Monday, July 31, 2006

Go west...

No blogging for the next 3 days. I'm about to leap into the car with TeaThaim Girl and head for the coast...specifically, for the further reaches of Cornwall, where Very Special Friend from vicar school is on holiday with her husband and dogs. Having despatched one installment of her family back up the motorway to home earlier today, she is adamant that our arrival is just what she most needs,- and I'm too excited to demurr. No interent. No mobile signal. Just people I love and the sea that I miss so much.
Take care, peoples. See you later.

Feeding the five thousand at the care home.

Yesterday was a Sunday of extremes. As well as the regular worship at St M's, 2 Eucharists and Evensong, I had a Baptism (for a congregation of 150, largely unchurched…the sort of experience I’m not in a huge hurry to repeat, as simply achieving crowd control was almost beyond me) and my periodic slot at the home for the Distinctly Confused. Here, things are looking good. The no longer so new management have employed staff who seem to recognise that they are caring for human beings, however absent and unreachable they may seem,- and a few months of this treatment have worked wonders. When I arrived, it was to find 18 elderly people sitting comfortably and even expectantly…and, wonder of wonders, someone had found a clean cloth for the table and even a vase of flowers. After the past traumas of trying to create a holy space amid the chaos of institutional tea, with residents coming and going, choking and spluttering, anything but focussed, this felt like the most enormous blessing before we had even started. Recently, I’ve been using a very simple form of Evening Prayer when I visit here, and this seems to be helping too. We know where we are going, and many of the prayers that take us there. Yesterday, the day’s Gospel also felt like a gift …speaking, to my mind, straight into the situation of this sometimes forgotten group, who seem to be only shadows of the people they once were.

Loosely in the spirit of St Ignatius, I invited them to come on an imaginative journey and mingle with the crowds on that hillside overlooking the lake.

We’ve followed Jesus all day, even when it became clear that he was tired, had had enough, needed space. We’ve seen lots of miracles today, but we still want more. Maybe this time it will be our loved one who is healed….It has to be worth sticking around, staying close to Jesus. You never quite know what will happen when he’s about.

But as the evening draws on, you don’t seem to be any nearer the front of the crowd. You are hot and tired, hungry and thirsty. You begin to wish you hadn’t come. The day hasn’t been that great, really. Nobody you know has been healed. There have been none of those spell-binding stories to take home and share with your neighbours.
And now, as far as you can see, you’ll be home so late that you’ll have to miss supper.
People are murmuring resentfully all around you, weary and frustrated.
They want Jesus to get on and do something.
Take on the might of Rome, perhaps?
It must be time he seized the initiative, but that just doesn’t seem to be on his agenda.
But such an amazing man of God could surely do anything…

You are stopped in your speculations as your stomach rumbles. This is ridiculous. Time to turn and begin the long trudge home, surely…Another time, you maybe won’t bother to turn out, thanks all the same.
But then the disciples, that group whose always closest to Jesus, start calling out, waving their arms about. In response to their directions, people begin to sit down, make themselves comfortable on the dry prickly grass. You’ve no quarrel with that idea. Taking the weight off your feet is an excellent plan. Maybe there will be something worth waiting for. A story? Another healing? Refreshments?

You crane your neck to see what’s going on. Hope turns to incredulity as you see, through the forest of people around you, the figure of a small boy wandering up to Jesus, with his little lunch box held out.
People begin to laugh,- not very kindly, to be honest,- and you join in.
It’s ridiculous. You’re all hungry, true enough, but that box can’t hold more than a couple of rolls and a few fish, that’s for sure. Even if he’s only planning to share it with Jesus, nobody is going to be exactly replete. From what you’ve seen of him, its unlikely that Jesus would sit down and eat while everyone else was waiting, anyway. What a pointless gesture!
But Jesus does take the lunch box, holds it up so that everyone can see.
One small lunch box.

Then Jesus says a prayer. You can’t hear the words, but its clear that is what he is doing. He has that intense, focussed expression he always has when speaking of or to God.
When he finishes, he hands the lunchbox to Andrew, who turns to the other disciples and passes some bread to them…Bread and fish, just as you thought.
But astoundingly, they are passing bread and fish in all directions…. More than could ever have been crammed into the box. More than one man could carry. …
Some reaches you, and it’s good. Fresh barley bread and pickled fish. Delicious. But where could it have come from?

We return to the present, where we know, of course, that this is one of the great signs that John shares with us,- one of the indicators that points to Jesus’s identity as the Son of God.
But it’s important to teach us something else too.
Our adult response, as sensible people who know what’s what, would be to agree that the contents of one small lunch box could never be adequate to feed a crowd of 5000 people.
We know what makes sense, and we use that as the basis for most of our daily decisions.
We’re practical people with our feet firmly on the ground, and on an everyday basis that’s a good thing.
Only with God, perhaps another approach might be better.
After all, on another occasion, Jesus used a child as a model for God’s Kingdom
Here, a child offered something small and woefully inadequate, and Jesus turned it into something wonderful, a gift for everyone there.
He can do that whatever we bring him.
He can do that, if we bring him ourselves.
We may be that we have nothing at all to offer, that our lives serve no practical purpose, that we are too small to make a difference in any way.
But if we come to God and offer him ourselves, just as we are, he will take us, bless us and transform us into a gift that will benefit others.

Soldier of the Church

Today we remember with thanksgiving Ignatius Loyola, whose Spiritual Exercises have been such a gift to the Church.
As I grew up, my parents and their friends tended towards suspicion of the Society of Jesus which he founded, using “jesuitical” as a synonym for a devious casuistry that could, apparently, render black white just like that! Then, as a singer in London I once found myself called upon to deputise for the choir at the great Jesuit church at Farm Street…and was gripped by the preaching in a way that was all too rare elsewhere. I began to adjust my ideas.
Taster retreats using Ignatian spirituality have been a huge blessing along the way, and I firmly intend to experience at least an 8 day retreat here before I’m too much older.
Meanwhile, here’s the prayer for which Ignatius is famous…Not sure I can whole-heartedly agree with the petition to toil and not to seek for rest, which surely keys straight into the guilt provoked by the Protestant work-ethic, but to dream, just for a moment, of serving God as he deserves……what a prayer!

Teach us, good Lord, to serve thee as thou deservest;
to give and not to count the cost;
to fight and not to heed the wounds;
to toil and not to seek for rest;
to labour and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do thy will,
through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Friday, July 28, 2006 the Church Times!

If that sounds well-nigh impossible to readers of that sober and upright journal, let me assure you you are no more surprised than I. Having celebrated the 7.30 Eucharist this morning, I felt I could justifiably have coffee in the garden and whoosh through the paper before starting my “oughts” of the day.
And so I found an article by Judy Hirst, quoting some words of Mother Mary Clare’s

When you go before God, you cannot leave anything behind. You carry in your heart every person, every incident, every feeling you have ever had and as you lay them before God so you bring all the mess as well. My prayer …is really one sentence. “Here I am,- what a mess”

The words came from an essay by Bishop Jack Nicholls in Living the Eucharist (an Aff Cath publication of papers from one of their summer conferences). I dimly remembered being given the book, but this encouraged me to take it off the shelf…and in that same chapter I found 2 other gems.
The first piece is some words used to sum up the philosophy of a rehab centre, Phoenix House, which Bishop Jack knows well

“We are here because there is no refuge finally from ourselves. Until we confront ourselves in the eyes and hearts of others we are running. Until we suffer them to know our secrets, we can know no safety from them. Afraid to know ourselves, we can know no others. Where else but in our common ground can we find such a mirror. Here at least we can appear clearly to ourselves; not as the giant of our dreams nor the dwarf of our fears, but as people; part of the whole, with a share in its purpose. Here together we can take root and grow, not alone in death but alive in ourselves and in others.”

