Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Cathedral Quiet Day

Spent much of the morning beside this statue (a resin cast of the original which is St Martin-in-the-Fields: Edit new lighter version courtesy of my clever friends in Cambridge...thank you both!).
It was my companion during the last Shrove Tuesday Quiet Day, so I thought I would return to see where it led me today. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the competing claims of ministry and marriage, of what to do when one feels life enhancing and joyous and the other just plain hard work, and so it was good to sit beside this representation of the Holy Family and reflect with God. Last year I wrote, as part of a longer (rather self indulgent) reflection
“The one on whom they think to lavish care
Holds open-armed the world with his vast love
Which spreads beyond their vision and their day

One year on, it was still mostly about the impossibility of limiting or protecting that child who is Love.I wondered about the way the two parents were united in supporting that precious baby, whom they would have loved to encircle forever in a protective embrace, but who already stretches out in love to the world….He IS their ministry.
And, just in case I was in any danger of thinking that this was a rarefied, remote kind of love, as I knelt there on the cold stones of the Cathedral, the silence was broken by the unmistakeable sound of a small child with hiccups. A family,- a real, flesh and blood family,- appeared around the corner…The toddler, clutching a biscuit in his sticky fingers, recognised the Christ child and began to love him…patting his face, caressing him from head to toe, trying to share that biscuit. “See. Jesus” he repeated excitedly, again and again, until his parents, embarrassed that their child was breaking the silence of the day, shooed him on…One last kiss for the baby, and he was gone.
And then,- oh then I finished the hard work of struggling with myself.
Then I dared to ask again for the absolution that is so freely given, and heard for myself the words I love to share with others
“God loves you JUST AS YOU ARE”
Suddenly the cold Cathedral was full of light and warmth, and it was time to approach the table and know myself at home

Overheard in the supermarket

yesterday afternoon.
Infants' school child "Mum...tomorrow is Pancake Tuesday"
Mother "Well, really it's Shrove Tuesday love"
Child "Why is it called Shrove Tuesday?"
Mother "Because we eat pancakes that day."

And I thought my logic was dodgy!

Monday, February 27, 2006

The art of hospitality

24 hours ago, I was all set to write a very indignant and rather judgmental post.
The baptism family of the multiple aborted visits finally made it to the font after the 10.00 Eucharist, accompanied by their 120 guests, all bedecked in full splendour as for a Hollywood premiere. I was baptising the 10 year old and her little brother…Infant behaved beautifully, but elder sister (resplendent in a white fur stole) played to the multitude of cameras for all she was worth, while assorted aunts adjusted their make-up as they sat in the pews and the uncles slipped outside for a quick cig. By the end of the service, I felt rather as if I might have been part of an exercise in hospitality abuse, and stomped off home in a less than euphoric state.
The grump (partly occasioned by lack of sleep, after a long day’s fundraising on Satuday and a late night attempt to produce a punchy meaningful and family friendly account of the gospel to dish up to the Baptism party) lasted me all the way to bed, only somewhat ameliorated by a walk with LoudBoy and the pony in a hailstorm. A fitting end to the week, really.
But this morning, when I tottered up to church for Morning Prayer, it dawned on me that 27th February is the day when we celebrate beloved George Herbert.

A long long time ago, I embarked on a PhD tracing his use of music as a metaphor for our relationship with God. I didn’t think of myself as much more than agnostic at the time, but a year of research in Durham, grubbling happily about amid examples of this approach in earlier writers as diverse as Augustine, Dante and Puttenham tended to focus my thoughts somewhat. When the money ran out and I found myself living and working in London, there was no point in pretending any longer. I’d spent the previous 6 years worshipping every Sunday as part of assorted college choirs…I’d been able to pretend that it was only the music that had held me. Now, entering the grown-up word, I realised that I would not be able to function if I didn’t continue this rhythm of prayer and worship. I had to admit it. I was hooked.
I never did finish my thesis but Herbert continued to speak to me across the centuries again and again, and this morning, while I still bristled gently at the outrageous treatment of God’s hospitality, I found myself beginning the prayers with the poem that never fails to bring me to my knees. I've almost certainly blogged it before, but I make no apology. I don't think you can ever read it too often.

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.

"A guest," I answer'd, "worthy to be here";
Love said, "You shall be he."
"I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee."
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
"Who made the eyes but I?"

"Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve."
"And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
"My dear, then I will serve."
"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
So I did sit and eat.

That silenced me, as seems entirely appropriate.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Cat blogging

Chloe and Tallis wait, none too patiently, for an end to bread-making and some action on their supper. Sadly, it's only 2.00 pm...but these members of the curate's household have no talent whatsoever for procrastination.


On second thoughts....following the advice of Friday Mom, Chloe, Tallis, and the pirate Teddy are happy to while away an hour or two blogging their answers to Whistle and Fish
1. What's your favorite food?
Concensus decrees whatever the humans are preparing for their supper…..if they won’t let us get our noses in, we know it must be wonderful.

2. What is your favorite toy?
Teddy: Toy? I have put away childish things! Far too busy sleeping and eating to play. Seriously.
Chloe: Well, if nobody’s looking, I do rather like to play with my Girl’s hair
Tallis: That silly loud dog Dillon, of course. He falls for the “helpless kitten” pose every time, and then I can chase him round the house...and he yelps beautifully when I get him on the nose.
I do like the Curate’s knitting too. Cool colours.

