Sunday, June 26, 2005

That was the week, that was

There's a lot too much going on on far too many fronts this week.

GCSEs are over for older son, but A levels grind on for my daughter, who is not the boldest exam candidate ever.
The parish is cranking itself up for the Ordination/First Eucharist with emotions at both ends of the spectrum from joy to despair. Some people will see my priesting as the end of the church they have loved, and that has to be acknowledged and lamented.
Meanwhile, my vicar's well intentioned attempt to give me a gentle week before ordination retreat begins has been thwarted by a sudden influx of funerals and an overwhelming glut of meetings. Of these, the most depressing was the Clergy Chapter day on Monday. We're supposed to be evolving a meaningful mission strategy for the deanery, which will involve redeployment of some clergy and almost certainly some church closures...we've 24 Anglican churches within the borough, which even an ardent devotee of the parish system can see might be rather alot. The atmosphere was really quite good,- there's definitely a sense of friendly collegiality about the place, which is hugely encouraging,- but this can't disguise the fact that some clergy feel depressed, distressed and undermined by even the most creative of suggestions. Oh dear...
Probably the best bit of the week was last Sunday's training day, when we met our new Officer for Ministry/DDO who looks to be a thoroughly Good Thing. He's written a book which might have made all the difference to my first year in ministry, if only he'd published it sooner! His induction on Monday evening was one of those occasions when you actually feel glad to be Anglican, and particularly Anglican in this diocese...great worship, and friendly bun fight afterwards.
Meanwhile, the wonderful man who has shepherded us through our diaconal year preached a cracking sermon for us curates on Sunday. He quoted Herbert McCabe
"Jesus was the first human being who had no fear of love at all, the first to have no fear of being human" and went on to say
"Our God took flesh and became a human being..not any human being; he is the human being. The man who stood before Pialte, the man nailed to the cross, is what humanity really looks like."
"Suffering is inevitable, and I think we have to be clearer that is part of the Christian vocaction.To live as Christ lived is to invite suffering...Less of the makeover...more of a humanity that hurts."
I guess that's what I need to hang onto this week. Plain sailing isn't part of the deal. Hanging on might just be...
No idea if I'll manage another blog before the retreat starts on Wednesday....but in 7 days time it will have happened, please God.
I think I just want time to be with Him now, really.

Divided loyalties

while the rest of the country (and a good few of my friends and acquaintances) are planning to head up to Scotland for the Make Poverty History rally in Edinburgh, I'll be confronting my Bishop in a crowded Cathedral and affirming that "as far as I know my own heart" I believe that God has called me to be a priest in his Church.
Some of those who won't be in the Cathedral asked me what they should ordination or the MPH event? Clearly, there isn't a choice: they can pray for me as they march, if they are so minded, and I'll know they would have been with me if they could..but if they came to Gloucester, the impact would be rather different.
But it does make me feel a bit out of step with my own life, as it were. I would love to be going to Edinburgh, but at least I could join our Churches Together MPH march last Saturday, an amiable of about 300 souls straggling through the shopping precinct, amid shoppers dawdling in the sunshine. Cheltenham town centre is definitely on the affluent side of OK, and it really brought it home to me how very much work there is still to do, in making Third World issues real to a huge part of society. Most of those we passed just didn't give a flying fig....for all our chants and whistle blowing, despite even the African drums, we might as well not have been there. We just didn't figure on their radar at all...Salutory, if uncomfortable.
I was encouraged, though, by the number of people who did turn up to march, by the press interest and (purely personal this) by the fact that my church-hating son and I were able to do something together for the Kingdom. He even led the procession. Attempts to produce photographic evidence failed in the face of the quality of the newsprint...but at least I know he was there :-)

Monday, June 20, 2005

Another one of those meme things!

This one courtesy of Urban Army concerns one of my great passions....books.