Knowing and being known. The gift of recognition of the reality of ourselves and of others….
What has finally brought me to my knees (literally) this morning is the final quote, from Jung

I admire you Christians because when you see someone hungry and thirsty, you see Jesus. When you see somebody in prison or in hospital you see Jesus. When you see someone who is strange, a stranger or naked, you see Jesus. What I don’t understand is that you don’t see Jesus in your own brokenness. Why are the poor always outside of you? Can’t you see that they are inside of you; in your hunger and thirst? That you too are sick; that you too are imprisoned in your own fears and need for honour and power; that you too have strange things inside of you which you don’t understand; that you too are naked?”

I spend so much time speaking to others about God present in the pain and mess of the world,- and I believe absolutely in his presence there. But I so often tend to think of it “there”…as if I’m a spectator….as if my own need for transformation, which I’m always aware of, is somehow distinct from all that. God is “out there” making all things new…but I’m somehow in a different place, frustrated that I can’t achieve that same newness myself.
But for this morning, I’m breathless with the awareness that when I stop and say to God
“Here I am,- what a mess!” he is already embroiled in every bit of that messiness,- and is changing it, changing me….

Father, your own Son did not refuse to be born
in the very thick of our muddle.
Humbly imitating him, may we show to your world
The new life by which we are transformed.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

More than you ever wanted to know about the Dean Sculpture Trail

Just because I'm having such fun with my wonderful wonderful new camera which TeaThaimGirl brought back from Hong Kong, you all have to see my piccies.
So, this very twiggy deer is in fact made of wire, which is kind of clever I think.....

and here's the decorated railway, plus a close up of one of the carvings

And the giant's chair (which could clearly do with re-caning, like many in the Curate's house!)
The view over the Forest from here is breathtaking, but blogger doesn't want you to see it, so you'll just have to meet me for a picnic and see for yourself!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Now that's what I CALL a day off!

OK, so it started earlier than is truly restful, as I needed to despatch offspring in various directions,- but after that, yesterday was the perfect antidote to all the bad-tempered, non-achieving inertia that has prevailed lately. While TeenWonder did the obligatory adolescent boy sleep till noon, I made some sun-
dried tomato bread (just having it cooking makes the whole house a nicer place instantly, and has a matching effect on the curate) and a bit more cooking, wrote a few overdue letters and spent some happy time surfing. Then after a late late breakfast, TW, the dogs and I set out for the Forest of Dean, to fulfill a long held ambition to walk some of the sculpture trail. There did seem to be more than our fair share of roadworks and diversions about the place, which were wearing once the dogs started their "Are we nearly there, mum" whines...but despite some memorably appalling signposts we made it eventually, and it was so utterly worth the effort. Walking through woodland on a hot sunny day is a pretty good start, with shadows dappling the ground ahead and clouds of butterflies dancing ahead of us. Add to this the company of two ecstatic dogs, and the unexpected pleasures of sculptures places where we'd just happen upon them (we never did find the official start of the trail, where there were maps of the whole thing, so we were constantly surprised, though sometimes confused) and the day couldn't fail. TW and I both love walking, - and it was hugely relaxing not to have to worry about other family members who are less keen....He doesn't even mind my irritating habit of stopping to take photographs every few yards. He even co-operates with them!

Apart from this strange troll-like creature nestling amid the tree roots, we encountered a deer and, later, an amazing railway line to nowhere, with each cross-piece (there must be a proper name for these, but I'm blowed if I can remember it) carved with wonderful shapes. Irritatingly it was here that Dillon the evil Jack Russel decided to play with a Very Large Dog Indeed, who was so terrified that he took to his heels, - forcing us to put both our dogs on the lead and abandon photography for a while. Later on, as we returned to the car,we found a giant's chair from which to enjoy views of trees as far as the eyes can see.* The wooded hills of the Forest of Dean always have a very Middle-Earth flavour to me,- but it was too hot to quest yesterday, so we drove home exulting in the presence of air conditioning in the new car (the first time I've ever had it) and playing silly mother/son games.
Even found an ice cream at the moment we wanted one!
And then, last night, I had a lovely supper at The Fromebridge Mill with 2 of my best friends from vicar-school. Blissful day...I feel really quite like myself again!

* blogger is currently in the foul mood that I was in earlier, and refused to load photos. I'll post them separately, later....and reconsider switching to type pad! Grrrrr.

Baptism Follow Up

Thanks,all of you for your comments and reassurance over the Affair of the Atheist God-mother! I was specially intrigued by Steve's tale of parental subterfuge recounted here. To be so intent on baptism in a particular church that you'll lie on that scale to achieve it is quite beyond me.

To return to the god-mother question, I think I knew all along that I could no other, but it was hugely helpful to read your takes on the situation. I don't on the whole have a problem with baptising,- well, anything that moves, really...I love the way the Common Worship service recognises that parental intentions (even if initially honourable) may fall prey to circumstance, so that the response to some of the baptismal questions is "With the help of God, we will"...and the service includes the reminder
"Today we are trusting God for her growth in faith..."
Perhaps I'm hiding behind the words, but it seems to me that this affirms the sacramental nature of baptism, that effects what it represents, and it certainly makes me far less anxious when I have reason to believe (as when baptising the second child of a families we just haven't seen since the first baptism) that the parental view of what is going on may not quite accord with my own.
Since I've been here, we've revamped the parish policy, so that parents are now invited to attend one preparation evening (video, wine and nibbles and some pretty robust discussion from time to time) and (in theory at least, though I have to confess to serious organisational issues with this) are then visited at home by one of the Baptism visiting team (we go in for catchy titles round here). As there's a high demand for this ministry, we don't insist that baptisms take place during the Sunday Eucharist, which is in any case not the kind of worship calculated to make the un-churched feel at home. However, being very conscious of the community dimension to baptism, we encourage families to return to OpenHouse (the once a month Sunday afternoon family slot) to receive the baptism candle and certificate and their welcome into the family of the church at St M's.
Generally, this seems to work pretty well. Though some people do vanish without trace having collected their loot, the majority are engaged by this service and attend as regularly as anyone with small children ever does anything...It feels OK,- a compromise between the sort of absolute inclusion that can lead to the abuse of hospitality and the assualt-course approach that some parishes favour. That said, I'm with Dr Moose in rejoicing hugely when parents are honest about where they are in their faith. Next month I'm due to baptise 3 children whose father delighted me soon after my arrival by announcing that he had far too much respect for the church to make a string of promises he couldn't keep, so was intent on a thanksgiving. Life took over, and that service never actually happened, but in the intervening time some hard thinking has been taking place and he is now not only happy to make this faith committment on behalf of his children, but is seriously considering it for himself. Altogether rather wonderful!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

I HATE saying No!

