Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Going, going............

Things to remember about ENFPs include the irritating fact that not only will they delay packing for any trip until almost too late, but they will then find it impossible to commit themselves to any given item.

After 25 minutes last night, I finally managed to decide with Bible to take (well, 2....big NRSV with lots of notes, as the prospect of preaching outside my context is distinctly challenging and weeny New Jerusalem, so I can actually have one with me at all times) but really important things like ear rings, which photo of the children and whether or not to travel in patchwork trousers are way way beyond me.
I don't, you'll be relieved to hear, have to choose between those two rucksacks...they are both coming, one as hand and one as "real" luggage...but I'm taking a spare bag to fill up with exciting treasures from lands afar (assuming, of course, that I remember to take my purse!)
I shouldn't find more time to blog before I go, so.........will be in touch as soon as I can from India, - but expect me when you see me. Take care, all of you, while I'm gone....Hugs all round xx

Monday, October 30, 2006

Sunday 3

OK..so I have to take it back about autumn. GK and I finally found it this afternoon, as we panted our way up Coopers Hill.

The sun shone, the dogs were in ecstasty, and we scuffed and jumped our way through a carpet of leaves to our hearts' content.

I grew up in East Sussex, not far from Rudyard Kipling's home at Bateman's, and it was his "Way through the Woods" that was a silent soundtrack to the afternoon for me.

They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know

There was once a road through the woods

Before they planted the trees.

It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.

Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,

And the badgers roll at ease,

There was once a road through the woods.

Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate.
(They fear not men in the woods,

Because they see so few)
You will hear the beat of a horse's feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through

The misty solitudes,

As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods . . . .
But there is no road through the woods.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Sunday Vignettes 2

After that dramatically unpromising start, the day thankfully improved.
I presided at the 10.00, which also included the baptism of 2 members of our First Communion Group. S and J are both old enough to know exactly how special the day is…but still young enough ( Reception and Y2, if my memory serves me correctly) to show huge enthusiasm.
The whole service was a joy, but one of the best of all moments was when I was introducing the signing with the cross…We’d talked beforehand about invisible labels, and about the cross serving to remind us of just how much God loves us….so I decided to risk asking the boys what it was all about.
S, with a grin as wide as the whole world, opened his arms and said delightedly
“It’s God’s HUG”.
Lovely to know that at least one member of the church family has got the message!

Sunday Vignettes 1

What can I say about a day that began at 2.00 this morning, when the burglar alarm firm who guard LCM’s workshop phoned to tell me that the alarm was going off and the police were on their way?
LCM was away, and not contactable…Nor were any of the keyholders who actually live in the village, so I tottered out of bed and drove the 20 miles to our old home, armed with assorted unidentified keys which I hoped might do the trick (LCM, of course, having his keys with him).
At the workshop, I met up with 2 charming policemen (yes, really) and together we worked our way through all the spare keys in the Fleming family key pot, till we found a set that opened the back door of the barn. Then it was just a simple matter of establishing that we couldn’t turn the lights on because something had tripped the electricity system and whatever we did it refused to behave. The alarm system, convinced it had been tampered with by evil ne'er-do-wells, was not about to lie down and go back to sleep, so having tried evhery possible solution (and those are hard to come up with when half asleep, in the dark, with an alarm ringing in your ears) so we had to give it best, pray that the backup batteries were short-lived, and retire crushed.
Thank God that the clocks went back last night, allowing at least one hour of sleep to be reclaimed before Sunday started in earnest.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Has anyone seen autumn?

Since October began, I've been confidently expecting its arrival, but it seems to have been mislaid in this part of Gloucestershire at least. As I look out the window, the sycamore in the primary school grounds is still in full leaf, though one or two trees up the road have turned overnight and dropped all their leaves in blackened heaps on the pavement. I've been on wet walks to hunt for it, heard rumours of its arrival here but on the whole it has been conspicuous by its absence almost everywhere that I've looked for it.
Nonetheless, today the dogs and I accompanied the horse and his boy for our first outing from the new yard. Truffle horse seems to have settled happily,- so there's at least one member of the family I can leave without anxiety on Wednesday. The new yard is very close to this splendid pub (where we celebrated HG's 18th en famille) and only 12 minutes away from home, so there are certainly advantages in the long run from this enforced move.
Short term, though, we don't know the rides so we stuck to the lanes, (while dodging battalions of hearty types out shooting pheasants) - but all in all, it was a good morning.
But, oh dear, there was so little autumn to enjoy.
I want to scuff through piles of leaves and harvest mushrooms and sloes from the hedgerows - but I guess all that will just have to wait for next year. Today, these were the very best that the Cotswolds could offer..and by next weekend the landscape will be startlingly different for me at least.

India - a penny drops!

It’s been brought to my notice that I’ve not actually blogged since Tuesday….amazing fact! Kathryn actually stopped talking for long enough for someone to notice the silence…
Actually, there was quite a good reason for it,- namely very little worth blogging. The Indian Express continues to bear down on me, dominating both practical and emotional landscapes, and much of last week was very task focussed and makes less than rivetting reading...

You see, since Tuesday I’ve
  • Started my malaria tablets
  • Stripped Gloucester Cathedral and Tewkesbury Abbey of small and inexpensive gifts of the tea-towel and bookmark variety, since I'd hate to arrive empty handed in a culture famous for generosity
  • Continued to accumulate clothes and pharmaceuticals in the corner of the bedroom, where they fill me alternately with excitement and guilt whenever I fall over them en route to draw the curtains (one possible solution to this would be, of course, to get on with packing the things…but that feels a bit too conclusive right now)
  • Purred happily as I watched HS and GK enjoying the CK Community Players production of Oliver! - HS in sole charge 0f a rather complex lighting scheme, and watching the world from a great height, GK giving his all on stage. Actually, I felt rather like the mum of the entire company as they seem to be either part of my congregation, kids I know from schools/youth groups,neighbours or dog walkers. Inordinately proud of them all, if that doesn't sound patronising. Believe me, they were excellent.
  • Enjoyed 3 excellent evenings with special friends, all of whom are reassuringly confident that they will indeed see me in December. Mind you, I suspect that N and I, who habitually meet for curry every six weeks or so, may just need to revise our habits in the immediate aftermath of my trip. After curries and spicy foods 3 meals a day for a month, they may no longer be quite the treat they’ve been till now…but we’ll cross that bridge as and when…

Meanwhile, some of the congregation as nearly as wobbly about my departure as I’ve been at my worst. I think they too my be treating my trip as a dress rehearsal for my real departure, which is likely some time in the next 18 months. It’s possible, too, that India really does look rather alarming if you’ve spent most of your life in the same parish. One elderly couple I visited yesterday punctuated their conversation with the anxious mantra
“We do hope you’ll come back…”
Thinking rationally (which isn’t something that comes easily to me) I guess the greatest cause for concern is the famously alarming Indian city traffic. I can promise hand on heart to flee from all serpents faster than they can flick their tongues at me (and indeed, I’ve been assured that they are so rare in Karnataka Central that I may phone not only our diocesan Social Responsibility officer but Fab Bishop himself if I actually have a close encounter with one). Google is very quiet about man-eating tigers in Bangalore, and somehow the chances of my running off to the hills with a passing Maharajah seem depressingly slim. So, let’s assume that all will be well. It seems a healthy way to look at things!

