Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Year's Eve five...

with thanks to Songbird

1)Do you make New Year's Resolutions?
I’m a great maker of resolutions, at the drop of a hat…at New Year, Lent, Advent, after seeing my Spiritual Director…almost any opportunity to take stock and reform. The fact that they appear in my life with such frequency may suggest the answer to question 2

2) If so, are they generally successful?
Almost never…though acknowledging the areas that I would like to change is often helpful in itself.
I have at least learned over the years that there is slightly more chance of keeping resolutions if they are counted in single figures, but still tend to veer towards wildly optimistic ambitions.
Lose 2 stone. Keep my accounts up to date. Give the dogs a decent walk, morning and evening, every day of the year. Tidy the study....
Just who are you trying to kid, Kathryn?

3) Do you write them down, or make a mental list?
Mental list. I’m far too chaotic to actually commit anything to paper, though maybe the blog will have the same effect??? Or is that yet another triumph of hope over experience?

4) Even if you don't make resolutions, is there something you want to focus on in the New Year?
I hope to be more disciplined in my use of the internet. Far too easy to drift from emails to blogs and before I know it, the whole morning has passed and the study I had planned has never even started. If only there weren’t so many useful online resources, the answer, clearly, would be to leave the computer turned off. Any helpful hints or tips hugely welcome.
Oh, and there's something about weight loss, the dogs, the state of the study/ my accounts......

5) And do you have plans for New Year's Eve?
All 3 offspring are out and about partying (DD departed for a weekend in Yorkshire yesterday evening) so we hope for a civilised evening, a good film and maybe a sea-food supper. The Dr Who scarf is coming on apace, so I may manage to stay awake till midnight in its honour, but won’t be too mortified if sleep overtakes me. One of my best New Year’s ever was when TeenWonder was just 5 weeks old, and sleep at a premium. I went to bed blissfully early, to be woken at midnight by a gently snuffling baby, ready for a feed, and a husband bearing a glass of champagne. That’s the life!

Friday, December 30, 2005

A place for everything?

The turning point in really feeling at home at the Curate's House last year was finding somewhere where the Christmas tree "worked". Our own house, being Georgian, with stone flagged floors, large fire places (and Georgian drafts and heating bills, but we don't talk about those) lent itself peculiarly well to long winter evenings by candlelight and came into its own at Christmas. It was thus quite a challenge to envisage settling into a comfortable, compact and practical modern house, with doors that fit, windows that come with double glazing, and positively no fireplace of any kind. We shoe-horned ourselves and our possessions in somehow (shedding SEVEN BOXES of books in the process, but still managing to move with more than our removers had ever encountered) but were quite apprehensive as Christmas approached. But, fortunately, the tree looked happy in the very first spot we tried,- and already we have "traditional" sites for assorted well-loved decorations. Isn't it strange how quickly these things are established when there are children, even teenagers, about. There was no debate at all this year. The tree "had" to come from the same supplier as last year, the candle-bridge was installed on the appropriate window ledge before I'd even noticed it had been unpacked, and the whole proceedings rolled onwards as if we'd lived here forever. Given the essentially nomadic nature of the clergy life, it's just as traditions will beckon in 2 years or so, and there will have to be another hunt for the right place for the tree. Now, though, I'm not so worried.

Would you like sugar with your words, before you eat them?

I know I was really rather negative about that annual horror, The Sales, but we had lots of fun yesterday spending Christmas gift tokens (I now have Glen Gould playing Bach's Goldberg Variations, the Gabrielli Consort playing Venetian Vesper music, and- just for good measure, Norah Jones too) and also, thanks to a nifty deal with my sons, finding the perfect, probably Kathryn-proof digital camera. It's tiny, very very cute and the instruction book actually makes sense. So, just because I can, I've simply got to post a picture of LoudBoy and his bass.

Apologies. I may get a little carried away over the next few days :-)

Thursday, December 29, 2005

For the sake of the children.

LutheranChik has a thought provoking post about the Holy Innocents, and the way children have continued to suffer down the centuries...

Christmas -- the real Christmas, the inbreaking of God's saving power in the person of Jesus Christ -- is also for children who live in the shadow of death -- death by the hand of the mad or malicious; death by the culmination of many banal evils inflicted by a chain of ignorant and/or callous adults; death by natural disaster; death by poverty, by disease, by neglect

Coming as it did hard on the heels of my own sense of wounding the Christ-child afresh, it put me in mind of this poem by Steve Turner, which I have in an anthology called
The Christmas Road, ed Pamela Egan (and now apparently untraceable, which is rather a has some good material)

Christmas is really
for the children.
Especially for children
who like animals, stables
stars and babies wrapped
in swaddling clothes.
Then there are wise men,
kings in fine robes,
humble shepherds and a
hint of rich perfume.

Easter is not really
for the children
unless accompanied by
a cream-filled egg.
It has whips, blood, nails
a spear and allegations
of body snatching.
It involves politics,God
and the sins of the world.
It is not good for people
of a nervous disposition.
They would do better to
think on rabbits, chickens
and the first snowdrops of spring.

Or they'd do better to
Wait for a re-run of
Christmas without asking
too many questions about
what Jesus did when he grew up
or whether there's any connection.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Narnia revisited.

Finally got to see The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe yesterday evening...and it was better than I'd feared. LWW was the first book I remember reading all the way through to parents gave it to me for Christmas when I was 5 and I loved the first chapter so much when my mother read it aloud to me that I launched myself without further ado into the full text and that was it. Full-fledged life-long bookworm status conferred overnight...(though the image of a feathered worm is at least interesting). I remember being so distressed by the sacrifice of Aslan on the Stone Table that I always had to skip that chapter...I tried desperately colouring in the illustration of his shaving, as if this might somehow soften the unbearable pain of the text, but this didn't work. I seriously considered glueing those pages together, so the sadness couldn't get out and overshadow the whole book, but I knew that this would be equally unsuccessful...Finally, that first Puffin paperback copy began to fall apart and I set the book aside for a while but not its legacy. An only child, I read and read and read some more and LWW was always in my top 5 books, - I had it practically by heart very soon and know that so much of my theology is filtered through the lens of Narnia to this day. I seem to mention Emmeth, the Calormene soldier from The Last Battle at least once a year when my views of the truths found outside Christianity are challenged...and as for those dwarves in the stable. Allow me to introduce you to some members of a church I know...
Beyond this, for some time I worried hugely that my relationship with Jesus was totally inadequate.Instead of his pointing me to the Father, I felt as if I could only connect to him because the Father made it possible...talking about this with my Spiritual Director one day, we realised that I was still mostly trying to connect with Aslan,- which kind of skewed the picture. (Incidentally, one of the gifts of finding myself in the kind of (almost Old Testament, holy of holies) Father-centred parish that St M's undoubtedly is was to find myself more focussed on the Incarnation and on the person of Christ than ever before...and, goodness, He dominates my preaching)
Bearing all this in mind, it felt like quite a brave step, actually seeing the film at all..but I enjoyed it. The children were excellent,- Peter was suitably priggish, so that Edmund's treachery was really quite understandable, -the White Witch was pretty nearly perfect (if by perfect you mean coldly evil, which of course I do) and the location utterly perfect. I was sad about the Beavers, who just weren't right, in our opinion, and overall the film was a tad more "action epic" than I felt necessary...and with maybe a shade too much underlining in red of the allegory.
A few distortions too....when the battle ended (a battle where the emphasis is very much on the fighting skills and valour of the children) Aslan said "It is finished". As I recall, those words belong rather earlier in the Real Story...and the victory isn't won by our meeting violence with violence, but by His grace.
Ah well, only a film...but one that has left me my Narnia intact, I'm happy to say.

It's that time of year again!

