Saturday, January 28, 2006

Because somebody asked...

Right.
It’s Saturday, and I am practising my evasive tactics to ensure that I have at least one major panic over entries for Ordinary Time. In the spirit of true procrastination, I therefore offer my response to another Friday Five. Since it’s book based, it proved irresistible, - especially given the length of my “to do” list. You see, I'm even procrastinating with my procrastination. This post was due yesterday!

If you received books as holiday presents, how many and what were they? Did you buy any for yourself, and if so what are the titles?
I did really well this year…indeed, I’m not sure I can list all the books I was given. In my stocking I received “The Secret Life of Bees” (which was finished before the end of Holy Innocents’ day), while under the tree was a great heap of theology, most of which I’ve not touched yet, but including David Edwards “Poets and God”, Rowan Williams “Christian Imagination in Poetry and Polity” N.T. Wright “Paul: fresh perspectives” and the rather daunting “Gays and the future of Anglicanism”. There were one or two others, which I fear I’ve lost track of for the moment, and, as a real treat, the new P.D. James (in HARDBACK….such luxury). Sadly, nobody gave me any book tokens, so I've not indulged yet this year, beyond a bargain quartet from a charity shop a couple of weeks ago; who could resist 4 books for £1?

Have you read any of them yet?
All the fiction…none of the theology. Though I’ve done some dipping into Williams and Edwards. Saving Paul for Lent, maybe…

What’s next on your list?
A pile of books on Venice…2 thrillers by Dona Leon, a huge and impressive history by John Julius Norwich and a return visit to the slimmer volume Venice by Jan (or was she then James?) Morris.
For why? Only a week till DarlingDaughter and I set forth on a 4 day city break, which we’ve been plotting for the best part of 3 years. Streets full of water. Please advise!

Do you have a favorite place to read a new book? And does the weather have an impact on that choice?
The rather ugly little chair (seen below, enhanced by Teddy the pirate) beside fake woodburning stove (Curate’s consolation prize for finding herself in the first house ever with no real fire)…or bed. Weather immaterial. I never seem to be given new books in the summer, so don’t have a favourite fair- weather reading spot at all, though I seem to spend a good few hours sitting on a bale of straw at the yard where the ponies live, reading in the sun while LoudBoy indulges in assorted equine activities.

Does reading in bed make you sleepy?
Ridiculously so. It matters not what the time is, if I go upstairs to read in bed that’s it. I might just manage to put the book down before dropping off, but there’s no real guarantee of that. I do have more success reading in bed in the mornings, though, while waiting for my turn in the bathroom…that’s quality time!

Friday, January 27, 2006

Entertaining angels

After the angsts of the last few days, I find myself on the most enormous high this morning (which is probably every bit as wearing for those around me)! But I can't help but share it.

A bit of background first. On Fridays here we have a 7.30 am Eucharist, - so it's not always practical for anyone to be in church at 9.00 am to lead Friday Morning Prayer, and it's not advertised. However, this morning I had a feeling that if I didn't go up to say the Office in church, I might not get round to it at all...I was curled up in bed with a couple of cats and the book of Judges...all too easy not to get up and get on, but not a sensible policy in the long term. So, I dug myself out, whingeing gently, and cycled up to church. I so nearly didn't, though...What an awful thought!

When I went into the contentious chapel, I found a man sitting quietly in the gloom reading the psalms from the Shorter Prayer Book. He was in his 30s, and not someone I recognised at all. I apologised for disturbing him (I'd turned on the light as I went in), and waited expectantly. His response?
"I like coming in here to pray. I've just started working round the corner and I come in most days before and after work.Hope you don't mind"
"MIND?!?!?!?!"

Then he told me his story.Having been brought up anti-church (his mum, a cradle Catholic, had rejected God along with the rigidity of the pre Vatican 2 RC church) he'd had an amazing direct experience of God last August, unsolicited and unexpected, which had changed everything for him. He's just brimming over with the joy of it all,- it was quite hard not to cry listening to him celebrating all that God is doing in him,- quite without any inteference from the church! M. recognises that community will be important in due course (he's had quite a tough time safeguarding the precious reality that he is experiencing, while avoiding confrontation with friends who tend to mock the whole thing) and has been trying various churches across all denominations, looking for somewhere that feels like home. He has been to Trinity (our local mega-church) a few times and likes their life and enthusiasm but needs quiet too, and had enjoyed very different styles of worship in other places. He clearly understands that God is so much bigger than our attempts to constrain him, but has found Him in all of the worship he's experienced (which is rather a relief!) and, he says,never goes away from a church feeling empty (his words). For the moment, therefore, he wants to remain free to experience God in all sorts of different ways.
Having journeyed through the week I have, this was music to my ears and balm to my soul. I'd mentioned that I'd arrived to say Morning Prayer, and M was keen to join me,- but by this time I was thinking
"How do I subject all of this shining reality to the multi-coloured ribbon complexities of CW Morning Prayer? What if it's the thing that stifles all that wonderful life and growth?"
I explained the rough idea of the Office (he was really tickled by the idea that I have to pray as part of my job) and offered him the option of either doing it by the book or just talking to God together. He said that he was always talking to God (somehow, this came as no surprise at all) and would love to see how formal prayer felt. So we prayed the Office together, and it was quite wonderful! And, of course, the burdens of St M's tradition that had so weighed me down this week were lifted in the process as we celebrated God's reality together in a life-giving blend of polished phrases and intense personal communication.
As we finished, the flower ladies appeared, followed by a plasterer and a wedding family wanting to investigate the layout before the day. Just as well. I was so enjoying our companionship before God that it might have been hard to head off into the day. As it was, I left him with the parish mag., complete with contact numbers, in case he'd like to talk more. I wonder if I'll see him again. I hope so...but regardless, his appearance this morning of all mornings was the kind of gift I had so needed. Thanks be to God!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

"It’ll look better in the morning!"

So my mother always used to say,- and she was usually right.
This time, in fact, it looked much better by the evening, thanks to all your kind comments and a lovely service at the Cathedral, to celebrate our Suffragen Bishop’s 10th Anniversary of Consecration. The Cathedral was impressively full, and had the atmosphere of a really good family party…wherever I looked there was someone I recognised, a significant person from some stage of my ordination journey. It was a good to be with them,- and the final hymn, And Can it Be? is on my desert-island hymn list. The last time I sang it was at the end of my First Eucharist back in July…Happy happy Curate.

