Wednesday, December 29, 2004

29th December

Well, that's it, then. First ordained Christmas done and dusted. You imagine all sorts of things beforehand, though I have to confess that losing my voice completely half way through Midnight Mass was one contingency that I'd not forseen. Mercifully, said voice recovered sufficiently to get me through the remaining 3 services; indeed, it was a positive advantage during the Family Service, where a husky whisper lent - well, to be honest I'm not sure what- to the Legend of the Glow worm...but the congregation definitely had to listen intently, even with the mic.
I'd been told that Midnight was "huge" and indeed it was....between the Crib Service at 3.00 on Christmas Eve and the final service on Christmas Day well over 500 people must have come through the doors of the church, a high proportion of whom were totally unknown to me.
Spent much of Boxing Day asleep (having failed to wind down enough after Midnight to achieve much the night before, what with the advent of children for stockings at 6.45 am) so woke rather later than the rest of the world to the appalling news from the Indian ocean. Everything else seems incredibly trivial now, doesn't it. Glad I'm on holiday...I'm having enough problems of my own along the lines of "how does a loving God allow this?" without having to come up with coherent answers for other people. I just know he is weeping too.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Oh Rejoice with me...

with exceeding great joy for this my penguin which was lost is found....and the totally wonderful St Valentine's Liquorice Company , having despatched my order weeks ago nonetheless responded to my panic stricken email about empty stockings (the order never got here) by sending out another by special delivery at no charge. I therefore sit here surrounded by signs that Christmas may actually be happening here in the Curate's House as well as, rather less chaotically, up at the church. I've a Bishop to babysit later and still haven't iced the cake, so had best log off now.
It only remains for me to send you all (any?) my love for a Happy Christmas, my thanks for for your virtual companionship in recent months and my hopes that you will find the Christmas Reality amid everything else that is happening for you.

Talk soon xKx

Wednesday, December 22, 2004


You know how it is just before Christmas....there are never enough hours, and the study/spare room/kitchen table all disappear beneath piles of shopping which you cant really afford to have bought,but seem to have amassed anyway (note to self: a daughter is the sort of luxury that you really ought not to have indulged in without a large annuity in place)....and then, just when you are confident that you have everything sorted you realise
a)that your husband's nephews, both in their 2os and apparently uninterested in anything you might think of buying for them (specially when sister in law limits spending to about £2.50 per head) are both going to be around on The Day and
b)that assorted small and insignificant presents which were going to make all the difference to offspring's stockings, and which you purchased with glee months ago have vanished as if they had never been. My youngest collects penguins, and I snapped up a good example of the genus months ago...but, despite being flightless, the bird has apparently flown.....together with sundry other small but desirable objects. Humph.
Of course, there is so much chaos in the study that they might well be there somewhere under 200 crib services and it is almost certain that come 27th December they will emerge to taunt me...but right now...nothing.
Washing socks suddenly looks like quite an attractive option.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Deck the halls

I took Saturday off from being a G. L. C.* to concentrate on being part of my family for a change, and it was lovely. This time last year there had been a fair bit of emotion about the place as we prepared for the last Christmas in our old house...which being old and pretty, with huge fireplace and flagged floors, lent itself rather well to the season. Even as we have settled down here, "How will Christmas work?" has been a recurring question and anxiety for all of us, I think. So it seemed only fair to halt the mad scramble through Christmas services and carol outings to focus on this for a while. It was, I have to say, a huge success. We found a supply of Christmas trees on a small-holding just outside the town, where we had to wade through the obligatory mud carrying the tree in the time honoured fashion...The spot we chose for it at home worked as well as we'd hoped....We even managed to find the essential recordings of carols from Kings to play while decorating it...and the fairy lights worked after only 2 return trips to HomeBase (yes, that's traditional too ;-) )
Now, suddenly, our rather neglected sitting room feels like the centre of a home again. I realised how much I'd been missing us just spending time's too easy to lose that, in this job where there are so many other human contacts all day long that you barely notice failure to engage properly with your nearest and dearests. Recently the teenagers have spent most of their time crammed into G's small bedroom, where computer and tv both reside, while I'm largely in my study and A. and the youngest have the sitting room to themselves.I don't think this has been symbolic of more alarming disintegration, though it does show how these things could happen all too easily....but now it feels as if we are back together.
Yesterday, all the singers of the household did the obligatory visit to old people's homes in the parish...musically unremarkable, but very satisfying to be doing together...and last night we walked home from the 9 lessons and carols under the clearest of frosty skies,- together.
I think it might be time to thank that family of mine again for all they do to make the rest of my life manageable...

*Good Little Curate

Friday, December 17, 2004

Family only, by request

Today's funeral, the last of our current run, was rather a strain for all concerned. This was because the deceased had decreed that she wanted a "quiet service" with only her closest family involved....
Because she also wanted burial in the local cemetery, their only option for the service itself was our church.
"Why should that be a strain?" the innocent reader wonders.....
Well, our church is on the large and ornate side, and is so crammed with pews and other bits of apparently loved ecclesiastical jumble that there is no alternative to the nave large enough for a coffin to be, widower, 2 adult children and 2 of the 7 grandchildren duly occupied the front pew...and the vast empty acres of the church pressed close upon us as I tried to say something meaningful, consoling and appropriate about a lady whom I had never met, and whose family were less than eloquent in their reminiscences.
Thanks be to God, it all went reasonably well...though it was hard to get the balance between reassuring and intrusive eye contact during the address (which was, I promise, nothing like as forml as its official label might suggest)....but it was hugely demanding not only of me but, far more to the point,of the family. Even the partners of the children were excluded from attending, so everyone seemed very much alone with their grief, unable to articulate it and feeling that they had to carry the whole things without a wobble, because there was nobody there to help cover the cracks.
I'm sure that Mrs X had only wanted to make things easier for her nearest and dearest when she laid down such a prescriptive funeral plan...but in the event, a "quiet funeral, close family only" was far harder work for them than a larger scale service would have been. Moreover, so that nobody turned up uninvited, the family elected to keep news of the death under wraps till after Christmas, which deprives them of the messages of love and support which are startlingly helpful in the wake of a death.
I came home resolved that my only request for my own funeral should be that my family do whatever feels easiest for them.........though there are certain pieces of music which, if chosen, would cause me to rise from my grave there and then!

God rest you, merry gentlemen...?

Sorry, Caroline...and anyone else who has been wondering. Too busy being a whirling dervish to blog till now.
This week has been a bizarre and exhausting mixture of carol services and funerals. We have 2 junior schools, an infants and a secondary school in the parish (not to mention 2 independent RC schools) and it has been a lovely experience to have the church full to bursting with enthusiastic children and their parents.
It has, though, been rather confusing when I've had to switch abruptly from one mode to the one case, the funeral (for a member of staff from the infants) was almost a carol service in its own right...and then there was the funeral at the crem where I realised that, having sat on some moulting tinsel (long story...not worth repeating) my cassock was covered in red sparkly bits..too late to do anything much about it. Finally hopefulamphibian
whose son has obviously been an undercover observor in this parish, summed up the whole week beautifully
"I weeded out the card my younger son had made, which contained the wonderful words 'Rest in peace this Christmas' -"

Discerning lad, he said it all :-)

Now, all I have to do is devise 2 child friendly services by Monday (please, somebody, remind me in future not to say what I think about previous models, unless I have time to really improve on them) ..........oh........and do a couple of funerals then too.
Meanwhile, on Sunday we have............yup........the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.
Are you sure it's only nine??

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Another gem from today. Edwin Muir on "The Annunciation"

'I remember stopping for a long time one day to look at a little plaque on the wall of a house in the Via degli Artisti [Rome], representing the Annunciation. An angel and a young girl, their bodies inclined towards each other, their knees bent as if they were overcome by love, 'tutto tremante', gazed upon each other like Dante's pair; and that representation of a human love so intense that it could not reach farther seemed the perfect earthly symbol of the love that passes understanding.'

The angel and the girl are met,
Earth was the only meeting place,
For the embodied never yet
Travelled beyond the shore of space.
The eternal spirits in freedom go.

See, they have come together, see,
While the destroying minutes flow,
Each reflects the other's face
Till heaven in hers and earth in his
Shine steady there. He's come to her
From far beyond the farthest star,
Feathered through time. Immediacy
of strangest strangeness is the bliss
That from their limbs all movement takes.
Yet the increasing rapture brings
So great a wonder that it makes
Each feather tremble on his wings.

Outside the window footsteps fall
Into the ordinary day
And with the sun along the wall
Pursue their unreturning way
That was ordained in eternity.
Sound's perpetual roundabout
Rolls its numbered octaves out
And hoarsely grinds its battered tune.

But through the endless afternoon
These neither speak nor movement make,
But stare into their deepening trance
As if their gaze would never break.