The time to review, to consider, to take stock. Maybe I'll manage just one achievable resolution for 2006, but that comes later. In the meantime, here is a really excellent way of looking back at 2005. Anna at Little Red Boat (a fine writer,- site highly recommended)has launched the 2005 Mayfly Project, aka The idea is to sum up your year in the same number of words as a mayfly has hours to live. Go and try it...and put a link to your entry on your blog or add it as a comment here, why don't you.
fwiw, here's my effort.
Priested. Celebrated. Lots. Candles everywhere. Invited into many inner journeys, deaths, births, brokenness, healing. Prayed. Wrote. Published. Sang. Cried. Laughed. Loved. Still always late.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Another RevGals meme

1. What is the best gift you received this year? (Tangible gifts only, please!)
Hmmn..hard to choose, but suspect it might be (madly) a seriously cute teddy bear from TeenWonder, who, I'm told is a tenor, and has therefore been named Bostridge after the divine Ian. Less eccentrically, I also received a lovely framed Victorian engraving of St M's from R, the mum in a wheelchair, and her parents....that really is extra special and all I need to do is find some vacant wall so I can hang it. Poor LongsufferingClockmaker is grinding his teeth because the supposedly fool proof budget digital camera he bought me refuses to take pictures indoors, rendering it more or less useless for any photography I might fancy...Does anyone have any tips for a really user friendly digital camera that operates in all conditions, but won't break the family bank? Because of irritating plastic packaging, there's no way we'll be able to get the sad original exchanged. Grrrr.

2. What is the best gift you gave this year?
That would be LoudBoy's bass...he had no idea it was coming, as it was an ebay coup, and he was beside himself. Almost speechless for a good 5 seconds!

3. When did you do most of your shopping/creating?
Rather late. Had a spree online about 2 weeks ago, then some fun shopping on the Wednesday before Christmas. Thanks to one wonderful shop just round the corner, this really was enjoyable. I found a candle bearing griffon for LongsufferingClockmaker and a velvet bag that made DarlingDaughter go weak at the knees, sitting right next to each other. Both ideal. Both totally unexpected (who, after all, goes looking for a candle bearing griffon?). I'm creating right now, as LoudBoy has decided that he is longing for a Dr Who scarf, in honour of the recent I'm rediscovering knitting after a good 17 years out. Just basic back and forth, though, nothing fancy like my clever knitting friends...but still fun and restful.

4. Did you go shopping the day after Thanksgiving (U.S.)? Today?
No! Absolutely not! We're only going at all this week because poor DarlingDaughter is working in the local department store and we've promised to visit and take her out to lunch on Thursday. Oh, and I guess we might try and resolve the digital camera question.

5. What stands out already about Christmas 2005?
That has to be celebrating Midnight Mass...sorry to be predictable! And how very lovely it is to spend time with my family just doing nothing. Why is that such a rare occurrence?

Monday, December 26, 2005

Christmas Day

It seemed only moments after I’d fallen into bed when the alarm went off…Still dark, of course, and only an hour in which to complete the ritual opening of stockings for five and make it up to church in Good Little Curate mode for the 8.00…Somehow, it all happened manageably, and the early Eucharist was lovely. We regularly have a congregation of about 40 at this service, and I love their focus and lack of fuss…I was acting as Deacon, so got to read John’s Prologue, and then offer a reflection on it; love this!
The swiftest of breakfasts, then back to prepare for the 10.00….fewer than normal in the congregation, as so many had been there at Midnight, but still a comfortable crowd…and we sang Christians Awake and then I preached the full text of my John sermon, which felt uncharacteristically thought-through. My heart bled for the one visiting family with small children who appeared here, though they coped manfully. Definitely not a treat for the under 10s...but still, a good worship experience, which clearly connected with those who were there. When we processed out the west door it was to find a queue already formed for the Family Celebration,- with 2 small batmen and a spider man at its head! Let me tell you, it’s pretty startling to find anyone queuing for a service at St M’s, - let alone Batman!
This service is just such fun…and provided my highlight of the day. After producing a birthday cake for Jesus and getting some children to help with blowing out the candles, we talked about other essential features of birthdays, above all presents. Strangely, though it’s Jesus’s birthday, we’re the ones who receive presents…but isn’t that just like him! Anyway, what could we possibly give him??
Helpfully, there were 2 presents wrapped and waiting under the tree…one addressed to me. Having admired the wrapping, I proposed to take this home and put it safely away somewhere…till persuaded by enthusiastic shouts that I should, in fact, open it...More help achieved this, and a rather wonderful handpainted mug (thank you, F, if you’re reading this!) emerged. Again, I suggested that putting it safely away was the best policy, but was firmly corrected from the pews. I should, it appears, USE the mug and that’s what it’s donor intended.
We turned our attention to the next parcel, a splendid gift box addressed to all of us from God. The children opened it, to reveal the baby from our crib…Should I put him safely away till next year? By now the children were beside themselves with excitement and one little girl was literally jumping up and down as she led me to the stable and showed me where he really ought to be.
It’s a long time since I saw anyone actually jumping for joy in our church!
With Baby Jesus restored to his place at the heart of the crib scene, we talked briefly about our tendency to treat him as I’d so nearly treated my special mug…to visit him and celebrate his birthday before packing him safely away for another year. We agreed that in fact “Jesus is for life, not just for Christmas” and that to remember this and live as if we meant it would be the best birthday present for him.
Then we got out the percussion, sang “Come and join the celebration” and before we knew it, that was it. The last service of Christmas day finished…around 700 people through our doors in under 24 hours…
If even some of them found what they were looking for…

The rest of the day was a happy blur of family festivities, too much food and wine and some lovely presents, including a huge pile of books. If I can work out how to use my new, and reputedly fool proof digital camera this blog may become more exciting in future,- though I wouldn’t hold your breath. Meanwhile, LoudBoy’s face when he unwrapped the bass guitar (no amp,-I’m not that stupid!) that he’d been sure he’d have to save up for himself was another highlight. Total disbelief! Three cheers for ebay,- and the way it allows parents to perform Christmas magic once in a while, even on a stipend.
Oh, I’m quite overwhelmed by the joy of living my life right now. THANK YOU.

It's about the Baby....Christmas Eve

Welcome, all wonders in one sight!
Eternity shut in a span.
Summer in winter. Day in night.
Heaven in earth, and God in man!
Great little one! Whose all-embracing birth
Lifts earth to heaven, stoops heaven to earth.

— “In the Holy Nativity of our Lord”
Richard Crashaw, 1648

How to sum up the wonders of my first Christmas as a priest?
Christmas Eve began gently, with wonderful vicar and I saying Morning Prayer just as we do most other days of the year…That was good. Space. Silence. And companionship. So many people and situations we are carrying around with us. A blessing to speak them aloud and offer them to God.

I take Home Communion to a lovely man who is struggling with cancer, knowing this will be his last Christmas. Cancer claimed his wife just after I arrived here, so he is painfully aware of the course the illness can take, very frightened, but willing to talk. He was obviously feeling pretty lousy today, but it was good to stand with him in the shadows and speak about the Light that shines in darkness.
A couple of other brief visits, then home to draw breath before the Crib Service.

Despite 200 assorted children and their carers, many shepherds, angels and at least a couple of Kings, this was startlingly peaceful.. Baby C and her mother (tell it not in Gath…here in Ch K., the holy infant was a girl) sat there in wonderful tranquility while the heavenly hosts swarmed around them. When we had assembled both our crib and the rather raggedy tableau we dimmed the lights and sang the obligatory “Away in a Manger” by candles and Christmas tree alone. Then there really was a moment of stillness before we prayed,- the totally unexpected gift I had longed for.

