Sunday, March 31, 2013

Lenten Loveliness

Facebook and twitter friends already know that this Lent, in a desperate bid to make myself slow down and listen, I have been taking time each day since Ash Wednesday to luxuriate in some of the music that has shaped my faith and opened windows onto heaven for me across many many years.
Being incorrigibly extrovert, of course I've had to share those treasures under the banner of 
"Lenten Loveliness" - and that extra dimension of sharing the process with online friends has meant that this has been the single Lenten discipline which I have actually stuck to faithfully - and also the first one that has made an appreciable difference to my spiritual well-being as I've travelled through the 40 days. 
Sometimes I've been about to fall asleep when I've realised that I've not actually listened to or posted a track...but the process of pausing to think and then to listen deeply to the music of the day has always been a blessing and route to growth, as well as a way of connecting with some special moments of my life, singing in beloved buildings with people I value.

Now, of course, Lent is behind here is the complete list of works - all of which can be found on You Tube if you're feeling a bit deprived of loveliness in any area yourself.

1. Allegri : Miserere Mei 
2. Weelkes : When David heard 
3. Farrant: Call to Remembrance 
4. Purcell : Thou knowest oh Lord 
5. Battishall : O Lord, look down
6 Farrant : Hide not thou thy face  
7. Farrant : Lord, for thy tender mercy's sake 
8. Palestrina : Cicut cervus 
9 Purcell : Hear my prayer 
10 Byrd : Agnus Dei from Mass for Four Voices 
11. Vaughan Williams : Mass in G Minor (part 1) 
12 Vaughan Williams : Mass in G Minor (part 2) 
13 Vaughan Williams : O taste and see 
14 Tallis : O Sacrum Convivium 
15 Vaughan Williams : Love bade me welcome 
16: Ley : Prayer of Henry V1 
17 Purcell : Remember not 
18: Howells : O Pray for the peace of Jerusalem 
19: Howells : Like as the hart 
20 : Tallis : Loquebantur 
21: Gibbons : Almighty and everlasting God 
22 Tallis: O nata lux 
23 Gibbons : Drop, drop slow tears 
24 Tallis: Salvator Mundi 
25 Dunstable : Salve Regina 
26 Cherubini : Requiem 
27 Morley: Out of the deep
28 Palestrina : Tu es petrus 
29: Anon : Rejoice in the Lord 
30 Byrd: Kyrie from Mass for Four Voices 
31 Rachmaninov: Bogorodice Djevo
32 Wesley: Thou wilt keep him
33 Victoria: Tenebrae Responses - O vos omnes 
34  Pergolesi: Stabat Mater 
35 Bairstow: Lamentaions
36 Anerio : Christus factus est 
37 Lassus: Lamentations
38 Gabrielli Jubilate Deo
39 Bruckner: Christus factus est 
Palm Sunday Bonus tracks!  Weelkes: Hosanna to the Son of David
Gibbons: Hosanna to the Son of David
40 Casals: O vos omnes 
41 John of Portugal: Crux fidelis 
42 Victoria: Improperia
43 Durufle: Ubi Caritas 
44 Lotti : Crucifixus
45 Bach Crucifixus and Et Resurrexit from B Minor Mass
46 Wesley: Blessed be the God and Father

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Homily for Easter Sunday 8.00

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

We've made it through the long cold days of Lent, through the gathering darkness of Holy Week, the total eclipse of Good Friday and the vacuum that is Holy Saturday...

We've tried, with more or less devotion, to walk the way of the cross and enter into the Passion of our Lord – so that today we can truly embrace the joy of the resurrection.

Except – when you read Luke's account of the 1st Easter day there doesn't seem to be much joy around.

During the 2 weeks when we helped our children to Experience Easter, at the final station we invited them to come up with words to describe how the women might have felt as they viewed the empty tomb. The only rule was that there WERE no rules – that no word was off-limits, provided you could explain why you felt that the women might have experienced resurrection in that way.
Since the children got to write their word in glorious technicolour on the whiteboard, this was a very popular activity, reflecting a wide spectrum of feelings.
There were the positive words: delighted....overjoyed...euphoric...words that showed that the children already knew the end of the story.