A few years ago, a certain bank (and perhaps its significant that I actually can't remember which one it was) ran a series of adverts claiming for itself a role as `The bank that likes to say "Yes"!'
Though I'd draw the line at booking a series of prime time slots, I guess I'd pretty much seen myself as representing a `church that likes to say "yes"'. After all, as Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians "in [God] it is always yes",- and I've set out to be as accommodating and positive as is humanly possible, trying always to include, rather than to remove barriers rather than set up assualt courses.
So you'll understand that I find it pretty hard when I can't see anything to say except "No".
The question put to me by a very sincere and determined mother, who had fought more than a few battles with her husband's family en route to her daughter's baptism was
"Is it OK for an unbaptised atheist to be a god-parent?"
Pretty clear, that one, you'd think. It's hard to make promises on behalf of another that you're not willing to make for yourself...and anyway, you'd think that a card-carrying atheist wouldn't much want to be party to shackling a poor defenceless babe to the whole machinery of the Christian Church. I showed the mum the place on the baptism forms where it states very clearly that all godparents should have been baptised (and ideally confirmed) and explained the possibility of the atheist expressing her love and concern for the baby by standing as a sponsor. I suggested, too, that I'd be very willing to talk through questions of faith and perhaps baptise the non-god-parent in a double ceremony, if that was her wish.
A few days later, the person in question phoned me and we talked for a couple of hours. Rather heart-breakingly, she was desperately concerned to show me her credentials as a good person, to assure me of her committment to her family, her community, even to the restoration of her local church-yard...I welcomed all this warmly, and did all I could to assure her that it wasn't her fitness to be a mentor for the babe that was at stake. I explained to her too the legal requirement that all godparents should have been at least baptised....I talked about the way people are introduced to clubs generally by those who are already members. I offered, as the conversation continued, to baptise her too, and she said she would think about it. When I put the phone down, I felt that we'd explored all the issues thoroughly, and she seemed in a happier frame of mind than she had been.
So I was disappointed when the mum phoned to say that X had decided against being even a sponsor, that she thought the church was being totally legalistic and unreasonable and might not even attend the service.
In the event, she did, and we had another long conversation afterwards...We parted friends, I think, but I'm not sure that she understood even so where I was coming from. So I'm home now, wondering if I should have simply allowed her to stand up as a godparent, and not entered her name on the registers...whether a subterfuge would have been the kindest option here. I'm praying, though, that in having been unhelpful for her in this way, I may have, as she said, prompted her to think through the whole question of faith and committment more seriously, for herself and for her small daughter. She doesn't live locally, so I may never hear the end of the story...but I shall pray for her, even if she would hate that....and wish so much that I could have said "Yes".

Choric Song of The Lotus Eaters

In early childhood, my parents often read part of thisthis to me as a lullaby. Together with the slow movement of Schubert's String Quintet, it remains the archetypal soundtrack for a hot day when you'd rather be doing nothing, and pretty much sums up the degree of lassitude there has been about the place recently. For "walls of shadowy granite" read "the ancient stones that make up St M's" and you'll know where to find me, dozing in a corner

There is sweet music here that softer falls
Than petals from blown roses on the grass,
Or night-dews on still waters between walls
Of shadowy granite, in a gleaming pass;
Music that gentlier on the spirit lies,
Than tired eyelids upon tired eyes;
Music that brings sweet sleep down from the blissful skies.
Here are cool mosses deep,
And through the moss the ivies creep,
And in the stream the long-leaved flowers weep,
And from the craggy ledge the poppy hangs in sleep.

Terminal inertia

having been the order of the day in these parts (a combination of thoroughly un-British temperatures, a garden backing onto a primary school filled with de-mob happy children and the fact that none of my offspring seem to need to do anything much for the next 6 weeks) there's not been alot worth blogging. On Friday we were at a barbecue for Local Ministry teams, Readers and clergy from across the deanery- and I was lamenting the non-achievements of the week. Rural Dean said, in a friendly way,
"Remember it's about being as much as doing"
to which my only retort was
"Yes, but not about being a grumpy old cow..."
Which pretty much sums up the week.
Who was it who introduced me to those pernicious marbles, again?
However, there was a wonderful storm yesterday, with gallons of rain, and the atmosphere has freshened perhaps this will have an impact on my state of mind too.
Today I'm off the preaching hook, but have 2 very different baptisms back to back this afternoon. One of them is a 10 year old, who lives in Australia with his mum...but wanted to be baptised with all his UK family around him. The other is a baby girl whose parents have had to fight quite a sustained battle with one set of grandparents to bring their daughter to baptism at all.
It's been very special to be part of both journeys (one by email). Prayers for all involved would be welcome.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Happy Birthday to us :-)

As a high proportion of readers here will already know, now we are one! In my unceasing quest for ways of evading anything I should be doing that isn't yet utterly urgent, I'd begun reading assorted American blogs in the spring of last year, and found myself exchanging a good few comments with somone calling herself Songbird (though back in those days, her blog had a different title). I followed links from her home, and met other women in ministry...I began to feel I had real friends thousands of miles away. Then the 7th July bombings happened, and my in box was full of messages of love and support from across the ocean. I wanted to hug all of my new friends....I wanted to belong to anything that included them.
Just about then, St Casserole had an idea for a t shirt (I still haven't bought one, though I do have the tote bag and a very special notebook (fx: hugs Songbird). Maybe I should buy myself a birthday present? And someone suggested a web ring...and I had to ask what one of those was.
And now here we all are, one year on. And there are so many of us, people I'd never otherwise encounter but with whom I have so much in common.

Now, I'm supposed to be answering questions rather than just waxing here goes.

What is your first memory of the RevGalBlogPals?
Sharing a feeling of building excitement as we planned the beginnings of the ring, via the first cafe press designs.

2) Have you met any of the other ring members in real life?
Georgraphy is a bit of a facer, here...However, Maggi was a good friend even before I met the rest of you on line. So far, Anna is the only person I've met irl through the ring, but, oh joy, Songbird is coming to stay next month.

3) Of those you haven't met, name a few you would love to know in person.
All of you, though I do feel specially close to the other founding Matriarchs. We've been reading each other for a long time, after all. When ReverendMommy's daughters are poorly, I worry...When LutheranChik lost her mother, it was all I could do to stop myself leaping on a plane..And praying for St Casserole (by that name) in the intercessions at church for weeks after Katrina means that my congregation want me to meet her nearly as much as I do!

4) What has Ring Membership added to your life?
As you'll probably know, I'm an only child...the kind of relationship in which so much of the background can be taken for granted is what I imagine that sisters might have...and I've found it here. Women whose experiences of ministry and motherhood match or complement my own. Friends who are around when I need someone to make me smile, or think hard.
People whom I can ask for prayer without feeling in the least anxious.
Oh...and the minor thrill of seeing my work in print, twice, for the first time since I left university!

5) Describe a hope for the future of the WebRing.
More of the same seems a little unadventurous, but the mixture has been very special for me...As we grow larger, my hope is that everyone who wants will find the kind of intense connection I've enjoyed, with at least some ring members...and that we'll manage to meet up irl one day soon.
Meanwhile, I'm hugely thankful for your friendship and good company on the journey so far. Please pass me a glass now, I need to drink a toast!

Thursday, July 20, 2006


The post this morning was lovely.
  • Postcard from SuperstarBishop, who invites us to tell him what we'd personally like prayer for when our parish comes up in the diocesan cycle and then writes to confirm that he has done so...
  • Totally unnecessary but very sweet letter from parishioner whom I'd seen in hospital couple of weeks ago talking about the difference a visit made - (this included the observation that, as I'd been there when he was having a scan, I was probably one of relatively few clergy that had actually seen right into the heart of one of their flock ;-) )
  • Letter from Spiritual Direction course offering me a place for January. I am soooo pleased.
Of course, there was the usual assortment of bank statements, circulars from charities etc but I'm so excited about the rest that those don't count.
Have a happy Thursday, everyone! Mine has started quite beautifully.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

When you can't kneel

Things were a bit different at St M’s last Sunday.
Before you all get too excited, and envisage a grand revival sweeping Charlton Kings,- or even the curate getting her sermon done before the 11th hour, let me clarify. The only difference was structural, in that the chapel that’s generally used as a second station for the distribution of the Sacrament was out of commission due to confusion with carpet layers. (In this respect, it seems that carpet layers are closely allied to plumbers, since they disappeared on Thursday to collect some hardboard, and have not been seen since)
As a result, when it came to the Communion, I found myself standing, ciborium in hand, at the head of the north aisle, - a “Standing station” no less.
And it was very very interesting.
On a practical level, it was rather a success because those older members who have hated being marked out at the altar because they can no longer kneel with ease were now indistinguishable from their neighbours. 50% of the congregation received standing and that was that.
Result,- several happy old ladies.