3. What is your best trick?
Teddy: Pirates don’t have to do tricks. However, I am not known as the Ginger Bed-hog for nothing, and have perfected my leg-extension exercises so that I can fill more than half of a double bed, if the Curate happens to invite me in to keep her company on her day off.
And I play the piano very well. It's best at night, once the house is quiet, and I can hear myself think.
Chloe: I wake up my Girl at 7.00 every morning, specially when she doesn’t have to be out of the house until later. And I stage professional ambushes from beneath the bedspread, which have a specially good effect if the humans are trying to sort out the laundry on the bed. I find their cries comical in the extreme.
Tallis: I’m very good at opening the cat flap when it’s supposed to be one way against me….And I sing loudly if the Curate is on the phone. While the dog barks. Often.

3. What is your favorite human trick?
I always enjoy the way they open the front door when they see my silhouette against the glass, and then stand there repeating my name in an awestruck fashion...till I walk away. Round to the cat-flap. At the back of the house. I'm not sure why they do it, but it's very endearing.
Chloe:They really aren’t clever enough to do tricks, poor things, though they do try. I think the way they open tins of cat food is really sweet, bless them.
Tallis. Yes...And the way they persist in believing that a keyboard has other purposes beyond providing an educated cat with a bed.

4. What human rule do you break often?
Well, all of them really. Isn't that what they are for? Collectively, we enjoy climbing into the vegetable rack, sleeping in the laundry basket, trying to climb into the fridge, bringing in our hard-won prizes to be stored in the kitchen

6. What are you glad your human does NOT know about you?
Teddy: just how many families in Privet Drive believe that they own a 3 legged ginger cat...there are still people worrying where I’ve gone back in Great Rissington
Chloe: what I’ve hidden in the bottom of my Girl’s wardrobe
Tallis: well, if I posted that here, she’d read it and find out….See, I’m not stupid!

I have left undone those things which I ought to have done.

It’s been one of those weeks….
During the course of it, I’ve spent an enjoyable couple of hours visiting a "fresh expression" in Cardiff (there should be a post coming, once I’ve space to process; have been out every evening bar one (a choir practice for our Gift Day tomorrow, which I opted out of because I have yet another cold….); I have lost my purse and my camera once, a friend’s new address twice, and my keys so often it’s not funny. I’ve attempted to visit the same family (whose children are being baptised on Sunday) no less than 3 times (we’re currently booked for 9.00 am Saturday morning, as this is the only remaining free slot in the diary). I’ve arranged more baptisms than in the entire previous course of my ministry, and am trying to sort out at long-distance the funeral of my mother’s favourite cousin, who died in London on Tuesday, but whose only daughter didn’t make it from New Zealand till the small hours of the following morning. Unsurprisingly, neither of us is awash with local contacts, and the vicar of the parish where Kay lived is on holiday till tomorrow, which makes it hard to discover whether or not we might be able to borrow the church before a cremation. Meanwhile, we're sort of tiptoeing round each other, both aware that our mothers loved each other dearly but that we don't honestly know each other at all these days, and it feels kind of uncomfortable walking that line between professionalism and familiarity. Rather wobbly,- though I think that our phonecalls so far have encouraged us to like each other more than when we were children. Oh, it's so hard when your parents long for you to be friends,
Prayers for Cousin Kay and daughter N would be lovely…life has been hard on both of them, and it seems clear that they share the same good humoured courage.

I’ve also done a parents’ evening for LoudBoy, who seems to be old enough to be choosing his GCSEs (incredible…I could have sworn he was about 11).

I've done assorted pastoral visits, taken 2 Assemblies, and faffed over Lent leaflets and responsorial psalms with the parish secretary (who pretends to be a fluffy blonde, but is in reality every bit as competent as she is kind and entertaining). So, I suppose I’ve done some useful stuff but failed to complete far more.
And I totally and completely forgot that yesterday the second yr 4 class from the junior school was due to visit church. Forgot! School!!! How could I? I love those visits….They are one of the highlights of the job…and I’d been reminded by the first class visit on Monday and by reading Howard’s post on the same theme. But for some reason lost in the confusion that was once the mind of Kathryn, I totally forgot until about 4.00 this morning, when I awoke in a cold sweat and rushed downstairs to confirm the worst in my diary. That same diary I had been consulting frequently during the course of yesterday…without seeing the entry at all, even though I knew earlier in the week that it existed.
Phoned first thing to see if I could go in and answer any questions if they are following up their rather dull and restricted visit in class today…but no response yet. Should I turn up anyway, in sackcloth I wonder? I spend a lot of time in that school, and have been doing my very very best to build up good relationships…and now a whole class of children will think of the church as a rather dark, unwelcoming place with alarms and ropes across the exciting areas.
I repeat.

Later on: coals of fire were heaped on my head when I cowered my way into school, bearing a peace offering, and one little boy said to me “It didn’t matter. We had a nice time anyway”
Oh, the shame!
Come home, wonderful vicar! Your curate needs you!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


