Saturday, October 31, 2009

In a few minutes we’ll stand to proclaim the faith we share.
We do this week by week, and perhaps the individual clauses begin to blur and run into one another, so that we find ourselves happy to assent to the whole, without focussing unduly on the details. So today, because I really want you to think about what you are saying, we’ll use not the Nicene Creed, as we do most Sundays, but the shorter Apostles’ Creed, familiar at the very least from Evensong.
It’s a good statement of our basic tenets, - more concise and straightforward in some ways than the fulminations of the council of Nicea…and of course it ends with the triumphant declaration
We believe in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

The communion of saints…that’s our focus today.
The communion of saints, the glorious company of the faithful who stand around God’s throne and cry glory…
We probably think we know what they look like.
They come in two gothic varieties, male, with a page boy hair cut, or female with long flowing tresses. They wear long white robes, carry some incongruous object or other – a wheel, a gridiron, - and can be recognised above all by their haloes.
They are, after all, simply two-dimensional characters, bright in their stained glass shrines…Men and women frozen in perfection, finished products from the beginning of their lives…

If that sounds just a little unlikely to you, I’m profoundly relieved.

If the saints were like that, you see, they’d be no use at all, either to us, or to God. Rather than remembering them with delight, we’d forget them with relief as their only effect would be to discourage us from ever trying to be holy.
But rejoice.
The truth is something quite different.
The saints are real, utterly real…Women and men who tried and failed, and tried again. People whose life experience was the same mix of faith and doubt, of despair and hope that we all recognise.
Ordinary people, in fact.
People just like you.
And me.
The communion of saints.

Ordinary people?
Surely not.
They seem to be extraordinary…and have been adopted as role models by Christians for many generations because they seem to be somehow different, set apart by some distinctive feature of their lives or their faith...
So, what then makes a saint?

A saint is someone who shows God to others.

It’s as simple as that.
We look at the lives of the saints and see God in them
There’s a well worn and apocryphal story of a small boy who was called out from his Sunday school class to explain to an All Age service just what a saint might be.
Casting about desperately for an answer, he caught sight of the stained glass that surrounded him as he stood at the front of the church and blurted out
“A saint is someone that the light shines through”

It might be a funny story, except that it is profoundly true.
A saint IS someone the light shines through…
A flawed, imperfect human being whose life is made beautiful by the presence of God.
On that evaluation, you may not have to think too hard before you realise that you know a few saints yourself…though if you told them, they’d surely be horrified, or amused.

You see, I very much doubt if saints are sufficiently self-conscious to notice their own holiness.
My suspicion is that most real saints struggle day after day with a sense of their own unworthiness.
They would laugh outright to hear themselves described in these terms…
Even the greatest saints struggled constantly with their own failures.
Think of Peter, the founding saint of the church…commissioned by Jesus to be the rock, the firm foundation on which the Church would stand.
Peter the impulsive “have a go hero” who dived in where angels fear to tred, and shed blood among the olives in dark Gethsemane.
Peter, the frightened man who was quick to deny his friend and master.
Peter, who ran headlong to the tomb but couldn’t believe the evidence of his eyes on the morning of the Resurrection.
I very much doubt if he thought he was specially holy!

Or there’s Mary of Bethany…so emotional that she dared even to lay into Jesus for his neglect of her family
“lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died”
and perhaps so blinded by her tears that she didn’t recognise her risen Lord until he called her by name.
Do you think she believed that she might become an example to us, someone to follow, an inspiration through the centuries?

But I see I’m in danger of suggesting that REAL saints lived long go and far away…and that’s far from the case
Let’s reflect on one of the most famous Christians of our time, Mother Theresa of Calcutta.
Recently her diaries have suggested that she had all but lost her faith, that the light of God’s presence was almost obliterated by the troubles and tragedies of the world.
But despite this, there are so many who already revere her as a saint…for though she may have struggled with an overwhelming sense of God’s absence from her life, those around her saw God’s light shining through all that she did and said in his name.

So…that’s the role of the saints alive…People who share our struggles but through them all show us the Father. I know many saints like that, - indeed, I’d rarely make it from one Sunday to the next without their love and their encouragement
But today above all we celebrate the saints in glory…the multitude without number whose hope was in the Word made flesh, those who join with us whenever we sing together
“Holy, holy, holy Lord”
That shining circle who stands around the throne of God is still very much part of our story…for we worship together, our prayers and praises connecting with theirs across time and eternity.
When I first presided at the Eucharist, the day after my ordination as priest, I was completely bowled over by the overwhelming presence of that heavenly company….MY saints. - the people whom I’d known and loved, who had shaped my journey…and those who had died long before I was born, but whose words or deeds had inspired me. They were all there, standing beside me at the altar – and when I’m properly attentive, they are there still, week on week, singing with us, lending power and life to our song. Pause to listen for their voices yourself, this morning, and be thankful….