But as so often, it took Little Fishes on Thursday to make me really see what is going on. Our session on One World Week provided the perfect focus for thoughts about my trip, so I emptied my cupboards of Fair Trade food from across the world (though frustratingly, not a thing from the Indian subcontinent), and we talked about mutual dependence between different races. Mostly, we rolled an inflatable globe around the place, but the older siblings who had joined us for half term helped me find India, England and the countries of origin of most of the food.
We sang “He’s got the whole world in his hands” and “Wide, wide as the ocean…” and then it happened. As I pointed out just how much of the globe was actually sea, the truth came home to me with a resounding thud…
“His word teaches me that his love reaches me everywhere
I first learned the song from my mother, who’d learned it in her turn at her C.I.M. mission school in Cheefoo, China, over 70 years ago...And, of course, it's true!
Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Another interruption

Hattie Ghandi was home at the weekend, to borrow the car, do some washing and touch base with her family before heading off to a creative writing course with her much beloved Kilvites. Blissfully, I had no preaching committments at all, so was really able to enjoy her presence. HG, HS and I spent Sunday afternoon being thoroughly spoiled by Good Friend with Fireplace. Can't think when I was last so completely relaxed and thoroughly happy.

Thanks, J :-)

We interrupt this countdown

for a glimpse into the chaotic world of the curate's dreams..

It was a gorgeous autumn afternoon, of the sort I’m still hoping to catch before I depart for India.
Trees in amazing shades of reds and golds, sky blue, air crisp with just a touch of lingering warmth.
I was making my way to the airport, complete with backpack ready for India, along a wide flag-stoned passage that I somehow knew was part of a rambling Victorian house.
I was riding the children’s horse, Truffle.
He seemed totally unperturbed by finding himself inside…and coped very well with the frequent stops to open doors (each time I had to dismount to reach the handle…and then climb onto a large dark brown leather sofa in order to remount. For some reason, those sofas were to be found at regular intervals along the passageway).

We finally emerged onto a beautiful lawn, and saw a flight of steps leading up to some French windows. Riding up the steps (as you do, you know) we found ourselves in the middle of a wedding reception (Since you ask, this was for Fab Bishop’s former Chaplain, who got married some years ago, without either curate or horse in attendance).A huge number of diocesan clergy were there, all wearing very snazzy gold copes….except for me, of course, - you try riding in a cope!
I was in the middle of explaining why I was so woefully under-dressed when….

Aren't you glad you don't have dreams like that?!

India countdown 3

Miracles do happen.
Only one drawer away from where I expected them to be, too. Let joy be unconfined.

Also had an email from the diocesan Social Responsibility officer, who co-ordinates the India trips, saying that the Bishop was looking forward to our arrival, had arranged for us to go to parishes for some time, but other plans include a clergy retreat.

WonderfulVicar got to go to the jungle to see elephants. I'm trying hard not to want that to happen too badly, in case it can't.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Church of South India

Here's the logo of the Church of South India, formed in 1947 from the union of Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians and URC.
I'm told that worship tends to replicate the worship of 1950s England, - that the whole experience of church life may feel rather like time-travel to a period before I was born.
(If I could only find the copy of the Church of S India prayerbook which I was given months ago by a retired cleric, and which I then put in a safe place somewhere in the study I'd be in a better position to reflect on this, perhaps.fx gnashing of teeth and stomping around study a la Rumplestiltskin])
Coupling that with the culture shock of my first exposure to non-European life, my only expectation is to be surprised almost consantly! That's OK. I love surprises!
I also love the logo, with its expression of Christian faith rooted in the specific Indian culture.
Here's the official line on it

The cross represents Jesus' death for us, bringing freedom from sin. The other design is the lotus flower from India, which is a traditional picture of God being near us. The lotus grows out of mud, like the beauty and purity that can grow in our lives out of Jesus' sacrifice.
The cross is red (for life) and the lotus is saffron (for holiness).

To me, the lotus would also represent the incarnation...God born, as one of my favourite prayers has it, "in the very thick of our muddle".
I am looking forward to meeting him in his children so many thousands of miles away.
Meanwhile, time to focus on the 10.00 congregation here in Charlton Kings. Today was my last 8.00 before I go, and they were very sweet...specially one lady who is a remnant of the British Raj, retired to a bungalow with an Indian name. She's quite elderly, as you might guess, but was positively skittish in her excitement on my behalf. I sort of wish I could take her with me...

Saturday, October 21, 2006

India countdown

With the iRiver being loaded by Glowstick Knight (who deserves some exceptionally prestigious award for so doing), assorted mosquito repellers, malaria tablets and thin cotton shirts beginning to pile up in a corner of the bedroom, and my passport sporting its first ever visa, it’s beginning to dawn on me that in 10 days time I’m not "merely" (and with trepidation) abandoning my beloved children for a month…
I am actually GOING TO INDIA!!!

And I’ve decided it’s time to get just the teeniest bit excited.
After all, I’ve never been outside Europe, I’ve not been away from home on my own for more than a week since I married LCM 21 years ago and I’ve never lived as family with people from a totally different culture. Seems to me there’s plenty to inspire incredulous wonder at there.
And not only am I being allowed to do all this, it’s actually part of my work…in the same amazing way as hearing people’s stories, praying with them and being able to offer them the Sacraments.
Did I tell you before that this is the most wonderful job in the world?

To ensure that I stay in upbeat mood (and yes, we can confidently predict tears of monsoon proportions when I actually say good-bye to the boys on 1st November) I thought I’d blog some background to the trip, as much for my benefit as a notional reader. Looking at things like maps makes it all seem real…and that has to be good.
So...here's where I'm flying to. Bangalore, in the diocese of Karnataka Central in the Church of South India. Bangalore is the black splodge at the right hand point of the triangle of 2 red and 1 black splodge at the bottom of the map (sorry, best image I could find)
Later on, I'll blog a bit about the city and the diocese...official briefing at this end has been minimal so I'm busy doing some belated research, while finishing Rohinton Mistry's amazing novels A Fine Balance and Such a Long Journey (both highly recommended - and certainly helping me to get in the mood)

Meanwhile, here's one image of the city it chooses to project to the world. Really rather different from Charlton Kings!