When we got home from Venice two weeks ago, it was to find that my assorted hints about how much I'd enjoy having a breadmaker about the place had bourne fruit...BUT because it was half term last week, the boys have been having far too much fun with the blessed machine to allow me to get anywhere near it until tonight.
So, it is with some excitement that I introduce my very first loaf.
OK so I was late to collect the boys from school, the dogs are unwalked and my grand plans to spend today ("day off") turning the house into a thing of beauty have foundered yet again, so I've missed the good housekeeping awards once more...but there is something hugely comforting in a home-baked loaf sitting smugly on the dining table.
The only question now is honey or cheese?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Cheesehead has launched a Tuesday lectionary group in her parish, and invited readers to join in the discussion. This sounds very interesting, and on one level I really envy of her for belonging to the sort of church where anyone other than the hapless preacher is interested in hearing about the lectionary passages twice in one week. (Presumably, attending on Tuesday does not entitle you to a “Get out of gaol free” card in terms of the sermon slot on Sundays). On the other, I know that I would worry terribly if such a group existed here that I would find myself with nothing original to say at all when Sunday came, since all (any) of my insights would already have been shared with the group…I know I benefit repeatedly and hugely from various on-line lectionary discussions, though, so perhaps I could in time learn to enjoy having one based in my own parish hall. It’s not likely to happen in my current context, that’s for sure!
Meanwhile, Cheesehead is considering Mark’s account of the Transfiguration, which encouraged me to revisit a letter I wrote for the August parish mag when I’d just arrived here two summers ago.
"Not for the first time, I find myself deeply grateful for the presence of St Peter in the Gospels. You’ll recall that he is one of the witnesses of Christ’s Transfiguration on the mountain- top, a moment at which we imagine that everything suddenly made sense to him. At last the relationship between Jesus and the Old Testament prophets seemed clear, and we
can imagine Peter’s joyful recognition of his Lord. Being human, though, he wanted to preserve the moment “It’s good to be here. Let’s build three booths.”
He was sure that the way to hang onto his special experience was to turn the place where it had happened into a shrine, as if God was uniquely to be encountered there. It’s something we all do. Places or situations in which God has been specially real to us can become so important in themselves that we find it very hard to move on, and recognise that God may also be ahead of us in new and unknown contexts. Perhaps this matches the cloud that surrounded the disciples. Could they really be sure of the truth of their experience? Why could they not just stay there and savour the moment?
The thing to remember, though, is that when the cloud lifted what the disciples saw was the one essential,-Jesus himself…He couldn’t and can’t be tied to any particular place, however precious, but he will always be there if we focus on Him."

I didn’t know the parish when I wrote that, but it seems more apposite than ever now, as I consider the passions roused by any thought of change to building or liturgy. Since God once turned up in a particular way in a particular context, so many people refuse to consider that He is constantly on the move throughout his world…Yesterday, Sung Eucharist at St M’s, today a drop-in cafĂ©, tomorrow…who knows? But as it is good to be there, our calling is to find out where he is at work, and then (as we are so often encouraged) hurry to join in.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Guilt on the gingerbread

I don’t think of myself as someone who goes away from home that often…but I’m just back from my 3rd foray beyond the parish boundaries in as many weeks. This time it was the annual curates’ CME residential, which was once again in glorious Woolacombe Bay Hotel..
I wasn’t too excited at the prospect this time round. With wonderful vicar still in India, I felt uncomfortable deserting my post on a Sunday, and with the boys returning to school from half term tomorrow, it didn’t seem the best weekend to desert the family either.
As a result, I pretended that I wouldn’t actually be going until it was far too late to arrange a lift share, which meant that the weekend started with the piercing irony of my driving 155 miles on my own to learn more about “Sustaining the planet for God and humanity”.

Actually, the drive wasn’t the only thing to fill me with feelings of guilt as the weekend wore on.
Woolacombe Bay is the sort of hotel that one reads about, rather than actually experiencing…Fabulous food, presented as a work of art, rooms so well-appointed I was constantly feeling I ought to tidy up after myself, to avoid spoiling the picture, fellow guests in evening dress at dinner….I felt as if I’d stumbled onto the set for a period drama…or maybe we were all playing Cluedo, and someone would discover a corpse in the ballroom at any minute.
However, churlish though it sounds, there did seem to be something a tad incongruous about such conspicuous luxury being lavished on a crowd of clergy….
I don’t know. It just didn’t quite work, somehow.
Our speaker, Tim Gorringe, was excellent…though his resume of the dire fate that awaits us if we don’t begin to take the implications of our abuse of the common treasury of creation inspired yet more guilt trips. I think I knew most of what he was saying,- after all, I’ve heard him speak at Greenbelt, and am already committed to the Generous Project, but hearing all those statistics presented really did make the blood run cold.
Did you realise, for ezample, that every day an area of forest equivalent in size to New York City is stripped bare? With all our thoughts fixed on the victims of the mudslide in the Philippines, that was a painful thought.
There were more, equally sobering figures, and then some striking observations.
  • That though this is a much celebrated “consumer age”, the definition of “consume” is “ to destroy utterly”
  • That water wars are a real future possibility....already in parts of Mexico the water is so polluted that it is considered safer to give babies Coca cola to drink.
  • That we have completely lost track of the principle of natural cessation, in our obsession with growth. We live in a society that has no concept of limits at all, though history should teach us that each society that over-reaches itself, and seeks to extend itself beyond the natural limits falls and dies.
  • That the resources of the earth are a common treasury (stating the obvious, perhaps) in which there are no superior borrowing/drawing rights….God’s intention is that the resources of the planet should be equally available for all…there is no privileged access to the common treasury, but as long as each takes according to NEED then there will be enough.
Yes, I know that I had heard much of this before, but it hit me with a fresh force, as did my own inadequacy in the face of such colossal political indifference. Tim spoke about “lifeboat ethics”, the system by which governments planned so that come what may, their own citizens would survive…of our own perception of powerlessness and our calling as Christians to live sacramentally, to be the signs of God’s care for all his world, to model his Shalom, that peace with justice which is His will for all his creation.
For me, hearing this in such a beautiful place only increased the urgency of the message. A part of me has always felt that the environment was almost an optional extra....it was always more important to respond to the immediate needs of starving humanity than to move towards addressing its causes. Tonight, though, I see things differently. And I've never been so ashamed to be driving home alone.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Another Wednesday, another waterway....