So, where does this leave us…the people who gather here week after week [under the patronage of All Saints]? Again and again in his letters Paul talks to “the saints in” a particular place…and those saints are neither more nor less than the ordinary body of believers in that place.
You are the saints in Cainscross, the saints in Selsley.
You may not think of yourself as holy in any way…but actually, by virtue of your baptism, holiness IS your calling.
We are, every one of us, set apart for God…called to be saints, just as we are.
Flawed, imperfect people, but people through whom the Light of the World is content to shine.
I believe in the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. AMEN.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Boundaries and borders

On Tuesday I found myself talking about Fair Trade to a small group of local supporters, as part of a chocolate and coffee tasting that had been arranged by the Co-op. Being me, I'd left preparation of the talk til the 11th hour, and rushed off to the Fair Trade Foundation and Christian Aid websites for helpful material...My brief was to cover the human angle, leaving the co-op rep to provide facts and figures, - and the all important chocolate, and both websites were full of great stories about the way Fair Trade really does change lives. The story that struck me most, though, was not told by a struggling cocoa farmer whose world was transformed, but by a visitor to a Fair Trade vineyard in S Africa.
He described the "model village" conditions of the Fair Trade community, with freshly-painted homes, clean playgrounds for the children and the huge pride that the workers had in taking control of their own destinies, and then took us to another corner of the vineyard, close to the boundary with its neighbour.


On their side of that fence were beautifully painted houses and carefully groomed gardens. There was a little school and a play area. There was colour and beauty and all of that freedom and ownership we had just heard about was bursting with life. But on the other side of the fence…was the neighbouring vineyard. There was literally the thinnest breadth of wire dividing. And on that other side there was dirty, faded, paint peeling houses. There were rough dust and dirt paths between them. There was no colour, no energy, no pride and no sense of hopefulness.

Fairtrade_logo

It was a stark contrast. It was the most challenging piece of land I had ever stood upon. The choice was clear and stark. Buy into one side of the fence and there is a sense of care and justice for the workers. Buy into the other and there is simply exploitation, disregard and neglect of workers and their children


Literally the thinnest breadth of wire - but absolutely no doubt which side of the fence was which...and nobody would choose to spend time straddling the divide. In a great article, the writer goes on to develop the theme of choice, and of choosing God's justice, choosing the Kingdom. Do read it all - I thoroughly recommend it...

*********

That image of the thin piece of wire has been with me for the whole week, specially in the long hours when I've sat with a the dear soul from our congregation whose earthly journey must surely soon reach its end. Her body is so very weak now, and it has seemed again and again over the past many days, that she must leave it behind with the very next laboured breath...but she lingers on. It's not unlike watching the sea as low tide approaches. There will come a moment when the waves recede no further, when we are officially at Low Tide - but on the way, it's impossible to tell whether this is the final marker. Once the tide has turned, there is of course no mistake - but on the way, there's no such clarity. That's how it is in that hospital room, as she treads the foothills of eternity, without yet crossing the border and finding herself at home.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Everyone welcome

If you've been around here this summer you'll know that I've been pretty busy with baptisms down in the valley, with barely a Sunday in June, July,August or September without at least 2, and often some on Saturday too. I've agonised at times, because it felt rather as if God's hospitality might be being abused.Party after party arrives, to fill the church with the joyful hubub of a family reunion,complete with rampaging todders, bling-wearing god mums and armies of tattood guys, looking deeply uncomfortable in suits.I talk as best I can about the beginning of a life-long journey, about God's unconditional love and our need to respond. I tell them that they are to feel at home in their Father's house,I administer the sacrament, am thanked warmly for a "lovely service" and sometimes told "You made us feel so welcome" and 99 times out of 100 that's it.
Over the next few weeks we may meet in the Co-op, or crossing the park and exchange friendly greetings. I say hopefully "Maybe see you at Messy Church" and they agree that they might try it one day, but we both know that it's very unlikely.

I've wondered and worried and thought and (more productively) prayed. I've listened to colleagues who have more robust demands, and I can see their point, but when it comes down to it, I've had no sense that God wants me to change my practice. At valley church particularly it's all about welcome. We are often chaotic - that's what happens if you're the sort of church that includes learning impaired adults as acolytes and trainee guide-dogs among the choristers, and has a vicar who is last-minute to her core. Sometimes it can be disappointing for one who loves beautiful liturgy (even, or particularly, when she knows that she herself is part of the problem) - but I'm pretty certain that most people who come through the door feel loved, wanted, WELCOME. And we're that way because God is a "come as you are" God, who accepts us first and transforms us afterwards.
So it would seem alien to me to turn away anyone that purported to seek a relationship with God through the Church, - even if I never get to see that relationship develop...