Number of books I own….substantially fewer than this time last year, when we disposed of 14 boxes, with much wailing and gnashing of teeth, before decamping from rambling Fleming house to compact and tidy Curatage. Despite this ruthless purge, the removal firm still complained that they’d never moved so manybooks before. We now have 2 bookcases full of children’s books lurking in the bedroom over A's workshop at our old house, most of my English Lit type reading (multiple boxes again) awaiting L’s departure to uni, in a safe corner of the loft, and the remainder, mostly fiction, poetry and, inevitably, theology, lining about 120 feet of shelving and sprawling on most other flat surfaces around the place.
And, guess what, I was given a £25 book token only on Saturday!! :-)

Last Book I bought: The Mermaid Chair: Sue Monk Kidd (everyone else seems to be reading and recommending it….but I’m saving it for the family holiday)

Last Book I read:
Living on the Borders of the Holy: L William Countryman

Books that mean a lot to me: oh, how to choose what to tell you about?

Palgrave’s Golden Treasury…from which my parents used to read me a bedtime poem when I was very young

The Chronicles of Narnia

Vincent Donovan: Christianity Rediscovered

The English Poems of George Herbert

The Donkey’s Tale: Margaret Gray

The Showings of Julian of Norwich

Linnets and Valerians : Elizabeth Goudge

Persuasion: Jane Austen…
and of course the list could go on and on and on…varying with times and seasons.

Tag 5 others…

Who’d like to play, then?? How about you 5
One Pedestrian
Hopeful Amphibian
Maggi (yes, I know you haven’t really got time: look on it as end of term therapy)
Mary ?
You know you'd enjoy it really. Alternatively, draw yourselves up to your full height and announce righteously that you don't do chain letters, and I'll probably retire crushed ;-)

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Do you know this church??

On Thursday, I went along to Deanery Synod. As you might imagine, this was not the most exciting way of spending an evening, but could probably have been far worse.
It was the first session after elections, and so the agenda was planned to allow each parish 3 minutes to talk about their joys and sorrows in the present, and their dreams and nightmares for the future. A good idea for a large deanery, which is currently divided into 3 mini-chapters, so that not even the clergy know each other particularly well.
The St M’s spokesman went first, and I listened with some surprise. Was he describing the same church that I knew and served? Certainly there were features in common, but the emphases were all “wrong” as far as I was concerned. The projects I’m engaged with for children and families was there on the list of joys,- but the parish’s dream seemed to be that they would all file nicely in through the doors, to become part of the main congregation,- and for me that would be something close to nightmare! I don’t want to see those hesitant, exploring souls lose their independence, the freshness of their engagement with God. I’d hate to see them constrained or alienated by those same liturgies that are precious and helpful to others. This doesn't mean that either group is right or wrong… but their needs are so very different, and just now it feels right for me to be engaging more with those on the fringes,- but not as part of a concerted effort to lure them inside.
Another surprise was the discovery that the excitement we, as clergy, feel about a growing habit of prayer among our congregation just doesn’t impact anyone else. Since the beginning of the month, my vicar and I have only twice said the Office alone: this in a church which has in the not-too- distant past seen the priestly role as doing all the “God-stuff” on behalf of the laity. During Lent, our Bishop’s Prayer Initiative encouraged some people to join us morning and evening…the new CW Daily Prayer was the catalyst for others to come along and you can really feel the difference that this is having across the board.Except, perhaps, if you are busy writing reports for Deanery Synod.
Two views of the same parish. I don’t know what the synod made of our 3 minute slot, but the vicar and I both found it informative.

Friday, June 17, 2005

For two men named John, with my love and thanks.