Complete contrast was the carol singing at a local hotel. We stood in the hall beside their tree, and people drifted out of the bars, clad in their Christmas glitz in readiness for a formal dinner and, to begin with, watched us as if we were visitors from outer space. Then, gradually, one or two of the very elderly guests joined in (I speculated that they had been taken to stay at the hotel this Christmas by families anxious to divert their attention from the gap left in their homes by the death of a spouse) and the singing began to spread. Finally one very aloof, bored looking man, who had been determinedly looking at anything but our corner began to sing…along with his aged mother and a rather enchanting little girl of about 3. And it felt good, in a Disney kind of way!

Home. Yummy (and traditional) salmon for supper, then family music-making by candlelight before the (even more traditional) reading of certain Christmas stories, culminating, as always since the children were old enough to come to Midnight Mass, with The Good Little Christmas Tree. Up to church through the chilly darkness…Music blaring from the Working Men’s Club competing with the bells to ring the stars out of the sky. Church filling up…the buzz of voices mingling with the organ notes..the sudden realisation of the enormity of what was about to happen….I long to get away, to be quiet with God before the service starts, but the vestry is the usual hive of activity.
Has anyone seen the baby for the Crib?
What about the Advent wreath?
Did anyone light the extra candles which have been adopted as in memoriams by some of the congregation?
Where’s the “Send a goat” tin?- someone wants to add a last minute greeting on the collective card.
Go into yourself, Kathryn…It’s the only way.

But then the vestry prayer is said (oh…was that me?) and we begin the procession into the candlelit church, and we’re singing “Of the Father’s heart begotten” and suddenly it is all utterly and eternally real. That hymn does in music what John’s Prologue does in words…the rolling tune carrying us through the centuries and on into a future we won’t see. We are part of the celebration that spans history
“Sing ye heights of heaven his praises!
Angels and archangels sing.
Whereso’ere ye be, ye faithful,
Let your joyous anthems ring.
Every tongue his name confessing
Countless voices answering
Ever more and ever more”

We reach the Crib…the baby is placed gently inside and, as if it weren’t blessed enough by His presence, I bless it in His name.
From then on, everything is just as it should be. We sing “It came upon the Midnight clear” (and for a mad moment I wonder if the organist reads my blog…)…We come to the Eucharistic prayer and I’m singing the Preface when the words take my breath away once again
In this mystery of the Word made flesh you have caused his light to shine in our hearts…In him we see our God made visible and so are caught up in the love of the God we cannot see
And then I have to do it. To take the wafer, which I’ve just consecrated, …and break it.
The first violence to be done to the Christ child is at my hands.
I pause for a second…Must I really, tonight of all nights? Can’t I just keep Him safe….
But that’s not the reality. It’s about the baby and about the cross. Even at Christmas.
And then the people begin to come forward, God’s broken body here in all our mess and muddle…and it’s given to me to take Him to them in a fragment of bread and a sip of wine.
Thanks be to God!

Friday, December 23, 2005

By way of a Christmas Card

A Christmas Baby by Derek Webster from
Shine on Star of Bethlehem

`I am looking for God, where is he?' asked the little girl.

But the Philosopher's words were too difficult for her for he said:

`Scan the world.
You will not observe Him whom you seek.
He is called "One not seen".

Listen to all things.
You will not hear Him whom you seek.
He is called "The Silent One".

Seize what is there.
You will not grasp Him whom you seek.
He is called "One untouched"'

But a mother smiled. Taking the child in her arms, she parted the straw and showed her the new-born baby.

Whoever would have thought that blogging could produce so many and genuine friendships? I've really enjoyed this year. Thank you all!

Much love for Christmas and 2006.

More about carols...

My good friend Songbird posted a Friday Five for the RevGals, and since I've now done the unthinkable and finished my Christmas sermon more than 30 hours before I have to preach it, I'm joining in with the festive theme (and in glorious technicolour too!), - though thinking about music is currently kind of sad, as I'm far from hearing in stereo. Will anything as wonderful as the Radio 3 BachFest ever be heard again, when I have both ears tuned??

Sorry..I digress...On with the meme

1) If you had to choose CDs as a soundtrack for the Christmas season, what would they be?
Sorry to be obvious, but carols from Kings. My earliest childhood memories involve making mincepies on Christmas Eve while the sound of the Festival of Nine Lessons...floated all over the house. There was less of an intensive build up to Christmas in the 60s, in sleepy Sussex at any rate, and this always felt like the real beginning of Christmas for me. Since then, it has been the soundtrack for wrapping stocking presents, though a 4.00 crib service has prevented me from hearing the live broadcast for years now.

2) How do you feel about singing all the verses of "The First Noel"? (Six in our hymnal, but apparently there are nine.)
I don't honestly want to sing any of them before Epiphany....they seem to place more emphasis on the Wise Men than they ought, to feature at Christmas. And that opening musical phrase does get rather tedious by the end....6 verses is certainly an ample sufficiency!

3) "O, Come All Ye Faithful" has a lot of verses, too. Which is your favorite?
Tricky...I love singing the David Willcocks descant to "Sing choirs of angels"....but I also get a thrill from singing "Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born THIS happy morning" as the first thing to be sung after midnight tomorrow night...And who can resist the John 1 reference in v2?
Suspect I'm just rather fond of the whole thing.

4) What music do you play while opening presents?
We don't tend to play music then....It'll be after lunch, and we have a tradition of taking it in turns so that everyone gets a chance to admire (or in a few cases comiserate). I tend to prefer to listen to music rather than just have it playing unheeded...though later on we'll listen to the Corelli Christmas Concerto, as I try desperately to stay awake after the Midnight Mass/stockings/8.00 Communion marathon. That used to belong to Christmas Eve, but there simply isn't the time to sit with it nowdays. Sometime I need to listen to the Christmas Oratorio too...Unlike many other respondents, Messiah is primarily Passiontide and Holy Week for me, because that's when I used to be taken to hear it as a child

5) Which carols do you consider to be Christmas Eve essentials?
At Church...It came upon the Midnight Clear, O Little Town, O Come All ye Faithful (has to be timed carefully to allow the last verse to be sung in unadapted splendour) and, if the choir are feeling obliging, I do love to hear the Sussex Carol (On Christmas Night all Christians sing) during Communion. I love, love LOVE Of the Father's Heart begotten too, but sadly few congregations seem to really know it, so it's a nostalgic memory of my chorister years. I'm assuming that Once in Royal will have already been covered at the Nine Lessons and Carols.
At home...since they were small the children and I have done some carolling by candlelight when we come home from the crib service. It used to be the last thing before it's the last thing before we eat and rouse ourselves to head out again for Midnight. Essentials here are
Wind through the Olive trees, Now Light one thousand Christmas lights, The Little Road to Bethlehem (that is DarlingDaughter's "party piece", which I won't let her give up even at her advanced years, she sings it so very beautifully) and the Coventry Carol.
And, to cheat and answer a question I wasn't asked, I do sulk a bit if I don't get to sing Christians Awake in church on Christmas morning,- even if there are no Christians awake in sight!

and a Bonus Question:

6) What, if any, is your favorite secular Christmas song?
Ooh, I'm grateful for the "If any" as I'm struggling here,- can't say I really enjoy any of the more recent secular offerings, though I love the Gloucestershire Wassail. I hope that will qualify!

Well, that was a happily self indulgent exercise, so I guess the only option now is to go and do something worthy like wrap presents...Perhaps the family will let me listen to Bach as I do so.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

A la recherche du temps.....

I did this for fun when it came round a couple of weeks ago, but couldn't bring myself to post it that early...Now, since I ought to be madly busy but still don't have the requisite energy for serious present wrapping, it seems a reasonable moment.
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
You are 'Hark! The Herald Angels Sing'. You take
Christmas very seriously. For you, it is a
religious festival, celebrating the birth of
the Saviour, and its current secularisation
really irritates you. You enjoy the period of
Advent leading up to Christmas, and attend any
local carol services you can find, as well as
the more contemplative Advent church services
each Sunday. You may be involved in Christmas
food collections or similar charity work. The
midnight service at your church, with candles
and carols, is one you look forward to all
year, and you also look forward to the family
get together on Christmas Day.