But something else was going on, which really intrigues me.
Bear in mind that on the whole the St M’s congregation believes that kneeling is the only correct posture for almost anything to do with God…they even say the Gloria on their knees midweek, and as for the Eucharistic prayer. At my first Eucharist I made a special point of asking them to stand, and they did, rather reluctantly, but it was clearly a bridge too far and they thankfully subsided to their knees from then on. After all, kneeling is holy. Standing is downright disrespectful (and the BPC puts us straight at the very beginning of the invitation to confession when it demands a congregation “meekly kneeling upon their knee”)
Bear in mind, too, that there lingers a residual assumption that Holy Communion is only about the individual and God,-with no horizontal dimension at all. People share the Peace, because it seems like a nice friendly sort of thing to do, but don’t really see that God might be interested in the quality of relationships within the community .
Now imagine that you are receiving the Sacrament from someone standing just in front of you.
Where do you look?
When I’ve been on duty at a standing station in the past, its largely been at big diocesan occasions, ordinations, confirmations etc, and there’s been lots of eye contact with happy excited people who are carried away by the joy of the celebration.
I had no such expectations at St M’s, imagining that on the whole people would carry on kneeling metaphorically, and would definitely approach with downcast eye.
Not a bit of it.
Barring one or two (interestingly, including at least one lady who habitually receives standing due to dodgy knee, so has presumably worked through a whole process) every single communicant positively sought eye contact, and more than a few added “thank you” to their habitual “Amen”.
Trying to work out why. Are they beginning to recognise that there is a community dimension to worship, and affirming that?
Were they acknowledging that this is a moment of shared encounter, as precious to the giver as the recipient?
Did they understand, briefly, how very intensely we pray for each person as we place that precious fragment into their empty hands?
Or were they (please, Lord, NOOOOOOOO) simply trying to make the curate feel alright about doing something that is clearly not “proper” as it’s not the way things normally happen at St M’s? A reassuring smile for the G.L.C, who is, after all, only doing her best??
I have to say, I loved it…(though it must be said there is nothing about this aspect of ministry I don’t love), and would be keen to do it again, but for a vague worry that if there’s eye contact week in, week out, it’s going to be very hard to get myself out of the way and enable each person to focus on Jesus. How does the song go “It’s not about me…….”
It’s that balancing act again, I guess. I’ll be quite disappointed, though, if the chapel is back to normal this weekend. It’s good to have to think round these issues again

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Inclusive Church?

He drew a circle that shut me out--
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!

"Outwitted" by Edwin Markham

Steve (who is married to the wonderful preacher at the Gloucester Ordinations) has a post that made me think hard this morning. I'm so aware of the risk of becoming "exclusively inclusive", of thinking "I don't choose to be part of a church that includes people like X, with their narrow, biggotted views!",- and forgetting that pretty much everything about me needs - let's be honest - I was going to write "a lot of work" but what I actually mean is "complete transformation".
Steve asks "what price reconciliation?",- and goes on to answer his own question. The line that Love drew was drawn in his own blood. How dare I ever exclude anyone, even in my thoughts?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Thwarted at every turn

Despite myself, I've just had to abandon the Evening Grump.
I'd been planning a sad little post to tell you all about how much I'm not enjoying the current rehearsal for When the Children Finally Leave (they are currently either living it up in the Big City or tootling cheerfully away on the school's annual music residential, in a wonderful Quaker boarding school (which their common or garden comprehensive borrows every year) with lovely staff, swimming pool and time to enjoy it all), how wrong it feels to come home, yell "Hi guys" and find dogs and husband wondering how to answer, how unnerving it is when bread made in the morning is still there when I get in at 6.00, how miserable the poor deserted mother is feeling....
But I can't.
Because I've just had a lovely evening with my very favourite youth group, cheering indiscriminately for them and for the parish opposition in the end of term rounders tournament, eating mini chocolate brownies (c/o Morrisons....excellent value, and they actually taste home made) and being stunned yet again by how very nifty WonderfulVicar is with a rounders bat. The golden evening brightened in the west, the way they do, and we were all very happy and relaxed in each other's company,- and I reflected that a bit of losing my temper with the PCC was a small price to pay for the lovely things that are happening with those kids right now.
No idea who won,- but I love all of them anyway, so that doesn't matter ;-)
Oh, the sermon was pretty dim...didn't so much fly as plummet, but nobody actually walked out, and tomorrow is another day.
As may be painfully obvious, I was an only child, and thus probably exhibit all sorts of spoiled singleton traits of which I'm happily oblivious. (Apologies if you're some of the people up whose nose I get with these...)
I really enjoyed only-child status, as I got on happily with adults, was allowed the space and time I needed to read and read and read some more, and always got to choose the pudding! Latterly, though, I've been aware of a few down-sides (beyond the obvious one of finding myself abruptly abandoned at 18, which, despite what you'd imagine, truly wasn't that bad). One of these is the need I have to do everything (if there's only you, and you don't do something, then nobody does), which manifests itself not so much as an urge to have fingers in every parish pie as in a feeling of most unreasonable disappointment when I have to miss out on a chance I've been offered. So it is that, with the excitement of the India trip getting more real every day (did I tell you that my e ticket has arrived in my in box?) I am wasting time and energy feeling thoroughly upset because while I'm away the other curates will have an overnight training session on healing ministry.
I'm grumpy about this for several reasons...
  1. When asked for suggestions for training events next year, healing ministry was something I begged for
  2. There have actually been requests that we hold the odd healing service at St M's, - which is so miraculously counter to their customary approach ( "God is dangerous and only to be approached when duly protected by the utmost liturgical formality" ) that I feel the interest can only be a direct response to the Holy I want to start something asap, but have less than no experience
  3. Though there is a diocesan day on healing planned for February, we have yet another curate training CME day (with the utterly wonderful David Hoyle, so I can't even really resent this) scheduled to clash with this.
  4. (Very ignoble) It's being held at a retreat house I've not yet visited, and wanted to investigate.
Rationally, I am absolutely aware that there will be other opportunities to learn about this ministry, that I could probably find comparable training through the enticing Retreats Guide and that if God wants me to learn more, he'll certainly make it possible.
But the "do it all" only child is still sulking big time because she can't actually have her cake and eat it this time,- and knowing that I'm being silly isn't helping at all. Grrrr.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Pulling teeth

The process of writing this week's sermon for Evensong, using the Lectionary readings for the "Second Service" is not one I'm keen to repeat. Yet again, though I looked at the texts on Monday, it wasn't till late last night that I began to seriously address the question of what I should say to a tiny congregation (admittedly boosted by up to 20 choristers, sitting in the chancel behind me and generally opening their books before the preacher has even made it up the pulpit steps) scattered far and wide around the church, in order to take maximum advantage of the pillars helpfully provided for protection from eye contact with anyone, anywhere.
I read and thought and thought and read, then went to bed praying that God would suggest some possible direction in the course of the night. But nothing. Not a glimmer of a hint.
Trying not to panic, I set off for a morning's CME. Surely something, someone would inspire me in the course of the morning.
Umm. No.
Not this time.
Unless, of course, you count my first meeting with one of the new deacons. Ordained two weeks ago, M has a scary cum wonderful brief in that he is attached as a curate to the Cathedral (and has to preach there tomorrow, poor guy!) , but is also a "pioneer missioner" to the city of Gloucester, with a brief to develop some sort of fresh expression of church among the under 30s there. It strikes me that combining these two varieties of ministry may be an almost impossible task, but a very exciting one.
So perhaps its not altogether surprising that eventually I found myself writing a sermon from Romans 15:20
I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation

In fact, what I've produced is not so much a sermon as a, help, I don't know, a mini presentation maybe?- on fresh expressions. Ah well. Maybe it's time to remind St M's that such things exist.
I hope so, because it's really and truly the best I could do this time round. I'm dreading the process of preaching it, because I'm not convinced it's actually what God has in mind...but unless an alternative arrives fully developed so that I can commit it to screen in under an hour tomorrow, it's all I have to offer. Hope he'll find some way of using it regardless.