Just as well, actually, as the 11.00 BCP Communion congregation this morning were full of ire at the “desecration” of their Chapel. Clearly it is much worse to receive in the wrong posture than not to receive at all…An attempt to talk about the message that the building gives was met by blank incomprehension. I might as well have been speaking Urdu.Why on earth should anyone want to suggest that God might be close to his people? Would he still be God if he were??
A huge gulf yawned between me and these parishioners. We simply didn't understand each other at all. I'd fondly imagined that if I put my view across, it would be met with a degree of understanding, if not acquiesence. Now Wonderful Vicar's reluctance to indulge in expositions of the theology of architecture make very good sense. Oh, I have so much to learn!

Mumcat’s comments brought to mind another “ouch” moment in a sermon on the call of Samuel I heard 2 weeks ago… (on that same memorable CME Sunday that inspired so much blogging). J.’s suggestions was that sometimes the distractions that hinder us from hearing God’s voice are the voices that cry “That’s not the way we do things” (rueful grins here…we all knew those voices) or, worse still “That’s not the way I do things”. This one was more challenging. J pointed out that as bright shiney baby curates, fresh off the ordination bench, we might be particularly prone to this problem. After all, we’ve spent time during the training process refining our vision, and when we arrive in our parishes, we are longing to see our dreams become realities. Sometimes this is just as it should be, but J suggested that there are times when the exasperated clergy have to accept that God may be perfectly happy with “The way we’ve always done things”…That to impose our vision of “the way I do things” on our faithful congregations can be the highest form of arrogance. Arrogance is probably top of my list of most hated character traits in others (and, unsurprisingly, it's therefore one I'm not good at acknowledging in myself). I’m one who really struggled with the possibility of a call to leadership of any kind, because, I thought, I was fundamentally reticent about imposing my own agenda on anyone…but I could definitely recognise myself in the frustrated professional who knows so much better than her congregation what we should be doing with the church.
"Ouch",- of a lesser order, but still ouch! It is so much easier to assume a concerned, vaguely holy look and murmur about God going ahead of us into a new future, than to look for him in the things of the past and present that we find uncongenial. I'm not suggesting that dreams and plans are always wrong,- not even that our dreams and plans for St M's are mistaken. I'm just reminding myself that I might actually be quite wrong about how God's dream for the place will actually play out.

This morning, one elderly lady of great dignity said with mounting despair
“You’ve changed so much in my lifetime. We don’t have the Prayer Book. We don’t have a “proper” (west facing) altar. And it hasn’t brought new people in”
There are other reasons for this, as many of the mothers who attend Little Fishes will tell you,- but her perception is clearly that we are attempting to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic to no good purpose…Implicit in this, of course, is the understanding that the ship is going to sink anyway (and an unspoken thought among my older congregation that this won't matter as long as it lasts them out). That’s not a conclusion I’m happy to go with, though. Here, more than in many places that I’ve lived and worshipped, I can really see the value of the parish system. The presence of the church building speaks loudly into this community, and we have relationships and contacts far beyond the regularl congregation…People who are not yet ready to commit themselves to the search for God but who might well never get around to it without that daily invitation which they have to pass wherever they go in Charlton Kings. So, I'm going to continue to do everything I can to encourage the church to recognise and accept its responsibility for mission in this place. That may, I suspect, involve a building that speaks of openness and welcome...but of course, I might be wrong.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Ouch!

I'm about to break my self-imposed ruling on not blogging uncomfortable things about St M’s, because I could do with a bit of soothing advice, and maybe a few prayers too.
I’ve told you about our 2 experimental Sundays when, having rearranged the seating and removed the altar rail from St D’s chapel, we are asking communicants to receive standing…
There was some work done on preparing the way for this via an article in the parish mag, and words from Wonderful Vicar before the service began. With hindsight, perhaps we should have said more about the theology we are trying to convey, have spoken more about the accessibility of God, maybe- but it’s easy to be wise after the event. At the time Sunday was lovely.I was presiding, which continues to be a great delight, and I was also privileged to baptise one of our choristers (an 8 year old boy who requested the sacrament for himself….I’m hugely proud of him!),- so there was a lot of joy about the place. Comments at the door afterwards were largely positive too, and those who were always going to hate any change appreciated that they had retained the option of receiving “meekly kneeling” at the high altar. All in all, we felt that day 1 had gone very smoothly..
Until, that is, the vicar received a calm and measured letter from a parishioner yesterday. Yes, he objected, but it was inevitable that some people would, and there was nothing startling in his objections. These were based on Anglican tradition…his appeal was firmly to his upbringing and to loyalty to the 39 Articles. We had invited comment, and it was helpful to hear his anxieties voiced. Clearly he suspects some sinister episcopal plot to turn us into identikit modern RCs,- so we need to address those concerns at an early opportunity. That’s all fine. But I was nonetheless left wanting to run away and cry because of a final paragraph
“For the first time in 30 years I left the altar feeling I had not been fed…indeed, I was not even sure I would have the will to carry on this week”
The person concerned had come up to the high altar to receive…so hadn’t even experienced this terrible alteration in our practice directly. And I had given him the Sacrament, and spoken to him afterwards oblivious to the seething misery that was clearly gripping him.
I feel that I’ve failed as a priest because I was celebrating this Eucharist that so obviously left him feeling anxious and excluded. And I feel I’ve failed as a human being because, if he felt as desolate as his letter, I should surely have picked this up. I hate the fact that it was possible amid so much celebration for pain to go unnoticed. I hate that I was clearly not sufficiently present. And I hate to think that faith can be so wobbly that the prospect of receiving at a different altar from your norm can throw the whole thing off balance. As I said earlier
OUCH

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A Cautionary Tale!

