Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 - a year in blog posts

In common with my beloved Songbird, and doubtless one or two others, I am indulging in the "first sentences meme"...
The following paragraph of relative nonsense is formed from the first paragraph of the first post of each month of 2008. Nothing earth-shaking, but here we go

I’m hoping that beloved Baby Car has not started the year as he means to go on. Iceland was fabulous thank you. Mothering Sunday here in the UK, which made for a busy weekend.
Apologies for the break in transmission, but there has been more going on in my life over the past two weeks than any woman can reasonably cope with. Ascension Day again and a strange kaleidoscope of images drifted through my mind as I fell asleep last night. During a memorable conversation at the Midnight Buffet during the B.E, some of us were reduced to near hysteria by tales of “the worst ________ever”. I found this in my inbox just now, and it seems substantially more important than most other things I am likely to engage with today. Lovely holiday, thank you for asking. The week so far has been action-packed to the point of exhaustion. The lovely Libby is growing by leaps and bounds (of which there are plenty) , but is distressingly camera-shy. Because I don’t have enough to do, I’m going to attempt NaBloPoMo again this year. When I was last with the Best SpirDir Ever, we agreed that I should sort out a Quiet Day once a month, and a full retreat before too long.

Clearly next year I will have to write with this meme in mind - it's disturbing how utterly meaningless those sentences make my year - but I am sure it all made perfect sense at the time!

eta Dammit. Baby Car was clearly reading over my shoulder, as Hattie Gandhi has just limped home from her New Year's celebrations, having had him grind to a halt twice in the course of a relatively short and straightforward journey. He is a year older than her, so approaching 23 now...but really, Baby Car, get a grip! Life can be a bit tooo cyclical.

Looking back

It's extraordinary to realise that today is the last day of 2008.
It is just possible (though I realise it's highly unlikely) that this might have been the year in which I notionally grew up. (Of course I remain fundamentally twelve).
I managed to detach myself, not without tears or backward glances, from the dear people of my training parish and have even managed to stand more or less on my own clerical feet for 8 months without WonderfulVicar immediately to hand.
I, who have always been scared of flying, flew to the US on my own and negotiated a change of planes to boot. The opportunity to spend time with a wonderful collection of RevGals at BigEvent the first was well worth this and any number of other trials too (and not just because I managed to be away from home on house moving day).
Back home, I hit the ground running as I began to discover what it's really like to be vicar of two parishes of my own....and that has been the major theme of the year from then on.
I guess it will be the major theme pretty much always, actually...though it will sound in different keys from year to year, I'm sure.
On the whole, though, looking back at 2008 is pretty much an exercise in counting of blessings. I am so aware that for some the year has been anything but blessed - and I'm praying that 2009 will be kinder all round.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The rewards of labour

As anyone reading here before Christmas will have gathered, I was scarily unprepared for any celebrations at all in terms of home and family. The church stuff was sorted to the best of my abilities (and I've taken note of the things I need to approach differently next year) but the vicarage might well have been situated in Narnia during the reign of the White Witch until the very last minute.
At that point my wonderful children moved in to action...Stockings were MADE by Hattie Gandhi...Cake made and iced by the Dufflepud...Presents wrapped and stockings filled on my behalf...Even the mincepies were taken care of.
So these happily ensconced bookworms sighted on Christmas night had undoubtedly earned every moment of reading pleasure...though I bet they weren't enjoying their books as much as I am enjoying having them hereabouts for a while.

Further glimpses - Christmas Eve at home

The first Christmas in a new house is always interesting...Where will the tree look best?
Do stockings hang from the mantelpiece or is there a better place for them?
Overall, we're pleased with all the results this year - and we're still only on the 5th day, so can go on being pleased for a while yet :-)

Incidentally, as a retriever Libby was very keen on carrying her stocking around all through Christmas Eve, but we dissuaded her so that, in the fulness of time, Father Christmas could do his stuff. He's very good to puppies, you know...

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Glimpses of Christmas - part 1 - Christmas Eve

Christmas 1 Yr B Luke 2:15-21

Well, the Christmas throat that was hovering throughout the last week of Advent seems finally determined to take control. The fireside is irresistable, the pile of books even more so, - so I am thankful that I can adapt a sermon first preached 3 years ago on Christmas Eve. In a way I'm sorry that I don't have to engage head-on with the Holy Innocents, but today I'm just glad to be able to produce something without too much blood, sweat and tears. I just hope it will preach...


And Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart”

Ponder,- I like that verb. The dictionary defines it thus: to consider something deeply and thoroughly; to meditate; to weigh carefully in the mind; and links it with the Latin verb pendére, to be suspended, to hang.

Well, we reached Christmas day after a period of waiting in suspense, a period in which there was so much to think about, of more or less importance.

Where were we going to spend Christmas and with whom?

What were the perfect presents to give or receive? What menu would please both traditionalist Uncle George and the alternative cousin Tabitha, who is, of course vegetarian?

But now we can forget all of that for another year and turn our thoughts to what really matters, as we ponder for a few minutes the reality we celebrate. So let me tell you a story.

There was once a girl named Mary. Her parents were poor, as were most of the people in their village, and she was their greatest treasure. They were not an ambitious family, and Mary’s girl-hood dreams involved little beyond finding a man who was kind and gentle and would one day be a loving father to her children.

Enter Joseph, a good match since his trade was always in demand, and an older man, who would surely provide all the stability that Mary had dreamed of. Their engagement was announced, and Mary and Joseph prepared to live happily ever after.

But then . . . angels got involved.

If you’ve read much Scripture, you’ll know that things tend to get a little complicated when angels

appear. This was certainly Mary’s experience when an angel arrived and told her she was to have a son, Jesus who would be the Saviour of his people.

Mary was a sensible girl, with sensible dreams and what the angel told her just didn’t fit into the world she knew. She plucked up her courage and asked,

How can this be?” but, to be honest, the angel’s answer wasn’t that much help.

Nothing is impossible with God.”

Maybe not, but it’s hard to see how that might reassure a young girl in a small village, faced with one of the oldest problems on earth.

In the weeks that followed, Mary had so much to think about…

Who would believe her story of an angelic visitor? Would the community cast her out as a fallen woman?

Would Joseph really be able to love the child when he was born?

Oh yes, Mary had plenty to ponder.

Things were even more confusing, of course, when the baby actually arrived. The circumstances of the birth itself must surely have made her question whether the angel had got his facts straight. Surely if her child was truly God’s son, things might have been expected to run more smoothly for the family. To be homeless on the night you give birth to your first child is no young mother’s dream, but the angels weren’t done yet!

In the middle of the night on a hillside outside Bethlehem, there was a sudden explosion of light and music and voices above a group of shepherds.