Another much loved, and more familiar city, home of the other Bridge of Sighs. As always, when we first caught sight of the tower of the University Library (currently sharing the skyline with a crane) my heart lifted. I went up to university the year after my parents died, and it was the place where I grew up and began to grow into myself. In some ways, Cambridge still feels rather like home.
It was strange to be pounding the pavements instead of cycling everywhere; oddly, distances seemed rather smaller…perhaps an indication of how college centric my student experience was, with life revolving around Trinity, the West Road Concert hall and Sidgwick Avenue. I’m sure, for example, that Robinson is nearer to the heart of things now than it was 20+ years ago!

Having started the day feeling very aged and rather sad (where did all those years go?) , I was hugely cheered by a Trinity porter whose response to my tentative request that we might explore was “You’re a member of college….You belong here”
Thus emboldened, we had huge fun visiting old haunts and then branching out.
We popped into the chapel at both Trinity and Trinity Hall…the one my own college, the other the place where I sang Evensong week by week, since Trinity choir was men only in those days. I did visit Trinity chapel once or twice to hear the Dean, John Robinson preach,- and he himself made an impact even on my "officially agnostic" young self. At Tit Hall we had Keith Ward….and, of course, I took this as much for granted as the privilege of hearing Geoffrey Hill read poems he’d finished only that day…or Gombrich lecturing on the history of art. Maybe I did know, really, how fortunate I was….but in the general climate of excellence, it was too easy to lose sight of the specific examples of greatness offered to us.

The object of the day, was for TeenWonder to get a flavour of the place to help his deliberations as the application forms begin to loom larger. With this in mind, we wandered high and low, and I found myself noticing details that I’d just not absorbed in the happy whirl of student life.
I bet, for example, that Serena (who made us feel hugely welcome) hasn’t noticed this rather charming flying pig (or is it a dragon) at Christ’s. I did visit a dragon there, in the shape of a Don who so scared me that I was capable of only what he categorised as "small social noises" during my initial supervisions.

Spring seems to be further advanced in Cambridge than here in the west, with sprinklings of aconites and crocus around many a tree. Perhaps even the flora are precocious?

Driving home, I realised that, though I'd loved revisiting my past, I love here and now even more.
That was a wonderful realisation, for which I am truly thankful.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Travellers' Tales

If this is middle age, then I’m really glad to have got here! Don’t misunderstand me.
I had a wonderful childhood, and a pretty good time through most of my teens and twenties too.
Being a mummy at home with small children was pretty blissful; I knew exactly who I was, and revelled in the whole experience. But though I have never felt remotely trapped by my existence, the last couple of years have been a time when windows and doors seemed to fly miraculously open in all sorts of areas, and it is (to quote that great traveller, Lady Mary Montague) , “all most interesting”. I am happily discovering that many of the things I just “didn’t do” I not only can do without the earth shifting on its poles, but I actually enjoy doing.
Take last week, for example. In my book, middle aged mothers did not fly off, accompanied by only one family member, for 3 days of unadulterated pleasure in Venice, just because they felt like it.
We couldn’t possibly afford it, and if we did, it would be hugely unfair to the rest of the family to spend all that money on just two members, and anyway, I hadn’t flown abroad on my own for a good 22 years, and I probably didn’t know how…
But the truth is that bargain city breaks cost rather less than 3 days B&B in the Cotswolds, that the male members of the family coped perfectly well, thank you, without my solicitous enquiries “are you sure you feel OK about this” and Bristol airport, in case you are interested, is a dear little thing, so small scale that even the most neurotic of travellers can surely be confident that they are boarding the right plane.
And Venice?
Venice was predictably and utterly wonderful.
DarlingDaughter drank in its beauties as if she’d spent her life shut away in a coal hole, and we spent our daylight hours mostly wandering beside the canals, loitering in the piazzas, and, of course, trying not to spend the money we’d saved thanks to EasyJet. (In this last we were, I fear, staggeringly unsuccessful. As one guide-book put it, Venice has been fleecing visitors since the Middle Ages, so we were at least conforming to tradition). This trip was very much dedicated to DD, who was not keen on intensive sight seeing, so though we did visit San Marco (highly recommended in February, when it is possible to wander around freely, in stark contrast to the summer experience of being herded in continuous multi lingual file through one door and out the other) and crossed the Grand Canal via the Rialto, we otherwise sat very light to the “must sees”. Instead, we bought a sort of church season-ticket, - offering free entry to a selection of second rank churches,- each of which boasted at least one Veronese, Tintoretto or Rubens, and they provided a vague itinerary for our wanderings. In one, we found ourselves inches away from the most beautiful medieval book of the Gospels, open at the Baptism of Christ. The memory of the jewel-like colours of the illustration, with the tiny figure of Jesus rising from the water as the dove descended in a shaft of golden light should enliven the gloom of many a February morning in Charlton Kings. In another, there was a surprise exhibition dedicated to the musical instruments of the age of Vivaldi, and we two string players gazed lustfully at an Amati bass, standing on the chancel steps inviting someone,- anyone,- to pick up its bow and play. Church visits were rationed, to avoid overload, so the last one we visited was in fact in mistake for somewhere else...but it was here that we followed entranced a set of Stations of the Cross by (I believe) the less famous son of Veronese. They were hung at a very comfortable eye level, so that you found yourself looking directly into the face of Christ as he was whipped, or greeted by the women of Jerusalem; but the crowd wore the clothes of Renaissance Europe, and the faces were those you might recognise in the crowds on the Rialto. In one way, this was incongruous, in another a statement of the profound truth that we are all involved in those events in Jerusalem 2 millennia ago.We had barely finished talking about the relative merits of assorted Venetian lions, when we met this one, clearly newly arrived and breathless from his flight.