The Handmaid of the Lord

Stunning Quiet Day at the diocesan retreat house, led by the man who conducted our ordination retreat. Despite the catholic ethos of my current church, I've tended to suspicion of the cult of the BVM and only D's unnerving knack of hitting whole rows of nails on the head where I'm concerned had encouraged me to attend the day. Typically, I spend the first part of any retreat experience agonising about my spiritual shortcomings and becoming increasingly panicky. D's earlier broadside on sacrificial self-discipline had left me rather raw and uncertain about what I was actually for in ministry, and I found myself journalling these feelings madly through the quiet times of the morning, feeling progressively less adequate and more anxious. Then, after lunch, we looked at Raphael’s
Madonna of the Pinks
Not only is this stunning in itself, when you have time to look at it properly, but it’s good theology too.
The longer you look at the picture, the more aware you become that all the initiative lies with the child. He is offering his mother those pinks…(dianthus apparently a sign of betrothal,evoking the Song of Solomon) turning Mary into bride as well as mother, and looking forward to the crucifixion when as she is given into the care of John, a new family the church is created. So…Mary is the symbol of the church. But she is more.
All she has to do is to be loved….and this is where she becomes a role model for us.
We don’t need to try harder.
We don’t have to work on holiness.
We just have to accept the stupendous reality that, with all our complexes and contradictions, our messes and failures, we are nonetheless loveable and loved.
We love, because he first loved us. Simple!

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

So where has it gone?

Maybe I'm becoming paranoid, what with assorted people either abandoning or considering migrating from blogger, but I would love to know why the post I wrote earlier today, which appears in my blog index has yet to materialise on the blog itself....Everything is taking forever with my puter right now, - whether or not as a result of changing to firefox is another question,- but I would love to know if the problem lies here or with blogger. Can't imagine changing to a paying blog,'s too much something I do for my own amusement...not seriously helpful writing to anyone.
Oh, a little learning is a dangerous thing, sure enough!

More Light?

I think it was Einstein who called on his deathbed for "More light" but it seems to be something the church could be doing with, as we wend our way through Advent to celebrate the coming of that Light into the world. It's only just over a month since I rejoiced at the number of "unchurched" who had come to our "Journey On" remembrance service....where one of the central parts of the evening was the lighting of candles to commemorate those loved but seen no longer.
This weekend they were back...not the bereaved, this time, but around 200 children and their parents, some part of our church groups, Brownies, Guides etc but a huge majority those with whom we have no regular contact at all. What drew them out on a winter evening? Not, surely, the knowledge that they would go home with a free orange and a handful of jelly tots....Ive no idea what was going on inside them as we stood there in the candlelight of our Christingle service but at least they were being given an invitation and an opportunity to engage for a few moments with the God-story that lies at the heart of history.
There was lots of good will as we said "Good night" at the door, and more than the usual crop of children greeted me as our paths crossed en route to school next day, but my fear is that we are wasting these windows of opportunity. Our church desperately needs those young families....but the families need God so very much more. It's good that there is a penitential flavour to our liturgy now, as it seems to me that we are failing on too many fronts,- and it is not just a question of the survival beyond the next 30 years of the ancient church at the heart of the village.
I'm told they will be back for more candles on Christmas Eve: that's great, but how do we bring them more Light?

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Proud Mother alert...

Last night I was at the launch of a new CD.
That looks deceptively commonplace, as I type it….but it’s not the sort of thing our household does on a regular basis, and even in more high flying families I suspect that this might be a wee bit special. For the past 8 years my children have been privileged to sing with a wonderful group, The Cotswold Children's Choir
L was a founder member, and has grown up with the choir, moving from “Going on a Bear Hunt” to singing Mrs Sem in a millennium production of Noye’s Fludde in Burford Church, and last summer takng part in the national Festival of Music for Youth at RFH. Now on the brink of leaving school and home, choir is the one bit of her childhood she says she cannot imagine growing out of….so it was lovely that she had the opportunity to say some of this as one of two choristers speaking at the launch.
She was very emotional (she’s my daughter…she IS very emotional) but very natural….and I was loaded with of compliments after her speech. What sent her home with a Cheshire Cat grin, though, was some words of Brian Kay's.He told her that one reason that he loves his periodic “guest conductor” slots with the choir is because of the way that L. so takes the music into herself that they seem to become one, something, he said, that many pro’s never manage.
Bless him. What a lovely thing to say to an anxious teenager on the eve of important interviews.
I spared him the grateful mother hug,- so blog readers have to put up with the verbal equivalent….
And do, please, go to the choir’s site and listen to the clip from the CD…I don’ think I’m totally biased…but you won't know if you don't listen, will you?

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

A little light word-eating.

Sorry folks....I'll have to climb down a bit on the subject of Alpha. Firstly, because last week's session "What about the church, then?" worked really well as a topic for our small group, thanks to very skillful leadership (emphatically not mine). We recognised that as a congregation we are really NOT good at making friendships and welcoming strangers...heck, it's quite common for me to witness the introduction of 2 people, both of whom have worshipped at St M's for years, but on opposite sides of the church."I'm a North Aisle person myself". From this revelation of self evident truth came a wish, in that group at least, for more small groups to redress the balance. We do have a couple of house groups in the parish, but they are very well-established and would find it extremely hard to reshape to include new-comers, so something more is called for. It's very heartening that this need is being recognised in the congregation, and isn't something that the clergy are imposing to meet our perceptions of what we should be about. I'm not sure we would have got to this point without the space provided by Alpha.
Also, everyone involved has so appreciated the opportunity to talk, over excellent food and we are exploring the possibility of running our Lent groups on this basis. For me, this has been the chance to engage with parishioners without any preordained agenda. Hugely valuable, as I'm still finding my way and getting to know people here.
Finally, on Sunday I spoke to one of the group who had been able to attend the "Holy Spirit Away Day" this Saturday. He was bereaved in June and has been finding the journey tougher than many. A lifelong church member, he said that he felt a reality in the worship on Sunday morning that he had never experienced before, and which he could only attribute to something having been "unblocked" the previous day. In itself, he said, the day had seemed unremarkable, but now......
So, what was I saying earlier?? Alpha may not be my preferred approach...but I have to be glad that we were involved. A learning curve in all sorts of unexpected ways,- but then, God's like that.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

I look from afar......

Just back from our Advent Service. Very traditional…indeed almost indentical to the services I remember from my chorister days in teens and twenties, …..but nonethless rather beautiful. Anything starting with the Palestrina Matin Responsary was likely to score highly for me, I’ll admit, but there were other joys too. Our rather cluttered church is at its best in candle-light, and I was totally unprepared for the emotional impact of our youth group arriving to light the huge Catherine- wheel type candle stands in the three aisles. Month in, month out, the congregation indulge in the ( equally traditional?) mutterings that "the young people don’t come to church in the way they used to" , but tonight there we stood, a motley group of adults of a certain age, waiting in the darkness…and those young people brought us the light.
Then I got to read one of the most perfect of all
Collects .Not too bad really.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

What, me?

In recent months, some of you may have picked up that I tend to get anxious if I'm not sure exactly how I am supposed to be using my time on any given day. Part of this is the legacy of constantly having at least 3 times as much to do as I could reasonably hope to achieve, for far too long, and all within a fairly rigid timetable. Since ordination, this has changed...There is undoubtedly even more that I could/should be doing, but the timetable element has largely vanished and so it is scarily possible for me to reach the end of a day quite convinced that I have left undone those things which I ought to have done (and, no doubt, done those things which I ought not to have done as well) and completely failed to justify my stipend.
It was therefore less than comforting to be told today by someone I respect hugely that one hallmark of clergy professionalism, as it is presented in the Guidelines for Professional Conduct, is sacrificial self discipline.
I find it hard to envisage a more terrifying concept for one such as I....I know I have some virtues but I really don't think self discipline is even an outside contender for the list.
At the same meeting, our Deanery Chapter were also told of the rapid move towards two models of ordained predominantly a ministry of oversight (for those aspiring to incumbent status) and one, largely non stipendiary, for everyone else....Alot was said about extraordinary skills and gifts needed to exercise the former ministry...and there was huge affirmation for the locally based, pastoral holiness which seemed implicit in the latter. Feeling short on gifts and having moved out of my nurturing congregation, I'm now wondering what on earth I'm doing....Is there still room for the likes of me,- or does sacrificial self-discipline begin with recognising that I'm mismatched with the vision of ministry that is currently abroad?

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Is this the right queue for Hogwarts?

Just back from our graduation ceremony, - a strange way to spend a snowy Saturday.It was great to catch up with some very special people, but the general feeling seemed to be that today was totally irrelevant to where we now were and what we were doing. Seeing us all togged up in academic finery and wandering through the cloisters of our Cathedral, I felt mainly that I'd been co-opted as an extra in the next Harry Potter film. It was specially odd to be back in the same Cathedral where we were ordained only 5 months ago...many of the same people...another collection of outre outfits...but an unbelievably different atmosphere. Thinking about the debate on theological training which is currently looming large in the blogosphere
here and here I don't think anyone there this morning was under the illusin that they had emerged from the course "trained" by virtue of their academic qualifications....The former Principal, who moved on just before we did, said once that his main task was simply to give us the tools to reflect theologically. I guess we did learn that...but for us, certainly, the journey together was the important thing.
Arrival?? That's something I can't imagine happening for a long long time...