What price heavenly peace as they crowded excitedly into the stable?

Still, I guess they were a welcome sight to Mary, bringing her reassurance that she hadn’t imagined the whole thing, that this baby boy of hers was all that had been promised. All the same, it can’t have been easy as the weeks passed and the wonders of the birth-night became a memory. In many ways, life went on just as usual, with only a few clues along the way that this was no ordinary baby. For the most part, Mary just had to get on with being his mother and trust to the promises she had been given. As Jesus grew, this must have been ever harder. Instead of becoming a rabbi (surely the most appropriate profession to bring a boy closer to God) or a ruler (if this child was indeed to rescue Israel) her firstborn became a travelling preacher, mixing not with the great and good but with tax collectors and prostitutes. Finally, his story seemed to end in the most terrible way, with a cross on a hillside outside Jerusalem.

What price Son of God then?

Mary pondered…

For her those years between Bethlehem and Calvary were surely a time of suspense, when she tried to stay with the promise while wondering if God would ever actually deliver on it. Nothing turned out as she’d expected, and the ending of the story seemed far removed from that night of stars and singing angels. What could she do but ponder? Where had things gone wrong?

Her experience of confusion and disillusion may well match our own, as we leave behind the awe-struck wonder and expectation that once made Christmas a magical time of infinite possibility and promise.

For us too, the darkness in the world threatens to destroy our hopes and dreams, of the people we want to be, of a world built on justice for all, of peace and happiness for all. Today we not only pause to remember the Holy Innocents, those children murdered by Herod in his determination that nothing should threaten his rule over Israel, we are also confronted with continuing massacres in the land we call Holy. That is hard to deal with, just days after we heard the song of the angels – but though our dreams may fade, we too need to pause, and to ponder, for the angels also brought a promise for us

“Good news of great joy that shall be to all people”.

Like Mary we don’t yet see how that will be worked out, but like Mary, we are never far away from the answer to our longings. Even as she wondered and pondered, her beloved Jesus, truly God’s own Son, was there beside her. As events unfolded, she may sometimes have lost sight of the truth of this, have doubted that he was really all that had been promised, but though her sight was blurred, he was with her all the time. Jesus with her beyond the stable and the star, beyond the moments of miracle when all seemed clear, beyond the desolation of the cross…with her, most of all, on the morning of the Resurrection.

Through the weeks of Advent, while we waited to celebrate the birth of Christ in church we sang the ancient hymn “O Come, o come Emmanuel”…

Emmanuel, of course, is another name for the wonderful counsellor, prince of peace, the baby in whose face we see the face of God. It is the name that tells us the message of Christmas, for it means

God with us”.

God not remote and untouchable, but as close and as intimate as a baby held safe in his mother’s arms.

God with us whether we recognise him or not.

God with us in our realities...not confined to the more sentimental Christmas cards that sanitise the reality of labour and birth in a stable, that present us with lullabies for babies torn from their mother's arms and murdered by angry soldiers...God there in Gaza, in Zimbabwe, in all those places where we can see least hope, least evidence of redemption.

Ponder that, if you will.

Mary pondered, until at last on Easter day there was no room for doubt. She knew with glorious certainty that the song of the angels was played out in the resurrection of that first-born Son.

Who knows when a like moment of clarity and recognition will arrive for us?

It might be at Easter, it might be in July, or perhaps not until next Christmas. Meanwhile, we must simply keep on pondering,- and treasuring in our heart the knowledge of a God who loves us, and dreams greater dreams for us, and for the world, than we could ever manage..

A God for whom nothing is impossible, a God with us today and always, both as the babe in the manger and the man on the cross, born once in Bethlehem but born in us today.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Mellow reflections on the feast of Stephen

My first Christmas in these first as a real live notionally grown-up vicar. Lots of good things to savour as I snuggle in bed with the lap-top, a cat and positively no service sheets to photocopy nor shopping to do. All is very calm and bright here!

Christmas Eve - Crib service was a delight. The children came, as invited, in costume to assemble a living crib and were overwhelmingly charming in their depiction of the scene. Baby Jesus has ginger hair and a good pair of lungs...
Photos later. The moment when Mary's lap had enlarged to accommodate not just the holy infant but an angel sucking her thumb was sadly not captured on camera but was pretty special.

Midnight Mass - no hitches but maybe just a little bit flat. Reasonable congregation though not groaning at the seams (I have a suspicion that the growth in numbers for Sunday's Carol service may have been because some occasionals chose that in preference to turning out for Midnight). The flatness had to do with the music (no, not a question of pitch).No choir and I'm not sure how to encourage the congregation to sing, if they can't be enthusiastic about carols on Christmas Eve...Hints, tips and encouragement much welcomed.

Christmas morning - God turned up at Church on the Hill even at 8.30 am. The congregation had done the most amazing job of transforming a church half full of scaffolding, screened off with plastic sheeting, into a warm and festive worship space and the congregation filled the space we had quite beautifully. Lovely atmosphere, which persisted at the Family Eucharist at Church in the Valley...Lots of regulars absent but the music group was on good form (and their families contributed most of the youth and children present, an additional reason to bless them) and everyone was relaxed and happy. I began the service by asking if anyone knew what day it was. There was a prolonged silence before C., who started in Reception at St M's school this term said rather tentatively
"I think it might be Christmas Day because Santa Claus came last night.."
I'd imagined, when I asked, a racous yell in response - but this was much better!
We unwrapped the large box of percussion that I'd bought with some of our grant money, decided that like most presents it was there to be used (thus tying in to the theme of Jesus is for life, not just for Christmas) and ended the service with the sort of romping loud procession that became a tradition at the end of Open House. I asked for a show of hands when all teh children had been armed with noise-makers...and several of the older ladies wanted an instrument too and one thanked me at the door saying
"I wish we had been allowed to enjoy worship when I was a child. I might not have stayed away from church for so many years..."
That, as you'll imagine, was rather a lovely Christmas gift for the vicar :-)

After that, a few visits to congregation in hospital or home alone and then I subsided by my very own fire-place with my very own family.
Libby's first Christmas was one of wild excitement, destroying squeaky toys in less time than it took to choose them, romping through wrapping paper and knocking most things flying with a wildly wagging tail...but that's life with small children or large puppies and was thoroughly entertaining.
My heap of Presents included a huge pile of books (will tell all later) and a docking station for the iPod so the afternoon involved good music and time reading and snuggling with my favourite people anywhere. What more could I ask, quite honestly?
I hope whatever is going on for you, there is a reality of love and blessing about the place. I'm so conscious of it here

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Not really a Christmas card

Welcome all wonders in one night!
Eternity shut in a span.
Summer in winter, day in night,
heaven in earth and God in man.
Great little one whose all embracing birth
Brings earth to heaven, stoops heaven to earth

Nearly time to gather at the crib.
Candles are lit in churches across the globe.
Brass gleams faintly.
Friends gather.
Music plays.