Friday, October 20, 2006


Just back from seeing Pipe Dreams, the play that Riding Lights are currently touring. Publicity described this as an "hilarious" whodunnit - and certainly there were some witty exchanges and good laughs to be had...so why did we come home silent, subdued?

In a week in which I feel I've wasted time to a huge and uncomfortable extent, it was hard to evade the question put into the mouth of a Tanzanian woman, whose daily life is one long search for water
"I wonder what people do with all those minutes in which they don't have to look for water".

Minutes I didn't even realise I was fortunate to enjoy.

No less shockingly, I'd thought of the need to use only bottled water for everything in India from my own viewpoint...a needful precaution to avoid illness but really rather a nuisance. Tonight, before ever I leave home, I was reminded of what the daily reality of impure water actually means for so many people.
Yes, I'll have to be careful for 4 weeks, but then I will come home to turn on the tap and drink my fill.
Pipe Dreams reawakened me to the scandalous unfairness of a world in which we (I) squander unthinkingly a resource that should be freely available to all. There must be more I can do...I suspect these guys would be a good starting point.

UK readers, please just go and see the show....believe me, it's worth it!

What does the Lord require....?

Rather less than we might have imagined, according to a new edition of the Bible without the awkwardly demanding bits. The Western Bible is published in Holland and presents Scripture as most of us in the west actually live it.
Full story (and mind you read to the very end) c/o Ekklesia here Hat tip to John
I'm not exactly laughing my head off, though.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A post about nothing at all.

When confronted with an unexpected free slot due to a cancelled meeting, a study that has been hit by the blitz (and the terriers) once again, and the continuing need to get things tied up before India, naturally I..........
  • gaze in rapt fascination at the iRiver which has just arrived. Those of you light years ahead of me in the technology stakes will be totally unsurprised that it's both seriously tiny and seriously cute. Can't believe it will achieve everything it claims...if it does, this could well be love. OK, so the instructions are beyond me, but that's why you have teenagers, no? I'll let you know when I'm in a position to actually play music on it...meanwhile, please keep thinking of musical mementos for me to take on the India trip.
  • check and respond to any possible email, even message that don't require a response ever
  • check the state of the shirts I bought in a charity shop yesterday to take to India, and had to dye because they were in impossible colours (now rather pleasing sludgy blue, so I'm well-pleased)
  • join the cool kids in taking the Personal DNA test. Of its accuracy I can say little I think(not least because an experience of seeing myself through the eyes of others this week has been a wee bit confusing...)...But some of it definitely made sense, and whatever else, it's rather pretty!

What to do now?? Surely doing something useful can't be the only remaining option?
I know...I'll have some lunch then tackle the study.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A day in the life...

Today UK bloggers were invited to take part in a sort of 21st century exercise in mass observation. Inevitably, this meant that today nothing exciting happened, and that the impact of history on my life was restricted, really, to saying the Office in a church that has stood for more than 800 years. Needless to say, that particular link escaped me till after I'd posted. Ah well, they can always delete me.
For the record, this was the outline I submitted...and very dull reading it makes.

Cycled up to Morning Prayer, where I met M (Training Incumbent) & R, vicar of neighbouring parish with whom we’re to work more closely as part of the current Mission Action Plan in the diocese.
R very good at making sure that I don’t feel sidelined as “just the curate” – not that M would ever sideline anyone, but R clearly has strong feelings on the subject and his own curacy experience is not long behind him…Good to say the Office together & then talk a bit about where the church in Cheltenham might be going. We all know there are still too many buildings, and there will be a need to lose a few more clergy in the years ahead. Meanwhile, there’s so much that’s good & creative & God filled going on, so it wasn’t a depressing conversation in the least.
Home to do emails, blog, and take a few parish phonecalls…Listened for a good half hour to the daughter of lady I visit, who’s been critically ill for 2 weeks. Transferred from Intensive Care to High Dependency yesterday, - definite progress, - but I feel terribly helpless & ineffectual being unable to visit till this stupid cold has departed. Otherwise I might as well arrive with the Last Rites, - not the desired effect!
I’m currently trying to sort things for my imminent trip to India; going as part of diocesan link with diocese of Karnataka Central in the Church of S India. Not at all sure what to expect, except that I’ll be living with assorted clergy families for the month, with the brief to learn & experience as much as possible of what it means to be Church in such a very different context. I’m wobbly about abandoning the offspring, so wrote some “just in case” letters this morning too, then went on with sorting out the contents of the “Little Fishes Song Book” which we need for Toddler Church.
Sandwich lunch and a brief dog walk ("Call that a walk?", ask the dogs in indignant unison) before getting ready for JAFFA KIDS after-school club in the Primary School. 15 children today, despite football. Looking at some Old Testament stories. Learn a rap about Noah (which they want to perform at Assembly-) and then make rainbow spinners and play some silly colour-themed games. It’s half term next week, so I won’t now see them till after India, & they’re very sweet,interested in where I’ll be staying and what I’ll be doing. Wish I knew!
Staff meeting with M, looking at diary issues & discussing how to avoid the sort of mad (potentially destructive) Sunday that I’ve experienced recently. Not sure, to be honest, that he’s any more adept at this than I am, but we agreed that it wasn’t a good state of affairs.
Evening Prayer for the eve of St Luke. Good opportunity to reflect on the way we use and abuse Scripture, and to pray for the health of the Church…
Eve dominated by efforts to choose & purchase mp3 player for India. In the end, found one which uses ordinary batteries, so I won’t be dependent on local electricity supply. Quite expensive as a present to myself, but I NEED music while I’m away. Asked my friends to suggest something to take with me so I’ll feel that they’re closer.
Watched Holby. Heartbreaking story-line about woman with motor neurone disease who has opted to travel to Switzerland for assisted suicide. Sympathy very much with her as she longs for a measure of the control that her illness would deprive her of…but also the husband and children who will feel that she has chosen to leave them before her time. So glad I’m not in a situation where I’m called to minister to anyone in that place. Too many feelings about the place! Long for the day when care’s so good that even ifor such a degenerative condition, there remains the possibility that life could be worth living till the end. The God I believe in is one who transforms even the most intractably hopeless situation.

I can't for the life of me think what the archivists will make of that lot. But at least those of you who are wondering about why I'm going to India now have some sort of answer,- the best I can manage myself.
My best clue came in an email today "travel safely and grab all you can from the experience ... come back
refreshed ... renewed ... and with a clearer idea of God's plan for you for
the next chapter of your journey with him ... "
I'll go with that, I think!


