Saturday, April 28, 2007

Cross Shaped

One of the images I’ll carry away with me from Monday’s session was not something I actually saw myself at all.
As I blogged below, +Lindsay gave us a full account of Derek Spencer’s ordination…with lots to ponder.
The Bishop asks his ordinands to carry a wooden cross over their shoulders as they come to ordination. Eden, the congregation to which Derek was ordained, meets in a school hall, with raked seating, so his walk to the altar was down the steps of the auditorium, the cross clunking behind him each step of the way. By the time he prostrated himself in front of the Bishop, there was no room for doubt about the shape of life and ministry he was entering into.

That is such a terrifying reminder of something it’s too easy to overlook as I immerse myself in parish ministry with all its intense joy and maddening triviality. I may weep with those who weep, grind my teeth over the surfeit of meetings, the plethora of papers…but how often do I remember that I’m called to a cross-shaped life?
Yes, it is life in all its fulness, but the route is via the cross, which we are to take up each and every day.
Sobering, yes?

The Exception proves the Rule – more on Hard Questions

The speaker who got me so excited that I had to restrain myself from leaping onto my seat and cheering was Bishop Lindsay Urwin, - suffragen bishop of Horsham, in Chichester, the diocese where I grew up. Chi. has a penchant for traditionalist bishops, - so,much though I miss the sea and the South Downs, it won’t be on my short list of places I’d love to work. (In any case, I'm hoping that a Kathryn-shaped vacancy will emerge here in Gloucester).
Sadly, +Lindsay is among those who would not see my priestly Orders as valid, - but in every other way he is a breath of fresh air, and it was a delight to listen to him.

His basic premise was that it is through the Sacraments that we come closest to God, and that we should therefore develop “a lively doctrine of Exceptions” to enable us to share those Sacraments with as many people, in as many and creative ways as possible, while remaining firmly rooted in tradition...He certainly doesn't have any reservations about the Eucharist as the ultimate mission tool - though he was as clear as I am that many of the things with which we surround it get in the way of our seeing the reality of Christ's presence there.
He spoke of “perforated boundaries” to allow Fresh Expressions a sense of the wider Church – but it seems to me that those perforations are also a feature of the “doctrine of exceptions”, since we are thus freed from the need to establish who is “in” or “out” in institutional church, to welcome all who come, all who ask…

Key points (mainly +L, with a few comments and expansions from me...his are the bits thought through and coherent, OK?)

  • the purpose of the Church – to worship and proclaim God (In the season of Annual Parochial Church Meetings, I found that rather a useful reminder. Some sidetracks are so convincing that you don’t even notice they are leading you off course until you find yourself at a dead end.)
  • we don't need the tragic and inauthentic “competition” between Word and Sacrament that seems to divide the Church so often. Why do many people assume that words are more accessible to the unchurched than sacrament, symbol, silence, mystery? Preaching Christ should not be undemanding of ourselves or of our hearers. Often symbols and sacraments connect to depths that words will just not address, - just because words have a clear, precise and limited meaning. Symbols can bear a greater weight and connect in different ways. Yet we behave as if eating together at the Lord’s table is too demanding for “outsiders”. Who are those outsiders anyway? What process of vetting went on before Jesus fed the 5000. They were hungry and he fed them in the way that only he could.. The crowd had no understanding of who or how…they simply knew that their needs were satisfied
  • Sacraments are not something that the Church does, but rather something God does, a spiritual gift, a “fresh expression” of Christ who is present in the mystery ;so each sacramental encounter can be a fresh touch from Him (“The Spirit hovers over the elements and a Sacrament results…” Augustine) .So…
  • We need to liberate the sacraments from institutionalism and over-ritualisation – , to unclutter them, determining which elements are really essential and being prepared to discard or reshape the rest (at this point he told us the wonderful story of Derek Spencer’s ordination, blogged at the time by Jonny (Maggi had good stuff to say here on knowing what the roots of our liturgy are, so that we remain true to them even as we reshape them for the contemporary context…maybe if we ask nicely she’ll blog them). Having established the essentials, we must then shed the fear that has developed as liturgy has become entrenched…continuity is important…a 1st century Christian attending worship would be baffled by so much, but would recognise and encounter God in bread broken and wine outpoured.
  • God is quite used to doing things “in the wrong order” so we can afford to sit light to this…the important thing is that people are enabled to meet with God, not whether they’ve negotiated the hurdles in the correct ecclesiastical sequence…sometimes receiving Communion will encourage someone to seek Baptism. +Lindsay brought the house down when describing the grey area around adults who want to make a fresh commitment, that is perilously close to the forbidden field of re-baptism” “The Lord knows his own” he said “And what’s he’s already done to them!” That’s great.. Stop panicking! Believe in the power of the Sacraments, specially the Eucharist as a “Converting Ordinance”…it works. (Wonderful contrast between coffee and donuts which become what we are, and the bread and wine of the Eucharist, that enable us to become what they are, the Body of Christ)
There was lots more - suspect I'll come back to this again and again...but right now there's a Baptism service to prepare.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Hard Questions in church

I promised to say more about the Hard Questions day…which I found hugely stimulating.
We were given the questions first thing (so that at least we didn’t spend time wondering what they were, or whether we’d be able to answer them - but yes, they are genuinely hard)
They looked something like this
  • What is Church?
  • What is a Fresh Expression of Church?
  • How can a fresh exp be both fresh and authentic to its tradition?
  • How can emerging groups connect as part of the larger body of Christ?
I was intrigued to hear that officially, one third of Anglican Churches are currently engaged in something they would describe as a Fresh Expression of Church.. I have to say, I’d question this. My suspicion is that what is going on is rather more akin to rebranding other activities…recognising the potential in groups that might in the past have simply been seen as an aspect of church life to become church for those who attend.
I’m not saying this is a negative thing…absolutely no!

