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