Having mulled, perused, consulted and agonised I decided that in the end the really vital thing was probably not to be dependent on local electricity supplies...After all, I have a phone and a camera I'll be desperate to keep fully charged, and I'm told that several power cuts in a day are the norm. So, with all thanks to everyone who advised so kindly, I've gone for this. It runs on ordinary AA batteries, which won't take up much space in my luggage.Smaller memory than some, but truly Liz, I can't imagine I'd ever want to have my full music collection on it...I just LIKE CDs. In the box, with the details of the performer and pretty pictures and everything.
Anyway, it's ordered. 2 out of 3 offspring are manically pro iRiver anyway,- so they are cheering me on. And it comes tomorrow (day off, so time to play) , and cost less than £70 (I plan to spend the one penny I've saved on wild frivolity) which has to be good, I hope!
Shame it's not pink, but you can't have everything.
Now all I need is a few more suggestions of music to play on it. Not you, Steve...there are a good few Steve recommendations on my short list already!

Feeling shallow!

Taking a break from the excitement of adding songs to the Little Fishes Songbook (yes, F, it really is going to happen...I'm working on it, see?!) I'm trying to resolve the question of how to take essential music to India. With a long flight (and I don't fly happily) there and back, even if I only listen then, I need something. My CD walkman isn't alot of use without copious CDs, so it looks like the time has finally come to invest in an mp3 player of some sort. The question is, which?
Of course, I love the look of iPods. So stylish....and I could have a pink one, which would surely cheer me instantly...but Hugger Steward, my guru for all things techie, feels that would be selling out to effective advertising. I would, I think, only need a nano anyway, as I'm sure that 4GB will be ample...I do rather like the physical reality of CDs and as most of my music is classical anyway, I'm not going to be wanting to hear only bits of works most of the time. When at home, therefore, I imagine I'd revert to CD player as a first resort.
iPod Nanos are reputedly available at the new Apple shop in town for £99 - otherwise, it seems to be £120 - alot of money to find, but if you can convince HS that it's worth it, I'm certainly open to persuasion.
On the other hand, I could have a Sony (with admittedly less capacity - only 1GB) for £72.99 - and yes, it's still pink!
Most promising of all, perhaps is an Archos Gmini with 3GB in the mid £70s which is rather attractive - pink or blue.
Does anyone have any views??

EDIT: having done a bit more research, I'm now in mourning because all the systems I really like the look of are not supplied with a mains recharger/adapter...and the chances of my having access to a computer alot of the time to recharge are distinctly slim. So, farewell archos, farewell Creative Zen, even farewell iPod. I may well have to plump for shorter playing time, with an obscure Chinese alternative (but thanks, Paul, for putting me on to Advanced mp3 players...really helpful site, even if they told me things I was disappointed to hear)

Also, I know I'm going to miss all of you hugely while I'm out of touch, and would love to have a song or piece of music that you had suggested to take with me.
Please, populate my anything- but-desert island by choosing one track for a displaced curate, bearing in mind my tastes are from classical through what the offspring say I can call soft rock (that means U2 and REM in my book) to stuff like Martyn Joseph and Pierce Pettis. Open to surprises of any kind, but really don't do well with commercial pop!
Over to you, friends....I wish I could take you all with me, so humour me by providing a musical substitute!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Sunday follow up

Thanks for your comments on the post below. I'd hate anyone to think that I expect sermons to sink or swim on the basis of my words alone, or how I've felt about them in preparation. I'm very aware that sometimes God seems to arrive and stand so close to me in the pulpit that I can only try to get out the way altogether and leave the Holy Spirit to get on with it,- and those times won't always be the ones when I've been most conscious of God's presence in preparation. But what baffles me is that those times don't always seem to coincide with congregational response.
For example, the Story of a Church that I blogged earlier this month emerged so rapidly and painlessly, despite my own anxiety about actually preaching it,that I knew very well that I didn't have any option about it. It absolutely wasn't my idea, but very much God's, and he held my hand right the way through the delivery... And yes, one or two people did seem to be touched by it, but not on the perplexing scale of last night.
Of course, it's not impossible that it doesn't feel appropriate to react during the ritual church-door handshake...and then the moment passes. I don't know,- but it does intrigue me.

Meanwhile, yes, Sundays have been stupidly busy of late,- though I was making extra heavy weather of yesterday, due to a maddening early cold. There are certain bits of the structure that aren't negotiable but some of the extra load has been to do with trying to get things sorted before I depart for India. In some ways, this feels rather like a rehearsal for leaving St M's, which will have to happen some time in the next 18 months or so...It's an uncomfortable thought in some ways,- so many special connections with special people, so many dreams dreamed. "Bright ideas" are one of my things,- (I'm a Belbin"plant" and my "completer/finisher" score in is probably actually into negative numbers...) but that doesn't mean that I don't lament the visions that I won't get to see translated into reality in the lives of the people here. So, I've been madly trying to tie up all sorts of loose ends before India, in a thoroughly uncharacteristic way. I guess in some ways, once I get onto the plane I will have so little control of the daily reality of life for the next month, I'm compensating in advance by leaving as much as possible sewn up here.
Anyway, WonderfulVicar told me to treat today as a sick-day. I don't actually feel too foul, so am compromising by sparing the parish my germs, and staying in to complete assorted footlings on the computer, and actually read some of the books threatening to overwhelm my poor innocent desk.
Trevor Pinnock playing Bach on the CD player.
Actually, life's OK ;-)

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Does anyone else get this?

Having preached regularly for some 12 years now,I still don't understand the way that some sermons that you feel are the very best you can manage fall flat as the proverbial pancake, while others, apparently deeply pedestrian, seem to take wing as you climb into the pulpit.
Tonight's words, for Evensong, were inspired by two particularly gruelling Sundays on the trot...the sort of Sunday that inspires good and wise friends to prophecy imminent breakdown if you don't get a grip sooner rather than later. I thought I had taken heed last weekend, but this Sunday saw me celebrating at 10.00, taking a First Communion class immediately after lunch, followed by attending a study group before Evensong, where I preached.After that, I did a quick teaching session for the Youth Group, before limping pathetically home, whimpering gently...and knowing that I had absolutely nothing left to give to anyone!
En route,though, I did preach this...which seemed to me less than dynamic, not madly inspired...and it produced a far more enthusiastic response than things I've been reasonably pleased with, even slightly proud of.
I repeat, I just don't understand!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

In which the architecture is thwarted once again.

