our multitudinous pillars (normally the bane of my life, as they prevent anyone from seeing anything in much of the church) and each holds 8 candles, so by the end we really are ablaze with light. When the service ended, the vicar and I stood at the open west door, looking back into the church while the organist played "Wachet Auf" and it was really and truly pretty perfect. Candle light suits St M's down to the ground...the busy, crowded nature of the building disappears into the shadows, and you're left to simply enjoy the sense of history and the presence of God's silent darkness.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

A day of extremes.

Church Christmas Market this morning,- an event that I struggle with, as rather than pulling together for a single cause, we invite the various parish groups to each take a stall and compete with each other for the limited purses of the charity shopper in Charlton Kings. However, it was a predictably excellent opportunity to connect with lots of people, and I did win a bottle on the ChurchWardens' stall (proceeds to "Outward Giving") so mustn't grumble (anyway, last week used up my grumble quotient for several months, I'm sure).

Afternoon of feverish preparation, as the junior youth group sleep over, which had been threatened with cancellation due to lack of interest, was miraculously revived at the 11th hour, and I'd agreed to try out some of the stations from my imminent Advent labyrinth here. It was the first time I'd tried any sort of alt. worship with this group, whose ages range from 9 to 13, and my heart sank when they arrived, hyped up beyond belief...HOW would it be possible to help them derive anything of real value from the labyrinth? They were intent on wild games, and wilder back-chat.
I'd forgotten God, of course...
Here are some of their comments from the visitors' book

"to try and behave for tonight made us think about who we are and why we are here"

"I prayed for the first time in a while. Thank you"

"I found that praying is quite relaxing"

"It makes you let your feelings out. It opens your mind and makes you think and wonder. It's very peaceful and quiet. As soon as I walked into the room, I felt as if someone cleared my mind out and calmed me down alot. Thank you."

"The labyrinth told me alot about God, the atmosphere was calm and peaceful and relaxing. I felt as though God had taken me to a world of peace, and no one was suffering"

"I have been thinking about how bad the world actually is, and how we ourselves and God can and will someday make it alot better"

Apart from the stunning comments, the other big success of the evening for me was adapting an idea from Jonny's book, as I invited the kids to take a glowstar from the sacred space at the centre of the labyrinth, and place it in a tray of compost, as they made a personal undertaking to do one thing to make a difference, to "let their lights shine...". In the candlelit dimness of the labyrinth, the stars looked pretty pathetic...reminiscent of the way our best efforts seem to have very little impact in our messy, hurting world,- but before I came home, I gave the stars a good dose of light, and then took the earth tray downstairs, turned off the lights once more, and enjoyed their pleasure in the light that shone in the darkness.
"You see" I told them "You may be making far more difference than you think"

A quick plug

For those who aren't actually contributors to the RevGals book, and have resisted my inept efforts to get a real live copy to you, there is now a companion website here
We will post each day's reflection there, and will also have a PayPal button (soon!) so that donations can be taken for the hurricane Katrina appeal.
I'm hoping to train myself so that I visit there and read the day's reflection and pray the prayer before I do anything else on my computer...If I manage that, it will be the nearest thing to a successful Advent discipline ever!

The waiting time

Reverend Mommy, God bless her, is embarking on a series of Advent hymns and today's offering is The Cherry Tree Carol. This transported me unexpectedly across nearly 3 decades, to my first Advent Carol Service at the independent (boys') school where I spent my 6th form years. The Director of Music, John Walker had been a choral scholar at King's Cambridge, and was determined that his choristers at Eastbourne should aspire to the same excellence in all things, and his Advent Carol services were legendary. Being a humble girl,(though one who finally made it to Head Chorister,- unthinkable when I arrived) this was my first prolonged exposure to the English Choral Tradition, and I was utterly overwhelmed.
On Advent Sunday we stood at the back of a borrowed church (these services were always way too big for the school chapel) waiting in silent darkness until from nowhere a voice rang out, reaching across the centuries
"I look from afar, and lo, I see the power of God coming, and a cloud covering the whole earth. Go ye out to meet him and say
Tell us, art thou he that should come to reign over thy people, Israel?"
Just typing those words sends tingles down my spine...it was here that I first fell in love with Advent, here that I first realised something about the way liturgy makes the eternal present. It was in singing my way through the Festivals here that they took root in my heart and soul too.
John was an unlikely evangelist (aren't they always?)- a Pickwickian figure with a repertoire of bawdy jokes and a fondness for good food and strong drink- but somehow, singing in his choir I learned more about worship and about the reality of God in the midst of it than I'd ever imagined. Years later, at my Selection conference, I was asked how I would cope with worship in contexts that were less than perfect. I floundered for a minute, wondering why the question had been asked since I was living and worshipping in a village where "make do and mend" was the order of the day in most things.Then I remembered the passion with which John ensured that, whatever our abilities, only the best we could offer would really do. That sense of aspiration remains strong,- for my heart was filled with longing for something just beyond our reach, something that lies at the heart of Advent as we wait in the darkness for the Light to come.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Time for a little heaning...

