Sunday, September 25, 2005

A weekend of reunions, as I went to see some of my college friends ordained Priest in Hereford Cathedral, and then today was part of my soul friend Nicky's priesting in Ledbury, a seriously pretty place. Lovely service and amazing to find myself able to be among those laying hands on her...She'll be a great priest, I know.

En route to the church I walked up this cobbled alley, where something shiney caught my eye, glittering among the ancient stones.Clearly there had been a wedding recently, as nestling in the cracks between the grey cobbles were hundreds of tiny golden hearts. They transformed the whole alleyway, suggesting treasure in unexpected places. I pray that Nicky and those ordained beside her will shine like that for God wherever they are.

Off tomorrow morning for our Diocesan Conference "Passion for God's People", at the Hayes Conference Centre at Swanwick. Now it's here, I'm really looking forward to this. Some promising speakers, including Steven Croft, Sr Francis Dominca (whom I couldn't get close enough to hear at Greenbelt) and Tim Sledge (who came to Easter School while I was training, and was utterly fab). I don't run to a lap top yet (one day...) so no blogging till I return, and even then I may be a tad preoccupied with the excitements of next weekend.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Please pray

Only a week to go now, so things are becoming a little manic, as we've also our Dedication service (smells, bells, copes and our wonderful Bishop)and a Flower Festival on that same weekend.
In the interim, I'm spending much of the time away at our diocesan conference where I'm looking forward to some alt worship with Hopeful Amphibian, Just the Rev and others. The prevalent chaos of the study is currently compounded by a large box overflowing with essentials for this, including a substantial terracotta pot with a crack in it...I'm looking forward to my vicar's face as we load that into the car on Monday. Something about "crackpot ideas" seems almost inevitable.
Today and tomorrow I'm at good friends' ordinations/first Eucharists; we all trained together and it has been odd to think that all this summer while I've been happily assimilating the joys of priesthood, they have had to wait. I'm glad we'll all be together again from tomorrow.

You have to laugh.

Or at least,I think you do.
Yesterday, I was due to bury the ashes of a gentleman whose funeral I conducted a few weeks ago. I’ve been seeing a fair bit of his widow, a member of the congregation whose slightly demented demeanour belies huge stocks of wisdom and thoughtfulness. BUT she is deafer than the proverbial post. This matters not a jot when we are bellowing about our eternal destinies in the privacy of her home, but as we waited for her husband’s ashes in the churchyard, things felt rather different. At one point the exchange went something like this (all at the tops of our voices)
Widow “I don’t know why some people make such a fuss about where their bodies end up. It’s only packaging after all”
K “Yes, but it’s been precious, much-loved packaging. Sometimes it’s hard for people to see beyond it”
Widow “All the same, I think it’s very selfish. Grief is very selfish, isn’t
it Kathryn? Don’t you think so?”
K (trying to work out correct pastoral response, when surrounded by other members of the family who are visibly grieving…but knowing full well that any reasoned discussion about us all having different ways to handle such things would sound utterly ludicrous when offered fortissimo)
“Ummm………oh look, there’s the funeral director. Shall we get on with the service…”
The whole situation was compounded by the hammering of workmen on the church roof, (so normal conversation was tricky even for the sharpest ears)…and by the fact that a 2 year old great granddaughter was attempting a “Full Monty” performance on a low set table tomb throughout. Her mother remained impassive until the nappy, and our verger was nearly ill with suppressed laughter. Good to know that we made someone happy!

Friday, September 23, 2005

Some answers for Lorna

A few days ago, Lorna tagged me with this. I was nosey enough to enjoy reading other people's responses, but it was quite hard to find the time to think seriously about these questions, and I have to admit I didn't enjoy the process this time...something about the degree of self absorption involved that I didn't find comfortable.
Having said which, I'm nothing if not obedient (walk on the grass?? they might be cross with me if I did) so here are my attempts at the "quint"essential Kathryn....

