Sunday, June 29, 2008

Roll up, roll up

or something along those lines.
Next Sunday afternoon is Church in the Valley's annual fundraising fair...In a moment of wild abandon, a "Circus Skills" performer has been booked (which is going to play Old Harry with our profits - but hey, if it encourages people to come along and have fun, it's surely worth it). A splendid group of stalwarts from the congregation is standing by to sell plants, books, cakes and toys, to operate the obligatory tombola and serve teas to our visitors, - so all the basic ingredients of a traditional church fete are ready, just waiting to be combined.
BUT we do need a few ideas for sideshows - preferably of the sort that doesn't involve the vicar and her family having to do all sorts of handicrafts in the coming week, which looks quite busy enough as it is.
We do have a set of stocks, in which I rather fear I'm to be incarcerated while my devoted flock hurl wet sponges at me....but beyond that, we really need some entertaining games that might engage passers by.
As veterans of church fetes on both sides of the Atlantic, I'm sure my readers have some suggestions....What is your "sure fire money spinner"?
I wait to hear with bated breath.... Thank you!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Sermon for the Feast of Ss Peter & Paul Yr A

With grateful thanks to my friend Fr Simon, whose words I've borrowed extensively as the meat of this sermon.The rubbish is my own!


Questions, questions…
They are all around us, every day
They might be banal…
“Has anyone seen my keys”
They might be personal…
“Is there something your best friends won’t tell you”
They might even be challenging
“Do you have what it takes to survive in this world”.
Most of them demand a response, but sometimes there is a mismatch between our expectations in asking the question, and the answer we receive…Once, I’m told, George W Bush visited a home for those suffering from dementia.
He enjoyed a brief exchange with one of the residents, who seemed to be fairly lucid….so he risked asking
“Do you know who I am”
“No…” replied his conversation partner “but if you ask that nice nurse over there I’m sure she’ll be able to tell you”.

Even on a bad day, George W wasn’t really in need of information…any more than Jesus is, in our gospel reading.
“Who do you say I am?”
In asking that crucial question, he is simply doing everything within his power to make the disciples think.
I’m sure you’ve met the old advice for teachers
First you tell them what you’re going to tell them. Then you tell them. Then you tell them what you’ve told them.
Put like that it raises a smile, perhaps – but adopted as a teaching strategy it’s unlikely to be successful. I’m sure we’re familiar with it, though…Teaching that is simply the passage of information from one person to another.
Teaching that relies on the expertise of the lecturer and the passive openness of the listener.
Teaching that, if we’re honest, demands very little of those on the receiving end and, I suspect, may not have much lasting impact. Contrast this with the sort of teaching that engages you fully…The teaching that begins by recognising the premise that to hear is to forget, to see is to remember and to do is to understand. Perhaps that isn’t the sort of thing you’d welcome week by week in your sermon slot but I’m sure you’ve noticed before that when Jesus wants his disciples to really learn something, he doesn’t give them the answer straight away.
Often, of course, he tells them stories, stories which leave things open, so that the hearers need to work out not only the inner meaning but also its application for their own lives.
Sometimes he asks them a direct question…as he does today. “Who do you say I am?”

Who do you say I am?”
Imagine Jesus asking you….Perhaps that’s the most important question any of us will ever need to consider

“Who do you say I am?”

Messiah?
Son of God?
Saviour?
Teacher?
Good man?
Innocent victim?
Colossal embarassment?
Blasphemer?
Threat?

“Who do you say I am?”

…this is not a question for theologians, for priests, for the great and the good. This is a question aimed at each one of us.
It’s a question on which pretty much everything depends…for if we decide against Jesus, then there’s not much point in hanging around waiting to see what will happen next.

I don’t mean that those who’ve never really encountered Jesus are doomed…
Nor do I mean that those who reject a distorted version of his truth, those who can’t see beyond the smokescreens of an imperfect church struggling with its own identity, will find themselves rejected in their turn.

The question Jesus asks is addressed to his friends…those who have spent time with him, those who have access to the evidence that we too can connect with in the Gospels…people who are close enough to be able to see the lie of the land.
His whole ministry is a story that points to his identity…and now Jesus wants to see if his disciples have learned the central lesson he came to teach

“Who do you say I am?”

As he answers, Simon speaks for all of us…we who have tried to follow, who open our mouths and put our foot in it, who jump to wild conclusions and then turn and run away when reality looks a bit too harsh.
I think that this is what Jesus means, when he gives Simon his new name, and a new calling
“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church”
More Rocky than rock solid, it seems to me that Simon, now Peter, represents every Christian who has come after him…
He’ll continue to get things wrong, to speak in haste and repent at leisure….but nonetheless, he will continue to proclaim the truth that God has given him, to cling onto that moment of revelation
You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

In the same way, we too have moments of Epiphany, when it’s clear to us just who we are following, and why we dare call ourselves Christians… moments when we are called to declare ourselves, to respond to the Truth that lies before us.
That is what being part of the Church is all about…Though Christ is the true and sure foundation, the Church is built out of people, people like us, people who have dared to answer the greatest question
Who do you say I am?”

Jesus will not accept agnosticism from his friends.
He confronts us with the reality of his presence in our midst.
He challenges us with a radical reworking of all that we have previously accepted as the norm, for the Gospel is challenging, transformative, unconventional.

“Who do you say I am?”

He stands there, waiting for an answer…There’s no time like the present… We are each called to respond, and we cannot hide behind cleverness or theological reflection; for the call to follow him, to be like him, to embrace him and through him to embrace the divine is all wrapped up in this simple, direct and ultimately challenging statement.

If that sounds too frightening, take heart.
Yesterday I was one of hundreds in our Cathedral to share in the ordination of 14 new priests…It was a wonderful service, in which the current traumas of the Anglican Communion took a back seat as we rejoiced in the faithful response of those men and women to God’s call. It was possible to remember once again that the church is built on the firmest of foundations, and that whatever goes on within or outside the institution, the gates of hell shall not prevail against it…
For me, a moment of pure delight came during the sermon, when the preacher reassured us
God does not want heroes, but lovers”.

Lovers like Peter, - full of passion for his Lord, even when his humanity tripped him up and left him sprawled in the dirt.
Lovers who will risk going out on a limb for Jesus.
Lovers who discover, against all expectations, that the love that they feel for Him enables them to do and to dare all kinds of things for his sake.

Please, if you would, spend some time today thinking of how you will answer the great question that Jesus asks each one of us
So, for now, here’s my own answer
Who do you say that I am?”
“The one whom I love, who first loved me”.

To him be the glory, now and forever. Amen.

Friday, June 27, 2008

My dear friend Songbird has produced a Friday Five very dear to my heart...I'd even been to the library this afternoon, clearly in preparation for thinking about just this topic. She writes...

Back in the day, before I went to seminary, I worked in the Children's Room at the Public Library, and every year we geared up for Summer Reading. Children would come in and record the books read over the summer, and the season included numerous special and celebratory events. As a lifelong book lover and enthusiastic summer reader, I find I still accumulate a pile of books for the summer.

