Sunday, July 31, 2005

Road from Emmaus

At St M's, there is a designated charity each month, for whom a retiring collection is made on Sundays, and for July it has been Emmaus. As this is the first year we've supported them, we asked if they could provide a speaker to help raise their profile here, and were delighted when they agreed to send someone from their new house in Gloucester. I was a little anxious, when I heard that they were sending Fr G, that some of our lot might switch off if his English wasn't up to scratch.I worried a little more when I saw him arrive with 3 other Emmaus companions, that people might make snap judgements based on appearances.
You see, I really really wanted him to be heard.
Why was I fretting?
The congregation offered him the sort of holy attention you meet only rarely...but then it's not every week that you get to hear Jesus speaking quite so clearly, in the shape of a heavily bearded Italian ex-priest in a donkey jacket...
"It's like the gospel we've just heard,"he said "we think the problem is too huge, so we offer nothing...but if we can produce even a few loaves or a couple of fishes, then God will do something miraculous with them"
J spoke next...a painfully thin recovering alcohlic who has been with Emmaus for 15 years, and was at pains to tell us that they try to serve the needs of others beyond their own community...
"I've been helping to repair household goods we can send to the Ivory Coast...we think we don't have much but we are so well off compared to them".
L, just 21 but so much older than I hope the Darling Daughter will ever have to be, spoke last.
"I had no idea where I was going, what life was for....alcohol seemed to be the only thing that helped...but now I have friends, family, hope."
When they left after coffee, they thanked us for inviting them but I know who really blessed whom this morning. What was that about God making the peripheries centres of light??

Friday, July 29, 2005

I bought this last year, on my ordination retreat at Holland House, Cropthorne. As I'm currently trying to write a talk to explain the need for Fresh Expressions of Church, it seemed kind of apposite.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Liturgy revisited...

In reading Stuart's comment on my earlier post, I'm concerned that I might appear to have become a member of the liturgy police almost overnight, without either noticing or intending this :-( .
I do recognise that much of what I penned yesterday is not really a response to his balanced critique at all. I guess I've heard once too often, from other less thoughtful souls, that any church that uses liturgy must automatically be dead, with burial long overdue. I know Stuart said nothing of the sort...but I suspect that my frantic justification was actually a response to those assorted others I've met along the way. Sorry everyone.
If truth be told (and it generally should be ;-) ) I'm horribly aware that Anglican liturgy isn't often, as Dan puts it "very missional". This, of course, is why I'm praying so hard for the success of our Open House service...though every now and then I am completely confounded by non church couples who arrive at the 10.00 Eucharist to hear their bans (this is a bumper year for weddings, so there have been a fair few of them) and who say over coffee how much they've liked the worship. I've tried to press them, as my experience at St M's tends towards the "were I not the curate, I wouldn't worship here myself" school, but they seem adamant that they've found the proceedings enjoyable - and not just in an "I can't believe anyone would carry on like that" sort of way! I guess that having a critical mass of people who do believe in doing things in the way that they are being done, and are not unwelcoming to newcomers can make many things tolerable, though I do have to say that were I starting from scratch, what emerged here would look rather different.
So I suspect that the reminder that it would be a sad and boring world were we all the same is something I need to hear and remember. You might justifiably hope that after 3 years of training and 1 year in full time ministry (not to mention 40 assorted other years spent living life) I would have got that, - but apparently I'm a slow learner. Meanwhile, at least I've sorted out why liturgy works for some of us, some of the time...special thanks, Anna, for expressing part of what I felt but seemed unable to frame coherently!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

A Defense of Liturgie...*

Stuart at Dog collars and Rabbit Corpses is training for ministry in the United Reformed Church, but has recently survived the experience of an Anglican Baptism service, and is decidedly sceptical about the benefits of a formal liturgy. I'm not certain whether it was the weight of the ritual, or the whole business of a text laid down in advance that perturbed him, but he was left wondering how I coped with it at all.
I, on the other hand, feel passionately that liturgy is a Good Thing…without which my particular Christian community would be likely to go off the rails.
Well, for one thing liturgy provides a body of known prayers (even in these days of multiple- choice worship). I’ve been increasingly aware of the value of this when praying with the very sick…to use a collect they’ve heard every Sunday of their life is hugely helpful when they are beginning to drift away from us (though I’d always use something specific and personal to their situation too). There are so many times in life when feelings are too big for coherent prayer to emerge…but a reservoir of long established words to draw on makes things better as does the sense that others have been here before, in just this kind of pain or fear or joy.
A shared body of texts is also helpful in creating a sense of a community, with its own specific identity . This is specially important for the Anglican church, which expresses so much of its beliefs through its worship, rather than through a series of doctrinal statements. If you want to know what an Anglican believes, looking at the text of Common Worship might well be the best starting point.

Liturgy also creates a balanced diet in which contrition and absolution, as well as praise, thanksgiving and intercession are guaranteed a place, and prevents any church leader from imposing his/her own theological preferences upon the congregation. I wouldn’t trust myself to find the right prayers, the right structure week after week. I love creativity in worship, but I value having boundaries which ensure that the essentials have been taken care of too.