But this past Sunday, the official relationship never got off the ground at all.
I first met the family back in August.
Little X was approaching her first birthday . She had, apparently, had serious health problems just after birth and her mum had spoken of her need to engage with God as a thank you for the gift of her daughter...I battled the post-Stroud-half-marathon traffic down from church on the hill, reopened chuch in the valley, turned on lights, lit candles, checked water temperature of font and waited...and waited...and waited some more. Roads were still blocked or busy, so it wasn't til twenty minutes after the time we'd agreed that I phoned the mum
"I thought we were due to be baptising X today"
Silence
"Oh...yeah...Didn't I tell you? We moved house last week and...oh well...I thought I'd told you..."
KF (brightly) "Goodness - you'll have alot on your plate with a move and a toddler. Why don't you get in touch later, when things have calmed down..."
"OK. I could do.."
Finis.
I stood in the empty church and tried to analyse my feelings.
I was very very tired (it takes a while to regain a whole missing night), and the morning hadn't been fantastic - so on one level, it was simply a relief to be able to stop, to take off the kit and the public face and to sit in a weary heap in the Lady Chapel before driving home...But on another and deeper level I was so very disappointed.
Not that I don't understand all too well how easy it is for things to get forgotten amid the chaos of life with a toddler in a small flat, leaving aside the complexities of a house move.Life is a struggle for many of the families I meet, and my priorities and theirs are never likely to match exactly - but all the same, I felt somehow hurt for God, and almost guilty that I'd opened the way for this. Hospitality not just abused, but spurned...

But then I looked at the altar, where only a couple of hours ago Christ's body had been broken and shared once again, and remembered that the God who gives himself to us like that is no stranger to abuse or rejection - and keeps on loving, no matter what.

So, no change in baptism policy then...Everyone welcome.

Synod meets Fresh Expressions

At diocesan synod on Saturday, after the inevitable and painful discussions of the budget, we heard a presentation on Fresh Expressions from +Graham Cray.
I'm rather in favour of Fresh Expressions myself, though it did seem to me that +Graham managed to make them sound a bit like a dodgy form of car insurance...but what really struck me was the force of anti FE feeling that was abroad.

It seemed that some simply
could not hear the assurances that we were moving into a "mixed economy" church, where fresh and traditional expressions can and do co-exist happily.A catholic colleague serving a rural benefice was certain that fresh expressions were a purely urban phenomenon, (this was firmly refuted, but it saddened me that he was so instinctively opposed that he hadn't explored the many rural contexts where new ways of being church are being born).Another in a deprived urban parish raised serious and legitimate concerns about network church in the sort of poor communities where no networks seem to exist. That is certainly an issue for the estate part of Church in the Valley, where our current impact is minimal, where we don't have much contact even through occasional offices, where some sort of fresh expression might well need to emerge.

The great blessing of an open-ended committment here is that I don't immediately have to worry that no obvious way in has opened...though I do have to be careful that I'm not so up to my ears in everything else that I can't take it any opportunities, or enable others to do so, if that's part of God's plan for this place.

One tweedy gentleman who was rather older than me claimed that thanks to liturgical revisions and unhelpful publicity, nobody now knew what the C of E was, or why it existed. As he talked, it seemed increasingly possible that he had no expectation that belonging to the church, might imply a relationship with God...His sights were firmly anchored on the institution (not entirely sure if that's a mixed metaphor?) without a recognition of the Church as Body of Christ. He talked about moving too fast, about confused identities, but never paused to recognise that Jesus "is already gone ahead of us into Gallillee", that God "makes all things new". Combined with the reaction of a couple of people to the very mild liturgical revision we tried out at Church on the Hill yesterday, I found this profoundly depressing.

I am utterly committed to the existing ministry of the Church. At a time when I'm so stretched personally, with funerals and death-beds taking up most of the working day, the comfort of knowing that I'm part of an army of faithful priests who have simply spent their lives loving and praying for their people and celebrating the Sacraments is immeasurable,- but I'm passionate too about the Church's calling to be an agent of transformation, - of individuals, congregations, communities.

There is a picture at Holland House, Worcester diocesan retreat house, with swirling circles of energy and colour
"We are followers of the running God, who goes to the periphery to make it a centre of light"
Sometimes keeping up is very hard work, but I know God will wait for us, that we won't be left for long wondering "which way now?"

Friday, October 23, 2009

What sweeter music...a Friday Five

My lovely friend Songbird posted this over at RevGals, and in my current weary state it's absolutely spot on, because nothing, NOTHING, restores and consoles like music. Ever.