Wherever you are, and whoever you are with, may this Christmas time be one of love and blessings.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Just so's you know

I seem to have accomplished a healthy selection from my To Do list

Church tree decorated (mostly by my splendid sons, though the tree itself was the gift of a no less splendid parishioner)

Home tree purchased and decorated (thank God for a posse of my children and 2 much loved extras, who did most of the work), Crib erected and wreath affixed

Crib service planned and printed

"Given in memory" cards printed and candles sorted and ready

Carolling in pubs on the hill (an innovation) and in the valley(a tradition) achieved with great enthusiasm in both places

All school carol services done and dusted - with no children set alight in the process

Benefice Carol service also done and dusted - and twice as many people appeared as had been expected, based on previous years. We had a lovely full church, a good sprinkling of younger families (and 2 under 18s read lessons...The way in which S, who is 11, broke into the silence with the news
"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light" is a memory that I plan to keep and ponder ...And I only cried a little bit. It would be wonderful if by next year we could have a children's choir in place: the music at Church in the Valley might one day recover its former glory, and that would be Good News All Round...

All but 3 of my Home Communions acocmplished

Mary & Joseph safely through most of their journey, and now lodged in the inn tonight, prior to two last homes, as they head back to church for the Crib Service

Domestically, of course, more is undone than sorted. The briefly tidy study is now an overwhelming confusion of paper, cardboard boxes and almost undisguisable shapes. One day I will have to wrap them. February, perhaps? I need to sort out an e-card, because while it might be fine to say that I'm going to be virtual for most people this year, a virtual virtual card might seem to be taking the micky just a little...
I've still got a funeral address, and orders of service for Midnight and Christmas morning to sort out....and busy busy days ahead...but the warmth of the crowd in the pub this evening, and the smiles of the congregation as they said Goodnight after the Carol service persuade me that we might be going somewhere together.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Advent 4 sermon - Luke 1:26-38

Only 3 shopping days to go…I hope you’re all substantially more ready than your vicar.
I seem to have spent much of the past week making lists of lists, with little prospect of actually ticking anything much off any of them…and I know, truly I do, that their contents are not for the most part of any real importance.
Together we’ve spent the weeks of Advent hearing the exhortation to get ready, but somehow things never run exactly to plan, and though Christmas has been on 25th December for as long as I can remember, it still seems to catch me unprepared. Mind you, however breathless we may feel by the time we reach Thursday, it’s surely nothing compared to what happened to Mary.
There are so many wonderful paintings inspired by the gospel passage we have heard today (I have put copies of a few at the back of the church to refresh your memory), and almost all of them are characterised by surprise. There is the young girl, reading or working at a mundane chore…and suddenly she finds herself caught up in a kairos moment, one of those when earth and heaven touch and lives are changed forever. Small wonder that, from the word go, Mary is “perplexed”…and then some.
Surely this must be an understatement. Here she is, a teenaged girl, living quietly in an occupied country and planning her marriage to Joseph. And there, in all the splendour of his angelic being, is Gabriel. An extraordinary encounter, even without the angel’s salutation. “Greetings, favoured one. The Lord is with you!”
It can have made no sense at all.
The Lord is with YOU
If God is with either party, surely he is with his heavenly messenger, who comes trailing clouds of glory…No. Apparently not. It is Mary who is in the spotlight, and not her visitor at all.
Perplexing indeed, but worse is to come as the angel continues. I’m sure that the opening “Do not be afraid” was practically the most important message of all.
Certainly it’s just as well that Gabriel stresses that the forthcoming events are a sign of God’s favour for to Mary they must have sounded very much like a death sentence. I’m reminded of those words of Teresa of Avila’s “if this is how you treat your friends, Lord, it’s not surprising that you have so few of them”…for now God is choosing an unmarried girl and declaring her pregnant. God has cut in on Joseph before the wedding dance could even begin. Not the sort of favour that most of us would welcome. After all, in first century Palestinian culture, honour killings were part of life.. If a woman had been sexually violated by a man -- even if it was against her will -- she could be killed, usually by her own kinsmen, so to prevent her and her illegitimate child bringing shame on the family. Terrible scenes must have flashed across Mary’s mind, for she, knew she had no socially acceptable reason for her pregnancy. If a man and a woman betrothed to each other had sex with each other and the village knew it, they were considered to be married; it was the “consummation” of the union that married the couple, not a religious ceremony. But Mary and Joseph had not yet reached this stage… And that fact had some nasty implications: if Mary's pregnancy became known and her father or brother didn't kill her, the scripture commanded the death penalty both for her and her mystery lover. After all, who would believe that his identity was a mystery even to her. It’s pretty rare to be a pregnant virgin. So the odds were against Mary's surviving until the child's birth….
Time for a swift exit, perhaps?
But it seems that what comes next is not, after all, negotiable. I once heard someone speculate as to how many bushes God had to burn before someone (Moses) turned aside to see what was up. They went on to wonder how many young women were visited by Gabriel before one said "let it be with me according to your word."
Clearly, we will never know, though I’m sure that if Mary had said no, there would have been another way. I do, though, like the insight this view offers into the sheer risky-ness of the Incarnation. God is placing His Son, and his whole plan for the salvation of the world, at the mercy of one Palestinian teenager, who, but for her extraordinary openness to God probably wasn’t so very different from her friends in the market place of Nazareth (or those milling about on our pavements today).
Mind blowing….but so typical of God’s approach right along the line. In relationship with us, God goes out on a limb…and invites us to do the same.
Nonetheless, for all the element of divine risk, it seems that here too is a moment of divine mastery, which it will be hard indeed to reject.
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you”
Mary ponders the greeting of with
perplexity and fear. So would we. It is not the sort of salutation we come across in our Christmas cards, but a markedly different message.
Conceiving and bearing the Son of the Most High? The Holy One setting up a tent, this close? Within me? Mary's first response is not like the joyful cry of Elizabeth, but nor is it the same reaction as Herod, who was “troubled, and all Jerusalem with him”.
God’s intervention in her life is outrageous, terrifying, but somehow she finds it within her to say “Yes”.
Confronted with an angel bearing this sort of word, I’m certain we would ask,
“What’s going on?” God finally comes close, comes among us, but in a way different from any we could imagine. At last God chooses a house, -in no way like the one that David longed to build for him.
Instead he makes his home in Mary's womb.
Heaven in ordinary.
The story of God's angel proclaiming the Lord's favour on a young single mother gives us all much to ponder this Advent.
We live in a world in which one more child dies every three seconds from extreme poverty -- sixteen hundred during each celebration of the Eucharist, and yet God's promise is that through Jesus' work among us, the hungry will be filled with good things. We might ask, with Mary, “How can this be?”
But we're called to do more than ponder. We're called to bring the Good News of liberation to the prisoners, of food for the hungry, of the dignity to those considered lowly by the powers of this world. We're called to do that not just in words or song, but like Mary, by giving flesh to God's hope, God's peace, God's justice, and God's love for the world.