There was the one that made me smile inside even as its author whispered it to me to check that I wouldn't be scandalised “OMG”!.....

I'm sure I made it very clear that for me these were the “right” answers - “Brilliant” “Great word” “Yes, I'll bet they felt JUST like that...”

Then there were the uncertain ones “Puzzled....confused....bewildered...gobsmacked”
I was OK with those too. “I'm sure they was so unexpected”
Even the best news may not look that wonderful when it is so utterly baffling, so contrary to everything we think we know.

But there were others.
and reading St Luke's account of the resurrection, I realise that I should have been more encouraging even about these, the words I felt had no place in the story.

Because, you see, Luke offers us no hint of jubilation.
The triumphant alleluias that we take for granted just aren't there .
Instead the women were perplexed and terrified....and their announcement is disregarded as an idle tale, disbelieved even by the disciples.

Perhaps, then, this is the best of resurrection gospels for 21st century England.
While I'd want to challenge the much-reported view of former ABC George Carey that Christians are persecuted in this country, we don't have to look too hard to see that the Christian story is no longer central to our national consciousness. Our faith is but one among many, and though the Church of England retains a privileged position as the established church, this does not mean that our neighbours, friends and families actually know what we believe.

The level of confusion over and indifference to what Easter is is just one example.
When our curate Clare booked little Hetty into nursery for an extra day this Thursday she said something about it being a busy week...and was met by totally blank looks as she stood there complete with clerical collar.
Meanwhile, someone asked me “Are you going away this weekend?”
And a colleague on twitter overheard a conversation in which a child was assured that the Easter bunny would surely take some eggs to baby Jesus.
That might raise a smile – or it might just make you want to cry.

We are here today because we believe that the greatest miracle of all time took place in the garden of the resurrection on the 1st Easter day...the miracle that means that love wins for all time, that death, fear and destruction can never have the final word...that the holy fire of Easter is never extinguished by the darkness of the world.

But unless we demonstrate that reality in our own lives then small wonder that it appears to be an idle tale.

To live resurrection does not mean that we can expect to look like finished products overnight...quite the reverse.
It might, in fact, have more to do with showing that we are open to the possibility of new beginnings and unexpected hope in the face of all evidence to the the face of the brokenness of our lives AND the brokenness of our world.

Resurrection rarely comes neatly gift wrapped, with the sort of explanation that can confound the sceptics – but its evidence is around us every day.

Later this morning we'll baptise a brother and sister whose birth parents could not provide the security and love a child needs – but who had the courage and generosity to give them up for adoption. Resurrection for them – and for the parents who'd wondered if their empty arms would ever be filled.

Last week I met with someone who has struggled with alcohol addiction – but has been dry for 5 years. Resurrection for him – and for those who've hung on to him, trying to show love even as he pushed them away.

There's more – so much more – and I'm certain that, if you pause to reflect, you'll know of some everyday Resurrection stories, stories of transformation and hope through which God's glory shines.

For Resurrection happens again and again..though we may neither recognise nor understand it.
It happens whenever we try to live in love rather than selfishness...when we choose reconciliation rather than vengeance...when we seek justice for the marginalised and freedom for the other words, when we try to live like Jesus.

It is his risen life that we celebrate – and his risen life that we share...
His life, given up freely for us on Good Friday but restored so that he might give it to us once again...
Alleluia. Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday

Obedience and love
These are the themes that, through all the confusion, the discordant sounds of violence, fear and death, emerge clear and unmistakeable this week.
Obedience and love.

Love and obedience.

Supremely, of course, this week we stand speechless as God's love for the world is revealed in Christ's shocking, scandalous obedience to the death of the obedience that proves to broken humanity, men and women ground down by the pain of living that, despite the evidence of the world, they – WE – are both loveable and beloved.