What Christmas Carol are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

On the whole I'm happy to go along with that analysis, though I would dispute the claim that
Hark the Herald Angels is the perfect expression of my view....It's just too hard to pitch reliably, if you're the kind of high soprano I am. I often make it almost impossible for others to make those top notes, which is neither kind nor Christmassy.
However, choice of carol apart,that is a pretty good resume of my normal attitude to the season. I love it. Hugely. Every now and then I try to assume a mantle of weary cynicism, but it just won't fit...
This year, though,I seem to have been feeling substandard for most of Advent, so I'm only now beginning to engage with the Reality to come,- and that makes me sad. Antibiotics may be doing good things for my ears and sinuses, but they wont restore the Advent that I've lost...Any top tips for moving from Advent 1 to Christmas Eve in under 24 hours? I'm hoping that by tomorrow morning I will actually feel like Kathryn, so now's my chance.

Crib service update

Paul rashly asked which bits of the Iona material I was actually using for the Crib service....and now that I look at it, of course, it turns out that what I ended up with is in fact a blend of the Iona material and the Christian Aid book Shine on Star of Bethlehem, that I mentioned earlier. We have a call to worship from the latter, the Christmas Eve responses by Ruth Burgess (I do so love her work) on page 230 of Candles and Conifers and, once the crib and the tableau are duly assembled, another set of responses by her, this time from Hay and Stardust (page 18)
Along the way we also have 3 carols, a virtuoso performance of Little Donkey featuring the vicar and a wall-paper roll (if you ask nicely, I'll tell you about it afterwards...meanwhile, let's just say that the "talk" is about 14feet long!) and somewhere around 100 assorted children, most of whom aren't regulars, trooping around in tinsel and tea towels. The idea is that during each carol a different set of characters places the figure that represents them safely in our stable, and then groups themselves round our utterly genuine mother and babe for maximum ahhhh factor during the inevitable Away in a Manger. I'm praying that we might manage half a second's silence when that ends, after which I propose to bless them and send them away promptly. Which book the blessing came from I'm currently unable to recall, but it seemed to fit rather well, and I also used it with the schools earlier this week.

Son of Mary, Son of God
We have joined in the worship of the angels;
May we never lose that
heavenly vision.
Like the shepherds,
We have rejoiced at the news of your birth;
Help us to share that message by our words
And by our actions
For your praise and glory. Amen.

The following morning, the All Age service (for which people are usually queing when we emerge from the parish Eucharist) will involve a similar mixture from those same sources, with a rather tacky talk about presents from the Curate (note to self...still need to sort out visual aid for this), a different selection of carols, including one with percussion mayhem ...but NO Away in a Manger. Thanks be to God!

Describing it all here, it sounds hideously wordy...I'm hoping that there is sufficient action to hold the attention despite this, and can only say that we have made considerable progress from the very weighty service included in The Promise of His Glory which was their normal fare until quite recently.

In the continuing absence of anything worth blogging

allow me to subject you to the dodgy privilege of the Fleming's Christmas letter. I realise that this is probably so unwise as to guarantee the departure of any readers forthwith and even for evermore, and I certainly don't want to have it graded by Steve. However, just so you know that life of a sort is still extant at the Curate's house, here we have it. I suspect all readers will score top marks, but, as the rubric warns you, success in this doesn't actually qualify you for anything.
Oh, and multiple apologies to any readers who've actually been sent the wretched thing too!
Happy Grimble!

We’ve had too many exams in the family this year, so instead of a letter we are asking you to take the multiple choice test which appears below…If nothing else, it will be an alternative to the Times Bumper Christmas General Knowledge Crossword. In some cases, more than one answer may be correct…or not!

Christmas Joint Examination Board: Special Paper B2
Fleming Family 2005-12-05

Notes for candidates. Do not attempt to answer all the questions at once.
Candidates can neither be qualified nor disqualified for anything.
The examiner’s decision is immaterial.

1. During the year 2005 J enjoyed 10 days in the Lake District caving, ghyll scrambling and sailing with
a) the Antedeluvian Order of Buffaloes
b) the Scouts
c) his tutor group from Borstal

2. Having gained 2 A’s and a B at A level, L is now funding Gap year travel by selling
a) snow to eskimos
b) lurid green shirts
c) her body

3. On 2nd July K was
a) ordained Priest in Gloucester Cathedral
b) on time for something
d) invited to a barbecue

4. A is still
a) mending clocks
b) smoking dope
d) singing Grand Opera

5. The highlight of G’s year was probably
a) hearing U2 at Cardiff
b) snorkelling in the Severn
c) being allowed out of the house in daylight hours

6. J recently appeared in the local paper as
a) a Dean’s Chorister
b) a skinhead
c) the letter “e”

7. L and G both appeared on stage in
a) Leopard-skin tutus
b) Jesus Christ Superstar
c) Utter confusion

8. During the year, K has spent too much time
a) blogging
b) sleeping
c) cleaning the bathroom

9 Having survived GCSEs, G is now taking A levels in
a) Maths, Further Maths, Chemistry, Computing and History
b) Maths, Further Maths, Palmistry, Forestry and Inebriation
c) a spirit of defiance

10. In June L and J made
a) supper for the Youth Group
b) another CD
c) friends with a hedgehog

11. A has recently returned to playing
a) poker
b) the field
c) badminton

12 In early June, friends and family celebrated J’s
a) execution
b) extradition
c) confirmation

13 Family life has changed beyond recognition now that
a) L has a full driving licence
b) Dillon’s A.S.B.O. has arrived
c) G is playing the piccolo

14 During the year L and K both appeared in
a) published anthologies
b) stripey socks
c) an awful hurry

15 During the October half term, G explored
a) His inner child
b) Moscow and St. Petersburg
c) The Metropolitan Sewage System

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Sorry to be a sloppy blogger of late...I've been saving all available energy as I'm now officially Ill, having double-dose antibiotics, an interestingly bronchial cough and an ear that feels as if the entire contents of my head are trying to force their way out through the ear drum. Add to this mixture 3 school carol services, and a major family bereavement for my wonderful vicar and you'll probably understand why creativity and sparkle have been in short supply.
In more positive news, I spent today (day off) actually completing my Christmas shopping...OK so I wanted to die by the end of the first 2 shops, but I've done it!
And, better still, I am totally in love with 2 new Wild Goose publications, Candles and Conifers and Hay and Stardust. While I've been not fit to get on with parish visits, I've had a lovely time putting together the Crib service and the extra non Eucharistic family service for Christmas morning, both of which have benefitted hugely from these books....but not as much as the Curate!

Christmas Coming

This Christmas, Lord
take a corner of my life
and steal in...
invade the busyness of my doing
with the quiet of your coming.

This Christmas Lord,
take a corner of my mind
and steal in...
illuminate the darkness of my thinking
with the brightness of your seeing.

This Christmas, Lord
take a corner of my heart
and steal in...
infuse the coldness of my loving
with the warmth of your Being.

This Christmas, Lord
as at Bethlehem's stable,
come and steal in...
take the unprepared places of my life
and make them fit for your dwelling.

Pat Bennett from Hay and Stardust

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Wachet Auf

Season when
Dual citizenship
Holds us in
Awkward tension.

The world, intent on
Spending Christmas
Eats and drinks its way to
Oblivion after dinner.

The Kingdom sounds
Insistent warnings:
Repent, be ready,
Keep awake,
He comes.

Like some great fugue
The themes entwine
The Christmas carols
Demanding our attention
In shops and pubs,
Bore their insistent way
Through noise of traffic;
Underneath, almost unheard,
The steady solemn theme of Advent.