How can this be? Through the faithfulness of the God who promises David that his house will be established forever, and whose promise is fulfilled in Jesus. Through the power that gave Mary the courage to face her family, her betrothed, her village, and clothed her with dignity and grace throughout the village's pointing and whispering. Through the compassion that led Jesus to heal and empower the outcasts he encountered. And through the peace that comes of catching even a glimpse of just how deeply, passionately, and unconditionally God loves each of God's children.

So, in this last week of our preparation Mary has so much to say to us, as we wait for Christ to be born in us.
Like Mary, we are visited by God through no merit of our own….like her we struggle with the implications of an invitation to be part of something so much larger than ourselves, and we are challenged to say YES. Would Mary’s response have been the same if she had known what lay ahead? Would she have dared to invest such love in a baby destined for the cross? We cannot know, but we can be sure that if we ourselves say Yes to God, though we don’t know where he will take us, he will never abandon us. For us, as for Mary, he will be Emmanuel, God with us,- through Advent, through Christmas tide and forever.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Magic moments - or "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light"

Friday being my day off, yesterday of course featured an end-of-term assembly at the miracle- working school which is just up the hill (though, confusingly, very much serving parish in the valley) Unfortunately for them, we all spent most of the morning without electricity - and a brief period of grace when lights blazed proved to be just another false dawn. This meant that their plans to present a selection of modern carols and songs, using words projected for the benefit of parents and friends, had to be jettisoned in favour of the 3 old favourites they were sure that everyone would know, and that instead of just sitting there benignly waiting to offer a prayer and blessing I was pressed into service to tell a story to spin things out a bit. No problem. I love telling stories to primary school children so I launched into one of my favourite Chritmas stories, the legend of the Glow worm. (Ask nicely if you don't know it, and I might post a version later on - it doesn't appear to be hiding anywhere on the net) I had just got to the moment when the Christ child stretches out his hand to touch the sad little worm, who feels all warm and happy and begins to glow with a wonderful light when.........

yup..........every light in the place came on. If I'd arranged it, the timing could not have been better. Cue cheers, applause and a rousing chorus of "Light a candle in the window" - and that was it. Term over. Christmas begun, for at least one group of splendid children who (if they did but know it) shone more brightly than anything else in the room. Oh, this is such a lovely job!

What a to do...

From the Revgals, today, a Friday Five about the last five days before Christmas!

There are only five full days before Christmas Day, and whether you use them for shopping, wrapping, preaching, worshiping, singing or traveling or even wishing the whole darn thing were over last Tuesday, there's a good chance they will be busy ones.

So let's make this easy, if we can: tell us five things you need to accomplish before Christmas Eve.

FIVE???? JUST FIVE....Well, if you insist

1) I still need to sort out the orders of service for Midnight Mass (the biggie), Crib Service and Christmas morning...All of these will be heavily based on things I used at St M's, but will still need a bit of tweaking, hymns added for Midnight Mass etc etc...
which means
2) deciding my definitive Midnight list, as there is some pressure to include everything in an "once and for all" booklet, to do away with the need for carol sheets at this busiest and most intense of services

3)wrapping every single one of the numerous presents that now sit in a huge box in one corner of the study...well, maybe not the dogs' presents (but maybe even those...Libby would have SUCH fun unwrapping something she was actually allowed to apparently destroy)

4)funeral address for Tuesday

5)sorting out "Given in memory" cards for the assorted Christmas candles at Church in the valley

On the plus side, I seem to have my sermons more or less sorted...but I don't even HAVE a tree yet, still less a decorated version...and the chances of actually making so much as a single mince pie of my very own seem remote...And I suspect that I might be spending more time with the photocopier than with anyone else in my life in the next few days. Perhaps we'll make it to first-name terms...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

When the round round robin comes bob bob bobbin'....

I'm often amazed and amused by the similarities that exist between my life and that of my dear friend Songbird...There have been assorted "separated at birth" moments, but I think this is the first time we have blogged unprompted on the same subject on the same day. It must be that time of year...
I wrote this in draft while avoiding writing the dreaded cards - then went blog hopping and found Songbird's post addressing the self same issue (though no more envelopes than I was addressing myself) Here we go. If you have a sensation of deja vue,it's probably because you've visited Reflectionary first!

The legacy of our mothers is an unnerving thing, isn't it? My mother took huge care of her friends...she never missed sending a card for a birthday, anniversary or above all Christmas. For years after her death, I sent cards to all those people who had been my parents' friends and who had taken an interest in my well-being - but whom I had never met, never would meet and knew practically nothing about.
I used to produce the requisite hand-written personal letter to each and every one of the 200 assorted names on the list. Then one day life intervened. With 3 children, a B&B business and a job, plus Reader ministry and ordination training, something had to give.
Christmas 2001 saw names expunged from the list
. I wrote the first round-robin - apologising left, right and centre as I did so. Others followed, some funny, some less so. One year there was a multiple choice test, another a map...Always, it has been my enterprise, though the family have right of veto. Always it has taken time I don't really have, but the possibility of sending just a card consistently seemed too bald and unsatisfactory. Each year, when I receive cards with only a signature and no news at all, I wonder what has been happening for that household...I genuinely long to know more...though fully understanding that it's just not easy to find time to do anything, really.

This year with the time issue spiralling into free-fall I have resorted to a pseudo telegram, with positively no pictures and have pared the remaining card list to the bone. I'll hope to find a good e-card to send to those with internet access, and trust that others will forgive me if they seem to have been "thinned". It's not a reflection of your importance in my life, but probably a measure of my confidence that you will understand and forgive...and know me well enough to be up to date anyway.
Even with the reduced list, I am about to run out of cards, which means a trip I can't fit in to find some more in town...and I'm realising that I really don't know the local shops well enough...and what's worse, tomorrow is the last posting date for 2nd class. aaargh
If I ever suceed in posting the things, the 2008 telegram reads thus


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The road to Bethlehem

winds through my parishes.