Serendipity was the order of the day, and maps were outlawed. We were in the midst of a discussion as to whether Othello (an A level set text) should more properly have been named “Iago” when we crossed the Ponte Mori and found ourselves gazing on a house which carried a plaque depicting a camel and a small, turbanned figure…indisputably the Moor of Venice.
Gondoliers are no less beguiling in winter than amid the summer crowds…we both giggled as we realised that the ubiquitous cry of “Gondola, gondola” is so much a reflex that any gondolier worth his salt will produce it regardless of the time or season (as evidenced by one who pursued us with it, while at the same time clearly intent on shutting up shop as the winter evening drew in); we imagined a gondolier, woken at night by the phone, automatically answering with the well worn cry…
We bought masks, and glass and wonderfully extravagant ear-rings.
We ate wonderful sea-food (spaghetti with cuttle fish is my new favourite supper dish). We sat in the chilly winter sun and ate ice cream, just because it was Italy. We laughed. We danced. We sang bits of Noye's Fludde as we ran over bridges in a flurry of snow. And most of all, we pottered harmoniously. And proved that we CAN do things on our own.
And loved being there, and being together. Life with a grown-up daughter is clearly tremendous fun. Thank you L, for a lovely holiday.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The rest of those ministry questions

Lots to say about Venice, (and, predictably, a sermon to write for tomorrow too) but first I do want to return to Reverend Mommy's questions, before they get lost. It's so helpful to have to think about this sort of thing.

Do you aim for greatness? What is your aim in ministry?
Greatness? What a thought! No…my aim is to be the same sort of faithful priest as my wonderful training vicar. Someone whose sheer, unadulterated goodness shines through in whatever he does and points the way so very clearly to the Father.
Since I know myself to be a long, long way from that state (and no, I’m not fishing…so please don’t feel you need to be kind and jump in with assurances that I’m doing OK:I know myself in ways that even dear and valued blog friends don’t) my current aim is more to make a positive difference in whatever way I can.
Being strictly practical, I would love to be vicar of a church that was large enough for it to be possible to sing “big” hymns without feeling desolate, and to hope that people might have the collective energy and motivation to reach out to their community. After years of Reader ministry in a tiny rural benefice, I know that is very hard if the congregation peaks at 30. There used to be a belief that the Church of England selected candidates whom they thought would fit is as “a team vicar in a market town”. This was always mentioned in a rather disparaging tone, but actually, I think that sort of post might be rather wonderful, if I can’t have my inner-city, urban-priority- area, dream yet awhile. But God generally has rather different ideas to mine, so I'm open to happy surprises.

: 12. How do you keep the enmeshment of church/ministry/family from being overwhelming?
I don’t. If I’m honest (which I do try to be here) it’s a mess and a muddle. Trouble is that the family are so used to my having to squeeze my church stuff into the hours when I wasn’t out at work in the years before ordination, that none of them fusses unduly if I’m in the study when I could or should be with them. And now, of course, there’s the added complication of the study also being the gateway to a whole wonderful online network,- another sort of enmeshment. I hugely envy my American colleagues who seem to have an office at the church. At least then it must be notionally clear where work ends and personal time begins. Here, if I switch on the computer to work on a sermon, I might “just check my emails/bloglines” first …and before I know it, the morning has disappeared. Then, at 10.00 on a Saturday night, when normal women are spending time with their families, I’m still writing the sermon that wasn’t completed this morning because I was busy…blogging!
On the other side of the equation, I also struggle when my family appears to be treading on my toes. LCM belongs to a house group that meets here periodically, and I feel hugely uncomfortable that conversations that pertain to the spiritual well-being of people for whom I am, to some extent, responsible, are taking place in my home but I am not party to them. Wretched.
One way and another, my life is a whole series of hopelessly porous boundaries, and I need to do something about this, or things that I value might just leak out without my ever noticing.

: 13. Would you say you have deep relations with church members? Tips on barriers or boundaries?
Wrong person to ask. See above. I’m pants at this. One vicar I knew overdid it in one direction, and put up such huge barriers that those who longed to offer friendship and support felt thoroughly repulsed and excluded…whereas I give far more of myself away than is probably wise, and am never quite sure where a pastoral relationship ends and friendship begins. People are so amazingly generous with themselves, and invite me into so many hidden places of their lives, it is very hard not to feel intimately and personally committed to them for ever. When special parishioner was dying during my post-Christmas break, I felt dreadful that I only visited the once (even though his family made it very clear that they actually preferred a minimal clergy presence, this wasn't where my relationship with T had been). I forced Wonderful Vicar to keep me up to date on T's condition, and probably made a thorough nuisance of myself to all and sundry. But it hurt. I'd travelled the journey from diagnosis, through gradually declining health and we'd wept, prayed, and explored the hopes and fears of that holy ground...and I wanted to be part of the final phase too,- and beat myself up a fair bit when that wasn't possible.
I knew this would be my biggest problem all along. I have been pleasantly surprised at how easy it is, on the whole, to be with people in some pretty miserable situations and then totally and genuinely hand them over to God, and sleep easy at night,- I don't carry the weight of the world around as I had anticipated, but how things will be when the time comes to move parishes, I really can’t say.