With growing complexity,
Clashing, bending,
Rivals for our attention,
Themes mingle and separate,
Pulling us with increasing
Until in final resolution,
The end attained,
Harmony rests in aweful
Stillness, and
The child is born.

He comes,
Both Child and Judge.

And will he find us

Ann Lewin from Shine on Star of Bethlehem, A Worship resource for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany compiled by Geoffrey Duncan

Saturday, December 17, 2005

A wonderful Christmas card

As drifts of Christmas cards land on our doormat each morning, amid frantic barking from the terriers (who clearly view this arrival as a dangerous tresspass) I tend to feel overwhelmed by the number of people with whom we're connected, however loosely.
My parents both died when I was 18, and at that stage I continued to remember those on their Christmas card list, - mainly to reassure these concerned adults of the continued survival of their friends' daughter through Cambridge and beyond. Suprisingly, many of those contacts have lasted through the intervening years, but of course they have been joined by so many new friends.I have tried to be fairly ruthless about excluding people who are now little more than names on a list, but even so it's been a good while since the writing of cards was a positively enjoyable task, in the days when I could manage a proper hand-written letter for each recipient. Now it's almost more than I can do to offer a brief prayer for each person as I sign and stick on the address labels.
Last year, my first in ordained ministry, the volume of cards far outstripped the space we had to put them up and I was hugely relieved when my vicar confirmed that there was no way that we could possibly send individual cards to all the parishioners who might remember us, -so we put up a large card from both clergy households in church. This year, I hoped we could go further as a parish, so our magazine in November carried the suggestion that instead of exchanging cards with people whom we would see each Sunday of the year, we all signed a giant card and sent the savings to Present Aid. I hoped we might raise enough for a herd of goats, or at least a flock of chickens, and intial signs look promising. But what made my heart dance when I looked at the signatures yesterday was one rather wobbly inscription in heavy black ink
He first appeared in our church last month, when the way that the congregation handled his rather inebriate presence during Evensong filled me with hope and relief. His failure to reappear in the days that followed had left me anxious, specially as the winter began to bite just after he wandered off into the darkness in search of a friendly tree beneath which to shelter. But he's alive, praise be, and what's more feels friendly enough towards our church to join in our Christmas card, which has suddenly become one of the most beautiful I've ever seen.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Can you hear me purring over there?

Every now and then I am totally bowled over by the way in which my children are finding their own voices and becoming themselves in ways their parents could never have predicted.
There have been moments during the past few months when I've wished that DarlingDaughter would stop being arty and creative and focus on something prosaic and sensible, - like organising her Gap year travel. Not today, though.
Today a huge parcel arrived for her, which she has just opened to reveal a small bookshop's worth of copies of the anthology which she has produced together with friends from her Kilve Court writing course.
And it's lovely. Really, truly lovely.
Of course, as she has just pointed out, I might be suffering from the misplaced enthusiasm of the devoted mother, but even if the content were appalling (unlikely on an invitation only course for "talented young writers") the book itself is a huge achievement, since they organised it themselves, amid the hubub of school, exams and Teenage Life. I'm so proud of them all, - especially Luci.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Sorry, everyone

about the irritating format of the previous post. Try as I might, I can't persuade it to remove that aching void beside the Lucia, unless anyone has any bright ideas, you'll just have to tolerate it. Most annoying. Grrrr.

Upon St Lucy's Day

Though it's no longer the shortest day in the year, I still felt the feast deserved a
little attention. After all, Darling Daughter is named in honour of this saint of light, and you can surely never have too many glimpses of angelic children crowned with candles.

My first introduction to the day came in my teens when I met the gloomy majesty of this poem by John Donne

'TIS the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays ;
The world's whole sap is sunk ;
The general balm th' hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed's-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr'd ; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring ;
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness ;
He ruin'd me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death—things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that's good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have ;
I, by Love's limbec, am the grave
Of all, that's nothing. Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so
Drown'd the whole world, us two ; oft did we grow,
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else ; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death—which word wrongs her—
Of the first nothing the elixir grown ;
Were I a man, that I were one
I needs must know ; I should prefer,
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means ; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love ; all, all some properties invest.
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light, and body must be here.

But I am none ; nor will my sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
At this time to the Goat is run
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all,
Since she enjoys her long night's festival.
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year's and the day's deep midnight is.

Bleak midwinter indeed! It makes my spine tingle just to read that...
"this Both the year's and the day's deep midnight is".

However, as I'm feeling rather more human today than I have of late, here are some more optimistic words of Thomas Merton's, which appeared as part of our diocesan "Praying Advent Together" material this morning. I specially like the play on console/solstice in the last line.

Lucy, whose day is in our darkest season,
(Although your name is full of light,)
We walkers in the murk and rain of flesh and sense,
Lost in the midnight of our dead world’s winter solstice,
Look for the fogs to open on your friendly star.
Martyr, whose short day sees our winter and our Calvary,
Show us some light, who seem forsaken by the sky:
We have so dwelt in darkness that our eyes are screened and dim,
And all but blinded by the weakest ray.
Hallow the vespers and December of our life, O martyred Lucy:
Console our solstice with your friendly day

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Ill advised?

Among the things it is probably best not to attempt while fighting a Serious Cold (I'm mainlining lemon, honey and ginger, spend my days in clouds of steam and am following as much advice as I possibly can, honest guv) going on a coach trip for the express purpose of wandering around in the dark on a December evening probably looms fairly large.
However, the Friends of St M's had arranged this trip, a friend (small f) and I had agreed to go together and (crucially) I'd paid the whole sum in advance, so I thought I'd better get on with it and stop whinging. And, in the event, I was glad that I did. After all, I'd wanted to explore "The Enchanted Wood", an illumination of some of the oldest trees in the rather wonderful arboretum at Westonbirt, ever since the offspring were small. When they were young enough to really enjoy it, we were too poor to take them. Now, of course, none of them had any desire to troop around with their mother and assorted parishioners, so this seemed like my only chance. And it was beautiful, in a very Middle Earth sort of way.
The impact on the throat is uncertain, but after manic garglings and copious quantities of hot liquids I did manage to celebrate the Eucharist this morning. It felt a bit ropey, but I'm assured that even the sung portions sounded OK, so thank you for all your wise advice, encouraging words and prayers. I'm being sensible this evening, and coming home after Evensong, rather than going carol singing with the Youth Group. They're due to finish here for soup, sausages and mince pies in any case...Sad not be out with them, but you see, even I can be sensible occasionally. Just not often.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Waiting rewarded

The Advent Prayer trail was open from 4.00 till 6.00 every evening last week, and because of the large number of tea lights, fairy lights and lights of all kinds, it seemed a good plan to be there curating a bit more than I had done with "Into the Wilderness". For the first hour each evening, the church was empty and silent (apart, that is, from the rather scrummy Dunstable Motets I'd chosen to accompany the trail) and I'd wonder what on earth had possessed me to commit myself to just sitting there, taking up 10 hours in a busy week.
But then, each evening, someone appeared.
On Monday and Tuesday it was the people I'd expected. Those whom I knew would enjoy this sort of unhurried, interactive worship. Friends and like-minded members of the congregation. They simply needed a quick reminder to follow the footprints, and were off on their way.
Thursday,though, was very different. First came a Little Fishes mum and her toddler, who stood engrossed making heart after heart at the plasteceine station, while his mum continued the trail peacefully. It felt as if we'd managed to give her a small oasis where she might not have expected one...Then came someone who is very much part of Ch K life, but not a member of the church. He'd seen that something was going on, and put his head round the door to find out more....not, he stressed, to do the trail, because that would be hypocritical of him.
He didn't "do" God.
Maybe not, but there was so much of God in the extended conversation that we had about what gives value to our lives, our hopes and longings for ourselves, for the world, for those we love.
He told me about the pleasure he derived from the acts of practical service he carries out in our community...and I felt he was showing me holy ground.
He was followed by a lady who has recently joined the congregation, and appeared at our Daily Prayer in Advent several times.She came, she said, because she had no idea what a prayer trail might be, and was rather disconcerted to find that there was no set verbal formula for her to pray aloud. However, she gamely set off, and returned to walk the trail once more the following day.
When the time came for Evening Prayer last night, people emerged from all corners of the church, and I was privileged to hear some of their stories as we sat in the chapel, beneath the bare tree that has confounded the season by bursting into prayerful leaf and life.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Beginning to panic