This week, then, a Summer Reading Friday Five.


1) Do you think of summer as a particularly good season for reading? Why or why not?
Not sure I understand the question! Reading isn't a seasonal activity. It's a 24 hour a day, utterly essential, read as you breathe as you read way of life. Of course it's a summer activity. Why else would there be long grass under trees in the garden, if not to sit and read? What other purpose has that pool of sunlight on the terrace but to lure you into taking out a chair and a coffee and that book you were trying to put down after breakfast?.... But reading by the fire in winter....or while listening to birdsong in spring...or while waiting for autumn mists to clear....all equally delightful, nay essential.

2) Have you ever fallen asleep reading on the beach?
Often in my youth, when the beach was part of every day life...Lying on my front in the sun, even the bumpiest shingle of Hastings beach couldn't always keep me awake.

3) Can you recall a favorite childhood book read in the summertime? When I was about 6 I read through all the Swallows and Amazons books one summer, while camping in the tent my parents had given me for my birthday...pitched at the bottom of the garden. I read curled up in my sleeping bag by the light of a ladybird torch, way after they believed me to be fast asleep.

4) Do you have a favorite genre for light or relaxing reading? I love detective fiction...Very taken at the moment with Susan Hill's entry into the genre, with her rather attractive policeman Simon Serallier. And good old Phil Rickman 's Merrily Watkins series too.

5) What is the next book on your reading list? Just started The Book Thief, as recommended by the World's Best Spir Dir....but also have a pile of amiable rubbish from the library in case I need variety. It includes a couple of Mavis Cheek novels, which are bound to be entertaining...

Orphans?

In days of yore, if you believe the novels, it was quite commonplace for the Vicar to open his front door and find a small bundle on the doorstep which turned out to contain a tiny baby, swaddled against the bitter cold.
When I went out last night, there on the doorstep was a small bundle that contained.............

a clutch of assorted hymnbooks (3 or 4 of each book), property of both our churches.

I have to admit to complete bafflement. Wedding couples often borrow a book to help them choose hymns for their service - but surely they would have knocked on the door or left a note...and anyway, there were rather too many for one couple to need. The church is still currently locked when I'm not there during the week (yes, of course this is going to change - but we need to get some portable items secured first, and this takes a bit of organising) so it seems unlikely that they were removed by a book thief who then suffered a crisis of conscience, or realised that there wasn't much call for Hymns Old & New or Mission Praise on the black market....
Somebody please come up with an entertaining story to explain what happened. I'll try and devise a suitable award for the most diverting (yes, it's Friday all day today!)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Purring


Hattie Gandhi has just had the results of her 2nd year exams...and, despite all sorts of gloomy prognostications and a good bit of angst, has emerged with a First - including in Creative Writing.
I'm inordinately proud of her, of course - and what's more, she's coming home tomorrow to chauffeur The Dufflepud to his Y11 Ball in Baby Car, so I'll even get a chance to celebrate with her in person.
It's good, being a mother :-)


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Some very Good Things

This is proving to be a rather flat out sort of week, but with so many lovely things along the way that I'll have to sneak a few minutes to blog some of them, even though I ought to be doing all sorts of other stuff (notably another funeral address...that makes 3 in 7 days...and revising the Weddings Database - as next year's bookings are coming in thick and fast now..)
However, before I do...let me just purr a little.

Monday - I had the chance to go into Valley Church School and talk about India, as part of their "Global Awareness" week...It was just such fun to revisit my pictures and to share them with a new group of children. They listened beautifully (they are staggeringly attentive at assemblies, bless them) and seemed to be thoroughly engaged. They also did a very good job of learning "Wide wide as the ocean"...and were amused when I told them that, though I had learned it in England from my mother, who had in turn learned it from a Scotswoman who taught it to her in China, when I'd tried to teach it to the children in Bangalore, they sang it back to me, since they had learned it there long ago...Suddenly, the song became itself representative of the truth it proclaims...God's love, encircling the world.

Tuesday - some really good pastoral encounters, visits that caught the right people at home at the right moment, phonecalls that connected where they needed to and my first visit to a school which is just outside the parish boundaries of Church in the Valley, but whose school roll is almost entirely made up of children living in the parish. It's not the easiest catchment area, with alot of quite run down council housing and a slightly grey feeling to life...but the school is a real oasis.The head and her staff are utterly dedicated to welcoming and valuing every child and every family - a huge gift to these children, some of whose parents learned a very different lesson at school. We talked a little about ways in which we might work together, agreed some dates for the future, and then the deputy head and 2 year 4 boys took me on the Grand Tour. Wow! Some really inspired ideas..."The Dugout" - a kind of underground retreat cum toy library, available to all the children if they present a ticket...somewhere children can go if they are feeling grumpy or upset, and with an inner area, "The Cave" where they can curl up with fleecy blankets and giant soft toys. It was delightful to see these "Mr Cool" boys getting incredibly excited about a seriously huge toy sheepdog (which was indeed irresistably cuddly)...but even better to see the pure joy on their faces as they showed me their multi-sensory and wild-life gardens.
These had been the special project of their class, a gift to the whole school which had won them some much needed cash and some even more precious kudos in a national competition...These children of grey pavements were shining with pride as they picked lemon balm and mint leaves for me to smell, showed me a caddis fly that had just hatched from its case, explained to me which vegetables would produce first and hunted (in vain) for stawberries ready to eat.
It might have looked like a corner of a school playing field, but actually it was a foretaste of heaven.

Wednesday a foray to the toddler group that meets on two afternoons a week in the church hall. Though it is named "Valley Church Toddlers" that has been the extent of the link to date, and since nobody from the congregation has any connections I was uncertain how I might be received...This is very much a secular toddler group, - a space for parents to sit and chat while their children play safely. From what I can see, there's no formal structure to the proceedings, nothing like "circle time" when the whole group shares a focus - which makes it harder to see a route in. However, loitering with intent was clearly the right thing to do...I made dates to discuss baptism with 2 mums and engaged in a few renditions of Incy Wincy Spider to cheer up a weary young man who objected to waiting in his buggy till his mum had retrieved his sister from the melee. Best of all, when I suggested to the leaders that it might be nice if the nominal connection with the church could become something more real, the reponse was really positive.

Oh...and I've begun to trail the idea of "Messy Church" in conversations over the past couple of weeks ...and it does seem as if it might hit the spot.
I think I might be learning how and who to be here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Word and word

The word must become flesh, but the flesh also must become word. It is not enough for us, as human beings, just to live. We also must give words to what we are living. If we do not speak what we are living, our lives lose their vitality and creativity. When we see a beautiful view, we search for words to express what we are seeing. When we meet a caring person, we want to speak about that meeting. When we are sorrowful or in great pain, we need to talk about it. When we are surprised by joy, we want to announce it!

Through the word, we appropriate and internalize what we are living. The word makes our experience truly human.

This was today's offering from the Henri Nouwen Society...and once again, it was spot on for me. I'm one of those who doesn't really know what she thinks until she hears what she says, or at least reads what she has written. Similarly, significant experiences are not really mine to take hold of until I have articulated them to someone I trust; that's why it's important, always, for me to connect with my Spiritual Director before I head home from a silent retreat.