On Good Friday Christ crucified opens his arms of love for us
“How much do I love you?......THIS much........”
Tonight he shows us this love in simpler ways – ways that we too can aspire to...and invites our obedience.
He gives us his mandate – mandatum – for this is why we call today Maundy Thursday.
We have a mandate from Christ to do as he does.

“You also ought to wash one another's feet”

Christ's mandate, and yet we struggle to obey.
We struggle to live as a community involved with one another's frailty and brokenness.
We find it so very hard to accept the invitation to become intimate with our neighbour, to run the risk of vulnerability, even in the church, which aspires to be the safest of places – and we hang back too, from obeying the command to serve each other. Too often, we leave our mutual Christ-given responsibility for one another behind us when we depart from church.
Working with the children to Experience Easter last week, I rephrased the gospel
“Nobody is too big, too important to do simple things to care for others...”
That's fine.
We're used to the idea of practical care as part of our Christian calling – but it's somehow seems much easier to care for those who are far away than to reach out in love to the person in the pew behind, and so we lose the opportunity to form a deeper community, founded on mutual care and mutual openness to one another.
We struggle, all of us, with accepting care from others...perhaps even more só when we reflect that in that relationship of care giver and cared for Christ is always present.

Are we afraid to let Him come that close?

Tonight of all nights, He holds nothing back, kneeling at our feet and then trusting Himself to us in that precious fragment of bread and sip of wine.
His prayer is that we might all be in faith, and love and as His Body on as we gather round His table.
“Do this in remembrance of me”
“Love one another”
“Eat this bread, drink this nourished by my life...then live it in the world.”

Our mandate as His Church...tonight and always.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

If stones could speak - a homily for 8.00 on Palm Sunday

If these were silent, the stones would shout out

Strange words from Our Lord on the eve of his Passion....words that have provoked some deep and thoughtful conversations with the children of the parish as they've visited St Matthew's to explore the “Experience Easter” stations.

You may not realise it, but as you sit in the choir stalls you are at the beginning of the Experience Easter the station that reflects on Palm Sunday. That cairn of stones at the foot of the cross represents the hopes and dreams of  several hundred children. They sat where you are sitting, talked about their longings - for themselves, their families, and the world -  and held a stone as they thought about these in silence, then slowly and prayerfully made the journey along the road to Jerusalem, to leave their hopes, dreams and prayers, with the One who has the power to make them reality.
Holy ground for Holy Week.

Now here, as Holy Week begins in earnest, we stand with the excited crowds, confident that the man on the donkey is the one who will change the world forever.
Whatever our agenda – we are sure he can bring it about. 
This is the man who will make all our dreams come true, not just today but always.

We proclaim with joy the coming of the King into his City...and we offer him our own longing for liberation, as surely as the crowds lining the road that day offered him their longing for liberation from Rome, their dreams of Isaiah's peaceable kingdom.

We cheer and shout, for today we see things as they truly are
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in highest heaven”

You see – some things are too huge, too important to be quiet about.

I'm certain that this is what Jesus meant with his words
“If these were silent, the stones would shout out”
One wise child last week pointed out that unless we explained it, nobody coming in to church would see more than pile of stones by the high altar....but that because we had seen child after child carry their stone, made precious by the dreams it represented, along the road to Jerusalem, we knew that this cairn truly marked a very special place.

We had seen – and so we understood.

The Palm Sunday crowds had also seen – and understood...
They had seen the miracles and wonders, had listened to the stories, had grasped that here, HERE was Someone, a man like no other...bringing peace and glory in his wake.
Their hearts were full and their joy overflowed.
They could not keep silent

This is Holy Week...a week unlike any other in the year...a week when we do not simply recall but reMEMBER the events in Jerusalem 2000 years ago.
We bring the past into the present, so that we too can find our place in the Passion narrative, can walk the way of the Cross and find it none other than the way of life and peace.
We have seen and so we understand.