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Do I really....

dare to say any more about Alpha? I've emailed Jennifer direct, as I'm rather hesitant about posting more on a public board, since I know that my knowledge of the course remains partial..I've only been to half the sessions, nor have I read all the material from cover to cover.
However, I don't think I'll lodge a precautionary apolgy with HTB just in case, as I suspect that they are every bit as prone to make assumptions about "liberals"...
To quickly pick up Humble Secretary's point, though there may be no direct teaching on homosexuality in the course, the high view of Scripture which is held means that there is a latent tendency to add two and two and make "an abhomination". That's horrid in itself, but my greatest problem with the course is that it purports to provide answers to all questions and a pill for every ill. Those who buy into this approach and are then presented with life experiences which conflict with the Alpha version of The Christian Life often find it almost impossible to hang on to faith at all...I've had too many anguished conversations over the past few years with Alpha refugees, many on the verge of abandoning Christianity altogether, unable to believe that they could possibly be acceptable to God....Honestly, I would much prefer to leave the judgement to him. He knows alot more about love than we do!

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Redeem my foul-ups

I'm now into the third week of minding the shop for my vicar, as he relaxes in sunnier Antipodean climes, and thus far all is going startlingly well. I'm beginning to appreciate that being the curate of a good incumbent is one of the best jobs in the C of be given so many opportunities and protected from so much hideous admin is a truly blessed state. This was brought home to me forcibly by last night's Standing Committee which lasted from 7.30 till almost it was largely setting the agenda for PCC in a fortnight, at which the same issues will be trawled through by an even larger and chattier cast the whole thing felt remarkably pointless...but the good news is that when M is at home, I don't actually have to be there.
It is alarming how easy it is to be occupied with this sort of stuff, though...and I so nearly mucked up hugely last week. The vicar had suggested that I might usefully visit S, a great stalwart of the church, who had been ill for ages and was currently hospitalised...her condition had been deteriorating in October, but she seemed now to be improving gradually, and I knew she was being visited by a huge army of Mothers' Union ladies, retired bell ringers et al, as well as her devoted husband. So, though I planned to go, she didn't feel like a top priority.
However a phonecall from her frightened husband last week galvanised me into action and saw me visiting the following day...S was feeling better again by then, and it was a good visit..our conversation ranged far and wide and I looked forward to spending more time with her soon.
Yesterday morning the phone rang...she had taken a sudden turn for the worse and died on Sunday night...BUT she had had a happy afternoon in being pushed around the hospital grounds by her husband, the chaplain had responded to my email and taken her Communion that morning and now her husband wants me to do her funeral, despite the fact that his son is married to the daughter of a former (Forward in Faith) incumbent of this parish. I feel as if I've been rescued from the very brink of disaster...I so nearly got it all nearly didn't make time for the right nearly let S, D and most of all God down...but now, having spent time yesterday and this morning with the whole family, it all seems to be gloriously all right. During our ordination training, a hospital chaplain came to talk to us and I'll not forget him saying that his regular prayer, as he went onto the wards was "Lord, redeem my foul-ups"
Today, I'm so very very grateful that he has.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

This is Ridiculous!

It's the 11th November, for heaven's sake, and here I am sitting in a chilly study trying to write a Christmas letter for the Parish Mag. Never mind that it is actually Armistice Day. Never mind that the magazine will appear on 1st December, so an Advent letter might be more helpful...
This is it....the first page of the Christmas magazine is mine, all mine and I've no idea what to do with it.
Challenge? Don't think that's exactly what they are hoping for.
Reassure? Somehow, that doesn't feel like quite the right note to strike either.
Resort to vacuous humour or greeting card morality? Please God, Noooo.
The deadline is tonight, so whatever else, I'll have to get on and do it.
Right now I'm inclined to hope that the Second Coming intervenes, and nobody has to read the thing....

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Taking Faith Seriously?

I spent this morning at an excellent CME event on preaching from St Matthew...two good speakers and lots to take home and ponder. What struck me most, though, was not directly related to the subject, but an incidental observation which was offered. As one who comes firmly from the Catholic end of the spectrum, and has in any case far more confidence in my ability to ask questions than to furnish answers, I've never been a great one for stressing the importance of the sermon. However, it really did hit me when someone said that to rely on 10 to 15 minutes each week as a sufficient input to allow faith to grow, and to resource congregations to share that faith in the world, was clearly absurd.
Put like that, of course they are right.
Someone else compared the C of E unfavourably with ECUSA, where "Sunday School" for all is an expected pattern, with an hour of study of age appropriate material preceding the main act of worship each week...
Yes, that does sound thoroughly demanding, but exciting too....Somehow, though, I suspect that lead balloons would positively soar in comparison with the likely reception of such a proposal, how to persuade our people that to be serious about their faith means to engage with it with minds as well as hearts and souls? I'm sure that someone will remind me that simply because there are few parish initiatives promoting study, this doesn't mean that nobody is doing any, and clearly we should neither hope nor expect to corner the market....but it is so much more rewarding to explore together.At the moment, I'm left wondering how much of a priority faith really is for a high proportion of my congregation, and in the gloom of a damp November evening, I'm tempted to answer myself with a negative.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

My hero!

Though I'm not as careful as I should be, I do usually try to do something to disguise individuals and issues when I blog. Tonight, though, I want to tell the world how hugely and utterly grateful I am to our utterly wonderful Church Warden....If this blog had a sound track, there would now be the sound of tumultuous applause.
You see, he found the lost Communicant!! :-)
Let me explain.
Before the vicar departed for foreign climes on Monday, he drove me round at speed to the house of an elderly man, D, who wanted to receive Home Communion in M's absence. D was very charming and welcoming, we chatted for a few moments and I promised to contact him in a week or two to arrange a convenient time for me to call. M had already handed over a pile of papers, with details of everything he hoped I could attend to during his absence, and I confidently assumed that the essential surname/phonenumber would be included in the lists...I then went home and succumbed to the incipient migraine which had clouded my vision as we drove to the house. It was only after M was well on his way that I realised that the list of visits included no hint of a D anywhere...and I had no clue as to his surname, still less his phone number.
No problem, I thought. The Parish Administrator will have a list of everyone who receives Home Communion.
Only she didn't.
Nor did anyone else know anyone who sounded remotely like my gentleman.
As the week wore on, my panic mounted...
I drove round the general area we had visited, but none of the houses looked familiar.
It felt way too early for a major mess-up, and from my perspective losing a communicant felt fairly major.
Would I have to place an advert in the Gloucestershire Echo
"Would D, who is hoping to receive Communion, please contact..."?
or worse still, would I have to email the absentee vicar and disrupt his holiday with details of my stupidity...??
Today, thanks to Antony, we have a happy ending :-) Seeing a curate teetering on the edge of hysteria, he braved the study at the vicarage, opened the parish diary, and there it was. The name and address I had been pining for. Full details are now engraved on my heart as well as the psion..and I'll be in touch with David very soon.
Things I have learned:-
1)never try to memorise a journey when in the grip of a grasp of lefts and rights just isn't up to it
2)never assume that a vicar with a phenomenal memory will think of everything that those with more limited capacity might need to know
3)when in doubt, thank God for a good Church Warden

If you see any fireworks tonight, that'll be me, celebrating...

Friday, November 05, 2004

Was I foolish enough to describe myself as irrepressibly upbeat?? Oh well…….asking for it, I guess.
Today I’m anything but, having just returned from our monthly ecumenical lunch with the leaders of the other Christian churches here. We meet for prayer and brief discussion before repairing to the excellent Fair Trade Coffee Shop attached to the Baptist Church…nothing too awful there, you might think. I arrived late, to find them in mid discussion of the US election results in the light of Micah
"Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly…" you know the one. Initially, they expressed disquiet about Iraq and about Kyoto, and about the apparent assumption that "God bless America" equals a divine mandate in favour of global dominance. That’s alright, then…
Suddenly, the mood changed as first one and then another commented that, despite all this, Bush’s re-election was a Good Thing. Why?? For the very reasons that so many people on the boards are expressing hurt and rejection…his representation of "Christian values" as expressed in his stance on abortion and on gay rights. Usually, when the evangelical churches are waving a particular flag, the RC priest is a real ally, but this time he toed the party line and applauded Bush’s pro-life policies.I felt completely alone, and, still more depressing, I failed in the courage of my convictions, and challenged nothing. When we moved into prayer, I did ask that God would give us all, leaders and voters alike, the grace of humility, to recognise when we were wrong and to repent, to turn in a new direction. It's not good to realise that my colleagues in ministry here would dismiss me as unChristian if they understood my views on these issues. Worse still, however,is the feeling that by saying nothing I have betrayed myself and my friends for the sake of a comfortable life
Not Good News, in any sense of the world.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Dover Beach? Maybe, maybe not...

Liz's comment on my earlier post here was so startlingly reminiscent of
Matthew Arnold's poem that I couldn't resist putting the two together. OK, Liz is talking about a tide of secularism sweeping in, while Arnold considers one of faith withdrawing, but nonetheless...
I do have one optimistic friend (and a great comfort that is, given the prevailing mood today, with even the children sunk in misery at the thought of another 4 years of Bush) who says that this poem, lovely though it is, is in fact a load of b******s. The point about the sea, of course, is that while nothing can halt the outward ebb of the tide, nothing, equally, can prevent it from coming in again.
Not sure, therefore, whether this is a sustainable analogy for the state of the Church, but, being generally incorrigibly upbeat, I do believe that we won't be allowed to destroy the whole thing completely. I agree that we're appallingly slow to learn the lessons that are being presented to us (certainly my current congregation would put Canute to shame). I know too that I suffer from that awful Anglican tendency to hope that if I'm only kind enough to a large enough number of people, they will somehow get the message...despite all evidence to the contrary. However, I'm still bouyed up by Sunday night as another example of the way that people are still prepared to allow the church into their lives when they come up against the non negotiable realities. Moreoever, I visited one of the non-regulars yesterday, who'd come to the service following the death of her husband last month, and she said that the atmosphere was so full of love and care that she wanted to try to believe...
The trouble is, of course, that if she does come along on a Sunday, she'll find more anxiety about the wherabouts of the Gospel servers than focus on the reality of the Love on offer,- so maybe the church deserves to be allowed to ebb away to nowt. I do love it, though, despite the huge I guess all I can do is work to try to bring about a fractional change in one tiny corner.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

They CAME!!!!