Thereby hangs a tale

ppb, in her innocence, asked what I meant by "becotta'd" in the previous post,- a totally reasonable enquiry, as there is almost certainly no such word! I meant to imply that said fussy servers were, of course, wearing cottas as part of their liturgical dress. A cotta is a short surplice - i.e. the white garment that these 2 gents are wearing. Unlike a surplice, it often comes with lace trimming and tends to be worn only in places of distinctly catholic churchmanship.
Which brings me to the story...
An unmarried priest I know was leading a mission weekend in the parish of an old college friend, and arrived on the Friday evening to discover that, due to a communications breakdown he had been booked a double room at the local B&B. He checked in and left his case, then went off to the first session of the weekend, returning home quite late. His hostess met him in the hall on his return, and told him that she'd taken the liberty of unpacking his night things when she went up to turn down his bed. Imagine, if you will, his delight when he saw that she had, with exquisite tact, placed his pyjamas on one pillow and, on the other, his lovely lacey cotta. A holy nightie :-)

The Friday Five, or Beware low-flying poltergeists

It being Saturday and not Friday at all, I should probably refrain from joining in this jolly game, but such is my enthusiasm for Romans 15 (on which I'm preaching tomorrow evening) I simply have to find some diversions. So, in an appropriately grumpy spirit I present my very own Pet Peeves (or a selection thereof)

1.Grammatical pet peeve I'm pretty nasty about an awful lot of grammar, I fear. BBC English is no longer what it was, so examples of tooth-grinding horror are legion, but for today I nominate the confusion of "may" with "might" as in "If X had not gone for that walk, he may have been dead". Grrr. Hate it!

2. Household pet peeve
. As one who is dangerously inclined towards slum-living I'm not really in a position to say too much here,- motes and beams, you know! I do hate it when the family put stuff in the dustbin that could happily be recycled (I have to fish it out), - and that at least is something I tend to get right.

3. Arts & Entertainment pet peeve (movie theaters, restaurants, concerts)

The ladies behind me who pass their bag of wrapped sweets back and forth throughout the performance, rustling as they go. Usually, I'd be pastorally sensitive and enthralled with that account of daughter Sharon's holiday on Kos, but I actually wanted to see the film today. It's my day off, OK!

4. Liturgical pet peeve. Over-fussy activity by becotta'd servers during the Eucharist. Or perhaps the groans and mutters of agreement that occurr during informal prayers in some contexts.

5. Wild card--pet peeve that doesn't fit any of the above categories.
The way a Driver I Know is always convinced that the other motorists are only there to annoy, and make errors absolutely on purpose, and keeps up a commentary to that effect. Imbeciles, the lot of them!

Bonus: Because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God: What do YOU do that others might consider a pet peeve?

Oooh...where to start? LongsufferingClockmaker hates it when I complete his sentences for him (specially if he wasn't actually going where I was quite sure he was). The PCC hate it when I forget that there is a committee structure for most things, and subvert them by doing things myself. Lots of people find my last-minute-ness drives them mad. And I talk too much. Always.
Off to change into my hair shirt now. And write that sermon, perhaps?

Friday, July 14, 2006

Soul baring

I've spent most of today filling in the forms for a course in spiritual direction, which SuperstarBishop suggested I should pursue a good year ago. It felt a bit odd, since the last time I was filling in this sort of thing was before I went to my Selection Conference...and I do rather want to get onto this course (not only because it runs from January, so would fit round my trip to India in November). Over the past two years people have begun to invite me to share their journeys, and that is such a great privilege, but leaves me feeling more inadequate than ever. I have been (and am) hugely blessed in my own spiritual directors,- which not only means that I know how helpful the relationship can be, but also (of course) makes me more wary of charging in with my size 9s, trampling on everything in sight and jumping to conclusions left, right and centre. I've so much to learn.
The forms were not really too alarming, but they did ask for an outline of my faith journey on one side of A4. As someone who always says EVERYTHING, that was disturbingly challenging, so in the end I edited, abbreviated and otherwise amended the final assignment from Vicar School. Some of it I've already posted, but I'm going to put the whole lot here, partly at least because I have an awful feeling that in presenting myself thus I've maybe confused the issue...but I really REALLY didnt feel like doing a time line or similar tidy account of my faith journey, because that has not been the reality.

The journey so far,- a personal reflection using words borrowed from poetry as stepping stones along the way.

Though chronology is of course linear, my faith journey is perhaps more of a kaleidoscope than a clear pathway, with shifting fragments falling into patterns that can only be discerned when held up to the light. For each stage, poetry has given me glimpses of the numinous, a country `faire and farre beyond all telling’, and I’ve included some of these glimpses to give an emotional flavour of the time. I find this sort of “patchwork” writing a huge help in my spiritual journey, as I work out where I am and where God is in my experience through journalling and (latterly) through the spiritual aspects of my blog. In a kaleidoscope, the patterns are circular, like our journey from God to God, and so at the centre of the pattern some words of John Donne represent God’s presence in my life
“Thy firmnesse drawes my circle just
And makes me end where I begunne.”
Early childhood, a time of energy and security for me, is represented by lines from Browning’s “Pippa’s Song”
“The year’s at the spring, the day’s at the morn
Morning’s at seven, the hillside dew-pearl’d.
The lark’s on the wing, and the snail’s on the thorn
God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world.”
An only child, secure in the knowledge that I’m the centre of my parents’ universe, I learn early that their security stems from a love that’s even greater than the love they lavish on me. My mother’s health is poor, the future may be uncertain, but it’s made clear to me that the facts are kind, that all will be well in some way that I can’t really grasp, but am content to accept, because all experience supports this.
Teenage years see the growing awareness of God in the beauty of music and liturgy, as I’m head chorister in a school which takes its worship, above all the Eucharist, with the utmost seriousness. Confirmation at 13 has little impact, but three years later I meet Herbert’s poem “Love bade me welcome” and recognise its truth. “So I did sit and eat”.
At 18 comes the abrupt transition from child to adult following the death of my parents. Returning home from school on the day of my father’s death, I’m revising for an A level the next morning. As I read, in a railway carriage somewhere near Pevensey Bay, the words on the page become solid, as God meets me, hugs me and holds me.
I have a sinne of feare, that when I have spunne
My last thred, I shall perish on the shore;
But sweare by thy selfe, that at my death thy sonne
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;
And, having done that, Thou hast done,
I feare no more.
The direct knowledge of that love has stayed with me through everything that has happened to me, ever since.
My twenties, the period of falling in love and early married life, of childbirth and miscarriage, bring me up against God Incarnate, in all the mess, pain and joy of birth. The experience of birth and death, touching each other in miscarriage, is profoundly important to me; looking to blame God for his cruelty I find that he is there in the situation before me, as vulnerable baby and as suffering parent. It’s at this point that my faith becomes an integral essential of every day, as I realise that I can only share it with my children if I’m immersed in it myself…“And the word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”