In the past we have been able to assume that these stones – the stones of our churches – would cry out, would carry memories of a familiar story out into our community, to draw others in to walk beside us.
Now, you know, even the rumour of God is barely alive in too many places.
Perhaps we relied on the stones to cry out for too long....but now we have to add our voices.
This is our story, this is our song...

Let us proclaim it with our lips – but also with our lives

“Peace in heaven and glory in highest heaven” to be found in the person of that young man, riding down the road on a donkey 2000 years ago – but living in his Church and in his world today.

Friday, March 22, 2013

F for forgiveness

"My chains fell off, my heart was free...."
sang the huge congregation gathered at Canterbury Cathedral yesterday.
So,too, sang the significantly smaller congregation at St Matthew's last Sunday. 
"And Can it Be?" is my absolutely favourite hymn, part of all my significant services - 1st Mass, farewell, Induction...
I'm relying on all of you to ensure it's sung with verve at my funeral one day.
"Amazing love  - how can it be....?"
is pretty much my on-going response to God - but this week it's the liberating power of forgiveness, both human and divine, that is pre-occupying me.

It all began on Wednesday, when together with a friend from church I finally visited the F word exhibition...something I'd hoped to do since failing to get to it at Greenbelt some years ago. 
The Forgiveness Project is extraordinary - sharing stories of reconciliation that build bridges across chasms of hurt that common-sense would surely declare too deep, too wide to span at all.
There was the mother who became friends - truly FRIENDS - with the mother of her son's killer...the Holocaust survivor who signed a letter of forgiveness in the ruins of the Auschwitz gas chambers with a former Nazi doctor...and so many other stories of transforming power.

It was very clear that the act of forgiving was revolutionary in its power - both to shape the lives of those involved and in its impact on the wider community.
Eva, the Holocaust survivor wrote 

Forgiveness is really nothing more than an act of self-healing and self-empowerment. I call it a miracle medicine. It is free, it works and has no side effects.I believe with every fibre of my being that every human being has the right to live without the pain of the past. For most people there is a big obstacle to forgiveness because society expects revenge. It seems we need to honour our victims but I always wonder if my dead loved ones would want me to live with pain and anger until the end of my life. 
I've never had anything even moderately serious to forgive - so it seems presumptuous of me to argue with her - but it seems to me that she is underestimating herself - and so many others - when she describes forgiveness as "free". Surely, if it is more than a form of words, forgiveness must surely be almost unimaginably costly. Nothing that I read made me feel otherwise, though it was striking how for the majority forgiveness was the obvious "solution", however hard won. It was the route by which they moved on from victim-hood, by which they escaped being defined by their hurt forever. It's power to reshape history shone through every account. A good friend, a survivor, once said that for him "Forgiveness means depriving the power of the perpetrator to keep on harming, day after day..." while one of my truly amazing Y6 children wrote, during our "Experience Eucharist" week                           "Forgiveness means letting go of your hurt and offering the hand of friendship to the one who has hurt you".                                                                                                                                               Powerful stuff!
So much for forgiving...BEING forgiven, of course, is equally challenging. Again, the stories of the Forgiveness Project confirmed this. To accept forgiveness means accepting, too, that we are culpable.It means being honest about our selves, our actions and motivations, even those which seem to have been successfully buried out of sight.
That's where the Sacrament of Reconciliation comes in, for me - and this was the second lens through which I've been exploring forgiveness this week.
I love this Sacrament dearly - though the process of looking into my own soul with all the clarity of vision I can muster is always, and I think quite rightly, painful. Motivations I've managed to gloss over, habits of mind that I'd pretended to ignore, just have to be confronted full on...and that's never an encouraging process. So often I seem to have picked up the same loads of rubbish that I gratefully shed before...have fallen flat on my face in the self-same patch of mud from which I've been helped again and again. Why do I keep on going there? Examination of conscience isn't supposed to be fun...Allowing God's light to shine in my darkest corners is, frankly, painful. But nonetheless, as I say, this Sacrament is one of the great gifts of the Church - something that makes all the difference because it has the power to change my view of myself - to liberate me in the same way that the participants in the Forgiveness Project have been liberated.
You see, within the context of the Sacrament we are reminded again and again that we are more than the sum of our negligence, weakness and deliberate fault...and that however overwhelming our sense of personal inadequacy and failure may be, this is NOT what God sees when God looks at us. That can be hard to hear, harder to believe - for somehow it's always easier to be generous about other people than to accept God's staggering generosity for ourselves...but when the words of Absolution come, there's no getting away from them. 
They are offered to ME -personally, by name! - in the face of all those mean, grubby things I struggle to articulate - and they embrace, too, "All those sins I cannot now remember" - for the longing to be free of them means that they, too, are covered by that amazing love.
"My chains fell off........"
Although it's Lent, there might just have been a few "A*******s" resounding round my car as I drove home.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Passion Sunday