This has been week of such peculiarly staggering non- achievements that it truly almost deserves a post of its own. So, while our transatlantic friends are giving thanks, here is an all too British chronicle of wasted time.
Monday…not too bad. Meeting over-ran to prevent hoped-for visit to primary school to join in RE lesson,-and Kindergarten infant decided that she couldn't wait for the loo while she was sitting on my lap (yes, I know - it was rather yukky, actually) but other than that...
Tuesday….good staff meeting (they do happen, honestly, because my vicar is one of the wonders of the western world) but then I spent ALL DAY gazing at a blank screen and failing to write a Christingle service, stopping only to attend a particularly uninspiring “roadshow” in the evening for clergy and Church Wardens.
This was also the day on which I discovered that I’d seriously mucked up my order for
A Light Blazes…the first consignment, of 10 copies, was despatched at the beginning of November, but has yet to arrive. The second emergency top-up of 6, for which I paid the express postage rate so that all the congregation who had ordered one would definitely be sorted by Advent 1 turned out to be an order of 1 copy…for which I’ve paid postage equivalent to twice the value of the book. Nothing that Lulu, helpful as they are, can do about this. Thanksgiving holiday means that even if I'd reordered then and there, the extra books would not be likely to arrive before the end of next week at the earliest…and goodness only knows where the others are. Grrrrrrrrrr. Lots of time online trying to sort this out- dismal failure.
Wednesday….day off! Caught the early coach to London to meet dear school friend at the National Theatre…except that she was ill in Tunbridge Wells, and the message she had left on an ansaphone to warn me of this was on my old phone number (goodness knows who will have got that…it was reassigned some months after we moved!). Never mind, it only took me 45 minutes to decide that something was definitely wrong, after which I had a lovely walk down the Thames to see Rachel Whiteread’s Embankment at Tate Modern, and seriously considered paying £9 for a tour of Shakespeare’s Globe,- but frugality won out. Now, of course, I wish I had.
Thursday….Birthday of beloved TeenWonder, who entered the world in the dark of a freezing morning 16 years ago. He is not the easiest person in the world to buy gifts for, so I was very pleased that I’d managed to bid successfully for a bargain piccolo on eBay, as he’s now playing piccolo as well as 1st flute in the school orchestra, and we’re all rather taken by the instrument’s diminutive charm. Trouble is, eBay piccolo is not quite right. This may well be sortable by flute teacher on Tuesday, but meanwhile, there is a 7 days return policy in place, and anyway, it’s his BIRTHDAY for heaven’s sake, and I’d like something to go right for him! He is, after all, my favourite 16 year old on the whole planet.
Still, I did get the Christingle service largely worked out in the gap after Little Fishes, managed to visit someone who really was rather glad of it…and even if the new Harry Potter film is less than wonderful, at least we saw it en famille, so perhaps there is hope.
Today, apart from the fact that the church notice-board (one of those affairs that is really a glazed cabinet) was frozen shut when I tackled it at 8.00 this morn, and that I amused the local youth hugely by attempting to wish Darling Daughter a good day as she rushed past for her bus to work (failing to notice headphones, which rendered her deaf and oblivious), I have finally managed one thing worth writing about.
I celebrated the Eucharist.
And it was, despite all my generalised grumps and specific failures, utterly wonderful.
As I broke the bread, the reality of my own responsibility for Christ’s death was terribly real…and then, as He always does, He came and turned that guilt and brokenness into the route to hope and transformation.
Thank you.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Churches together? - a few more thoughts.

During the grim and grisly business of selection for ordained ministry, I took part in a group exercise that involved discussions on the problems besetting ecumenical relationships in a fictional town called "Hardeley". Predictably, we spent alot of time, giggling about possible names for the ecumenical initiative. Was it to be the "Hardeley Christian Council" or "Hardeley Together"? Many a true word, it appears...

Thanks for the comments below...I was specially hoping you'd post something, Mark, as I knew that you had that ecumenical Confirmation happening. Sounds as if it worked really well (in contrast to an "ecumenical Confirmation" that my vicar remembered from his last diocese, where the only unity was in the time and place of the service, with Anglicans being confirmed by the Bishop, and Methodists by their district superintendent,- so that it spoke, loud and clear, of insurmountable barriers. How wonderful that the Methodist congregation were represented despite the absence of Methodist candidates. Presumably the confirmation prep allowed at least some conversation about potential differences in theology??
I've just had a long conversation with my vicar, who shares my frustration that we seem content here to enjoy superficial unity without ever engaging with the areas that divide us.
Tom, do you think, that such denominational differences will come to be seen as a luxury we cannot afford? If so, where does one go with (e.g.) something as central as an understanding of Baptism, where resolution looks difficult (though of course there are already a huge range of heterogenous views within (even!) the C of E).
Here in Ch K, St M's stands only a couple of minutes walk from the Baptist Church, which has ambitious and exciting redevelopment plans to create a huge new church centre ... It would be so wonderful to feel that a project of that kind could work for the benefit of the whole community, and be an expression of the ministry of all the churches...but my sad suspicion is that there will simply be anxiety, perhaps a measure of envy, and then a settling down again to plough our parallel furrows, with no greater engagement than before. It seems to me that until we dare to have the conversations, and establish what are our "life or death" issues, we're not going to move anywhere. Hardly together, indeed...