The sense of being part of a community so much greater than those who are present is also very strong. I’m still bowled over when I think of my first Eucharist, and the reality of those words
“Therefore with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven….”, which really bought it home to me that I was saying those words of praise with everyone whom I’ve loved who is now with God. Awesome, truly.

This, I suppose, is just another example of the role of liturgy as a sacramental sign, that accomplishes what it describes. Repeatedly I'm amazed by this...the way that the funeral service, for example, takes us through from raw grief via thanksgiving to a measure of trust and resolution...and does so, if the comments afterwards are any sort of gauge, even when the family have little or no faith to hang on to...or the way by the time we reach the Peace during a Sunday Eucharist we've been transformed into the Body of Christ in that longer an assortment of individuals with their own agendas and burdens but a community with one focus, the celebration of the Eucharist.
For me, the structure of the liturgy is crucial in achieving this.

Of course there can be difficulty in adapting our formal structure to the needs of an un-churched baptism family. I’m not sure, in those cases where the whole experience is utterly alien, whether the absence of a prescribed liturgy would make things any better though…might it not be tempting to present “Baptism lite” and so miss out on the huge teaching opportunities that the service present? . I really enjoy talking through the service with families who approach us, and have found some good questions and discussions emerge as a result, but I certainly can’t see there’s any value in subjecting people to sung responses and complex directions, though…I (on the experience of one baptism conducted personally…) do an awful lot of commentary on the hoof…“we are going to make the sign of the cross on X’s forehead…This reflects our understanding that…” “please join in the words in heavy type…”

So perhaps the message in terms of Baptism is to go against the received wisdom that it is always better to baptise within the main Sunday Eucharist. It’s good to have a body of welcoming believers…It’s good to have people who are used to the way things are done…but the layers of formality which have all but petrified the worship here would not be helpful to anyone beginning their voyage of discovery.
OK, Stuart…maybe you've got a point…. Now, how to integrate the baptismal liturgy into our informal family worship…?

[*In the sixteenth century, Samuel Daniel wrote a "Defense of Rhyme..." and Philip Sidney "An Apologie for Poetrie": every now and then my English Lit roots show
:-) ]

God is....

The kids at the Primary School Christian Club sewed this erbroidered patchwork cushion for me as a combined ordination and end- of-year thankyou present...We'd done an alphabet of adjectives for God when we were having a closer look at the Lord's Prayer but I never dreamed that they'd do something so creative with it, bless them. It even blends happily with the colour scheme in the study.
One delighted Curate!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

More thanks...

to all who prayed for the funeral yesterday. God was very much in evidence. The crematorium chapel was packed with loving friends, whose prayers and support carried the family through the whole experience with their heads held high. The friend who spoke and the friend who sang (ps 121) both managed to combine honesty and love,- in such a way that the unfortunate curate leading the service was close to tears herself at one point. However, all was well...and, thanks be to God, there was no-one immediately following us into the chapel, so we could, and did, take as long as we needed.
I cannot tell you what a privilege it has been to walk with this family through the past week; I found it quite hard to switch off and leave them with God last night, not because I was anxious for them, but because we had become so close. But then, I always have had trouble with boundaries...
But today is another funeral, this time for a lady who died peacefully at the proverbial ripe old age. Her family's sorrow is no less acute, and her life every bit as precious.
What an amazing be invited in to share such moments and to try and make sense of them in the light of God's love. Mind-blowing!

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Things are improving...

at the home for the Definitely Confused Elderly...
Since my last turn on the rota, a new management team has taken over and when I arrived for the service this evening, tea was nearly cleared away, and my congregation were more or less collected in the same part of the dining room, so that I could actually begin to relate to some of them, without turning my back on others. What's more, when one lady was very loudly distressed (apparently she is on diazapan, and is hallucinating in every I don't need to alert the police instantly about the armed gunman she thought she encountered at breakfast) a member of staff actually bothered to come and talk to me about her situation, and check that I was willing and able to cope with her while at the same time taking the service and playing the piano for everyone else.
So, all in all, this evening's session on St James the Great was a vast improvement on its predecessors. Only at one point did the past reassert itself...I was talking to the distressed lady just before I left...she seized me in a vice-like grip and whispered, with great intensity,
"But you're wearing green, and I ordered navy"


At half past eleven last night, I realised that I had the energy either to bring in the washing from the line or to water the plants, but definitely not both.
I concluded that watering the plants was a priority, as I'd spent my day off taking cuttings, repotting assorted herbs and generally unsettling much of the plant life we brought with us from Lower Farmhouse....a dry night would be disaster to the plants, unless I looked after them, whereas a wet night would simply mean delay to the laundry.
I was woken this morn by the sound of rain drumming on the windows.
Got that wrong, then, didn't I?!

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Another quiz...

You scored as Servant Model. Your model of the church is Servant. The mission of the church is to serve others, to challenge unjust structures, and to live the preferential option for the poor. This model could be complemented by other models that focus more on the unique person of Jesus Christ.

What is your model of the church? [Dulles]
created with

It made me laugh...