I guess that most of my readers will be familiar with the idea that prayer can be a dangerous business.
Just how dangerous was brought home to me a few weeks before I arrived at St M’s. I’d had quite a tough day at work, and was anxious about a good friend who was having a specially horrible time in her life, so I decided that I’d stop off at St M’s on my way home to the dream house in the country. It seemed a good opportunity to enjoy my anonymity there, while also helping me to begin to feel at home, and to claim a much needed space with God.
The little side chapel, dedicated to St David, felt like an ideal spot…
The Sacrament is reserved there, and when I’d visited wonderful vicar to discuss my curacy we’d said Evening Prayer there too…so I went in and settled myself comfortably at a prayer desk just in front of the aumbrey.
Some time later, I was ready to go on my way, calmed and refreshed. I stood up.
Only, in standing I must have knocked the prayer-desk so that it wobbled slightly…and that was enough.
Instead of the prayerful silence I’d enjoyed there was, suddenly, a terrible clamorous noise.
A deafening noise, that so filled the air that it was almost tangible as well as all too audible…A noise to stun the living and wake the dead. A noise that paralysed both thought and deed.
My only and instinctive reaction was “I must get out of here” – so I did just that, heading for the churchyard as fast as my shaking legs could carry me.
Once out there, common sense took over. I realised that, far from pressaging a nuclear holocaust, the noise was probably “only” the intruder alarm…I realised, too, that it was a Monday, and the only person I knew in the parish, wonderful vicar, took Monday as his day off. I was sure that nobody could ignore the din…so I sat outside and waited for the rescue party to show up.
I waited, and waited, and waited.
Only, nobody came.
My carefully planned speech about being the future curate rather than a desperate criminal went unspoken.
I just sat there, in the churchyard, while the air was rent with the deafening alaram (for once, the sound was definitely worthy of that spelling). Finally, a good half hour later, I concluded that I would have to go home and feed my family…
I could (and did) email M. later to apologise and explain.
But I wondered, as I drove, what would have happened if I had been a casual visitor. Someone going through a crisis, perhaps, who had seen the open door and decided to give God and his church one more chance.
I’m sure if the trauma of the afternoon would have been enough to put them off prayer for the rest of their lives.
It took me a while to relax there, too.
And I’m hyper-careful to turn off every possible sensor, when I go into church first thing.
After all, with prayer you can never be too careful!

To the west or to the east...

Just to clarify, in case yesterday's post confused things,- when I celebrate at the High Altar, I am facing the people. However, since the servers who are close by are typically kneeling a few steps below the altar, and the rest of the congregation is several miles away, it feels very much as if I'm on my own. Parts of this are very precious. I love the moment, after the Eucharistic prayer, when we say the Lord's Prayer. With no responsibility to lead at this point, (if the congregation aren't confident in this of all prayers, then there's very little that I or anone else can do to improve things) and the consecrated host immediately before me on the altar, for the space of that prayer Ifeel myself alone before God, who is unimaginably close.
That has been one of the most unexpected gifts of priesthood,- the way God has re-taught me to pray those words and mean them afresh each time. So, there is always that intimacy...and at the distribution, our intimacy in community is reiterated...but the midweek experience is something very different.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Architectural theology?

One of the glimpses of the blindingly obvious that hit me during my time at vicar school was just how much a church building says about that congregation’s theology. Leaving aside obvious elements- (the relative importance of pulpit or altar, an empty cross or a crucifix),-…there are a whole host of other clues, some of which I’d not have picked up 10 years ago.
Take St M’s ! (no, go on, do take it….the PCC won’t mind a bit, really ;-) )
If you’ve been reading for any length of time, you’ll know that while I love being the curate here, there are things about the church building itself that I find very difficult.
One of these (well, 8 of these, to be strictly accurate) is the series of pillars that divides the nave from the two side aisles. Another the way the clergy stalls are arranged so that you’re expected, when leading worship, to spend most of your time with your back to the congregation. Yet another is the fact that the high altar is so far away from the pews that you honestly aren’t sure if you’ll be in the same country by the time you arrive there….
Still dealing with the impact of last week’s CME, I can confidently assert that the building at St M’s was designed to emphasise the awesome mystery of God…no nonsense about passibility for our church architects, that’s for sure!
Sometimes that’s tolerable…at others, not. I specially struggle with the way, after a theft a few years ago, an alarm system was installed,- its impact enhanced by the notices hung on ropes across the sanctuary “This area is alarmed”. (You can even see this in the picture.) Though our church is open from dawn till dusk 7 days a week, it is at a price, and it seems to me that the subtext is “And God is far too huge and awe inspiring to be approached without protective clothing”. It's all rather reminiscent of the attitude of the Israelites, who nominated Moses for irl meetings with God, in case God were to turn nasty.*

However, change is in the air. Before I arrived here, there was a major parish survey “The Way Ahead”, which sought to discover just what the congregation most value about St M’s, and what they feel is ripe for change. As part of considering suggestions, we have for a 2 week trial re-ordered the side chapel, removing the altar rail and arranging the chairs in a wide semi circle, which seems to invite you in. I’m thrilled. This is where we pray the Office daily, and I have really not enjoyed the feeling of sitting in serried ranks…nor have I enjoyed celebrating midweek Eucharists facing east, with my back to the congregation.
Even so, it felt quite startling to be celebrating with a tiny Friday morn congregation facing me, only a few feet away. As an inexperienced priest, I had to do a sudden rethink about gesture, posture, eye contact. It all felt very intense. Intimate. Almost like being grouped around a dinner table……
Our normal Sunday worship is characterised by the traditional prayer of humble access
"We do not presume
to come to this your table, merciful Lord,
trusting in our own righteousness,
but in your manifold and great mercies.
We are not worthy
so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table.
But you are the same Lord,
whose nature is always to have mercy.
Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord,
so to eat the flesh of your dear son Jesus Christ
and to drink his blood,
that we may evermore dwell in him
and he in us."


then the re-ordered chapel says something more akin to the alternative

Most merciful Lord,
your love compels us to come in.
Our hands were unclean,
our hearts were unprepared;
we were not fit
even to eat the crumbs from under your table.
But you, Lord, are the God of our salvation,
and share your bread with sinners.
So cleanse and feed us
with the precious body and blood of your Son,
that he may live in us and we in him;
and that we, wit the whole company of Christ,
may sit and eat in your kingdom.


I know which way I'd prefer to end up, - but it's not about my agenda, so watch this space!

*
(Actually, I do have a good story about that alarm system….but that’s a blog for another day)

Friday, January 20, 2006

Just so's you know...

For the moment, (pending further reorganisation of my theology) I'm operating on the basis of my previous conviction that God does indeed suffer. Despite David's compelling case, I'm not at all sure that he doesn't, and in any case I'd rather be heretical than unkind, I think. I do realise that this is a risky path to tread, which might lead to places far better unvisited,- but there's not alot of point in having my doctrines all beautifully polished and arranged in rows if there's not enough love in evidence, is there?

I spent this afternoon with a mother who is suffering from panic attacks and long-term depression, following a period of truly Job-like disasters, and there it was clear that for her, only a suffering God could help. She already has more than enough sense of a remote figure who is far too important to be bothered with the likes of her, but talking to her about a God who watched his Son going through unutterable pain made some sort of connection possible. Part of her agony relates to her own children, whom she fears she is damaging through her illness (and of course, that fear does little to speed her recovery)...so for her, I was glad to turn to Vanstone once again

"Thou art God; no monarch thou
Throned in easy state to reign;
Thou art God, whose arms of love
Aching, spent, the world sustain."