Monday, November 21, 2005

Ecumenism…theory and practice

Yesterday’s CME consisted of a study day on The Anglican/Methodist Covenant, led by the rather eminent ecumenist Paul Avis. Though we’d all been given the relevant texts to read in advance, I clearly wasn’t the only one there whose preparation had been on the skimpy side….perhaps an indication of the general level of interest in the topic.
Here in Ch Kings, there is no obvious Methodist presence…our local ecumenical links are with Baptists, RCs and and Independent Anglican Fellowship, so I was one of many there who had to say that the Covenant had had very little impact on their daily lives. But to be authentic, by its very nature a Covenant should affect every aspect of life for those involved…and as members of a church in covenant, this means us. Beneath the surface of the day, there was a strong sense from many there that all this focus on the theory of ecumenism was unhelpful…what really mattered was what was happening at grass roots level, with local Christian communities united in the love of their Lord.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? -, and in the evening I went to the annual Charlton Kings Churches Songs of Praise service, a splendid example of this approach in action. Here we have no formal local ecumenical partnerships, nor are we formally “Churches Together in Charlton Kings” but there is great pride locally in the things that we do together. These range from running "The Vine" fair trade coffee shop, organising a walk of witness on Good Friday, and a bi-annual Pentecost Party for the whole community, to forming the nucleus of the Community Players, whose productions often revolve around a “spiritual” theme. Clearly, these are all Good Things in themselves, and I’m told that Charlton Kings is held up in the diocese as an example of good ecumenism. We all enjoy our friendships between the churches, - even though our monthly ministers’ lunch isn’t always quite as open and honest as we’d all like it to be, so looking at ecumenism “from the grass roots”, you’d be hard put to it to fault anything that goes on here…

However, I do sometimes wonder if this is no more than a rather complex and demanding exercise in papering over the cracks. As far as I know, there has never been a real opportunity for us to consider the things that divide us, to work out what it really means to be church in each denomination, and to reflect on whether God is calling us to change our natures for the sake of a greater visible unity.The only time when theology was allowed to surface at all, during our ecumenical Alpha Course in the autumn of last year, when there was huge discomfort as we recognised that we really weren’t simply divided by denominational accident. We all backed off from these discoveries (which shouldn’t, after all, have been news to anyone there!) and reverted to our familiar celebration of the things that we can do together.
Much wiser, surely?
Ummm. No!
If we are serious about growing in unity with our fellow Christians, then we need to commit to a period of honest examination of the DNA of our respective churches and open discussion of our differences. This may, in the end, lead us to conclude that the amount of co-operation that we manage currently is actually the best we can do…and if that’s so, well and good. But we will at least know why we are as we are….and avoid the pitfalls of superficial fellowship without the essential theological support. So, I’m very glad of the accident that brought CME and Songs of Praise together on one day…for me, it was a paradigm of the way forward, as I’m sure we need both to do our theology and to love our neighbours if ecumenism is to be a living reality in our churches.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Exceptional Offices

There are days when you know for certain that this is the MOST WONDERFUL JOB IN THE WORLD. Today was one of them.
You see, this afternoon, Harriet had asked me to bless the"adoption" of her godmother….
H. is 5 now, and was baptised as a baby, with 2 lovely godmums and a godfather too.
She was very fond of all of them, and they of her (she is a rather shiney little girl, so I tend to agree with them) and was quite devastated when one of her godmothers became ill and more ill and finally, sadly, died.

H missed her a lot and when her baby brother came to St M’s for his baptism, she was a bit sad, so her mum and dad had a chat with me. Was there any way that she could have an extra godmother added, so that she would have 3 special people of her own, just as her brothers did??
I explained all the reasons why she couldn’t really have another godparent as such, as the baptism promises had been well and truly made already, and this was understood and caused no problems. But none of us could see any reason why she shouldn’t invite another adult to take on some of the godparent’s role, and it seemed to me that this was a relationship that God would delight to bless.

Fast forward to this afternoon in St David’s Chapel, the nearest thing we have to flexible space in the church. A group of 16 adults and children sat in a semi circle, watching H and her mum light a large candle, a sign of God’s presence with us. As the service went on, she lit a smaller light from it, to remember W, and we talked of how she is now with God, who is light and goodness and love.
Then came Harriet’s surprise. I thought she and her brother had prepared a poem to read but what actually happened, (and you’ll just have to believe me that this was in fact utterly wonderful, and not remotely cheesey) is that they sang, alternate verses, right the way through “Twinkle, twinkle little star”. When they finished the last verse, and the traveller in the dark was led safely home, there was the sort of holy silence that happens only rarely. 10 adults and 6 children all totally focussed and still.
Then, in response to my questions, M promised to
“pray for Harriet,
…..support and guide her through life
And help her to grow in knowledge and love of God?”
and together they lit two more candles, so that the chapel became a place of warmth and light. We prayed for them, and for each other, adapting prayers from the baptism service and also that wonderful prayer that I learned in childhood, before I realised I was learning anything, as it was written on my baptism certificate hanging over my bed
“Defend, oh Lord, your servant H with your heavenly grace…” We looked ahead to the day when in another special service H might come to make her baptism promises her own.

Harriet’s father read a version of her favourite Bible story, the parable of the lost sheep. I asked all the adults to think how much they love their own child, and the children to feel themselves loved and loved by their parents, and then reminded them that God, whose love outstrips anything we can ever imagine, loves each of them as if they were His only child.
For this afternoon, I think they believed me.
I blessed them in his name, and we went out a bitter November evening, and the sky was full of stars.

Procrastinator Confounded

OK, so it’s late November...
Last Sunday before Advent tomorrow.
Things revving up gently around me and , as regular readers will have correctly assumed, I’m only now beginning to acknowledge the imminent marathon. I picked up a couple of books of ideas for creative worship for Advent yesterday, which shows promise, I hope you’ll agree ... Maybe that sparked this off. Who knows?