Stoical regular readers will remember my agonies of indecision over a suitable title for a service of remembrance and thanksgiving
last month. Tonight, being 31st October, was the service itself, and I am in a state of completely gobsmacked euphoria. One day, when I am feeling very brave and very honest, I will sit down and ponder why I am so consistently amazed when God does actually respond to the many requests for intervention I hurl his way, but for now I am simply and profoundly grateful.
We had sent out around 80 letters to those with whom we had contact via funerals during the year, and 70 of them turned up. 94 candles were lit, to mark not only the obvious bereavements that were on their hearts tonight but other more hidden losses, broken relationships, miscarriages, disappointments with self or with other people, and the silence at the end of this section of the service was so full of holiness it was almost visible....
Afterwards, people who had no regular connection with the church were saying that "they felt that they belonged here"....and were talking to and supporting each other, sharing watery smiles, a few tears and lots of memories over a glass of wine. The most unlikely members of the regular congregation appeared too, and seemed to be entirely complimentary...which is nothing short of miraculous in a church where a minor variation in the Gloria this morning was labelled a "shameful travesty". Tomorrow, I know reality will bite again, as the Great Row of the Servers, the thorny question of the Churches Together Christmas Card and all the warp and woof of parish life take centre stage, but for tonight I simply wanted to share my joy and awe at being involved in a little part of God's process of healing and restoration for his hurting people. Deo Gracias.

Life in the slow lane...

You really don't know what "slow" means unless you have spent a week on a narrowboat. They have names like "Andante" "Festina Lente" and "Meander"which give you the flavour before you start. During our holiday we took the best part of 3 days to cover a journey that we could probably have done by car in under an hour...and loved every minute of it. We had at least two days of golden autumn sun, which transformed even the most humble stretches of the Trent/Mersey canal. We also had two nights of rain so heavy that the sound of it drumming on the roof of the cabin made conversation almost impossible, but there was a tiny wood-burning stove on board, so even that was pleasurable. We read piles of deeply frivolous (is that an oxymoron?) fiction, played silly games of the sort that usually emerge only at Christmas, and generally remembered how to be a family again. Ironically, this might well be our last family holiday, since Luci came home to offers from two of her chosen universities and is spreading her wings almost visibly as each day passes...but if it was, at least it was a good one.
I left the boat 24 hours early to go on retreat with my cell group from WEMTC at probably the most perfect retreat house in the world
here . Relaxed completely in the company of those with whom I've shared so much, laughed myself silly, was moved almost to tears during the Eucharist, in the simple chapel looking over the Shropshire hills and left the mountain top only with great reluctance. Just for once, I think my holiday lived up to the name.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

There will now be a short intermission

in this rivetting blog, so that you can all give your magnolia emulsion the attention it deserves, while the curate's family (which is also good in parts) flees to a narrow-boat. Have just realised that both Maggi and I will have spent our holidays close to canals...but somehow the industrial heritage of the greater Birmingham area seems a little less alluring than that of the Doges .Never mind! The first installment of family departed this morning, and report that the boat is fine but there is so much water in the system that we will only be allowed to venture in one direction...the weirs cannot apparently cope. After a truly hideous journey to and from Bristol today, which featured a kamikaze deer and a wrecked front indicator, I'm not sure said weirs are the only ones not coping. However, young Giles is safely back from his Duke of Edinburgh expedition to Exmoor, my saintly Vicar is dog and cat sitting, the wonderful public library has lent me 20 assorted volumes for light reading and we packed a case of red wine into the volvo this it can just get on and rain if it has to. I'm on HOLIDAY :-)

I nearly forgot...

to tell you all about the real high point of our Baptism evening. The parents of the youngest sibling, who had clearly not engaged hugely with the church in the past, asked just before they left whether there was any church mechanism for adding a godparent....
I must have looked a bit bemused, but they went on to explain that one of their daughter's godmothers had died of cancer two years ago, leaving H bereft of a special adult, and, formally, of a godparent. I explained that while the church didn't have any formal service, it would be quite possible to create some sort of rite to recognise and bless a new relationship of care, and suggested that H. might like to be involved in doing this. They were completely over the moon...I think they had expected the whole evening to be a coded reprimand for not bringing their older children to church more....perhaps, if this all goes happily, they may actually want to come now. :-)
It is so sad that people expect the church to say "No" all the time..I keep meeting this. People who are pathetically grateful that I will conduct a funeral given that they are not part of the regular congregation. People who don't expect us to "bother" because we don't know them.It's tragic. If the Church is supposed to be a Sacrament of the Kingdom, how on earth did we travel so far down the road away from our inclusive loving God??

Friday, October 22, 2004

The world, the flesh and the devil

Last night we had our pilot Baptism Preparation Evening...Those who read of my earlier agonies over the whole question here may be relieved,if unsurprised, to hear that the whole thing was very gentle, very Anglican, really...
3 sets of parents, the comfier room in the parish centre, a decent quantity of FT wine,the vicar and me...We watched the slightly less awful video, had some general chat then began to consider the Baptism service in depth. All going very smoothly, despite anxieties that it would seem that we were victimising the parents who were asking for baptism for babe no3, having shown no interest in the Christian nurture of no's 1 and 2, once the Baptismal candle had been blown out...then came the familiar words "fight valiantly against sin, the world and the devil" and a silent father was roused from his torpor.
"Why do you want them to fight against the world? There's alot of good stuff in the world...that video (the CPAS "First Steps") painted a very bleak picture, but its just not like that"
For all our protestations that this was a kind of churchy shorthand for all that was wrong in our lives on earth, he refused to stop celebrating all that is good...and it made me think. Are we, as a Church, guilty of dualism even now? Do we get so hung up on the things that are evil that we fail to note and rejoice in the good? Should I just stop fretting and do a little more praising?
Whatever else, it pays to watch your language!

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Good day at the Office, dear?

Today is my day off, so instead of cyling against the flow of morning school children to say the Office in church, I said it in my study here. I have found this a struggle since we moved . Though I spend quite a bit of time at my desk, this room still doesn't feel really mine in the way that my study at Lower Farmhouse did, and part of the problem is that my prayer space is less defined and alot less attractive. A vicious circle looms, then...since it is harder to pray here, I do it less, which means that I am slower to claim the room as truly mine.
I'm not sure I'm getting that much out of saying the Office, either...somehow I rarely manage to engage with the readings, and there are some weeks when I just feel as if I'm drowning in the words, and neither learning from them nor reflecting on them in any meaningful way. However, maybe that's not the point really....Trawling blogland this morning, I found
"I don't know how to pray, so I throw myself into the stream of those who do."
I love that. It suggests that just when I'm finding the Office most of a struggle, it is actually helping me most of all, carrying me on a tide of prayer from the worldwide Church. Maggi said something about the value of the repetition of the Office during a panel discussion at Greenbelt this year which resonated at the time, and still more today. Her gist, as it struck me, was that, come rain or shine, fair mood or foul, to find oneself saying "My soul magnifies the Lord" or "In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us" over a period of time actually effected change in oneself...the words become real and true.
My splendid boss is away for most of November, so I'll be saying the Office on my own every day,but with greater enthusiasm as a result of this morning's reading...though if anyone did happen to find themselves in Charlton Kings at 8.30 or 5.30, Monday to Friday, I'd love visible company as well as the constant cloud of witnesses.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

I've just decided...

that democracy is an over-rated concept.This comes at the end of a day which started (though only after I had locked myself out of the house first thing, and had to scale the back gate via a wheelie bin...I should really have known what sort of day it was going to be after this :-( ) with a meeting with the CME officer, followed by a staff meeting, followed by the funeral of my former vicar's mother, followed by a youth work committee meeting, followed by a worship committee meeting. The two last were gruelling beyond all.I truly had lost the will to do anything except gibber in a corner with a large glass of almost anything alcoholic by the time we finished. Over an hour of discussion on whether or not the 10.00 Eucharist should revert to 9.30, a heated debate about whether we should celebrate Epiphany on the day itself or the appropriate Sunday, and the piece de resistance, which was so splendid that I feel I should protect my readers by obliterating it from the blog.
We started the meeting at 7.30. By 9.45 all hope had been abandoned, and I was seriously wondering whether to stow away when the vicar heads off to Australia next month.And of course, he and I had very clear ideas of what we hoped to achieve in the course of the evening, but we didn't really stand a chance tonight.Made me positively nostalgic for a "father knows best" culture, it did. Bearing in mind that this is one very ordinary parish, with only one church to worry about, it also made me wonder why anyone in their right minds might want to be a bishop of the Anglican Church....perhaps after all the Windsor report is protecting the gay community rather than oppressing it?