To-day saw me battling with a cold, moving the horse to pastures new (very sadly, the yard where we've kept the ponies for several years has had to close as the landlord is selling up...) and attempting the interesting feat of writing two sermons at once.
Fortunately one of them was almost complete before the cold hit...It was specially fortunate, because this was the one I needed this evening for the Inclusive Church Eucharist.
The congregation was on the miniscule side, and, alarmingly, included rather more people whose opinions I respect hugely than might make for comfort...However, the liturgy was beautiful, the hymns just right, and I survived the preaching experience. If you want it, you'll find the sermon here.
The very best thing, though, was that when I went to prepare the Table at the Offertory I was thinking sadly "Now we'll be so far away from those people...it would be so much better if we'd only thought to invite them to come and stand round the Table"....and then the hymn started and their voices sounded so close, and I looked round and, lo, they had moved of their own accord!
That's twice in a fortnight that we've been able to subvert the architecture of St M's to stand as family together and it is wonderful.
Inclusive Church? Yes, really!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Well, I never knew that!

Growing up only a few miles away from the site of the Battle of Hastings, 1066 and all that, I guess I'd always been aware of Edward the Confessor, the King whose death was the prelude to the Norman Conquest of England. I can remember, too, my first visit as a small child to Westminster Abbey, his foundation, and the huge impact of all those tombs of the great, the good and the downright unlikely.

What I didn't grasp then was that Edward was considered a saint...If anything, as a child his "Confessor" title probably convinced me that he'd been rather worse-behaved than many! Now, I'm sure he was an all round good guy (or at any rate, that his motives were no more mixed than the rest of us), but I suspect that his canonisation had slightly more to do with his "sponsorship" of the great abbey church, the West Minster,- the relative peace and prosperity of England under his rule, and the political needs of his successors on the throne than we'd like to imagine.

Since he married Edith, but then refused to consummate the union in order to uphold his own vow of chastity, I'm rather more inclined to award plaudits to her. It can't have been a bundle of laughs to marry a man so intent on being (as Sellar and Yeatman would have it) a Good Thing that he regarded your life together as simply a matter of political convenience. I'm kind of relieved that the Roman Catholic Church registers this, in considering Edward to be not only the patron of kings but also of difficult marriages and separated spouses. Great to know that there is a patron for those at all!

I've looked in vain for any of Edward's words of wisdom recorded in our time, so instead here's the day's Collect

Sovereign God
Who set your servant Edward upon the throne of an earthly kingdom
and inspired him with zeal for the work of the kingdom of heaven:
grant that we may so confess the faith of Christ by word and deed
that we may, with all your saints, inherit your eternal glory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord
who is alive and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

If only...

I promised to write more about Monday's CME event on Anglicanism and there's certainly much to reflect on, - perhaps more than ever in the wake of yesterday's wretched Chapter meeting!

When Richard Giles had finished his first talk, I asked the friend beside me
"Did you recognise that church?" and she sadly agreed that she hadn't. However, his rather idealised picture of the Church of England (possibly viewed through rose tinted spectacles from across the Pond, since he is now Dean of Philadelphia Catherdral) did serve to remind us of what Anglicanism at its best might be.
For me, perhaps his most attractive image was of a church in transit, a "happenstance group of pilgrims" that has far from arrived, an oasis for the spiritual nomad, and he made much of the positive value of not being a confessing church, not one defined by our doctrines, nor standing on our dignity. We are, after all, a church of fuzzy borders...in an essay at college I quoted someone who wondered whether "it is possible for a doctrine to be formulated that is too extreme to be included somewhere within Anglicanism.."- and Giles presented this as a huge bonus, talking of generosity of spirit that allowed us to include everyone, without interrogation at the altar rail.
If only, indeed....
He was loud, too, in his enthusiasm for the parish system...but fresh from my visit to Derbyshire last week, I'm having to re-evaluate that. I too have always felt this was one of our greatest strengths,- and in a community like Ch Kings it is easy to believe that it is still as powerful in its statement of all-embracing pastoral care. But in conversation with my non-church friend it became very clear that however much those within the church may believe that we exist to serve our communities, for the most part those communities don't even notice! I may comfort myself that St M's stands as a symbol of the presence of God with his people...but if the people aren't led to recognise this, they aren't going to grasp it by spontaneous osmosis!

Giles also waxed eloquent about the power of liturgy to transform those attending, and had much to say about our worship as an expression of continuity with the past, ancient yet modern, dignified but accessible....At this point the urge to shout b******s almost overwhelmed me - it would be lovely if it were that way (and on a good day, maybe it is), but who is he trying to kid?

He struck more chords for me with his suggestion that, if we can hold together heterogenous extremes within the Communion (a pretty big "IF" right now) we are a sign of hope, pointing to the possibility of reunion between the denominations too. He spoke of the Anglican ministry of moderation, dialogue and reconciliation which, he opined, we lose at our peril...this is, for him, the heart of the Anglican vocation, the distinctive thing that we can offer to the Christian Church across the world. But yesterday's Chapter experience suggested rather that the Anglican church was carrying within itself the full d.n.a. of the broken body of Christ, with all that pain...Not a sign of healing, but of deep deep wounds. This was a theme that Favourite Canon picked up later, in his overview of the emergence of Anglicanism from conflict upon conflict...his theme was, broadly speaking, " a church less comprehensive than confused" and he included some very telling words of Michael Ramsey's
"The Church of England is sent not to commend itself as the best type of Christianity, but by its very brokenness to point to the universal Church wherein all have died".
That did make sense to me.

Back, though, to Richard Giles who was entirely convincing when he spoke of the Jesus of the Gospels, the one who goes before us into Galilee, who invites us to follow, but promises nothing beyond the daily need to take up our cross. He contrasted this life of adventure and uncertainty with the popular black and white answers offered by other denominations, and indeed at the extremes of the Anglican spectrum too, and suggested that our pressing need was to find a way of "packaging" that "come and see" excitement. Here, for me, lay the real hope in his words. I loved the pictures he painted of the church he treasures. If it existed, I might well be seriously interested in joining it, but its not really the one within which I minister each day.
I guess, then, all I can do is keep on following,- rejoicing that we are a church on the move (even though it might seem that we are terminally stuck) and remembering always that "Aslan is not a tame lion".

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Penitent once more.

I'm feeling thoroughly ashamed of myself, as I've just come in from a Deanery Chapter meeting at which our suffragen Bishop spoke about the Civil Partnerships legislation and its implications for our ministry. Inevitably, I guess, the discussion moved on to GLBT relationships generally,- and the tone of the meeting was not one with which I was at all comfortable.
My anxiety mounting, I looked around that large circle of clergy, realised I was one of only three women there, and also in minority in longing for an inclusive church - and I just didn't have the courage to speak.
Finally, one brave soul spoke the words that were on my heart, and her courage opened the door so that I felt able to do a little more than look miserably at my feet and wish I were somewhere else,- maybe in a different church?
Nobody stoned us.
Nobody was even unkind,- indeed WonderfulVicar, whose opinions I respect absolutely, felt the whole session had gone very well.
But it didn't feel safe in any way at all,- and for me, that mattered.