It was 3.30 on a Sunday afternoon, and Longsuffering Husband was, for some reason, about to drive me to HopefulAmphibian’s church, where I’d been invited (don’t ask me why) to lead a Christingle service. Now, for any in blissful ignorance, all I’ll say is that Christingle is likely to attract scores of families who have no other contact with church. It involves children,oranges and candles so has a big "Ahhhh" factor, but there is always the challenge of presenting things so that just one or two of them entertain for a moment the possibility of a reality behind the flickering flames and “Away in a Manger”. Being me, I’d left it till the last moment to put my thoughts together, so was feverishly scouring the house for the essential ingredients for my talk …but we nevertheless seemed to feel we were leaving in time for a service due to begin at 4.00.
As we drove along, we chatted peacefully.

We reached the church, only to find it locked and dark.

Then the moment of appalled realisation.
We had come to St Mark’s Church in Cheltenham, somewhere quite different from Mark’s church, twenty minutes down the road.
It was 4.00 now.
I had let them all down.
Worse, we only had my husband’s mobile, so no helpful contact numbers…and I knew, anyway, that Mark was going to be at home with flu .
My stomach churned, and I broke out in a cold sweat as I realised that I was, in fact, the most irresponsible and incompetent curate in the whole of the Church of England.
Then, to my huge relief, I woke up…still in a state bordering terror...but gradually realising that it WASN’T TRUE. It HADN'T happened. I was safe after all!

However, it did make me wonder whether perhaps my habitual procrastination is causing me unsuspected angst. Maybe, when I’ve done the reading for tomorrow’s CME, I’ll have a think about our Christingle Service. It’s still 2 weeks away, but you never know.
Oh, and Mark, - if you ever, in years to come, consider inviting me to do anything…I should think again! Hope you recover quickly, anyway.

Friday, November 18, 2005

It's Friday, I'm NOT preaching this weekend (CME on Sunday, and an ecumenical Songs of Praise in the evening), Longsuffering Clockmaker has a house group meeting in the sitting room, and DarlingDaughter and two friends have taken over the kitchen...so I'm clearly allowed, even encouraged, to waste time on line tonight. As a result, I'm proud and happy to announce the following discovery...I'm not so much a Curate as a


To which race of Middle Earth do you belong?
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A spot of happy regression

RevGal's Friday Five: Kiddie Lit Edition

1) Earliest book you remember (read to you or by you)
I think it was probably Beatrix Potter's "The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck", which I have very clear memories of reading it with "Hat" (you try and articulate "Mrs White" at the age of 2) who looked after me while my mother was in hospital for some months around my 2nd birthday.

2) Picture Book you would like to climb into
For sheer beauty of pictures, anything illustrated by Brian Wildsmith. Perhaps I could go for his re-telling of the Christmas Story,- or is that being too obvious?

3) Favorite series of books (then or now)Close run thing, this....The Chronicles of Narnia may be a tad obvious as well, but have undoubtedly been a huge influence on almost every aspect of my life (not for nothing does DarlingDaughter's name begin with L...)while I love, love love
Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series. Or what about Lucy M. Boston's Green Knowe books?? This is so hard.

4) Character you would most like to meet
How to choose? I would love to have tea with Mr Tumnus,- but what about Lucinda from Roller Skates? or Gandalf? or even Mr Toad....I'll just have to have an extravagant literary tea party, and hope they all turn up.

5) Last childhood book you re-read (for yourself or to someone)
Every Christmas Eve since I've been a mum, when we get back from the Crib Service, I read Ursual Moray Williams "The Good Little Christmas Tree" to my increasingly hulking teenagers. They promise me that they'll still let me do this, year on year, as they push me in my bathchair into a gin-sodden old-age!

That was a very happy diversion...thanks to Songbird, who thought of it.

Wise and cheerful boldness revisited

Barely had I posted earlier, than I opened the days mailing from ekklesia to read this.

"The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams,
has challenged the acrimony of arguments within the
Church of England and the Anglican Communion over
sexuality and women bishops, proposing a bold new
initiative to get the warring factions to listen to each
other with respect.
The Archbishop wants those who disagree on these
issues to make a personal commitment to contacting
someone of differing opinion elsewhere in the
Communion, in order to promote real conversation
and understanding"

Full story here
but in the face of so much abuse and vindictive comments from all sides, this strikes me as a very fine example of wise and cheerful boldness, and reminds me of why I was so delighted for the Anglican Communion when ++Rowan became Archbishop.

Aspiring with St Hugh

In a week which saw the first session of the new General Synod of the Church of England, and also the usual crop of meetings, discussions and the odd little local difficulty as we continue to try to move forward in mission here, the Collect for St Hugh of Lincoln, whom we celebrate on 17th November, struck me as just the job.

O holy God,
you endowed your servant and bishop Hugh of Lincoln with wise and cheerful boldness,
and taught him to commend to earthly rulers the discipline of holy life:
give us grace like him to be bold in the service of the Gospel
putting our confidence in Christ alone;
who is alive and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen

For many years till ordination I was a governor of the village school, and each year our "assigned inspect0r" would come to a target-setting meeting, at which we were asked to confirm both our realistic predictions for those miserable SATS and also our "aspirational goals". Sometimes I feel as if the whole experience of Christian ministry is the pursuit of an endless series of "aspirational goals", so for this week "wise and cheerful boldness" would seem worth aiming for.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

If I were you, I wouldn't start from here...

