Saturday, April 30, 2005

Say it with flowers!

I'm glad to say that Thursday's meeting was not all political. There was lots of helpful conversation about models of ministy, and of work/life balance, and the sharing of some creative new "shapes" of ordained ministry too. We also had a brief discussion about the way different personality types respond to and offer affirmation. As a Myers Briggs ENFP I easily identified with those who tend to spread buckets of praise about the place, and thrive on receiving a fair dollop in return...when someone says to me (as my ISTJ husband did last night) that the essay was "not bad" I assume that this means he hates it and it's unspeakably awful....(OK, I exaggerate a little: but that's what ENFPs do, isn't it?!). The conclusion we came to was that, as a rule of thumb, the amount that people offer praise is the measure by which they would welcome it in return. We also commented on how rarely people actually thank the vicar, even(or specially) at Annual Parochial Church Meetings, and I realised how fortunate I am in my present context. My vicar believes in positive affirmation :-)
So, it turns out, does a family whose baptism prep and service I arranged...The doorbell rang earlier today, and a most enormous and wonderful bouquet was thrust into my startled hands. The baptism, of twins conceived after some years of IVF, had been a joy to be involved in (even allowing for crises such as the non appearance of the organist). I suspect that, in many ways, I should have been the sender and not the recipient of the flowers. Not that I'm proposing to send them back. My honorary mother always says that if you have enough fresh flowers about the place, nobody notices the heaps of dust. Now's a great chance to test the theory...

WATCH and pray

I spent part of Thursday with a group of ordained women in the diocese…the first such gathering for some time, if I’m not mistaken. It was interesting that responses to the invitation had been quite hostile from some women, who felt that by even meeting together we were putting back the clock to the bad old days. They seemed very sure that gender issues no longer mattered in the diocese at all and could not imagine any possible value in being together.
Regular readers will know that my experience here gives the lie to that. Who knows quite what may happen in the parish on 3rd July when I celebrate the Eucharist for the first time? Writing that essay for the Bishop, I was aware that the “expectations of priesthood” part was dominated by anxiety over the reactions of some key people here…I’d barely begun to address what the reality of priesthood might mean for me.
Meanwhile, our hostess of Thursday is married to the vicar of one of the bastions of exclusive church, though I should stress that he himself is on the side of the angels. Indeed, he and the Bishop (God bless him: he is such a wonderful man!) have plans to change things in that parish, and C. has a half-time parish post a few miles away, with the positive expectation from the diocese that whenever she is not leading Sunday worship there, she will attend the Eucharist in her husband’s church, duly collared, just to remind the congregation that ordained women are indeed a reality.
It felt wonderfully subversive to be in a room stuffed with ordained women just yards away from this high profile traditional shrine! We joked about storming the citadel and hugging the pillars…would they crumble at our touch??

One girl reported back from WATCH, which anticipates increasing hostility from Reform and Forward in Faith in the weeks leading up to the General Synod debate on women bishops, and encouraged us to support their campaigns. The expectation is that, since there is no logical reason not to ordain women bishops in a church that has an inclusive priesthood, all the old arguments about ordaining women at all are likely to surface again, complete with the oh-so-essential vitriol. As one woman commented, it will be a “Last Stand”, and those are traditionally bloody affairs.
I would never see myself as remotely militant…my conscious journey towards ordination began only when the door had already been opened by others and I doubt if I would have found the strength to be obedient to God’s call if I’d had to fight to have it recognised. But I thank God for my calling every day, and for those braver than I who worked to make it possible. So I’m posting off my membership form later today…Being largely liberal types, who keep hoping that people will be reasonable, the pro-women groups within Synod are less adept at high profile military style campaigns. FiF and Reform have memberships in the thousands; even if you’re not a natural joiner, now might be a good time to consider it, if you feel that the church is the richer for the gifts of ordained women.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Church Holidays

Rather an ambiguous title, that, but I'm not referring to the festivals of the Christian year, whose memory still lingers in some of our national days off work. (Can anyone else remember the half way house of Ascension Day as a child? We were expected to be in school, but were taken en masse to the nearest church for a service, and then had sticky cakes and orange squash instead of those dinky little bottles of milk at morning breaktime).
Rather, I've been inspired by Lilly, who was wondering why we're so fearful of allowing our faithful the odd Sunday off. I guess that the reality in the UK is that a high proportion of the congregation are notthere every week; certainly, in the rural benefice where we lived before my ordination, "regulars" were those who came to a particular service, even if that one only happened once a month. However, generally when people aren't with us on a Sunday, they aren't worshipping elsewhere, either, which is such a pity. There's a whole world out there, which its sad to miss out on...I wish I'd done a tad more visiting before going full-time, but at least I know something of what's on offer.
One of our recurring problems as we try to move things on in Charlton Kings, is that so many of the congregation have literally not worshipped anywhere else for a good 40 years. We can tell them that other places do things differently, but their mindset is such that they can't fully grasp that, and so believe that "the way we've always done things" is the only valid expression of church there is. We would love to take them for little outings to experience wider horizons in worship, but suspect there would be an outcry if there were no Parish Eucharist on even one Sunday. If we did arrange for a service while we went elsewhere, no prizes for guessing which members of the congregation would not be on the coach :-(

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

One of THOSE evenings....