My father John died 27 years ago today. I was 18. He had been ill with cancer for some 9 months, but we'd become a family of ostriches, refusing to accept that he was growing steadily weaker, until he became too sick to stay at home. Then my mother and I began to acknowledge reality, though we still couldn't speak about it directly. This meant that I had no timeframe set before me. I was a busy, successful 6th former, in love for the first time, about to sit my A levels,- it suited us all to pretend that we'd lots of time.
In fact, my father died on a Saturday morning, and I sat my first exam on the Monday. I was in the school library when my housemaster came in to tell me the news. Then he sent my best friend to find me and we walked round and round the school playing-field trying to make sense of it all. She too had lost her father, with hideous suddenness, just 3 years before. Looking back now, I appreciate (as I totally failed to in my self-centred teenaged world) how much it must have cost her to be there in my grief with me. It's some years since we met, but thank you Sue. You were a true friend to me, not just that day but in the weeks and months that followed.
Morning school ended and I had to face the train journey home, knowing that I would have to meet my mother and engage with a world changed horribly forever. I dreaded journey's end, but as a model student I carried on revising. It seemed the best thing to do. It was English that day...the metaphysical poets....and I found myself re-reading John Donne's A Hymne to God the Father
Somewhere in between Pevensey Bay and Cooden Beach, the last verse became true for me. God met me there in that rather grubby railway carriage and hugged me and held me, and the knowledge of that love has stayed with me through everything that has happened to me, ever since.

I have a sinne of feare, that when I have spunne
My last thred, I shall perish on the shore;
But sweare by thy selfe, that at my death thy sonne
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;
And, having done that, Thou hast done,
I feare no more.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Wisdom from Henri Nouwen

I've been getting a daily reflection from the Henri Nouwen Society for a few weeks now, and it's often well worth reading. Today's, though, was postively overwheleming. See what you think...

Doing Love
Often we speak about love as if it is a feeling. But if we
wait for a feeling of love before loving, we may never learn
to love well. The feeling of love is beautiful and
life-giving, but our loving cannot be based in that feeling.
To love is to think, speak, and act according to the
spiritual knowledge that we are infinitely loved by God and
called to make that love visible in this world.
Mostly we know what the loving thing to do is. When
we "do" love, even if others are not able to respond with
love, we will discover that our feelings catch up with our

This spoke loud and clear into my current context....If they'd trawled through every last word of his hunting for something labelled "f.a.o. K Fleming" they could not have done better. So I guess that's my cue to go and practise, I suppose!

Monday, June 13, 2005

"Unaccommodated man"

Yesterday it was my turn to take the worship at the home for "confused" old people down the road. Because we share ministry there with our Baptist neighbours, and there's a team of willing volunteers, I only seem to be on duty every 3 months or so. I'm never sure if this is a relief or a pity. I really struggle to find suitable material (the majority only want to sing their favourite hymns, but this seems a rather meagre diet for the one or two who are more switched on). I struggle too with the actual mechanics of leading worship in the dining room, where most of the congregation are scattered about the room, at individual tables, so there's no sort of focal point, - and at least some of those gathered are only there because nobody has managed to take them elsewhere after tea. I'd be less than truthful if I said that I looked forward to my slots there with anything other than several buckets of apprehension, but part of me feels that I ought actually to go there more often, so that I have some hope of making a relationship with those for whom this is still a possibility. As it is, it feels as if I'm delivering hit and run worship, which doesn't quite connect with anyone.
Yesterday was a case in point.The service is supposed to start at 5.30, which is just about manageable if you are doing a 6.30 Evensong. When I arrived, at 5.25 they had barely started serving tea,- and many of the residents need spoon feeding, so this is quite a lengthy procedure. However, shortly before 6.00 I finally began the service, mentally making cuts all over the place as I was due to preach at Evensong, so wasn't exactly optional there either. There was a good response to using tried and trusted collects and they loved singing "He who would valiant be" and "Lead us heavenly Father". I was trying to talk about pilgrimages, and the idea of being taken somewhere without really wanting to make the journey,(something which seemed to speak loud and clear to their context) so I used retelling of the Abram story from Sarai's viewpoint,which worked really well. But I did feel so much that I was a kind of ministerial equivalent of meals on wheels...rushing in, delivering what I had in stock and departing without pausing to pass the time of day or see if the food was to their taste.
As I was setting up, one lady, in great distress, cried out "Nobody cares at all" and I knew what I should do was take the time to be with her and hold her hand and just reassure her that she is still a human being, despite the wreckage of mind and body. She seemed to be very sure that she didn't want to be left in the dining room for worship, but the carers told her (not unkindly) "You don't really mean that" and to me "She used to be a nun, you know". This was apparently sufficient reason to ignore her pleas to be put to bed, and to leave her wheelchair parked firmly in the dining room, - .so now I had an added dilemma of whether or not to force-feed her with worship, as it were. In the end, I had to proceed, and, startlingly, she suddenly calmed down and joined in the Lord's Prayer with apparent equinimity, if not enthusiasm. But she haunted my dreams last night..nailed to her cross, if you like, with the well intentioned hymn singing enveloping her in an unwanted embrace from which there was no escape.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Dare to dream...