OK…so what did you make of Priest Idol last night? For those not within viewing reach of Channel 4, this is a new series about a young American priest, imported to undertake the huge and horrendous task of reversing the fortunes of the parish of St Mary Magdalene in Lundwood, a former mining community near Barnsley, N. Yorkshire.
Apart from the cringeworthy title, I thought there was a lot to learn from the programme, and not only in terms of how not to do 21st century parish ministry (though this message certainly camethrough loud and clear!).
The previous incumbent probably did himself no favours in sharing his (understandable) hurt at the way the community had turned its back on the church. And the picture of him walking the parish in full becassocked finery surely confirmed the general view that the church is not only irrelevant but laughable. But it wasn’t unrelieved gloom even here…a friendly exchange with a small boy on the street was a genuinely smiley moment….and then, enter stage left, young James, the new incumbent.
"Oh HELP! " was my first reaction. "They’ll eat him alive…"
He came complete with huge commitment, enthusiasm and the sort of faith that I can only envy…but he also came with the idea that his mission was to get people into church. No matter if the local teenagers (his chosen primary mission target) think that the building is “spikey” and “scarey”. No matter if the church itself is so run down and repellent that it is hard to imagine anyone actually wanting to cross its threshold, however keen they might be on an encounter with God. James is adamant that if he can get them into the building, he’ll be on the right track.

Sadly, his first experiment fell very flat indeed. He got the kids into church (through an inspired invitation to the pop choir from the secondary school) but when they arrived, they had no idea what behaviour might be expected of them, not could they see any good reason for the expectations of others. What might have been a positive beginning was turned into another “Oh-no-I-can't-bear-to-watch” moment, as the kids left in disgust, after they had been firmly put in their place by one of the tiny congregation. The sight of them walking out during the first carol on Christmas Eve was one of the saddest moments in a sad, sad programme.,

But, I still have hope. Not so much in the marketing men whom the diocese has called in, though they do add an interesting twist to the story. The trouble is, I don’t think they’re really sure that they have anything worth selling,- after all, they too are intent on selling the church, whereas I’d hope to see a bit more aspiration to connect with God…
No, my hope is in the sheer goodness of young James (though he does make me feel so very old,) and his courage, and yes, - maybe even his calling. Why else would anyone cross the Atlantic to minister in Lundwood? I'll certainly watch the whole series...lots to ponder.

(There is more discussion on Dave's rather wonderful Cartooon Church blog...and a good link from there too and an interview with James here )

Monday, November 14, 2005

Hamish....an unsatisfactory update

After the first frost of the season, I was up at church betimes this morning, fearful of what I'd find.
No sign of Hamish at all in the churchyard, the pub carpark, the school playground..... (phew...he might really have caused alarm and despondancy there),- so I guess the weight of evidence is that he survived the night.I left a large parcel of sandwiches and a flask of coffee in the church porch, together with a brief note.The church is unlocked all day, so I knew he would have somewhere relatively warm to shelter if he did reappear, and when I returned for Evening Prayer they had gone. I hope they went to someone who needed them. It's another freezing evening...and there is no Night Shelter in Cheltenham as the city fathers, in their wisdom, don't believe we need one. Hmmmnnnn

Sunday, November 13, 2005


It was one of THOSE evenings. The vicar was out of town, leaving the Reader and me with the pleasures of Evensong (and, in my case, a hideous sermon on Revelation....I don't propose to do that again in a hurry). As I sweated over this, I was a little surprised to be phoned mid- afternoon by our totally calm, wise and rather splendid retired ChurchWarden, who wanted advice.
'What, from me??? But it's always the other way round....'
It became clear that the problem was outside the usual remit for Church Wardens in Charlton Kings. Because we're your traditional leafy suburb we tend to be rather off the beaten track for most gentlemen of the road, but on this occasion one such had found his way into church, set off all the alarms and relieved himself in the north transept. Did I want the police called?
I ascertained that the guy wasn't aggressive, but simply roaring drunk, so was pretty confident that the police were unnecessary, and A. seemed happy to leave things be for the moment. When I arrived for the service, however, there were a number of rather perturbed people about. Our visitor was still with us, and seemed to be proposing to settle down for the night...What did I want to do?
`Ouch. What did I want to do?What would Jesus do? I guess he'd start by talking to him....'
so over I went...
"Are you a lady minister?"
"I certainly am"
"Well, I always respect ladies, so you tell me what you want me to do, and I'll do it"
"Well, it makes people a bit nervous if you walk about waving your arms and shouting. Do you think you could sit quietly for the service"
Actually, this was rather optimistic. Sitting was semi-possible, quiet clearly not, and as the service went on the angst level of the congregation increased discernibly....I rose to lead the intercessions, which happen from a prayer-desk half way down the nave. I had no idea by this stage what was going on at the back of the church, - just that a small posse of sidesmen seemed to be clustered together, and the noise level from our visitor was rather muffled. I began to worry that they had elected to turn him out, and felt unbelievably hypocritical as I prayed
"You, the God whose name is love, want us to be like you-
to love the loveless and the unlovely and the unloveable
to love without jealousy or design, fear or threat..."
Ouch again.
When I moved into the pulpit, I was probably the only person in the church relieved to see he was still there, and was indeed sitting quietly..He called out what might have been
"Go lassie, I'm listening" so I set forth onto the choppy waters of my Revelation sermon. It seemed like the longest I'd ever preached...If only I'd had the courage to throw my text away, and just speak about the God whose name is love...
Exit...then to the back of the church to greet the congregation.
Someone asked if he needed a bed for the night.
"A bed"
He was scandalised.
"I've never slept under a roof since I took to the road, and I'm not about to start now. You bring me a cup of coffee and a bacon butty in the morning and I 'll be fine. I'm Hamish. Can I call you Kathryn? You seem like a lovely lady to me"
And with that he made a wild attempt to kiss my hand, and made off into the churchyard, where,he assured me, he'd located a nice quiet spot for the night.
Soothing the ruffled feathers of the congregation as best I could, I shepherded the more nervous through the churchyard and set off home myself. It's a clear, cold night tonight (I've just brought my geraniums in, for fear of frost) and I, who aspire to be minister of Christ, have left a drunken man sleeping rough outside my church.
The fact that he refused offers of shelter is small comfort. I know that those who offered to help were all, like me, rather hoping to have their offers refused. Did he know this too? Was he in fact the most courteous and considerate among us? What would Jesus do??
Urban Army would know an answer to these, I'm sure...if not to the question of how I can sleep in my warm bed tonight, knowing he is out there.
Right now, I just feel inadequate and very very sorry.