When I was a very little girl growing up in Virginia, I never missed a Sunday going to Court Street Baptist Church. But there was something else that made Sundays special, and that was "Davey and Goliath." Every week the opening strains of the theme song would find me lying on the floor, chin on hands, looking up expectantly to watch the adventures of a clay boy and his big dog.


What I didn't realize was who wrote that music, the hymn "A Mighty Fortress is Our God."


It was the same Martin Luther who said:

"I have no use for cranks who despise music, because it is a gift of God. Music drives away the Devil and makes people gay; they forget thereby all wrath, unchastity, arrogance, and the like. Next after theology, I give to music the highest place and the greatest honor."
On this Friday before Reformation Sunday, let's talk about music. Share with us five pieces of music that draw you closer to the Divine, that elevate your mood or take you to your happy place. They might be sung or instrumental, ancient or modern, sacred or popular...whatever touches you.


I spent last night watching with a dear faithful soul, whose earthly pilgrimage is nearly done. As I prayed and thought and prayed some more, my internal soundtrack was Elgar's Dream of Gerontius and "Faire is the Heaven" by William Harris. Both open windows onto the divine in a way that made it easy to visualise her journey home.


Bach - always, always Bach...to restore my sense of meaning and purpose perhaps the Goldberg Variations, or the Largo from the Concerto for 2 Violins....
to express the overwhelming joy of being loved by the God who gives life,
Et Resurrexit from the B Minor Mass...



The first LP (oh how that dates me) I ever bought was Jacqueline du Pres playing the Haydn C Major Cello Concerto. I'm not sure whether I was more in love with the music or the musician at that point, but the work travelled with me to make every house, every student room, and still, every clergy study, a home. It's always part of the way I connect myself with a new environment.

Perfection in worship- Tallis "If ye love me" I've loved this since I first sang it with the Hasting Youth Choir when I was 14. It was the introit at my 1st Mass and never fails to make all things well in my world.


Songbird mentions hymns - again I'll turn to my 1st Mass as a guide to my "2non- negotiable, make-everything-better-at-a-stroke" list
"All my hope on God is founded"(tune by beloved Herbert Howells, whose "Like as the hart" would be in this list if I weren't trying to at least nod in the direction of the "Friday Five" game)
"Eternal Ruler of the Ceaseless Round" (thank you, God, for the music of Orlando Gibbons...How could I fail to mention "This is the record of John"...? Truly fantastic piece!)
"O thou who camest from above" (a "here I stand, I can do no other" expression of my longings in ministry)
"And can it be" - singing it makes it true....
"My chains fell off, my heart was free
I rose, went forth and followed thee.
No condemnation now I dread,
Jesus and all in Him is mine.."


Oh my dears, having had a lovely time hunting those around the internet, I'm now ready to go to bed with a deeply contented smile on my face.
I hope that connecting with your best beloved musical treasures has brought you joy too.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

This week I have been mostly

taking funerals.

One morning about 10 days ago the phone rang three times in swift succession, each time with a different funeral director on the line...and so it began, three weeks in which most of ordinary parish life has had to go on hold as I deal with matters of rather more significance than the late arrival of the decorators.
I have to say, there's something quite disturbing about a run of funerals like this. Whenever you lift your eyes to the horizon, there's another one coming in sight (though I now have just two booked for next week, so perhaps the worst is over).
Each one, of course, is of huge significance to family and friends and part of the priestly role, I believe, is to stand as a reminder that each is also of huge significance to God.
W., beloved "little granny" of her great grandchildren, full of years and leaving so many happy memories
E., sociable and loved in his community as in his family
B., a gentle soul who loved music, autobiograhy, and the simple life
P., ballroom dancer whose last years were blighted by dementia
R., perfectionist craftsman, patient father, devoted husband, whose life lost its meaning with the death of his wife a year ago
....and so it goes on, - with other names, other stories, gratitude and grief.

But it's quite difficult to keep track of so many lives and deaths, when most of them are of people of whom your only knowledge is via a visit or two before the service, and then, of course, the day itself. That opportunity to engage with strangers at a time of deep and abiding need is one of the great privileges of ministry in the Church of England. Anyone living and dying in my parishes is entitled to my ministry, and even in this secular age a number opt for this....and always, no matter what the circumstances, we find ourselves standing on holy ground. Often the family have absolutely no language with which to articulate what has happened them - or when we meet they paint pictures of the hereafter that seem far from God's truth as I understand it. My job here is to honour their search for meaning while being as clear as I can be about the framework of faith on which I stake my all...and in the liturgy I find myself speaking words of power, words which really do make a difference, which achieve what they profess. When we meet I tell them my understanding of the task of the funeral - to look back with gratitude (and with an awareness of the guilt that so often prevails in the face of loss, to allow space for repentence too) and then, facing the cross in the light of the Resurrection, to look forward with hope. I talk about the support we can give one another by our presence, our love, our prayers...and about the sense I have that this work that we do together is among the most important things that there is to be done.