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Turkeys vote for Christmas....

I'm just in from my first Deanery Synod since arriving here,- and a surprisingly passionate one it was too. Under the current diocesan pastoral strategy, something like 20 stipendiary posts have to be shed over the next 1o years, and there is a growing realisation that rural benefices cant actually expand much further:there are several in these parts uniting 6-12 parishes. Logically,therefore, there is now a need to consider seriously when vacancies occurr in the towns, and each deanery is asked to have mission action plans, pastoral strategies etc in place in readiness for the next vancancy. In our deanery there are currently two unfilled vacancies, and another which has been advertised, though so far without this is a very real issue. Tonight, we heard one practical suggestion that our views be co-ordinated and positive recommendations be passionate plea for a church without buildings, freed to engage with people where they are....and a no less passionate reminder of the value of the building as a visible sign of God's presence with his people. Nobody liked the idea of the church pulling out of the disadvanted areas which currently have the lowest Sunday attendance figures...but then, nobody much liked the idea of voting themselves out of a job or an accessible worship centre whose churchmanship matched their own. The Rural Dean asked "What would Jesus do?" and there was a moment of tangible calm as we tried to focus on that, to hear what He was actually saying to us. Then we got into the dreaded small groups to discuss....certainly nobody in my group had heard anything clear...we were united in our conviction that it was all very difficult and I have to say that, having only entered stipendiary ministry 3 months ago, it feels a bit soon to be arguing myself out of a job. Certainly I am generally quite busy enough to justify my existence, but as to whether I could be more usefully deployed in another context, I truly don't know.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

What have we done??

Just been watching the BBC News, which was full of Liverpool mourning the death of Ken Bigley.. I in no way wish to belittle the horror of this whole experience, the terror he must have suffered, the agony inflicted upon his family...but I do wonder slightly about the reaction it has aroused here. Yes, he was a decent, innocent man, attempting to help in an impossible situation. Yes, we deplore any attempt to use human life as a political bargaining counter. Yes, his family need our love, prayers and support tonight....but the news footage showed the same queues of sombre citizens, lighting candles, writing in remembrance books, that we first encountered when Diana died. We watch hundreds of individuals, facing something beyond their control, deprived of a language with which to explain or contain it..........and does the Church know how to connect? Are we there, offering the only hope of transformation? Sadly, I suspect the answer is generally "No" and so we have to sit here and watch the world look elsewhere, while we believe that we have something to offer which will transform all this agony. Kyrie Eleison.

Is it legal?

Just home from a CME day entitled "An Ordered Church".We were instructed in advance to bring with us the Canons of the C of E, which confirmed my fears that this would not be the most fascinating day ever, though the hypothetical cases we were given to look at cheered me a little. In the event, our speaker, a self-supporting minister who just happens to be a QC, Chancellor of a diocese or two and one of the most entertaining educators I've encounterd for ages, kept us engaged right through from 10.00 till 4.00...though some of that, I guess, was a result of sheer terror as we recognised that we probably breach Canon Law (and hence, thanks to the joys of being C of E, the law of the land to boot) on a regular basis. I'm still wondering whether in fact I recently buried the wrong person, whether our occasional non-authorised liturgies are sufficiently occasional to be covered by the Bishop's encouragement of creativity where there is no authorised liturgical provision and whether I need to fall on my sword for my failure to take it all truly seriously. One part of me feels that it is a huge red herring, designed to ensure that we spend more of our time worrying about churchyard regulations than about living the Gospel...but then, as a non-confessional Church, the C of E identity is inextricably bound up in its change the one could be to inadvertently alter doctrine....assuming, of course, that anyone pays attention to what one small curate in one corner of the church is up to. Perhaps its back to remembering that if other people take me seriously, by virtue of my calling, I sometimes need to take myself a bit seriously too....

Thursday, October 07, 2004

We ask alot...

........ of our nearest and dearest when we enter full time ministry. We expect them to rejoice with us when we are "recommended for training" and when we secure our first curacy, though we all realise that this will involve both physical absence, whether at college or in front of a computer screen, and an increasing emotional absence as perspectives shift and priorities change. My long-suffering husband once compared the whole thing to encouraging me in an extra-marital affair…with the added complication that the "Other Man", being God, cannot be argued with. To crown it all, having changed radically from the person they thought they knew, we then expect them to decamp and follow us wherever the Church decrees, knowing this will be the first move of many, if all goes well. I hope the inadequate "thank you" I’ve offered periodically was at least heard and believed in…

I’m writing this now, though, not because one of my tribe has finally told me what they think of me but because J died yesterday. She was a great lady, mother of my previous vicar, who found herself undertaking a new life as a clergy housekeeper when she was already well on in her retirement. In no way a church-lover, she recalled nostalgically the days when her daughter had a "proper" job, but despite this she welcomed assorted oddballs into the vicarage, hosted countless coffee mornings and produced endless hot drinks (pushed laboriously on a trolley as her balance and mobility decreased). Bless her dear heart, she was a huge encouragement to me on my erratic progress towards ministry, despite her conviction that I was out of my tiny mind to even consider pursuing this calling. She had a wonderful, dry sense of humour, which kept breaking out on even her bad days. We’ve missed her a lot since moving from the parish, and can only guess the impact that her loss will have on S. The plan had been for her to retire this autumn, once a suitable house had been found, so that mother and daughter could have some quality time together, and J take a turn at receiving rather than giving care. Now, though, J is suddenly gone and S faces loss of parent, work and home in just a few short weeks. It’s a bitch, isn’t it?

Monday, October 04, 2004

Just to reassure you...

in case you were wondering if this was the same Kathryn that you thought you knew,given Caroline's astute observation that I had been listening to The Verve the other day. It's only because Steve, when he had slightly fewer ways of spending histime, kindly undertook to expand my musical horizons...the track concerned entered my consciousness about this time last year, as part of a wonderful mixture which I've listened to again and again. Steve, in case you read this, my favourite is still "If these walls could speak"....Can you recommend an Amy Grant album? ;-)
Otherwise, it's back to the reassuring realms of the Naxos label and Anthems from Kings. what?

got me thinking, as she so often does, this time about how we do, or should do, church....In the light of yesterday's highly entertaining extravaganza this gave me pause. I guess that the intentions of all those present were entirely honourable, but it's also undeniable that anyone straying in from outside would have been at best bemused, and more probably hopelessly alienated. Worse still, I'm pretty certain that any member of the congregation, asked to justify the whole thing, would have come up with something along familiar lines "It's just the way we do it here". Mind you, our official mission statement includes the rather dubious aim "To nourish our spiritual growth through worship". Funny. I always thought worship was more about what we did for God than about what we might hope to derive from it....I wonder if I dare ask anyone what they think they're doing...and whether I've the courage to do anything with the answers, if I get any.
Don't hold your breath.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

.......and a very little man was he.

Oh what an extraordinary day....From the normal reclusive 8.00 congregation, who would really far prefer to worship in their individual private chapels, to the excesses of the 10.00 Dedication Festival, to a gentle Evensong with two dozen souls present, it's been good. I was dreading the 10.00, specially when I was told firmly that "we cope, here, for processions..." (the verb "to cope" in this context refers to the wearing of heavy and ornate ecclesiastical cloaks, rather than to managing in adverse circumstances...though there were moments...)
I was allocated the cope originally presented by the congregation to a much loved vicar who had gone on to be a moment of the day was when I said, lightly, that I hoped the Great Man (who casts a long shadow over this parish, even 25 years on) would not be turning in his grave to see a lowly curate, and a woman at that, wearing his cope...and was assured by a rather silent and undemonstrative verger that "he'd be delighted".That felt like a bunch of roses :-) The procession, with the sort of banners I associate with a great AngloCatholic slum parish in the early years of the last century, turned out to be really rather wonderful, because everyone was just so happy. They are proud of their church. They are glad it has stood for 814 years. They wanted to thank God...
Suddenly, all the posturings and anxieties about who did what, in which order, seemed irrelevant (the same verger had described a previous Dedication Festival as like "nothing so much as an ecclesiastical protest march)...These were, and are, God's people and we smiled and celebrated.
After the excitements of the morning, Evensong was very low was a foul night and most people had wisely decided that once was enough for today...however, Zacchaeus went down very well...I talked about different sorts of dedication, how he changed his dedication from his own interests to those of the Kingdom, picked up an idea from Rhys about the fact that he had to stay put as a symbol of transformation in his own community and linked that with the changed landscape that had arisen when the church was built, and our calling to change the landscape of our community by our dedication to God's work in this place. Our Senior Citizen informed me, on her way out, that it was the first sermon she had heard on Zacchaeus in 80 at least she listened enough to hear the topic....Grateful thanks to all of you who gave me starting points....where would I be without my friends?