I know safety is not, and never has been, part of our calling,- I just don't know what to do with my own innate cowardice. This matters so much. I'm not short on passionate conviction,- but when it came down to it, leaving the protective cover of the herd was almost beyond me.
I posted earlier about my imminent preaching gig for Inclusive Church,- but even with as public a declaration as that in the offing, I wimped out.
Then I came home to read another Nouwen gem, which only emphasises for me what I believe it means to be Church...and how tragically distant that unity remains.

The sacrament of the Eucharist, as the sacrament of the presence of Christ among and within us, has the unique power to unite us into one body, irrespective of age, colour, race or gender, emotional condition, economic status, or social background. The Eucharist breaks through all these boundaries and creates the one body of Christ, living in the world as a vibrant sign of unity and community.

Jesus prays fervently to his Father: "May they all be one, just as, Father, you are in me and I am in you, so that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me" (John 17:21). The Eucharist is the sacrament of this divine unity lived out among all people.

Kyrie eleison.

Singing with the understanding...

One way and another, my thoughts recently have been much occupied with what it means to be Anglican. I have a rather alarming sermon to preach for Inclusive Church here on Saturday, for one thing, while yesterday I attended a training day on Anglicanism, lead by Favourite Canon D and the redoubtable Richard Giles. I’ll blog this properly later – but first I want to lead you up a side road which intrigues me.

Soon after my arrival at St M’s, I visited a lady in the congregation who no longer attends church regularly. However, St M’s has long been part of her life and that of her family, and she is saddened at the decline in younger families attending the main Sunday Eucharist.
I found her proposed solution to this problem somewhat startling… Promise not to laugh? It was just two words “Choral Matins”!
I had to confess that I’d not thought of this as a mission tool,- despite my own roots in the English choral tradition… Matins just didn’t work for me when I was exposed to it regularly (the year of my teenage rebellion –when I abandoned my parents’ Anglo Catholic church for the Protestant Evangelical one down the road,- and found Matins in place of the Eucharist as the main Sunday diet) and in my theology the Eucharist is the most helpful way in which to gather the people of God in worship.

However, I did think of her and smile on Saturday as I joined the congregation for the Royal School of Church Music Diocesan Festival in Gloucester. I know she would have approved, for there were literally hundreds of young choristers present,- some so small that in cassock and surplice they looked as if they might have slipped out of a Christmas card, others at the peak age of teenage disaffection, who sauntered in, trying their utmost to look bored, but then sang with the sort of commitment that leaves no room for confusion. The standard of music-making was impressive, and the choice of music a delight (from Vittoria “O Quam Gloriosam” through the Hallelujah Chorus to one of my all time loves, Elgar’s “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me”) but best of all was the atmosphere of concentrated joy about the place. These kids were proud of leading worship in their Cathedral, proud that they could sing so well, immersed in every way in what was going on. Glowstick Knight (who claims to be LoudBoy no longer) was one of quite a number who received Dean’s or Bishop’s Chorister awards – signs that there is personal as well as corporate commitment here, since the exams involve quite a lot of preparation and understanding of worship as much as music. All in all, it was a thoroughly Good Thing to be there – though truly bizarre when the exit of the choir (some 400 strong) meant that the Cathedral was all but empty!

Yesterday I was talking about this with two colleagues at a training day,- guys who are both young and cool! One of them shared the pleasure he had taken in being a teenage chorister,- though his subsequent route to ministry has taken him along completely different tracks. We agreed that this was a baby that shouldn’t be thrown out with the bathwater…Not Choral Matins, perhaps (!!) but the fact that there are so many children and youth who still choose to spend time engaged in something as deeply untrendy as membership of a church choir is a blessing we shouldn’t overlook.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Mostly for Amy...

here is tomorrow morning's sermon, which I have finally put to bed, minutes before heading there myself. I had high hopes of it, but am rather disappointed. However, experience suggests that how I feel about any given sermon will not be in any way reflected in the way it is heard or used. It's the first in an 8 week series on the Nicene Creed (much of which I'll miss while in India). My topic "We believe"

In a few moments we’ll stand, as we do week on week, to express the fundamental truths of our faith in the words of the Nicene Creed…Together, with more or less assurance we’ll announce
“We believe”
and then launch into the catalogue of doctrines which between them appear to define our faith.
That sounds pretty straightforward, really…but of course, it’s nothing of the kind.
We say “WE believe…” but can we really speak for anyone else? Can we indeed speak for ourselves as we address the whole range of doctrines? And if we can’t, does this prejudice the whole essence of our faith? Within this, or any other congregation there will be a range of emphases and meanings included in each recital of the creed, so the first thing I’d want to say is that we can only ever speak from our own perspective. Though truth may be objective, we receive and filter it through the lens of our own world-view. Language is finite and inevitably personal. It cannot but fail when it attempts to constrain the infinite God within its structures…What I mean when I say that “I believe …” will never match exactly your understanding of the same doctrine, in the same way that what you mean when you say that something is red may be very different from what I mean by the same word. We tend to assume that our experience of redness matches that of our neighbour, but there’s really nothing to support this…redness may be an objective reality in terms of the way that light refracts in a particular way…but our experience of it is something quite other.
So it is with belief in God.
There are many elements in a relationship with God which we may share,- which are, indeed, the common experience of humanity…but they will always be affected by our own experience, our own cultural context. Because we are living within the story of our relationship with God, our belief in it will be channelled through experience rather than based on any sort of objective proof. After all, faith is never a matter of proof. If it were, it would be knowledge…and much less interesting!
So, on any given Sunday, you or I may be struggling with any particular aspect of belief. You may be ready to throw in the towel altogether, while just a few seats away someone else is committing themselves afresh to their faith with the fervour born of a real and exciting encounter with God. Thanks to the corporate nature of the Creed, your neighbour can carry you along with her, her certainty countering your doubt.
In his classic book
The Go-between God, Bishop John Taylor writes of our calling to live to the glory of God by bearing responsibility for the selves of other men”
And we are unconsciously doing this as we become responsible for maintaining the collective faith of the congregation with our declaration
“we believe”
The collective faith of the people of God gathered here is greater than the sum of its parts…it is, after all, not “I believe” (as the BCP had us declare) but rather “We believe”…We, the body of Christ gathered here, in all our weakness and our certainty. WE believe….
One popular image of faith today is that of the journey…and we need to remember that each stop along a path, whether taken alone or in company, will lead you to a different landscape. The doctrine commission writing 30 years ago spoke of faith as a
orporate activity to which all contribute, one in which progress, inheriting and building on the discoveries of our predecessors, is eminently possible”.
To accept this is not to invalidate the faith of the past,- but rather to recognise that our quest for truth is inherently personal, and should not be re routed or brought to an abrupt halt to fit in with existing conclusions. This is true as much for the individual as for the church…Many studies of the way faith grows have drawn attention to the way that it builds on earlier experience…John Westerhoff uses an image of faith development based on the rings of a tree. In the same way that each growth ring expands and reshapes the whole, so each new stage of faith changes our whole perspective,- but does not represent a more complete faith, any more than a tree with only three growth rings is somehow a less authentic tree than one with five.
This may be of some comfort at the times when aspects of the creed seem to belong more with the White Queen’s six impossible things that we’re asked to believe before breakfast. When confronted with a series of improbable propositions, whose authenticity seems dubious, grounded in the theological debates of long gone generations, the C of E doctrine commission may be encouraging
“Our basic loyalty is to God through Christ, and not to any exact doctrinal formulation about him”.
On this basis Bishop David Jenkins once produced a minimalist creed which I offer as a foundation on which you can build
“God is. He is for us. Therefore there is hope.
God is. He is as he is in Jesus.Therefore it is worth it.”