: 14. What is the difference between a mediocre and a good and an excellent pastor?
Degrees of openness and love

: 15. What is a must read author/website? Henri Nouwen, constantly refreshing, challenging and inspiring.
And my everyday essential website,- Maggi.

: 16. Is there a difference in the way that men and women pastor? How would you describe the difference?
Having worked for the largest part of my ministry (my 10 years of Readering) with a woman, albeit one whose temperament was very different from my own, I now find myself working with a man whose approach is distinctly similar. I suspect that the difference with us is more in the way that people allow us to pastor. I think that some are prepared to be more vulnerable with me, and are more willing to believe that the dog-collar does not miraculously mean that I’ve got everything sorted (what am I saying? Anyone who spends any time at all with me will know that I have virtually nothing sorted, heaven help me!!! Including my ration of exclamation marks) Even at 40something, I’m younger than most of the congregation here, which helps to level the playing field (this had been rather a "Father knows best" church, so a female curate is clearly something different for people to negotiate)…I suspect, though, that the reverse also holds good, that some parishioners will feel that I’m too young and inexperienced to be taken totally seriously. Sometimes (though not often) their affirmation can border on the patronising.
My brilliant bishop wanted to know, when I saw him pre-priesting last summer, if I expected there to be a different feel to how I live my priesthood because I am a woman. At the time, I said that I would only ever know the feel of doing it as Kathryn. Not sure that I'm able to be much more coherent now (which is rather a shame, as I get to see him next month for another review*, and I suspect he may hope for more intelligent comments. What do readers think?
I really wish I knew...

*The Archdeacon's visit apparently wasn't the real review at all, but just a sudden swoop in pastoral mode, which his secretary had been confused by...so I didn't actually need that side of A4 at all, though he kindly took it away to make me feel better!

Prayers of the people:an answer for Jennifer

In the comments on my last post Jennifer (whom I was so pleased to hear from: do hope all's well, J?) wondered
Does the church staff there where you are pray together for the parishioners and for their requests? I'm not sure how it's done at my own church, but we have prayer request forms that we can put in the offering plate. Then, every Monday, the pastoral care staff gathers together at 1:00 PM to pray for anyone mentioned on those forms.
Here at St M's, we have a prayer board in the side chapel, beside a supply of tea lights in a sand tray, so that people can come in, write a prayer request and light a candle seven days a week from dawn to dusk. Generally, people are more apt to light candles than to leave anything in writing, but we harvest any prayers from the board that same day, and will pray them during the intercessions at Morning and Evening Prayer, when whoever is leading will weave the need into that part of the prayers...We also have a (very long) list of the sick (both within the parish and families and friends), which is prayed aloud on Sunday mornings and most weekdays by the clergy plus anyone else joining in the Daily Office. Prayers from the board which are specifically about sickness will be added to this list, as will prayers for the departed and their families (who are prayed for for a week following their funeral). People are often reticent about asking for prayer for themselves,- I have a sad feeling that they see it as a very last resort. Certainly, one lovely parishioner who died just after Christmas would only allow me to add his name to the prayer list in his last fortnight of life, though we all knew that he was in the end-stage of cancer for far longer...and that seems to be pretty typical. Indeed, it reminds me of the way, when I was a lay chaplaincy visitor for the children's ward at the local hospital, anxious parents would take huge care to ensure that I knew their child was "only in for his tonsils", as if the very appearance of anyone even semi-clerical could only be a harbinger of doom. What a sad situation to have reached...
We do have a genuine dilemma as to how to remove anyone, ever, from the sick list. Sometimes, in the case of chronic illness, a name can remain there for years, long after anyone in the congregation has a clue who they are praying for...and it is kind of disheartening for them to hear the same empty names read week in, week out. But pruning, unless we actually know an outcome, feels very harsh too. Does anyone have any bright ideas here?

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Reverend Mommy's Questions on Ministry: part 1

Well, I'm off to Venice tomorrow with DarlingDaughter...and I have a fair bit to sort out here first (though at least I've managed to find my passport now), so I'm only doing the first 10 of these questions. They all deserve posts in themselves, really, but my brain is just not up to it tonight, so this will have to stand as my contribution to the debate pro tem. If you haven't all moved on long since before we return, I might tackle the last few questions then...but meanwhile, these are my not terribly considered answers to the first few questions.

1. Is being a pastor detrimental or helpful to your faith?

I think that’s a both/and…It means that I am freed to actually spend most of my time focussed on questions of faith; it gives me permission, indeed obligation, to take it seriously, - to engage, to study, to grow.
But it also deprives me of the opportunity to get lost in worship. By making my faith my “job” it threatens it with an aura of routine drudgery…of “going through the motions”.

: 2. Is being a pastor harder or easier than you imagined from your seminary days?

Don’t think my course was in any way an adequate preparation…except in so far as it accustomed me to the idea of being unprepared, of never having done “enough”. So,- yes, the bits of the role that I worried about in advance are probably easier, but some things, like those days when the diary is NOT overflowing, and I’m not actually clear that I have a “useful” function at all, were unforseen and thus so much harder.

: 3. Have you developed a passion/focus to your [pastoral] ministry?