5 things I plan to do before I die

1. be part of an accessible church that is serious about sharing God’s love with its community
2. visit the Holy Land
3. play the organ
4. take my children to Venice
5. learn to arrange flowers

5 things I can do

1. sing…though not as well as I used to
2. relate to children of all ages
3. really listen to people
4 . initiate 5 new projects before breakfast
5. hug

5 things I cannot do
1. tidy up as I go along
2. say No
3. leave a conversation till I’ve wrung every drop out of it
4. concentrate on one thing at a time
5. make meringues

5 things that attract me to other people
1. gentleness
2. integrity
3. willingness to be vulnerable
4. silly sense of humour
5 .....................
I know, that’s only 4…the 5th is indefinable….maybe its something to do with the spark of God in them?

5 things I say most often
1. love you
2. Sorry…I’m late already
3. Help! Keys?!?
4. Will you shut UP Dillon! (D is our Jack Russell terrier)
5. It’s at the top of my list….

5 celebrity crushes
Sorry…don’t really do celebrities…crushes, yes, celebrities no. As a teenager I had a poster of the young Simon Rattle on my bedroom wall, because all my friends had pop pinups and I really couldn’t make myself pretend I cared about them. Hugh Grant and George Clooney are very decorative, and I could seriously fall in love with Jeff Buckley’s voice,-or Ian Bostridge, come to that, but beyond that…

5 people to tag…anyone who wants to, I guess. As I said, I didn't find this easy, so I wouldn’t want to demand it of anyone else. Having said which, there are lots of people on my blog roll whom I’d like to know better, so do have a go if you're willing.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

More displacement....

But I've just finished my Advent Devotionals, so feel entitled to a brief flurry, specially as I think this may possibly be right, though I don't generally do melancholy ;-)

Songs of Innocence, Introduction
You are 'regularly metric verse'. This can take
many forms, including heroic couplets, blank
verse, and other iambic pentameters, for
example. It has not been used much since the
nineteenth century; modern poets tend to prefer
rhyme without meter, or even poetry with
neither rhyme nor meter.

You appreciate the beautiful things in life--the
joy of music, the color of leaves falling, the
rhythm of a heartbeat. You see life itself as
a series of little poems. The result (or is it
the cause?) is that you are pensive and often
melancholy. You enjoy the company of other
people, but they find you unexcitable and
depressing. Your problem is that regularly
metric verse has been obsolete for a long time.

What obsolete skill are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Just for fun

another meme that's doing the rounds (thanks to Cheesehead and
Songbird )
Here are the rules
1. Go into your archive.
2. Find your 23rd post (or closest to).
3. Find the fifth sentence (or closest to).
4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.

By chance, my 25th post was written exactly one year ago on Saturday,- and refers to my first 3 funerals. Since then I've taken over 30, which kind of gives an interesting perspective on the demography of these parts, doesn't it?

"In the past 10 days I've encountered one family who had been bullied by the departed for years, and who consequently felt both relieved and guilty; one old man who had deliberately severed all connection with friends and family when he went into a care home 14 years ago, and whose service was attended only by a handful of staff from the home;and, yesterday, a guy who seemed to have the gift of staying friends with everyone whom he had ever encountered."

It was good to revisit this, as I've just been revisiting the families where possible. On the whole, they're doing OK...and I'm glad to have been involved with their lives.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A long story

Maggi was blogging about her Greenbelt seminars, and the success of the second, in which she abandoned script in favour of story-telling…Having been there, I can aver that it was a fascinating session, which sparked off good questions and discussion…and it made me wonder. I’m working this out on the hoof, so please be patient as I take you round the houses. I promise I’m making you wade through part of a rather dreary sermon for a reason, truly…so either skip the whole post, or stick with it, if you can bear to.

So, - on Sunday I preached a thoroughly uninspired sermon (yes, honestly Mary, it was) on Ezekiel 34. I was hoping to explore some of thoughts about what made an authentic shepherd, in the light of the prophet’s indictment of those shepherds of Israel who had sold out to the occupying armies at the expense of their people. Since the Ezekiel passage is full of echoes of the ordinal, which continues to reverberate around my head at quiet moments, it struck me that this had something to say to a church that has been comfortably at the centre of national life with no visible effect for generations. The close alliance of the church and the State in this country seemed to have, paradoxically, rendered the Church powerless. It was right there with the leaders of Israel, living in comfort but neglecting the task of transformation. I was too stressed and short of time to think it through properly* but there were ideas floating around about what the decision of the Nigerian church to "redefine" the Anglican Communion meant in terms of different views of shepherding. The primary call to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, seek the lost is always right at the forefront of my thoughts on ministry, and I reflected that the Nigerian bishops undoubtedly believe that they are doing just this, and would say that my own attitude to homosexuality was an example of the church selling out to the popular culture (back to those shepherds of Israel once again). There might have been some good stuff in there, but overall I hadn’t managed to work out where I was really going, and I’m sorry to say that it showed. But one part of the sermon was OK. This was where I mentioned the experiences of a gay priest whom I had known some years ago…For a few sentences I told his story. And my words came alive. Briefly, the sermon flew.