Evangelism in a Spiritual Age....more musings.

Two things struck me with huge and terrifying force in the course of Tuesday's seminars….
One was the sobering realisation (which I had glimpsed so often, but had somehow managed to discount) that the many spiritual seekers of the current age would simply not consider that the church was in the business of spirituality at all.
It’s not just that they don’t feel we wrap it up attractively,- they don’t think it has anything at all to do with our purpose as an outmoded and irrelevant social institution. One speaker told of conversation with someone who was asking all the Big Questions with single-minded seriousness….Their talk had gone well, and the speaker suggested that it might be fruitful to continue it with a local vicar. The response??
“Why on earth should I do that?”

Another insight with which I’m struggling to do something concerns the way that the church still tends to tell people to “come to us”…not just in physical terms, as in hoping that they will cross our threshold if we offer more exciting or appealing worship, but in expecting them to come round to our way of thinking, to accept our moral and ethical framework before we’re willing to let a relationship develop.
This played directly into my own anxieties about our Baptism practice…
It sometimes feels as if we're operating a kind of double standard, in that we are willing (even keen) to baptise anyone who requests it, but we make sure that our preparation (admittedly not hugely lengthy or demanding) includes a good dose of guilt, so that if they don’t become regular attenders at OpenHouse at the very least, they will know that we are noting their absence in reproachful silence.
We need, surely, to have confidence in the Sacrament that we are offering! Either we believe that God is doing something amazing for each individual as they are baptised, or we believe that it is only effective if it is followed through in a regular commitment to the life of the Church.
From my Catholic perspective, I’d go to the stake for the first view….. so what am I doing loading my own views about regular worship and a supportive faith community onto the shoulders of parents for whom this is just not meaningful? There must be a route through this that recognises that seekers are just that. They haven’t yet found what they’re looking for, nor will they ever necessarily arrive at my way of thinking,- but what we're surely called to do is to allow every possible opportunity for them to encounter God at work. We need to help them to hallow and to recognise the holy in their own experiences…not to tell them that their experiences should match ours.
I can hear anxious clucks from readers who might feel that I’m at the top of the slippery slope to affirming everything no matter what…I hope this isn’t the case. It was, simply, another reminder that we are called to live and minister in the world and not just the church, and that (praise be!) the Church has NEVER had the monopoly on God.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

A time for every purpose under heaven

One way and another, Ecclesiastes is looming large on my radar at the moment. It all began with a CME day last weekend “Ecclesiastes, a peculiarly post modern piece”. Never having read the book from cover to cover ( see what a dodgy relationship I have with Scripture!), I tried it the night before in NRSV and then again the following morning via The Message, and was struck by the latter’s rendering of the famous “vanity, vanity…” as “It’s all smoke, and spitting in the wind”.
The day (with the author of the Grove booklet linked above) was enjoyable, reawakening my dormant lit crit faculties (it seems to me that both Tennyson [specially Tithonus, with its opening threnody “the woods decay, the woods decay and fall”] and Beckett must have had prolonged exposure to Ecclesiastes), and I liked the idea that Ecclesiastes creates exactly the sort of ambiguity that it describes…Is the book a depressing commentary on the futility of life, or an uplifting assurance of God’s presence in good and bad times? Like the optical puzzle , it's all a question of perspective. There is, it appears, no single "right" answer, and certainly our group were unable to reach a concensus (and nor, it transpired, are the scholars). Initial reactions went from “an extended suicide note” to “a really comforting presentation of the way things are, with the reassurance that everything falls within God’s plan”,- and the progress of the day didn’t materially alter our confusion. The question is still open....thoroughly pomo indeed!
On Tuesday, though, I joined Mark and a good few others at this training day,- and bless my soul, there was Ecclesiastes again! After excellent input from the whole team in the morning, I opted for a workshop on Times and Seasons, during which Yvonne Richmond presented the famous “There is a time for everything…” passage from Eccles 3 as an expression of God’s constant presence within the highs and lows of our tidal lives. Her suggestion was that the church should should reflect this by being more proactive in responding to the rhythms of secular life. Certainly, it was notable how few of the current popular “holidays” we listed as a group existed as “holy days”, marked by the Church. When reading the amazing Voices of Morebath a year or two back I was struck by the rich variety of saints' days and festivals which pre-Reformation society marked, with each month having it’s particular celebrations, feasts and rituals. We’ve lost all that as a Church, so it’s not surprising that alternatives have filled the gaps…but I’m still struggling with the idea of some sort of Christian adoption of Guy Fawkes night. Really can’t see it! Bonfires and rockets, yes,- a wonderful part of the Easter Vigil…but to celebrate the execution of one man??
Still, I was heartened to realise that we’re already doing some of what was advocated. Journey On brings in a different group of people from the handful who gather for a traditional Requiem for All Souls,- and we’re thinking of other ways to develop relationships with those we meet through the Occasional Offices…Renewing marriage vows around Valentine’s Day, and inviting baptism families to an annual teddy bear’s picnic feed into this, and next week I’m leading a special “Godmother adoption service” for a little girl whose original godmother has died….(I've yet to construct this, so may blog more later...)
Meanwhile, the message of the afternoon was to make the most of any and every opportunity to proclaim that the Church exists as a spiritual resource, and not the irrelvant institution that it's widely assumed to be.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Hoping this isn't a cop-out