Together we placed S. and all her family in those arms, and for a moment or two she seemed peaceful as she rested in their embrace.

Enough of all this theology...















Teddy, the three-legged pirate cat demonstrates that inaction speaks far louder than words.
He is, incidentally, aware that this chair is not ideal for his colouring, but has thus far been unable to determine whether he looks better on the navy sofa in the sitting room, or the blue-grey in the study, and finds the process of considering this nearly as exhausting as contributing to the recent debates here.

Additional post-script for the benefit of any Real Live Pirates visiting
We did for one brief but glorious period have not one but two pirate cats...Teddy with his peg-leg and Vanessa, with her one eye (though attempts to persuade her to wear a patch were sadly unsuccessful). Both, of course, were full-time bucklers of swash, as well as ruling the Fleming family with an iron paw. I just thought you might like to know!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Aspiration to an experience.

This morning, a friend who reads this pointed out to me the difference between training
(as typified by the Gloucestershire County Council Emergency Management day last week) and education, that which draws you on, enlarging your mind to embrace new thoughts and possibilities...something that David Hoyle does most excellently. Clearly, I will continue pondering, without reaching any definite conclusion for the foreseeable future, and I'm fine with that.

“We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started... and know the place for the first time.”

I did say that anything that sent me to Four Quartets was clearly intent on nourishing my soul, and there is perhaps something here about a truth understood at an indefinable but real depth, which is pertinent here.

Special thanks to Paul, for comments on yesterday's post...not least the last sentence
Just for today I feel God is simply to be experienced
That is not only very helpfully true, but also connects with this poem, which David produced as an additional sideways perspective on the whole question. It was new to me, though as I've found it on a website subtitled "A poem a day for American High Schools" I suspect it may be laughably familiar to some readers. In any case, it's a beautiful expression of the need to experience rather than dissect.

Introduction to Poetry
Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

More questions than answers

I did say, when posting yesterday, that I was unlikely to do justice to D’s compelling presentation, and in reading your comments I realise that I have confirmed my own worst. expectations!
John…I think that what D was saying (though I may be misinterpreting…he is a seriously clever man, and sometimes I really do feel as if I’m barely hanging onto the coat-tails of his thoughts, though he doesn’t in any way go in for blinding with science, praise be) is that we have a tendency to endow God with our own feelings…To that extent, I would have thought that you and he were in agreement in your final paragraph
"what we want and need" is hardly a yardstick by which we can establish what God actually is! We may think we need many things, but God is still God regardless."
D’s contention was that God remains always and only pure Love…but that depending on our current condition, we may experience that Love in ways that feel more like anger, or sorrow, or, sometimes, sheer delight. We limit God when we suggest that what he feels is akin to what we feel, (albeit different in degree), and when we use these terms…what Timothy Rees describes as “that self same aching” is in fact of a totally different order, and not the self same at all.
He made a point which I don’t think I’ve fully grasped, about God being all act,- the act of love….and as that act is undifferentiated, a permanent state of being, then God cannot suffer or change. “What God is, he always is; and what God is, is always himself”.
“I am what I am/I will be what I will be”.
Poor Moses. What sort of answer was that for him? But it was all the answer that he was given..unless you count the next 40 years, of course. But perhaps those years say rather more about the character of Moses and of the Israelites than they do of God?

But then, like Songbird, I would assume that to love means to suffer…and, Paul, never more so than when God sees his Son on the cross. As we wrestled with these huge ideas, D passed round copies of poems and paintings to help our thoughts.


My group spent a while studying this (if anyone knows the artist, please tell do me: I failed to write it down, in the heat of the moment) and latched on to the Trinitarian presence at Calvary,the way that so much of the Father is hidden by the Son (so the incarnate Jesus is the only lens through which we can see God?) but that here, while the Son is portrayed in the peace of death, there is a great weary sorrow on the Father’s face. The Father is holding his Son through his suffering, and having emptied himself into that frail body on the cross, carries all its pain. That made sense to me.

But so too did David’s assertion that, in our eagerness to make connections with God in ways that we can understand, we too easily load him with our own emotions, the emotions that we imagine we would feel were we “in his position”.
And the fact that, if extended logically, the idea of God’s suffering ultimately puts him at the power of his creation, and negates his power to redeem it (but then, I thought that his power over creation lay precisely in his vulnerability, which subverts the natural order and expectations…) D recommended a book “The Cruelty of Heresy” by C.F. Allison, which I’m hoping might illuminate this aspect a bit more for me, assuming I ever have time to read it.
Please, if anyone who's reading this was actually there, do comment if you think I’ve grossly distorted David’s thesis. There are so many thoughts whirring around, it’s more than possible.
He did, though, acknowledge that we were left in a place of discomfort, of huge and perhaps unanswerable questions…and stressed our obligation to continue to wrestle with them. Even trying to present the discussion has almost floored me, so perhaps its not surprising that the concepts themselves, and the Truth beyond them, remain rather elusive. On the whole, though, I prefer T.S. Eliot to John’s Lewis Carroll allusion

Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still

It's probably just a more dignified way of saying the same thing,- but any excuse to revist Four Quartets must surely be good for the soul, after so much wrestling with serpents.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Does God suffer?

The final tranche of last week’s training marathon came on Sunday with a CME day, led by the utterly wonderful David Hoyle, and entitled “Does God Suffer?”
I won’t do his argument any sort of justice I’m afraid…his is the sort of mind that makes my fuddled brain catch fire and remember that it used to be quite competent once upon a time. He makes thinking the most exciting process…When I hear him teach or preach, I always feel that I’m alive in a new and special way,- and that there are great possibilities waiting just around the corner,- and this even when he disagrees with some of my cherished assumptions.

He began the day by by placing the hymn by Timothy Rees “God is love, let heaven adore him” against the old stalwart “Immortal, Invisible”.
D. said that he was quite unable to sing Rees’ second verse
God is Love; and he enfoldeth
All the world in one embrace;
With unfailing grasp he holdeth
Every child of every race.
And when human hearts are breaking
Under sorrow's iron rod,
Then they find that selfsame aching
Deep within the heart of God.


To this my unspoken reaction was,
"Well, that’s fine, but there is more than one verse of Immortal Invisible that sticks in my throat”.

For, you see, I was quite sure that God suffered. When I posted the excerpt from Helen Waddell’s Peter Abelard after the London bombings last summer, that picture of the suffering of God extending to the heart of his nature even as the rings of a tree extend right through the trunk, though only visible where the wood is cut open, exactly reflected my own view. For me, the cross was the truth of God. I love Herbert Vanstone, Moltmann and all the noble company who have, over recent decades, argued for the passibility of God. Clearly I am a child of my time, in my theology at least, and I have met so many situations in which I have cried, with Bonhoefferonly a suffering God can help”.