On the day, I tell the story, pray the prayers and leave the rest to God, confident that all shall be well. I'm
horrified at how often families seem surprised that I speak with care and with conviction. They say things like
"You sounded so sincere..." as if there are clergy out there who would walk rough shod through these fragile griefs, would belittle the enormity of loss, or throw away the family's great chance to say "thank you" for the one they gather to mourn.

This ministry is so very precious. Even amid the current tide of deaths, I need to pause to note the privilege of standing beside so many people as I try to remind them that God is with them too.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sermon for Trinity 18B at All Saints - The Camel & the needle


Have you ever been so anxious to hear the answer to a question that you’ve actually run to discover it?
Maybe when you were a child…when you wanted to know if it was OK to go to a friend’s house for tea, or whether the post had arrived on your birthday?
Maybe later, anxious for news of exam results, or an absent loved one expected home?
But now…
Now, I wonder what question might so excite you that you RAN to get the answer…Is there anything that you would want to know so badly that you would fling yourself at the feet of the one who might just be able to tell you?

Actually, if I had just one question to ask God, then the one that the rich young ruler poses might well qualify
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
That surely is THE question…the one to set us tossing and turning at night…the one to force us from our beds….the one that really REALLY must be answered for each one of us.
Isn’t that what we’re for? To work out our eternal destiny?
What must we do?
His question, - our question.

But if that is the question, then I have bad news for all of us.
Though there is an answer…we probably won’t like it.

It’s one of those times when the gospel seems like anything BUT good news.
Listen to this.
Go, sell what you have and give the money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven…
Oh. My. Life!
Over the years I’ve tried so hard to make a comfortable home wherever I’ve landed…a home defined by the presence of people and things that matter to me.
Keepsakes from friends and family.
Pictures and objects I’ve chosen with care
Books. Oh so very many books.
Go sell what you have
I wouldn’t know how to begin.
In fact, it might just be that I’m possessed by my possessions, for it certainly seems unthinkable that I should throw all my treasures aside…
Even for the sake of treasure in heaven.

That’s no surprise to Jesus.
Listen to his comment to the disciples
It's harder for a rich person to enter God's kingdom than it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.
That doesn’t sound promising.
Of course, you may have heard that there was a gate in ancient Jerusalem called "The Eye of the Needle," which was so narrow that a camel couldn't pass through it unless all its baggage was removed, at which point it could just get through painfully, laboriously on its knees.
We could deal with that scenario.
We might not like it, but it could be managed.
It would suggest that we, the wealthy, could enter God’s kingdom, if we weren’t too attached to our possessions….
But, oh dear, sadly research confirms that there was NO SUCH GATE.
Maybe that’s not surprising.
If Jesus had been talking about a well known local landmark, his hearers wouldn't have been reduced to incredulous questions
"Then who can be saved?!";
But that’s not the way of it.
There is no "Eye of the Needle" gate that camels can crawl through.
Jesus means what he says.
It’s that hard to enter the kingdom…

Nor can we claim immunity on the grounds that we’re not actually wealthy at all.
It may not feel much like it, but if you’re in any doubt then when you next have access to a computer, try entering your income on the website “Global Rich List” and see where you end up. Your income is measured against those of the whole of the world’s population…and the results are shocking. Even on a stipend that never seems to go quite far enough, I find myself in the top 3.6% in the world.
That’s rich, then.


But maybe I could bear to give away all my things.
After all, I’d still have my children, wouldn’t I?
Surely we can assume that family values are Christian values, Christ’s values
That must be a given.
But no
Jesus positively encourages his disciples to abandon their families, their responsibilities, all those precious human ties.

They (and we) are to strip ourselves of everything by which we identify ourselves…Possessions, relationships…the lot.
And stripped of everything, we are then to follow
Deeply disquieting stuff.
I don’t know how it’s left you feeling, but I don’t think I can do it.
Truly, I long to follow – I yearn to find my way into the kingdom of God…but I don’t think I’m brave enough to leave so much behind.

But this is the gospel!

It’s supposed to be good news!

So where do we find that, today?
We find it, first, as Jesus considers the young man
“Jesus, looking at him, loved him”
He has tried so hard, hasn't he...so determined to DO everything he can to get things right. Jesus knows exactly what course the conversation will take…he understands just how fettered the young man really is…but he loves him.
He loves him, and he loves us – with all our good intentions, our deeply buried longings, our welter of doubts and fears.
He loves us so much that he cannot, and does not leave us imprisoned in those many much-loved cages we’ve fashioned for ourselves.
We cannot on our own break free – but if we recognise that we are trapped, - then we’ll find there’s good news here, right enough.

