Monday, October 31, 2005


This evening our Cathedral was full of noise, light and excitement as the Diocesan Youth Officer and an army of young people and leaders from all over the county came together to reclaim Halloween, and stage what Wonderful Bishop described as "the best party in Gloucestershire". Being a bear of very little brain, I had managed to double book myself, so had to be content with delivering LoudBoy and helping to set up (running into all sorts of wonderful people as I did so) while casting covetous glances round at the amazingly creative range of stations that groups had producedon the themes of Inspirations, Saints and Jesus. I then had to flee, Cinderella like, before the evening really began...but I managed to shoot over to the parish, lead a meeting, and get back to the Cathedral before I turned into a pumpkin, so all was well.

Our group had produced one of the "Jesus Zone" stations, which included a graffitti board for the young to respond to the varied images of the Lord (taken from that wonderful resource "The Christ we Share", which never fails to challenge and disturb me) and I was struck by one comment "Jesus is the best at being Himself". My alternative committment (an annual social for the "Church neighbours" scheme, this year focusing on bereavement), left me considering the many layers of protective pretence that we so often adopt, so this hit me fair and square. Jesus is the best at being Himself because He is totally at home with his own need, and no room, for deception or aspiration. Perfectly Himself, in perfect integrity.

When I returned worship was under way...Fantastic atmosphere, and the visual impact of several hundred glow sticks being held aloft while we sang "Light of the world, you stepped down into darkness" was simply stunning. So much genuine enthusiasm and love about the really was a light blazing against the backdrop of some rather silly, and even sinister Halloween revellries which were much in evidence as I drove there and back. Thanks be to God!

One year later..

we held our second "Journey On" service, to which we'd specifically invited all those we'd encountered via funeral ministry in the past year. 80 letters went out, but 80 service sheets proved distinctly inadequate, and my guess would be that more than 100 people finally appeared in the church. We used the same liturgy I'd put together last year, drawing heavily on the wonderful words of Dorothy McRae McMahon, and I preached on Isaiah 43, which seemed to go down very well.
But what I'm left pondering is why these people, who so appreciated the space, the opportunity to pray, weep and be held last night, have such low expectations of the Church that most of them don't dream of darkening our doors at other times? I had some good conversations over a glass of wine afterwards, and have alot of visiting to do in the next few weeks, but I wish there were some way of connecting more regularly with people who are clearly not ill-disposed towards church, nor unconcious of their needs...
I wish, too, that I'd known the identity of the unhappy lady who left immediately the service ended. Neither the vicar nor I recognised her, and she was so very distraught. Please take a moment to pray for her, if you will.

Meanwhile, here are my thoughts on Isaiah; I found it quite a struggle to avoid preaching another funeral sermon, but was reasonably content with the end result.

Last week a group of us from St Mary’s spent 4 days in the Lake District. It was my first proper visit to the area, and I’m longing to go back, though I have to confirm that my worst suspicions about the gallons of water needed to make lakes were amply realised.
It rained, and rained, and rained some more.
We went exploring by car on Monday as the surface water grew deeper, the unexpected fords more regular and in several valleys it was simply not possible to determine whether we were looking at well established tarns, or patches of floodwater that had only appeared that morning. Then my navigator suggested that I take the next turning left, down a fairly steep gradient. I signalled and duly left the main road, only to find myself at the top of what appeared to be a river in full spate. There was literally nothing to suggest that there was actually a road there at all; water swirled all around me, carrying piles of autumn debris and small stones rapidly down hill….but I was assured that my route lay through the flood. It was a steep and narrow road, and Volvo estates are big cars, so I wasn’t too keen on turning anyway….and besides, my passengers were sure that this was a huge adventure. I wasn’t. Actually, I was terrified. The force of the water just seemed too great, and I couldn't see the end of it, even though my brain told me that logically, once the gradient levelled out, the flood would drain away and things would be manageable once again. I was praying some rather fervent prayers as I crawled down the hill, though,- having to trust that the course I was steering would keep me on the tarmac that I could no longer see, that the rising water wouldn’t short the car’s electrics and bring me to a halt, that we’d get through the whole thing unscathed.
Clearly, I’m here to tell the tale, but it did strike me that the whole experience was quite close to that which Isaiah highlights, and indeed to the journey through loss and grief that so many of you are taking. You’ll have seen other people dealing with bereavement, so you know that theoretically survival is possible…but you know too that your own journey is unique, as unique as the relationship that has been interrupted by death, as unique as the people involved. And some days it may feel as if it’s not something that you’ll get through at all.
But the God who spoke so reassuringly to his people through the prophecies of Isaiah is still alive and active in the world today. He does not promise that it will be easy going…he does not even say “IF” you pass through deep waters, but “WHEN” for, having lived a human life as Jesus, God knows all the sum of pain and heartache that we may endure. He knows our overwhelming feelings of grief, of confusion, of being adrift without the usual landmarks of our world. After all, this is the same God who hung on the cross and cried “Why have you forsaken me?”
God knows all this, for he has been here too.
More, he promises, he will stay with us through the process.
There is something wonderfully intimate in his assurance that he has called each of us by name…that we belong to him, each one of us precious children whom he will never allow to sink without trace.
And that promise holds good, too, for those whom we’ve lost. The last verses of our reading give a picture of a wonderful reunion of Father and children, from all the furthest corners of the earth, and from all the ages
“Everyone whom I called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made”.
The Christian belief that God made us for relationship with Him means that we don’t have to fear that any of us will really be washed away, whether by our experiences of mourning or by the reality of death. It does not miraculously clear the road ahead of us, but it does offer an assurance that the journey has meaning, for it is leading us to a place of safety, a place where God’s loving welcome awaits us all.
But in travelling on, we acknowledge that we are changed by the route we have taken…that the relationships and experiences that lie behind us make us the people whom we are, for better or worse. We may be moving towards a kind of healing, but we will never be the same people. It’s important to remember that for Jesus the place of resurrection was not the same as the place of crucifixion, and that what happened there was not resuscitation, a restoration of pre-existing normality. Even after Easter, nothing WAS ever the same again. The risen life was new and utterly different from what had gone before…and so we too will find ourselves in a different, unfamiliar landscape, which may not feel much like home at first.
Then is the time to remember that our present, as much as our past and our future, is safely held in God’s hands…That when we struggle on our journey, he is always willing to carry us, and that having called us by name, he will never let us go until we too are safe home at journey’s end.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Another place

On our way home from Rydal (on the only fine day of our stay) we detoured to Crosby Sands to see Antony Gormley’s Another Place. John and Liz have both blogged in some detail about the work...100 naked male figures, scattered along 3 km of sea shore, gazing out to sea,- recalling all those who made the voyage from Liverpool to the States in search of fortune, or at least survival. Gormley says "It is no hero, no ideal, just the industrially reproduced body of a middle-aged man trying to remain standing and trying to breathe, facing a horizon busy with ships moving materials and manufactured things around the planet."

The tide was right out when we visited, so we missed seeing the figures in varying stages of immersion, but it was fascinating the way that those furthest from shore had patterns of barnacles working their way up legs and bodies. I loved how people seemed to relate to them, too. A fine day in half term meant that the beach was crowded, and having spent some time leaning companionably against a figure (number 72, in point of fact), enjoying the sensation of sun and wind on my face, I realised that all over the beach there were people touching, adorning, hugging and generally adopting the figures, though I was a little unnerved as I peered through the swirling sand, when one figure in the distance appeared to be moving....