D., though, argued persuasively from the traditional stance of the Fathers, that this is in fact heresy…That in imagining a suffering, vulnerable God we are guilty of creating Him in our image. That, though Christ is the only lens through which we can see the Father, this does not mean that it is appropriate to attribute to the Father the sort of human experiences that we recognise in Jesus, the Incarnate God….That we are all too prone to blurring the distinctions between the persons of the Trinity, as we claim that “God yearns for a relationship with us” that “He feels our pain”.
We are guilty of extrapolating from our own experience of how love reacts in a particular situation, and attributing those feelings to the Creator who is always and forever of a different order of being from his creatures. We domesticate God, saying that we have progressed since the days when even the hem of God’s robe, filling the Temple, was enough to make Isaiah exclaim “Woe is me…for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts”.
I'm currently trying the discipline of reading the Bible in 90 days, joining other bloggers but not convinced that this is actually the most helpful way for me to plug my innumerable gaps in knowledge and love of the Scriptures. But it does mean that I've been immersed in all the infinitesimal details of the Levitical laws, and am getting a sense of the inexpressible awe that they felt at being the people chosen by the Living God. For the first time, I've begun to understand why my OT Lecturers would insist that the Law was protective rather than prescriptive...and to wonder whether my cheerful assumption that we have moved on in our understanding of God since those days speaks more of arrogant confusion than of liberation in Christ. Why should I presume that I know God so much better? God the Father is, truly, completely other...
In speaking of the Father, the apophatic line seems after all to be safest, though this is not to say that God is simply an intellectual principle. All we truly know about God the Father, said D, is the way that He engages with humanity in the person of Christ. All our language breaks down when we speak of him, unless we reduce him to fit our puny understandings. So we have a Trinity of Father, God beyond all vision….Son, the God we see and recognise…and Spirit…God so close to us that we can barely see him.
In addition, D pointed out the logical extension of a God who suffers...that he becomes powerless to help us in or ultimately to redeem our suffering. It is this view with Joan Northam presents in The Kingdom, the Power and the Glory when she writes
"what I want and urgently need is a Rescuer with a very bright light and a long ladder, full of strength, joy and assurance who can get me out of the pit, not a god who sits in the darkness suffering with me”.

It all made, and makes, good intellectual sense for me, but I’m left struggling with how I use this in pastoral situations of great pain where heart sense is what matters. D told us of an encounter between the theologian Herbert McCabe, a staunch defender of the Classical position, and Margaret Spufford, whose own experience placed her non-negotiably within the camp of those who require a vulnerable, suffering God. The encounter was oddly disappointing, as McCabe spoke entirely from the head, and Spufford from the scars of her own life, and they simply reiterated their own positions with no real dialogue...It felt to me as if a similar process was going on in my own being...Where do I go with these alternative thoughts on the nature of God the Creator?
I’m anxious too that in stressing the distinction between Father and Son, I could either slip into modalism, or worse still suggest that sort of picture of a just but loveless Father sending his innocent son to his death…but there lurks penal substitution, so there I cannot and will not go.

I wrote an essay on this very topic only 2 years ago, at vicar school...but the arguments that I used then, which clearly impressed the markers, seem less satisfying today. In my final paragraph then I quoted Moltmann (no surprise there!) as if these words clinched the whole discussion...Today I am less confident that they do.
“If God has taken upon himself death on the cross, he has also taken upon himself all of life and real life as it stands under death, law and guilt. In so doing he makes it possible to accept life whole and entire and death whole and entire. Man is taken up, without limitations and contradictions, into the life and suffering, the death and resurrection of God….There is nothing that can exclude him from the situation of God between the grief of the Father, the love of the Son and the drive of the Spirit"

Perhaps its not so much the theology of suffering as our theology of the Trinity that needs and overhaul?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Thanks for the memory! More training...

It’s a long, long time since my parents died. 27 years. I’ve cried my tears, raged a bit, then picked myself up and got on with life in the only way I knew how,- by continuing to live with the enthusiasm and excitement they had bequeathed to me. Of course I missed them,- still do, and never more so than as my children pass particular milestones, or enjoy a particular achievement. Then I grieve for a relationship never lived out. But overall, if anyone asks, I can honestly say that the needful grieving has been accomplished.
So, when I took part in a training event organised by Winston’s Wish, the Gloucestershire charity offering support to bereaved children and their families, I didn’t expect to find myself directly emotionally engaged by the day. I was there to learn by observing, I thought. However, Winston’s Wish work is centred on helping children to engage with, express and share their feelings, and there are a wide range of creative ways to achieve this,.It soon became clear that this was a day to feel as much as to think, to reach for the kleenex more than the notepad.
We began by hearing a poem by Terry Kettering

The Elephant in the Room:
There's an elephant in the room.
It is large and squatting, so it is hard to get around it.
Yet we squeeze by with, "How are you?"
and "I'm fine," and a thousand other
forms of trivial chatter.
We talk about the weather.
We talk about work.
We talk about everything else,
except the elephant in the room.

There's an elephant in the room.
We all know it's there.
We are thinking about the elephant as we talk together.
It is constantly on our minds.
For, you see, it is a very large elephant.
It has hurt us all.
But we don't talk about the elephant in the room.
Oh, please say his name.
Oh, please say his name again.

Oh, please, let's talk about the elephant in the room.
For if we talk about his death,
perhaps we can talk about his life.
Can I say his name to you and not have you look away?
For if I cannot, then you are leaving me....
alone....
in a room....
with an elephant.


The rest of the day was taken up with stories and techniques to help us help others to confront the “elephant” that is the death of someone special. We were given an opportunity to explore the tools that Winston’s Wish staff use, and I can confirm at first hand how effective they are at enabling you to explore and then voice your feelings. One exercise was the memory jar.
We were each given 6 sheets of paper, a small lidded jar filled with salt and access to coloured chalks. We were asked to choose a person whom we wanted to remember, and invited to choose 5 memories…either attributes or specific events that represented them. We then chose one colour for each memory, divided our salt into piles on each of the sheets of paper, and coloured it by rubbing the chalk over the salt. This process can take a long time….specially if you are intent on a darker shade…and is oddly engaging and therapeutic in itself. As each pile of salt is coloured, it is poured into the jar, which can be angled to create the pattern and emphasis that reflects your thoughts…I chose to have more of some colours than of others, in recognition that some elements of my picture were stronger. When all was finished, the salt shaken down and secured in place with cotton wool beneath the lid, we were invited to share the memories each jar represented.