Some of my menfolk, who operate very differently, find this hard to understand...I'll never forget reading Hugger Steward some piece of hugely beautiful spiritual writing, which opened all sorts of amazing windows onto God for me, and hearing the incredulity in his voice
"Words really do it for you, don't they?"
Well yes - they really do.

And I'm more aware each day of the power and weight of words used liturgically.
On the fabulous retreat that he led before our Diaconal ordination, Senior Cleric Whom I Much Admire talked about the "words of power" we would be given and I wondered...It didn't seem possible really - until it was. Again and again I've shared the experience of words changing things radically and against all expectations as I speak them for the community in liturgy.
I'd been in full-time ministry for quite a while before I realised that, at every funeral visit, I always read the likely selection of readings aloud, even if everyone in the room has a Bible on their knee (a pretty rare scenario, but you get the picture)....I wondered why until I reflected on the impact of those words spoken clearly into that context, and their transformative power, again and again.
"Nothing life nor death nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God...."

Words matter....
How they are delivered during worship is surely of the utmost importance, for they are signposts to something far more weighty, treasures that we can hold as hostage for the truths that they point to.



Sunday, June 22, 2008

An interesting morning

Imagine if you will the typical 9.30 congregation at Church in the Valley...Say 50 lovely people of all ages....some learning-impaired adults...not very many children...but all glad to be together and to be God's family here.
We do enthusiasm. We do loving welcome. We don't, on the whole, do "decently and in order" - specially with last minute dot com as the vicar, but it mostly seems to work and God turns up.
Add to the mix this morning a trainee Guide Dog for the Blind (oh how I wish I'd known he was coming - he could have saved my sermon just by being himself. Equally, how I wish I had had the courage to dump my notes and talk about him anyway. Another time, Radley, OK?) and 2 families who were bringing their toddlers to Baptism, accompanied by the usual clutch of supporters of all ages, some clearly comfortable in church, others less so.
Subtract, because somebody had, all the organist's music from her personal shelves near the organ and all the toys from the children's corner but add, in questionable compensation, a range of sonic booms, loud squawks and whistles from the sound system, whose foibles we are still trying to get to grips with, though it arrived in the valley before I did.
Remember the readings we were gifted with this morning....none of which offers us anything like a good PR job for the Christian life....and then guess what adjective the father of one of our small candidates used to describe the proceedings.
............................................................................................................................................
Ladies and gentlemen, in Church in the Valley we offer......MELLOW worship.
To borrow a phrase from my US friends "who knew?" !

Friday, June 20, 2008

Word Association Friday Five

When I was a child, we often played word association during long car journeys...For some reason, we were particularly prone to arriving at words with a food connotation, and if those were noticed the next person could yell "FOOD" and gain bonus points. I'm going to play straight with this week's Friday Five, but if I get to "Food", you may have the bonus.

Singing Owl writes This post is loosely based on previous "wordy" Friday Fives from Reverend Mother and Songbird. I liked the results, and so we are doing another word association . Theirs were based on words from a lectionary text. Mine comes from the Lovin' Spoonful song, "Summer in the City." Think summer......are you there? Below you will find five words or phrases. Tell us the first thing you think of on reading each one. Your response might be simply another word, or it might be a sentence, a poem, a memory, a recipe, or a story. You get the idea:

1. rooftop
Always, and instantly, the chimney-sweep scene from Mary Poppins...

2. gritty - sand in the sandwiches...warm white bread and liver pate, eaten on St Leonards beach throughout the endless summers of early childhood

3. hot town (yeah, I know, it's two words)London the summer before we moved out. All our other friends with small children were away with grandparents in the leafy Home Counties, while we stayed on in the city because self-employment has always meant short holidays...Hattie Gandhi and I would push Hugger Steward in his buggy over to the swings and slides of the "Red Train Park" on Clapham Common. Where there had always been a group of friends, now we were almost the only people there, watching the grass turn yellow and die as the sun beat down for day after day.
At the end of that summer, we found Lower Farmhouse - quite by accident. We weren't house hunting at all, when suddenly there it was. The Georgian fronted dolls house, with orchard and porch ready to receive gumboots, that was all the house I'd ever wanted. We moved out at the start of December, and I can't imagine ever living in a city again.

4. night - darkness falling on the site at Greenbelt. Transformation as the festival village takes on a wholly different feeling...music drifts over from mainstage...bubbles float, magical in fairy lights of the nearest stall....candles in storm lanterns make pools of light to sit around at the Tiny Tea Tent. No wonder I can never bear to leave for bed

5. dance - summer dances mean May Balls for me, always and forever. The thrill of seeing those beautiful buildings made yet more lovely by starlight...the pleasure of dressing up and knowing how good you look in the dress you've spent weeks hunting for...endless variety of music in all directions....The night will last forever...we will always be young and shiney...This will always be Cambridge in summer.

"And so we came to Hetty Pegler's Tump...."

Once long ago, while I was getting ready for Oxbridge entrance exams, having spent a while on The Wasteland, our English lit group had a splendid time creating our own T.S Eliot pastiches. The offerings of the students were distinctly unmemorable, but I will always treasure this line from the masterpiece that the Head of English produced - and from then on harboured a longing to explore the beautifully named Hetty Pegler's tump, - which is in fact a long barrow here in this very county of Gloucestershire.

Today being Friday, I've been in non-vicaring mode (more or less). I did a little footling this morning, while waiting for the window cleaner to finish the twenty (oh dear me, yes, TWENTY!) vicarage windows - but otherwise, I've been keeping sabbath. The original plan was to go and do some work on the lovely Polyphony, who is currently leaking somewhat (though only through the roof, - and thus in no danger of sinking) but LCM has come down with a nasty dose of man-flu or thereabouts - so was holed up in the cave, leaving the Dufflepud and I free to do whatever.

We shared an idyllic picnic.
When was the last time someone else made up a picnic for you, dear readers? The Dufflepud is the recipient of his mother's undying gratitude - specially as he included all the necessities of a childhood picnic, from ham sandwiches to Chelsea buns, washed down with elderflower cordial- which we consumed sitting in the sunshine amid the wild flowers on top of the "tump"....
A deer, surprised by our presence, bounded off into the woodland, which has apparently grown up since the time the barrow was raised. All those years ago, there would have been clear views across the Severn into Wales...No chance of enemies creeping up on these hill dwellers. Ever the romantic, the Dufflepud had bought a candle and matches as well as his maglite, and together we crawled through the low arch into the first part of the barrow, lit the candle and peered into the shadows. Safety fences prevented deep exploration, but we stood in one of the ancient burial chambers, and touched stones shaped to stand there one thousand years before Christ walked in Galilee.We speculated about the lives and deaths of those who had been buried here. Chieftains, we guessed, to merit such an imposing resting place.
With the noise of the road barely a murmur,we lay looking up at a kestrel, lazily circling overhead...

For some reason,blogger is refusing to allow me to move pictures to sensible places...Just think creatively, OK?