Lovely clear afternoon, so I thought I'd finally sort out the Crib Service...only 2 weeks to go, after all, and next week is pretty manic. The trouble is, I'm feeling distinctly pathetic, with the sort of sore throat that has turned me from a high soprano to a rather uninspired tenor, and a generous proportion of cotton wool where my brain used to be.
And I'm anxious,- anxious verging on terrified.
I'm anxious because, in a fit of enthusiasm, I suggested that it would be fun if children wanted to come to the service on Christmas Eve attired in tea- towels, tinsel crowns or whichever bit of the Nativity story they fancied. We do, after all, have a very beautiful baby in our midst, whose mother is very happy to wrap her up in a suitable shawl to play Jesus. It seemed like a good idea, truly it did, but what was just a gentle suggestion has become a huge selling-point, so that wherever I go I meet children full of excitement at the costume their poor long- suffering mother has put together for them. If only half of the children who've accosted me actually appear the church will be heaving,- and this service is usually pretty busy anyway.
Just yesterday at Little Fishes, a grandmother, who brings her granddaughter to us every week (determined that she will have some Christian input despite her mother's apathy) told me with pride that not only M's mother, but her best girlfriends and their partners, plus assorted inlaws and outlaws would be there.
And then it hit me.
My smallness set against the huge responsibility of not getting in the way of their encounter with God...indeed, of doing something to facilitate it, in a church packed with excited pre- Christmas children.
My head knows that it won't be anything that I can do or say that will give them that moment of numinous encounter...but where there should be a peaceful reliance on God revealing himself to them in whatever way he chooses, there is instead a whirlwind of churning "What if's" that threatens to engulf me and has already paralysed my creative processes.
I'd have a good scream, if only my throat weren't so sore.

PS I would love to hear any tried and tested instant voice restorers...I'm celebrating at 10.00, leading Evensong and supposed to be going carol singing with the youth group all onSunday ...and actually this villainous croak isn't terribly reassuring when making pastoral calls either!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

You may say I'm a dreamer...

25 years ago, I was clearly more organised than my middle-aged self. I was Christmas shopping in Culpepper’s, in Lion Yard, Cambridge, when the rather tiresome stream of carolling over the tanoy halted…and, startlingly, the track changed to “Imagine”.
It’s only in the past 2 or 3 years that I’ve begun to recognise that there is music worth hearing outside the classical tradition, and my student self was as snobbish about music as it’s possible to be, but the Beatles were different. They were the music that my adored Godmother, her younger brother and sister, my adopted siblings, had played through my childhood. I was the youngest by some years, so I’d stayed at home when first J, then T and S left for boarding school, and college. They would return for Christmas and the summer, bringing exciting new friends with Afghan coats, pierced ears, and guitars slung over their shoulders. These were beings from another world than that which I knew as the indulged only child of older parents in a small town on the Sussex coast. I longed to be like them, but was still confined by school uniform, early bedtimes and the need for piano practice…so all I could do was to learn the songs. I knew them backwards…they were the soundtrack of childhood.
Now incredibly, I myself was one of those exotic beings who had flown the nest (no matter that the nest itself had ceased to exist with the death of my parents…I still felt myself flying on golden wings through an enchanted sky)…but here was one of our songs, booming out across the Christmas shops…and people were crying.Openly crying, in that city of sophistication, where we all had to be in control all the time...
John Lennon had been shot.
I completed my shopping hurriedly and went in search of good friends, needing the security they represented..
Somehow, those bullets marked the real end of childhood for me…I could no longer pretend that it all still lay there behind me, should I choose to turn and revisit.
That was the day that I grew up.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Taking light out into the world

You are the light of the world
Let your light shine, so that people may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
You’re invited to place your glow-star on the soil as a sign that you are ready to act to bring some light into the world around you….try to think of one thing that you could do to share God’s love, one thing which would make a difference.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…On those who dwelled in shadow the light has shone
Read through some of the newpapers, and stick a star in those places where you feel that God’s light is specially needed, or where you see signs of hope that the light is already beginning to shine.

The light that shines in the stable in Bethlehem will finally make the whole of the dark world bright.
Advent calls us to look not just to the birth of Jesus but to his return at the end of time, when he will make all things new, and as perfect as God always intended.
These words come from the Revelation of John, the last book of the Bible, which uses poetry and image to describe how this might be.
Then the Angel showed me the river of the Water of Life, bright as crystal….
On either side of the river is the tree of life…and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
There will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light.
Write one prayer or wish for the world on a leaf and hang it on the tree….

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The journey continues

Just before Jesus was born, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, spoke of what was to come
“Through the tender mercies of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace
Think about people and places where life is a struggle, where things seem sad and dark.
Take a pipecleaner, and make something to symbolise this…when you are ready, place your figure close to the lights, and ask God to let his light shine into that situation, bringing healing and peace.

The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it
Here is your space to be with God, to be warmed by His light and love.
Pause for a while, and enjoy His presence. Take a glow stick, as a sign of his constant presence with you.
Also, collect a glow-star and carry it with you….you will need it later on.

Hat tip to Jonny and to mayBe for the pipecleaner idea,-and photo. So simple, so stunningly effective (though I'm not quite sure what some of our creations represent...but then, I'm not the one who needs to understand them)

Monday, December 05, 2005

An Advent Prayer Journey: Into the Light

If I were clever, I would have taken pictures of the trail and used the trail as a kind of bloggy Advent calendar. Without photos, it's alot less exciting, but might still be good food for thought if you're feeling as stressed as I have I'll pop up a couple of stations a day for the next few days, and you can think your way through the actions, if you've time!

We're on a journey: a journey towards the light that is God…and out again into his world.
A journey of receiving, and then giving.
Walk with expectancy.
As you journey, reflect on what you think.
Expect to discover the unexpected.
Open your eyes wide,- use all your senses.
This is no senseless journey.
Don’t rush.
Savour the moment.
This is an Advent journey.
Advent…time of waiting
Time of preparation
Advent, the darkest season of the year…the time of short days and long nights….
Advent… the busy time, the time of manic preparations…
Are you ready yet? Are you ready?
What are you waiting for?
Waiting for Jesus to be born as a baby in Bethlehem
Waiting for Jesus to be born in our hearts and in our lives…to change us as he makes his home with us
Waiting for Jesus to come again, to set everything to rights…
Advent…time of waiting
Time of preparation.
Are you ready?

At the beginning of time the world was in darkness and we were in darkness.
Then God spoke the word, and the Word was God.
And there was light.

God’s voice spoke through the centuries, messages from heaven, reminding us of the way things ought to be
The prophets spoke for God…time to change….time to get ready. Their message broke into our darkness like news from another world. Read some of their messages on these postcards from heaven, and then write your own

Prepare the way of the Lord…make his path straight in the desert.
But we like setting up roadblocks, allowing our own agenda, our concerns, our needs and wants, to get in the way of God’s work in changing our lives.
Think what might be blocking God’s way in your life…
The path through the sand is blocked with stones…move a couple to one side, and ask God to help you to clear a route so that He can reach out to make Himself real in your life.
Take a stone with you to the next station

We need to be ready for God to come and live in us,- as the carol says to be “Born in us today”
Here is what God says
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you, and I will take from your body your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh
Place your stone as part of the cairn and use the plasticene to make a heart to remind you of this…Take this with you if you like!