The skyline was pretty stunning too, with its mixture of wind turbines, derricks and the city behind, gleaming like a renaissance painting, just out of reach. I loved it, the whole thing. In her post on Blah Manchester, Liz had been thinking about those who expect to find God solely in the beauties of nature, and commented that she meets him more readily where the impact of human influence can be seen in partnership with God's work of creation.
Certainly, He was hugely evident in everything I saw on Crosby Sands.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Too good not to share....

the following signs which we encountered in the Lake District....

  • "Ambleside via The Struggle"
  • "U turn for Mortal Man" (I'm told it's a pub)
  • "Better by goat" (well, of course it is. Naturally)
I would, of course, have recorded all of these for the greater edification of readers, had the camera not been with Teen Wonder in St Petersburg. If you doubt me, I can supply map references for the first two...the third was proudly inscribed on the back of a minibus, which was queuing with us for the Hawkshead Ferry, but I'm thinking of adopting it as a motto for life in general.

The good parts (continued)

Very aware that, heaning mislet that I am, I’ve probably given the impression that my exchanges with St M’s people at Rydal were uniformly unsatisfactory, and left me drafting letters of resignation.
Not so, I promise.
There were lots of good opportunities to get to know people a little better, and it was lovely to see the way those who live alone revelled in the opportunity for company on tap while car drivers noticed and cared for those who might be stuck without transport, and people enjoyed coming together each evening with traveller’s tales of the day. One startling success was a session that invited us to share a poem or piece of recorded music. There was a bravura performance of the U.A.Fanthorpe poem Not my best side, some happily familiar excursions into Belloc’s Cautionary Tales and a breathtaking setting by Kenneth Leighton of Phineas Fletcher’s Drop, drop slow tears (chosen by the vicar).I’ve long loved those words…especially the implicit image of the rainbow which I always sense behind the final line “Nor let His eyes see sin, but through my tears”.
My contribution to the evening, with typical lack of preparation, was to grab the one CD I would pluck from the flames if cataclysm struck the curate’s house. It’s Bach’s B Minor Mass, so there followed the agonising choice of a single movement to hear in isolation. In my one and only sustained conversation with Rowan Williams (over pudding at an Aff Cath supper when he was newly appointed Archbishop of Wales) we agreed that if we had to offer God one musical work in justification for western civilisation, then this would be it.….and, equally, I felt that it was a pretty convincing window onto the eternal, a proof of God’s existence to present to sceptics. But which movement?? Impossible choice! In the end I opted for the Et Resurrexit, which always takes me straight to Kings Chapel where I first sang it with CUMS twenty three years ago. The sheer energy of those baroque trumpets has never failed to enthuse and inspire me, in the most unlikely situations, and Tuesday night was no exception.

Another high point was the final Eucharist, which we celebrated in the round, communicating each other. Nothing too revolutionary there for most congregations, but it felt like quite a risk in this context, particularly as we dared to use real bread! Amazingly, lightning failed to strike!
And it was during the Eucharist that I had a wonderful moment of affirmation of my priesthood, from the RC wife of our former Church Warden. She is strongly committed to her own church, so chose to observe the official line and not take the Sacrament,- but as we stood she came over to me and asked for a blessing. Sometimes this ministry is such a privilege, it takes my breath away…

The tapestry again

For those disinclined to click on the link in the previous post, this didn't so much speak to me as come to inhabit me, resonating as it does with recent thoughts about seeing God more consciously in everyone and everything, and borrowing God's eyes when I can.

Thinking about Friends

I promised to blog some of the good parts of the Rydal experience…..and some parts were really very good indeed. The hall is a lovely place, with a rabbit warren of confusing corridors (every time I went upstairs, my heart ached for generations of housemaids and tweenies, who had to deal with the twists and turns while carrying ewers of hot water in bygone days), gardens that will be truly fantastic when the restoration project is complete and the calm and friendly presence of the community to earth the whole thing in prayerful action. The view over Rydal Water etc is pretty amazing too, though the atrocious weather meant that we were less conscious of its beauty than we might have been.
However, I adopted one corner of the chapel beside a window and spent a fair bit of time just being there in the space and silence. The photo doesn’t really give you any sense of the uncluttered peace of the chapel, but believe me, it worked. Big time.

The current Warden of the hall is a Friend, so on Monday and Thursday Morning Prayer consisted of a very short reading from the “Advices and Queries” and then a time of silent reflection, which was a real gift. In fact, I came home with my own copy of the booklet and am sure that passages will turn up here from time to time…There is so much that attracts me about Quakerism. It strikes me as a faith of deep integrity, which is demonstrably lived out in commitment to a better world…So many great workers for justice and peace have been Friends. Perhaps it is true that too much of our energy in the Anglican Church is absorbed in supporting the institution, - but I know that there is also too much that I value in my own tradition for emigration to be a possibility…I need liturgy and music in worship, though I long too for space and silence.
So much to learn, though. Don’t you love this strap line from the Quakers in Britain home page?
Quakers respect the creative power of God in every human being and in the world around us. We work through quiet processes for a world where peaceful means bring about just settlements.
"We work through quiet processes"
Mmmn..a welcome alternative to our endless succession of committees and commissions!

Actually, without prior intent, Quakerism was a bit of a feature of the week, as on Thursday we visited Kendal, and found this
The tapestry is housed in part of the Meeting House, and again the atmosphere of peace and space is a huge part of its power, though it is visually and emotionally pretty stunning in itself. I love the thought of 4,000 people of all ages across 15 countries stitching away to produce something which is beautiful in itself, and in the stories it tells. Just go and see it, if you are anywhere near at all. Please.

Friday, October 28, 2005

A lost cause?

Today the church celebrates Simon and Jude, Apostles…

Jude is traditionally the patron of hopeless causes, - and as such is a pretty popular guy in the curate's house. But it was only this morning, when setting up for the early Eucharist, that I discovered why. Apparently, because of the similarity of his name with that of Judas Iscariot, no-one much valued his intercessory abilities, so they would only ask for his help when all else had failed. Obvious when you know the story….but it does seem a tad unfair. Just because someone whose name is almost the same as yours turns out to be a really Bad Egg, you get lumbered for centuries with desperate requests for help with the impossible (and I suspect receive minimal thanks if a cause presumed lost suddenly prospers). And Thomas Hardy won’t have improved matters either. Jude the Obscure is by no means a celebration of life in all its fulness!
Poor St Jude…
No, I don’t tend to invoke the saints much…but I have always enjoyed the thought that there is a saint concerned with every aspect of life. Here’s part of something I wrote for the parish mag in celebration of All Saints tide.

Not for the first time, I rejoice that Christianity is a faith based on relationships…with our fellow Christians, as well as with the God who exists in eternal relationship as Father, Son and Spirit. For good or ill, we are each of us shaped by the relationships of our lives, and these can include relationships outside time, with people long dead, whose influence continues through the centuries. November, with its celebrations of All Saints and All Souls, is a good time to consider this. When I feel as if I’ve opened my mouth and put my foot in it again, it’s good to think of St Peter, quick to rush in with the wrong answer, and some right ones, quick to love, and as quick to withdraw when things looked black for his Master. When I feel as if I’m going round in circles in my journey with God, I’m glad that Teresa of Avila explored her interior castle ahead of me. When the world glows with the reflected glory of its Creator, as it does on this autumn afternoon, St Francis has expressed my own feeling that I should pause to join the universal song of praise. I really am grateful that I can relate to the Communion of Saints,- both those whom the church celebrates, and those whom nobody knows except God. In fact, I’m specially grateful for the unknowns, - ordinary people, a long way short of perfect, but pointing us to a better reality through the example of their lives. There are saints of that sort here. Look out for them as you go through the week and if you meet one, be glad that you’re part of the same community, called to be in relationship with them. You might even find they go to your church…but don’t be surprised if they don’t. God touches the lives of people way beyond the Church (a comfort on days when the institution seems intent on getting things wrong), so the Communion of Saints may well have some surprising members. Enjoy them…they are your family.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A Blog in a bottle....