For those who asked

we sang the Vanstone hymn to "Vienna" - though looking in Common Praise just now I see they've suggested the Gibbons Song 13. On the whole, an unremarkable tune (like Vienna) works quite well because the words then have a chance to hold centre stage.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Morning glory - a short thank you to W H Vanstone

We sang this at Church in the Valley this morning, - surely some of the most beautiful words ever written about God's love and God's suffering. I'm always sad that it isn't more widely known, so am taking a deep breath, and possibly infringing copyright simply because I want to share it.
The words come as the close of Vanstone's brilliant book Love's Endeavour, Love's Expense.
If you don't know it, it's time to visit amazon.


A HYMN TO THE CREATOR

by William H. Vanstone

Morning glory, starlit sky,
Leaves in springtime, swallows' flight,
Autumn gales, tremendous seas,
Sounds and scents of summer night;

Soaring music, tow'ring words,
Art's perfection, scholar's truth,
Joy supreme of human love,
Memory's treasure, grace of youth;

Open, Lord, are these, Thy gifts,
Gifts of love to mind and sense;
Hidden is love's agony,
Love's endeavour, love's expense.

Love that gives gives ever more,
Gives with zeal, with eager hands,
Spares not, keeps not, all outpours,
Ventures all, its all expends.

Drained is love in making full;
Bound in setting others free;
Poor in making many rich;
Weak in giving power to be.

Therefore He Who Thee reveals
Hangs, O Father, on that Tree
Helpless; and the nails and thorns
Tell of what Thy love must be.

Thou are God; no monarch Thou
Thron'd in easy state to reign;
Thou art God, Whose arms of love
Aching, spent, the world sustain.

Ministers not Messiahs

As I shared coffee with a couple of the congregation in the interlude between the first and second Eucharists at Church in the Valley, they were teasing me about an "I am vicar..." moment of uncharacteristic decisiveness that had gripped me. Truth to tell, I was glad of it.
A recent email exchange with Best Spiritual Director Ever had featured frequent reminders in heavy type
"You are the Incumbent".
Having been the junior partner for 4 years, it remains surprisingly hard to remember that I am not just allowed but positively expected to hold the vision for these communities, to be the place where the buck stops, and, yes, after due consultation and discussion, to make and implement the decisions that seem best by the light that I have.

My parishioners decided that I should have 3 matching samplers hung over the mantle-piece in the vicarage to help on my way

"I'm the Vicar"

"It doesn't all have to be done by Thursday"

"I'm not Jesus".

You may wonder why on earth there should be the slightest risk that I might ever make the third error. It arises, though, through a very dangerous tendency among those who set out wanting to serve, who know that whatever they do will never be enough, and that nothing short of everything will do. Listing Straight posted a wonderful meditation on the subject - if you don't frequent the Lectionary Leanings page over at RevGals, please head there forthwith as those words bear reading. Ministry begins with service, to God and to his people. Of course it does. It should continue with service too, but from the urge to serve as fully as we can it can be but a short leap to the dreaded Messiah complex against which Oscar Romero.

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Baptism sermon Romans 5 1-8

I always struggle with passages that start “Therefore”

I’m not the most logical person ever, and when it comes to matters of faith, I’m a little anxious that the verbal evidence won’t stack up, that having looked hard at the “therefores” one of you in the congregation is going to stand up and say “So what?”

But the train of logic that Paul lays before the Christians in Rome is a pretty clear one…provided we begin at a place where we know that we have peace with Christ. I’m not sure, though, that this is a common experience.
Peace isn’t something that we seem over familiar with in our culture today. Success, maybe. Fulfillment, probably. But peace – that’s thought of, I would guess, as the preserve of the elderly. We talk about people having made their peace with the world…as if it was part of the process of needful detachment that precedes the final detachment of death…
But if you asked the average person in the Co-op car park what they aspired to – I don’t know that “Peace” would be one of the first words to come from their lips.
Peace, you see, suggests acceptance of the way things are………and in many ways, accepting the way things are in our world is an anything but Christian virtue.
You don’t have to be an Old Testament prophet to recognise that there are literally hundreds of things that need changing – both great and small.
We’re not supposed to have peace where there are situations of outright injustice…We’re not called to remain silent while the weak go the wall, while the rich oppress the poor or while children starve
We are supposed to be filled with a deep disquiet that such things can be and to do all in our power to challenge and to change…but beneath that, there should remain the constant reassurance that our ultimate destiny is secure for Jesus has already done all that is needful.

Julian of Norwich, writing in the 14th century, understood this when she shared her vision of God’s ultimate certainty
“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well”
She wasn’t skirting round the realities of life – indeed, she preceded these words with a recognition that “sin is behovely” (inevitable) – but she was able to see where we are all heading…to know that despite all there is to engender grief and desperation, we can continue to hope.
Indeed, hope is, mysteriously, a direct fruit of the trials of life.
And we know that one way or another life will bring its share of suffering (much though we may hate to consider this when we cuddle Lily, and ask God to give her only blessed days, green pastures, still waters)
Within this scripture what we see is the way that God is able to take suffering and redeem it, make something good from it.
Suffering brings endurance, character and hope in God's hands.
Without God, we’re likely to respond to suffering with indignation, brokeness, bitterness and despair…but the secret ingredient, God’s love, changes everything.
Paul is so certain that this is indisputable…he uses the language of the law, of provable facts to present his case.
God has one message to get across to us each day, one message that he gives to the prophets, one message that lies beneath each and every event recorded in the Bible.
God wants to prove his love for us.
Last week I was talking to year 2 from St Matthew’s school about Baptism. Quite early in the service, we trace the sign of the cross on the forehead of those to be baptised. I told the children that this was an invisible label, establishing beyond dispute just who we belong to….From our baptism onwards, we belong to God.
But then we talked about the cross…about how when Christ hung there, his open arms were a hug that encompasses the whole of the world and everyone who has ever lived in it…
I told them that whenever they see a cross, they are to see it as a sign of just how much God loves them…how much he loves you.
(The cross on Lily’s forehead says “You are beloved of God…” as surely as it says “You are God’s property”)
We all know that there is nothing like being loved to inspire us to love in return….and when we see Christ on the cross, it reminds us just how loved and loveable we are to God…which inspires us to love in return.
“God’s love poured into our hearts…” God's love changes everything…God’s love in the waters of baptism.
When I was a curate, I baptised a toddler named Dylan.
His mum had MS and was confined to a wheelchair, a situation that Dylan knew exactly how to exploit whenever he felt the need.
No surprise then, that during his baptism service he raced around the church, played hide and seek behind the large pillars and generally made things as hard as possible for the priest ..until, that is, we came to the water.
You see, Dylan loved his bath…so, when I began to pour the water into the font he was all attention.
When I poured the first polite trickle over his head, he began to suspect that I didn’t actually have the right idea….so he splashed.
He splashed a little, and I got wet.
He splashed some more, and I got wetter.
By the time he had finished, his mother, father, godparents and all of us standing around the font were absolutely drenched and dripping and his poor mother was mortified.
But as I changed into dry clothes at home afterwards, I realised that in fact Dylan was the only one there who had the right idea.
If the waters of baptism represent God’s love poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, then that is in no way a retrained, polite, Anglican dribble.
Rather it’s a torrent…something overwhelming that can flood every corner, sweep us off our feet, change the whole landscape of our lives forever.
That overwhelming tide doesn’t depend on our love for God. It doesn’t depend on our response [(though the baptism service represents the very first step in a life time of response to God’s love)
God won’t love Lily more when we’ve brought her to Baptism and declared her formally part of God’s family…He already loves her completely and totally, as if she was the only baby there had ever been for God to love.
Actually, that’s how God feels about you too.]
There’s nothing the world you can do to make God love you more, or to make God love you less.
God just loves you, because that’s what and who God is.
God is love.
But God calls us, calls you, to respond…as surely as he called the disciples and gave them a task, to share the good news…We are called, invited, to respond of course…to live lives so full of love that we ourselves, with all our doubts, all our imperfections, all our uncertainties, can become Good News for our world…Good news of the God who loves us.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Oh I do like to be beside the sea side