Oh my friends, thank you so much for your wonderful supportive responses to my last post. You really are a huge blessing...Consider yourselves hugged, one and all.

I'm still not sure where I am with this intellectually. I am inclined as a rule to pray as Emily does, offering God lots of helpful options (or are they get-out clauses?) and would do this for sure if I were praying aloud with R and co. ( Songbird, we'll use the prayers at Morning Prayer, which generally only the vicar and I attend...so they will be prayed aloud, but privately) On the other hand, I worry too that, as Mary said, I'm thereby "fettering judicial discretion", and expressing a lamentable lack of faith.There are some further complicated issues around the whole thing (not least the fact that R's tentative approach towards God is not popular with all of her family), but there isn't really any option about praying in some way, is there? In fact, I suspect that praying and praying and praying some more is really what I'm called to in this, and being prepared to offer as much practical love as I can to accompany that.*

I SO don't believe that God allows our lack of faith to limit his responses to prayer, though, Liz. I wouldn't try to love and serve a God that worked that way, - not for a moment. We both know lots of situations in which we've not had the "right" result, and we know too that's nothing to do with lack of committment to the prayer...nor, I'm sure, is it indicative of a capricious God who doesn't love us as much as we want him to. It just is a mystery...but mostly one in which I'm content to rest, trusting that it will all make sense ultimately.

*Just after typing that, I read an email from a friend in the congregation who had dropped in here, and suggested that we should pray but also get a ramp to enable R to cope with the steps around the church....which strikes me as a pretty perfect illustration of prayer plus action! Clearly, going "live" with my blog was a Good Idea!

Monday, November 07, 2005

OpenHouse 2 "Hotline to God"

went surprisingly well…Torrential rain, and the last gasps of half term had made me fear the worst, but though numbers were down on last month, they were still the right side of 40, with 18 assorted children and their parents. Even better, 3 families had phoned to apologise for their non appearance, which suggests that we already have some notional "regulars"- always encouraging.
We talked about teaspoon prayers (t-hankyou, s -orry, p -lease) wrote our thank you's and pleases on coloured labels to hang on a prayer tree (will try to get camera to church this week, as the tree, a twisted willow, looks really excellent, and I want to purr in public) and our sorries on sad faces to be posted in a shredder….And somewhere along the way, there were a couple of moments of really rather wonderful, holy concentration.
Then there was mayhem again, but that’s fine and exactly what I expected.

This evening, I was writing down all the prayers from the tree, as I’d promised we’d pray them during the Office this week…and there was one which made me cry.
You may remember my mentioning D a while ago, when he taught me a lot about God’s grace-ful generosity during his own baptism service…His mum is in a wheelchair, due to MS, and on the tree I found a prayer "Please make mummy walk". D is too young to have written this….which means that R herself is the likely author . And I don’t know what to do with it.
Yes, I believe that God can heal….but do I believe that God will really intervene like that? and if I don’t, how do I pray? I spoke yesterday about the times when God’s answer doesn’t match our requests, about the times when we ask for things that are not in our long-term best interests, about the fact that it is OK to be angry with God if he disappoints our hopes….
Fine words, but despite all that, I’m left with the reality of a young mum who wants to walk and who can’t.
I don't know what to pray for, but would be glad if you would join me.
Sometimes this calling is slightly overwhelming.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

"Kathryn needs....."

one more volunteer

to stop talking so much

to be self motivated

to go down for her
first nap 3 hours after wakening


a little push in the right direction

to know ASAP

to know what is happening


someone who is going to give her a lot of attention and love

This perceptive list was the result of typing "[name] needs" into google, as suggested by Maggi, and then blogging the first 10 entries. Given the apposite nature of items 2, 3 and 6 at this precise moment, I won't pause to say any more, but it did make me giggle. Have a try too, if you're engaged in Saturday procrastination!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Reformation Revelation!

OK...perhaps I really do need to do some more work on the Reformation,as apparently I have an unexpected kindred spirit here.

Philip Melachthon
You are Philip Melancthon, author of the Augsburg
Confession and colleague of Luther at
Wittenberg. You were the most prominent among
the Lutheran theologians seeking reconciliation
with the Catholic Church.

Which 16th century theologian are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Regular readers will have deduced that I'm in evasive mode again... I didn't think I had any teaching to prepare for this weekend, but slightly crossed lines of communication mean that I'm now topping and tailing a sketch on prayer for this month's OpenHouse "Hotline to God". If anyone out there has brilliant ideas on how to communicate the essentials of prayer to a mixed bag of parents and children in not more than 3 minutes, I would so love to hear them!