It was a delight to bring my father to life again, as I told the rest of the group what each memory meant to me. After a such a long time, it’s easy to lose track of your memories…to retell some familiar stories but bypass others. As I created my memory jar, I considered what made my father the man he was, rather then simply relating what he did at key points in my life. And I loved it.

But I was struck by the way that, even in the Church, we collude in denying the presence of the "elephant". It somehow feels intrusive to mention it, even when it is at the forefront of everyone’s minds…but what is intended as a loving deception is often far from helpful. And for us, surely, it is unnecessary. We are an Easter people. We believe that death is not the ultimate disaster but simply a change in our circumstances, a transition from one state to another, through which we remain securely held in God’s love. If this is our faith, then surely we can have the courage to explore alongside others who walk the holy ground that the psalmist called “the valley of the shadow”. We can have confidence that God is with us as we tenderly approach the grief of others, even as He is there to support us in our own experience of loss. And from those experiences, he can make something beautiful. If you don’t believe me, - ask me to show you my memory jar!

What alot of training!

Last week, by coincidence, 3 separate training opportunities, organised under very different headings, came together…The well worn analogy of the London bus definitely crossed my mind as I looked at my diary on the Monday, and realised just what the week held.
In the event, the impact of the 3 days was wildly different, though I guess I’m glad I attended all of them.
Wednesday saw me in the bowels of Shire Hall, the centre of Gloucestershire’s Local Government, undergoing the first part of a two day training for “Emergency Management”. Aside from the fact that my domestic life sometimes feels like one long emergency, I signed up for this because it is only under the auspices of the “Emergency Management VolunteersTeam” that clergy can have any access to those affected by a major crisis…be it a terrorist attack or something less dramatic,- perhaps a rail crash or a serious fire. I know myself well enough to realise that I would find it intolerable to be living close to such an event and be unable to offer any sort of help…so Wednesday was the price I had to pay. I should say, loudly, that the plans in place for all and any contingency are impressively thorough…and it is good to know that if disaster does strike, someone has thought through the implications. That said, the training we were offered was for the most part frustratingly basic. Apparently, when we are fully qualified (having attended day 2) we will be competent to help those affected by the crisis complete a registration form…We may be deputed to make cups of tea. We may even be cleared to clean loos.
Not that I have any problem with any of that…but I do rather baulk at the need for 2 training days to ensure that we’re capable of carrying out these tasks. What really startled me, though, was the realisation that some people who are nominated for day 1 are deemed unready for day 2 (of course, there is always the terrifying possibility that I might find myself among these poor unwanted souls)…I honestly cannot see that I learned anything whatsoever on Wednesday that common sense had not imparted years before. I know that people react differently under stress, but to be confronted with that degree of “I” dotting and “t” crossing was a culture shock, to say the least, to one who operates largely on intuition.
I expect it was good for me!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Happy Birthday L!

My gorgeous girl is 19 today...She had the day off work, and by a happy serendipity I have no preaching committments tomorrow (another training day) so we've been shopping, shopping, SHOPPING!
She now has a lurvely new hat, a gift from her brother (L takes after her mother in being a hat-o-holic), 2 pairs of shoes
(1 from the Sally Army shop, where I also ran mildly amock in the book department, snaffling 4 books I really did want to read for the massive sum of £1) a bag, a top and a beaming smile. We've also chosen the most eccentric meal for a long long time...mainly Chinese, majoring on crispy duck pancakes, but followed by chocolate caterpillar cake and marshmallows - oh, and chocolate soldier skittles, complete with chocolate ball with which to send them flying. Must go...it's party time!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Friday Cat blogging


Tallis demonstrates exactly why I should now turn off my computer and get on with tidying the study...See you on the other side,assuming I ever arrive there!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Rockier still...

How much greater the devastation when the answer from the Selectors was a resounding NO
There followed an agonising summer. Our two bishops argued over what do with me, till I felt like a bone between two episcopal dogs.Should they, or should they not overrule the Selectors’ decision? I didn't know what I wanted. People were so outraged and appalled that it was impossible to have a normal conversation with anyone remotely involved. And in the middle of it all, I was left trying to recognise myself in the description of the candidate whom the Selectors appeared to have met….someone I couldn't relate to at all.
The next year was hard. I was grieving for a vocation I had only just acknowledged . My Reader ministry, which I had always loved and valued, suddenly seemed to be second best….My longing to celebrate the Eucharist hit me with fresh intensity whenever I attended the service. And worst of all, I was no longer sure who I was. The Selectors’ comments must have had some basis in reality, but it was not a reality that made any sense at all to me.
Through all that, though, two things remained with me.
One was some words of Rowan Williams.
“Vocation, you might say, is what is left when all the games have to stop” and the other was the small pebble of certainty that my vocation was, despite everything, to priesthood….
I returned to a Selection Conference 18 months later. This time I went filled with a calm assurance that this was exactly what I was supposed to be doing with my life. This time the Selectors were overwhelmingly supportive. And this time, I had the courage to offer to go on whatever terms God wanted…even if it did mean leaving the most beautiful house in the world.
And, 3 years after that, as I processed into the Cathedral at the start of my diaconal ordination, I knew that I was coming home to somewhere more precious than all the houses in England.

One interesting footnote, though. It wasn’t until the retreat before my priesting last summer that God brought me to the point where I could recognise the truth of some of the comments made by that first team of Selectors…It was a really wonderful realisation. They had been right about aspects of me, but utterly wrong about the conclusion they reached. If I’ve learned nothing else along the way, I do now know that God uses all sorts of broken people, and that recognising one’s own wounds can neither be rushed nor avoided.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The rocky road to discernment part 1

A recent post on the revgals site enquired about any roadblocks or confusions along our way to discerning who we really are before God. The post had a wider application than simply for those en route to ordained ministry, and I suspect I’ve blogged some of this before, but the roadblocks I encountered were so utterly devestating for me at the time that it might just be worth recording them once again, for the benefit of anyone else similarly afflicted.