What are we to make of that?

It's not, after all, the Sunday when we HEAR one of the Passion gospels read aloud – that comes next week, as a solemn post-script to the triumph of Palm Sunday.
Passion might seem to have little to do with us – a small polite group of Anglicans gathered in the quiet of an 8.00 celebration of Holy Communion – and on the whole we'd probably prefer to keep it at a distance - but it's passion that brings us together.
Not only THE Passion – Christ's suffering on the cross......but, if you like, the passion behind the Passion.
We're here because of God's passion for us – that overwhelming love that brought the universe into being and is endlessly poured out on each and every one of God's children.
We are here because that passion seeks us out relentlessly (the ceaseless pursuit of the Hound of Heaven) and is not content until it has brought about our ultimate salvation...

One dictionary defines of passion as “intense desire” - and indeed it is God's intense desire for us to come into relationship with Him that lies at the root of everything. That desire, that passion, is so great that had you or I been the only person ever born into our world, Christmas, Holy Week and Easter would still have happened – just for us.

But we tend to think of passion as a two way process – the glue that holds a relationship together... so what of our part in the process? What of our passion for God?

Does that exist at all?

Do I – do you - grasp the depths of that love, vast as the ocean?
And, if we grasp it, does it move us in our turn to reckless generosity?

It is most wonderful to see his love for me so free and sure
but tis more wonderful to see my love for him so faint and poor”
runs a hymn I sang in childhood – and the sad truth is that most often, even when I glimpse the wonder of God's love, I hold back, resist the longing to throw myself into his arms.

I'm don't really understand why – though I guess it has something to do with a core of selfish, rebellious independence...that part of me that fears to be lost in wonder love and praise...even while I know that I will be most fully myself when I am lost in Him.

My better, best self, reading the gospel we've shared this morning identifies completely with Mary, ready to pour out her costliest treasure – that fragrant, wickedly expensive perfume – worth a whole year's wage for a labourer..I long to show Jesus that I can and will give him everything – just as he, in his passion, has given me everything.
I want to show my love in ways that will fill the whole house with a beautiful perfume, so that nobody can miss my extravagant devotion.
That's my best self.

But I know in my heart of hearts that, had I been one of the crowd in that house in Bethany, I would probably have grumbled with Judas about the terrible waste...tutted in disapproval at such public displays of emotion...or looked away, embarrassed at such naked feeling.

I wonder, had I stood at the foot of the cross, if my reaction might not have been similar – for surely there has never been such a public display of longing love since the world began.

I struggle to enter into God's Passion for me, risk remaining forever a spectator as I try to hold onto an independence that is, in the end, worth nothing.
Whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things...”, or, to put it another way,
whoever tries to keep their life will lose it”.

As we contemplate God's passion for us, let's ask for courage and faith to let go, to fall into those everlasting arms –for then we will discover their strength and their gentleness as they hold us

And let's pray that the words that Isaac Watts wrote more than 300 years ago may come to be an expression of OUR Passion -today and every day

Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Mothering Sunday

If I asked for a "job description" for mothers, I wonder what you'd come up with?
Would it be all about those shining souls whose immaculate homes, wholesome cooking and endless patience is the hall mark of – well, Hallmark Cards, actually?
Because, if so, I don't think I'm qualified for the job.
I love my children more than words can say, and I do my best to be there for them – but I just can't meet the expectations of the media, whose vision of a perfect mother is so far from my reality...