The following morning, I took Assembly in a rather posh RC prep school, which has only recently allowed Anglican clergy over its threshold. I was anxious not to let the side down, but pitifully short of preparation time, so in the end I decided to simply tell the story of David and Goliath, -.which I thought could lead into a discussion of the problems of being very small beings (I was with the Infants, aged 4 to 7) in the big new world of school. We had the time of our lives hissing Goliath, hiding behind our hands in the hope that he would go away, helping David count his stones . .I guess I’m quite good at telling stories,- certainly everyone, including the teachers, seemed to be thoroughly engrossed, and we were all quite surprised to find ourselves still in the hall at St X’s when all was over. There was no doubt that I’d connected with those children, just as I knew that I’d failed to reach the congregation the night before. And I wondered what it is about certain situations, or congregations that seems to disable my story-telling abilities, or prevent me from trusting the stories to speak at all.

The pulpit at St M’s somehow makes the story medium almost unusable, even when the material to be shared would be far better expressed in this way ,- but why? Perhaps because, though story-telling may sometimes be formulaic, it is always more authentic, leaving the teller exposed without recourse to another authority. A story stands or falls on its own merits, and on the way that it connects, or doesn’t, with the experience of the hearers… If I tell a story, it and I are out there on a limb together. There is no chance of moving beyond, to draw in an alternative scheme of reference…No way to tell it again another way in case my hearers haven’t “got it” the first time. You only get one go at it.
Hang on, I’m beginning to sound like a passage from a funeral address. We live our lives in terms of story not essay…Stories take us from the cerebral to the visceral. They catch us unawares and push open doors we barely knew existed. I know that most of my current congregation is very very wary of finding itself in any such place. The sad lady on Sunday was above all embarrassed that others might have witnessed her distress…Church is not, apparently, the place to bring your emotions, your honest, vulnerable self. It is a place for order, decorum, somewhere where life’s issues can be tamed and anaesthetised,- but stories creep in under the wire and reveal things we’d prefer not to own.
I hope I don’t need to say that I operate rather differently…but the St M’s factor does tend to exert a powerful, if unrecognised influence. Perhaps it is this that is limiting my story telling there...I'm not keen to collude, so will think hard before allowing myself to be constrained by a didactic style next time I'm preaching.

*Note to concerned readers: yes, last Sunday was exceptionally busy, though we do always have 3 services, and no, I'm not responsible for leading/preaching at all of them, so please don't be too anxious on my behalf. I really wasn't trying to compare hard luck stories in my last post!

Monday, September 19, 2005

Quite a day...

Yesterday contained a whole lot of everything, really. It began with a lovely gentle 8.00 Eucharist. This regularly draws a congregation of 35 to 40, so feels far more of a community event than these early services often do. We even have the majority looking pleased to share the Peace these days, and they linger afterwards to talk to me and to each other, instead of trotting straight home for breakfast. I'm becoming really fond of this congregation, and of the opportunity the service allows for me to worship without the anxiety afforded by the heavenly hosts of servers, choristers et al at 10.00, so this was a Good Thing.

However, I walked home with a very unhappy lady indeed. Someone who has spent a lifetime building up a safe, happy, and deeply conventional world, only to find it challenged by something close to home, over which she has no control, but which makes her feel very vulnerable. As a result, she feels unable to pray, and interprets the loving concern of her friends and neighbours as nothing more than cruel mockery. Very difficult to find a way through her pain, to assure her that she is loved, that God is still there for her, though all she can do is curse him. She wept her way down the road with me, but when we reached her front door told me firmly that it was better that I didn't come in but let her get on with normal things, tidying up her anguish once again to present an "acceptable" face to the world...and to herself. So home I went, lamenting my failure to connect with her suffering.