My wonderful vicar is away in the States for 10 days, celebrating his son's naturally, people have begun dying all over the parish with dogged determination. It always happens, the moment one of us is away...the funeral directors have a hotline direct to the parish office and I've now funerals Thursday, Friday and Tuesday.
No problem with this, except for the fact that Procrastinators RUs (aka Revd Good in Parts) has a 3000 word reflection on the Diaconate to post to the Bishop by Friday...Not to worry, though, it's my day off tomorrow, so I should catch up then. Meanwhile, this evening featured a confirmation class in which my youngest dissolved into floods, after his heartless mother read the riot act over his incessant interruptions and general domination of the group...Poor J eventually managed to point out that we never have any time for Big Questions these days, so if he doesn't hold centre-stage in the confirmation group then he'll never get a chance. Racked with guilt, I'm booking Mummy and J slots in the diary henceforth and even for ever more.
After this, did a funeral visit....the husband was weepy but determined. The dog, a rather beautiful Sheltie, was equally determined...that no other woman would be allowed into her mum's sitting room. Why couldn't she have bitten a hole in my sadder pair of jeans??...these ones had been OK till then...but I had to pretend that nothing much had happened, as the poor man was in such a state anyway. Toothmarks on my leg, but no blood shed, so presumably I'm unlikely to be more rabid than usual in the morning!
Finally, got home just after 9.00 to discover that darling husband, who was due to depart for London at sparrow tweet tomorrow, had somehow managed to fill his petrol driven Volvo with was having to siphon it all out and then start again...
If I included this evening in the "Reflections..." essay, I think I might think twice about priesting me. Discretion is the better part of valour, so they say.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Reflecting on reflecting...

Back in a crumpled heap from the Open Group meeting. The ladies (yes, quite definitely all "ladies"...and all of a certain age,- almost indistinguishable from mainstream MU now!) were friendly and interested, as might have been predicted. Less predictable was the realisation that I really enjoyed the experience of putting the talk together, once I'd worked out what I was trying to do. Thanks so much for all your tips, suggestions and inspired stories...most of them found their way in somewhere, and I was encouraged by the discovery that more of my past life was actively involved in Kathryn the Curate than I had noticed before. It's fun looking at the course of the journey and seeing what God was up to at earlier stages, when you were too busy living it to notice!
A particular "hit" was showing my stoles, and using those as launch pad for discussion of differing ministries of priest and deacon...A particular "low", for me, was talking them through my diary for next week. Just reading about it exhausted me...but I guess there's no fear of it being one of those weeks when I wonder what I'm for. Overall, I was cheered too by how much I do actually do...regular readers will know that I tend to agonise over not giving value for stipend, but when I considered the activities of a typical week, I have to concede that I must be spending some time doing what I should be.
Apparently the parish had no idea of the burgeoning relationships with our schools here, so it was lovely to be able to share some good news, at the end of a day that included Assembly at the Infants, after-school club at one of the primaries, and a planning meeting with the Reception teacher at the other one, whose class is visiting church on Monday. Funnily enough, all this has started happening in the months since July last year. Did I ever wonder if I'd got things wrong by training initially as a Reader for Children's Ministry???
The Open Group kindly said that they'd learned things tonight. Not half as much as the Curate, I'll bet :-)

Monday, April 18, 2005

Will I ever learn?

Way back in the autumn, I was foolish enough to accept an invitation from the "Open Group" (a derivative of the Mother's Union here, for those who are working and thus miss out on MU afternoon meetings) to talk to them...about being a curate! How stupid can I get???
They want 45 minutes filled this Friday, and it really might be a struggle, as I 'm confronted with the awful realisation that in the 9 months I've been here, of the events worth recounting, 50% will be things they already know all about, and the other 50% will be things they mustn't know about.
I guess all I can do is talk about the journey so far, pray for lots of (answerable) questions..maybe give them a chance to tell me 1o things they wish their clergy knew...and if all else fails, go for community singing.
Of course, if any of you have particularly entertaining anecdotes which you wouldn't mind lending me, it might improve the mix a little.
The talk's title? Yup, you've guessed it....Good in Parts.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Unitarian Jihad strikes here....

Startling new underground group spreads lack of panic! Citizens declare
themselves "relatively unafraid" of threats of undeclared rationality.
People can still go to France, terrorist leader says.

My Unitarian Jihad Name is: The Dagger of Sweet Reason.