So I'm afraid that if my family depended on me for all their mothering, things would be pretty bleak. However, all is not lost....I'm pretty clear that they know how much I love them...and I know too that I'm not the only one. They've lots of special people, family and friends, who care about them deeply– but beyond even that, I know they are held in God's arms.

Paul talks of the "God of all consolation" – reminding me of the way that that those perfect mums are always supposed to be ready to "kiss it better" no matter what.
We can't always do that, specially when our children move on from grazed knees to broken hearts, but Paul tells us that God can and will - so we don't have to "mother" unaided.
Nor do we need to worry if the care that our own families can offer feels inadequate, disappointing.
Even if your experience of human family relationships has been thoroughly difficult,even destructive, God offers us real care, real love with no strings attached.

Of course, God is beyond male and female, but today I invite you to think about the motherly qualities of God …
Then think about parenting – and if you are a parent, remember how you felt when your own children were tiny.
If you loved them then, I wonder why??
Was it because they did wonderful things for you?
My guess is, probably not.
My babies were excellent at crying, at demanding feeds at horrible times of night and day, at filling nappies and a lot more besides, but I don’t remember them offering much in return in those days. But I have to say that I quite definitely loved them just because they were, and are, my children.
In the same way, God loves us because God loves us, because God loves us,
There is nothing we can possibly do to make God love us more.
There is nothing we can possibly do to make God love us less.
Each of us is Ioved, completely and fully, like a precious only child, held securely in a warm embrace.

God mothers us.

But there is more…The Gospel reading shows us a son (Jesus) who cannot be the son he'd like to be to his mother and a mother (Mary) who cannot be the mother she'd like to be to her son. The expectation of the time would have been that Jesus would have a duty to look after his mother, to care for her in old age while Mary, like any mother, would have longed to protect her child, hated to see him suffer.
But circumstances intervened.
The ideal family seems to be breaking down at the foot of the cross…
But because Jesus knows that he and Mary can't be what they would like to be to each other, he entrusts her to John, and John to her.
Together they form a new family – the church….the family we belong to too.
We are a family for each other and even if we lose our own families, or things go badly awry with those relationships, here in God’s church we should find lots of mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters to support us.
Remember, if you would, all those who have offered you love and care unlooked for…then reflect that within our Christian family each of us has a responsibility to share in the mothering of the world with God, by passing on the love and care we have been so freely given.
That is part of what being Church – the Body of Christ – is about.
Today, then, we celebrate all those who mother us in all sorts of areas of our lives. Let’s thank God for them, and be on the lookout for chances to share in the work of mothering the whole world for God’s sake.

Monday, March 04, 2013

"The Big Thankyou" - what happened next

So by Thursday morning it was obvious that Experience Eucharist was a GOOD thing :)
Yes, there were bumpy bits along the way - but that's what pilots are for.
As the journey was part of the school's "Enrichment week", each class had undertaken supplementary activities, working around the themes of the stations - and the final celebration, "The Big Thankyou", had to include all of these as well as being the 1st School Eucharist ever for St Matthew's.
As these contributions were still being created by Wednesday evening, this made the late night creation of liturgy rather more stressful than usual...but by midnight the last slide was finished, and all that remained was alot of prayer as I drifted into anxious sleep.

A letter to parents and a meeting with them meant that I had 2 dozen children poised to make their 1st Communion. All through the week I had stressed that those who chose not to receive would still be offered a blessing - though I wish, with hindsight, I'd thought more about logistics! Head & Deputy both thought we'd agreed that each class would come to the front for Communion or blessing, but when the time came, clearly nobody had told the teachers. The little band of communicants duly came forward...but instead of being followed by their class mates and staff, at that point everyone else sat still. The only option, then, was to weave my way between the lines as best I the end of the morning, I felt a marked affinity with Quasimodo - but it was worth it!