Friday, October 01, 2004


right now to come up with a sermon for Sunday evening. We are the sort of church that celebrates not only its patronal festival, but its dedication to boot, and this coming Sunday is the day. The real excitements are in the morning, with solemn procession, guest preacher et al, and I've no idea what to expect at evensong, except that I've got to do something with Luke 19, our old friend Zacchaeus. Somehow I don't think that my rather successful All Age talk which involved a child climbing a stepladder, and alot of discussion about ways that we might make Jesus inaccessible to others , will quite fit the bill. Blowed if I can get past it, though...I do hate the way that sometimes a familiar interpretation effectively blocks the light as I try to read things afresh. And what, in any case, does Zacchaeus have to do with dedications, founding fathers and the like? There it is in the Lectionary, set for just such an occasion...but why?? I've tried prayer, I've even tried the commentaries....but all in vain. This may be the shortest sermon in all our 814 years, which would I suppose be something to celebrate in itself.Hmmnnn

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

St Michael and All Angels?

Writing in the Aff Cath magazine (I'm deliberately not posting a link to their website, as it is woefully out of date at the moment :-( ) Perran Gay says
"I'm not sure what I believe about angels...but I'm always grateful that they form a part of the whole Christian understanding of things. Their mysterious being and presence remind us that there is much more to God's nature and God's providence than we can ever fully understand, and that we may draw closer to understanding that mystery throught the language of poetry and music than through the rigours of theological analysis"
I liked that. Though I sometimes get terribly fraught and frustrated when I simply cannot tie up loose theological ends (I guess all those years of studying English lit and trying to determine why a particular arrangement of words works better than another one could be to blame there) I have to acknowledge that it was the way that poetry and music conveyed the inexpressible that initially brought me to worship. What happened during daily Evensong in King's Chapel was, for example, somehow more real than most of the other activities of a busy student life...My Bishop, Michael Perham, says in his
New Handbook of Pastoral Liturgy that worship is designed to help us to "grasp the heel of heaven": it is terrifying how rarely that expectation goes with us into our churches,- but when it does, the angels are back again.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004


This evening, Luci and Giles came home from a week's tour with the school orchestra in Italy. It was rather unnerving, how very absent they seemed to be, knowing they were both out of the country...I'm quite used to their being away, often for a week or more, often simultaneously, but this time felt much harder than in the past...Can't honestly make any sense of that, but wanted to record for the benefit of blogdom how utterly blissful it is to have them both home. They had clearly had a ball, are full of traveller's tales and laden with invitations to go back to their host families...but right now, what matters is that they are in hugging range. A week can be a very long time, somehow: better get in training, I guess, with university ahead.


Spent this morning at staff meeting trying to dream up a title for the service we are planning for All Souls' tide. The idea is the far from revolutionary one of providing a service to which we invite all those with whom we've been in contact via funerals this year. The format, still under construction, will involve the almost-obligatory opportunity to light a candle, a chance to remember with thanksgiving and, we hope, a stepping-stone on the route to recovery. In a parish where it just isnt manageable for the clergy to remain in close touch with all the bereaved relatives we encounter, it is also a way of saying that they and their losses have not been forgotten. I think it's important,- but I'm stumped for a title, I really am...One suggestion was "A time to remember..." - which is lovely on one level, specially with the implications of re-building that lie at the root of the word...but then, it's just a week before the "Remembrance Sunday" stuff, and we don't want people to come expecting poppy wreaths and two minute silences,- and being deeply disappointed..With invitations and publicity needed soon, this is becoming rather perturbing, so I would love some thoughts from any of you still reading.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Kennington Revisited

Twenty years ago I sang for a couple of years with a church choir in S London. I loved that church so was my first experience of a world beyond the confines of my privileged childhood and the rarefied air of Cambridge, and I was totally overwhelmed and entranced by the way in which the mess and muddle of life on the Kennington/Brixton borders was taken and offered in the Eucharist, day by day, week by week, and made whole. I suspect that the faint but insistent whisper which finally brought me to ordination first began at this period too, and I know that S John the Divine, Kennington, has probably influenced me more than almost anything else on my journey (give or take Greenbelt and the Chronicles of Narnia...there's eclecticism for you!) Maybe one day I'll have a church like that of my very own....
Meanwhile, the SJDK choristers grew up, some married, some divorced, some left London, and as is the way of things, we rather drifted apart, though never losing touch altogether. Until yesterday...Yesterday, thanks to a friend whose organisational abilities deserve a wider theatre, we gathered from all corners at S Andrew's, Holborn, where the former vicar of SJDK now hangs out in his new persona as Archdeacon of Hackney. We ate, drank, talked and then sang. They don't do Choral Evensong at S Andrew's,- indeed its one of those city churches which doesn't do anything very much on a Sunday, as there's a distinct shortage of worshippers around,- but that didn't deter us. On one level it was probably slightly ludicrous, - a full choir singing the Office with a handful of non-singing family rattling around in that large and beautiful space. On another level it was totally and utterly right to be there, involved in that sort of total prayer which unites you with your neighbours and, as Lyle reminded us, with the whole company of heaven. I hope we sing together again before we finally join in their perfect worship, and I thank God for some very special people with whom it was so easy to pick up the pieces of suspended friendships. Oh...and the final Amen of the Smith responses has to be one of the most perfect sequences ever written :-)

Friday, September 24, 2004

By way of contrast....

Though we are far from overwhelmed with young families in our congregation, this is no reflection of the local area, which has more children out and about than anywhere I’ve ever been….Inevitably, the parents of some of them come to us requesting Baptism, and though both M and I agree on the need for an open policy, we nonetheless want to do all we can to help families realise the potential of this Sacrament to completely change everything…
I guess that, even before M arrived, ours has always been a pretty “co-operative” parish, and a few months ago I would have thought that was a Good Thing.
This, however, was before I attended a recent private Baptism. The odds were stacked against it before we started, as the parents, who had been married here, no longer lived in the parish at all, and the grandparents (who do) are not regular worshippers. Moreover, they had asked if the clerical friend who had married the couple (during our interregnum) could conduct the Baptism too. So, we have a family with no connection with our worshipping congregation, arriving from all points of the compass, to meet with a priest who is also unconnected with the local church…Between them, they have to claim the space and create a worshipful context from a standing start. The visiting priest is jovial, and succeeds in creating a party atmosphere…in which the promises seem oddly out of place. Godparents absently crunch on the carrot sticks they have brought to pacify their toddler…One or two guys wander outside for a fag,- clearly this church bit is hindering the family festivities more than they had imagined. The crunch comes for me when they reach the reading…a chapter from…wait for it “Alice in Wonderland”…
No Gospel. No suggestion that what is happening today actually MATTERS in any lasting way at all. Nothing.
The wrapt and reverent attention is reserved for the rite of photography which concludes the proceedings, then, without a backward glance they are gone, off to continue their party in more congenial surroundings.
I’m left apologising to God for what feels to me like an abuse of His hospitality….but perhaps I’m just being starchy or defensive?
Anyway, all this fuelled a growing sense that we ought to do SOMETHING to help parents engage meaningfully with the Sacrament….so I’ve been on the lookout for helpful resources, round which to build a social/discussion evening which we’re planning in October. There seems rather a dearth of helpful videos, but Tony responded to my plea for help with the following….

I've thought about your request, and guess I would say you need to start
with the question:
WHY do you want baptism preparation?
If there is time, and space on your examination paper, you may like to tackle
some of the subsidiaries:
What is the desired outcome?
If you were a parent wanting your child baptised what would you want from
preparation, and what would you feel about what was being offered or
How would it make you think/feel about God and what God is towards us?
Who is baptism preparation FOR? (If the answer is, the conscience of the
clergy, does that affect our other answers?)

Assuming that I’ve answered question 1 (why I want some sort of Baptism preparation) I guess we need to move on to consider the whole thing from the parents’ viewpoint. Any thoughts, anyone?

I accept that the clerical conscience is a very real player in this one, but I would still defend the need to help Baptismal families to seriously engage with the promises they are making, and to facilitate, as far as we ever can, a real encounter with God through the Baptism of their child. It DOES matter, doesn’t it?

No weddings, but 3 funerals...

"They" told me before ordination that I would "enjoy" funerals, even be good at them, and at the risk of emerging as totally predictable, I have to say "they" may have been right, at least in terms of my personal satisfaction. Being "good at them" is a very different matter, and I'm not sure I even know how you could determine this...except perhaps in terms of how the bereaved are enabled to move on through their journey,- and that, surely, depends far more on the months ahead than on the 20 minute slot at the crem.
Nothing prepared me for the huge variety of situations, even in this thorougly middle-class, white Anglican suburb. In the past 10 days I've encountered one family who had been bullied by the departed for years, and who consequently felt both relieved and guilty; one old man who had deliberately severed all connection with friends and family when he went into a care home 14 years ago, and whose service was attended only by a handful of staff from the home;and, yesterday, a guy who seemed to have the gift of staying friends with everyone whom he had ever encountered.
The only common factor was a lack of any overt Christian committment and a desire, on the part of the mourners, for me to say something to "make things better"...It's kind of heartening, given the widespread secularism, that they are even prepared to hope that I might...on our ordination retreat, we were reassured that we would be given words of power to speak into such situations, and yesterday it truly felt that way.
What an unbelievable privilege!