10.00 Eucharist was its usual self, give or take a Baptism,- but the moment I arrived in the vestry I was accosted by an indignant parishioner, who wanted to know why, if Baptisms were going to be part of the normal patterns of worship, we hadn't shortened the rest of the service to compensate. As our regular Eucharist is often a good 75 minutes, even with slimline sermons, she did have a point,- and the simple answer was that the vicar and curate had both been too busy chasing our tails last week to find time to adapt the liturgy. Whoops. Lots of chunterings from the faithful, though they were ameliorated by the baptismal candidate, aged 5 months, who gurgled, cooed and generally set out to entrance all present. Thank you, God and M.
I was ministered to during Communion by one of my favourite toddlers. When I knelt down to bless him at the altar rail S responded by putting his hands on my head and, when I'd prayed for him, pronouncing a firmly approving "mmmmnnn". Happy, happy Curate!

The 10.00 finished with too little time for coffee before the next Baptism...of a very active toddler whose mother is confined to a wheelchair due to M.S. The whole family is a regular part of our Little Fishes toddler church on Thursdays, and other members of the group came to support them, which was a joy. Less of a joy was attempting to restrain D. while I anointed his forehead. Had I not just been talking about the cross on his forehead as an "invisible badge..that we prayed would become visible in every part of his life as he grew up", I would have been tempted to forget this part of the proceedings, but somehow it didn't seem to be an option. However, the Baptism itself was a huge and riotous success. Knowing my limitations, I suggested that D's father held him while I did the business...and D absolutely loved it. Once the 3 fold pouring of water was accomplished, he began reaching into the font, splashing enthusiastically until parents, godparents and Curate were all rather more than damp. It struck me that this was far more what we were about, as recipients of God's startling, overwhelming grace, than the polite little trickles that I'd I said something about this as we stood, laughing. Thank you, God, for the way you refuse to let us confine you, even on Sundays!

"Food for Thought" was the next item on the agenda....poorly attended, in the event, with none of those who had enthusiastically canvassed for it actually appearing. Still, the dozen of us who gathered had a very sociable lunch, and a good discussion. The main areas of anxiety seemed to be the likely fate of non-Christian loved ones and whatever happened to Purgatory. The vicar and I had fun comparing and contrasting the theological emphasis of the services in BCP and Common Worship. I know I would have found it almost impossible to conduct a BCP burial, not least because of the need to ascertain that the deceased had been baptised...
Imagine the scenario...
Funeral Director "Are you free to take the service of Joseph Bloggs on Friday next?"
Curate "I'm free, but I didnt know Mr Bloggs. Do you have a copy of his baptism certificate for me?"
Funeral Director "**** off"
I'm not prepared to second-guess God's judgement on anyone...Praise be that it is God who decides, and not his faltering, inept if well-meaning church!
I'm not sure that our discussions in any way added to the sum of human knowledge, but if nothing else they helped us to know each other a little better...and I did compile a rather splendid selection of literary offerings on the subject, including two cracking bits of Stewart Henderson as well as the obligatory, 'Kathryn-was-here', 17th century poets, and others ranging from Swinburne to Mahatma Ghandi. We all agreed, too, that "Death is nothing at all" was not the best piece of pastoral writing ever, though none of us would have argued the toss with a grieving family!

Home to catch a quick sleep (up way too late on Saturday) then Evensong with rather ordinary sermon on Ezekiel 34 (for which I take full responsibility) and finally a session with the Youth Group, including a good discussion of a Simpsons episode, and evidence that, for the moment at least, cricket has superceded football in the popular imagination of young Charlton Kings . The Sunday night group has up to now been divided between "choristers/manse brats" and "the footballing boys",- but the latter group has been changed, in a moment, at the twinkling of an eye. I don't expect it will last...

Nor, it seems, does young love. The final event of the day was the dissolution of the 6 month romance between LoudBoy and organist's daughter. He's fine. She's fine. They're only 13. So why do I feel so sad for them??

Friday, September 16, 2005

Too busy really...