Every now and then a Friday Five comes along which somehow underlines the fact that most of my revgalblogpals live on the far side of the Atlantic, and not on this small island, where you are rarely much more than 2 hours away from the sea.
Though I grew up in St Leonards-on-Sea, if you please, I'm very clear that when my American friends talk about the ocean they usually have in mind something altogether larger and grander than the pebbly beaches and cold grey seas of my childhood.

Mother Laura writes
.... in honor of summer, please share your own beachy memories, plans, and dreams with a "Beach Trip" Friday Five.

1. Ocean rocks, lake limps? Vice versa? Or "it's all beautiful in its own way"?
No real experience of large lakes, other than one wonderful visit to Lake Como the summer before Hattie Gandhi was born...so for me, beach= seaside...
I love the movements of the tides, the wild white horses on a windy day, the way the waves flung themselves and handfuls of shingle right onto the sea front during the storms of my childhood.
I love the experience of singing to the sea, or shouting songs of praise or lamentation into the wind, knowing them drowned out by the sound of breakers, unheard by all but the One for whom they were intended.
Lakes, to me, have been far tamer. Beautiful, part of halcyon summer days, but with none of the force and fury of the winter sea. When the wind blows, I still feel a pang that I cannot immediately set out to walk along the promenade, to feel the spray on my face and return home with hair matted, smelling of salt and freshness, tingling all over. My father's family were boat builders on the River Thames for generations, but he longed to sail far and wide, and for the six brief years he had his wish as he served in the Royal Navy. It's a cliche, but I suspect that the sea really is "in my blood".

2. Year round beach living: Heaven...or the Other Place?
It's a definite maybe for retirement, when that particularly alarming crunch actually comes.

3. Any beach plans for this summer?
I don't think so. Gloucestershire is about as landlocked as England gets....We will, of course, spend our fortnight's holiday afloat, but that is very different. No sea for me this year.

4. Best beach memory ever?
The Dufflepud has just finished his GCSE exams, and is changing schools in the autumn...His freedom from the classroom has put me in mind of my own "O" level summer, when there was 6 weeks of perfect weather, and each day I packed up some fruit and some books and went down to the beach. The wonderful Eirene was there most days, and there was a boy, A., with whom I was rather smitten....We lay on a rug and talked about literature and our great plans for saving the world and ate cherries, warmed by the sun, direct from a brown paper bag.

5. Fantasy beach trip?
This really happened, and I probably blogged it at the time...When I was in India, we were transported on the bus journey from hell for 22 hours from Bangalore to Kanyakumari, for a clergy conference. On the second day, we were told that we were going on another bus ride, to visit Kovalam beach in Kerala. Only good manners prevented revolt as we faced the prospect of at least 2 hours more in a very hot coach (positively no air conditioning) with 50 assorted Indian clergy, whose mobiles rang constantly...and many of whom were, by this stage, displaying symptoms of a virulent conjunctivits called Madras Eye. The journey was every bit as bad as we'd feared...but when we reached Kovalam, and disembarked at Hawa beach, it was, I may say, satisfactory. For me, reared on the bracing coasts of the English channel the experience of walking into the Indian ocean, with no shock of cold to greet me may just have spoiled me forever. Clear warm water, sandy shore, and the sheer delight of being in India...a return trip to Kerala would qualify as a fantasy beach trip, sure enough.



Bonus: Share a piece of music/poetry/film/book that expresses something about what the beach means to you.

My beach poem par excellence is Matthew Arnold's The Forsaken Merman, which I loved with a passion throughout my childhood...so much so that I have no idea at all whether it is good poetry or not. It's just part of me, and carries the sound of the sea and the enchantment of living close to it in every single line.
If it is, in fact, little more than doggerel, don't worry to tell me. I'll go on loving it anyway!
For anyone who grew up in England in the 1970s with The Onedin Line as part of the fabric of Sunday night tv, the Spartacus music by Khachaturian is the sea music par excellence....or perhaps Vaughan Williams Sea Symphony or some of his arrangements of English Sea Chanties. When I was a child, I used to sing some of those with my father as we crunched over the pebbles on Hastings beach - Rio, The Mermaid, Spanish Ladies, - they are all part of my soundtrack to the sea...though the music of the waves will always have the last word.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Whatever happened to the Reading Challenge? (reprise)

Anyone reading this blog would be easily forgiven for assuming that I gave up reading sometime in Lent, and haven't so much as opened a book since.
Perhaps it was never realistic for anyone as personally chaotic as me to even attempt to keep track of my reading during the past months...A huge selection of library books has come and gone without my recording the fact, and the process of packing and unpacking boxed led to many happy reunions with old friends that just had to be read then and there.
I guess I've not been reading so many books of the "Must blog" variety recently as the bit of my brain that wants to do serious reflection has mostly been working on the direct experience of real life in Hill and Valley - but there have been some Really (and Fairly) Good Reads, both serious and less so, - and even though I read at an alarming speed I must surely be able to remember some of them...
Not necessarily highlights (though the fact that I can't remember any of the books I whizzed cheerfully through while on Polyphony during half term may just be significant) I'll see what I can do (in no particular order, and quite without links or reviews) from the most recent consumption...


Susan Hill: The Various Haunts of Men
The Pure in Heart
The Risk of Darkness

Ann Lamott: Travelling Mercies
Plan B

Donald Simpson: Blue like Jazz

Catherine Ryan Hyde: Pay it Forward

Susan Hope:Mission Shaped Spirituality

William Dalrymple: City of Djinns
: White Moghuls

David Jones: In Parenthesis

Rob Bell: Velvet Elvis
: Sex God


Tonight I'm heading off to bed to read Rebecca Tope: Death in the Cotswolds - which looks like unutterable tripe, but distinctly entertaining. Tomorrow being Friday ALL DAY I think I'm allowed it. The other book on my bedside table (Yvonne Warren's The Cracked Pot - the state of today's Anglican Parish Clergy) is not just work, but depressing work at that, so I'm definitely delaying that till after the weekend.