Get your Unitarian Jihad Name here
with thanks to Liz
for a welcome diversion from sermon-block (factor 15 at least ;-) )

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The unpopular concept of repentence.

Along with many another, I've been pondering the public reaction to the prayer of penitence during that wedding last week. I suspect that popular sensibilities, shaped by a throw away culture where things are better disposed of than mended and "love means never having to say you are sorry", simply find the whole idea of acknowledging a painful past abhorrent. Better to pretend that it has never been, rather than give it a long hard look and seek help, from whatever source, to make a fresh start…
The trouble is, of course, that this never really works.
Each of us is the sum of our past experiences, good or bad, and so hurts and disappointments lurk, waiting to trip us up at our most vulnerable moments. That's why it's so wonderful to be able to confront them, knowing that they are part of the person you are, and then allow yourself to be loved despite them. Surely it's an essential part of the process of beginning a new life with another person, to accept that they know all about you, and still choose to love you.
But, if seeing yourself and your relationships clearly is important as we move through of rites of passage, then I've been guilty in the past year of depriving people of this opportunity. Whether from kindness or cowardice, I tend not to use the penitential material included in the Common Worship Funeral service. Somehow it has almost always felt too heavy, when the mourners are at best agnostic. In my anxiety to be "pastoral" I've majored on the fact that nothing can separate us from God’s love, without allowing time to pause and consider those elements of the past that might make this specially welcome news. When we meet with mourners, there is so much that we cannot “make better”, and in simple human terms this includes damaged relationships. To be truly reassuring, words of forgiveness need to be spoken by the one voice that is now silent. With only an hour’s visit, it feels hard to probe beyond the non-negotiable fact of a life that has ended, and it can be difficult even to glean the details of that life to make the service real for those who attend. Not surprising, then, that I hesitate to suggest that there might be things to regret, but that there is still something to be done. That it’s not too late, after all.
I need to get over this, though, don’t I? I’m only involved at all because I represent a hope beyond the simply human. One of the final nudges towards ordination for me was a conversation with someone who badly needed to hear that her past was behind her, that a fresh start was possible. I hated the feeling, then, that I lacked the Church’s authority to speak the absolution she craved…I guess I need to remember her, as I knock on the door for the next funeral visit.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Of mission and mission statements...

I’ve been enjoying a week off work, exploring northern university cities with Luci and learning just how very paralysing a neck can be (made the fatal error of coughing in my sleep on Tuesday night, as a result of which Wednesday and Thursday vanished as if they'd never been…Just who decreed that one should always be ill during holidays?? It’s not fair!) While I've been away, there’s been a lot of discussion on mission and evangelism about the place. Maggi is rejoicing that overt "come and fill our pews" evangelism is not part of her job description, while Tom is considering ways of engaging with those who will be more deterred than encouraged by worship in their parish church and Dave has a critique of manipulative techniques that seek to scare or bribe people into the Kingdom. All in all, there's lots that I'm glad not to be doing...However,no prizes for guessing that the subject is one which concerns me hugely: after all, there's not much point in being in full- time ministry, if you don't long to share something of the Good News with a needy world. But how...?

As I think I’ve mentioned before, St Mary’s ' mission statement' is a pretty accurate expression of where the church is at the moment. It reads…
To nourish our spiritual growth through worship and to encourage more people
to find God through reaching out into the community"
The church has a proud tradition of Anglo Catholic worship and there remains a great hope that if that works, all else will follow. Hence the tension between rash “young” curates (if only!), who want to challenge the way things are done, (or at least to ensure that everyone knows just why they are done that way) , and those who assert that beautiful worship has a stand-alone value, which will inevitably attract people to the God whom it celebrates. Visiting another parish of similar churchmanship, but less demanding traditions last weekend, I was refreshed by the lack of anxiety, which was only partially the result of my own "off duty" status. I think we might be in danger of letting the hows of worship ovewhelm the whys, with disasterous effect.
Of course, many do find nourishment and inspiration Sunday by Sunday, which enables them to live as Kingdom people all through the week, but sometimes the connection between Sunday worship and Monday world feels scarily tenuous. Too often, too, the church seems to exert a kind of centrifugal force, sucking in the energies of those in its orbit, rather than sending them forth, inspired to live and work to God's praise and glory. Perhaps in our emphasis on Eucharist thanksgiving rather than Mass (Ite, Missa est) we are unconsciously reinforcing this inward pull...but as a Eucharistic community, we are called to bring the whole of our lives to the altar.
Worship and mission are inextricably connected, and neither can be a substitute for the other. Achieving a balance should, by God's grace, enable us to be good news for our communities...but how?