I have always loved children’s/family ministry….but a new delight has been trying to find new and creative ways of helping others to pray. I guess that’s the focus I want to explore most as time goes by.

: 4. All this talk about clergy burnout-- is it any different than any other job?
The trouble with being clergy is that we are called to set Jesus before us as our model…and he ultimately gave his life. This tends to mean that you can feel pretty selfish and shallow carving out time for yourself…On the other hand, Jesus was very good at taking time out to be with his Father…learning to do that is more of a challenge than it should be. And it’s also an important safe- guard against meltdown, I’m sure.

: 5. How does the congregation show its support? What are the hidden perks to being a pastor?
Lots of hugs and affirmation. The way people are so incredibly generous with their hopes, fears and dreams.

: 6. How do you keep your children safe in their faith and church life?
I sit very light to church life. There is currently little provision for teenagers during worship at St M's , so I don’t make an issue of my children’s attendance. I try to be available if they want to talk “God talk” and I know they all have living relationships with Him…so I don’t fuss about the fact that they’re not there in church Sunday by Sunday. They engage deeply when the situation is right for them, -e.g. Greenbelt,- and I trust God to take care of the rest.
Since they’ve only found themselves as clergy children in their teens, and even now they are only the curate’s family, they have escaped much of the traditional burden of expectation loaded onto vicarage children…which is a blessing for which I truly thank God.

: 7. Do you admonish parishioners? If so, how?
Not so far, and to be honest, I can’t imagine it being part of my ministry. It’s not a traditional feature of the liberal/catholic approach really. I can imagine situations in which I probably should, but I rather pray that I’m not called to…Not my strong point, admonishing! Ask the family.

: 8. Do you pray for your flock? How?

Not enough…..I created a 3 monthly prayer cycle that covers most areas of our congregational life,- but it’s not always possible to keep up with it, what with the Anglican cycle of prayer, the two dozen names on the sick list etc….and in any case there are too many people who don’t fit in to any of the categories. I talk to God about specific situations and people most of the time…and I pray my socks off when administering Communion. I guess he knows that I love them and carry them on my heart….I do hope so.

: 9. Is it enough to be approachable? How do you approach them?
I think that much of my ministry involves loitering with intent, being there, available...but not pursuing. Is that cowardly? I'm not certain...If I sense that someone is moving towards me, I'll go out of my way to meet them...but I don't think it's up to me to force them.

: 10. Do you change lives?
Not me….I baptise babies, I celebrate the Eucharist, I even marry people, so I should be an agent of life changing events, but I don’t do the changing. I pray with people, and try to help them to encounter God. I love them as much as my pathetic capacity allows. But I don’t change lives. Of course not. That's for Him to do.

Silly stuff

You Are Italian Food

Comforting yet overwhelming.
People love you, but sometimes you're just too much.

Given that this time tomorrow, DarlingDaughter and I will be in my very favourite European destination, I'm not totally certain whether being Italian food is actually very desirable,- but hey, at least I'm comforting!

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Since I can't write my sermon

I thought I'd read Bono's. And inspiring stuff it is too. Please do go read.

A number of years ago, I met a wise man who changed my life. In countless ways, large and small, I was always seeking the Lord's blessing. I was saying, you know, I have a new song, look after it…. I have a family, please look after them…. I have this crazy idea...
And this wise man said: stop.
He said, stop asking God to bless what you're doing.
Get involved in what God is doing - because it's already blessed.
Well, God, as I said, is with the poor. That, I believe, is what God is doing.
And that is what he's calling us to do.

This vision, of finding out what God is doing and then joining in is cropping up in all directions right now. It's a crucial feature of fresh expressions of course, and it made me happy to imagine that invitation issued at the US Prayer Breakfast too.
Just think what might happen if it were accepted.

Meanwhile, Bono's words have attracted alot of attention in the blogosphere...
Let's pray they has the same sort of impact on the world's politicians.

Premature nostalgia

Last night, in a determined effort to be out of the house while LCH hosted a study group at home, DarlingDaughter and I went to the cinema. L. refused Brokeback Mountain, on the grounds that our approach would be incompatible (I would try to take it seriously as a film while she was after the eye-candy), so we opted for Rumour Has It, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Nothing earth-shattering in any way, but perfect for a gently mindless Friday night escape. Except, at one moment I found myself weeping, quite unexpectedly.
Jennifer Aniston, in the grip of huge confusion about her roots and her future, stood in the teenager’s bedroom she’d long since left behind her, thinking about what might come next. The room was a familiar muddle of discarded cosmetics, china horses, rosettes for long passed gymkhanas, pictures of rock- stars cut from magazines…and it struck me that there will be a room just like that abandoned here next year.
What’s more, thanks to the nomadic nature of ministry, in 3 years time somewhere else will be home, and there will be no room at all that carries these echoes of L's childhood. I know there’s lots to be said for this, in many ways. No chance of creating an unhealthy shrine, or of pushing her automatically into a role she's thoroughly grown out of.
That's good, then.
But it still saddens me that we will have to make decisions about putting away, maybe even throwing away, childish things rather than letting them gently gather dust, till it feels appropriate, in the fulness of time, to make-over the room. I guess, like many mothers, I’m unprepared for just how quickly these children who’ve been loaned to us grow beyond us, try their wings and are on their way.
(At which point, sentiment is shattered as a cynical voice at the back of my mind interpolates "And probably in your car")

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Hang on....