Meeting Christ in the Church
Three days into the parish holiday at Rydal, I get on line (excellent feature of this house is free broadband access for guests...though I guess if i were actually retreating it might be a mixed blessing) and what do I read from the Henri Nouwen Society?

See below...but how did they KNOW what I was feeling like?!?!?

Loving the Church does not require romantic emotions. It
requires the will to see the living Christ among his people
and to love them as we want to love Christ himself. This
is true not only for the "little" people - the poor, the
oppressed, the forgotten - but also for the "big" people who
exercise authority in the Church.

To love the Church means to be willing to meet Jesus
wherever we go in the Church. This love doesn't mean
agreeing with or approving of everyone's ideas or behavior.
On the contrary, it can call us to confront those who hide
Christ from us. But whether we confront or affirm,
criticize or praise, we can only become fruitful when our
words and actions come from hearts that love the Church.

OK, then, I guess that's today's agenda sorted out. He never said it would be easy!

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Post Script on Children and Communion

+M was asked his views on this, and was very clear that children should at least be welcomed from the time that they start school.He said that his own instinct was to include communicants from Baptism onwards, as the Orthodox do, and he longed for a Church in which children could no more remember their first Communion than their first slice of toast. However, he is constrained by the current House of Bishops guidelines which mention "a period of preparation" , implying that children must be receptive to being "prepared". Dealt with the "understanding" question very neatly, before it even arose, by saying that as adults the more we received the Sacrament, the more we realised that we didn't understand it, and the more we recognised our need of it.
Not much room for argument there, then!

His other great crusade vis a vis Communion is to replace those tiny perfect discs that speak of individualism and completeness with something obviously broken and shared. Are you beginning to understand why I value his ministry so highly?

A Question of Priorities

Wonderful Bishop M (I really do think of him like that: it’s kind of his official title in the GoodinParts household!) visited us last week for a teaching evening on the Eucharist.
Predictably, what he had to say was top quality, and he geared it beautifully to the needs of a congregation who are largely convinced that they, and they alone, know how to do things properly…but who might just be the teeniest bit deluded. He offered us good sound catholic liturgical practice (nothing too threatening there) and begged us to question why we do things as we do…and to discard them if the reasons don’t seem adequate,- music to the ears of vicar and curate alike. It’s extraordinary how you can say something week after week as parish clergy and be ignored but when the same message comes from a Bishop…well, I guess we all realised that, which is why he offered to come in the first place, bless the man!

What struck me most of all was his answer to a question about whether we ought really to be changing everything radically, in order to attract outsiders…
Leaving aside the question of whether this is a helpful approach anyway (do we want to drag outsiders in? do we? do we honestly think it will help them to encounter God if they get lost in the intricacies of a parish eucharist at St M’s?) he said with great confidence that what would actually make a difference to their urge to return was not desperate attempts to make our worship relevant…to minimise church-speak…to throw out the choristers (including those children who actually choose to be there)….
What would bring them back for a second look was, rather, the realisation that everyone present was totally caught up in and focussed on worship as a transformative experience. He then reiterated his words from his earlier visit, about part of the purpose of worship being to “play at heaven”…and I suddenly realised why this idea had chimed so powerfully with me when I read Ryan Bloger’s blog.
The worship service is no longer an evangelistic service for outsiders but a space to practice heaven for a period of time, facilitating the offering of the community life to God in worship..”

That I can go with..heart and soul. But its horrifying how often it gets lost in the shuffle…Back again to the need for reflective practice,- and the anxiety that this may just be the sort of luxury that is possible (though not easy) as a curate, but an early casualty on the wheel of parish ministry as a vicar.

Perhaps there might be time to think while at Rydal…who knows?

Friday, October 21, 2005

Another Friday, another five...

My little brain is on overdrive at the moment, with all the reflecting I'm trying to do. There have been some great things this week, which probably merit a post or two, but for the moment I'm just too pushed to process them properly.
So, just to keep myself awake, and because it's lunchtime, here's a wonderfully easy Friday Five from the revgalsblogpals
# What was the last CD you purchased?
Reckless Mercy by Kevin Prosch
# Did you like it?
I bought it for one particular track (Kiss the Son) which I met and enjoyed during the informal worship at our Swanwick conference (thanks Justin and Mark)...have to say that alot of the rest of the album isn't what I'd listen to for choice, though there are one or two tracks that communicate with me. But almost worth owning for the title alone, I think?
# Is it the kind of music you would call your favorite?
Nope...Definitely remain a classical fan at heart, but am having fun on my excursions into other realms
# What was the first album you ever owned?
Jacqueline du Pre playing Haydn and Boccherini cello concertos
# And what was your favorite cut from that recording?
For years, I would play the slow movement of the Haydn to help me make a new room, flat, house feel like I guess that qualifies.

There you are..That exhausts my current blogging potential, and a busy weekend looms, followed by a four day parish holiday at Rydal Hall in the Lake District. Have very mixed feelings about this, so would be glad of the odd prayer that it really does increase our sense of being a church community. It's a first for St M's, who habitually go on silent retreats, and occasionally on a pilgrimage (though not for several years). Inevitably, those for whom this is a real struggle have opted to stay at home.....and right now the Curate rather wishes she could follow suit.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Through a glass darkly? Reflecting on reflecting...

Truly excellent CME session yesterday (and not just because it meant that I had a day off from the parish). I always enjoy these gatherings, as I benefit so much from being with others engaged on the same journey, and have so many good friends in the group. Sometimes this is the only real gain of the day, but not this time.
The session was entitled “Who on earth is God, what is he doing and what does it have to do with me?” and set out to explore theological reflection as a tool for ministry, achieving pretty much exactly what it said on the tin. Of course, the concept wasn't in a way new to me, but I really did need to be brought up short to consider what, if anything, I was actually doing about it. In the course of the day, I realised gradually how much of my time I spend doing simply what comes next to be done, - as lovingly and faithfully as I can, to be sure,- but reflectively??
So I’m forced to conclude that I probably also spend much of my time doing things that have nothing at all to do with why God put me in this place (though I am confident that it was indeed His intention that I should be here).

Among the thoughts that I found specially helpful/challenging was the question (to ask about our churches, as much as of ourselves)
We can believe that God does everything….but do we believe that he does anything in particular?
(tbh, I'm not sure I dare consider that one too closely in terms of our church at present...but we are planning a Lent series on prayer, so that might be the time to engage with it seriously)

We may spend time asking WWJD as if all his actions were limited to the period of his Incarnation in 1st century Palestine…but we should rather be asking what IS Jesus doing…expecting Him to be alive and active in his world today and constantly on the lookout for those things which He invites us to join in.
I’d certainly admit that so often I’m busy doing those things which I imagine God wants me to do (what my children describe as my Good Little Curate mode comes in here, I guess…but it’s not just the more consciously “churchy” elements of my routine) that I’m potentially oblivious to the things he is getting on with around me. It's another reminder, too, that the Church has never held a monopoly on God...and the reason I am excited about "fresh expressions" is because they can acknowledge this reality, and encourage us to work where God is already engaged. More on that later...