After due deliberation, I concluded that St James (and pilgrimage) might make a good peg on which to hang this month's service at the Home for Confused Elderly People, since tomorrow is the eve of his feast day. I accordingly searched online for a few facts and legends and found quite a useful article here. Feeling idle and uncreative, I decided to copy it into a Word file to play around with later and discovered that, rather eccentrically, the links that appear in the article transcribe themselves in Word as brief definitions in brackets immediately before the word to which they refer,- a bit confusing, but manageable when once you get used to it.
Manageable, that is, till you reach this memorable example of the way computers just don't think.

"he was henceforth called Matamoros (Open land usually with peaty soil covered with heather and bracken and moss) Moor-slayer."

Is that racism or devastation of the natural habitat, then?? Either way, perhaps not the ideal story of the saint to share tomorrow!

Words seem inadequate....

On Monday I will conduct the funeral of a man just 2 years older than myself, who took his own life after a long struggle with depression.
His family are quite simply amazing, and working with them has been an unbelievable privilege. Together we have trodden holy ground.
A friend is giving a tribute, leaving the "God slot" for me. Time will be of the essence, as we're restricted to a brief half-hour at the Crematorium, but I realise that this might be the only safe space in which some of the mourners can really confront their feelings. So I would value prayers that all that needs to be said and heard is indeed said and heard, so that the pieces fit together in a way that makes sense for everyone.
Aside from the prayers, this will be my contribution, based on Romans 8 31ff

Those words of St Paul’s - brimming over with confidence as they are -might seem a little unrealistic for us today.
I never met [ ], but I’ve learned enough in the past week to realise that his felt experience was that God’s love too often appeared to be interrupted, or inaccessible, even when it was presented to him through the devoted care of his family and friends.
So…what makes these anything more than empty words in a situation of great sadness?
The Christian church makes a claim for the objective reality of God’s love, even when it is impossible to discern it…for a faith that exists independent of the emotional highs and lows we all experience. Even the greatest of saints endured long periods when God appeared absent, and struggled with the restless longings of a dark night of the soul, and Jesus on the cross felt himself cut off from his heavenly Father.
But feelings are rarely the best index of reality.
We take on trust so much in the scientific world,- things which are beyond our comprehension, things which we cannot possibly prove for ourselves. Perhaps we need to extend this same acceptance to belief in the love of God. This is the message of a well-worn saying, which gained respect when it was scrawled on a cell wall by a WW2 p.o.w.

“I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in love
even when I do not feel it. I believe in God even when He is silent”

Perhaps on a good day, this might be enough for us…- but a silent God is of no use to us here and now…
We need someone who is involved, who has been through this sort of pain, and who can do something to transform it.
Paul seems very sure that God is for us…and his evidence is based not on feel-good factors but on the person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus is ultimate proof of God’s love – for he made a gift of himself to each one of us, choosing to enter our world and to go through the very worst that life could throw at him.
Dying the death of a common criminal, mocked by the crowd and deserted by those who’d been his friends…It looked as if everything had gone terribly, disastrously wrong, as if there was no hope left anywhere. Nothing to do but despair. Rock bottom.
But then, just three days later, the perspective changed…and it’s with that new perspective that we can now look at life, death and eternity. The sort of nothingness that was death came up against the unconquerable love that is God, and was itself defeated. Nothing could stand in the way of that love. It forced its way through death so that Jesus was truly and fully alive again. His Resurrection, his rising to new and eternal life, means that there is nothing so awful or hopeless that it cannot be transformed and made new.
It is this love which Paul celebrates…this love that meets us where we are and carries us through the darkness, if we’re only willing to let it.
We may prefer to turn our faces to the wall, but this won’t affect the final outcome. NOTHING can separate us from God’s love.
Another great saint, Augustine, who knew more than most about the ups and downs of life, wrote
“Lord, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you”.
Sometimes, that search for rest isn’t successful in this life. But if neither death nor life, nor anything in it can separate us from God’s love, then we can rejoice that [ ] has at last found what he was looking for and commit him with confidence to the God who made him, who loves him and who died so that we, with him, might live forever in his love.

Friday, July 22, 2005

In praise of deadlines!

This week has been utterly manic…..Meetings, journeys, end-of-term gatherings in both infant and junior schools, funerals, more meetings,- and I’m thriving on it.
On Monday, for example, I had to finish my letter and articles for the parish mag before departing for a meeting at 11.00, 20 miles away. This was followed by another meeting back here, then yet another one in sunny Gloucester. Thanks to chronic inability to keep a sensible diary, I also had to produce a draft “Families Welcome at St M’s” leaflet to take to the second of these meetings. So, instead of footling around for hours, I got the whole lot done, to a perfectly reasonable standard, in the space after Morning Prayer, and felt absolutely wonderful :-)
Yesterday was the same: with only half an hour at home all day, I managed to get letters written that I'd been avoiding for ages, and make 3 difficult phonecalls. If the day had been emptier, I might just have got it all done by bedtime, but only just…and I would certainly have chuntered loudly as I went along.
So I clearly need to build more deadlines into my life.
The question is, how?
I fear that I simply won’t take self imposed ones seriously, but it’s clearly not appropriate to leave everything till the last minute,- if only because there is so much in ministry that is long-term, rather than urgent…but probably more important than many of the things that are jumping up and down demanding attention.