Tired now, and I've an early start to collect Hattie Gandhi from Bristol airport (lucky child has spent the last week in Crete with a uni friend) so I'll call it a day ...but there's another booky post on its way, inspired, of all things, by the highbrow sounding "Dean's Theology Group" - which is a much friendlier beast than its title might suggest.
More of that later.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Barnabas

Today we give thanks for one of my favourite apostles - whom I love because of his celebrated gift of encouragement.
We thought about that at the Eucharist at Church in the Valley and I invited the congregation to thank God for those who encouraged them - while in our prayers we asked God to show us those who needed encouragement in their turn...
I spoke about the way the playgroup children who use our church hall each day are a huge encouragement to me, because they almost universally believe, each and every morning, that today is going to be the best day ever, that possibilities are endless. I reminded them that in a world alive with God's presence, this was not such an unreasonable attitude, and suggested that we might each be the same sort of gift to others that the children are to me. It all made good "heart sense" and, as usual on a Wednesday morning, God's love was so solidly present you could almost cut slices of it.
Just before I began the Eucharistic prayer I realised that there was one very imortant thing that I'd not mentioned in my thought for the day - the way that the faith, fellowship and love of that Wednesday congregation is a precious Kingdom-sign that encourages me week after week.
So I told them...and then we celebrated together and it was very good.



Bountiful God, giver of all gifts
Who poured your Spirit upon your servant Barnabas
and gave him grace to encourage others:
Help us, by his example,
to be generous in our judgements
and unselfish in our service
Through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord
who is alive and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit
one God, now and forever.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Friday Five on Sunday :-)

You don't have to know me for very long to know that details are, by and large, something I struggle with...I am so busy gazing at the wonderful vistas opening out before me that I have absolutely no sense of how I might actually get there and while I may not do six impossible things before breakfast, I'll surely have the visions for them. Doing is always harder, because that's where the details begin to matter...
Anyway, all this means that Sally's Friday Five seemed tailor made for me...but I didn't manage to blog it on the day because, wouldn't you know, I was busy getting lost on a long long walk - a perfect example of why those who prefer the big picture really need the details team too!
This is what Sally posted

1. How important is the "big picture" to you, do you need a glimpse of the possibilities or are you a details person?
I guess I've already answered that quite comprehensively...so let me tell you a story to illustrate.
Friday is my day off, and this week, for the first time since I've been here, I had a completely clear day. No friends visiting, no child at home on Study leave, and no huge and obvious household projects. So, I determined that Mufti and I would go on a voyage of exploration - or, as Polyphony is 2 hours drive away, a trek...I found a lovely website that listed lots of walks in and around Stroud, chose one that seemed to be about the right length, downloaded and printed it and set off to explore the Arlingham Horseshoe, a patch of land on the banks of the Severn.
We did fantastically to start with - wonderful views, beautiful weather, and I'd even remembered to take my iPod. That was quite interesting, actually...I rarely walk with it, and it did change the whole feel of the expedition - both inspiring me at times, and insulating me from the landscape at others. I reserve judgement as to whether or not it actually enhanced the walk overall..
For the first few miles, the walk followed the Severn Way, which is well signed, but it later struck off inland and things began to be more challenging. Finally, I followed instructions to cross a road and head over a stile, only to find myself confronted by a large and inpenetrable hedge with no hint of a path in any direction. At this point I really read the outline I'd downloaded
"You are advised to follow this route in conjunction with an Ordinance Survey landranger map, ref XXX..."
Mmn
To cut a very long, muddy but still enjoyable story short, we ended up walking something like 3 times in the official distance, and only returned to the car by the most roundabout route possible.
Have I learned anything? Probably not. Details make me tired...even more tired than getting lost on a "guided" walk!


2. If the big picture is important to you how do you hold onto it in the nitty gritty details of life?
With huge difficulty. I try, I really do. I talk to myself about not despising the day of small things...but the reality is that when I engage with them, I very easily get bogged down. On the whole, I'm almost allergic to lists (though I do try - and feel a huge sense of accomlishment if I actually manage to use one successfully). Just before we moved from our family home to the Curate's house, I was in serious melt down. The move was a huge down-sizing operation, and the whole prospect of imminent ordination loomed large and alarming. On a Quiet Day with my vicar-school colleagues, I found myself walking through some beautiful grounds chuntering about all my worries. I stopped and sat down on a log...and as I sat, I noticed an ant doing what ants do best. Working. Very hard. Back and forth it toiled, intent on its own agenda of shifting pine needles from its path, completely oblivious to the glorious May morning, a symphony of blue skies, birdsong and hawthorn blossm which was unfolding around it. Then I heard God laugh. God laughs at me quite often, - usually when I'm taking myself a sight too seriously... I was indignant for a moment. After all, all the things on my list, all the plethora of worries and Things To Organise, were a result of my obedience to God's call. But when I went inside, I found myself drawing a (very bad) picture...of the ant, the grass stems that loomed in Andean proportion over head, and far above the sun, with the caption "God said to the ant "Look up! Try and see my bigger picture" " On the whole, I think I've learned that lesson (maybe too well sometimes)
3. Name a book, poem, psalm, piece of music that transports to to another dimension ( one....what am I thinking....)
Oooh....Bach B Minor Mass takes me straight to heaven.
Will that do?
Clearly, there are endless alternatives - most of them choral, probably Baroque or Classical...It's my route into the glory beyond, while I'm here.

4.Thinking of physical views, is there somewhere that inspires you, somewhere that you breathe more easily?
The sea, the downland around Beachy Head in my native Sussex...and those high open spaces around Gloucestershire that feel as if they might be cliffs just above the shore (if only the ocean had not unaccountably vanished). When things threaten to overwhelm I find that lifting up my eyes to the hills (or better yet, looking down from the hills) does indeed bring me help.

5. A picture opportunity....Here's one from Rodborough Common this very afternoon. Lots of head space, lots of perspective...exactly what I need to keep me afloat! I love it.

Sermon for Trinity 3, Matthew 9:9-13 & 18-26

How do you read the Bible, if at all?
Do you skim through it briskly in preparation for a reading at Sunday worship, or do you perhaps follow a programme of daily Bible reading notes with helpful guidelines and practical applications for even the more difficult texts?
Or, like many another, do you only engage with it in case of crisis…at times when you really need to be reassured and comforted?

All those approaches might have something to recommend them, but there are surely times when we benefit most if we put ourselves directly into the story…That’s the secret of the style of prayer developed by Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits.
The sort of contemplative prayer he taught involves spending time visualising every detail of the biblical scene set before us, really getting under the skin of the story, joining the cast until we realise that HIS story is truly our story as well

Often it seems very easy to decide who we’d ally ourselves with in a given passage…Sometimes, as when Jesus was talking Nicodemus, or to the woman at the well, there’s really only one person sharing the stage….But if we look at this morning’s gospel, it’s nothing like so clear-cut. In just a few short verses, we have a whole series of encounters…Surely lots of opportunity to insert ourselves into the story…the only question is, “where?”.