Perhaps against this, I was also challenged to consider the historic tendency of the Church to
“serve the world for the sake of the Father” rather than reversing the priorities, so that we “serve the Father for the sake of the world”
….doing socially useful things on the basis that these will be pleasing to God….
I’m still trying to get my head round this.
How can I, in all my smallness and inadequacy, offer anything to God except where I encounter him in those people he sets in my way?
I guess it’s all a question of whose agenda I’m following, how hard I listen…
After all, I can’t discount all that stuff somewhere in the Bible (yes…that’s another area where I’m feeling a tad insecure; a post for another time, I think) about how impossible it is to love God, whom one hasn't seen, while hating one’s brother, whom one knows all too well…or that quoted so helpfully by urban army in today's post on love.
Make sure you don't take things for granted and go slack in working for the common good; share what you have with others. God takes particular pleasure in acts of worship--a different kind of "sacrifice"--that take place in kitchen and workplace and on the streets. (Hebrews 13:16 The Message)

I think I’m beginning to feel a bit like the centipede lying in the ditch, counting legs….time to pray that Merton prayer again, and then keep my eyes consciously open for God in the world as I get on with the week. If I'm really brave, I'll blog how I get on!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

So you think you might be emergent?

visit here to evaluate your true position!
Thanks to ron for the link.

Children in the Way….

was the punning name of a Church of England report of the late 80s, which tried to encourage the church to take her responsibility to all the baptised seriously. It sought to put to bed once and for all the saying that children are “the church of tomorrow”, and to recognise them as equal and essential members of the church of today. Sadly, nearly 20 years on, we still haven't got the message. St M’s, fortunately, is among the parishes which admits children to Communion before Confirmation (I’m not certain I could have come here were it otherwise). Less fortunately, it continues to affirm the official line (admit children of “church” families who have attended a preparation course) so I have on several occasions had my knuckles rapped by the PCC (though not by the vicar) for filling small empty hands.
I tend to be in trouble generally over my attitude to children here, though. I want them to feel welcome and at home, able to be themselves, whereas it seems that a high proportion of the congregation want them moulded into indentikit adult worshippers, complete, no doubt, with a sense of guilt and unworthiness,- or alternatively muzzled and shipped out to junior church in the vestry.

Some months ago, the whole junior youth group (10s to 13s) were helping lead worship, after a sleep-over in the parish centre. Very few members are from “church families” (ouch…I’m beginning to really dislike that term) but here they were at the family meal, and there was no way that I was going to refuse to serve them. Afterwards I was hauled over the coals by a whole committee! It seemed that what was really unacceptable was not that the children had received the Sacrament (or perhaps they just didn’t dare say that to me?) but that I had “broken the rules”. The greatest irony was that one major reason for their anger was, apparently, that one little girl who had been admitted in her home church was upset because, when the whole group received, she didn't turn out to be "special" after all. It later emerged that she, in fact, was Roman Catholic…so even if she had been the only child I had communicated, I would still have broken the rules!
Whose rules, though?
I'm pretty sure that on this occasion they really weren't God's.

St M's is not currently blessed by the presence of anyone with learning difficulties (thinking about it, there could be a reason for this) but I am reasonably confident that were this situation to change, nobody would dare to question the right of an adult who wished to receive, whatever their apparent “level of understanding”…yet it seems to be quite OK to suggest that “not understanding properly” is a good reason to withhold the Sacrament from children. When our diocese first agreed to admit children to communion before confirmation, I was part of a team that visited PCCs across the diocese to help their exploration of the issues, and I was repeatedly offered this as a reason why children should be excluded. Oddly enough, when challenged, no adult claimed to understand fully what was going on.
Another popular argument was that children were quite happy with a blessing, that it made them feel special. Against that I would set the response of Darling Daughter, then aged about 6, which echoed with piercing clarity into the silence after we’d declaimed, unthinkingly,
“We being many are one bread, one body, because we all share in one bread”.
“But we don’t”
I wept inside that day,- and I'm simply not prepared to subject others to that same experience of exclusion.
Besides, when Jesus looked for a model for the know whom he put in their midst.

Sorry..I know this is a rant, and as such I may have presented a distorted picture of the reality in my parish, but the Eucharist is central to my faith, and it is through working with children that God drew me into ordained ministry, so the issue is huge and live for me. For more rational discussion, see posts by Maggi and Mark.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Remember, Remember

Saw this last night….if you have the chance, please go.
It was truly excellent, interweaving the personal stories of members of the cast (which include an army child growing up under the constant threat of IRA bombs and a Catholic struggling with the realities of life in N. Ireland) with the story of the Gunpowder plot. As we follow Everard from the his glory days as a carefree young Lord, through the watershed of a life changing illness, to a career as a religious fanatic, it’s impossible not to recognise how the sincerity of his beliefs is mirrored today in the work of religious terrorists.
But this is our “hero”.
The voice of the state, as represented by Robert Cecil, co-ordinator of the “war on treason”, is surely the villain of the piece…and we see James 1 travel from optimistic religious tolerance through fear to a paranoia that sees threats everywhere. Against this journey is set in counterpoint his warm relationship with his Catholic Queen, reminding us of the hope that exists if we are ready to recognise the person beneath the label. He tells her that he can trust her, because he knows her heart…but as intolerance and suspicion grow, even that trust can be shaken. At one point James reflects that he loves hunting because only then is he sure that he is pursuer and not quarry, for in this world there are, in the end no heroes, no villains. Instead everyone is a victim of the overwhelming fear.

When the play ended, there was a moment of profound, prayerful silence before the applause.
I hope nobody asks us to a Bonfire Party this year. I don’t think I’d enjoy it.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Rather jaded

Just in from the sort of Deanery Synod meeting that makes you wish you'd never heard of the Church of England, still less been ordained in it...We spent 2 hours circling various painful issues to do with pastoral reorganisation, finance and the like, and I emerged feeling that we are, as a body, complacent, self centred, parochial....
Oddly, I found myself sitting with Fr Spikey, from the Forward in Faith parish up the road...with whom I get on splendidly, once we have got over the little fact that he cannot recognise my orders, and he felt like a real ally, in that he was someone who was hugely concerned for Gospel principles and shared my distress at the way the people of God were behaving.
Anyway, by the time I emerged from the meeting, I was wondering why on earth anyone ever bothered with the church at all, so it was both consoling and disquieting (if such a pair of contradictions is possible) to visit the weary pilgrim blog and be posted on to Ryan Bolger's blog, where he develops the core assumption that "if you are trying to make Christ known to your community, I shouldn't start from here". Lots of good stuff. Go read, please....then we can discuss later, when I've recovered from the C of E.

Bread or stones?

A chat last night on rlp's site, together with a great post at Less Travelled left me thinking alot about bread. The Eucharist is so utterly central to everything that we do here at St M's that we offer it at least 3 times in the week, apart from 2 Sunday celebrations, and I rejoice in this. For me, this Sacrament has always been the place where I most easily encounter God, and the privilege of speaking the words to enable this for others still blows me away whenever I preside. But when I look at the life of the parish, there does seem to be a strange disjunction between theory and practice. If the Eucharist is above all the place where community is drawn together, you might expect a church family that gathers regularly around the altar to be specially close-knit and aware of each other's needs. St M's people, however, seem on the whole rather suspicious of any thought that they might need to relate to each other. (Of course, there are many exceptions to this, and I'm not implying it is a cold and uncaring church in any way, just not one that is particularly good at family life). Worship is largely about "me and my God", though we seem to have moved from a grudging acceptance of neighbours at the Peace to something rather warmer, less embarrassed, which I hope might be a sign of movement generally. In contrast with the Sunday stiffness, this morning I was at Little Fishes, our toddler group that meets weekly to worship and learn together for 20 minutes or so in church before decamping to the parish centre for coffee and chaos...Today our theme was harvest, so we looked at seeds (all I could find in my cupboard was basil) and thought about what they needed for growth, had some fun watering them and then (having miraculously telescoped several weeks into a couple of minutes) enjoyed the smell and taste of leaves from a flourishing basil plant, and passed round and shared a basil and tomato loaf.
It wasn't the first time I'd broken bread with this group (it feels as if it should happen more often, and grow into something more recognisably eucharistic) but what struck me this morning was one little boy who was very anxious that nobody should be excluded. He made his way round the siblings sleeping in prams, leaving a crumb with each, and wasn't happy till he was certain everyone had received some. But if he comes to the 10.00 on Sunday, he can't expect the same hospitality...How did we reach this point? How have we allowed ourselves to attach so much baggage to the family feast that half of those present are excluded, and many of the others are still struggling with burdens of unworthiness even as they're invited to draw near with faith? God is generous beyond belief, but we have diluted his extravagant gift to a sip of wine and an unappetising but geometrically perfect disc of ...well, you can't call it bread, can you?
I appreciate all the practical arguments in favour of wafers; certainly in a church of our tradition, the prospect of consecrated crumbs on the carpet would cause huge anxiety...but today I'm simply lamenting the way we have chosen to impoverish ourselves, and others, while still proclaiming, as we must, the boundless generosity of God's love.