A while ago there was a bit of discussion on various blogs of our dreams for the church, and I was driven quietly mad by my inability to remember or track down a hymn I'd once sung which expressed my own dreams rather well. Hunting for last minute resources for my "favourite" spot (the monthly worship at the home for rather absent elderly people) I discovered it lurking . So, here it is. It's by Kate Compston
(from Dare to Dream ed Geoffrey Duncan) and is sung to The Streets of Laredo.

I dream of a church that joins in with God's laughing
as she rocks in her rapture, enjoying her art:
she's glad of her world, in its risking and growing:
'tis the child she has borne and holds close to her heart.

I dream of a church that joins in with God's weeping
as she crouches, weighed down by the sorrow she sees:
she cries for the hostile, the cold and no-hoping,
for she bears in herself our despair and dis-ease.

I dream of a church that joins in with God's dancing
as she moves like the wind and the wave and the fire:
a church that can pick up its skirts, pirouetting,
with-the steps that can signal God's deepest desire.

I dream of a church that joins in with God's loving
as she bends to embrace the unlovely and lost,
a church that can free, by its sharing and daring,
the imprisoned and poor, and then shoulder the cost.

God, make us a church that joins in with your living,
as you cherish and challenge, rein in and release,
a church that is winsome, impassioned, inspiring;
lioness of your justice and lamb of your peace.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Well, I knew I liked him.........

You scored as Jürgen Moltmann. The problem of evil is central to your thought, and only a crucified God can show that God is not indifferent to human suffering. Christian discipleship means identifying with suffering but also anticipating the new creation of all things that God will bring about.

Jürgen Moltmann60%
Martin Luther60%
Paul Tillich60%
Charles Finney60%
John Calvin53%
Friedrich Schleiermacher53%
Karl Barth53%
Jonathan Edwards13%

Which theologian are you?
created with

What intrigued me was that Moltmann emerged as the result of a tie-breaker, in which I had to choose one statement as the most important. Frankly, none of them were totally essential, but I plumped for the one that would involve me in the fewest "Yes, buts....." I guess I'll have to re read The Crucified God now! I'm also slightly embarassed to discover I am 60% Charles Finney without knowingly reading a word he's written. Should somebody tell the Bishop??
I'm keeping quiet about my results on the other quiz currently doing the rounds...Rhys, Dylan and Tony can all lead you there but thanks to a disturbing 14% score in a particular area, I'm saying nowt. Except that I must understand emergent more than I thought, as it appears I am one :-)

Sunday, June 05, 2005

A week for pilgrimage

After our holiday cum trek round Norfolk churches, Saturday saw a more significant pilgrimage for the Flemings. My youngest son was confirmed in Gloucester Cathedral, in a service that made use of the whole of that wonderful building to reflect what was happening for the 33 candidates. Bishop Michael met and welcomed them at the west end and asked what they sought from the church, then made their way up to the font, where 4 candidates (3 from our parish) were baptised, and the rest of us liberally sprinkled in remembrance of our baptisms. Next, with suitable singing along the way, we travelled to the head of the nave, where the confirmation itself took place...J's sister acted as his sponsor (though 3 godparents had managed to join us, choosing which to ask for this role was a diplomatic impossibility!), and she stood behind him with her hand on his shoulder, which was rather lovely. At this point I realised The clergy were behind candidates and sponsors, in a large semi-circle which seemed to underline our role as faciltators, who had in a small way helped to launch the candidates on this stage of their journey. At this point I discovered why clergy are probably best advised not to marry their offspring, as I was decidedly this context it didn't matter in the least, but if I'd had to say or do anything more than stand there it might have been awkward.
Once confirmed, the next stop was through to the chancel, where we all received Communion,and finally the newly confirmed, carrying lighted candles, led us all out into the world to live and work to God's praise and glory.
The age range of confirmands was terrific:a couple who were definitely elderly and one small girl who surely couldn't have been the minimum recommended age, 10, plus a good overall balance of adults and teens: it almost looked as if the church might be getting something right for once, which was encouraging.
The Bishop, God bless him, pointed out to me afterwards that the next time we met int the Cathedral looked likely to be my priesting on 2nd July...suddenly it feels very real.
With that in mind, I've spent the first part of this week on a pilgrimage of my very own, at the retreat house at Llan in the Shropshire hills. Space. Silence. Infinite care from the wonderful Andrew and Jill, who mediate so many tangible experiences of God's love...
Add to that, perfect weather and alot of very positive spiritual spring-cleaning, and I've come home a gently smiley curate.