My call to ordination came, with hindsight, very very clearly at a family service on St David’s Day 1991. The guest preacher that day was the diocesan Children’s Officer, Canon Eleanor Powell, who was the first ordained woman I'd then encountered. Towards the end of her talk, a voice spoke so distinctly that I looked around for its source. “You could do that for me”, it said.
Never being one for the obvious interpretation, I decided (having established that none of my neighbours was trying to enlist my help in retrieving a fallen walking stick or glove) that this was a call to children’s work, and spent the next several years training as a Reader for Children’s Ministry, and getting involved in all sorts of diocesan groups designed to nurture the young and support their parents. I loved it. It fitted perfectly round my life with my own young family. If I was running a children’s event for a neighbouring parish or deanery, my children came too and had a ball. I was having my cake and eating it, and it was delicious.
The only trouble was, people kept asking me when I was going on to the next stage.
"Next stage? " I’d laugh, incredulously…”This is the final stage for me. I’m doing quite enough to keep God happy…and anyway, I don’t want to put myself in the position where I might have to move house.”
Thereby hangs another tale. When I was asked as a small child what I wanted to do when I grew up, my response was always “To live in a Georgian house in the country, with an apple orchard and a porch full of gum-boots”…so, Lower Farmhouse was literally a dream come true. It had open fires, stone flagged floors, window seats, and roses growing round the front door. It was, quite simply, all I had ever wanted, and as I became ever more involved in the life of the village and the church I would day-dream about the flowers for DarlingDaughter’s wedding (she must have been all of 10 by this point) and wonder if the lawn was big enough for a marquee when the time came. By now, everyone but me could see the next part coming!
The C of E voted to ordain women to the priesthood and the trickle of “When are you going to…?” questions became if not a flood then at least a reasonably healthy river,- and I finally recognised that I would at least have to offer, if only to get some peace. Only, the house was non negotiable. I would offer on the basis of non- stipendiary ministry, which would allow me to continue to serve in my home parish, stay at home, continue with everything exactly before….
The diocese was delighted that I was finally getting around to doing what seemed to be obvious to everyone except me. I sailed through all the local interviews, and was given a date for my national Selection Conference. Suddenly it all began to seem alarmingly real.
My journey to Windsor was dogged by misfortune. My elderly 2CV clearly had no enthusiasm for becoming a clergy car! The final straw came when I stopped for petrol, and, as I indicated to leave the garage afterwards, found the indicator stalk resting lightly in my lap.Faced with the Heathrow perimeter-road at rush hour and no possibility of reliable signals, I was tempted to burst into tears and head straight home. Instead, I pressed on. Probably an error.
To arrive at your selection conference 2 hours after it starts is rarely the best approach.
Nor is it wise to mention the negative impact of the Christian Union during your undergraduate career to a selector who, with hindsight, was on the committee of that very body during the years you were studying there yourself!
Over a 3 day period, I spent a lot of time hammering nails into a coffin I couldn’t recognise as such. But amid all the interviews, group exercises and agonising non- verbal intelligence tests (I have NO spatial awareness….scored well into negative numbers with the utterly logical sequences of patterns and boxes, even as I startled the assessors with my perfect score on all things verbal) something rather wonderful was happening. In the chapel one evening, I realised that I was unmistakeably in the right place. That whereas I had gone to the conference out of a sense of duty, a need to get people off my back, I was now certain beyond any doubt that my calling was indeed to ordained ministry. Returning home, as I drove down the hill into the village, and saw the familiar, beloved fa├žade of Lower Farmhouse, I heard myself saying to God
“Yeah, OK, it’s a nice house, but there are other nice houses. It doesn’t matter in comparison with this. But then, nothing much does. I’ll never be truly me if I don’t do this, will I?"

Monday, January 09, 2006

Follow that star!

Yesterday was the first OpenHouse of the New Year, transferred from the first Sunday of January because even I could see that it was unlikely that anyone would turn out on the afternoon of New Year's Day. Unfortunately, though my children returned to school last Wednesday those in Charlton Kings don't start the new term till today, so my usual publicity networks weren't available. I'd plugged the service wildly at all our Christmas family events, where we'd welcomed several hundred children all told, but wasn't wildly optimistic that this would have had any impact. I know by personal experience how horribly easy it is to lose track of practically anything during the Christmas period. Worse still, it was a clammy, damp grey afternoon, perfect for curling up with a good book or an elderly film.
So, I wasn't unduly surprised at 3.45 that the church was empty, apart from the wonderful team who make OpenHouse work at all. Two minutes later, one family appeared (grandparents, uncle and toddler - fast asleep!). They were followed by a couple of adult members of our regular congregation. Being by this stage distinctly paranoid, I decided that they had only arrived to "inspect" us, and would be happy to report that OpenHouse was a clear and unmistakeable flop (sorry....but I do try to be honest on this blog!) .I bolted to the vestry, on the basis that there was no point in torturing myself, and I might as well go and pray. When all else fails!
At 4.00, feeling rather like the condemned man approaching the gallows, I ventured forth...to discover about 30 people, including 5 whole families! Our theme for the afternoon was "Follow that star" so together we followed a star studded trail around the church, stopping to count gold and smell incense, to sing the star back from behind the clouds, to have our fingerprints taken by some of Herod's bureaucrats....TeenWonder played his flute to lead us onwards like a latter day Pied Piper, and everyone travelled together. Toddlers. Grandmas. Babes in arms. And the splendid Mothers' Union members who had arrived to serve tea.
My greatest anxiety about the current emphasis on network church, on a fresh expression for each and every age and/or interest group is that we might lose sight of the joy of belonging to a totally inclusive family. OpenHouse is, undeniably, aimed substantially at young families, and I have no expectation that most of them will ever appear at the Parish Eucharist....but if the regular congregation can, just sometimes, come and meet with this group on their own turf, then we might really begin to get somewhere. Those poor souls whom I'd mentally condemned as "spies" were among the most enthusiastic,- even before they encountered the MU chocolate cake, which is enough to melt even the hardest heart.
As each person returned to their seats after our journey (which ended at the crib),
LoudBoy stuck
a shiney sticky star somewhere on them, as a reminder that God could be found in each one of us. Some stars were so small that you could hardly see them, so I suggested that we might need to keep our eyes open to recognise God in each other, (are you listening, Kathryn?) -but being there together has to be a good starting place. And my star stayed attached to my left thumb right until bathtime last night.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Only on Sunday?