Little Fishes, for example, is clearly church for most of its members. When I arrived here, I was told by various people that the group didn’t “work” because the mums didn’t come to “real church” which, as everyone knows, is what happens on 10.00 on Sunday mornings. (Not…just in case my irony escapes anyone out there!).
But from my very first encounter with them I realised that what was happening here was real and wonderful. People were coming together to engage with God and with one another. They were learning and growing in faith. They were even encouraging others to come and see….

Official thinking is that a fresh expression is truly “church” when it develops its own sacramental life. Given the target age-group, it’s no surprise that baptisms are a regular fruit of Little Fishes, though we’ve yet to manage one actually within the Thursday morning service. Still the baptism of N and her daughters on Easter Eve was one of the highlights of the whole Triduum for me this year, and she refound her faith within Little Fishes, so that's pretty special.
Equally, I’ve broken bread with Little Fishes many times and despite the total absence of any authorised liturgy, I’ve known full well that as we gather together and think of Jesus, he meets us in the bread we share. So I’d say that the sacramental life of the group is in good heart.
What’s more, I learn learn and keep on learning from those children.

This morning, for example, we explored the Emmaus story together, ending, of course, with the breaking of bread. This time I made it more deliberately Eucharistic. We set out bread and wine formally, the children enjoying the process of spreading a cloth, and placing chalice and plate When I reached that point in the story where the disciples recognise Jesus in the breaking of bread, I moved from that story into a reminder of the last time they had eaten together, and used the words of institution. It seemed absolutely the right thing to do, just as it seemed absolutely right that we should all of us share the bread while the adults passed around my earthen-ware chalice…
The learning point came, for me, from D.
I should have known.
When I baptised him, 18 months ago, he was not prepared to be fobbed off with the polite little dribbles of water that are the norm for a C of E Baptism. In my talk at the service I’d spoken of the water as representing the overwhelming tide of God’s love and grace so D., a toddler theologian, decided to illustrate this. He splashed joyously till parents, god-parents and priest alike were all dripping. I'll never baptise again without remembering him, and his lesson has been part of my baptism talk ever since.
It was the same today. When everyone had taken a piece of bread, there was still more left…and D returned for seconds….and thirds. If we meet God’s love in Jesus through the elements of bread and wine, he wanted us all to enjoy as much as we possibly could…not to waste a crumb or a drop…
Oh, I learn and learn from those children!

So there's no dispute...Little Fishes is an unmistakable sign of the kingdom.
Little Fishes is church: not a doubt of it.
But it’s surely not a Fresh Expression, since it has been running for a good few decades…and because we open the church and invite people to come to us, rather than meeting where they are already…(Mad thoughts of a toddler church at a mother and baby clinic are brewing even as I type…but that’s a dream for another day).

Nonetheless, Little Fishes has won a place on the Fresh Expressions web-site, and I can’t help wondering how many other "fresh expressions" fit into the same category, of a belated realisation that a group or happening bears all the marks of church itself, and can in no way be seen as simply a pathway to proper church in the fullness of time.

I’d love to believe that one third of Anglican churches are working outside the box…outside the building…outside all the inherited boundaries and building authentic Christian community beyond the walls,- but I do wonder. Unless they are incredibly well-kept secrets, I’m not aware of that many in this diocese (feig being a glorious exception, of course). Generally, the invisibility of some fresh expressions is another issue…though where they are built around existing networks, perhaps its reasonable to expect that only members of those networks will notice.You might reasonably argue that fresh expressions don’t need to be grafted on to any denomination,- but if a denomination is laying claim to them, it would be good to know where they are. If only as the parent of young adults who don't want to engage with God via inherited church, except once in a while to cheer their mother...

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Doing the Lambeth Walk

In London yesterday at this. - and it was such a good day!
Some fantastic input from Bishop Lindsay Urwin, on a topic guaranteed to be music to my ears
"Sacramental ministry in fresh expressions of church".
He's certainly someone who believes passionately in the power of the Sacraments in mission (I only wish he were able to acknowledge my Orders - he is firmly unconvinced of their validity or I might be beating a path to his door in search of jobs) and he was wonderfully engaging and inspiring.
Good panel discussion, too, -including well-turned words of wisdom from my favourite thinking blogger! (She looks quite at home here, don't you think?Maybe a vision for the future ;-)).
Great to go to London, meet up with a friend and be able to call it work!

I'll post more about the content of the day later. Meanwhile, Lambeth Palace was a great venue, saying so much to me about the inter-relationship of the riches of the past with the contemporary context which lies at the heart of fresh expressions of church.
So we sat (an interesting assortment, with a startling preponderance of clerical black) beneath the gaze of a whole host of departed Archbishops, each alike in their rochet and chimere, some famous, some all-but forgotten. The bewigged legions from the 18th century in particular looked almost identical - but doubtless had their own struggles of faith and doubt, and wrestled with their calling to live and proclaim the gospel in their day.
In the adjoining hall was a wonderful portrait of beloved Michael Ramsey, the Archbishop of my childhood...those famous eyebrows sprung off the canvas and we smiled affectionately as we passed by.