I think I need a personal time keeper (who might also manage to persuade me to depart for a meeting in advance of the time I’m actually supposed to arrive…maybe). Meanwhile, you can tell that there are gaps in the diary today...I could be sorting out the worship for the old people's home on Sunday, but here I am blogging. Incorrigible :-(

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Another Baptism Announcement.

Many thanks for all your suggestions for our tea time church slot... This being the C of E, we've now run the gauntlet of 2 sub-committees (Liturgy and Youth) and still have to clear the final hurdle of the PCC, but the augers look good for its launch as
Open House
on 2nd October (a day which also includes a Flower Festival and a visit from the Bishop for our Dedication would never do to be bored, would it?)
So, a bar of virtual Fair Trade chocolate goes to Mark...together with a place in the annals of St M's!

Baptism of Fire!

Although I could officially have been baptising cheerfully for a long time now, for various reasons I’d not actually done a whole baptism since I was ordained Deacon last year.The vicar and I therefore agreed that the first babe to come along once the post-priesting dust had settled would be my responsibility, and as it happened, things worked perfectly, with a family whose older children I know very well wanting their twins baptised at the earliest opportunity in July.
Since there were twins, M and I agreed to do one each, so that I could have him on stand-by in case of panic, without anyone feeling that he was checking up on me. Just in case I’d forgotten how to pour water over a baby’s head, we also agreed that he’d do the older twin first…Well and good.
Until we came to Sunday, that is, which was an extremely hot and sticky day in leafy Cheltenham.Having dripped our way through the Parish Eucharist, we downed gallons of orange juice with the post Communion coffee set, then returned to church to await the baptism party. It wasn’t long before we heard them coming, - the sound of crying baby intensifying as they approached the church. By the time we were all gathered round the font, the noise was deafening…The infant was passed from mum to dad and from dad to grandma. Assorted friends and relatives attempted assorted baby calming devices…all to no avail. Throughout the drama, his sibling gazed on quizzically, clearly preparing a few choice comments should peace prevail for long enough to allow him to voice them.Eventually, we realised that there was no point in delaying the start of the Baptism till he was quiet: not if we believed in infant baptism at all, that is,- so we ploughed on. Since the boys are identical and were dressed in matching white romper suits, we remained in blissful ignorance as to which twin was irate and which smug. But you’ll have guessed, won’t you?
That’s it. Number 1 twin was a model of decorum and probity…he may even have gurgled gently as M poured water over him in the three-fold Name, but of course his brother was making too much noise for anyone to know! Then it was my turn. I took the small person, by now quite rigid with fury and almost purple in the face, from his apologetic mother. I tried a few auto-pilot mother things like swaying from the hips and blowing gently…I practised all my best distraction therapies…but not a hope.
He was intent on his rage so in the end I just had to go for it. “WILLIAM DAVID!” I bellowed “I BAPTISE YOU IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER AND OF THE SON AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT”
At this point, his brother clearly realised he’d been missing out on the action and joined in at full volume…and the whole congregation erupted into helpless laughter. There was nothing else to do. As I said to a sympathetic great granny afterwards
“Well, at least I knew that nothing I could do could possibly make things worse”
Do hope they’re not all like that, though!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

What's in a name?

The lovely Caroline, in a comment on an earlier post wondered why on earth the congregation kept muttering about incomprehensible Greek things when discussing young people's work at St M's. Listen and attend, oh gentle reader, and you will discover just why I am so very keen that we should get the name of our family church plant right.
Once upon a time, when the current Churchwarden's children were teenagers, a youth group emerged at St M's. The group grew and flourished, despite having the unpromising name of Koinonia, , so when, in the fulness of time, there was demand for a group for the slightly younger siblings of these blessed teens, they called it Comitas. Of course, the children in those days were mega-literate in NT Greek and in Latin, so knew that they were celebrating fellowship, community and other similarly Good Things, and lo, it was very good.
As wave on wave of children replaced those founder-members, the "church family" members became the exception rather than the rule, so that the two youth groups were for some time the nearest thing to mission that St M's managed. By now, nobody really knew why they'd been saddled with these names, but they had beautiful banners embroidered with them, which vaguely-connected adults would take for walks on their behalf during processions on high days and holidays, so there wasn't any hope of changing them, and besides, the congregation were fond of thinking of them thus, as the names carried resonances of the glory days of yore.
Bizarrely, during the same period, the youngest children were catered for successively by "Mothers and toddlers" (exclusive of Fathers and the immobile), Prams and Pushchairs (but I thought it was the contents of these vehicles that needed to know God's love, not the buggies themselves) and, latterly, the slightly twee "Little Fishes" (well, at least there is a vague hint that it might be a Christian group...and they are definitely very very wriggly!)...with nobody raising a word of objection. Any attempts to "rebrand" the older groups, however, was met with outrage and, you see, I do need to feel that whatever name we choose will work for an indefinite period. The idea is for this to be definitely family time, with adults and children worshipping together, though I imagine that the teaching will be largely geared to the children.
Does this help with deliberations? Anything English considered!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Too Much Information

Karen at Kinesis wants to know about the contents of my bedside table...not something I am specially proud of, but in the interests of integrity and transatlantic frienship, I'm prepared to play!
The table itself is rather sweet...came from my parents-in-law when they sold huge country house for retirment's antique, fairly pale wood with fine inlay, and opens like an old-fashioned school desk. Apparently it would have had compartments inside for sewing materials in its hay day..but has now fallen on hard times (and I never dare keep anything inside it, as I've soo much junk on top I could never open it anyway).