I shouldn't be coming anywhere near this blog, at least until after Sunday, when the Food for Thought discussion "Where do we go from here?" takes place.
I've been enjoying reading round the subject of death and the hereafter, in between bouts of taking funerals, and can recommnend David Edwards' book "After Death?" as a good launch pad for the sort of discussion I'm hoping for. Among other things, he offers the full text of Henry Scott Holland's much used "Death is nothing at all..." in which he goes on to represent a rather less cosy, more uncomfortable viewpoint. Definitely can't see that catching on at most funerals.
Tom Wright is thought provoking too in "For All the Saints", where he challenges us to adopt a more strictly Biblical view of what happens next.
Currently, I'm profoundly relieved that I billed our discussion as "many questions but few answers" as I'd hesitate to state anything conclusively, except for my unswerving belief that nothing will separate us from God's love. Not for the first time, I take refuge in the clarity of vision of George Herbert
Whether I fly with angels, fall with dust,
Thy hands made both, and I am there;
Thy power and love, my love and trust,
Make one place everywhere.

I needed to believe that this morning, as I conducted a funeral where the chief mourner arrived handcuffed to a prison officer. I didn't have the opportunity to engage with him properly either before or after the service, but never have I been so glad that the Common Worship rite does allow scope for penitence and absolution. Those moments were the most real of the morning.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Special Delivery

It’s got rather lost amid more pressing concerns, but Mindy’s bookswap has bourne fruit here at the Curate’s House. Spooky Rach sent me a wonderful parcel containing not only a book that I’ll clearly love (indeed, am enjoying dipping into in guilty fashion as a change from reading about death or planning funeral sermons!) but also a couple of maps of her area. I specially like the one devoted to wildlife…there are some stunning names about the place.
Plains spadefoot?
Common Grackle?
Cream faced loon??

I feel a round of Call My Bluff coming on. Does anyone else want to play?

Friday, September 09, 2005

Clearing the hurdles.

OK...that's the three funerals accomplished, each with quite a different "feel" to them, but none of them awful at all. My thanks to those who were praying specially for the service for the lady without family: it was really rather beautiful, as the neighbours turned out in force, some taking time off work to be there. In the address I'd used the anagolgy of a jigsaw, as I was very conscious that I knew only a few fragments of her life's story, and that only God could now put the pieces together into the perfect picture that he had always intended...but it felt as if all of us there were piecing together a puzzle, too, bringing tiny gestures of caring which, through the grace of God, added up to something infinitely more positive and hopeful than I had dared to imagine. Even the singing went well, as one of the neighbours added a strong and pleasing alto line, and a surprise second-cousin-by-marriage sang tenor.

It intrigued me that in a culture where death is increasingly private, hidden away, it took the death of this most reclusive lady (one of those sad situations where only the build up of milkbottles on the doorstep alerted people to a problem) to engage the community in a way that was taken for granted in the nineteenth century. Indeed, the farewells for this very private person became public property, thanks to a genuine anxiety that her passing might seem to be ignored. It fell to me, someone who'd never met her at all, to assert her unique value as a child of God...and in so doing to reassure the rest of us too. When there are few memories, and fewer relationships to recollect, you become more than ever aware of the strength of the liturgy itself. During the diaconal ordination retreat we were promised that we would be given "words of power", and it was a gift I valued so much today.

Now, I've a couple of visits to make and then I really must apply myself to thinking through tomorrow's wedding and finding something inspiring to say on 1 Cor 13. After that it's only a 2 Eucharists and a Baptism, and last but not least my old friend Choral Evensong..and then it's just 2 days till the vicar gets home. Every now and then I remember that this time last year I was worried about being underused...oh, the innocence of youth!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Of worms and epitaphs

Just before the madness of Greenbelt took over here, Tony posted about “The LAST thing we talk about”, drawing attention to the sad fact that even the clergy rarely find themselves invited or enabled to talk about death and dying, however often we visit those about to travel that road. He lamented the lost honesty of bygone days, when preparing the dying for their death was a regular part of the priestly ministry, and what he saw as his own collusion with a culture that sweeps such unpleasantness firmly under the carpet. At the time, I commented that though I shared his frustration at one level, I wasn’t at all sure I would actually cope if the situation arose
I am guiltily relieved in that I don’t honestly know what I would say…how I could help them with the process of letting go…I don't know what it would feel like, for goodness sake! To know I was about to leave those I love most in the world..I may have, on a good day, a firm sense that it is not a disaster…but to help others to say Goodbye,- oh, that’s a very different matter.”