The rich man, secure in his wealth, was asking the wrong question:
What can I do to inherit eternal life?
He assumed that it must be down to him, a matter of action plans, and personal control…and so he was crushed when it seemed that the necessary action was beyond him.
But actually, that’s the point.
That there was nothing he or we could do.
To let go of all that we have, all that supports and impedes us, all that deludes us into thinking we can somehow earn our place in the Kingdom – that’s still too much for us.
We cannot save ourselves.

But I promised you good news, and it’s here in the astounding paradox of grace.
The answer we struggle with turns out to be the best news of all.
We CAN inherit the Kingdom, not through what we own, not through who we are, not even through what we can give up…
We can inherit the Kingdom when we recognise our own helplessness….when we accept that there is, truly, nothing we can do
For mortals it is impossible, but not for God. For God, all things are possible

Miles behind myself...

In the midst of a rather startling run of funerals, I just want to flag up the thing that is currently very clear to me after my ministerial review.

Friends and regulars here will know that I spend alot of time making noises about my hopeless inefficiency, the state of the study floor and the impossibility of ever keeping up with myself. I looked at this head on with my rather wonderful review colleague (WRC) yesterday and we came to the conclusion that actually it's a non issue.

Things get done.

Sometimes there's a bottle neck of pressure because the way that they are done doesn't match my perception of how they OUGHT to be done, and too many busses arrive at the stop at the same moment - but they are generally perfectly OK, sometimes even better than OK.
WRC has suggested that I build in a periodic admin catch up day, designed to prevent me from reaching the rabbit-in-headlight stage of administrative terror (though we both realise that there's every possibility that this might go by the board if something more interesting/pastoral comes up) but really the only issue is the self-inflicted angst as I fall short of an ideal of incumbency that is, when all is said and done, based on a very different context - my training parish, where there was an army of able supporters to implement (and indeed come up with) any number of bright ideas and new strategies that the vicar might desire - and a paid administrator to see that the paperwork got done to boot.

So yes, it's good when I get things done promptly and without drama - and because it's hard for me, I award myself all sorts of notional gold stars on these rare occasions...but actually being me and doing things my way isn't a disaster either. On the whole, I think people feel loved and are comfortable to see and trust me as their priest, and I'm happy that there is growth and warmth in both congregations. That's not the whole story, of course, and there are all sorts of hopes and dreams and aspirations - some of which will be God's dreams for these places and some of which will be just my wild ideas...but there's plenty of time to watch them grow or let them wither, and it will, actually, be alright because
I do know, with all my heart, that I'm where I should be.


As for the unrealistic, perfectionist expectations...time to quote The Cloud of Unknowing again

"Not what thou art, nor what thou has been, but what thou wouldst be beholdest God in his mercy"

But (if it doesn't seem ungrateful) because I'm still Kathryn, even in this startling moment of clear sight, I'd really value your prayers that I don't find myself at the crem prepared for the wrong funeral on any of the next several days...It's a very long time since I've had so many on the trot, and I'm genuinely concerned that this is a possibility.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

I do love Augustine

Last Sunday's Common Worship Collect (Trinity 17) was based on his words
"You have made us for yourself and our hearts are weary til they find their rest in you"...
Tonight, the Herring of Christ (TM) and I spent some time planning a healing service for St Luke's Day, - and along the way were reminded of this rather perfect prayer.
I know several people for whom I might pray it tonight...

Watch now, dear Lord,
with those who wake

Or watch or weep tonight
And give your angels charge
over those who sleep.


Tend your sick ones, O Lord Christ,

rest your weary ones,

bless your dying ones,

Soothe your suffering ones,

pity your afflicted ones,

shield your joyous ones,

and all for your love's sake.



Monday, October 05, 2009

A church near you, part 2

Thanks to clever cross posting wotsits, the original "church near you" post spent today up on FB where responses were too interesting to leave alone there.
Here are some

Caroline 2 suggested
a place to be encouraged
a place to dream
a place to share

a place to question

a place for doubt

Kristin
a place to get away
a place to come home

and Karen a place to cry
a place to be comforted
a place to learn from all ages
a place to be




I'm now getting really excited about this - and about how to make it real in the life of the churches I serve. Because, of course, I can't claim that all of that is really true of the life of either of my congregations.My hope is that by the time we reach Easter next year (via another PCC Quiet day at the beginning of Lent) ,both may have arrived at some sort of vision statement that can become part of our conscious DNA, an indicator of priorities. Caroline 2 wanted to substitute "Community" for "place" - and of course she's right that this is how it should be (though the original context of giving out a bit of smiley advertising at a community event meant that focus on the building was simpler to explain...specially as we were partying in the park just the other side of the churchyard wall). Goodness - if we actually offered churches like that, they'd probably be full overnight.