I pared the liturgy down to the barest of bones.
We greeted one another as we do at every school assembly
"The Lord be with you"......then I reminded them of how we'd learned about gathering during the week...the jar of liquorice all-sorts on the stage and the completed patchwork that hung behind me a reminder that at God's party old and young, rich and poor, any and everyone has a place and belongs.
Reception shared some pictures from their week of gathering - and some delicious biscuits that they had made, having gathered the ingredients. We agreed that as the biscuits were perfect, they would not have been as good if any ingredient had been missing....

Then we thought about being sorry...The bowl of water flowers on the stage, and the thoughtful words of Y6, who had taken "Forgiving" as their theme, led us into a very simple confession

Loving God we know that we get things wrong.
Sorry – for letting you down
Sorry – for being unkind
Sorry – for hurting other people and hurting you.
Please forgive us
Please help us to start again
Through Jesus our Lord Amen

Absolution led to a rousing chorus of 
"You're forgiven and you know it, clap your hands" - borrowed from my friend Fr Simon's excellent Nursery Rhyme Mass  then a Collect, written by another online friend as I footled with layouts the previous evening.

I loved the feeling that, as I'd asked my twitter community to pray for the whole Experience Eucharist week, they were present with us not just in their prayers but in their words as the celebration came together.

Father, you love to see your family gathered around your table
to feast and celebrate
Bless us and all those we love
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Y5 talked about Listening, in the light of "The Soul Bird"  and we listened once again to the parable of the Great Feast.

Having shared the Peace (again, the children are very familiar with this...though instead of rushing round collecting handshakes, we simply linked hands with our neighbours - so that we made a wonderful chain that included the whole school) we talked about remembering, with special times shared by Y2 & 3, and letters written to those we could no longer talk to.
By this point I was feeling hugely emotional...when I presided at my 1st Mass there was SUCH a sense of all my departed loved ones gathered round the table that to hear those children reading letters to grandparents and to pets whom they remembered with love was very powerful.

I talked briefly about the different sorts of remembering...having spent much of the week losing track of my phone/tablet/glasses the children all knew just how wobbly that sort of remembering could be...but that THIS remembering, - making the past present - was something quite different, a bridge that we could cross whenever we wanted to.
Y3 children brought up the elements
"With this bread that we bring, we shall remember Jesus....."
and then we were off into the Big Thankyou Prayer itself - using the 2nd of the new options, which seemed to say all that we needed. 

".......You give us happy times and things to celebrate
In these we see your Kingdom, a feast for all your children.
You made us all, each wonderfully different,                                                                                           to join with the angels and sing your praise"
Inspired by Fr Simon, I'd created an instant Sanctus, sung to "Twinkle, twinkle"....which clearly hit the spot as I heard children singing it about the place for the rest of the day
"Holy,holy, holy Lord ,
God of power and God of might
All creation praises you, 
and we sing your praises too.
Holy, holy, holy Lord, 
God of power and God of might"
The Lords Prayer, and then
"Come to the celebration. Jesus welcomes us all"....

Yes, there was choreographic confusion - but the holy silence that filled the hall as I worked my way round, blessing every child after that little group of communicants had received Jesus in bread & wine, was beyond price.
I was very glad that I'd decided to end the service with another verse from Fr Simon
Jesus loves us and we know it – stamp your feet!
Jesus loves us and we know it – stamp your feet!
Jesus loves us and we know it – and it's time for us to show it.
Jesus loves us and we know it – stamp your feet!

 Y4 shared some thank yous, and Y1 their determination to be shining lights.

Then we went in peace, to love and serve the Lord....and all was very well indeed in our world.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Experience Eucharist

What a week!

In November 2007 at the interviews that preceded my appointment here, I was invited to dream dreams for a parish that I knew very little of. Being me, I'd imagine I talked alot about building community, and probably a bit about being open in every possible way - but I KNOW that I talked about School Eucharists. It felt then, and has felt ever since, like a major part of my calling to this place at this time.