Meanwhile, back to bread...and to young Sam's generosity. It put me in mind of a poem I loved as a child, Charles Causley's Ballad of the Breadman.

Mary stood in the kitchen
Baking a loaf of bread.
An angel flew in the window
‘We’ve a job for you,’ he said.

‘God in his big gold heaven
Sitting in his big blue chair,
Wanted a mother for his little son.
Suddenly saw you there.’

Mary shook and trembled,
‘It isn’t true what you say.’
‘Don’t say that,’ said the angel.
‘The baby’s on its way.’

Joseph was in the workshop
Planing a piece of wood.
‘The old man’s past it,’ the neighbours said.
‘That girls been up to no good.’

‘And who was that elegant fellow,’
They said. ‘in the shiny gear?’
The things they said about Gabriel
Were hardly fit to hear.

Mary never answered,
Mary never replied.
She kept the information,
Like the baby, safe inside.

It was the election winter.
They went to vote in the town.
When Mary found her time had come
The hotels let her down.

The baby was born in an annexe
Next to the local pub.
At midnight, a delegation
Turned up from the Farmers’ club.

They talked about an explosion
That made a hole on the sky,
Said they’d been sent to the Lamb and Flag
To see God come down from on high.

A few days later a bishop
And a five-star general were seen
With the head of an African country
In a bullet-proof limousine.

‘We’ve come,’ they said ‘with tokens
For the little boy to choose.’
Told the tale about war and peace
In the television news.

After them cam the soldiers
With rifle and bombs and gun,
Looking for enemies of the state.
The family had packed up and gone.

When they got back to the village
The neighbours said, to a man,
‘That boy will never be one of us,
Though he does what he blessed well can.’

He went round to all the people
A paper crown on his head.
Here is some bread from my father.
Take, eat, he said.

Nobody seemed very hungry.
Nobody seemed to care.
Nobody saw the god in himself
Quietly standing there.

He finished up in the papers.
He came to a very bad end.
He was charged with bringing the living to life.
No man was that prisoner’s friend.

There’s only one kind of punishment
To fit that kind of crime.
They rigged a trial and shot him dead.
They were only just in time.

They lifted the young man by the leg,
Thy lifted him by the arm,
They locked him in a cathedral
In case he came to harm.

They stored him safe as water
Under seven rocks.
One Sunday morning he burst out
Like a jack-in-the-box.

Through the town he went walking.
He showed them the holes in his head.
Now do you want any loaves? He cried.
‘Not today’ they said.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Laughter in heaven

I’m still trying to work through thoughts about the spirituality of clowning, and more specifically, I suppose, the impact of clowning on my own sense of who I am before God, and today more reflections on divine comedy hit me between the eyes, leading me off in another direction.
Mary’s blog (and if ever there were a misnamed blog, it’s this one: raid on the inarticulate? hardly! though I suppose her pauses between blogging bouts might occasionally justify the title) points us to an article on Ship of Fools by her equally articulate vicar, which includes these words

Comedy lies in the gaps between what we ought to be, what we are, and what we just might be one day. Comic timing relies on eternity being written into the heart of man, and man knowing the absurd shortfall: bathos – the lapse from sublime to ridiculous – is thus a part of the comedian's stock-in-trade. In the biblical story, though, God appears to fool around with this familiar routine in the person of Jesus, whose resurrection rewrites the joke about the bloke who's alive, but then dies. The timing seems to be all over the place, but, for those who get it (and Christianity is a gag that plenty don't), the divine punchline makes sense of everything that went before. Moreover, it allows them to fool around with their time and place, too, until Kingdom come

I’ve spent many long hours exploring a theology of gaps…and lamenting the way that I tend to fall into the ugly ditch that exists between the reality of the person I am, and the aspiration of the person I long to be. Perhaps unsurprisingly, awareness of this has become all the more acute since ordination, since I’m also experiencing the projections of others, and their assumptions about the effect of priesthood on personality. There have been times when I’ve felt myself more gap than substance, and have clung onto the words in the Ordinal
“you cannot bear the weight of this…in your own strength but only by the grace and power of God…” and the assurance "My grace is sufficient for you; my strength is made perfect in weakness."
I suspect that those who have been high achievers are always challenged by this need to abandon being successful through their own abilities, or indeed being "successful" at all….and I found myself just then writing “I’m gradually improving at this”…as if, once again, it was a skill to be mastered, a goal to be reached through effort or application.
That’s when I heard the laughter, and was blessed to remember again that it is in the gaps that God not only works his transformation, but allows space for humour. It is, after all, ridiculous that a middle-aged mother in Cheltenham should presume to speak God’s forgiveness to a hurting community….as ridiculous as the idea that the Creator of everything should choose to come and meet His creatures in a fragment of bread, a sip of wine…

Anything to oblige

For the benefit of those readers who wanted to see an ember card, here's the one from my priesting this's a postcard, so what you're seeing isn't exactly like the real thing, and some text clearly got lost when I scanned it, but you get the general idea. The design is based on one my daughter saw on somebody's stole at a diocesan hooley once, and then brought home with her, and I love it.
It feels very strange to be posting the card 4 months after the event...I feel so very much as if I've been a priest all my life, though every now and then the fact that I'm entrusted with such Huge realities still stops me in my tracks.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Nowt so strange as folks...

Lutheranchik, God bless her, invited me to expose 5 of my multiple idiosyncracies to the harsh gaze of the blog reading public…The trouble is, I’ve lived with myself for so long, I’m no longer sure what counts as an idiosyncracy. Doesn't everyone work this way??
I'm also beginning to feel that my spelling of the "i" word may be a tad idiosyncratic, but it's late and I'm tired, so I crave your indulgence, in the interests of a reasonable bedtime.
On with the list...

1)Not only do I sing pretty constantly around the place during waking hours, I also sing in my sleep….not regularly these days (too wiped out, I suspect) but it’s been documented on several occasions. Apparently they are normally quite recognisable tunes…one friend only woke me at the end of the last movement of Beethoven’s Pastoral because she was scared I was going to go through the whole symphony all over again!

2)Although I’m a Myers Briggs “E”, and thrive on company, I’m terrified of meeting new people when I’m just me, Kathryn…At a party, therefore, I’ll try and find some babies to mind or small children to play with, unless I know the other guests really well. (And even if I do know them well, I'm quite capable of being overawed by them if they are on my list of Top Admirable People) As Kathryn-the-Curate, though, I can go in anywhere, and talk to anyone. It was just the same when I was Kathryn-the-Bookseller, Kathryn-the-Charity- Administrator, Kathryn-the-Bed-and-Breakfast proprietor... Give me a role, and I can hide behind it till I feel safe to come out.(btw Kathryn-the-Blogger just hides behind the screen, and finds it disturbingly easy to be real: not sure if this is good or bad)

3)I don’t like sitting empty handed, so tend to iron while watching television. This is also when I sew.I love doing tapestry….but only on retreat, or in the winter months. I simply cannot sit in the garden on a summer’s day and sew….