For a long time I've been wanting to explore the tradition of the Posada, in a rather simpler English variant which involves sending Mary & Joseph from the church's crib scene on an Advent journey, spending a night at different homes and businesses in the parish.
This is a first for community in the valley (for various reasons, it's worked out that village on the hill isn't participating this year) and though I tried to flag it up and wrote an explanatory article for the parish mag some time ago, the initial response was a bit disappointing. My vision was that the couple could spend a night with some of the housebound members of the church family, might visit the pub, the Co-op, - anywhere really. The school was enthusiastic, so the first week of Advent was spent travelling from class to class:then it was out into the big wide world, travelling securely in their basket, accompanied by a candle, a card with prayers and explanation and an all-important post-it pad.

The explanatory text on the card runs thus...

Posada is a Spanish word meaning ‘inn’. Posada celebrations started in Mexico where two young people were chosen to dress up as Mary and Joseph. They used to travel from house to house in their village telling people about the imminent arrival of Jesus and asking them if they would give him a room. On Christmas Eve they would re-enact a community play and bring figures of Mary and Joseph to be placed in the crib. Our Cainscross version is based on this idea but instead we want people to give a home to nativity figures from the church crib for a night. This will symbolise making room for Jesus in our hearts and our homes. Each night during Advent the figures travel around the parish from home to home arriving in church on Christmas Eve in time for the Crib Service, held in St Matthew’s church at 5.00 (for which children are invited to come dressed as a character from the Christmas story). It’s up to you how you use this opportunity. You might like to light the candle that is in the basket with Mary & Joseph, and pray the prayers below. If you wish, you could use the post-it pad to write down a name or a situation that you’d like us to offer to God in prayer…all the post-it prayers will be placed on the altar during Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

What has delighted and startled me is the enthusiasm of those who have actually hosted the couple so far, even when I initially had to twist their arms to offer hospitality. (I guess my explanations weren't clear enough - at least one person told me they couldn't invite them to stay as they simply didn't have a spare room!)...A couple of my older ladies have been positively weeping with pleasure about the whole experience - and one, who won't be able to get to church at all over Christmas, was particularly eloquent about the value of feeling her prayers would be physically part of the worship at Midnight Mass.
Like so many other Kathryn-isms, this probably suffered from insufficient planning...Next year I will hope to include all 3 schools, and make a point of offering the opportunity to the house-bound first - it seems such a happy way to involve them in the worship we offer at Christmas...and it will be a privilege to offer those prayers.

Meanwhile, the host households are offered two prayer suggestions themselves
Reading them again at the end of a rather hassle-filled day, I rather wish the vicarage was included on the sleep-over itinerary...

Dear Lord God, Father Son and Holy Spirit You are always present in our home, though we don’t see you or even remember your presence. Help us to experience the joy of looking forward this Advent and make it a time of new beginnings. We welcome these figures from the nativity and pray that you will bless this house and all of us who live here. Amen.

Lord God our Father, as we have welcomed these Posada figures into our homes, we pray that other people will open their homes and their lives to you at this Advent time. Help all who will be involved in the Posada by welcoming these figures to celebrate with expectation the waiting time between now and Christmas. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Gibbons says it better

Sorry this doesn't have exciting graphics...but I wanted to post a recording with a true counter-tenor sound, and this seems to be the only offering on YouTube that qualifies. Anyway, this is Kings (I'm pretty sure that it's the David Wilcocks recording that I have myself), where I first heard this anthem something like 28 years ago, and it does make me very happy.

This is the record of John

Did you see the moon on Friday?
I have to confess that I missed it – Friday is my day off and I was frantically busy trying to cram several week’s worth of Christmas shopping, wrapping and card writing into just one day, so wandering out to gaze at the moon just didn’t make it onto my priority list. It’s a shame, though, because on Friday night the moon was closer to us and brighter by far than it normally is. In areas without too much light polution, the effect was apparently quite stunning – and the amazing thing about the moon, of course, is that of itself it has no light at all.
The moon shines only with the reflected light of the sun.
If that light were extinguished, the moon itself would shine no more.

And here John the Baptist stands as the moon, to the sun that is Jesus.
He was not that light, but was sent to bear witness to that light….
Like Friday’s moon, he shone more brightly that those who had gone before him, but he was not that light.
He bore witness because he too shone with reflected glory….and he was in no doubt that his role in the gospel was not centre stage. In the account we have just heard, John is not called "the Baptist". The emphasis is on his witness to Christ more than his work of bringing the people to repentence.
His calling was to be a sign, pointing the way to Jesus.
We too share his calling to reflect the light of Christ and to so shine that others can see the way…

There was a man sent from God whose name was John.
Not much of an introduction, but then John was not one who cared about such things. He stepped out of his priestly heritage, shrugged off the wonders that surrounded his own birth.
You could imagine him saying, again and again “It’s not about me”.
John was quite happy with a life of wandering in the wilderness, rough, unfashionable clothes, basic food, and an unshakeable, uncompromising message.

Uncompromising, but compelling.
So compelling that people assumed that he must be the Messiah, and we completely nonplussed when John said,
For me, this gospel cannot be heard without Gibbons’ anthem “This is the record of John” playing in my mind…and the music, which had been swirling in polyphonic waves while the questioning was in progress comes to rest as John’s voice is heard
“And he answered – NO”
That silences the questioners for a moment, but then they are off again.
“Well, if it’s not you, where IS the Messiah? He must be close, if prophets like you are abroad.”
"He is here. He is among you," says John.
And that was almost as startling as anything that had gone before. Imagine, you have been waiting and watching for the Messiah all your life long, your people have looked for him for centuries, and now you are told that he’s hear among you already.Surely not…
The Messiah arriving unrecognised? Unthinkable…

But John is insistent, absolutely confident in that he has heard God aright, and that he knows his own place in God’s
Thus he can say, with no false modesty,
"I am the voice crying in the wilderness…Just as Isaiah told you, the day of the Lord is coming – prepare yourselves for it".

John´s message is compelling,
He believes it himself and is wholly committed to his task, in the tradition of the great Old Testament prophets.
His claim to be the voice of one crying in the wilderness,
'Make straight the way for the Lord,' immediately aligns him with Isaiah as his authority. This was absolutely real to John, and the authority that he received from God shone in his compelling words.

And of course, John´s message is so compelling because, above all, he
points away from himself towards Jesus.
He is the moon, not the sun, remember..
"Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal."
And this is the mark of all those who aspire to preach the true Gospel.
We must remember always that the Gospel is all about Jesus, the Jesus who took as his mission statement, when he preached in the synagogue at Nazareth, these very words of Isaiah.
“The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach the gospel..”
John points to Jesus, and Jesus comes, not with a teaching which would imprison us with fear, not with words which would tie us up in knots, but with tidings of great joy.

As the way is made straight, as our lives are put right, so we can know that the good news of hope and freedom is for us as well. This is the promise we hear in Isaiah.
"He has sent me to bring the good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted; to proclaim liberty to captives and release to the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord´s favour." "to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning."