250 candles, and then some

I think (hope) that yesterday was the busiest day of the whole Advent/
Christmas period…
While trying to avoid the pernicious clergy disease of “fullest diary syndrome”, I want to write it all down, if only to remind me to Just say No to a few things next year.
The day began, mercifully, with the 8.00 Eucharist. I LOVE this service…congregation usually numbers 35/40, but they neither expect nor get the full St Mary’s panoply of candles, servers and splendour…It’s a good service to actually pray at.
10.00 Eucharist featured that rare thing, a sermon (on Mk 1) that I actually enjoyed writing. Strangely, though I loved preaching when I was a Reader, sermon prep has become a huge ordeal since ordination,- maybe because I’m just too busy to do the reading and reflecting I would like, so the whole process always feels skimpy and inadequate. Yesterday, though, there seemed to be lots worth saying, and people seemed to have got something from it: I’d love to think I’d turned a corner, but experience suggests that caution is indicated.
I was also privileged to bless a 3 month old baby, visiting church for the first time while staying with her grandparents…which was a lovely reminder that our rather elderly congregation isn't the whole story.
After the Eucharist, we put in a brief appearance at a drinks party in the parish, then I ducked out of observing a wedding (still feel very wobbly about these, and would definitely not be confident about the paperwork if I suddenly found myself responsible for the whole shebang from A to Z...but yesterday didn’t feel like the right day to learn more). Instead I came home to finish building the Human Christingle and tweak the fine details of the Advent Prayer Trail. Just finished in time to drive up to church for Christingle itself. Fortunately, despite the 11th hour nature of my craft work, I did arrive at the right church,- as did about 250 assorted children and parents. Total mayhem. Not a clue what anyone got out of it, though it did work when we unwound the red band from around the noble LoudBoy’s waist (he says that I'm to pay for the therapy he'll undoubtedly need in years to come, and it does seem only fair really), to reveal “God’s love” repeated regularly right along its 12 foot length . When the children came up to collect their oranges, I was pleased at just how many I knew…spending time in school is not only fun, but possibly even the Right Thing to Do. All the families departed armed with details of other child friendly events over Christmas and full details of OpenHouse too…watch this space. Oh,-.and I got an invitation to visit the Playgroup, which used to be a Church group but had become firmly (and at one point quite stridently) secular latterly…so this felt like a bit of a coup, even if they were only inviting me for the sake of the oranges!

After this, the Youth Leader and I set up as many stations as we could for the Advent prayer trail, “Into the Light”. I wish we could use the space better, but pews are pews are pews…so we have to work round them, which makes for a rather tortuous route, which is all too easy to confuse. This time round, the trail is only “open” in the early evening, when it will be dark; this means that I can mark the route with tea lights,- so I’ll have to turn up each evening to light them, but that’s no bad thing.
Lead Evensong, then hurtled round lighting aforesaid tea lights, sorting out CDs etc, before the first tranche of Koinonia* members appeared. When this group pioneered the Lenten trail back in the spring, there was a huge gulf between those who whizzed round at top speed and those who really engaged with the process. This time, to my delight, they all took their time, and the whole atmosphere was pretty special. Due to a complicated and total communications breakdown, DarlingDaughter had blown what felt like the whole term’s budget on some hugely superior Glowsticks (this was the basis for a spectacular mother/daughter row on Saturday), but watching the kids react to them (they were invited to take a glowstick away as a sign of Christ’ light shining in them) I have to say it was worth it!
Koinonia finished the trail at around 10.00, at which point home and supper looked like the wisest possible option.
And that’s it.
No more Christingle for another year.
And the trail can run itself, give or take lighting the candles…though I have a horrible feeling that nobody from the adult congregation will be able to tear themselves away from their Christmas rush in order to reflect on getting ready for God. After all, I’m not at all sure I would have managed to fit it in myself!
*Koinonia is the senior Youth Group,- and any attempts to question the street cred of the name result in such cries of outrage that I suspect Koinonia will endure as long as the group does.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Really shouldn't be blogging...

when there is sooo much to do, but that's never stopped me yet.
I'm still purring gently from Sunday morning, - the most wonderful Advent Eucharist, which all the juniors from last night's sleep-over attended, bringing the youth leaders with them, of course. Just before I was priested, the senior YL spoke very honestly to me about his problems with the ordination of women (he actually worships in a more traditional catholic parish than St M's, which has firmly set its face against women's ministry) . It was a good conversation, with lots of respect shown on both sides, and I've been delighted when he has come to me for a blessing from time to time in the past few months. On Sunday I celebrated at the 10.00, - source of blessing in itself, but magnified so many times when T accepted the Sacrament from my hands.
Our final hymn was "Lo, he comes with clouds descending..." which I love at any time...standing on the chancel steps, preparing to give the blessing, I was engulfed in the wonderful sound of the choir behind me soaring into a descant while the congregation were also giving their all. It doesn't get much better than that.
That night we had the Advent Carol service...a church in darkness, lit gradually as the procession wound its way up and down side aisles, into the chapel, and finally reached the sanctuary. Ingenious wooden frames emerge from the deepest recesses of the vestry to encircle our multitudinous pillars (normally the bane of my life, as they prevent anyone from seeing anything in much of the church) and each holds 8 candles, so by the end we really are ablaze with light. When the service ended, the vicar and I stood at the open west door, looking back into the church while the organist played "Wachet Auf" and it was really and truly pretty perfect. Candle light suits St M's down to the ground...the busy, crowded nature of the building disappears into the shadows, and you're left to simply enjoy the sense of history and the presence of God's silent darkness.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

A day of extremes.

Church Christmas Market this morning,- an event that I struggle with, as rather than pulling together for a single cause, we invite the various parish groups to each take a stall and compete with each other for the limited purses of the charity shopper in Charlton Kings. However, it was a predictably excellent opportunity to connect with lots of people, and I did win a bottle on the ChurchWardens' stall (proceeds to "Outward Giving") so mustn't grumble (anyway, last week used up my grumble quotient for several months, I'm sure).

Afternoon of feverish preparation, as the junior youth group sleep over, which had been threatened with cancellation due to lack of interest, was miraculously revived at the 11th hour, and I'd agreed to try out some of the stations from my imminent Advent labyrinth here. It was the first time I'd tried any sort of alt. worship with this group, whose ages range from 9 to 13, and my heart sank when they arrived, hyped up beyond belief...HOW would it be possible to help them derive anything of real value from the labyrinth? They were intent on wild games, and wilder back-chat.
I'd forgotten God, of course...
Here are some of their comments from the visitors' book

"to try and behave for tonight made us think about who we are and why we are here"

"I prayed for the first time in a while. Thank you"

"I found that praying is quite relaxing"

"It makes you let your feelings out. It opens your mind and makes you think and wonder. It's very peaceful and quiet. As soon as I walked into the room, I felt as if someone cleared my mind out and calmed me down alot. Thank you."

"The labyrinth told me alot about God, the atmosphere was calm and peaceful and relaxing. I felt as though God had taken me to a world of peace, and no one was suffering"

"I have been thinking about how bad the world actually is, and how we ourselves and God can and will someday make it alot better"

Apart from the stunning comments, the other big success of the evening for me was adapting an idea from Jonny's book, as I invited the kids to take a glowstar from the sacred space at the centre of the labyrinth, and place it in a tray of compost, as they made a personal undertaking to do one thing to make a difference, to "let their lights shine...". In the candlelit dimness of the labyrinth, the stars looked pretty pathetic...reminiscent of the way our best efforts seem to have very little impact in our messy, hurting world,- but before I came home, I gave the stars a good dose of light, and then took the earth tray downstairs, turned off the lights once more, and enjoyed their pleasure in the light that shone in the darkness.
"You see" I told them "You may be making far more difference than you think"

A quick plug

For those who aren't actually contributors to the RevGals book, and have resisted my inept efforts to get a real live copy to you, there is now a companion website here
We will post each day's reflection there, and will also have a PayPal button (soon!) so that donations can be taken for the hurricane Katrina appeal.
I'm hoping to train myself so that I visit there and read the day's reflection and pray the prayer before I do anything else on my computer...If I manage that, it will be the nearest thing to a successful Advent discipline ever!