Well, the situation is about to arise now….in the less emotionally charged context of a parish “Food for Thought” bring-and-share lunch. These are new to St M’s (I really ought to refrain from having bright ideas…it only ends in tears). The plan is that there’s some input from a speaker (this time its the clergy), on a topic suggested by members of the congregation, followed by small group discussion, then a plenary and tea. The aim is as much to encourage the congregation to get to know each other as to educate anyone, which is probably just as well given the nominated topic for Sunday 18th. I’ve entitled the session “Where do we go from here? A look at death and the hereafter, with many questions but few answers” and now, of course, I’m hunting for material.
What do you think really should be included in the input? Have you any favourite quotations or stories it might be good to hear? And above all, can you think of any questions that might launch those assembled (goodness knows if there will be 6 or 60) into excited and fruitful discussion.
By coincidence, Maggi posted a wonderful piece by Stewart Henderson on her blog today, which I am definitely including…but everything else is up for grabs.
I’d specially appreciate any ideas of good questions. If all else fails, perhaps I should just direct those present to the mydeath site, where they can choose exactly what they want to happen in terms of arrangements after the event...John Davies writes more about the project, which I also encountered at Greenbelt. I haven't got round to registering my choices yet, but I probably shall. In the course of writing this, I had a phonecall from the funeral director handling one of three services I'm taking tomorrow. This one's for a lady who lived alone, without any close friends or family, and her service is being arranged through her solicitor, who has decided, in his infinite wisdom, that despite the likelihood of a miniscule congegation, we really ought to sing both Ps 23 to "Crimond" and (how much worse can things get?) "Abide with Me". Yup...the sooner I prepare to die, the better.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Return from Greenbelt ii

I meant to post more about Greenbelt a while ago, but life keeps catching up with me, and now the first fervour is over I’m not sure that I really have much to contribute to the many words afloat in the blogosphere…
You know it was lovely, and that you all ought to come next year, don’t you?
Well, then...

However, I was interested when looking back at the Festival to see that I’d plumped for a very “churchy” range of talks. I’m not sure if this is a professional hazard or whether, when confronted by the amazing variety of seminars available, I simply went for those I knew I’d probably end up using directly. Strange things do seem to have happened to my brain since ordination: I was startled that I viewed each ancient Norfolk church as a potential venue for a family Eucharist when we had our mini-holiday back in May,- but I do hope it won’t mean that I’m condemned to see the world through a pair of ecclesiastical spectacles forever more.
Having said which, though, there were some very interesting things to hear about the church at GB…I’ve undoubtedly lost track of lots of good stuff, but came home with plenty to mull over…..One thought was that the Church existed as a trellis to support our faith as it grows and blossoms, but we are all too prone to turning it into a cage. My current congregation is more trapped by hardening of the oughteries in their worship than anybody I’ve encountered anywhere before, so this spoke loud and clear to me. It might not have been an entirely helpful , but fortunately the 3 seminars by Richard (Repitching the Tent/ Creating Uncommon Worship) Giles provided help with the question of how we might begin to open the cage door and step out.

The thing that struck me with the most force, though, was a contribution from my friend Roger Morris, who was part of the panel for the Monday night Holy Joe’s debate on the church. Steve had invited us to say what we felt about our current church context, and there was, perhaps not surprisingly, a rising tide of disappointment and frustration. Then Steve asked why we all stayed with our churches if they were such unhelpful places (by this stage, many had agreed that they tended to exist from Greenbelt to Greenbelt…this was the only way that their faith survived at all). Roger made the point that, if we were really living out our calling to BE signs of the Kingdom we would hang on with the church because we truly needed the support that would come from gathering with our fellow Christians…Because we tend, for the most part, to live fairly half heartedly, we allow the church to limp on as the unsatisfactory institution it so often is….we don’t need it, so we don’t care when it is substandard.
This, coupled with the 8 challenges for the church which my fab Bishop delivered on the Sunday, gave me much to think about….He and Richard Giles agreed that while worship should be the sort of experience which regularly sweeps us off our feet, (at least one of them quoted Annie Dillard’s words about the need for hard hats to be issued as standard on Sunday mornings), we rarely behave as if we have any expectations of it at all.
Returning home tonight after a worship planning meeting, I’m forced to agree…the one thing we never ever plan for is the mind-blowing reality of God. the vicar is away this week, so I’m contemplating a truly terrifying series of funerals (3 on Friday) Eucharists, Weddings, Baptisms and one solitary, reflective Evensong…I’m not sure if I could COPE if we were blown away by God’s presence…but it would certainly reduce the pressure to produce an inspiring sermon!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Of ecumenism and tomatoes.