Friday, June 03, 2005

I found this prayer in the church of St Bartholmew, Trunch, and its words resonated with my own feeling about why these buildings still matter. Apparently it originates in St David's, and appears in Roy Simpson's Celtic Daily Light

O God, although you do not live in manmade temples
You choose to work through them.
Pour down your blessing on this place and upon all who minister here,
That it may be a strength to all who have oversight,
A joy and an inspiration to all faithful Christians,
A home of prayer and devotion
Setting forth to the world a pattern of true holiness and worship.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Busman's Holiday

Home yesterday from 3 days in East Anglia, indulging in a little gentle church crawling. Sad, I know, but that's life! Actually, armed as we were with Simon Jenkin’s 1000 Best Churches, and with 50% of the party determined that we shouldn’t miss any 4 star treat within reach, it wasn’t so much gentle as, well, gruelling, really.
I’d wanted to look at angel ceilings, so angel ceilings we looked at, and looked at and looked……….there were very few within range of our Kings Lynn base that we didn’t visit and enjoy, but sadly the effect of so many in a short space of time was to blur the details. My favourite, though, had to be Upwell, where a Georgian gallery means that you find yourself nose to nose with those fantastic beings, carved a good 600 years ago…close enough to touch.
It was the first time I'd been on a serious church-crawl since ordination, and I was intrigued to discover how much my perspective had changed; now these were not simply beautiful and historic places to meet God, but potential worship spaces. My critical faculty never kicked in in quite this way even at the height of my short lived career as an Eng Lit academic...I could still read trashy detective fiction with huge pleasure, but now I seem to consider church buildings in terms of some ideal Eucharistic celebration...and many of these didn't quite work for me. Sad.
There were other worries, too, though. With so much to marvel at and celebrate, so many of the churches needed massive repairs and were clearly losing the battle to fight decay. Thanks to those ambitious wool merchants, these mini cathedrals serve tiny villages, which would never have supported a building of such size and grandeur even in the heyday of Christendom. Trunch, for example, has one of those “the fundraising so far” boards outside the church, and alarming cracks and harbingers of doom about the place. It also has a stunning font, some choir desks with inkwells (left over from a period when the village school met in the chancel) and such a sense of the presence of God that I felt as if I’d slipped out of time and into eternity.
So…how do you square the circle?
These buildings are beautiful, precious, and speak volumes about the presence of God in those places.
They are also huge, rotting, and largely unsuitable for most main- stream Anglican worship.
Do we pull them all down?
Sign them over to English heritage without delay (always assuming they would take them)?
Or allow congregations and clergy to spend their days in endless cycles of fundraising and anxiety about the next big thing to go wrong?
I loved those churches but I came home praying that I’d never find myself vicar of most of them.
The shining exceptions were Blakeney (which had the added attractions of free coffee facilities for visitors, and a lovely display of work from the local primary school) and St Margaret’s King’s Lynn…which was, amazingly, open well into the evening and was so inspiring I felt tempted to begin an academic study of Margery Kempe (probably the most famous former worshipper there) on the spot. I'm not sure she'd be an altogether helpful example, though, as she is noted for her extravagant emotions...and I suspect I do those quite well enough anyway!