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

A very good friend who is currently enjoying life with infant hamsters suggested that it was time I updated this...but the question is, what would anyone really want to hear about? This is my day naturally it began with an assembly at the infants' school just over the road from the church...A new head arrived this term, and is very busy building bridges with us, which is truly wonderful, as it's not a church school and her predecessor kept us firmly at arm's length. Since my regular day in the village school was a highlight of my pre-ordination life, it's excellent to be really welcome in a similar happy and purposeful environment, and I'm spending an hour a week being totally un-churchy and throwing paint around with assorted reception children.Today I heard one of the staff, not part of the regular Sunday congregation, say to a parent "That's our curate..." and was so chuffed by that "our"...Lovely to feel an accepted part of things :-) The Assembly went OK ; an interactive narration of Noah, with the children providing sound effects for ark-building and rain falling...They even stopped when I needed them to, bless them :-)

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Quite helpless

Oh dear. Did anyone imagine that I might grow up after ordination? I think I did kind of entertain the hope myself, but clearly that's not part of the deal...spent most of tonight's Evening Prayer speechless with laughter, and I'm not even sure why!
It was my turn to read rather than lead, and the Old Testament was a chunk of Jeremiah, one of those passages with a dozen impossible names in far fewer verses. I was doing fine till I fell over Gemariah, and then, for some reason, all was lost. Instead of carrying on, I heard myself apologising to the guy concerned "Oh, I am so sorry....but you do have a really stupid name" and there followed one of those periods of total hysteria during which every attempt to compose yourself is in itself screamingly, breath catchingly, overwhelmingly funny...I would pull myself together to get another couple of words out, only to corpse again...and again...Michael didn't help, mind you, as he said with an air of gentle puzzlement "I'd never seen Jeremiah as such a comic".
Quite what anyone coming into church at that point would have made of us I dread to think....two middle-aged clergy giggling away like a couple of school children. I was quite unable to complete the reading, and there was a prolonged pause before either of us felt able to finish the Office.
Thank you, God, for the sort of boss who enjoys the ridiculous, and thank you even more for the gift of laughter.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Diaries and their ways...

I'm very excited today, on 2 counts...1)I have lost my ebay virginity
2) I have managed to buy (on the recommendation of a please don't tell me I'm wrong now ;-) ) a Psion 5 pda to replace the filofax that has been part of my life for far longer than is reasonable....
I really was beginning to lose control of all the bits of paper bursting out of it, so am hoping this may be the start of a revolution. An organised Kathryn would, of course, be another first...but no mentions of leopards and spots, I beg you.
However, having spent what seems an inordinate amount on said electronic diary (though substantially less than others were bidding...I went for a Buy It Now option, which was well within my notional reserve), I then found Curate's Dregs here considering the clerical timetable, and proposed antipodean revisions to it. I posted a reply along the lines of my current sense that my training incumbent, God bless him, is so concerned that my family should not be deprived unduly of their newly ordained mother that he allows me almost too much time off. As well as my official Wednesday, I'm also currently free most Saturdays (give or take sermon prep, of course) and am also encouraged to see his day off, Monday, as mainly a study day...This is wonderful and generous, but tends to leave me feeling guilty, that the parish is not getting all the curating they are entitled to. It's a real struggle, after years of secular work, and a diary groaning with the effort of reconciling the children's timetables with my own, to accept that it really can be OK to leave a day blank; to be offered an escape route from the tyranny of the diary, and believe that it's actually not a problem if every day isn't fully booked.
Perhaps with my new toy, the fact that gaps in the schedule aren't obvious to the world may improve my attitude. I seem to remember alot of talk at college about the need to be rather than do...

Friday, September 10, 2004

Faith or doctrine??

Fascinating visit this afternoon to one of the congregation...retired English teacher, who started off by telling me, with a edge of challenge in her voice, that she had "more or less no Christian faith". Since she then went on to talk fluently about moments of epiphany, when God had been very real to her, and to affirm the value of both Christian ethics and (amazingly) the church community in her life, I probed a bit and we finally came to the conclusion that she has no problems with faith at all, but found some parts of doctrine a bit sticky. I discovered that she shares my passion for the 17th century metaphysical poets, and agrees that they offer a window onto a reality which the Creeds can only hint at. We also agreed that, when all else failed, the B Minor Mass was clearly a vote for God in a messy world. It was a good encounter...I learned so much from her, and think I may have been able to suggest ways in which she could escape the theological straightjacket which she had been sure she "ought" to be wearing.
Heading home, I was excited by the way minds can meet and visions be exchanged, but also saddened by the way in which the church through the ages has provided stumbling blocks in our very attempts to present our limited understanding of the Truth that is God...Dave Tomlinson, in his GB talk, refers to the way in which words act as icons, leading us into the deeper truths beyond...but, oh dear, how very good we are at insisting that people stick with the superficials.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

An Equal Music...

Rather a week for funerals, this...My first solo on Monday went fine, the family helpfully providing the address and only leaving me to do the "God-stuff"..which they were kind enough to declare "helpful and appropriate", despite earlier assertions of apathy all round.

More cataclysmically, Lucinda came home on Monday shell-shocked by the news that a guy from the year above, who'd just left school after a good set of A levels, was killed in a car accident on Sunday afternoon. The car was being driven by his friend, whom Luci also knows...Thus far, there is nothing to suggest that this guy was in any way to blame...but somehow, I suspect that this will not be easy for him to accept. He was driving. The car crashed. His friend is dead. Shit. 18 feels way too young to have to deal with that.
The 6th form are poleaxed. G. had been head boy, so was well known and loved about the place. The kids who left with him last term have been drifting in to school all week, needing to be together, and feeling lost, as their old world has ended, but the new one of university or work has not properly begun...I wonder if I should go in and loiter with intent, but am wary of "poaching" (the school, unhelpfully, lies within a rather hard line parish, so it is unlikely that the vicar will be a welcome visitor as the mourning time continues). In the end I compromise by telling Luci to make sure that those might need to talk know I'm around.
By Wednesday, it's clear the kids are doing a wonderful job in caring for each I just concentrate on praying for all of them as best I can. Funeral is on be a celebration, followed by rave and sleep- over. The courage of those parents breaks my heart...

Meanwhile, back at the ranch,today was the funeral of a former NSM we had wall-to-wall clergy in church and hall all afternoon...This being until very recently a trad. Anglo Catholic parish, the attempts of some of the Fathers to be charming to me personally while telling me how deeply they disapproved of my being there were verging on the comical. I was given the prayers to "do" and finished up with the prayer based on Donne
"Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity; in the habitations of thy glory and dominion, world without end."

I'm very fond of this, but was taken to task afterwards by one of the former curates (actually a real sweetheart, whom I know of old) because he felt that the version of heaven it presented was exceeding bland...My retort was that we could only judge from the perspective of time, in which the absence of extremes might indeed seem dull, but that we would presumably be beyond this by then....Made me think, though...Are those deeply bored Renaissance cherubs who figure on Christmas cards indicative of a deep truth with which we've not got to grips? Will the diet of wonder, love and praise lose its attraction as eternity goes by? Or should I just tell my left brain to go take a running jump and cease pointless speculation forthwith??
In any case, that Donne prayer stays. It's on the list for my funeral, when the time comes...

Monday, September 06, 2004

Him or me?

Rhys suggested here that my flight into "prophecy" yesterday evening might have been no more than an exercise in airing my frustrations with the tried and trusteds of the parish...and of course, he's right.My suspicion is that I tend to expect so little of God on a day to day basis that whenever an idea seems particularly compelling in its refusal to lie down and be quiet, I attribute it to Him...specially if it involves putting myself outside my normal "Let's make everybody happy" comfort zone.
So, does feeling decidedly ouch about it afterwards mean that I was indeed cantering off over the horizon on a hobby horse of my own, and God is now reminding me that I ought to listen a little harder,- or is it rather the result of going (obediently?) against my normal placatory tendencies?
I don't expect any definitive answers (though of course it would be extremely exciting if God had told anyone reading this what was really going on) but I guess after 10 years of Reader ministry (in which the congregation simply sat there and purred, bless them, because they were so proud of having "produced" me) I'm aware that this is a new context in which people take my preaching more seriously than ever before. That makes me a bit edgy, really...the scope for disaster is so proportion to the opportunity, of course. Please, someone remind me that this whole ordination thing was God's idea...It was, wasn't it?

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Out on a limb....

OK folks. I guess the honeymoon between congregation and new curate has just been brought to an untimely end by this evening's sermon....Fresh home from Greenbelt, and having thought about little else than questions of emerging church for much of the past months (even my vicar thought it important that I weigh up the parish in the light of Mission Shaped Church), today I set to and preached it.
The Evensong readings included Isaiah 43..."I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up. Do you not see it?"
I found myself telling the congregation things that none of you will be remotely surprised by.....that the church is always only one generation away from extinction...that to be catholic means to be inclusive, and not just of People Like Us....that it would matter not a jot or tittle if the C of E was dead within a decade, so long as the church continued to act as the agent of God's mission on earth.
None of it revolutionary, really. None of it rocket science, or indeed D.Theol....but also none of it stuff that they had been made to consider before.
Truly, when I was preparing the thing I couldn't help myself....and if it comes to a contest between upsetting the congregation and ignoring pretty firm direction from God, I know which I would rather do
But as many of you will know, I tend to go 50 miles to avoid confrontation, so finding myself out on an even mildy prophetic limb was scary,scary, scary.
I had one unexpected ally, in the shape of an elderly ex Warden, who greeted the idea that church might look totally different and still fulfill its purpose....My sweetheart of a vicar was fine too....but otherwise the silence was deafening. Even my good friend in the congregation said she felt I'd not been there long enough to preach that sort of stuff. She said it with a smile, but I suspect that's the general reaction.
Does anyone have a bunker available for reluctant prophets to lurk in till the storm has passed?