Lambeth is an amazing building - the crypt chapel alone is almost reason enough to envy ++Rowan his official home, if not the job that goes with it. But it was in the courtyard outside that this fig tree, in all its gnarled complexity, recalled for me the harsh realities and tortuous connections of the Anglican Communion.
With something like that to tend and nurture, ++Rowan is surely entitled to all the prayerful spaces he can find.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Behind closed doors....

At evening on the first day of the week the disciples were together in the upper room, the doors being closed for fear of the Jews

This was one of the passages we were invited to reflect on during Saturday's Quiet Day. It wasn't the most comfortable of processes, as I became aware of a few too many closed doors that I probably ought to consider allowing God to open one day soon….but it became almost comical when I went outside and continued my reflections in the immediate environment.
Doors on offer looked like this

or this

or even this.

Do you ever have the feeling that you are being got at by Someone??

So much better than me!

After Thursday's funeral, I went round to see another family who are dealing with bereavement. Grandma who'd died was not "of the parish", and we'll not be involved in the funeral service, but I wanted to visit, and there had been a suggestion from the mum that I might have some good ideas about explaining death to young children.

"Hmmn. Can only do my best...", I thought, as I rang the doorbell.
A warm welcome was followed by an introduction to a grown-up cousin, with slight learning difficulties, who was staying with my friend. She had been particularly close to her grandmother, and suddenly the brief of "explaining death to the children" seemed wider, more alarming by the second.
I needn't have worried.
A., the small daughter whom I know from school and OpenHouse, was very happy to chat about her grandma and about the change that had happened to her. She explained to me that Grandma had been poorly for too long, had stopped enjoying life, was just worn out with being ill. Then she started telling me how grandma's story fitted into the great story of Easter...
We talked together, while her cousin listened, about how sad the disciples must have felt at bedtime on Good Friday. We talked about the women going to the tomb first thing on Easter Sunday...We talked about what that might mean for us.
I began to think thatmaybe a suitably modified version of Kathryn's standard funeral sermon, variant b (Romans) might be about to get an outing, but meanwhile A chattered happily on, full of visions of angels and heavy stones rolled away.

"Blimey..." said her cousin "How do you know all that stuff?"

"Because" said A (all in a great rush, without any pause for breath) "There's a big empty cross outside the church and it says "Risen" and that means that Jesus is risen and because he's risen it means that we can be grandma is as well... so we don't need to be sad. OK? If you want, I'll show you..." - and A. seized her cousin by the hand and took her off to confront the evidence that love really is stronger than death.

I'm not sure that the logic would have worked for everyone, but the shining certainty that A offered would have convinced most hardened sceptics. It was clearly hugely reassuring to her cousin. Good news is so much more credible when you love the one who shares it with you.

"He is not here. He is risen. Come, see the place where he lay"
Saturday....spent on a Quiet Day courtesy of the diocesan CME programme. Some good input, designed to be minimalist (at the beginning of the day, the leader told us of a Franciscan friar leading a Quiet Day for a group from Newcastle uni, whose first address consisted of
"God is love. See you at lunchtime"....Wonderful. Less is more. Can't think when I'll achieve that...but wonderful) and a venue that worked in good weather, but somehow the day left me a bit disconnected and grumpy.
Maybe this was in part because of my sense of the yawning gap where there ought to have been a nicely planned sermon. With such a large team at St M's, you don't preach at the Eucharist that often, so there's extra pressure to say something good - and today's readings included the lovely John 21 passage that has been a theme song for me since I was sent off to ponder it after my first confession at St John the Divine, Kennington, 25 years ago. Somehow, that didn't help. It wasn't the time to retell the story of my journey...but quite what God did want me to say escaped me for most of yesterday evening. Deep blankness persisted till in desperation, having read assorted online offerings, and leaning heavily on Lawrence, I wrote something late last night and went to bed...
Then, this morning I toddled off to preside at 8.00, and discovered to my alarm that St M's was planning to use only the shortened version of the reading from Acts 9 - thus demolishing at a stroke one third of my sermon. No good talking about Ananias if they weren't going to hear the first thing about him. Minor panic, and frantic rewrite in the 3o minutes between getting home from the 8.00 and setting out for the 10.00, which turned out to be just what was needed. Somehow, during that process things got rearranged so that when I found myself in the pulpit my opening prayer was not, as I'd anticipated
"Dear Lord, forgive me for the uninspired muddle I'm about to dish up" but the more conventional "May I speak in the name of ....."
And it was OK. Some parts more than OK.
Thank you God.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Happy Place

After a nice gentle week, I've suddenly come up with lots to blog and little time to blog it, (preaching Sunday- so a crisis is due any moment!) but Paul at The Harbour of Ourselves was reflecting on happy places, so I thought I'd take a moment to post a picture of one of mine....
Just browsing through to find the right shot was such a therapeutic occupation. I realised just how often things in my world are actually very good, so I'm now feeling both happy and grateful.
Thank you, Paul, for prompting the exercise!
Thanks for the good advice and encouragement for the "traditional" funeral. It happened yesterday, - a blend of illegality, using material from the 1928 Prayer book, and readings from the Authorised Version plus a hefty chunk of Francis Thompson's The Hound of Heaven. By the end, I was heartily sick of the sound of my own voice, and really wished that the family had felt able to provide at least one reader to give a little variety....However, I'm kind of relieved that no-one else was reading from my script, which included the notable typo
"grant us grace so to follow the example of thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and dogly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys..."
They nearly were unspeakable, as I struggled briefly with hysteria,- to emerge victorious.
Apart from that, the whole service went smoothly and the family felt that their mother's wishes had been honoured, while I felt that I'd preached the Resurrection rather than eternal gloom, so all is well.