Busy years of motherhood, at home with small children, the days an endless welter of playgroups, tumbletots and music workshops…At a Family Service in Great Rissington one St David’s Day, I listen to the first ordained woman I’ve encountered. She has invited the children to search for crosses all round the church and now they are clustered at her feet as she talks about Celtic crosses. Suddenly a child’s clear voice begins to sing,
God’s love is like a circle, a circle big and round
For when you draw a circle, no ending can be found
And so the love of Jesus goes on eternally
For ever and for ever…God’s love for you and me”
The voice is my 5 year old daughter’s and before the service ends I hear another Voice saying “You could do that for me too, you know”. It takes me almost 10 years to discover what this means, and arrive at the point of obedience, but as the kaleidoscope is held up to the light, the pattern is clearer. Training for Reader ministry, and then for Ordination…the excitement of new ways of thinking, of praying, of being with God and meeting God in other people. Ordination, with the huge sense of Gift about this calling and its possibilities . + M anointed our hands, which felt like the most powerful thing that's been done for me, ever. It has turned them into a sacramental sign in themselves, so that whatever I do, I use them and am reminded of my priesthood, a non-negotiable part of the person I now am. It means that when I stand at the altar saying those HUGE words, confronted repeatedly by my own inadequacy, the mismatch between aspiration and reality, I can look at my hands and remember the Grace that had been prayed down on me, the Love in which I live and move and have my being.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

It's obvious.

Just received an email briefing from WATCH, including a report from a member of their "General Synod Task Force", who has plenty to say about the debates leading to the votes that have, please God, finally cleared the way for the ordination of women to the episcopate. It's all good stuff, but I wanted to share a real gem.

"Tom Wright’s powerful speech which, in 5 brief minutes, offered exegesis of Mary as the apostle to the apostles, trashed the Da Vinci Code, and made a pertinent and firm response to Cardinal Kasper’s address to the House of Bishops (along the lines of “we are glad to hear from our Roman Catholic friends; but we are Anglicans, and an Anglican is not a sort of misshaped Roman Catholic”). This response is now published as a pamphlet titled “Women and Episcopacy”. Freely available to Synod members in the general hall, there was a notice on the desk saying
“Women and episcopacy – free gift – help yourself”
No one could have summed up our position better!"

Can it be that the penny has finally dropped??

Reasons to be cheerful...

though short of blogging inspiration at the moment, there are some happy things happening

  • came home just now to the smell of warm bread...I am still devoted to my breadmaker, 5 months on
  • our first veg box from the (incredibly) local organic greengrocer has arrived, and included the best peach I have eaten in ages. It tasted of summer childhoods, and has made me smiley as well as sticky. And everything else in the box looks wonderful too, has impeccable credentials and came from suppliers only 15 mins away by bike. Wheeee!
  • have now been using "Ecoballs" instead of washing detergent for nearly 2 weeks, and they actually seem to work...which is really good news with a family who create as much washing as this one.
  • WonderfulVicar is home from his hols, and I've not managed to kill anyone crucial or empty the church completely
  • I opened the front door last night, to encounter a truly lovely cake produced by OpenHouse mum as a thank you for letting her art group use the church
  • School term ends tomorrow week...then 6 glorious weeks without morning rush, afternoon negotiations (if I pick up at 3.15, can you get X to Y for 5.00) or 3.00 curfew to bring me home from anywhere exciting on days off
Speaking of which, it's time I went or LoudBoy (who is in the market for a new blogname, if those who know him have any suggestions) will be sure I've forgotten him. No chance, truly!

Monday, July 10, 2006

A breath of fresh air.

Out and about again this evening. At this rate I will be in serious danger of remembering that the Church exists beyond the parish boundaries, which could be quite exciting! Tonight's hoolie was a WATCH Eucharist at the Norman church there, as dodgy weather made the ruined abbey a bit too risky. Lovely service, surrounded by friends again, and with some rather good inclusive liturgy. The woman who presided was the very first person in the diocese I spoke to as I began to totter hesitantly towards accepting my vocation to priesthood.She has done so much for women's ministry here and it was good to be together as General Synod, God bless it, deliberates, debates and decides how (or whether) to clear the way to ordain women to the episcopate. Cracking sermon (Matt 9 18-26) from the new diocesan Dean of Women Clergy, who preached about risk and pain as unavoidable en route to life in all its fulness (well, that's an extremely truncated digest...I hope it's fair). I needed to hear that, as the prospect of endless repetitions of the same old arguments over the ordination of women full stop, which will certainly surface as we discuss women bishops at parish, deanery and diocesan level, tend to make me wish I'd stuck to being a pony club mother, or taken up flower arranging.
Except, of course, I know I couldn't have been really me,-so in the end, no choice really...nor about praying, campaigning, doing whatever is needful towards the next stage of a fully inclusive church.
When we arrived, we were each given a sweet-pea flower, and at the offertory were invited to place it in a basket "in thanksgiving for all those whose gifts in ministry we wish to celebrate". I'm blessed to know some truly amazing women, whose friendship and inspiration makes the whole journey far more joy than work, so I really loved being able to do this. Would rather like to pass out flowers to the women themselves, actually :-)
And afterwards, being thoroughly British, we doggedly ate our picnics in the abbey, in the greyness of an imminent drizzle which never quite materialised. We laughed alot, chatted in a desultory way, and all was relaxed, gentle, undemanding. Friendship is a great gift, is it not!

It has done me so much good to worship in other contexts than St M's over the past 10 days...I must, must, MUST try harder to make this happen a bit more often. Please remind me.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

A Rare sighting

Having spent a quite unreasonable length of time this week trying to bring order from chaos in my study, I am proud to report that my desk, which was last seen under piles of books and papers and strange wooden animals about a year ago is in fact an Ikea special constructed of varnished pine. I'd kind of forgotten...
What's more, I bring photographic proof,- purely for my own reassurance, that once, on a July evening in 2006, it was really pretty close to tidy. Just look at all that space!
Wiped out now. Have just had happy time eating jelly by the mug-full with Koinonia, a slightly surreal end to a rather long day. I love Sundays, but they do have a way of going on ! Must sleeeeep.

With angels and archangels

One way and another, it’s been a good week to experience a huge variety of worship. To start with, WonderfulVicar AND both retired associate priests have been away on holiday so, for the very first time in two years I’ve been able to lead the full gamut of worship offered at St M’s. In the course of a week, that’s quite a lot, though sadly we no longer offer a daily Eucharist. This week that didn't matter, as I found myself receiving the Sacrament every single day anyway,- something that hasn't been possible for me since the days when I was working in London, just a stone's throw from St James' Piccadilly, and later All Saints, Margaret Street. I'd forgotten how that daily encounter shapes and impacts on every aspect of life, and I'd love to be part of a church that enabled that once again.
I admit to struggling to actually pray the Book of Common Prayer Eucharist on Thursday morning though. I’m just not sufficiently familiar with presiding at this service, and there are one of two bits of local custom that nearly threw me completely. I also find it odd to spend almost the whole service with my back to the congregation, though there’s little I can do about that given the logistics of the chapel. (Plans to reorder there are progressing, and might be realised before the next millennium, given God’s grace and a following wind!!)
To add to the St M’s mix, there was of course the Ordination of Priests in Gloucester last Saturday, and yesterday I was invited by our Baptist neighbours to participate in the ordination of their new Associate Pastor, a woman from their own congregation who had received a call to minister in her own church and community. That was a very relaxed and friendly occasion, and it’s lovely that our ecumenical friendships are so strong that an Anglican priest could find herself taking part in the laying on of hands at the time of ordination. I did miss the powerful invocation of the Holy Spirit that had been part of the service last week, and for me last year, but the service was very much a reflection of S’s call and ministry, and planned on that basis.