Isn’t that fabulous? This, surely, is the central core of our gospel, the heart of the church's ministry. And yet so many people are imprisoned by religion rather than freed by it. They spend time determining who is in and who is out, where the most pure doctrine may be found, excluding some on account of gender or sexual orientation, others because of youth or age, others because of the way they prefer to worship
That’s not the gospel.
The gospel is not about legalism, but about liberation. It is not about hierarchy but about equality and justice. It is not about fear but about freedom, security and hope
It is without doubt GOOD news – the best possible news, indeed!

So, today let us remember that John now stands as a model for us.
We share his task, to witness to Christ in our lives, our words, our actions…To speak good news and to be good news as well.To point to Christ, knowing that any light we may bear is reflected from him…We are not that light but we are sent to bear witness to the light...

There was a man/ woman sent from God, whose name was ....

May God strengthen us as we witness to the Good News each day.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I should have known...

In the second week of Advent, if things seem to be running smoothly it's only because something is about to go wrong.
Thus when I got in this afternoon I decided to do a bit of filing and sorting, to clear the way for the great Carol Service extravaganza that is about to begin.
I hurled some papers indiscriminately onto the floor (while they remain as a pile on my desk it's easier to ignore them, and I felt that their time had come) and began to sort...File...Recycle....Action needed
I paused to add that last bit of paper to the "action needed" tray and then realised to my amazement and alarm that it was quite QUITE empty.
For some of my colleagues that might simply have meant that they were laudably up to date - for me, I knew it meant that a whole wodge of papers had without a by your leave gone walkabout.
What could I do but dump all sorts of other papers with the first installment on the floor, so that I could wade through them comprehensively to establish that the "Actions" papers really had vanished.
Of course, if I could remember what was there it would be a little less worrying - though I suppose I was bound to have to find out at some point whether the filing system so beautifully outlined by wonderous Dave Walker was actually workable.
I'm still struggling, though there is rather more floor visible now than a couple of hours ago...
Meanwhile, the Dufflepud failed to connect with his lift to Explorers (the lift turned up at the vicarage - heaven knows where Dufflepud thought they were due to meet, as he had his phone turned off) necessitating a quick defrost of Baby Car (Hugger Steward has borrowed mine- and Baby Car had not been used for 2 weeks, no joke at his age - but decided to oblige anway) and a hopeful drive in the general direction of where we believed the Explorer group were holding their Christmas Party.
More by luck than judgement we found the spot, - I left him to his junkettings and returned home - to find that in my absence my monitor had apparently been knifed - and now bears what look very much like streaks of blood, running vertically from top to bottom pretty much across the middle of the screen.
My plans for the day off on Friday in no way included hunting cheap flat screen monitors, but there may have to be a rethink as I can't function with a screen like this for any length of time...
So, what was mayhem in teh study is now mayhem, pillage and carnage - and I can't work out who or what is to blame. For once the dogs must be innocent, and I don't actually think it's my fault either (note this, ladies and gentlemen)
Colonel Mustard?

The pleasures of Advent a child were largely dependent on the Advent calendar. Nearly always with a religious scene, or sometimes a picture of snowy pine forests, with appealing animals lurking under low-lying branches.
Crimson Rambler was reminiscing about the role they played for her children and I was intrigued that she was able to persaude her offspring to close the windows and preserve the Advent calendars. My parents tried so so hard, but it was never part of the package for me (save for one year when I specially loved the scene, - and even that one only survived a couple of years as the windows kept popping open).Clearly somewhere in Germany there is a factory that produces pictures for Advent calendars, for they were generally the same familiar pictures inside each window: it was such fun to see where they might turn up each year..the candle..the Christmas cookie...the lamb...Would it be a star or a baby behind the window on Christmas Eve?..And would you have to open the stable doors (double doors, so clearly extra special) or might there be a secret hiding place for the Great Treasur?

For many years with my own offspring there were struggles. Why couldn't they have a chocolate calendar like all their friends? Well, because Barbie or the latest Disney delight simply had nothing to do with the season...though I did see their point that some of the more insitently Christian varieties overdid the Bible verses and seemed to have lousy pictures as well - and then, blessedly, Traidcraft started marketting one that both told the story AND dished out fair trade chocolate. We're still buying them...You don't grow out of that kind of thing!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Wise words

from Archbishop Rowan yesterday

We have... a story, a drama to show you: if you live inside it, letting your own life be lit up and shown to you afresh by it, you may find that it begins to mould your story and give you a new sense of what's possible. Here's the story of how the maker of everything became part of the world he'd made – letting go of his mystery and otherness to be one of us, so that we might find our way into the mystery and otherness of his love and discover a new way of being at home with ourselves and at home in the universe. This is a lifetime's work .

It was also the task that confronted Mary, as the angel appeared to her

God our Father
the angel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary
that she was the be the mother of your Son.
Though Mary was afraid
she responded with joy to your call
Help us, whom you call to serve you
to share like her in your great work
of bringing to our world your love and healing.
We ask this through Jesus Christ
the light who is coming into the world.

Coventry Pilgrims

When I left home yesterday morning, the sunrise was quite breath-taking - a child's paintbox fantasy of pinks and golds spread lavishly across the hills. It made getting out of bed bearable - but I was so wiped out that I was less excited than I might have been as I drove up to Coventry.

Silly woman.

Yesterday, the Pilgrimage Day for Catholic/Contemplative Fresh Expressions was quite simply one of the most encouraging and restorative experiences I've had for a while. Coventry Cathedral was the perfect venue - the Basil Spence building which was so startling in its modernity when it rose from the ruins of the medieval original, bombed one night in 1940, having all the space and lack of clutter that the most creative liturgist could demand....and of course, in its juxtaposition of old and new it provided an instant parable for the day, where ancient heritage was brought into new light.

It was all quite wonderful.

High Mass without an ounce of ponce, but with splendour and creativity in profusion.
++Rowan on cracking form (and without any signs of being the compromised version of himself, that I'd feared that the woes of the Anglican Communion might have brought about)
Abbot Stuart ditto
So much to inspire as we were reminded of the missionary roots of Catholic Anglicanism (again I found myself reflecting on the impact of my beloved St John the Divine Kennington on those inner city estates, and on the incarnational impulse that had planted the church there in the first place), the multi sensory worship that has happened for centuries before anyone recognised that it was "multi sensory" at all, and the evolving and communal nature of faith (a journey, not an event).