As we begin to read, this appears to be an account of the call of Matthew, and in Matthew’s own gospel this must surely be a VERY IMPORTANT EVENT.
There it is, fair and square….
As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.
You’d imagine that the next few verses would involve an intent theological discussion about just where Matthew now thinks he is going, or possibly Jesus unrolling his credentials as the Messiah, and inviting the assembled company to rejoice.

Well…not quite.

You might decide to identify with Matthew, in that instant obedience to a call to follow…in the radical departure from everything that has been familiar…everything that has provided the backdrop to your life so far….but if you want to pray your way through the whole passage, that’s going to be harder.
There is a celebration, but it is a very edgy one…probably not the sort of party where you and I would feel at home.
That’s always the problem when mixing with Jesus – he will invite his friends along, and too often they just aren’t desirable types.
It’s not enough that he picks up Matthew from the tax collector’s booth…once back at Matthew’s house, the company gets even worse.
Where do you think you might fit in that crowd? Are you partying with Jesus, or looking on anxiously with the Pharisees?
You know, they really did have a point...
It’s a truth that has been known and passed on by parents for millennia...Bad company can corrupt good character.
As gatekeepers preserving the integrity of the traditions of Israel, the Pharisees are terrified of anything that might dilute the purity of God’s chosen people. There’s even a psalm to support their viewpoint
“Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers.”
In their pursuit of purity, they are worried that Jesus will be corrupted by all these “sinners” he seems happy to consort with.
But, oh dear, that just doesn’t seem to matter to him at all.
He’s not concerned about the risk of corruption from those unclean people hanging around.
He sees past their current state, and connects not with the distortions and handicaps of damaged lives but with the precious children of God beneath…
Perhaps most of all, Jesus recognises potential.
For him, Matthew is not a hated symbol of Roman oppression and personal greed – he’s a lonely man in need of a purpose and a friend…more, he’s a potential disciple…
There is no doubt that Matthew is ready for his call – as ready as ever an invalid might be to set aside her illness and live life not as “the woman with MS” but as her real self, a being with a name, and relationships, mother, daughter, wife…

But we move on…for the party is crashed by a distraught father.
Once again, though, he is first presented in terms of his status
He is “a leader of the synagogue” – one of the great and good – one who, according to the pharisaic approach, should be sure of God’s favour worked out in an easy life of blessing.
But something has gone wrong. He’s dealing with that worst of all parental nightmares, the death of a child.
Even despite ourselves, I guess that many of us will ally ourselves with him as we try to pray this passage…will offer to God our own urgent entreaties for the continued safety of the precious beings whom we brought to birth…
It’s to this urgency that Jesus responds. In an echo of the opening verses, we hear now that it’s Jesus who gets up and follows – responding not to the man’s importance but to his need.
As being outcast was no impediment, neither is being an insider, one of the religious elite...Jesus responds as readily to either.

But there’s yet another interruption to the flow of the story, another change of gear and direction.
Another outsider – a woman, and one with a haemorrhage at that….Someone who has waited for 12 years on the margins of society…weakened by the constant bleeding that leaves her all but invisible to observant Jews…
She is doubly outcast – but her need cries out to Jesus with all the power that she herself lacks.
She may not have the courage to ask, but, like Matthew and the tax collectors and sinners at the table, she receives freely the healing she most needs.
At this point in the story, things become alarmingly apposite for me…One of the struggles of ministry, as of any job without firm boundaries, is the way that the urgent so often drives out the important. Jesus is on a life and death mission to a child…surely a case of blue light and loud sirens, of the utmost urgency…BUT here is a woman who no longer dares to voice her own troubles, but who has the courage to act to address them.
She has waited 12 years, - so this is scarcely urgent – but it is hugely important – for her and for us.
This is what Jesus recognises…
So he stops. He takes the time, even amid his headlong mercy dash, not only to heal her but to relate to her
“Take heart, daughter…Your faith has made you well”
She is given a new identity – no longer the woman with no name, but an adopted child.
She, who has nothing, is given credit for her own healing
“Your faith has made you well”
The important takes priority over the urgent…The outsider is given precedence over the pillar of society…and as Jesus delays, a child lies dead.
Terrifying.
Do you even WANT to be in this story now?
Maybe this is one morning when we could comfortably turn over the page…
And yet, and yet, the truth is that we are all in this story, like it or not.
Each of us…with needs that are glaringly obvious to the world…or so deeply hidden that we have yet to acknowledge them to ourselves…
Each of us is dependent on God’s grace and mercy…Each of us would be lost if Jesus didn’t call us…
When Jesus mixed with the tax collectors and sinners, the Pharisees feared that someone might be changed by the encounter.
Jesus was sure of this…
Because our transformation is the heart of his mission, then as now…
“I come not to call the righteous but sinners to repentence”
Have you found yourself in the story yet?
If you have, take a moment to thank the One who calls you from sin to salvation, from the margins to the centre, from death to life.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Coincidence and Discernment

When I blogged on Wednesday about my misreading of the lectionary, I was quite tickled at the way things had worked out so that I was able to continue the train of thought started at the Fresh Expressions meeting.
I was even more delighted to read Jonny yesterday, mulling on the same passage (and joining some dots for me, which I'd kind of scribbled over in my eagerness to engage with the hard parts of the message for one who loves traditional church)...He offers sensible comfort for those who love church as it is, as well as a vision for those longing for church that will be

the thing that struck me about the story last time i read it was the last line about old or vintage wine. once you have drunk the good stuff why would you bother experimenting with the new... so if you are in or have people who are drinking at the well of good vintage wine in churches, then great - let them keep drinking.but if there is going to be good vintage in the future we need pioneers who will go and find new soil and plant vines to begin the process of developing new wine.

Now Maggi has picked up the theme as well, and writes here
I'm particularly struck by her comment that we need to discern which wines will improve with keeping, and which will be anything but enjoyable a few years down the line.
I love the concept of a mixed economy church, which offers both old and new ways of meeting with God, -but I wrestle with my own propensity to try and do it all (a danger built in to "mixed economy" models)...and I know that this would be neither healthy nor, I suspect, manageable.

So for the moment, all I can do is to wait and listen and listen and wait, trusting that as I learn what lies at the heart of these communities I will also come to learn how to help them fruitfully engage with God in the future.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

A Prayer of Saint Boniface



Eternal God, the refuge and help of all your children,
we praise you for all you have given us,
for all you have done for us,
for all that you are to us.
In our weakness, you are strength,
in our darkness, you are light,
in our sorrow, you are comfort and peace.
We cannot number your blessings,
we cannot declare your love:
For all your blessings we bless you.
May we live as in your presence,
and love the things that you love,
and serve you in our daily lives;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

This was a good resource for a day that included back to back funerals, one of which was quite hard going...Perhaps I'll be more awake to the legacy of St Boniface this time next year!

How are you on St Boniface?

mmn....me too, I have to say!