Readers may remember that here in CK we enjoy good relationships with the local Baptists, RCs and an independent Anglican fellowship. The ministers meet monthly for lunch in the ecumenical fair trade cafĂ©, the congregations collaborate on a “church neighbours” scheme and one or two other projects in the community, and there are the inevitable joint Songs of Praise, Good Friday walk of witness and service during Christian Unity week.
This Friday, though, I feel we broke new ground!
As is our wont, my vicar and I had settled comfortably into the pslamody of Evening Prayer, when we were conscious of someone entering the Chapel. No surprise there. We are often joined by at least one other person, and I’d put out another book, open at the right place just in case she happened along late…but when another voice joined in with the responses it clearly wasn’t a “she” at all. Looking up, I recognised with pleasure Fr X from the Catholic church round the corner.
The Office wound peacefully through to its close, all of us glad to be there before God together. I assumed, as we’d had the ecumenical lunch earlier that day, that the vicar had arranged all this in advance with Fr X and he’d just been held up, but the story that emerged was far more entertaining.
Fr X had been about to settle down to say the Office in his own church when he realised that if he didn’t buy some tomatoes for his supper the shop would have closed. He set off for Somerfield, collected his tomatoes and a few other bits and made his way to the checkout, only to realise that he’d left his cash at home, which isn’t quite on the doorstep. A quick tour of the store revealed, unusually, none of his parishioners, and nobody else he knew well enough to borrow a fiver, so he went knocking on surrounding doors but everyone was out…
At this point he spied the curate cycling past en route, did he but know it, for evening prayer. He set off in hot pursuit but lost me when I went round to the vestry door and went downheartedly into church, planning to complete the Office himself on his own.
But there we were
And it was wonderful.
Wonderful to pray together as representative Christians in that place
Wonderful that the barriers that 20 years ago would have prevented an RC priest from even entering an Anglican church without special permission have now gone
And probably also wonderful that between us the vicar and I had enough cash to allow him to buy his tomatoes!

Thursday, September 01, 2005

No man is an island

Having had such amazingly wonderful weather at Greeenbelt, and basked in a sun that seemed to be celebrating with us, it was the more shocking to return to reality and read of the devastation wreaked by hurricane Katrina. During the Festival, there had been a couple of panel discussions on blogging, and it was interesting the degree of suspicion that the phenomenon seems to evoke from those who’ve not fallen victim to its allure. There were mutterings about arrogance and “vanity publishing”…anxieties about personal vulnerability….but I didn’t hear a great deal about the online communities that have developed through blogs across the world. Fresh back from meeting All Manner of Thing irl (might blog this later: it was a lovely day), I’m specially conscious of how interconnected our lives are. Katrina underlines this. The hurricane may feel very remote for us in the UK, but having read and enjoyed St Casserole's blog over the past few months, I’m now very aware that there are real people behind the stories. Her husband’s post, from their place of sanctuary in another state, gives the lie to any feeling I might have had that because the disaster has occurred in rich America, there’s not that much need to worry about the recovery process.
So, I’m glad to join in with today’s international appeal across the blogosphere to raise money for those too poor to flee, those whose homes have vanished as if they had never been, those without water, food, electricity…I truly can’t imagine how it must feel, but my heart goes out to them. At Greenbelt someone took my purse from my backpack; it was later handed in, without cash but with driving licence, cards etc. I was upset…still can’t really afford to lose £30 like that, and it made me sad that it had happened in my favourite place on earth. But all it meant was that I couldn’t buy one more wild and wonderful ethnic jumper. Big deal. How would it feel if everything had gone, if a lifetime of precious junk had been blown away? Let alone the loss of friends, families, whole neighbourhoods. I can’t imagine, but I’ll pray. And give.
Perhaps you might too.