In other news, my washing machine has moved on from eating mere socks to a whole surplice. I can think of no other explanation. Here's the story. On Easter Sunday night when I staggered home from church, I brought with me cassock-alb, cassock and surplice, reckoning they deserved a wash after recent frenetic activity. I put them in the washing pile, and went blithely off on holiday, returning to find cassock and cassock alb waiting for me in the study (HG is a top daughter, you know). It wasn't till I looked in the EU ironing mountain for the surplice for yesterday's service that I realised I might be in trouble. An extensive search of the house, in both likely and unlikely quarters, has yielded no fruit, though HG thinks she remembers hanging it in the airing cupboard to dry. Now, though, it is vanished as if it had never been. A Bermuda triangle for vestments? or just a domestic appliance getting above itself? Anxious curate wants to know.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

"Both/and" continued

Jonny has a post on this very subject - starting from the emergent perspective but with his customary balance and grace (not always as evident as it might be among emergent bloggers and commenter).
I felt like cheering aloud when I read this sentence - but it's all good.
All in all i think god is a lot more gracious than all of us and breathes life and spirit in places we have all written off a long time back. and that's a great job! in the uk i know of at least two emerging churches growing out of gay denominational settings which shows me the same thing - god is much more radical, surprising, and wonderful than most of us...

God's vision is always bigger, his ambition for his Church greater, more exciting than anything we can envisage in our anxious little corners...And we're invited to join in! Isn't that mind blowingly exciting.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Can I have both, please? (an exercise in exploring the distinctly obvious)

In her (very generous) comment on a recent post, Serena wondered what was behind my reference to “borrowed time” - so here's a quick explanation...
My work as a curate is the "on the job" element of training for ministry within the Church of England. Though we're ordained after 2 or 3 years of vicar-school, first as deacon and then, usually one year on, as priest, there’s clearly much to be learned before we’re safe to be left with a real live parish – and the theory is that 3 to 4 years of curacy should address this situation.
On leaving vicar-school, the newly ordained are sent to work with an experienced priest, who acts as “Training Incumbent” – helping them grow into the practical realities of parish ministry.
That’s what has been happening for me with WonderfulVicar and the tolerant souls at St M’s since July 2004 – so sometime between July this year and July next, I have to move on to take on my first “responsibility post”. Unsurprisingly, this was quite a hot topic during my recent review with the Archdeacon – I was asked to think aloud about what my dream post might look like and how I envisage my ministry developing during the next few years. I've kept on pondering, because it's not straightforward.

I know that I love much about working within the traditional model of church. I realise that Charlton Kings has probably given me an unreal perspective on the opportunities that the parish system still provides, but here certainly I’m regularly in contact with non-church families, who still approach us for rites of passage. This is such a privilege, and I've made some really important connections along the way. My children tease me about the way I seem to enjoy funerals…but truly, the combination of being allowed to share people’s stories and to speak words that might, by the grace of God, make a difference is nothing short of mind blowing.
So in my experience here, the benefits of the parish system still outweigh its drawbacks, and
I’m always surprised and delighted by the amount of free floating good will that seems to exist for the church, and her ministers.
So – does this mean I’d like to be a parish priest?
Of course I would....
BUT I know too that the connection between what happens within the walls of St M’s, and the lives of hundreds in this community is not just tenuous – it’s non existent.
And I long for all those other people to know directly how much they are loved by God– to feel the difference that Love makes to each and every second of their lives and their eternities….The first time I cycled up to Morning Prayer in church from Privet Drive, the Monday after my diaconal ordination, I did so against the tide of children heading to the primary school round the corner. I arrived at the church in tears. We live in a community with many young families but I work in a church whose average age is definitely a few years older than my own. And it hurts that we’re not connecting with those many others.
So – OpenHouse was born…and is, I think, making connections with those families whom jargon would describe as “Open un(or de?)churched”…those who’ve some idea of what might happen behind the doors of St M’s…who are prepared to come and see.

But there’s the rub. Come and see.

I loved welcoming school children to St M’s in Holy Week to follow the “Experience Easter” trail…and there are arguments in favour of taking them to a special place and using the power of an ancient building to enhance our telling of the Best Story Ever…but not if that prevents them from believing it could actually relate to the reality of their lives.
The risk is that clergy and congregations may carry on behaving as if we believe that God is to be uniquely encountered within our churches…and trying as hard as we can to lure people to meet God there…whereas we know that he has “already gone before us into Galilee” ..He’s waiting in the bus queue, taking pleasure in the bounding (and boundless) energy of the dogs being walked on The Beeches, and the skate boarders in the precinct...
So…I want to be involved in a church that does not just look outwards, but steps out to join in, to bless, celebrate and join in with God’s transforming activity in the world.

I thought a bit about this during Holy Week, and in a response to a comment from Caroline Too, wrote
“ I do realise that liturgy and buildings are often the problem, I'm not saying they are the whole answer, but I do think that we need a combination of church through relational networks (yuk phrase, but can't think of a better way to put it) and church that is just identifiably there as church.
Of course, you can have buildings without liturgy...or liturgy without buildings....or community without either. I'm a real believer in that famous "mixed economy church" which ++Rowan wants to see...even though the process of being both/and could potentially exhaust everyone.”

Holy Week brought me right up against that, since on the Monday night I was refreshed and inspired by time spent with the Be Stillinstallations provided by feig in the Lady Chapel of our Cathedral…while on Thursday morning, I was back in that same Lady Chapel with rank on rank of robed clergy preparing to renew our ordination vows at the Chrism Mass. God spoke to me in both services, both situations….I’m excited that I’m part of a church that recognises this will happen.