So, yesterday was the Feast of the Epiphany and, as a good catholic parish,we celebrated with a Festival Eucharist last night...Choir. Procession. Incense. The Works.
The only thing lacking was about two-thirds of the regular Sunday congregation...who will doubtless complain voluably tomorrow that they've missed out on a good festival, and haven't got to sing "As with gladness men of old". It's a real dilemma, whether to celebrate the feasts on the right date (which, of course, we do without debate in the case of Ash Wednesday or Ascension Day), knowing that it will simply not occurr to many people that they could even consider appearing,- or to compromise with the calendar (in the face of the parish's claims to be "Traditional Catholic") and suit the majority. Then, of course, we would miss out on the feast of the Baptism of Christ tomorrow...so we seem to be doomed whatever happens. What with all the Fresh Expressions emphasis on worship outside the traditional Sunday format, it feels odd to be part of a church some of whose members cling to the "only on Sunday" routine...while liking the idea that their clergy celebrate the Eucharist regularly during the week. I really don't know what I would do, were I the vicar. It was a good experience, actually, leading worship in that church without the usual healthy numbers...We had 55 there, but they only filled the central pews (rather nice, that...no worry about people lost without trace behind pillars) so the church looked kind of empty as we processed about the place (yup, copes to the fore again!) and I felt a kind of prophetic chill. Our main Sunday congregation is on the elderly side, and unless we embrace God's vision and really concentrate on mission, there simply won't be a church here in the village in 20 years time. That might not matter, if the people of Charlton Kings are enabled to encounter God in other ways and other places,- but as someone who believes in the mixed economy of inherited and fresh expressions of church, I'd hope the inherited model could also survive to serve future generations. Hmmn....not quite sure where that's going, but thinking aloud is like that!
There was, actually, a really good feel to the service last night. Perhaps those who came were specially focussed on worship, or maybe it was just a rosy glow engendered by one of the loveliest feasts of the year, and the promise of a glass of something warming and the last communal mince pies of this Christmas tide.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Well now, there's a thing...


You scored as Chalcedon compliant. You are Chalcedon compliant. Congratulations, you're not a heretic. You believe that Jesus is truly God and truly man and like us in every respect, apart from sin. Officially approved in 451.

Chalcedon compliant


100%

Pelagianism


58%

Modalism


58%

Nestorianism


58%

Apollanarian


58%

Monophysitism


33%

Gnosticism


25%

Monarchianism


17%

Adoptionist


17%

Arianism


8%

Donatism


0%

Socinianism


0%

Albigensianism


0%

Docetism


0%


Take the test here

Thanks (I think) to John for this reassuring news..
though having done the express ordination course,
I have to say that I'm pitifully ignorant of some of
the minor heretical traits I apparently possess.
Not surprised at the Pelagianism, - detected whiffs
of that before,- but some of the others. Hmmnnn.
Should I abandon all attempts to produce a sermon
for Sunday and resign my Orders immediately?
or just carry on believing that God is a whole lot
bigger than even the interminable councils of the
Church? The second option is, on the whole, the
more attractive,- even though it does entail another
close encounter with the pulpit.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Seven baskets over...

As a hopeless softie where animals are concerned, and the property of no less than 2 dogs, 3 cats and a couple of ponies, I sometimes feel rather uncomfortable about the care lavished upon our domestic pets, when there are so many people, near and far, who are living lives of terrible deprivation. My discomfort is never quite sufficient to force me to banish the pets from our lives,- and realism confirms that even if I did, I would be unlikely to do something helpful and generous with the money no longer needed for food and vet bills. I would just become unreasonably grumpy:I did manage for almost 3 years of university with nary a pet to my name, - but the moment I became a post- grad student I acquired a cat, and have never looked back, to my huge relief.
So, I enjoyed reading Songbird's post today about the work of the wonderful people who are running animal shelters in the Katrina disaster area...and I thought about the way human kindness and love need not be finite , any more than is God's grace.
When the five thousand were fed, there were still baskets left over, which presumably were shared with the local fauna...because, you know, there is enough to go round. We simply need to open our hands as well as our hearts.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Definitely still learning...


so I have no idea how I achieved this slightly weird effect when attempting to photgraph a rather good winter tree while out with LoudBoy, pony and dogs ...but I kind of like it. New toys are such fun!
Now if I can only persuade blogger to let me post pictures at intervals in my posts, rather than at the very beginning or nowhere.
Last day of real holiday today, so I'm busy, busy, busy doing as much nothing as I can. You'd never guess, would you?

Any suggestions? in which the Curate fishes for an invitation.

I probably mentioned earlier in the year that our diocese has a new Officer for Ministry, who is responsible both for ordinands in training and the newly-ordained during their training years as curates. Rather startlingly he isn't named Michael, as nearly all my clerical bosses have been (bishop, placement vicar during training, previous Director of curate training plus my utterly wonderful training incumbent), but he has risen above this potential handicap to orchestrate some very good training days, and was a hugely helpful presence on our ordination retreat as well. Now he has come up with a very exciting idea, which might just mean that I can get to meet one or two of my transatlantic blog friends irl.
As from now, the diocese would like all curates to undertake a placement away from their home turf at some time during their curacy...and it can be anywhere in the Anglican Communion (though the diocese is not offering to help with air fares).
Having served as a Reader for 10 years in a very rural context, undertaken my pre ordination placement in one of the few urban priority areas that this diocese boasts, and having also worked for some time as a lay member of the chaplaincy team at the local hospital, I really do think that I'd probably learn most by stepping out of Gloucester diocese altogether. I have no leaning towards chaplaincy work in education or industrial chaplaincy...and suspect, for all my excitement and delight in emerging church, that I'm very much part of a both/and style of ministry, so would probably not derive too much benefit from a purely emerging context (even setting aside the "Anglican Communion" stricture).
However, I'm constantly fascinated and excited by the feeling that congregations on the far side of the Atlantic are ready and willing to engage in constant learning about their faith, as I've never been part of a church community in which this was the norm, and I'd love to see how it feels to be part of a non-established church, in a country where the "C of E default button" doesnt operate.
The expectation is that I would spend about 4 weeks as part of the staff wherever I end up...sharing the tasks of ministry and widening my experience in as many ways as possible. Bed and board would be helpful, but beyond that I'd be an extra pair of ordained hands at no cost...An exchange could work too...With DarlingDaughter departing for university in the autumn, there will be a spare room available at the Curate's house, if anyone would enjoy experiencing suburban AngloCatholic ministry here.
So, how about it?
I'd love to hear any suggestions, recommendations, do's, don'ts...things you wish you had been able to experience before running a parish yourself...anything, really. Clearly, I dont have to go to the States...if you think there's a huge gap that I should fill by a different area of ministry in this country, or anywhere really, I'd love to hear thoughts on that. Please, everyone! This feels like such an amazing opportunity to be given, before I find myself transformed into a Real Live Vicar. Suggestions below...as many as you like.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

I received this

as the first email of 2006 from the Henri Nouwen Society and thought it deserved sharing.

Expecting a Surprise

Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we
see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us. Let's not be
afraid to receive each day's surprise, whether it comes to
us as sorrow or as joy. It will open a new place in our
hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and
celebrate more fully our shared humanity.

Love and prayers for all of you for 2006: may most of the surprises be joyous ones.