There were moments of mild hysteria (standing in a close packed crowd at the font, we were invited to prostrate ourselves as a sign of our submission to Christ as we reaffirmed our baptismal vows...I don't think I was the only one there who wondered if I actually knew my neighbours well enough for this as we reflected on the proximity of faces to toes and other still more alarming areas)....of perplexity (who does it matter so much, when we are all outside our parish contexts, to be identifiably ordained? - I don't think I've ever seen so many black clerical shirts outside the Chrism Mass on Maundy Thursday - just don't "get" this aspect of catholicism at all.)
There was frustration too. When it came to the single workshop slot the choice was almost too rich...How to decide between Looking with Mary to God's possibilities, New Monasticism or Body Prayer in the Christian tradition (during the Mass, Philip Roderick led us in a whole body Lord's Prayer which was quite single voice and so many arms praying in united movement)?The excellent input in our workshop on catholic mission (where my book of the year, Take this Bread, also got a mention, confirming my excitement that the "Help yourself" food cupboard we are launching at Church in the Valley feels right on every possible level, including connection with the heart of mission) didn't last for long enough for discussions to even scratch the surface of where we might as individuals go from here.
I wanted to hear more, then to have space to tell my stories and to explore where they might be leading...To be with people who would truly see where I am coming from was thoroughly exciting. I hope that the southern province learning/discussion forums which were mentioned aren't exclusively London based - I so want to take this stuff forward.

So - it wasn't all perfect but there were also many moments that were truly and deeply moving...
I found the sight of the elements being passed to the altar from pilgrim to pilgrim quite breath-taking, underlining ++Rowan's reminder that we live out our faith as a community...we need each other.

After lunch came a quiet hour (which was actually more of a quiet 40 minutes, - nothing like enough to experience the numerous prayer stations that so many creative and thoughtful people had installed for us) and then a single workshop slot.

I lost track of time as I knelt for a while by the chapel of the Crown of Thorns where there was Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament - time to know myself loved and precious, to recognise that, as I rejoiced in being there, God was glad I was there too...

Altogether the day was a huge blessing - the Quiet Day that I needed (somehow, amid all the excitements,there was lots of space to listen to God ,..when there was "official" space to pause and listen I found that we were already in mid conversation), but more than that an opportunity to remember why the catholic roots of my faith matter so much to me.
I came home (via Cambridge) inspired, encouraged -and ready to polish the thurible!

Other accounts of the day on line from Fr Simon (who helped put it together) and from a CPAS staff member (interesting to have a very different starting point)
The concensus so far is that it was Well Worth Doing.

Happy Birthday dear John...

Milton's 400th Birthday today... So many wonderful words (though I found him very hard going as an undergraduate - and still don't enjoy reading Paradise Lost in its entirety)...such a strong influence on English literature and thought....and on music too. Hard to choose what to post to celebrate today - (but despite the age old choristers' pun that transforms this into "Best pair of nylons") this wins hands down. It's just fantastic - so visual...and such marvellous music too...
I love it.

BLEST pair of Sirens, pledges of Heav'ns joy,
Sphear-born harmonious Sisters, Voice, and Vers,
Wed your divine sounds, and mixt power employ
Dead things with inbreath'd sense able to pierce,
And to our high-rais'd phantasie present,
That undisturbèd Song of pure content,
Ay sung before the saphire-colour'd throne

To him that sits theron

With Saintly shout, and solemn Jubily,

Where the bright Seraphim in burning row

Their loud up-lifted Angel trumpets blow,
And the Cherubick host in thousand quires
Touch their immortal Harps of golden wires,

With those just Spirits that wear victorious Palms,
Hymns devout and holy Psalms

Singing everlastingly;
That we on Earth with undiscording voice

May rightly answer that melodious noise;

As once we did, till disproportion'd sin
Jarr'd against natures chime, and with harsh din

Broke the fair musick that all creatures made
To their great Lord, whose love their motion sway'd

In perfect Diapason, whilst they stood
In first obedience, and their state of good.

O may we soon again renew that Song,

And keep in tune with Heav'n, till God ere long
To his celestial consort us unite,
To live with him, and sing in endles morn of light.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

....and miles to go before I sleep

I guess that an inevitable effect of offspring departing for uni is that they are, clearly, not at home! No, truly, even I had worked that one out...what I'm getting at is the fact that whereas in days of yore performances and special events were on the doorstep, or at worst half an hour away, nowdays tis rather more complicated.
Yesterday for example we did a round trip of something like 300 miles to hear Hugger Steward sing and play flute at his college - and very lovely it was too, - definitely worth the journey, though it did feel kind of strange to be a parent there, of all places...Parents, you see, were no longer part of my life by the time I arrived at Cambridge, and as I tended to stay in that lovely city for as long as possible I was pretty much oblivious to the cohorts of parental cars that descend upon Cambridge at either end of term. Yesterday it felt rather like Hogwarts on a bad day...much coming and going with trunks and cardboard boxes...and just the faintest possibility that Filch might be lurking in the Porters' Lodge.
We were among the unfortunate minority of parents who were not being awarded their very own undergraduate to take home with them. Instead we headed home with a boot groaning with boxes...
And tomorrow I get to do the whole thing all over again, after attending the Fresh Expressions Pilgrimage day in Coventry Cathedral: but at least I get to bring the boy home with me.

Add to that the usual crop of morning services (we had 10 whole children at Church in the Valley's All Age Communion, without actively canvassing the school at all...Great excitement!), and the Valley Church St NicholasFest this afternoon, featuring lots of punters in happy mood, some amazing mulled wine and a far from grotty grotto complete with resident saint, who hoh hohed in fine vein...It was all great, but left me just about fit to wipe the floor with - so for once I allowed discretion to be the better part of valour and decided against the drive to Cardiff. Now, of course, I feel really sad that I am missing Hattie Gandhi's concert with the excellent BlankVerse - specially as the programme included a work by her good friend S...But maybe I need to learn that I can't do everything...And I do need sleep...And tomorrow features more miles, and still more...
Sleep well folks. I hope your weekend was at least as fulfilling and possibly rather less demanding!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

" I am just a po'boy "

Tony the Storyteller isn't a great one for memes, so when he tagged me I thought I might well comply. The brief ran thus, more or less ...

Open the fourth file in your picture storage...and go to the fourth photo. Tell its story...

Well, here we have an advertising hoarding from New Orleans...a photo I took on that magical day that I spent exploring the city all on my own, before my revgal pals arrived for the Big Event back in March this year. If I remember rightly, I spotted it in a side road off Rue St Charles, just before I became so seriously dedicated to photographing amazing wrought iron balconies that the next 50 photos showed nothing else.
I loved this ad for various reasons.
I could not imagine any situation in which the word "Lenten" would find its way onto an advertisement in the UK, and there was something wonderfully incongruous about the idea of Lent as a time of seasonal special offers - not to mention Lenten fayre served at the VooDoo Grill. Cultural confusion, anyone?
The fact that it was shrimps, shrimps or shrimps is the only clue that Lent might be a fast...we are seriously into fish here, ladies and gentlemen. Definitely no red meat.
Incidentally, I had a popcorn shrimp po' boy that very evening....(popcorn refers to the size, not a side dish..What the US describes as shrimps are quite definitely prawns in my book, but the popcorn variety are closer to the traditional shrimp size!) - and it was very tasty! That meal was in the most extraordinary place, which those revgals who were there will doubtless remember with varying degrees of fondness. All I can say is that visiting The Red Eye confirmed my sense of the surreal, which the whole business of leaving my curacy and running away to the States had already suggested.
That Wednesday in New Orleans was definitely memorable!