Atop this unsuspecting table there stands, in no order whatsoever...

1) a lamp....Woolworth's cheapest ceramic, cream coloured..

2) alarm clock: very small, digital...cast off from middle son, on whom such things are wasted, as even the Last Trump has no effect if he needs to sleep

3) too many books, including elderly copy of The Practice of the Presence of God, which I bought at a booksale at my vicar-school; Michael Ramsey The Christian Priest Today; L.William Countryman Living on the Borders of the Holy; Rowan Williams Silence and Honey Cakes Richard Holloway Dancing on the Edge; Sue Monk-Kidd The Mermaid Chair

4) an invitation to Osca's Summer Soiree (Osca is a cat,- offspring of my daughter's Chloe, and sister to my own handsome Tallis)

5) Affirming Catholicism News and Views

6) yesterday's earrings (silver stars with amethyst centres) which I've not got round to putting away

7) handcream

8) mug "Jesus is coming, look busy" from this morning's wake-up cup of tea. This is sitting on

9) ceramic tile, with geometric pattern in sludgy green, produced by youngest son in art lessons: he even stuck a piece of green baize on the base, so that it wouldn't scratch the table, bless him

10) 2 biros (neither of which will be there next time I need to take a phone message)

11) phone (green...rather larger than is right for the table, but hey...I never have time to notice these things)

12) very special icon of the Nativity, brought back by L. from a school trip to Russia last is small (3"x4"), old and very much so that indoors it can be hard to make out what is happening....but I took it on ordination retreat with me, and in the sunny gardens of the retreat house it was suddenly beautifully clear. Parable, anyone?

13) print off of a specially encouraging email from a friend, just before I went on retreat

14) post card from wonderful Bishop, telling me he was praying for me and hoping I was still on
a high from the ordination (answer in the affirmative!)

15) hair elastic (not even mine....but they never seem to find their way home to my daughter's room)

So now you know...the unvarnished truth of the domestic chaos of the Curate's House. Maggi, Serena, are you still sure you can face staying here??

An unnamed dream.

Both my regular readers will be aware that accessible, family-friendly worship is not currently a strong point of St M's...Each morning, when I cycle up to church to say the Office, I find myself living a parable, as I go against a huge tide of parents and children heading towards the primary school. I've never lived anywhere with so many young families, nor, sadly, been part of a church where so few of them appear. Given that on an average Sunday we have around 180 communicants, this is horribly significant: at Gt Rissington, where the whole congregation numbered 25 on a good day, my 3 children and a friend or 2 made an appreciable difference,-but not here. Since my original call to ministry emerged through involvement in children's work, the hope of addressing this was very much part of what drew me to a curacy in this place. I've spent a year trying to build relationships, spending alot of time in our 3 junior schools (none of them are church schools, but all are happy to welcome us, which is a huge bonus) and asking the parents whom I do encounter what, if anything, might encourage them to bring their children to church. Some of the Sunday morning congregation cherish the hope that dozens of scrubbed, silent children will start filing through our doors, en route to Junior Church...but my vision is a wee bit different, and I may face a few battles on that front too.
However, in the autumn, we're following the lead of many another parish, and hoping to grow a new congregation via a Sunday tea-time slot, aimed at children too old for our "Little Fishes" pre-school church, but still too young for even the junior youth group (which starts at 9). The hope is for about 30 minutes of informal worship and teaching followed, very crucially, by TEA and biccies.
We'll start monthly, as that feels achievable..and I would love your help, all of you, on two counts.

Most obviously, your prayers as we plan and prepare,- that I've heard the community properly, and that this is part of God's vision for Charlton Kings, that a few more people will want to be involved, as a team of 3 feels a bit thin to start something like this, and that the core congregation will understand that this is not meant to compete with but to complement to existing worship.

Finally, or perhaps to start with, I'd be very glad of any suggestions as to what we might actually call it...I have a feeling this might be important, but so far nothing has seemed quite right. CK Praise? Family Praise? Time to Celebrate?? I just don't know...what do you think?

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

A very brief postscript

In the previous post, I mentioned St David's Day 1991, when Rev Eleanor was preaching at Great Rissington. I should maybe have added that she was the first ordained woman I had encountered...and at the end of her sermon, I heard a voice, so clear that I looked around to see who had spoken, saying "You could do that for me."
It took a long long time for me to understand and obey...but I guess I got here in the end, thanks be to God!