Justin my friend, I didn't actually say what I think you thought I did! At least, I hope I didn't (though very ready to accept that I should join incoherents anonymous without delay). A few months ago I posted here about how hugely important I believe our church buildings to be...Indeed, an experience of a community (the ex RAF base at Upper Rissington, which has no church) who badly needed somewhere to go, to mourn safely in the presence of God,was a key stage in my own journey to priesthood. I would really struggle to be part of a worshipping community that didn't have an identifiable, and open sacred space...( I believe it's called a church...)...
But I do get fraught when it seems to me that people are so dependent on the external surroundings for their encounter with God that they can't believe that there is any possibility that they might find him anywhere else. I hate the fact that people will talk endlessly to me about St M's, but shy away from ever talking about God....What depressed me about the programme last night was the way the women seemed unable to accept that any alternative place could enable them to engage with God...just as my sad parishioner last week couldn't (or wouldn't) believe that God might be prepared to meet him if he moved from the chapel to the high altar, or from his knees to his feet.
I don't think that buildings are a hindrance to mission (though it was an eternal struggle to maintin 3 medieval churches, with electoral rolls of 40, 12 and 22 repectively) but nor do I think they are an acceptable substitute for it. Does that make more sense?

Oh dear, again!

Yesterday evening, in between manic bouts of review writing, I found myself watching a brief programme on BBC 2 "A Passion for Churches"...
I suppose the title should have been a give-away that this was very much an example of the struggles of individuals in the grip of the heritage bug, but last night's episode struck me as particularly sad. You see, the church threatened with closure was once the centre of a thriving "Children's Village". Quarrier's was clearly the Scots equivalent of Dr Barnardo's , - a whole community dedicated to the welfare of children who would otherwise have been destitute,- and until changes in childcare legislation, the church had been very much part of the life of the place. But, with the disappearance of this sort of institutional social care, it became a building without a realistic purpose. Instead of being crammed with a captive congregation of 1000 children every week, Mount Zion had to take its chance amid the rocky waters of contemporary life like any other church, and the congregation dwindled to more realistic numbers. At this point, the problem of maintenance, money and maths began to grow. The charity which owned the village and the church needs its funds for its fundamental work of social care. The congregation is too small to raise the sums needed to renovate the church, which is beginning to look distinctly decrepit. Having explored all other avenues, the trustees of Quarrier's Charity therefore decided that their best plan was to sell off the church building, and use some of the money generated to create/improve a community centre, including providing what sounded like rather excellent ways of making it an appropriate space for Sunday worship. Their most promising would-be purchaser planned to convert the building into luxury appartments,- generating welcome funds for the charity and preserving the shell of the building at least,- but, predictably, the locals were up in arms.

The programme was a sad catalogue of campaigns, planning appeals and intense conversations between former Quarrier's children and staff...Clearly, the charity did its job very well in creating a safe haven for those in its care,- so much so that they came to associate the church building itself with all that was good about their childhoods. One woman described entering the church as "like receiving a great hug", and there was much nostalgia about the Vespers hymn that the children sang Sunday by Sunday through the years. But at no point did it seem to occurr to any of these impassioned women that they could worship God anywhere else...that it might be his presence that was the source of those feelings of safety and love they recognised in the church....that if they only looked, they could find him all over his world.

How and why did we all get so hooked on buildings? What is the secret of the tyranny they exert? And how do we break free?
I asked the Archdeacon this morning, and he said very sadly that he didn't have a clue...but that it is a universal problem. Is that supposed to make me feel any better?

Never understimate

the effect of a sudden Archdeacon on the state of a Curate's home.
At 11.45 today I was peacefully wandering amid the mayhem of Little Fishes, trying to nerve myself to head off to the Archdiaconal lair for my review meeting, when my mobile rang. It took me a moment or two to realise that it actually was my mobile, as I've recently done a swap (enabling DarlingDaughter to take a camera phone with her when she finally heads off on her travels) and tend not to recognise my new ring tone. Fortunately this time I got to the call before the caller had given up...and lo, the secretary of the Archdeacon spake unto me and revealed that he was, even now, putting on his coat in preparation for driving over to see me. At home. Here. Privet Drive. The cornucopia of chaos a.k.a. the Curate's House. I begged her to delay him for as long as possible, wasted a few precious moments shrieking to anyone within earshot that this was a disaster, and then wooshed down the hill at speeds I won't mention.
I hauled my startled daughter away from the computer, and we set to as if our lives depended upon it...Twenty minutes later, the sitting room looked positively beautiful, the study has a veneer of organisation (only I know just how thin....but it is kind of comforting to see that the carpet is still there, and still grey) and L had just finished sweeping (yes, sweeping...with a real broom) the hall. And he arrived. And was charming, helpful and affirming.
Made me feel a bit silly, actually.
This ministry thing may be a strange way of life, but it's the one that's right for me, and apparently my assorted diocesan bosses recognise and are glad of this.
Best just cut the cackle and get on with it, then.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

It is finished!

All Ordinary Time reflections done and posted, Tax Return completed and submitted on the due day, second (and far more entertaining) stage of Emergency Management training completed...Now all I have to do is sum up the past year in one side of A4 for a ministerial review with the Archdeacon tomorrow morning (can anyone tell me what I've done this year? please!) and tidy the study (yes, again), and I can get on with running the parish. Wonderful Vicar is even now settling down in Bangalore for a month, thanks to our diocesan link with the Church of S India...which means that St M's is, for 4 whole weeks, mine all mine.
Not sure who has most cause for alarm, really!