4)I love horses, but would rather groom them than ride them. One of my favourite day-off diversions is “having” to help my youngest look after his pony, Nipper.

5)I am seriously hopeless at faces ( a definite handicap in a priest), but remember for ever the silliest biographical details about people I’ve only met once. I don’t even have to have met them actually. I startled a man at the recent diocesan conference by telling him that I’d had coffee in his old house the other week. Poor man, he didn't know me from Eve, but he used to live in my parish and a couple in the congregation bought his house when he left to go to college. I had heard his name and remembered not only his old address, but his former profession, the name of his dog and which of his offspring had sung in the church choir, even though all of these details related to a time long before I had ever heard of St Mary’s Charlton Kings.
Now tell me, how IS your aunt getting on in Kathmandu?

Time to be silly again

Your Brain's Pattern

Your brain is always looking for the connections in life.
You always amaze your friends by figuring out things first.
You're also good at connecting people - and often play match maker.
You see the world in fluid, flexible terms. Nothing is black or white.

I guess some of that is accurate (it's the NP showing through). I have never knowingly made matches (after all, it sounds like an occupation for the heroine of a Dickensian subplot), although my oldest friend, Darling Daughter's Godmother, did meet her husband at my 21st birthday party.With that striking success behind me, I've never attempted anything else....though I do love introducing my friends to each other, and seeing what happens. I tend to panic, though. Friends still remind me of university supper parties, where I rushed in and out of my room, trying to entertain guests and cook at the same time, shrieking
"Oh no! This is DREADFUL!! Nobody's talking to anyone else" quite oblivious to the fact that only my maniacal visitations were disrupting the flow of conversation. Does that speak of ability to connect people? I'm none too sure...

No blacks and whites, though: that I would agree. Sometimes I wish there were.

Thanks to St Casserole for this. Isn't it lovely to see her indulging in a bit of mindless diversion amid all that she's coping with post-Katrina.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Unexpected eye surgery

My good friend Mark posted today on his Dissonant Bible blog, and as always has left me with plenty to think about. Before you read this, visit him or my witterings will make even less sense than normal.
Read it ? (as the frog said)
Right, on we go then.
As you’ll have seen, Mark expands Jesus’s question to Simon the Pharisee so that it reads not just "Do you see this woman”
"Do you really see her? I don' t think you do - not as I see her, not as God [in whose image she is made, never forget] sees her. Because if you saw her as I do, there would be consequences that would turn your safe, religious world upside down and might just bring in the kingdom of God."

And that reminded me of the 2nd diocesan conference I attended, 3 years ago now. At the time, I was working as a charity administrator 3 days a week, running a bed and breakfast business, indulging in a spot of piano teaching, serving as a Reader in our benefice of 3 churches,- oh, and I was in the second year of ordination training. Getting to Swanwick was the nearest thing to a holiday I could see happening for a very long time…I was circling on my treadmill in true hamster fashion, and was certainly not generating much light in the process.
On the second day of the Conference, I was aware that a relationship with another delegate was beginning to become far too dominant to be manageable. Wherever I went, I seemed to bump into this person, who was friendly to the point of smothering, and it was driving me MAD. I found myself ducking into the ladies if she loomed in sight, and was pleased when I went into the main hall for the keynote speaker that day, to see that X was already settled, with no gaps anywhere near.
The speakers that morning were John and Olive Drane….and their talk touched places that nobody else had yet acknowledged during the conference. Olive has a ministry as a clown (now why is it that it’s only just struck me that 2 conferences running, the highlight of the planned programme for me has involved clowning…which I’ve always thought I disliked or feared? need to think about that, clearly…) and after sharing her own story via a moving series of dialogues with God, she invited anyone who wanted prayer to come and have a cross painted in grease-paint wherever felt right…
"Hands, forehead, eyes..." she suggested.
Can you imagine? A room full of Anglican clergy, mostly of a certain age (some clinging stubbornly to clerical black, despite the request that we dress informally while away) and a reasonable sprinkling of “approved” laity being invited to relate to a clown…in front of each other! There was a moment when it seemed that nobody would dare to move, but gradually people got to their feet. Some headed for the doors, but a long line began to form, and I found myself on the end of it. By the time I reached Olive, I knew what I wanted to pray about…
“I’m training for ministry…I have 3 children and too many jobs and I’m so busy I just can’t see the wood for the trees. Please paint the cross on my eyelids and ask God to help me focus on Him, the real purpose behind all this busy-ness”
Olive prayed, marked my eyelids, and I returned to my seat.
The session ended, and we trouped out for coffee. I did feel better…as if there was at least some possibility that I might survive the next few weeks at least. Perhaps I was getting some perspective? I decided to take my coffee outside. But, oh dear, there was X only a few yards away from me, and I’d definitely been seen. I went over , and as I approached, X dissolved into a pool of tears.
Only afterwards did I realise that I’d spent almost an hour there, listening, praying, being the sort of friend X had believed me to be. And the amazing thing? It felt entirely natural, right, unforced…I was able to love…to see the real person with all the pain and vulnerability exposed, and not the bundle of irritations that had preoccupied me before. God had heard my prayer for clearer vision, but had not answered it as I’d expected. Instead, God had lent me HIS eyes…for a while, I was able to see as He does. And yes, there were consequences.

"The world is a mirror of infinite beauty, yet no man sees it"

Twenty-two years ago, I was happily immured in research for a PhD at Durham university, my theme "Music as a metaphor for the human relationship with the Divine in seventeenth century English poetry" (Catchy little title, that; it should have become a best-seller!). I had a blissful time grubbing about in sources obvious and obscure but my funding ran out after just one year, so I never wrote up. However, along the way I spent a fair bit of time enjoying the works of Thomas Traherne, mystic, whom the Church remembers today (along with Paulinus of York...a missionary bishop, but not, as far as I know, half as good a writer). So home I came from the Office this morning, and found these two delights, the first a piece of wonderfully poetic prose, from his Centuries of Mediations, and the second a poem from the Poems of Felicity.

"The corn was orient and immortal wheat, which never should be reaped, nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting. The dust and stones of the street were as precious as gold. The gates were at first the end of the world, the green trees when I saw them first through one of the gates transported and ravished me; their sweetness and unusual beauty made my heart to leap, and almost mad with ecstasy, they were such strange and wonderful things. The men! O what venerable and reverend creatures did the aged seem! Immortal cherubims! And the young men glittering and sparkling angels and maids strange seraphic pieces of life and beauty! Boys and girls tumbling in the streets, and playing, were moving jewels. I knew not that they were born or should die. But all things abided eternally as they were in their proper places. Eternity was manifest in the light of the day, and something infinite behind everything appeared: which talked with my expectation and moved my desire. The city seemed to stand in Eden, or to be built in Heaven. The streets were mine, the temple was mine, the people were mine, their clothes and gold and silver was mine, as much their sparkling eyes, fair skins, and ruddy faces. The skies were mine, and so were the sun and moon and stars, and all the world was mine, and I the only specatator and enjoyer of it. I knew no churlish proprieties, nor bounds nor divisions; but all proprieties and divisions were mine: all treasures and the possessors of them. So that with much ado I was corrupted; and made to learn the dirty devices of this world. Which I now unlearn, and become as it were a little child again, that I may enter into the Kingdom of God."

and this one of his Poems of Felicity

News from a foreign country came,
As if my treasures and my joys lay there;
So much it did my heart inflame,
'Twas wont to call my soul into mine ear;
Which thither went to meet
Th' approaching sweet,
And on the threshold stood
To entertain the secret good;
It hover'd there
As if 'twould leave mine ear,
And was so eager to embrace
Th' expected tidings as they came,
That it could change its dwelling place
To meet the voice of fame.