But -oh dear, - what of the days when even this seems too much…when the gift that is faith seems to have been well and truly denied you, and the struggle to believe threatens to overwhelm you?
That can be the most horrible feeling, specially if your previous experience has been of a shiny and unshaken confidence in every word of the creeds. I fear I have no sure-fire solution. My experience is that faith ebbs and flows for everyone, from the greatest saint to the most struggling curate….and in my experience the only thing to do on those days when the whole thing feels preposterous is to keep on behaving as if your faith was unshaken and unshakeable. Orthodoxy - right belief- is all very well, but orthopraxis – living your life in line with your beliefs – is even more important. So, when “I believe…” just sounds like a bad joke, my only suggestion is that you keep on keeping on. Turn your beliefs at their best into a way of life to sustain you at times when they are weakest. Continue to do your utmost to love the God who seems to have vanished behind the clouds, and to love your neighbour, who is probably all too present and un-loveable. Just keep on with it. You may not get any proof positive that this is reasonable behaviour…but keep on battering on God’s door, asking for the grace to believe. When Jesus said to Thomas “blessed are those who have not seen but yet believe” he was opening a route for all sporadic doubters to pray fervently for that blessing that is belief.
And take comfort…WE believe. Your faltering hopes, our doctrinal insecurities can be held by the great mass of Christian voices that have proclaimed the creeds throughout the centuries, until in God’s good time belief does indeed become knowledge as we meet the God in whom we trust face to face.
Meanwhile, let’s pray the words that we sang at last Sunday’s dedication service

Lord of all, of Church and Kingdom,
in an age of change and doubt,
keep us faithful to the gospel,
help us work your purpose out.
Here, in this day's dedication,
all we have to give, receive;
we who cannot live without you,
we adore you! We be

May it be so. Amen

Saturday, October 07, 2006

This week I transferred a day off I'd not been able to use, and headed up to Derbyshire for a couple of days with an old friend from uni. MC and her partner have recently moved from dear little house to very beatiful bigger Art Nouveau house. As they are both childless and currently petless, their home tends to be calm, ordered and all the things that Privet Drive never ever manages to be. Just crossing the threshold is a treat, leaving aside the pleasure of being with an old friend with whom I've shared so much.
Their home is in one of the most beautiful parts of England, so time spent there usually involves long walks across the Peaks. MC is a Serious Walker, who climbed Kilimanjaro and ran the Pennine Way during a recent gap year. This sounds alarming, but she is very tolerant of her tortoise friend, who simply can't do hills without turning gently blue, so I was looking forward to getting out onto some new paths, but the rain set in on the first evening and that was that. One brief foray on Thursday established without doubt that the jacket that seems waterproof in the gentler climate of Charlton Kings doesn't even attempt to stem the kind of rain we were getting...drenched to my undies within 5 minutes, I agreed that discretion was the better part of valour, and we spent a wonderful day sitting by her fire and catching up on 2 years of happenings. It was kind of frustrating, though, when periodically the mist cleared enough to see how much beauty was around us, just out of reach thanks to the prevailing conditions.

Something of the same sort seems to be going on for me as I try to ready myself emotionally for India...there are so many storms about the place that actually getting the space and opportunity to think properly is all but impossible,- but the drive north and home again was a wonderful bubble of calm in which some things did become momentarily clearer, as the mist swirled around me.
I suspect that emotional and irrational may be the flavours of the coming month, - so I beg your patience here and now. Might just take a blog break, to spare you. We'll see what happens.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

So the drama of St David's Chapel continues, now focussed on the movable altar rail which is put in place on Sundays so that those who wish to kneel to receive Communion can do so, but is generally out of the way during the week.
Having arranged the chairs in a welcoming circle and carpetted the tiled floor, the Chapel feels a very different place,- one in which, for me at least, prayer is easy and comfortable even on days when I'm struggling. But, because the altar rail is still there (albeit in truncated form) a silent running-battle has developed between those who wish to retain it for every service, and those who would cheerfully see it vanish without trace. So it's uncertain when you emerge from the vestry quite what you'll find...faintly ludicrous, but very St M's.

Last time I attended the Mothers' Union corporate Communion, I was assured that the ladies much preferred to have the rail in place- but they then confounded my informant by (all bar one) electing to stand to receive. Today was my turn to preside for this service, and I semi-deliberately kept out the way before the service so that I could not be drawn into impassioned debates on the subject.
And, when it came to the distribution they all stood in a semi circle and the sense of a gathered community of the people of God was overwhelming...My one regret is that I didn't invite them to communicate each other. I know it would have been right today.
During the intercessions, the impact of the shootings in American schools was very much on my heart.
To come home to these words from the Henri Nouwen Society was simply wonderful; they articulated some of the connections I'd been experiencing this morning.

When we gather around the table and eat from the same loaf and drink from the same cup, we are most vulnerable to one another. We cannot have a meal together in peace with guns hanging over our shoulders and pistols attached to our belts. When we break bread together we leave our arms - whether they are physical or mental - at the door and enter into a place of mutual vulnerability and trust.