Gulp.

But as soon as you start defining what you are for, the possibility of being judged and found wanting looms large. As I commented in the other place, I have nightmare visions of a spiritual Ofsted inspector marking hill & valley in terms of their compliance with a tick list ...In the wake of the "Family snapshot" questionaire I offered in the valley earlier this summer, I'm well aware that the old adage about meat for some being poison for others remains very true. I wonder if it's equally true that what encourages one might disturb or depress another...And it matters so much that the church should try to be all things to all men at some level - because it's disturbingly common for tentative explorers to turn their back after one single negative experience...and, sadly, to confuse God with the church that exists to do God's work.

I recognise too that however much I may understand and believe that it's NOT my task to ensure that these churches "pass" - I'll see any "failures" as my failures.
Of course, if my churches live up to these visions, then I can cry, I can be encouraged, I can doubt, and I can grow - so maybe the messiah complex might eventually be rather less of a problem! It's something to pray for, anyway...

A church near you

A place for prayer
A place to celebrate
A place to remember
A place for peace
A place for family
A place for friends
A place for hope
A place for today
A place for tomorrow
A place to grow
A place to meet God.


This was the text of the bookmarks splendid Methodist colleague produced for our joint presence at yesterday's Medieval Fayre.The other side had contact details for each church. As it turned out, things were too manic for many non child-centred conversations, so I didn't actually get to give too many out, though I hope that at least a few went home to be considered later - I really like his summary of our purpose, though I might have added

"a place to be fed"

since hospitality, both at the Eucharist and in all and any other ways, feels very central to our mission here in the valley.

What else would you have included?

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Thankfulness (reprise)

Things are very happy right now at Church in the Valley.

Two weeks ago, we celebrated St Matthew's Day, combining it with Back to Church Sunday, and had a very encouraging response. Though several core congregation had warned me they would be away on holiday, we still had attendance well into the 70s, a dozen guests had responded to the official invitations, and a good crowd of children joined in procession and kept us awake and joyful... I kind of thought that might be the highspot of worship this autumn and was duly grateful for all the hope and promise it represented.

Today was Harvest Festival - and having celebrated Harvest well and truly with Valley Church School on Friday I didn't anticipate a huge turnout, particularly as we'd encouraged the children to make a special effort for the community Medieval Fayre later.
Wrong again!
However much I may know that it's not about numbers, it is very encouraging when people want to come together to celebrate God's goodness and build community here. There were some returners from Back to Church Sunday, some newcomers who promised to come again (one bought the most lovely flower arrangement round yesterday as her contribution to Harvest) and more children than I had hoped for in my wildest dreams. Today is the first Sunday of the annual head count of "Statistics for Mission" so the sidesmen were jubillant as they relayed the figures. We even had (possibly, though not exclusively,for the benefit of the Herring of Christ (TM)) "the bit with a dog" - as Dennis the Guide dog puppy came and helped with the talk, which focussed on St Francis and his recognition of the whole of creation praising God.

All that jubillation was followed by the auction of harvest produce - nearly £80 raised for USPG and alot of enthusiasm along the way...Valley Church is not wealthy but the faithful know about generosity, as they showed today.
I feel privileged to be part of that community.

And then on to a further community celebration - the Medieval Fayre...This is the second year that a splendid local councillor has mustered all and sundry to gather in the park on an autumn afternoon, dressed in all sorts of approximations to medieval finery, with no aim in view beyond building community. The procession from school to park was made bright by splendidly costumed children (I'm so glad my own are well past the "I need a medieval costume by tomorrow" stage)...and the emphasis was very much on families having fun together. We worked alongside our Methodist friends and the church corner, featuring free helium balloons (them) and free gingerbread pigs to ice or illuminated initials to decorate
(us) drew a steady stream of children all afternoon.Many were familiar faces, children I see every week at school and know by name .Some were children I meet on walks with the dogs. Many of the parents I did not know at all, and this was a wonderful opportunity to explain what Messy Church does, to assure them that that too is free, and to give out our calendars and info leaflets while the children had fun. Mostly, though, it was time to enjoy making connections, celebrating friendships, and just being glad to be part of things.
I was specially pleased that Messy Church won "best stall" at the fayre. Good PR for us, and a well deserved prize of Fair Trade choc for the Dufflepud, who had nobly made all 100 gingerbread pigs, once it became obvious last night that yet again his mother had failed to master the art of bi-location.