An answer for Anna

I'm very aware that I've indulged myself hugely in rejoicings over the wonder of my Ordination/First Eucharist weekend, and was not planning to trouble readers with any more. However Anna, in an attempt to humour me, was rash enough to ask what music I had for my first Eucharist,- and thus prompted musings on the huge role music has had in my journey. In my teens and twenties it took me into God's house at times when I would otherwise have stayed away, made me hear His word in the perfect diction of Kings College Choir as they worked through the psalter during a term's worth of Evensongs, gave me unexpected promises where I'd never looked for them.
After university I spent much of my time singing my way round various London churches, (you don't earn much as a bookseller) and was a kind of liturgical groupie who would go anywhere for a good High Mass, preferably with added orchestra!
God did bring me up short, though, when he introduced me to the church of St John the Divine in Kennington, where aspirations to musical excellence were balanced by incredible volumes of hard work from congregation and clergy alike, as they strove to transform their inner-city community. Suddenly the connection between life and worship began to make sense for me, and my theology of Eucharist (as of so much else) was formed by what I experienced there.
I was still adamant, though, that only the glories of Palestrina, Byrd or Mozart were in any way an adequate offering in worship,- interesting, that, when I'd grasped the wonder of being invited to bring our messy selves as well.

It was only when my children arrived and I realised the impossibility of worshipping like that while attempting to restrain their wriggling, restless curiosity, that I began to consider the possibility that other styles of worship might be remotely helpful. This coincided with a move to the Cotswolds, where Palestrina Masses were thin on the ground....but suddenly I didn't miss them. As my children grew, I learned more and more from them, and my tastes broadened hugely. One memorable St David's day in the village church, the visiting preacher had invited the children to forage for crosses all round the builing, reminding them that each cross was an expression of how much God loved them. When one child returned bearing a kneeler on which a Celtic cross was embroidered, Revd. E asked if anyone had any idea why the circle was there.
After the briefest silence a child's voice began singing "God's love is like a circle..." and we all sat there, transfixed. For that moment, hers was the voice of heaven and I was awe-struck when I realised the singer was my 4 year old daughter...
So...lots more growth in all directions, so many new experiences , especially as the process of training on a regional course inevitably involves a huge range of cross-traditional worship.
I awoke to music that I would once have dismissed unheard, realised that I can pray as readily via U2 as Stanford in G,- but when the time came to choose the music for my first Eucharist, it felt right to return to my roots.
St Mary's, after all, is a very traditional church! And I know at first hand the part a lively church choir can have in shaping teenage faith, so I was anxious for the choristers to feel really involved, without the service becoming a holy concert. So, in final answer to Anna's question,
we sang the same setting of the Eucharist that we use week by week (the shock of a woman celebrating was likely to be sufficient in itself, without too many additional new experiences for the congregation)...the hymns were chosen for their words, and for their connection to people and places that have shaped my vocation
"All my hope on God is founded"
"Eternal Ruler of the Ceaseless Round"
"O thou who camest from above"
"I the Lord of Sea and Sky"
"And Can it Be?"
As for the anthem, - Bruckner "Locus Iste" of the first things I remember singing with a four part choir, my daughter's favourite of all her A level set works....and the words aren't bad either. "This place was made by God, a priceless Sacrament". The runner-up anthem would have been Wesley's "Lead me, Lord"...and, wonder of wonders, that was included in the ordination service in the Cathedral the day before :-)
The organ voluntary was the rousing Karg Elert's Nun Danket alle Gott

Having learned so much along the way, this may look a bit pedestrian; I know many of my friends would have hated every minute of it, but it worked for me, and for the congregation in that place. Of course, if Maggi hadn't been otherwise engaged overseeing graduations left right and centre, she might have been willing to sing for me...and then the whole thing would have looked rather different :-) Another time, maybe...she really ought to do some more singing soon.

Light from the Bruderhof

I do bless the Bruderhof, whose small nugget of wisdom is often the very thing I need when I open my emails first thing each day. This morning's Daily Dig was just right for my current situation...

Only Then...Hasidic

A rabbi asked his students, "When is it at dawn that one
can tell the light from the darkness?"

One student replied, "When I can tell a goat from a donkey?"

"No," answered the rabbi.

Another said, "When I can tell a palm tree from a fig?"

"No," answered the rabbi again.

"Well, then what is the answer?" his students pressed him.

"Only when you look into the face of every man and every woman
and see your brother and your sister," said the rabbi.
Only then have you seen the light. All else is still darkness."

Monday, July 11, 2005

Hard of hearing??