So…if I were asked to choose between ministry in an inherited and an “emerging” congregation, my answer would have to be “Yes please.”
I want both.
Which, I suspect, may be a tall order.
Watch this space.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Child of my time?

I'm currently working on the funeral service for a lady of the parish who left instructions with her (non church) daughter that she wanted "A traditional Anglican service".
It sounds pretty straightforward on one level.
Depends what you mean by tradition, though.
Not a modern language service, clearly,- reading from the King James Bible, and no lapses into a chatty approach to the Lord.
As someone who loves the poetic beauty of 17th century English, that's fine by me- and I'll just have to trust that the congregation is comfortably familiar with the phrases, and can grasp the meaning without difficulty.
But when it comes to closer scrutiny of the Book of Common Prayer itself, it's the meaning that is giving me pause. In fact, I'm really struggling - not, alas, to understand, but to see how I can use the material with any integrity.

The emphasis of the service is so much on the misery of the human condition, and on the terrifying judgement of God
("We consume away at thy displeasure and are afraid at thy wrathful indignation");
on the belief that we suffer in accordance with God's will;
on limits set around salvation ("beseeching thee that it may please thee of thy gracious goodness , shortly to accomplish the number of thine elect").

I know that the Book of Common Prayer emerged from a theological context that is worlds away from this one, but what I need to remember is that the view of God that it encourages will be the one that many of my congregation grew up with.
Born in the 60s, my earliest liturgical memories are of Series 2,- but I'm pretty certain those revisions only applied to the Eucharist, so my parents' funerals (in 1978 and 79) must presumably have been according to the BCP rite. Incidentally, it may be salutory, bearing in mind the anxious hours that clergy pour into crafting prayers and addresses for funerals, to note that the only thing I can actually remember from either of those services is hearing the Nunc Dimittis read slowly as the coffin was carried from the church. On the whole, reading the text I'm glad about that. The words I needed to hear then were those I seek to share with bereaved families whenever I can...assurances of God's love and mercy, shown to us in Christ, the love which is stronger than anything, even death.

Two years after those services in St John the Evangelist, Upper St Leonards, the ASB arrived and with it an underlying theology of hope,- that also characterises the Common Worship service which I know best. Thankfully, then, this head-on conflict with the liturgy I'm asked to deliver is not a regular feature of ordained life. As far as the forthcoming funeral is concerned, I'm plundering the (outlawed) 1928 Prayer Book for material that is consonant with the Book of Common Prayer, but less determinedly gloomy. I'll use the Burial Sentences, of course, and the words of committal, just as Cranmer left them. I trust that the lady concerned will look on this compromise with tolerance, if, indeed, she is not so swept up in enjoying the glory of God that she takes no further interest in her own funeral.
I'm meeting the family this afternoon, and as always will share with them my hopes for the service
  • that together we will share memories and thank God for the life that is ended
  • that we will commit their mum to his loving care
  • that we will seek and find comfort in loss
I will express my belief that the service should be helpful in providing a safe space to mourn, but should also be a resource to enable them to begin to move on into a new reality.

For me, despite all the beauty of its language, the Order for the Burial of the Dead from the Book of Common Prayer does not seem to achieve this. It probably didn't intend to. Life in 1549 was nasty, brutish and short for the majority, and death a regular neighbour. I'm thankful that I'm living and ministering in another time and place.

Minding the shop

this week, as WonderfulVicar and many of the congregation are away on a parish holiday here.
The boys returned to school yesterday, and Hattie Gandhi is back to Cardiff on the morrow, so there was no question of my going on the trip, and it's actually rather pleasant to be here quietly, after all the frenetic activity of Holy Week.

Yesterday at the Spir Dir course it was my turn to be "directee" during one of our coaching exercises, and I was reflecting on where the line comes between my public persona of priest, so much to the fore in Holy Week, and my everyday identity. Having watched much-loved friend negotiate a 3 month sabbatical from parish life (which was certainly not a sabbatical from ministry) and beginning to consider the "Where next?" question also fed into this. Whatever life and ministry may mean now, it's set to look quite different at some point in the next 15 months. A third year curate lives on borrowed time!

But what was lovely about the process of reflection yesterday was the realisation that, actually, I was pondering an artificial distinction. Kathryn-the-priest really is the same person as Kathryn-the-mum/wife/ friend. I'm comfortably whole. For once my intellectual understanding of what reality "ought" to look like matches the lived experience. And that's really good.

So this week, there's a fair bit of parish "stuff" to keep me busy, but I don't feel the need to cram every waking moment full of activity to justify myself. I'm going to try and carry on being me as best I can, remembering that having asked God to use me, I can trust that this is exactly what will happen. I wrote an open cheque a good while ago, after all...

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Life at 4 mph

This is clearly not the post of a reflective blogger, - but I'm a woman of my word and so here, as threatened, is evidence of our recent trip (more on flickr for those with more manners than sense!).

We were incredibly blessed with the weather, which was warmer than many summer cruises we've taken, and there seems to be a benevolent something about the boat which more than counters the possible tensions created by lots of Flemings in one small space. We knew this often worked (it is, after all, one reason why we are buying a narrowboat at all) but given the exhaustion levels of several of the party on day one, and some fairly huge things going on in all directions in recent weeks, it felt rather miraculous that even when the engine failed on Wednesday morning (going through a tunnel, of course) we all sat quite happily in the sun till a marvellous mechanic arrived to set all to rights. Not a word of grouch and grumble, even from those who normally like to get on with getting wherever we are going. The fact that we were stuck here might have had something to do with it, of course...the air laden with bird song, the trees that were so green that they looked as if the colour had been invented for them only seconds before, spring at its most perfect, and we were forced to sit and enjoy it.
Our relentlessly barking dogs were preternaturally peaceful too, overjoyed with knowing exactly where their family was at all times, and enjoying some long walks along the tow path and the feeling of wind in the whiskers!