The beauty of the Eucharist is precisely that it is the place where a vulnerable God invites vulnerable people to come together in a peaceful meal. When we break bread and give it to each other, fear vanishes and God becomes very close

Monday, October 02, 2006

Dedication Sermon for St Mary's (loosely derived from Jeremiah 7)

It's been a while since I've written a sermon in under an hour and felt absolutely sure that it said what it needed to..Despite this, actually delivering this yesterday was deeply scary...When I'd finished there was one of those silences which is either a prelude to a riot or, just possibly, means that someone there has caught your vision. Still praying that it's the latter...

Once upon a time there was a church.
That church stood at the hub of the village, close to shops and pubs, on the way to anywhere and everywhere.
It had stood there for a long long time, and for the most part the people of that community were proud of it.
They came there to celebrate great events, births and marriages. They came there to mourn their dead.
They dropped in on the way to collect children from school, took shelter from the rain after tending family graves in the churchyard outside, savoured its atmosphere of dim quiet.
Some were regular visitors, some came only once...but they knew that, at significant times of their lives, times when they’d needed a sense of stability and safety, that building had welcomed them.
They might not have thought of it in that way, but the open doors of the church building reminded them at some deeper level that there was somewhere else which they could call home, Someone who would accept them no matter what.
For those people, the church building was a silent witness, a sign that spoke of God’s presence among his people.
“Let me dwell with you in this place” said God.
But inside the church not all was well. Generations came and went, and the worship of God was no longer a high priority in the community life.
The group who gathered in that church began to feel beleaguered, perplexed that the worship that had meant so much to them, that had seemed the perfect expression of the way things ought to be, appeared to leave the next generation cold.
They wondered what to do. . Like many another, the church had to take to take its chance amid the rocky waters of contemporary life as the problem of maintenance, money and maths began to grow.
Should they withdraw, allowing the old ways to die quietly, or should they so adapt that they themselves would feel no longer at home?
It certainly wasn’t easy.
While some of the congregation therefore decided that their best plan was to sell off the church building, and use some of the money generated to create a community centre more appropriate to the demands of contemporary life, others, feeling threatened, began to huddle together for protection. They chose to cling to the certainties that had supported them through the years, the certainties that were enshrined in the very stones of the church itself.
This group felt that now was the time to close ranks, to work on getting the worship of the church just right, confident that if only they could recover confidence in that, everything else would follow.
For a while, it seemed that they might just be rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, but then something changed.
Some people began to ask themselves searching, uncomfortable questions.
They wondered whether in their anxiety to get everything right for God during the decades, they’d somehow lost track of God’s reality…whether perhaps they had been distracted by the business of worship and mislaid its object.
They set to and began to pray with a new determination.
They remembered that the church existed to serve the people and not the people to support and fill the church.
They wondered whether they should leave their beloved building behind them and go and look for God somewhere else.
They remembered those words of the angel to the disciples
“He has already gone ahead of you into Galilee” and began to expect to discover God alive and active in the world, rather than simply longing to recreate the past times when he had seemed closest in worship.
Their focus changed, as they heard afresh the dual invitation to serve the world for the sake of the Father, and to come to the Father in worship for the sake of the world.
They reminded themselves that however strange and abstruse worship may look to the world outside, it is in fact the whole point of the church’s existence.
They came to recognise that mission and worship are not mutually exclusive. With relief, they turned away from the hard choices of either/or. They celebrated their mission, to bring the whole of creation into a right relationship with God, - a relationship in which God’s absolutely sovereignty is universally acknowledged, in which the whole created order comes to give to God what is God’s due, to worship.…
And, of course, as they focussed on God, things began to change.
They recognised new opportunities for service in their community, adopting strangers and those without other support.
Finally, they realised that the church couldn’t seek to draw others in unless its members first went out to them…that the presence of God in that community was not confined to even the most precious pile of ancient stones.
“ Let me dwell with you in this place”
Said God.
And it was so.
Thanks be to God!


To be honest, I’m still in two minds about “All Creatures Great and Small: a Pet Blessing service for St Francis-tide” which was our OpenHouse offering yesterday.
On one level, it was clearly hugely successful with dozens of dogs and their owners arriving to fill the church, - together with 2 gerbils, a cat, a rabbit, a tortoise and a whole jar of common or garden snails.
Many adults came from beyond the church family, bringing the pets who are central to their lives, - grateful for the opportunity to acknowledge and give thanks for the importance of those relationships. When I spoke to one of our Church Wardens afterwards, she commented that people who felt unable to come into church on their own behalf could hide behind their pets, engage with them as a mask for engaging with others or with God, and that it was undoubtedly a positive experience in bridge building. So, that's good, then.

Several of our usual families were there too (yesterday was OpenHouse’s 1st birthday, and it’s encouraging to realise that we do have some “usual families”, whom we wouldn't otherwise encounter, though the congregation is pretty fluid overall) and one (thanks, A) kindly emailed me with positive feedback, even though she’s not a pet owner herself :
"Someone told me that St M's was too high for them, but I can now say that it's not too high to welcome assorted 4 legged creatures...". Another positive.

Overall the atmosphere was fine, and the animals behaved beautifully (even though I did have to conduct much of the service with Mufti in my arms, as she was too overexcited to handle separation without screaming about it. Evil Dillon, in contrast, was a model of canine virtue, sitting alert but peaceful in the front pew…role reversal at last!).

All good, then?

Well, no, because at the back of my mind there always lurks the spectre of the Vicar of Dibley, - and an anxiety that what brought people in was less the opportunity to thank God for their pets than the prospect of free entertainment on a stormy Sunday afternoon. Because of the presence of the assorted pets, it was much harder to create the space to really pray...and though I was pleased with the service I'd devised, and the congregation participated with conviction, specially in the singing, it did feel quite a distance away from worship.

On balance, though, I’m going to rejoice rather than repent, because the actual rite of blessing each pet and owner by name was so very wonderful. Among many special encounters, I'll share just three…
  • With Daisy, an arthritic poodle in a pram whose owner said that because she was almost housebound this was a real highlight for her pet
  • With the owner of the snails, a small girl who had adopted them that very afternoon, because, she said “There are so many animals out there that don’t get loved and looked after, and I think God wants us to remember them”
  • With a family who came without their beloved dog, Chloe, because she was too ill to come…would I pray for her, please, as she was having chemotherapy?…so mum, small sons and I prayed together and it was good. Truly.
O God, you have made us and all living things to form your family on earth. You are even more wonderful than what you have made. We thank you for giving us these pets who bring us joy. As you take care of us, we also ask that we might take care of those who trust us to look after them. By doing this, we share in your own love for all creation. We ask this in the name of Jesus our Lord.

[Note: If you're considering a similar moment of madness, there are lots of good resources on the web...I found that prayer here and there's lots more to choose from]