Even more than the Ordinations, though, this week has been shaped by my attendance at the 1st Eucharists of two friends made priest last weekend. Both were experiences of the deepest possible joy, both in different ways flung open windows onto heaven, both filled me with a real sense of the Church Universal, stretching through time and space. It was wonderful to come hot and dishevelled from a busy week and be totally swept up in the experience, to know myself surrounded by friends with whom I could exchange hugs and smiles, and no less by friends who now rejoice to see God face to face. When I wrote about my own 1st Mass last year, I said
Nothing had prepared me for the weight of the words, nor for their absolute reality. What’s more, those wonderful Sacramental things that I did for the first time on Sunday are now in a mysterious way, part of what I am for. At the end of the service we sang “And can it be?” and I thought the whole church might take off. So many friends, living and departed were involved in that singing….and in the whole journey to this weekend.
The preacher at T’s 1st Mass on Wednesday, focussing on angels (since the service was a Votive of the Holy Angels) made the same point as she spoke about angels as "musicians of the soul", whose song enables our faltering worship to become fit for God’s majesty. At that service the offertory hymn was How shall I sing that majesty,- and this week’s worship has made its last verse in particular very real for me.

How great a being, Lord, is Thine,
Which doth all beings keep!
Thy knowledge is the only line
To sound so vast a deep.
Thou art a sea without a shore,
A sun without a sphere;
Thy time is now and evermore,
Thy place is everywhere.

Thanks be to God.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

This week's sermon

is lurking here. At least that way you can't stumble upon it by accident. If you go looking for it, then I have to presume you quite want to read it,- so it's not my fault!
I feel very self-conscious posting sermons at all, but when I created the sermon blog the hope was that other St M's preachers would be willing to post their words too. In the event, though they all sounded enthusiastic, nobody is willing to commit their words to the ether....whereas I do so much soul baring in the public arena of my blog that it seems a bit bizarre to come over all coy when it comes to preaching. So, this is my solution. No obligation at all!

The horse and her boy

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I was one of those little girls who was seriously keen on horses. My room was covered in wrapping-paper posters, my china pony collection was nearly as large as my library, and my bookshelves groaned under the weight of such titles as (iirc) "Jill and her ponies win every rosette in sight and then gallop off into the sunset" .
There wasn't the money for a pony of my own, but I did have riding lessons for a few years, and then, one day, quite abruptly I woke up and realised that I'd rather go to choir than the yard,- and that was it. All passion spent, just like that!

However, when TeathaimGirl showed symptoms of a similar ailment, we were living in the Cotswolds, prime pony country,- and what's more, her school boasted a farm attached, complete with stables. So for some years I played the part of a Pony Club Mother, though lacking most of the essential skills and credentials (you are truly blessed to have missed the experience of Kathryn Trying To Park a Horse Trailer). By dint of saving all birthday and Christmas money for years and nobly washing up in the local pub from the age of 14, TeathaimGirl managed to raise a sum equivalent to about half a basic pony, and when her grandfather died and left each of the children a sum of money that was designed to make dreams happen now, rather than representing a sensible contribution towards first car or flat, there was no doubt how she would spend hers. And so Sam came into our life,- an elderly Arab horse who loved jumping when in the mood but at other times was quite prepared to screech to a halt, depositing his rider in an undignified heap at his feet. During one week of Pony Club Camp, this happened so often that she won an award for the most stylish falls.
We were all fond of Sam, but he was definitely high maintenance , and the combination of first public exams for L plus ordination training beginning for me meant that we needed to find a less demanding animal....A stressful summer of near sales, near purchases and every shade of drama in between came to an end when Sam went to a riding centre in Somerset, to be replaced by Truffle and (by now LoudBoy was keen to spend his "Grandpa money") Nipper,- whom we were assured were easy-care, drip-dry ponies.
Nipper is the sort of little round pony that Thelwell loved to draw....short on legs, huge on character. She has looked after her boy for 5 years now, teaching him as much about independence as riding. Together they've taken part in Pony Club events (Nipper even won a cup for "The Most Up and Coming Pony") and played gymkhana games. They've headed off for long rides through the countryside, and I've relaxed knowing that in any crisis Nipper has at least as much common sense as her rider, and will ensure that he comes to no harm. She has been the little pony that my child-self dreamed of, and a loved and valued member of the family.
But times change.
TeaThaimGirl is off to college, leaving Truffle behind her, and to be honest, LoudBoy's feet could have touched the ground from Nipper's saddle for a while now. She really does need a new home, and today a family visited, and are borrowing her on 4 weeks trial.
Nobody told me that it would feel so confusing. I really want her to find a family to love and enjoy her,- and this sounds nearly perfect, so I'm hoping and hoping it works out. But part of me doesn't want to see her leave at all,-for it's one more sign that the children are growing up at the speed of light, and I'm not sure I'm ready.
On reflection, perhaps I never will be,- but it's clearly going to happen anyway, and Nipper's departure is just one more sign of the times. So I will invite prayer, if its not too frivolous, that this new family takes to her, and she to them. She deserves a really good home, even if I do feel as disloyal as if I were selling my aunty!

Friday, July 07, 2006

We have a dream.

OK…I suspect that by now you are all heartily weary of my telling you how utterly wonderful our young people are. Nonetheless, at the end of a week in which I’ve been rather depressed by some of the in-built legalism of the institutional church, (in both local and national manifestations), they have been lighting beacons for me in all directions, and I can’t say how grateful I am to them (and to God, for putting me here where I could meet them).*

If your week has been at all like mine, feel free to be encouraged and inspired by the responses to an S.O.S email I sent to some youth group members yesterday, when I realised I’d mislaid (well, I have just tidied the study) their original contributions, which I’d intended to turn into a display on “Our dreams/God’s dreams” for the board by the west door.

The final display is headed I HAVE A DREAM and reads like this...

The prophet Joel looked forward to the coming of God’s Spirit, and prophesied that when the Spirit came the young would see visions and the old would dream dreams.
God’s Holy Spirit is alive and active in our world today, and inspires us to share in God’s dreams for creation…and to work to make them a reality.

I dream of…..

  • a world where 2 and 2 equals 4 for everyone, not 7 for the rich people and 1 for the poor

  • a world where the young share their creativity, the old share their wisdom, the poor share their hope, the rich share their wealth, the clever share their perceptiveness,the foolish share their contentedness

  • a world where we recognise and set aside our prejudices instead of making them the unconscious basis of our judgements

  • a world where people think not “If I help that person, what will happen to me?” but “If I don’t help that person, what will happen to them?

  • a world where people smile and greet their neighbours, rather than passing by with heads down or eyes averted

  • a world whose people live and believe in forgiveness

  • a world where the staircase to heaven has a rope from God, a harness from the Church and a handrail from the people of the nations

Do you dare to dream your dream too?

See what I mean? They're wonderful, aren't they??