Incidentally, the friends from whom we're buying the boat are keen ringers, so the boat is currently "Fabian Stedman" - but though the male Flemings ring, we need a new name to mark the adoption process (not least because I find it very hard to square the circle of a boat, which is definitively female, having a guy's name). We've had some thoughts, but a few suggestions would always be welcome...She's not a young boat, but she's sound and friendly..and she's going to be ours!

Recognition at Last!

On logging on this morning, I discovered that Liz, whose lurking presence I'd not even suspected, had been kind enough to nominate me for a Thinking Blogger Award.

I was more than a little startled by this, as I've not been the most creative or reflective blogger of late, but am duly honoured...and am now, according to the law of the universe, required to nominate 5 others for awards. This is such a challenge,not because of scarcity of candidates but, of course, because of an embarassment of riches.
When I began blog-reading, a few weeks before this blog was born in August 2004, I had no idea of the fascinating people I would encounter, and the world of ideas I'd be able to share. My life is so much richer...But choosing is invidious. Please know that for each blog name listed, I could have posted a dozen more (including yours)

1. Maggi - one of the most read "faith blogs" of all, I guess; one that inspires me regularly;one that you'll all know anyway...but heck, if Maggi isn't a thinking blogger, then I can't imagine who is!
2. Freedom Bound - - another good friend in Holy Orders, who's not afraid to tell it like it is for GLBT Christians...and whose presence in my life, and in the blogosphere reminds me of how rich an inclusive church can be
3 feig city (Oh no, not another clergy blog!) But Michael is a "pioneer missioner" whose brief is to nurture an emerging church in Gloucester City. He's also the curate at the Cathedral, and the blend of exploration and tradition which he is negotiating daily is fascinating...
4.(sorry, I can't help it...I know I should get out more, but here's another one)
A Church for Starving Artists. One representative example of why I so value my RevGalBlogPal friends in the US. Jan's context is so different to my own, but the issues are often so similar and her take on them never fails to make me think. Try this for an example
5 (At last, - she's not ordained, though definitely in ministry) Lilly's Pad - a lovely creative place to wander and ponder...Her Easter Sunday questions are typical of why reading Lilly so often sends me off to do some journalling.

Now, the idea is that recipients of an award should pass on the torch. I suspect that some of my nominees may resist this or just be too busy but here are the "official" instructions, in case they want to play along. If not, have a look at their blogs anyway. They really are places to make you think!

Here are the participation rules:

1. If you get tagged [which means your blog has been named on one of these lists of 5], write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think.

2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme.

3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (silver or gold version).

Friday, April 13, 2007

Sunset over Charlton Kings

this was the last thing I saw before collapsing into bed on Easter Sunday night. I think the sermon went OK, though to be honest I suspect everyone was so wiped out that they probably wouldn't have noticed if I'd replaced it with a chapter from Wind in the Willows...
Anyway, good or bad, it seems a lifetime ago, as when you travel at 4 mph, you somehow manage to cram alot more into a day. I've had a wonderful week - the perfect antidote to death by liturgy. Even the loud and vulgar hounds behaved impeccably on the boat. I slept, read, sewed (the tapestry that will probably remain unfinished till my dying day, as it only ever gets taken on retreats and holidays)...I watched the world go by, day dreamed, and it was all very very good.
Photos to come - though probably not tomorrow, when I have to become ActionCurate, taking the junior choristers to a theme park. Talk about down to earth with a bump!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Triduum Images 3

And proclaimed with great joy and excitement to capacity congregations this morning.

And that's it.
One more service, and then we're esaping to life in the very very slow lane, courtesy of the inland waterways system. Our first stay on the narrowboat which is actually going to be ours.
Catch you on Friday.

A blessed Eastertide, all of you.

Images from the Triduum - Saturday

For the first time this year, we lit the Easter fire outside the church and gathered the whole congregation there...which meant that, as the Deacon of the rite, I had to carry the paschal candle into a completely dark and empty church.
And it was amazing.

The rest of the Easter Vigil, including the baptism of a Little Fishes mum and both her daughters, another chance to cause havoc with the rosemary while sprinkling the congregation, and a wonderful recessional, led by two very excited little girls who had just joined the family of the church, was all lovely too.
But it's that moment of walking into the darkness, carrying the Christ light that will stay with me

Images from the Triduum - Thursday and Friday

After the Maundy Thursday Eucharist, with the incredible range of emotions that presiding there produced in me, we began the Watch with Koinonia...
We ate together, and when the meal was over T., the youth leader, and I got up from the table and washed the feet of all those wonderful young people who give me such joy week by week.
It was good to be with them through the long (alternately reverent and riotous) night...To be with them when the dawn brought the harsh sound of nails driven into wood...And then some of them, having sung the Good Friday liturgy, joined in the ecumenical walk of witness as well.
All good.
So glad they were there.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Easter Sunday - They have taken away my Lord

It was unfinished.
We stayed there, fixed, until the end,

women waiting for the body that we loved;
and then it was unfinished.

There was no time to cherish, cleanse, anoint;

no time to handle him with love,
no farewell.