Any of you who've ever preached will be familiar with the disconcerting transformation that can occurr as your words leave your mouth and make their way to the ears of your listeners. The throwaway line that felt as if it was only there for good measure turns out to be the crux of your message for one , and of course, the illustration, particularly if it aspires to be humerous, will be remembered long after the point of the sermon is lost. Sometimes this metamorphosis is a wonderful thing, as people find words helpful beyond your wildest hopes, but occasionally...yes..well...
I do hope that not too many others will have shared my experience of yesterday morning. Realising that I'd nothing inspired to say about the parable of the sower, and was terrified of attempting Romans 8 (Paul often has that effect on me ;-) ) I abandoned the Lectionary in favour of a response to the London bombs.
Much of what I said was derived from the insights of other bloggers, and from on-line discussions which had shaped my own journey to make sense of the horror.
The primary school cross hung from the front of the pulpit, where everyone would see it as they waited to go up for Communion...and by the time I'd finished writing I was sure that I could stand by every word, and that God was in the message.
It was one of those occasions when God seemed very close as I spoke and in the profound silence that followed I knew that it had been "right" for that day and those people.
Except for one.
After the vestry prayer at the end of the Eucharist, I was accosted by someone whose experience had been very different. In my assertion of our common humanity with the terrorists and in my comparison of devotion with fanaticism (which others found entirely helpful, Dr Moose, never fear) she had somehow heard me justify the unjustifiable. Despite my actually having said "Nothing justifies this appalling violence" she'd heard the reverse....and to claim that the terrorists were anything other than totally inhuman clearly outraged her.
Dialogue proved impossible then; truth to tell, it's been hard with her for a while now, so I guess my only course is to pray that we may both truly hear each other. I'm sure there was something about that in the Lancelot Andrewes prayer...

Friday, July 08, 2005

Thank God for children

This afternoon was the final session of the after-school club I’ve been leading in the primary school for the last couple of terms. The teacher who normally runs it had been on sick-leave, and it’s been a real delight for me to spend time with the kids. My vocation to ministry originally expressed itself in children’s work, and I’d been missing regular doses of Primary common-sense since it took a back-seat when I started at vicar-school. For me, the snappily titled “Christian Club” has felt just like coming home.
For our last afternoon together, I’d planned an time of fun and games, till events intervened. Instead I took in a bundle of to-day’s papers, assorted magazines and a large cardboard cross that the Youth Group had used in a recent drama. We talked together about the horror in London, and then I suggested that the children might cut out some pictures and stick them on the cross, reminding them (and myself) that the cross proclaims that there is nothing so sad, so lost or broken that God cannot redeem it.
The children set to with enthusiasm. Very early on, H. showed me a picture she’d found…
“Jesus is here in this…” she said “ Look, the woman who’s helping that wounded man has a cross around her neck”
And so she did.
Then, one by one, the children started showing me other pictures of Jesus in the situation…of firemen and medics, of victims holding and supporting each other.
They asked to use the computer, and wrote one word prayers “Peace” “Light” “Forgiveness” and stuck those on the cross as well.
By the time the hour was up, they had made a beautiful statement of trust in redemption…and we'd found time to make our own "hope" pebbles, too, to counter any fears the pictures might have awakened. What a good thing I can't manage alt. worship without bags of stones.

I'm taking the finished cross up to church this evening, and will probably use it as the basis of my sermon for Sunday

Goodness is stronger than evil;
love is stronger than hate;
light is stronger than darkness;
hope is stronger than despair.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Not an apologia but the only sense I can find tonight....

From "Peter Abelard: a novel"
By Helen Waddell

From somewhere near them in the words a cry rose, a thin cry, of such intolerable anguish that Abelard turned dizzy on his feet, and caught at the wall of the hut. "It's a child's voice," he said.
Thibault had gone outside. The cry came again. "A rabbit," said Thibault. He listened. "It'll be in a trap. Hugh told me he was putting them down."
"O God," Abelard muttered. "Let it die quickly."
But the cry came yet again. He plunged through a thicket of hornbeam. "Watch out," said Thibault, thrusting past him. "The trap might take the hand off you."

The rabbit stopped shrieking when they stooped over it, either from exhaustion, or in some last extremity of fear. Thibault held the teeth of the trap apart, and Abelard gathered up the little creature in his hands. It lay for a moment breathing quickly, then in some blind recognition of the kindness that had met it at the last, the small head thrust and nestled against his arm, and it died.
It was that last confiding thrust that broke Abelard's heart. He looked down at the little draggled body, his mouth shaking. "Thibault," he said, "do you think there is a God at all? Whatever has come to me, I earned it. But what did this one do?"
Thibault nodded.
"I know," he said. "Only, I think God is in it too."
Abelard looked up sharply.
"In it? Do you mean that it makes him suffer, the way it does us?"
Again Thibault nodded.
"Then why doesn't he stop it?"
"I don't know," said Thibault. "Unless it's like the prodigal son. I suppose the father could have kept him at home against his will. But what would have been the use? All this," he stroked the limp body, "is because of us. But all the time God suffers. More than we do."
Abelard looked at him, perplexed. "Thibault, do you mean Calvary?"
Thibault shook his head. "That was only a piece of it--the piece that we saw--in time. Like that." He pointed to a fallen tree beside them, sawn through the middle. "That dark ring there, it goes up and down the whole length of the tree. But you only see it where it is cut across. That is what Christ's life was; the bit of God that we saw. And we think God is like that, because Christ was like that, kind, and forgiving sins and healing people. We think God is like that forever, because it happened once, with Christ. But not the pain. Not the agony at the last. We think that stopped."
Abelard looked at him, the blunt nose and the wide mouth, the honest troubled eyes. He could have knelt before him.
"Then, Thibault," he said slowly, "you think that all this," he looked down at the little quiet body in his arms, "all the pain of the world, was Christ's cross?"
"God's cross," said Thibault. "And it goes on."