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Tactical editing

Today, one of my good friends in the parish phoned to say that she had found my blog...apparently via the wonderful google link Kathryn Fleming, Superstar :-).
This ain't a problem in itself....there's very little about my life and times here I'm not happy to share with her, and indeed overall I'd tried quite hard not to post anything that I couldn't/wouldn't decently say to the people concerned. However, she wisely pointed out that some of those concerned are a tad too identifiable and might not relish having our differences of outlook revealed to a potentially larger audience....So, on that basis, I've pulled one or two recent posts, and would be very grateful for early warning if either of my readers thinks I might be sailing that bit too close to the wind.
Therapeutic blogging is all very well, but she's right that this really isn't the place for sustained rants. So...stand by your in-boxes, next time I have a parochial crisis.I'll have to whinge by (relative) stealth....and please do keep up the prayers for all of us. Like most Anglican parishes, we live in interesting times!

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Golden Lads and Girls...

Drove to Somerset on Friday to collect the lovely Luci from Kilve Court, where she had been revelling in a 3 day writing course courtesy of wonderful Beth Webb
Beth adopted Luci at Greenbelt a couple of years ago, and has been encouraging her writing and generally inspiring her ever since,- not least by inviting her on the “Breaking the Moulds” course at Kilve last year. This had been a huge success for L and I have to admit that I was worried that this year might fail to match previous experience, but when I arrived on Friday it was obvious that happiness was shining from every pore. She has basked in the company of kindred spirits, told tales, shared enchantments….
Uncharacteristically, I got there in time to hear the students present a piece of writing each, and there was some remarkable work to hear. There were also some huge and colourful personalities about the place, and I couldn’t help musing as to where they would be in 10 years time. In an ideal world, they would all be free to be their glorious, creative selves morning noon and night…but reality being what it is, the chances are that a good few will have to become accountants or even tax inspectors. I pray that they all find ways to keep that glow, for growing up surely need not mean damping down.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Small smiley announcement

Today,for the first time in 20 years,I am the slightly proud owner of a cello. It was a rescue operation. Nobody who takes their music at all seriously would give houseroom to a damaged chinese school cello...but it's perfect for me, as it can sit in a corner for months on end, if that's how life works out, and will still be having a happier time than might otherwise have been its lot.
Having played for about half an hour, I've remembered just how appalling I was, and why I gave up in the first place, but nonetheless, it does feel good to have a cello about the place again, and I've told our rather posh violin and viola to be kind to it, or there will be trouble.
Apologies in advance to any neighbours reading this ;-)

Friday, April 01, 2005

Thank you, Jane and Arthur

Reading through those Commandments again, I remember with gratitude Jane and Arthur.
You won't know them.
He had retired from an army career as a Lt.Colonel (something I always found hard to reconcile with his essentially pacific, gentle heart), she was a human dynamo, one of those endlessly energetic ladies who for generations formed the backbone of the rural church, never sitting still, always baking a cake or providing a taxi service for someone who needed to get to an medical appointment. He was immaculate in tweeds, and used to delight Lucinda by touching his cap to her if he met her in the village.
Jane was surely the one for whom twin-set and pearls were invented.
Both of them adopted my children on our chaotic arrival in Great Rissington 15 years ago.
Can I have been the only woman in the history of that medieval church ever to breastfeed there? (couldn't get out...trapped by the crowds at our first ever appearance in the village, the Carol Service only days after our arrival). I'm sure, with hindsight, they were both appalled at my indecorum, but they never let it show...simply made sure they admired the infant Giles at the end of the service.
The relationship progressed from greetings exchanged as hymn books were handed out, to an invitation to the 4 year old L. to share in the handing out, till one Sunday came the inevitable
"I'm not going to sit with you in Church this week, Mummy. I want to be with Granny Beddoe"
As my children grew, they all came to love Jane and Arthur,- he who struggled to get a word in edgeways, but had such a lovely dry wit. He would frequently find time to discuss life's big questions with Giles,- one nearly 10, the other over 80 but both respecting the other deeply.
At this stage, Arthur was still Church Warden, and there was much theology exchanged as they polished brass candlesticks together. It was so good to see (especially as the early death of my own parents means that my 3 were always short of potential relationships with the older generation).
More than anyone else, they made my children feel that the people at church were truly their family. They lived out each of those Commandments and by nurturing our children, nurtured us too, enabling me to worship Sunday by Sunday, rather than living with the endless child-control exercises that are often the lot of parents in a tiny church where yours are the only children.
Without them, I would never have been quiet enough to hear God say , as the visiting preacher, the first female Canon of Gloucester Cathedral, began her talk
"You could do that for me..."
Arthur died not long before we left the village. At his funeral, the church was packed with friends and family. My children extricated themselves from mock exams and polished their shoes without being asked. Arthur's shoes shone so that you could see to brush your hair.
Their son gave an address, presenting his father's life as an illustration of the truth
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God"
Seeing Him, they enabled others to see him too.
Thank you both.