As if new tidings were the things
Which did comprise my wished unknown treasure,
Or else did bear them on their wings,
With so much joy they came, with so much pleasure,
My soul stood at the gate
To recreate
Itself with bliss, and woo
Its speedier approach; a fuller view
It fain would take,
Yet journeys back would make
Unto my heart, as if 'twould fain
Go out to meet, yet stay within,
Fitting a place to entertain
And bring the tidings in.
What sacred instinct did inspire
My soul in childhood with an hope so strong?
What secret force mov'd my desire
T' expect my joys beyond the seas, so young?
Felicity I knew
Was out of view;
And being left alone,
I thought all happiness was gone
From earth; for this
I long'd for absent bliss,
Deeming that sure beyond the seas,
Or else in something near at hand
Which I knew not, since nought did please
I knew, my bliss did stand.

But little did the infant dream
That all the treasures of the world were by,
And that himself was so the cream
And crown of all which round about did lie.
Yet thus it was! The gem,
The diadem,
The ring enclosing all
That stood upon this earthen ball;
The heav'nly eye,
Much wider than the sky,
Wherein they all included were;
The love, the soul, that was the king
Made to possess them, did appear
A very little thing.

From what I can recall (I finally threw out my notes when we moved last year, as the research topic had long since been taken up and completed by someone with better funds and/or self-discipline) Traherne's writings were lost till the mid nineteenth clearly he didn't influence the Romantic poets directly, though they were singing the same song across the years. I think, though, I'll go out for a walk now and try to keep my eyes open for the infinite beauty reflected in a golden autumn day...the weather forecast for the rest of the week is distinctly dubious.

Saturday, October 08, 2005


how do you know when K has a sermon to write

Answer: when she starts blogging all sorts of memes

So, given I'm celebrating at the main Eucharist, then have another Baptism tomorrow morn, my mother in law, sister in law and her husband coming to supper tonight , and not a word of the sermon sorted for Evensong tomorrow, naturally I'm going to post my response to the RevGalsBlogPals Friday Five straight away.
I realise that it is now Saturday, but my defence is that nobody had posted the suggestion before I crashed last night. A result of having friends in different time zones, I suppose.

1) What is your earliest memory of church?
Ooh….that would be Remembrance Sunday when I was, I guess, about 3 (because my best friend S, who is 4 years older than me, had just joined Brownies). She was allowed to attend church in her uniform, because it was a special day…and her grown up sister, my godmother, wore a wonderful hat with a huge brim. I just wore a Remembrance poppy, like everyone else, and felt terribly left out and insignificant. I suspect there may have been tears when I was not allowed to go and stand with the Brownies during the Act of Remembrance.
The 2 minutes silence made a huge impression on me. S’s father had been a Spitfire pilot in WW2 (and had died of TB before I was born) and my own adored father had been in the navy, so these solemn state commemorations felt as if they were directly honouring the Two Most Important Men in our World. The town where I grew up was a favourite retirement destination, so the church had more than its fair share of war veterans, who all wore their medals on Remembrance Sunday- but not my father. He would never talk about what the war had meant for him, except to say that he had loved going to sea. Years later, after his death, I learned that he had served in Burma, and received a DSC…but he was hero enough for S and me without that. I remember watching elderly ladies crying with quiet dignity and feeling that somehow these two minutes were the most important part of the service…so much so that when we got home, S and I invented our own liturgy, which involved collecting a pile of autumn leaves (whose significance escapes me now) and finally lighting a match apiece (VERY naughty…matches were strictly forbidden) in honour of our fathers.
Exclusion, silence and ritual….still part of the church experience, over 40 years later

2) How old were you when you first took Communion?

13…the week after I was Confirmed. Normally I went to the quiet 8.00 Eucharist with my father but this week we, the two teenage girls who had been confirmed, were invited to the main 10.30 service and asked to bring up the elements. We wore school uniform, and were so terrified of doing the wrong thing that the spiritual impact of the occasion was totally lost. I guess the enormity of it grew on me through the years, with each encounter making me more aware of the Gift of it all.

3) What is your favorite Bible verse/passage? Presuming that I’m not allowed John 3:16, what about Jeremiah 31:3? For my Ember card this summer I chose Exodus 15:2…but when I'm feeling overwhelmed by life Isaiah 43 ....Sorry, not sure I've really got a favourite. But, as someone who worries that her relationship with the Bible is in some ways deficient, it's quite comforting to find so many essential passages leaping to mind. Of course, I often don't know exactly where to find them, which is really a rather awful admission...but at least I know what I've lost!

4) What verse/passage nicks you uncomfortably? Too many to count…here’s one for today: Luke 14:26
God knows, I really do struggle with priorities….but I know too that God honours the struggle.

5) What's your favourite hymn or praise song?
Not sure I can really choose.
And can it be would have to be in the top 3 and so would
When I survey the wondrous cross…but then there’s Eternal ruler of the ceaseless round and O thou who camest from above and Just as I am and Crown him with many crowns and….no, sorry, I need all of those and more. Can't possibly choose.

I am, however, quite certain that neither Proverbs 3 1-18 nor 1 Jn 3 1-15 are in my top spot for anything except most avoided activity of the day. Ah well, of such is the kingdom...

Friday, October 07, 2005

National Poetry Day

took place yesterday...but I only discovered this via Radio 4 late last night, at which point creativity was at a low ebb. Since then, I've been struggling to choose one poem in honour of the day, and realised that there are poems that are part of my biography just as particular music conjures a year, an occasion, a particular person...Musically, this was the summer of "One of Us" for me (better late than never, I suppose) , and, because Darling Daughter has finally been overwhelmed by the wonder of T.S.Eliot, the summer to revisit Four Quartets, The Wasteland, and the first Eliot I loved, The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock. But all of those are way too long to blog, so I'll go instead for William Blake, and a poem I can't remember ever not knowing and loving. Oddly enough, having absorbed it as part of my d.n.a. before I even knew I was learning another's words by heart, it was also the poem I had to discuss at my Cambridge interview....8 lines filled half an hour very happily for me, and, if the end result is anything to go by, for the interviewer as well.

Ah Sunflower, weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the sun;
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveller's journey is done;

Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale virgin shrouded in snow,
Arise from their graves, and aspire
Where my Sunflower wishes to go!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Friday Dog Blog

I've not indulged in the sport of Friday pet blogging thus far, mainly because with 3 cats and 2 dogs plus a couple ponies in the family, the scope for offending somebody seemed huge. However, rlp appears to have adopted a long lost near relative of our very own mad but entertaining Dillon, so I thought I would make an exception for one week only...Here he is. I think the florescent green eyes are a sign more of photographic ineptitude than of madness or even extreme envy, though this may be entirely wrong . We love him dearly, but would be very happy if he would eventually learn that, now we no longer live in the country, it isn't strictly necessary to alert us to the fact that someone has walked down a road 3 miles away without asking his permission. Given that we live just behind not one but two schools, he is rarely short of an excuse to bark....Darling Daughter has decided that he suffers from Attention Deficit Hyper-Activity Disorder, and I have to say she could be right. Can you hear him in Texas, rlp? He's only calling his cousin.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Worth coming home for

What a weekend….It looked mad in anticipation, and felt madder as we lived through it, but it was generally a good, rich madness with lots of God in it!