"Coming Out"

When I began this blog, I realised that I'm someone for whom anonymity is simply not an option...I can't do secretive, and any attempt would have been doomed to failure in the earliest stages, I'm certain. So, I opted to be totally open, to link to my parish website and even to inflict a photo on the blogosphere, and I've never had cause to regret this. However, though I told both my Bishop and my vicar about the blog earlier this year, I've not talked about it in the parish much, though one or two friends are aware that I blog, and have dropped in here from time to time. On the whole, I don't think my on-line maunderings would interest the congregation particularly: after all, they are subjected to them irl all too often. I have tried to set the PCC always before me as I blog, and never to write anything that I would not be prepared to say (or have indeed already said) here at St M's, but I know it's a fine line, and that things which can be explained, expanded or softened in direct speech can seem very harsh and hurtful when read on a monitor.
So, when I took the decision to publicise the RevGals Advent book in church (which includes details of the blogs of all contributors) I looked back at my posts in the last few months, and have edited (and in one case deleted altogether) those which I think allow scope for misunderstanding or upset. My guess is that very few people will actually arrive here as a result of the book, but I'd hate to hurt even one...so if I find myself in particularly "heaning mislet" mood, it'll have to be a grumpy email to my friends. You have been warned!

Kind of exciting

This autumn, both Darling Daughter and her mother are published.
She has contributed to an anthology of writing from Beth Webb’s students at (I’ve blogged in the past here about the special place Kilve has in her life, and will doubtless blog more about the book when it arrives: the kids have organised e publication themselves, so hard facts aren't easy to get hold of, but I'm assured that it will be available in time for Christmas...). Judging by the work I’ve heard from L. and her friends, there will be lots included that is well worth reading, so do let me know if you might like a copy!

Meanwhile, I have a couple of entries in the revgalsblogpals Advent Devotional…..and I would really encourage you to order this if you are remotely inclined that way, as all profits will go towards the disaster relief work for the victims of hurricane Katrina (inspired by revgal, St Casserole, who is based in the disaster zone). There are some very talented women writing there and I’m looking forward to reading their work.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Reformation ramblings.

On Monday, we commemorated Martin Luther, but as it was "only" a commemoration, Common Worship Daily Prayer didn't provide me with a handy Collect, leaving me to recognise the day or not as felt appropriate when leading Morning Prayer. Usually, even if there isn't a set prayer, I try to reflect the life and gifts of the one we are remembering in my own prayers, but when it came to Luther I wasn't sure whether to be thankful or repentent. This is in no way an indication of disrespect for Martin Luther, or for the Lutheran Church as a whole (LutheranChik is one of my must- read blogs, and I'd certainly hate to offend her) nor would I want anyone to think that I felt the Church had not stood sorely in need of Reformation at that point in her history. I just regret the fact that, from then on, whenever something seemed to be awry in the Church the instinct was to split off, to form a purer Communion, to escape with like-minded souls from the tainted status quo...As an Anglican who is currently watching an Archbishop whom I admire hugely being apparently forced to stifle his own world-view for the sake of unity, I'm at best ambivalent about the whole thing. Unity or inclusivity? Don't let's choose.

"Peek a boo, I can't see you, Everything must be grand"

runs a classic Flanders and Swan number about an ostrich, which has become a metaphor in our family for all attempts to evade unwelcome truths.It's not intended to be flippant, I promise you...
Jo(e) has a fascinating post about teaching in the dark, in which she speculates on the way that feeling ourselves hidden allows us the safety to contribute when we would otherwise hold back…and I’d certainly agree that there are times when this is very true. I know, for example, that I can only manage the more deeply challenging explorations with my Spiritual Director if I close my eyes when I speak…that’s something about intense concentration, but also about feeling myself speaking aloud to God mediated through her…I somehow seem able to dig out my deepest truths only with my eyes closed. Interesting thought...I could have a field day now, exploring concepts of sight, insight and blindness, but perhaps that's another post...

However, one of the things that I really struggle with at St M’s is the way the layout of the church makes in impossible to see, let alone have eye contact with, a high proportion of the congregation. Not only is there a forest of very large pillars, but the clergy stalls actually have their backs to the congregation…and from many places in the church you can’t see into the sanctuary at all. This has felt hopelessly wrong to me,- an unwelcome part of the culture of confining God in nice private little boxes, where He can be kept from making too much mess of our tidy lives. The building works very strongly against any sense of community, while the word that God put into my head most strongly when I arrived, and which has been my personal mission statement along the way is FAMILY.

So, whenever possible, I’ve tried to subvert the building. It just can’t be done at the Sunday Eucharist, but the vicar and I regularly re-arrange the chairs in the Chapel we use for midweek services (they as regularly return themselves to serried ranks! deeply conservative, our chairs) and try to express in the furniture some sense of a fellowship of explorers, supporting each other on our journey of faith. Now I’m wondering if this is actually alienating people for a reason beyond what I had imagined…I’d presumed that those who disapproved were doing so because they hated change (and in some cases, I suspect this view holds good) but it also might be that they simply don’t feel secure enough to be themselves if they think that anyone might see them. Perhaps those hiding behind pillars are not there to disengage themselves from the Body of Christ, but because they are taking their engagement very seriously indeed…Or are they simply behaving like the proverbial ostrich?