So - I was appointed, moved in and have thrown myself into the life of the school with as much energy and commitment as I can find. I love our school dearly - children, staff, families, - the whole boiling - and it is a delight to spend time there, whether leading Collective Worship, listening to anyone who needs to talk, or serving as a Governor. Together we've survived 2 OFSTEDs and a SIAS, celebrated new buildings and church anniversaries...I've blessed each group of Y6 leavers individually, at their final school service at the end of the summer term, and taken my teddy to the "Teddy Bears' Picnic", which welcomes Reception children to our school.
I've rejoiced as school and church learn to work together - at least closely enough to run joint fund-raising events...It's all been lovely (and will, I'm sure, continue to be so) - but it wasn't til this year that my dream of celebrating the Eucharist in school, with those children, came true.

The Head and I had both had it on our agenda for ages but the timing was never quite right - til last summer we concluded that the only way we would ever reach the right moment was by creating it... I asked the advice of Sandra Millar, at that stage our diocesan Children's Advisor (she has now gone on to even shinier things for the C of E as a whole) - and talked about how, when we share the Experience Eucharist stations with our children, we always knew we were on holy ground when we reflected on the Last Supper and the promise "Do this and I will be with you".
From that reflection an idea was born - Experience Eucharist...A series of stations, like the other "Experience" journeys the diocese has produced, but this time taking the Eucharist apart and getting inside each part of the service. Sandra and I spent one long morning (no food in the house, so the poor woman worked right through lunch without so much as a stale cheese sandwich: I still shudder to remember this) bouncing ideas back and forth...We made pages of notes...then Sandra went away to turn them into something coherent.
More meetings, more discussions - and just weeks before she moved on to her new job, the draft for our pilot project arrived.

Of course, pilots being pilots, some things worked better than others - but overall it was completely and utterly WONDERFUL.

The stations were
Gathering- being God's people
Forgiving - making right the things that go wrong
Listening - realising that God's word makes a difference 
Remembering - entering the story 
Living - faith in the world
Thanking - all that God has done. 

Over the course of 4 days, every class experienced the journey - and their thoughts and responses were, as ever, simply stunning.
Gathering & Thanking were "whole class" stations - so I was privileged to work through these with every child. I told them the story of the Great Feast, and we wondered about why those first invited guests had chosen not to come - and how those outsiders who were welcomed at the feast might have felt. Several children delighted me by suggesting that those who stayed away did so out of the kindness of their hearts - because they hoped that the host would turn his attention to including those who didn't usually get invited anywhere. Isn't that a splendidly optimistic view of human nature. We agreed, though, that it would have been better if EVERYONE had come along...Then we decorated a fabric square with our name & something to represent us - and were excited when all those squares tied together became the frontal for our impromptu altar at the end of the journey.

Forgiving featured the story of the Prodigal Son and some absolutely miraculous paper flowers...
"yes, just ordinary paper, yes, that's real water in the bowl"...
that we coloured, while thinking of something for which we wanted to say sorry. We then folded the petals inwards ("But my colouring doesn't show") and floated them in a big bowl of water...and watched, amazed, as they opened.
Sometimes they took ages -
 "but", said the children," that's good because it can take a long time to properly forgive"
"Like a grazed knee healing" said one Y3
"Forgiveness is choosing to let go of your pain and open the hand of friendship to the person who has hurt you" said a Y6.

My colleagues who looked after Listening, Remembering & Living made their own discoveries along the way...then I was privileged to share the final station, Thanking, at which once again I told the story of the Last Supper - and of how, when we make Eucharist we celebrate all that God has done for us.
I have my own formula here
 "Jesus promised that whenever we share bread and wine and think of him, he will be with us"
Each time - whatever the age of the children, whatever the stage of the school day, when I broke the bread and poured the wine there was a deep and holy silence.
As one little boy said, after the "official" service on Thursday
"You told us to remember and Jesus would be with us.
 I did and he was".