The flowers were utterly amazing, overwhelming, beyond belief . If nature abhors a vacuum, the flower ladies of St Mary’s are clearly natural to their very bones (though some of their materials, including polystyrene doves and faux silk rose petals are less so) as there was not a nook or cranny of the church left plain and unadorned. When I wandered into church to say the Office on Friday morning, to say I was surprised would be a massive understatement. (Note to self, try not to be away from parish in the week leading up to flower festivals in future…it is just possible that your vision of what a church is for might not exactly match with that shaping the festival)

Sunday morning with the Bishop was fantastic (not least because his highly expressive eyebrows told their own story much of the time). He had clearly listened very hard to all that the vicar and I have told him about our struggles and longings for the church in this place, and reminded us all of the real reasons for church buildings…as a place of prayer, a place of forgiveness/reconciliation and a place to play at heaven. He did, though, observe that there wasn’t perhaps much room to play in St M’s at all, as we are rather "over furnished"...but managed this with a degree of gentleness and tact that nonetheless allowed nobody to doubt his meaning. I loved his observation that processions were designed to replicate pilgrimage in little, and thus that a procession that took you round in a circle, returning you to precisely where you had started might seem a little disheartening….it also struck me as a very good metaphor for some aspects of life here. But God is moving things…and it’s going to be quite a ride! It was a measure of episcopal skill that one of our most determined preservers of the status quo was nonetheless quite happy to shake his hand afterwards…if the vicar or curate had dared to say some of those things from the pulpit, we’d have been lynched (quite possibly literally).

Zimmer frames gave way to buggies and bikes in a dramatic change of mood as we welcomed the first arrivals for OpenHouse, which was all that I'd prayed and more.

When people arrived, we had an overhead telling them to be comfortable and at home in their Father’s house, - and that’s truly how it seemed. 28 children and about 30 adults filled the nave, swarmed all over the pews, shouted, helped tell the story of Creation and build a felt frontal, and generally made the church feel like a very happy, relaxed sort of place to be. My favourite moments probably featured D (the child who took over his own baptism a couple of weeks ago, recognising that a pitiful drop or three was a woefully inadequate representation of the divine grace)..His mum has MS, so his wilder explorations of the church involved all sorts of other adults in rounding up exercises, and drew the community together instantly.
The M.U. members who were serving tea joined in the service too, and were great at the action songs. Lovely that this made us a real all age community, and in fact extra granny figures were in great demand as the afternoon went on. Some of the visitors from our link parish, St Johns Ladywood, also drifted in to add to the fun. Their home style of worship is far less formal than St M's, so they were probably relieved to see that we can, every now and then, throw caution to the winds and praise God without looking over our shoulders to check we're meeting the regulation standard of perfection.

Tea was yummy, and some of the mums set to with dustpans so that the transepts probably looked cleaner, after 2 dozen children eating cakes, than they had before. As people departed their general cry was like "See you next month" I am realistic enough to realise this is more a statement of goodwill than a definite promise, but nonetheless, the whole afternoon was hugely encouraging. Thank you all for your prayers, but please don't stop. We have, after all, to sustain this.

Down to the pub next, for MORE tea and skittles with the Ladywood crowd. Got the best hug of the day (sorry, are just not in the same class) from C, a Birmingham friend who has cerebral palsy. He remembered me from July last year, when I'd first visited them, and more than made up for the intervening months by both the number and intensity of the hugs he delivered. His Amens (full value, at least 3 for every prayer) added considerably to the experience of Evensong. This is normally a rather attenuated service, where the choir always outnumbers the congregation, but on Sunday it was an exceptionally jolly experience, with 30 visitors in the nave, - at least 20 of them under 60. Quite what they made of our more abstruse remnants of former glories I can't imagine, but they took it all in good part. My one regret (and it was a big one) was that St M's is still so hooked on its perception of excellence that C's request to do a reading was politely turned down...I accept that nobody would have been able to understand most of his words, but the reverence with which he delivers his God talk would put all of us to shame, I know. He bore no grudge, but I felt diminished by this, as it seemed downright inhospitable on a day when we were trying to become an Open House.
At 8.00 our visitors departed, after which it only remained to drop in to the Youth Group with the remnants of the tea, and the day was finally done. So many people. So much variety, but very nearly All Good.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

I almost forgot...

to share one rather good Swanwick moment. As I vacated my room for the last time on Thursday, I encountered the Bishop, also heading car-wards. Both of us were carrying assorted belongings. Nothing exceptional in that.
However, mine were positively the last remnants of labyrinth and informal wit, one bucket containing numerous stones and a towel (left hand) plus roll of wire (over arm) and cutters (right hand).
The Bishop looked at these essential items of a curate's life, and exclaimed, with some alarm
"Good God!" (with the obvious unspoken addendum, "And I ordained her....")

Well, it made me smile as I went on my way

Home again from Swanwick

I’m happy to report that the Garden Wing (wooden huts, ex POW camp) has now been razed to the ground, and replaced by a very swish new conference hall and assorted seminar rooms etc. Having been in the main house last time, with a room that boasted not a single power socket, I was relieved to be in a very comfy en suite room, with a good friend who didn’t mind my nocturnal habits (how can you go to bed, when there are so many wonderful people you could be engaging with?) …and the conference……..well, it was really rather good.
I didn’t spend enough time actually looking for God……but nonetheless He turned up in unexpected moments of grace. On Tuesday, we’d planned our informal morning worship around the theme of Brokenness (using material which Justin and Mark had used at The Fountain) . Irony of ironies, the DVD misbehaved, - broken…though Mark was so swift to pick up the crisis, some people truly didn’t realise anything was wrong. The service included the smashing of a large terracotta pot which had stood in our garden when we arrived here, unusable for planting due to a large crack….The moment when it was smashed was very dramatic…noise, violent movement and then the fragments lying on a white cloth in absolute stillness (attempt to photograph failed, I fear). We invited people to take a piece away “as a symbol of Christ’s vulnerability for your sake, of your own brokenness and of his power at work in you, healing your wounds and making all things new”
By the sort of coincidence that I ought not to wonder at any longer, the keynote speaker that morning was Sr Frances Dominica of Helen House, who made most of us cry with her words about abandonment (“my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?)” and brokenness in the lives of the families with whom she works. Towards the end, I felt that I wasn’t coping and fished out my piece of pottery…only to see 2 or 3 others further along the row doing the same thing.
We are always the broken body
But the word to us in Jesus Christ is that
We are made whole and enough for the task
Go, with the grace of God into this day
To heal and be healed in His name.

Later in the week, our final morning worship focussed on Mercy and ended with words I’d built around those of Teresa of Avila

Surely goodness and mercy follow us every day of our lives
Making good our shortcomings
And breathing new life into all that is fragile and inadequate.
Springs of mercy well up
Even from our inmost hurts
And through God the valley of tears
Becomes a place of refreshment

Having received God’s mercy
Go to share it with a needy world
For God has no body now on earth but ours
No hands, no feet, on earth but ours.
Ours are the eyes through which He looks.
compassion on this world
Ours are the feet
With which He walks to do good.
Ours are the hands
With which He blesses all his people
Now and to the end of ages.
So may we go, blessed to be a blessing
In the name of Christ

It was rather wonderful to find myself singing those same words, beautifully set by David Ogden, in the final Eucharist a few hours later.

In between, there were lots of good conversations, some inspiring words (notably from Tim Sledge on Fresh Expressions) some time gently gazing at God in the labyrinth and an amazing performance by Roly Bain, whose holy foolery turned me inside out, as I laughed and cried and redrew my emotional map in all sorts of unexpected ways. His really is a remarkable ministry.

So..there it all was. And here I am home again….and desperately trying to get things sorted for the Bishop’s visit on Sunday and the launch of OpenHouse. More later…