Oooh...I'm allowed to tag four people
Let's see...Paul's photos bear alot of consideration, so I hope he might play
Sally, because she's not blogging enough - and takes some amazing shots with her phone
Songbird, because but for her I wouldn't have been in NOLA at all and...... jo (e) because her photos were the best justification for blogging or blog reading that I could find to persuade one sceptic in this household.

Advent Simplicity, Light and Beauty - Friday Five

Sally has been pondering the consumerist excesses of the 21st century Christmas, and yearning for something different. Her Friday Five invites us to explore this...
What do you long for this advent? What are your hopes and dreams for the future? What is your prayer today?
In the vein of simplicity I ask you to list five advent longings....

I wondered for a moment - should I go with the totally spiritual, or should I be real! Then I read Stephen Cottrell's Advent book, which reproduced the sad story of the government minister who was asked by a newspaper what he really wanted for Christmas. Not wanting to appear greedy he said that he would love a jar of preserved ginger...Next day the headlines ran
"ABC wants an end to poverty for Christmas. The Dalail Lama wants world peace.
The Pope wants the conversion of the world to Christ - and the Minister for Food & Farming wants a jar of stem ginger!"
Faced with such a big question, one is bound to appear either facile or selfish I fear...still, here goes...

I long

1. For my two churches to understand their mutual dependence and to work together, making the most of their complementary gifts

2. For the Church to become truly catholic - all inclusive - so that anyone who enters our doors may know themselves truly welcome and at home.

3. For time to be...with my family, with my friends, with God...with no agenda but delight in their company

4 For my churches to truly make a difference in these communities, where there are so many needs

5. For people everywhere to recognise that there is enough love to go round...

Friday, December 05, 2008

Safely included?

Last night I went to the first Inclusive Church Roadshow, just up the road in Gloucester...An excellent evening, with input from the Inclusive Church Chair, Giles Goddard and Co-ordinator, Clare Herbert...both good speakers with so much that was worth hearing.
Early in the evening we were invited to say something of why we were there...
a lesbian spoke of feeling excluded and unwelcome in the church that had nurtured her, another of losing her home in the Anglicanism into which her grandfather had baptised her...people spoke of a God who welcomes...of a resistance to any individual pressure group, because to say "I stand WITH you" is to say "I stand AGAINST you" - and the hope that Inclusive Church might be a a path to something rather different.
For me it brought back all the welter of feelings that were roused when Jeffrey John stood down as Bishop of Reading before ever he had been consecrated....It was the final summer of vicar school and overnight my world changed from one of excitement at the ministry ahead to anxiety about the church into which I was due to be ordained. As appalling vitriole was hurled at Jeffrey John, who seemed to me to be exactly the sort of wise and gifted priest whom the Church needed among her Bishops, what shocked me most was that nobody from within the insitution seemed prepared to censure those who were expressing themselves with such vehemence. How could it be acceptable for anyone to say such things and yet claim it was done "in love"? Were we all reading the same gospel?

And then someone told me about Inclusive Church, and I signed the online petition, thankful that there were others who shared my feelings (ever the "F" the clear rationale was secondary for me - I was overwhelmed by the sheer injustice as much as anything...) I followed the progress of the group, rejoiced when it did not simply cease to be after petitioning General Synod, read all that was offered, attended any diocesan gatherings (heavens, I even preached at one, to probably the smallest congregation at any "diocesan" event EVER)...I also failed lamentably to speak out at one uncomfortable clergy chapter
and beat myself up about that duly for some time afterwards. I'm disturbed, still, at how important it seems to be to feel "Safe" and "approved of".
Well, maybe I'm growing up...I'm blogging this, knowing that members of my congregation read my blog. I don't want to hide in the undergrowth when the church I love, for all her brokenness, is perceived as an agent of hurt and not of healing. How can I?

There were people there last night whom I would not have expected to be part of any remotely liberal gathering...They may have been there simply to gather information, or perhaps the tide is turning. Perhaps we are noticing what kind of church we might become, and are disturbed by that.
Certainly Inclusive Church is in no way wishy-washy in theology or praxis.
The initial statement which headed the online petition in 2003 is, as someone observed last night, pretty much in the category of motherhood and apple pie
Who could object to it?

We affirm that the Church's mission, in obedience to Holy Scripture, is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in every generation.

We acknowledge that this is Good News for people regardless of their sex, race or sexual orientation.

We believe that, in order to strengthen the Gospel's proclamation of justice to the world, and for the greater glory of God, the Church's own common life must be justly ordered.

To that end, we call on our Church to live out the promise of the Gospel; to celebrate the diverse gifts of all members of the body of Christ; and in the ordering of our common life to open the ministries of deacon, priest and bishop to those so called to serve by God, regardless of their sex, race or sexual orientation

Well, clearly several do object - but I have no sense of whether this is a real issue for my congregations or not...Whether they'd accede "on the nod" or whether there are people for whom this is a real struggle..I need to know, I guess.
In my training parish it wasn't my call to ask the PCC to sign up to this or anything else. Now, of course, the responsibility is mine.
So I'm going to wear my Inclusive Church badge and hope people ask me about it.
I'm going to table this as an agenda item for debate in the New Year
I'm going to try to put my money where my heart, if not my mouth is...because after all, this is what I believe

For everyone born, a place at the table,
for everyone born, clean water and bread,
a shelter, a space, a safe place for growing,
for everyone born, a star overhead,
and God will delight
when we are creators
of justice and joy, :
yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice and joy!

For woman and man, a place at the table,
revising the roles, deciding the share,
with wisdom and grace, dividing the power,

for woman and man, a system that’s fair,

and God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, :
yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice and joy!

For young and for old, a place at the table,

a voice to be heard, a part in the song,
the hand of a child in hands that are wrinkled,
for young and for old, the right to belong,
and God will delight when we are creators
of justice and joy, :
yes, God will delight when we are creators
of justice, justice and joy!

For everyone born, a place at the table,
to live without fear, and simply to be,
to work, to speak out, to witness and worship,
for everyone born, the right to be free,

and God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, :
yes, God will delight when we are creators
of justice, justice and joy!
(Shirley Erena Murray)