Since then, my hands have waited,

aching to touch even his deadness,
smooth oil into bruises that no longer hurt,
offer his silent flesh my finished act of love.

I came early, as the darkness lifted,
to find the grave ripped open and his body gone;

container of my grief smashed, looted,
leaving my hands still empty.

I turned on the man who came:

"They have taken my Lord - where is his corpse?

Where is the body that is mine to greet?
He is not gone

I am not ready yet, I am not finished -
I cannot let him go
I am not whole."

And then he spoke, no corpse,
and breathed,
and offered me my name.
My hands rushed to grasp him;

to hold and hug
and grip his body close;

to give myself again, to cling to him,
and lose myself in love.

"Don't touch me now"

I stopped and waited, my rejected passion

hovering between us like some dying thing.

I, Mary, stood and grieved and then departed.

I have a gospel to proclaim.

Janet Morley
John 20 1-18

Dead and Buried

And so we took him down
(Or thought we did),
Wiped off the sweat and spittle
From his face,
Washed the dried blood,
Threw out the crown of thorns,
And wrapped him once again
In swaddling clothes.

A tomb can be a cramped,
Confining place,
Far smaller than a stable.
We laid him there
(Or thought we did).
We were not able
To comprehend
The infinite contained.
For us it was the end.
Only the harsh realities
Of death and stone
Remained. Elizabeth Rooney

Friday, April 06, 2007


We nailed the hands long ago,
Wove the thorns, took up the scourge and shouted
For excitement's sake, we stood at the dusty edge
Of the pebbled path and watched the extreme pain.

But one or two prayed, one or two
Were silent, shocked, stood back
And remembered remnants of words, a new vision.
The cross is up with its crying victim, the clouds
Cover the sun, we learn a new way to lose
What we did not know we had
Until this bleak and sacrificial day,
Until we turned from our bad
Past and knelt and cried out our dismay,
The dice still clicking, the voices dying away. Elizabeth Jennings

Thursday, April 05, 2007


In the end we have to state
that no agreement was reached.
His stubborn opposition to compromise
was never breached.

Talks went on through the night
to meet Friday's deadline.
Even the governor was woken early
to sign.

But no peace formula was found
at the eleventh hour.
Between the princes of earth and heaven
there will be no sharing of power.

Every effort was made
to break down his reticence
but he would not join in any talks
and maintained his silence.

The release of prisoners
was the final opportunity.
It is reported that he did not take advantage
of the governor's offer of clemency.

There is no bilateral statement
for the six o'clock news.
The communique that was displayed
said simply He is the King of the Jews.

On reflection it is clear
his agenda had been set from the start.
He planned a suicide mission
against the strongholds of the heart.

He did not negotiate with sin
when matters reached their head.
He would not de-commission his arms
but spread them wide instead.

Godfrey Rust
from Welcome to the Real World

Maundy Thursday - when supper was ended


Who said that trees grow easily
compared with us? What if the bright
bare load that pushes down on them
insisted that they spread and bowed
and pleated back on themselves and cracked
and hunched? Light dropping like a palm
levelling the ground, backwards and forwards?

Across the valley are the other witnesses
of two millennia, the broad stones
packed by the hand of God, bristling
with little messages to fill the cracks.
As the light falls and flattens what grows
on these hills, the fault lines dart and spread,
there is room to say something, quick and tight.

Into the trees' clefts, then, do we push
our folded words, thick as thumbs?
somewhere inside the ancient bark, a voice
has been before us, pushed the densest word
of all, abba, and left it to be collected by
whoever happens to be passing, bent down
the same way by the hot unreadable palms.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Wednesday of Holy Week

Lots of activity this week, of course.
Many, many beautiful words arranged to bring intolerable events into acceptable focus.
But today some space, to think, to waken to the familiar realisation that Lent is behind me, but the great changes I'd hoped for remain, predictably, out of sight,over the horizon.

I'll come to the cross, as usual, with all the mess and muddle intact,- because that's the only way I can ever come.
As myself.

And, since the message of the season for me has been "Stop trying so hard" I offer this as today's poem in the hope that we may all open our hands to catch grace by chance.

Easter Duties - Elizabeth Jennings

They are called duties. People must confess
Through garlic-smelling grilles or in quiet rooms,
All the year’s mis-events – unhelped distress,
Griefs lingered over, accidie in dreams,
And hear the words which bless

And unbind, eat the bread and feel the cross
Hurting only a little, hinting more.
Why do I feel, in all these acts, a loss,
As if a marvel I had waited for
Were a cheap toy to toss

Away, the giver gone? Why do I care
In this uncaring? I need gods on earth,
The wonder felt, sleep which I somehow share
Because it is a going back to birth,
And yes, I want to bear

Anticipated laughter, jokes which once
Meant calibre and bite but did not make
Anyone sad. Prayer yet could be a dance
But still a cross. I offer small heartbreak,
Catch grace almost by chance.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Tuesday of Holy Week

Drop, drop slow tears
And bathe those beauteous feet,
That brought from heaven the news
And Prince of Peace.

Cease not, wet eyes,
His mercy to entreat;
To cry for vengeance
Sin doth never cease.

In your deep floods
Drown all my faults and fears;
Nor let his eyes see sin
But through my tears. Phineas Fletcher

Be still

We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.

from East Coker, Four Quartets

After a busy day, involving a drive to Wales, time spent with 2 baptism families, a Eucharist and Stations of the Cross, HS and I decamped to Gloucester where Michael and his friends from feig (I’m calling it that until you decide a name, Michael) had created a lovely alt. Worship event in the Lady Chapel of the Cathedral.
The combination of ancient stones, soaked in prayer and holiness with gently reflective stations was just exactly what I needed.
Actually, something of the sort should be compulsory for parish clergy at the start of Holy Week - the mountains to be scaled have resumed their proper proportions here at least.