*Important note to Koinonia: any of you guys who are reading had better stop right now,- I’d hate your heads to swell so much that cycle helmets aren’t a feasible option!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Expecto patronum! - a thoroughly silly post

PCIT's comment below started me wondering what a patronus for St M's would actually look like.
After all, Robert Warren devoted much time to developing the concept of the angel of the why not an alternative expression of the spirit of the place?
I'm just not sure what it might be.
Despite the appearance of such an army of bears at the Patronal Festival, I don't think those are actually quite right.True, many of them are clearly very respectable, middle-class bears, whose vowels are in exactly the right places, but bears (of the teddy variety) are definitively cuddly...and that's not a charge you could lay at the feet of some of the more reserved members of St M's congregation.
On the other hand, it's not a congregation of loners. St M's people derive great pleasure and support from being part of a group that knows how to do things well,- and they find it quite a struggle when it's suggested that there might be different ways of doing things, which are equally valid. Definitely not chameleons, then.
Migratory? No thank you!
Territorial? Yes, certainly.
Readers, I have thought long and hard and concluded (on no sensible basis at all) that the most fitting patronus for our church would be

(drum roll)

The Duck Billed Platypus.

Endearing, a little eccentric, easily disturbed by changes to the environment....but perhaps more adaptable than first appearances suggest, and surprisingly graceful in the right element. Yup, that's the one.
I'd love to know how anyone else sees their church - or St M's, come to that! Tomorrow, I might find myself choosing a different patronus entirely. And let me make it very clear,- duck billed platypus are utterly charming. I'm very fond of this one already!

"So what does a priest do?"

Was a question that Anne included in her sermon at the Cathedral yesterday.
"Far too much to keep track of", would be one possible answer tonight, - for today included an incredible range of events and emotions.

I began the day with a lovely quiet celebration for 32 assorted 8.00ers, a gentle and affirming congregation who are one of my greatest joys at St M’s.I would never have imagined myself becoming an 8.00 enthusiast, but I think it’s a reaction to the prevalent anxiety which accrues around any service involving quantities of servers and even greater quantities of congregational expectations. 8.00 is just God and his people, concentrating on our relationships with each other. Bliss.Can’t think of anything I’d have preferred to do to mark my first anniversary of ordination to the priesthood.

10.00, which was the main celebration of our patronal festival (St M’s stuck to the BCP calendar in choosing their festival, so that we could have a patronal in the height of summer…the new positioning of the Visitation too often coincided with Pentecost…so we keep it on the first weekend of July, come what may), was notable for the number of copes and the quantity of flowers about the place (at least two of which collided with disastrous results for the flowers…but I wasn’t, praise be, wearing the cope concerned!). It was followed by the sort of unhappy conversation that makes you wonder whether actually this whole ordination kick was one of God’s less amusing jokes…One member of our congregation is hurting very very badly, and is currently at the “I’ll never relate to the church again” stage…which is kind of discouraging. Cant say more, but a few generalised prayers would be very very welcome!

Abrupt gear- change after lunch, as we combined patronal celebrations with OpenHouse, and held a teddy bears' picnic in the Vicarage garden. Stunning success. Lots of people from all congregations. Enough children to make me feel that we really are making progress in our long-overdue bridge building. The largest congregation of bears I have ever preached to!

We lived out the parable of the Lost Bear (using my much loved Maxi bear, - who was my mother’s engagement present from my father…he took her in to Harrods and told her she could have anything she wanted in the whole shop…and was rather floored when her request was for a teddy bear), talked about the importance of hugs (for/from bears and from God) and generally reconnected ourselves with some important truths which I heard articulated – was it really only yesterday?
If bears were good, Youth Group was even better. All sorts of wonderful and exciting things are happening there, guaranteed to make heart and soul sing even at the end of a long and complicated day.
So at bedtime I’m back in the same state of thankfulness with which I began this morning. This first year of priesthood has been incredible,-more real than anything else I’ve ever encountered. I’m fastening my seat belt as I launch into the next. What a ride!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Prayers for the Feast of the Visitation

And Mary Said
“I’m bursting with God-news
I’m dancing with the song of my Saviour God.
God took one look at me, and see what happened!
I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
The God whose very name is holy set apart from all others.

So we praise God for all that he has done in our own lives,
For the joy of our calling to follow him
And the freedom to worship that we enjoy.
As we give thanks for the life of this church
We pray that we may always dance the song of God’s kingdom
And we remember those for whom the music seems discordant,
Or who struggle to sing because they feel wounded or excluded by decisions taken by others, far away.
We rejoice with those who begin a new song
As they receive the grace of ordination this weekend, specially those made priest yesterday and deacon today in our own Cathedral Church of Gloucester.

Lord, set us free
To sing the song of your Kingdom.

His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
The callous rich were left out in the cold.

So we ask God to flood with mercy
Those people and situations who need it most.
We offer to him the innocent victims of war and hatred in many lands
Remembering specially the people of Iraq, of Afghanistan, of Israel and Palestine.
We repent of our own share in the injustice of the world
And give thanks that with the coming of the Kingdom the old order vanishes
And the world is turned upside down.
As we wait, we pray for the people and organistations who work tirelessly for justice and peace

Lord, set us free
To sing the song of your Kingdom.

He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It's exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now.
And so we claim those promises for those who struggle,
Who have lost sight of God amid the anxiety and pain of illness
The darkness of sorrow or despair
The fear of death.
We ask that God will give to each of his children
A sense of their calling and their welcome in this loving arms

Lord, set us free
To sing the song of your Kingdom.

Merciful Father,
Accept these prayers
For the sake of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

One year on...

I'm just home from the ordination of priests in Gloucester Cathedral, - one of those splendid occasions that the C of E does really well. Eight deacons made priests, standing and kneeling where we stood and knelt one year ago. As I watched the Bishop anointing their hands, I remembered the huge impact that sacramental act had on, even now, when feeling inadequate I tend to look at my hands, amazed at the power entrusted to me "to reconcile and bless" and draw strength from that.
This year's ordination retreat was conducted by a wonderful woman whom I'm privileged to know a little. I was confident that she would be well worth hearing, but I wasn't prepared for the impact of her presence, looking very small and alone in that heavy pulpit as the organ thundered its post-Gospel celebration. For a moment she seemed an icon of the cost of ministry...then she began to speak, and her words were accessible, reassuring and inspiring...
I wish I had them in front of me now to share, but I can only really reflect their impact on me. She spoke of the cost of our calling to be counter cultural, to remind a world which sees time as money that time is gift. She reminded us that it was all, all about love, and of the need to model that love in our communities (so be seen, be known, unpack your bags, throw them away, settle down for the long haul)....and she spoke of the privilege of priesthood that enables us to unlock the lost road to the secret places of the soul. She ended her sermon with that wonderful Robert Frost poem The Road not Taken with its lovely final stanza
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
and then in a perfect match of themes, the cathedral youth choir began to sing the Stanford anthem "Beati Quorum Via"...Blessed are those who walk in the way of the Lord.
For the new priests and for their parishes, their choice of road will indeed make all the difference.

Unlocking the lost roads...the power of the keys...I came home thinking of the amazing treasure that we are trusted with, the unbelievable responsibility we share, and the grace that makes this possible.

The Doorkeeper - by Bishop John V Taylor
To keep God's door -
I am not fit.
I would not ask fro more
than this-
To stand or sit
upon the threshold of God's house
out of the reach of sin,
to open wide His door
to those who come,
to welcome Home
his children and his poor:
to wait and watch
the gladness on the face of those
that are within:
sometimes to catch
a glimpse or trace of those
I love the best, and know
that all I failed to be
and all I failed to do,
has not sufficed
to bar them from the Tree
of Life, the Paradise of God
the Face of Christ.