The waiting time

Reverend Mommy, God bless her, is embarking on a series of Advent hymns and today's offering is The Cherry Tree Carol. This transported me unexpectedly across nearly 3 decades, to my first Advent Carol Service at the independent (boys') school where I spent my 6th form years. The Director of Music, John Walker had been a choral scholar at King's Cambridge, and was determined that his choristers at Eastbourne should aspire to the same excellence in all things, and his Advent Carol services were legendary. Being a humble girl,(though one who finally made it to Head Chorister,- unthinkable when I arrived) this was my first prolonged exposure to the English Choral Tradition, and I was utterly overwhelmed.
On Advent Sunday we stood at the back of a borrowed church (these services were always way too big for the school chapel) waiting in silent darkness until from nowhere a voice rang out, reaching across the centuries
"I look from afar, and lo, I see the power of God coming, and a cloud covering the whole earth. Go ye out to meet him and say
Tell us, art thou he that should come to reign over thy people, Israel?"
Just typing those words sends tingles down my was here that I first fell in love with Advent, here that I first realised something about the way liturgy makes the eternal present. It was in singing my way through the Festivals here that they took root in my heart and soul too.
John was an unlikely evangelist (aren't they always?)- a Pickwickian figure with a repertoire of bawdy jokes and a fondness for good food and strong drink- but somehow, singing in his choir I learned more about worship and about the reality of God in the midst of it than I'd ever imagined. Years later, at my Selection conference, I was asked how I would cope with worship in contexts that were less than perfect. I floundered for a minute, wondering why the question had been asked since I was living and worshipping in a village where "make do and mend" was the order of the day in most things.Then I remembered the passion with which John ensured that, whatever our abilities, only the best we could offer would really do. That sense of aspiration remains strong,- for my heart was filled with longing for something just beyond our reach, something that lies at the heart of Advent as we wait in the darkness for the Light to come.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Time for a little heaning...

This has been week of such peculiarly staggering non- achievements that it truly almost deserves a post of its own. So, while our transatlantic friends are giving thanks, here is an all too British chronicle of wasted time.
Monday…not too bad. Meeting over-ran to prevent hoped-for visit to primary school to join in RE lesson,-and Kindergarten infant decided that she couldn't wait for the loo while she was sitting on my lap (yes, I know - it was rather yukky, actually) but other than that...
Tuesday….good staff meeting (they do happen, honestly, because my vicar is one of the wonders of the western world) but then I spent ALL DAY gazing at a blank screen and failing to write a Christingle service, stopping only to attend a particularly uninspiring “roadshow” in the evening for clergy and Church Wardens.
This was also the day on which I discovered that I’d seriously mucked up my order for
A Light Blazes…the first consignment, of 10 copies, was despatched at the beginning of November, but has yet to arrive. The second emergency top-up of 6, for which I paid the express postage rate so that all the congregation who had ordered one would definitely be sorted by Advent 1 turned out to be an order of 1 copy…for which I’ve paid postage equivalent to twice the value of the book. Nothing that Lulu, helpful as they are, can do about this. Thanksgiving holiday means that even if I'd reordered then and there, the extra books would not be likely to arrive before the end of next week at the earliest…and goodness only knows where the others are. Grrrrrrrrrr. Lots of time online trying to sort this out- dismal failure.
Wednesday….day off! Caught the early coach to London to meet dear school friend at the National Theatre…except that she was ill in Tunbridge Wells, and the message she had left on an ansaphone to warn me of this was on my old phone number (goodness knows who will have got that…it was reassigned some months after we moved!). Never mind, it only took me 45 minutes to decide that something was definitely wrong, after which I had a lovely walk down the Thames to see Rachel Whiteread’s Embankment at Tate Modern, and seriously considered paying £9 for a tour of Shakespeare’s Globe,- but frugality won out. Now, of course, I wish I had.
Thursday….Birthday of beloved TeenWonder, who entered the world in the dark of a freezing morning 16 years ago. He is not the easiest person in the world to buy gifts for, so I was very pleased that I’d managed to bid successfully for a bargain piccolo on eBay, as he’s now playing piccolo as well as 1st flute in the school orchestra, and we’re all rather taken by the instrument’s diminutive charm. Trouble is, eBay piccolo is not quite right. This may well be sortable by flute teacher on Tuesday, but meanwhile, there is a 7 days return policy in place, and anyway, it’s his BIRTHDAY for heaven’s sake, and I’d like something to go right for him! He is, after all, my favourite 16 year old on the whole planet.
Still, I did get the Christingle service largely worked out in the gap after Little Fishes, managed to visit someone who really was rather glad of it…and even if the new Harry Potter film is less than wonderful, at least we saw it en famille, so perhaps there is hope.
Today, apart from the fact that the church notice-board (one of those affairs that is really a glazed cabinet) was frozen shut when I tackled it at 8.00 this morn, and that I amused the local youth hugely by attempting to wish Darling Daughter a good day as she rushed past for her bus to work (failing to notice headphones, which rendered her deaf and oblivious), I have finally managed one thing worth writing about.
I celebrated the Eucharist.
And it was, despite all my generalised grumps and specific failures, utterly wonderful.
As I broke the bread, the reality of my own responsibility for Christ’s death was terribly real…and then, as He always does, He came and turned that guilt and brokenness into the route to hope and transformation.
Thank you.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Churches together? - a few more thoughts.

During the grim and grisly business of selection for ordained ministry, I took part in a group exercise that involved discussions on the problems besetting ecumenical relationships in a fictional town called "Hardeley". Predictably, we spent alot of time, giggling about possible names for the ecumenical initiative. Was it to be the "Hardeley Christian Council" or "Hardeley Together"? Many a true word, it appears...

Thanks for the comments below...I was specially hoping you'd post something, Mark, as I knew that you had that ecumenical Confirmation happening. Sounds as if it worked really well (in contrast to an "ecumenical Confirmation" that my vicar remembered from his last diocese, where the only unity was in the time and place of the service, with Anglicans being confirmed by the Bishop, and Methodists by their district superintendent,- so that it spoke, loud and clear, of insurmountable barriers. How wonderful that the Methodist congregation were represented despite the absence of Methodist candidates. Presumably the confirmation prep allowed at least some conversation about potential differences in theology??
I've just had a long conversation with my vicar, who shares my frustration that we seem content here to enjoy superficial unity without ever engaging with the areas that divide us.
Tom, do you think, that such denominational differences will come to be seen as a luxury we cannot afford? If so, where does one go with (e.g.) something as central as an understanding of Baptism, where resolution looks difficult (though of course there are already a huge range of heterogenous views within (even!) the C of E).
Here in Ch K, St M's stands only a couple of minutes walk from the Baptist Church, which has ambitious and exciting redevelopment plans to create a huge new church centre ... It would be so wonderful to feel that a project of that kind could work for the benefit of the whole community, and be an expression of the ministry of all the churches...but my sad suspicion is that there will simply be anxiety, perhaps a measure of envy, and then a settling down again to plough our parallel furrows, with no greater engagement than before. It seems to me that until we dare to have the conversations, and establish what are our "life or death" issues, we're not going to move anywhere. Hardly together, indeed...