An ordinary morning....School Assembly, Communion for the Old People's Home (my first opportunity to be able to offer them unconditional absolution and blessing), Toddler Church. As the mums were going home, the vicar came in to ask if anyone knew what was happening in London. Suddenly it was no longer an ordinary day. We were catapulted into a different world, one of fear and anxiety, where failure to reach friends might simply mean problems with mobile networks or ....
Many will be weeping tonight.
We know that Jesus weeps with them.
Lord, have mercy upon us.

We lay our broken world
In sorrow at your feet
Haunted by hunger, war and fear
Oppressed by power and hate.

Here human life seems less
Than profit, might and pride,
though to unite us all in you
You lived and loved and died.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Before the wonder fades...

I’ll try and say something about the amazing journey of the past week.
Despite my gloomy prognostications about the impossibility of retreating successfully when I could virtually see home from the retreat house gardens (Glenfall is actually in my very own parish), I managed to disengage from all that was happening here and settle into God without too much drama.Lovely to be there with many of those I'd trained alongside, and to make new connections too. I'm going to enjoy having finker as my neighbour, I know.
The preparation time was made infinitely easier by the way our Bishop had planned the worship. Having a serious liturgist as your diocesan is undoubtedly a nightmare if you're preparing for a deanery confirmation, but in this context it was a real blessing. Things happened just when you felt you needed them most. My first experience of a formal liturgy of healing/anointing was awesome: God moved some fairly huge loads of rubbish I’d been carrying round for far too long, leaving me feeling so much lighter and cleaner, if a little raw at first.
Foot washing was rather powerful too…+ M is not one for token gestures. Both feet were washed…not just dripped over, but definitely washed…with great care and gentleness. The Bish managed to be with us for most of the retreat, which, together with the care of our new DDO/CME officer made us feel very safe. Some very important relationship-building went on, I’m sure of that.

Then, to the Cathedral.
Words are inadequate, really, but I loved every minute in an awe-struck, "who-am-I-in-all-this?" sort of way. There is an incredible sense of gift about it all, and I'm overwhelmed with the utter joy of it. After the laying on of hands, + M anointed our hands, which felt like the most powerful thing that's been done for me, ever. It has somehow turned them into a sacramental sign in themselves, in that whatever I do, I use them and am reminded of my priesthood, a non-negotiable part of the person I now am. It meant that on Sunday, when I stood at the altar saying those HUGE things, I could look at my hands and remember the Grace that had been prayed down on me. It operated in a fairly major way, I have to say. During pre-ordination walk throughs of the service, I completely failed to articulate the words of absolution,-just couldn’t get them out at all,- and even after I’d sought help with this during the retreat, could only manage a feeble whisper. I wondered whether this proof of inadequacy would provide all the evidence needed for those who already doubted the validity of my orders,-but on the day God turned up and said them for me, loud and clear, so I was included in the experience, pardoned and delivered.
Nothing had prepared me for the weight of the words, nor for their absolute reality. What’s more, those wonderful Sacramental things that I did for the first time on Sunday are now in a mysterious way, part of what I am for. At the end of the service we sang “And can it be?” and I thought the whole church might take off. So many friends, living and departed were involved in that singing….and in the whole journey to this weekend. Throughout the Eucharist I carried in my pocket a small and infinitely precious “pebble” engraved with a dove and the word"Hope", an ordination gift from a friend who has probably done more to shape my vocation than anyone else on the planet.
Thank you for being there, all of you…those who made it to the Cathedral (Stu, you are a hero), those who made it to St Mary’s, those who sent love and prayed where they were.
Any day now, I expect harsh reality will intervene and this sense of bliss will diminish…but... I’ll still have my hands.

Sunday, July 03, 2005


there is so much I could say about the Ordination service, the Retreat that preceded it and about my First Eucharist this morning...I might try to put some of it into words in the next few days, but for now I wanted to share a prayer I found on Friday, when I was keeping my own vigil. The words were perfect for where I was, and the authorship was an added bonus. Long years ago, I wrote a dissertation on the sermons of Lancelot Andrewes for Part 1 of my English degree...Since he was one of the translators of the Authorised Version, this involved a fair bit of Bible reading. I suspect a seed was sown.

Anyway...this is the prayer...

Lord Jesus, I give you my hands to do your work.
I give you my feet to go your way.
I give you my eyes, to see as you see.
I give you my tongue to speak your words.
I give you my mind that you may think in me.
I give you my spirit, that you may pray in me.
Above all, I give you my heart, that you may love in me your Father and all humankind.
I give you my whole self, that you may grow in me, so that it is you, Lord Jesus, who live and work and pray in me.
I hand over to your care, Lord, my soul and body, my prayers and my hopes, my health and my work, my life and my death, my parents and my family, my friends, my neighbours, my country and all people, Today and always.

Thank you to all who have been praying for me over the past few days and weeks. I was carried on a tide of prayer through the most amazing process...You'll perhaps be less surprised than I was to hear that the combination of prayers and Sacraments seem to have worked. Things are different. And tonight I'm simply lost in wonder, love and praise.