Michael’s emerging church is less than a year old, about to outgrow its home in their living room and extends well beyond your run-of-the-mill cathedral congregation…It was so good to be part of them claiming that space, opening it to people who wouldn’t arrive their naturally but who certainly seemed to be valuing the experience of letting God work with them "where prayer has been valid".
I'm hoping M will post some pictures at his place later - it was very beautiful (not least the candle lit path that led from the door up the side aisle all the way to the Lady Chapel - a really effective declaration of hospitality)

Monday, April 02, 2007

The week begins

They're waving at you.
Ride on.

Some wave to flag you down
like witnesses at a motorway pile-up.
They want you to fix the injured and dying.
You can cure them.
You can bring the dead back to life.

Ride on.

Some are waving Hello.
They want you to come to their party.
They want to show you off to their friends.
They know some very open-minded Pharisees.
They are sure they will be reasonable about it
once you explain.

Ride on.

Some wave the team colours.
They want you to stuff the opposition,
they think its time our guys won.

Ride on.

Some wave business cards.
They want you to endorse their products.
You are hot property for chat shows.
Your position statements will be prepared for you.
You will be dressed by Armani and Calvin Klein
for your limitless media opportunities.

Ride on.

Some wave to warn you.
They want you to take care.
They'd like to re-direct your route
away from likely trouble spots.
They have your best interests at heart.

Ride on.

Some wave in desperation
as if you are their only hope.

Ride on.

Some wave their fists.
You were the wrong answer to their prayers,
and their disappointments have blossomed into anger.
You could have sorted out the whole bloody mess
and here you are out donkey riding.

Ride on.

Ride on until
the temple looms in front of you.
Walk the last few steps towards the tables
where religion is prepared.
Push them all over.
Leave no room for doubt.
Walk into the dark garden,
the false kiss,
the clever trap,
the rigged trial,
the beating,
the goading.
Stop for nothing
and at nothing
and when you have nothing left to give
give all that you have.

copyright Godfrey Rust from
Welcome to the Real World

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Please feel free to admire

OpenHouse, our once a month informal family worship, is now 18 months old. The service was born because we were acutely aware that in a community with a huge number of young families, almost none of them was in touch with the church. Over the months, this has improved gradually but we've felt that we needed to do an awful lot of personal invitations, and make good use of the pupil post at our local schools, sending out 1000 leaflets each month.
This felt both irresponsible, expensive and not terribly effective - so an alternative solution was put forward...
Here it is.
We think it looks really good - hope you agree (specially if you are a young family living in Charlton Kings - we'd love to see you!)

Holy Week, Batman!

was the title of this week's RevGals "Friday Five"...I couldn't bring myself to play, though, because at our ecumenical lunch on Friday we'd discussed how many services we were all doing and discovered that St M's was the clear winner, with (I think) 19 acts of corporate worship being offered within our doors between today and bedtime on Easter Sunday.
At the Parish Eucharist this morning, FabVicar talked the congregation through the week ahead and, if I'm honest, I felt like crying by the time he had detailed it all.

  • Tomorrow we have Stations of the Cross
  • Tuesday is an Iona service
  • Wednesday a Passover Seder
  • Thursday is, of course, the Eucharist of the Last Supper plus foot washing and Watch (and we'll also hie ourselves to the Cathedral in the morning, to renew our ordination vows)
  • Friday has a Eucharist, Ecumenical Walk of Witness and the Three Hours Devotion - plus a concert of Passiontide music
  • Saturday the Vigil, Service of Light, Baptism and Communion and
  • Sunday Eucharists at 8.00 and 10.00, plus Family Service at 11.30 and Evensong at 6.30
Alongside this, the Daily Office will continue, plus one or two extras like the Mother's Union Corporate Communion on Tuesday...

It does look a Bit Too Much from here - but then today looked horrific in advance, but was utterly wonderful.
Dramatised Passion at the 10.00 this morning - it was all good, but I was brought to tears when one of our teenagers emerged from the congregation with these words

'Why is everyone so frightened? You only have to look
at him,
Feel those eyes of Love go deep. I then go weak in
every limb.
His power just takes me over; then I'm brave enough to
"He'll transform this world of misery. The young who
know, don't doubt

For too long, fear was part of the DNA of St M's, I think. Gradually, we are coming to believe that God not only loves us, but likes us too...

OpenHouse this afternoon was a service based around the trail - some new families, lots of friends and an excellent atmosphere

Instead of Evensong we had music and readings for Passiontide - so I got to share some more poetry, we sang 2 of my funeral hymns ("When I survey" and "And can it be?") and the director of music, God bless him, managed the whole thing without a single reference to Stainer's Crucifixion

And then...oh then the whole day became really really wonderful...Hugger Steward and I had spent large chunks of yesterday planning an alt worship Eucharist for Koinonia, the senior Youth Group...and from where I was sitting, it all came together quite beautifully.
It wasn't ultra-anything - tea lights, U2 and some basic visuals - but it was a first for us and it worked. After all the hoops that the church with a small "c" has asked those young people to leap through, it seemed good to devise a service around the theme of welcome and hospitality. We made our own naan bread and when the service itself was over, we sat on in the semi darkness and sang while V played guitar.
Whatever else happens this Holy Week, I touched base with what really matters tonight.