I remembered that he existed, that he came from Crediton in Devon and that was pretty much it.
But when I opened the Lectionary before the Eucharist at Church on the Hill this morning, I discovered that today is his feast, the anniversary of his martyrdom (while waiting for a group of confirmation candidates to arrive. Now that's a salutory warning for people with timekeeping like mine...I'll bet they felt miserably guilty when they discovered that their Bishop had been struck down as they got stuck in traffic). Exciting Holiness wasn't overflowing with information, though it asserted that, thanks both to his missionary work and to his reformation of the monastic orders of France, he probably had more influence on European history than any other Englishman.

That's all good stuff, but what really struck me was a wonderful story of Boniface setting out to chop down a sacred oak, dedicated to Thor, in Geismar...As the tree fell, its branches landed in the shape of a cross - and amid the wreckage caused by its fall, just one other tree survived, a small fir. Looking at this, Boniface apparently said
"This humble tree's wood is used to build your homes: let Christ be at the centre of your households. Its leaves remain evergreen in the darkest days: let Christ be your constant light. Its boughs reach out to embrace and its top points to heaven: let Christ be your Comfort and Guide".

St boniface sculpture
THE OAK OF GEISMAR

The tree became a sign of Christ in the world for the German peoples, and nowadays it is a universal reminder of Christmas.

Good story, eh?

But I wondered what the sacred oaks might be for us, what essential values and assumptions in contemporary life are ripe for felling in the cause of the Kingdom.
I found one answer in a post of my friend Michael's, over at feig city. He cites an article in the Guardian, about high finance of all things, which ended by denouncing the ruling gods of our age, listed thus

Globalisation
Communication
Liberalisation
Privatisation
Competition
Financialisation
Speculation
Recklessness
Greed
Arrogance
Oligarchy
Excess

- and with the powerful obituary

"These gods have failed. It is time to live without them"

It's a striking list, - some pretty well-rooted oaks, I'd say...and not all of them obvious candidates for demolition. What's the problem with communication, for example? Isn't it always "Good to talk"?
So, as I tried to unpack the readings in Church on the Hill, I bore that list mind, together with an image of Boniface, standing small but undaunted at the foot of the oak tree...
I invited suggestions as to those spirits of the age that we might need to take on, but the silence was deafening. What do you think?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

My mistake?

>Hot on the heels of yesterday's reflections, the Gospel at this morning's Eucharist was, I thought, quite staggeringly appropriate....because I read it as Mark 2 1-27 . New wine and old wineskins, the Sabbath made for man and not vice versa. It all made huge sense! So, I found myself talking to the(mostly rather older) congregation about what this might mean for us, how we might have to face the realisation that the style of church which had nourished and supported us all our life long might not be part of God's future in this community, or anywhere; how the concept of Sabbath had changed since our childhoods (when,let's face it, there was nothing but church available by way of Sunday entertainment) , and how it would not encourage anyone to engage with God if all they heard from their Christian neighbours was a succession of loud "tuts" about the demise of the great British Sunday, and alot of muttering that the world would be a much better place if the youth of the valley were being bored in church, rather than entertained on the football field... I talked about sitting light to things that had been both helpful and precious, but hanging on to the rock of truth that we are loved by God and exist to respond to that love. Some of them "got it" immediately and enthusiastically...some were sad but thoughtful...some, unsurprisingly, are convinced that their brand new vicar has taken leave of her senses. Church at the gym? Church not on Sundays? That can't be right!

Actually, - as those using the RCL Eucharistic lectionary will already have worked out, the thing that really wasn't right was the reading! Not Mark 2 at all, but Mark 12. But wow, - what a gift to explore that passage while so many related thoughts were buzzing round in my head! Maybe, just maybe, it wasn't so much my stupidity as God's brilliance that caused me to mis-read in such an interesting way. Back at St M's, we had a Daily Missal so it could never have happened...at Church in the Valley, it's over to the small print of that little paperback lectionary or even the vicar's diary. Easy to misread, - but sometimes errors make for really interesting results.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Mixed Economy?

Lots to think about tonight!
This morning was traditional parish ministry at its most rewarding…
  • Morning Prayer with a companion (oh, I do so miss having WonderfulVicar there to pray with twice a day, every day)
  • A lovely visit to the nursery attached to the Co-op, where staff were hugely welcoming and the children enthusiastic listeners…I’ve been invited to return on a regular basis, so that, together with the Playgroup in the Church Hall, ought to give me the chance to exercise those parts of me that most feel the absence of Little Fishes
  • Home Communion to one sheltered housing complex, followed by an attempt to visit a poorly lady in another one – which metamorphosed into attendance at the weekly coffee morning, - thus enabling me to connect not just with the lady who had wanted to talk, but with 3 others who were on my “niggle” list with God
Each encounter was thoroughly satisfying, with lots of God stuff to notice and celebrate – the sort of thing you need to come home and say thank you for (so I did).

This afternoon I went to the first meeting for ages of the Fresh Expressions group…at which our new diocesan missioner was present. Some excellent discussion, and I found myself more able to contribute than I’d been to date (as the only woman there today, and the only catholic full stop I don’t always find that easy but for once words and thoughts flowed all round, with no one voice dominating and some exciting and interesting thoughts brought to the table)
Helpful distinction drawn between the genuine “Fresh Expressions” (which emerge not from a new sort of attractional model of church, but from deep listening to the community and then a slow journey together towards something that might become church) and “Refreshed Expressions” (eg my beloved Little Fishes, enabled to recognise its identity as "church" after many years of being dismissed as an inadequate route into "real church" which never enabled anyone to "complete" their journey to Sunday worship"…)though it was a tad disheartening to recognise that so many of the apparently “new things” we had rejoiced in were not honestly new at all.
Much of the conversation was around the struggle of living in a transition time…In much of this diocese Christendom still lingers (Ch K, for example, is somewhere where the relationship of community to parish church continues to be strong and significant) so it is very hard to take steps away from the still breathing entity which has represented the Body of Christ for so many of us….but at the same time, we know that everything (EVERYTHING) is changing…that there is no underlying knowledge of the Christian story in most people’s lives…that even within the church (no, make that especially within the church) there is a compelling need to re-examine all our assumptions…to ensure that we really know what our gospel is…what it means to be church…what good news for our context, our people, might really look like. That assumes that our congregations have any sense of the good news themselves…and, moreover, that they are gripped by the imperative to share it…that they are beginning to glimpse God’s dream and to dare to dream themselves.
A far cry from bible stories at the nursery and comforting conversation at the coffee morning?
Well, maybe not…maybe the only way forward will be, as was suggested, the very labour intensive, one to one, exploration based on relationships…
But meanwhile, there is wedding admin (and how!), PCC agendas, parish mag letters, trustees meetings…all the baggage that the parish system has accrued over the centuries..some of which might possibly yet be useful…but equally, might well not.
Lots to ponder as I continue to try to hear both God and these communities I’m called to serve
But…tonight I received a huge encouragement in my vision for family work in Church in the Valley, in the form of a very generous grant towards refurbishing the children’s area, and buying fresh books, musical instruments and other delights from my wish-list. To be given this money in response to my dreaming aloud felt pretty close to miraculous. I hope I’m right in my reading of the facts…If I am, then we may just be going somewhere.