I do love this job.
Just wish there were more time to really enjoy it - Harvest supper tonight!
Pictures to follow

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Truth will out

Maggi is looking at book deadlines, so blogging for England at the moment - and posted some challenging words from Richard Rohr earlier this week
‘how we do anything is how we do everything'.

I'm pondering that - wondering what deep truths I unconsciously reveal...
Sometimes I think I'm far too like Libby the retriever
I do many things with bucket loads of love, but often lack finesse!
The last minute rotas may not matter, the last minute "inspirations" in liturgy probably do, the visits and phonecalls that also get left til the last minute - are occasionally, heartbreakingly, too late.

I'm probably specially aware of this at the moment, having just completed quite a detailed personal inventory for my first ministerial review since I arrived here in April 08...This is a peer review, so it's a genuinely safe space to explore all that's going on, in all its mess and muddle.

I was struck by the way that yesterday presented me with a very neat little microcosm of the ups and downs of clerical life.
It began with the school Harvest Festival - a service all about hospitality, held in church, welcoming any number of parents who don't attend otherwise, making space for the children to be their wonderful, creative selves and sharing just a little bit of the great story of God's love.
From there I went on to a Deanery planning meeting - lots of good vibes as we talked and dreamed and planned for mission in our little corner of the Kingdom.
Then I thought "I'll just drop into the office and copy those leaflets and do the bookmarks for Sunday - should take about an hour, top whack"
Four extremely grumpy hours later, I emerged...recognising that the technology and I were just not going to come to terms...and that, unsurprisingly, plans to take at least the second half of the day off had foundered irretrievably.
Later, the day was redeemed by some splendid conversations, - and eventually, a glass of wine and a couple of episodes of House - but what will stay with me is the way I was brought back down to earth with a bump as I struggled with the ordinary, necessary tasks.
‘how we do anything is how we do everything'.
So I need to work on doing it all lovingly...or, as dearly beloved Herbert said

"Teach me, my God and King,
In all things thee to see
And what I do in anything
To do it as for thee"


Friday, October 02, 2009

Touching holiness Friday Five

Sally has joined the crowds venerating Therese of Lisieux (whose relics are currently on a kind of royal progress around the UK) and moved on to consider other brushes with the transcendent and holy...She asks

How about you, where do you find God's peace and presence, is there:

1. A place that holds a special memory?
The wonderful chapel of Our Lady at Llan, the retreat house in the Shropshire hills which was my favourite spiritual bolt-hole during training and curacy...With its long windows looking out over the valley, beautifully simple furniture and the presence of the Sacrament, it was somewhere that I never failed to encounter God...Llan was very much a "thin" place. On arrival, I would always go down to touch the trunk of the great tree I could see from the windows of the little sitting room in the guest wing, and as I did so, would know myself safe home.
The house closed 2 years ago, and I've yet to establish that same sort of connection. Perhaps I needed a reminder that such things are only for a season - though I know that my recent lack of retreat has more than a little to do with the nagging feeling "It won't be the same without Llan".
Of course it won't, nor should it be - but the memories are indeed special.


2. A song that seems to usher you into the Holy of Holies?
There are so many I could list, it's almost impossible to choose one. My faith became real for me as I sang my way through innumberable Evensongs as a Cambridge chorister...I guess William Harris "Faire is the heavene" might be The One - but what about Palestrina "Sicut Cervus" ? or Victoria "O Quam Gloriosam..."? or...?or...?

3.A book/ poem/ prayer that says what you cannot?
When I run out of words the psalms make all the difference, and I thank God that in the Daily Office I get to pray them regularly...and to supplement, or confirm the truth that I know, - George Herbert. Always and completely.
"You must sit down", said Love, "and taste my meat"
So I did sit and eat"

4. How do you remind yourself of these things at times when God seems far away?
I think the answer to that lies in the answers to the previous questions...And a walk in the hills too.

5.Post a picture/ poem or song that speaks of where you are right now in your relationship with God...
Well now, if I knew that....[will try and get back to you on this one]

Thursday, October 01, 2009

10 Commandments for Reducing Stress

My good friend S., with whom I trained at vicar school, clearly knows me far better than is comfortable. She sent me this today...I promise to try but please don't hold your breath.....

TEN COMMANDMENTS FOR REDUCING STRESS

1. Thou shalt not be perfect, or even try.

2. Thou shalt not try to be all things to all people.

3. Thou shalt leave undone things that ought to be

done.

4. Thou shalt not spread thyself too thin.

5. Thou shalt learn to say No.

6. Thou shalt schedule time for thyself and for thy

support network.

7. Thou shalt switch off and do nothing regularly.

8. Thou shalt be boring, inelegant, untidy and

unattractive at times.

9. Thou shalt not feel guilty.

10. Thou shalt very definitely not be thine own worst

enemy, but thine own best friend.