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Open Day

Well, the last time I was involved in something that called itself that, I was at junior school, and tbh I was far from convinced that holding such an event to improve the community's perception of their parish church (after a period when the barricades had been firmly in place due to various unhappy situations within) would be helpful in any way.
However, when I arrived here, the date, Bank Holiday Monday...(in Cheltenham...I ask you?!?!) was already firmly fixed (with minimal consultation, such is the power of a determined "Events Committee") and assorted noble souls were co-ordinating an amazing range of displays and activities designed to convey the idea that the church was something worth belonging to.
As August went on, I became increasingly anxious that no-one at all would turn now the publicity machine was working overtime, and not a shop window or library display had escaped its quota of flyers....the drama group were rehearsing at any and every opportunity and the flower ladies were planning arrangements to rival Chelsea....The effect of failure on congregational morale would be devestating.
Given the task of producing a simple but engaging act of worship to conclude the day, I began to invest in its success myself, though still not happy that it would demand my return from Greenbelt, highspot of the year....How adventurous dare I be, with a congregation that feels firmly anchored in the past ? Though it does use modern language, it somehow manages to invest it with an archaic flavour, so that I fully expect the imposing Fathers of my Anglo Catholic childhood to rise, fully coped, through the floor during parish Eucharist....but I felt very certain that a modified Evensong was unlikely to be the best way to convince a dubious neighbourhood that we were friendly and accessible.
In the event, I didn't exactly push the boat out, adapting some of Dorothy McRae McMahon's material and using hymns whose tunes at least were likely to be familiar. However, I did draw the line at robing....and the vicar and I both forsook our usual stalls (on the wrong side of the rood screen) for chairs at the head of the nave.... all felt OK.
People did come.
A church that is usually tense and anxious relaxed amid the buzz of happy visitors...children climbed where no child has climbed before (and lighting refused to strike)....Fair Trade coffee was slurped by the gallon....groups that compete rather than complement found themselves working side by side and getting on splendidly....and a representative selection of our pew-bound congregation even managed to emerge to light candles as symbols of their committment to act as salt and light in the community.
What's more, as I admit I mentioned before, some of them even smiled.
I know I did. I'm not used to being surprised there, but it's great when it does happen.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004


The fourth load of washing has completed its revolutions, the children are eating Pringles and playing their bargain CDs, and I've just made the painful decision to separate myself from my wristband.Greenbelt is over for another year. was it for me?
Very mixed, if truth be told.
The Festival was its usual exciting and loving self. To arrive on site felt, as always, like coming home...So many friends, so much passion for things that really matter, such freedom to be truly myself...bliss.
This year I was less intent on attending every seminar that might possibly be of interest or relevance, and as a result enjoyed some special time with special people.As always,though, I've returned home with regrets about those I barely caught up with...Oh Ops team, how would it be if we could maybe extend the Festival a day or two on either side, without a programme? Then there might just be time to see everyone.
I don't suppose you'd care to consider it, Liz?? ;-)

Maggi's seminar on Biblical interpretation (whet your appetite here) was both inspiring and helpful....her clarity of thinking is incredibly refreshing, and she manages to bridge the gap between the exciting world that is Greenbelt and the less dynamic realities of life in the parish...I always bring something usable home with me from her sessions. This year I got to spend time with her too, which was great...It's always a little scary when virtual friends emerge into the real world; how disappointing will I be? will they want to engage at all? But, now I come to think about it, I met most of my cherished Greenbelt friends on line,- so perhaps I should just stop angst-ing.
It's an extraordinary thing, though, how easy it is to share at the deeper levels via this wonderfully anonymous medium....sometimes I struggle to let down the barriers enough to communicate in the same way face to face....I wonder what's going on there.
Oh well, - back to Greenbelt.
Further delights were Jeffrey John on The Meaning in the Miracles (bless you, Linda, for buying me the book...I am starting it tonight, having been thoroughly inspired by his seminars);
Ched Myers,- of course;
Morna Hooker and Anne Morrisey too;
and, against all expectations, Iona worship on Monday night. I really didn't intend to go....thought, rather snootily, that I was bored with it but I did want to meet up with a friend there, and the message of the evening was exactly what I needed for that moment.
Also enjoyed discovering Esther Alexander at the Performance Cafe,- oh, and that amazing French potato food stall. Yum!

I'm trying to think through questions of inclusivity which arose for me after the panel on The Rite Stuff (have to read that too....people did give me some wonderful ordination presents.... :-) )...and how one makes the things that work in a settled community accessible to those who might not speak the same language of ritual.Surely it can be just as excluding as words, unless you share the common expectations.On the other hand, if you tell people what they ought to be thinking of and experiencing, you are clearly drastically restricting the potential of the whole.
My current parish (trad Anglo Catholic but open to progress, I think!) is so very neurotic about "getting things right"....and it can seem that worship falls victim to concern over the details which are designed to facilitate it. However, I've met people equally anxious that they might not do what was expected of them in alt. do we help people to make the ritual work for them as a route to God, and not to see it as something in which they can succeed or fail?
Time I read that book methinks...urgently needed,ways of refreshing worship in the sort of parish where you won't know everybody every week, and anyone might just this space.
Overall, though, my perception of this year's Festival is rather more confused than normal. I spent the 9 to 5 slot back in the parish helping with an Open Day, which was startlingly successful. Might blog about it later...people came, the Old Guard survived a gentle exposure to worship outside their tried and trusted norms, and some were even caught smiling in church...maybe things might be moving there, confounding expectations yet again.
However, when I came out of Good Little Curate mode and switched on my phone,things fell apart rather badly, as they had for a dear dear friend...lots more processing to do there, as we consider the best way to show the love and care we feel in a horrible situation. Prayers hugely welcome.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Nearly there...

As I type the house resounds with excited yelps (the dogs are quite noisy too)
Torches are re-united with batteries, holey shoes jettisoned in favour of more waterproof alternatives and somebody, somewhere, must know about the tent pegs....and do we REALLY need that much loo paper?
Oddly,I was really underwhelmed at the prospect of GB this year for some reason: so much new and exciting to take on board in the parish, so I guess I felt in less need of a lift than in years past, and assorted slight technical hitches re camping, friends, dog-sitters etc threatened to obscure the sparkle. Until last night, that is, when I met up for a drink with some notable bloggers (here,here and here) who have been working away on site in the best beaver tradition....and suddenly I realised that its really HERE....GB 04 starts tomorrow...and the joy of it all has kept me fizzing away all morning. Wonder if the GB magic works on PCC meetings...I'll let you know, as such is my destiny this afternoon.
Looking forward so much to seeing friends, and making new ones.I'll be the one squealing with excitement and surrounded by teenagers muttering "Down mother...."
See you there

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Service resumed...

Blogging has been somewhat disrupted of late by the fact that those "nice" men at Tiscali and the equally "nice" men at BT have between them been unable to achieve broadband access for us....though happy to take our money for it ever since early July. ;-( Intermittent service was beginning to feel "normal", and I was prepared to be tolerant as long as I could get on line at least once a day.... but this is the first time I've been able to get on line this week...and it's now Wednesday.
I hate the fact that I feel so dependent....get all jumpy and anxious when cut off from my friends...and I even had something to talk about for once ;-)
No idea how long the current amnesty might last, but I intend to enjoy it while it the knowledge that most of you will be busy packing up for GB anyway, so I can wibble away without fear or favour.
Monday I spent in Durham in the rain....Luci was attending a uni Open Day...which impressed neither of us hugely. The faculty came across as so full of its own importance that nobody who wasn't convinced they were Shakespeare, Mozart and Einstein combined would presume to apply ....
However, the Cathedral was as lovely as ever...sitting in the cloisters watching the rain streak down in that pearly grey light that I remember as more or less constant during my Durham year, I realised just how many wonderful things have happened to me since...and how very very thankful I am.Sorry if that sounds revoltingly just was a good moment to take stock and be happy.
Eating ginger bread men with Luci as we walked to the station was just fun and Durham and I parted on good terms, even though its unlikely I'll be returning any time soon.

Friday, August 20, 2004

More rites of passage

I feel rather ancient today, if truth be told...
Yesterday I finally organised insurance cover for Luci to drive my car. I've never been a great one for white-knuckle rides, but have to say that her driving was really quite reasonable. After all, an unexpected traffic bollard after a mini- roundabout might surprise anyone,- and there is no doubt that her braking is excellent!
However, nothing had prepared me for the realisation that this is another milestone on the journey into an independent life in which I'll have minimal part.Of course I'd known all along that parenthood is the gradual process of working yourself out of a job, but yesterday I realised something of how it will feel. This morning we went in to school to collect A/S results..again there is nothing I can do to fix these if they don't work for her (thankfully she managed A's in English and Philosophy, with B's for History,Music and Gen. Studies...she's cross that History and Philos. werent reversed, but otherwise quite content)
Lunch time she boarded a train for a 4 day trawl around assorted northern universities...and there she was, gone! I know she'll be back on Tuesday (albeit briefly) but this is a foretaste at least....methinks I have some preparation to do before I'm ready for autumn 05,not least because I'm not that sure I've done all my own growing up yet.