I was licensed to these parishes on 6th April, which means that this week has seen my half anniversary, maybe a good time to stop, breathe and take stock of the good, the not so good and the "really could do with changing"...not so much in the parishes as in the pattern of my ministry here.
The first thing I must say thank you for is a really warm welcome. Both my two church families and the wider community in the valley specially often ask me whether we're all settled in, how I'm getting on, whether I feel at home.
And, of course, the answer is a very positive "Yes".
I can't begin to fathom the "God-chemistry" that is at work when a priest presides at the Eucharist in her own parish - I just know that it is unbelievably powerful and engages me totally and reliably time after time after time. This is my place...I am supposed to be here.
Of course, that doesn't mean that I think we have our worship "sussed" - even by imperfect human standards. There are all sorts of tweaks I'd like to try in the weeks and months ahead,- a good friend is about to start a new job as diocesan worship advisor. Maybe he would come and do an audit in the new year...that would be good. We could usefully spend a bit of time ensuring that there is consistency of practice no matter who is presiding, assisting, serving...I'm hoping that FabBishop will come and offer training in leading intercessions as a Deanery event that I can encourage all our lay intercessors to attend. Though on the people of the hill generally have more confidence than those in the valley, there's only one person willing to lead the intercessions up there - and it's such a difficult art, to enable the prayers of others without being over directive, guiding them while not telling them exactly what they need to say. I'm sure we could all use a little help - and perhaps offering training might just encourage others to give it a try.
Generally, perhaps there's rather too much focus on Sundays. We don't, it seems to me, have a sense of our common life beyond worship. When we were preparing for the Summer Fete, I produced a leaflet to let the community know what we could offer. It's title page announced with confidence
"Your church serving your community, - not just on Sundays"
but the truth is that I couldn't actually identify many groups and activities that were going on during the week, beyond my own ministry and, of course, the ever wonderful mid-week Eucharist and coffee in both churches. I know that many of the congregation are quietly getting on with living their faith in their own daily context - and that is something to celebrate with great joy- but it would still be good if we were also doing some things together because we are the body of Christ in this place. Sure, I believe in the Austin Farrer definition of the priest as walking sacrament - but I believe, too, that the whole people of God is called to practice incarnational Christianity - to live as good news in our community. I'm not sure yet that our neighbours would be able to identify a difference in the way we live our lives...or to say "I'm glad the church is there, even though I never worship, because its members do things that make hill and vale a better place to live".
As we're confronted by the harsh reality of the economic melt-down, there will be many on our doorsteps struggling to make ends meet...The combination of hearing Sara Miles speak at Greenbelt this year, an amazing harvest of tins and packets and knowing a little about how life is for some of the people of the valley makes me wonder if we can explore a small scale "help yourself" store ourselves. Feeding the hungry is now closer to home than we'd like to imagine.
What else? Oh..so much...
The congregation on the hill are demonstrating their amazing gifts as fundraisers of distinction, and work begins on the roof there in just 10 days time. I am looking forward to exploring with them how they are church even without their precious building. I don't think it will be easy - but I'm hopeful that we might begin to encounter God in ways that challenge and liberate.
Though there are only a handful of families present at our monthly All Age Communion, there really is huge potential to build on the good links that exist. I need to keep reminding myself that I'd been at Ch K a year before we launched OpenHouse - and that was with years and years of loving work with Little Fishes to build on. I need to remember that on the whole family life here is harder work ...there are more single parents who are just about surviving...Things won't necessarily work in the same way here, where even the schools find it hard to get parents to come to social gatherings aimed simply at building community. If I'm honest, I'm disappointed that last week's Pet Service didn't bring in the crowds, though the 8 assorted dogs plus Peregrine the guinea pig seemed pretty happy with the proceedings...but it's a start. And the home team were very relaxed about this intrusion into their normal worship - they seem willing to try most things, which is a real gift to me (though there will, of course, be the odd mutter and mumble afterwards, usually not to my face - this is a real congregation, after all!
So...family worship needs careful thought and prayer. I do have the delight of being welcomed into school every week and the excitement of our first Messy Church event which has enthused others so that going monthly in the New Year looks like a real possibility. I need to work out how and where to fit in a toddler church of some sort - not in competition with the toddler group, but maybe riding on the back of it. I don't know....I simply know that Little Fishes nurtured both mums, children and clergy - and that it seemed the very best pool into which to launch the newly baptised. Baptisms do happen here (not enough as yet - but that will grow)...but finding a way of maintaining connection in the pre-school years is going to take careful consideration.
Personally - I need structure. I continue to flounder around timekeeping, ricocheting between manic activity that demands long hours and total focus and fallow periods when it's hard to see what I'm actually achieving.
I'm struggling to find a solid pattern of prayer that works for me (though I'm moving towards it, I think...and learning to beat myself up less too, thanks as always to BestSpirDir ever)
I miss WonderfulVicar and the daily routine of praying the Office together morning and evening. I miss our walks to and from church, the opportunity to reflect on what was happening and where we might see God amid the work. I miss the way that fed into my own reflections, and I miss having someone to talk to about these things - so that's where you come in, dear readers.
I've just discovered that it was Socrates who asserted that "the unreflected life is not worth living"...That might be putting it a little strongly, but to have the experience and miss the meaning in this wild and wonderful calling would be little short of tragic.
So as part of my personal six month review, I'm pledging to attempt a return to regular reflective blogging. I'm writing that here in the hope that may make it really happen. If you'd be so kind, watch this space.