Thursday, May 31, 2007

In which the Curate is spoiled

Tomorrow I will age perceptibly. I know this not because I have advance warning that the day will be particularly stressful (though it's possible, I suppose) but because of simple chronology. That's just the way it works.
But today I feel hugely loved and thankful....just look what happened at Little Fishes.

I'd kind of thought (fx) whisper 47 wasn't much to write home about, but low-key isn't a concept that the wonderful Lightstone family in particular are prepared to countenance. The design in the middle of the cake is our rose window at St M's, which C and B had photographed and then had printed onto edible paper...quite amazing! And the last time I had a cake with little sugar flowers on must have been while my mother was still alive; because childhood cakes looked like that, this somehow feels extra authentic (and the cake is pretty yummy too). So it's been quite a morning, followed by good pub lunch with a friend who found time in a madly busy and not great day to come over and be with me. Oh, I am so blessed!
What's more, I now understand why people were so peculiarly eager to get me to enter the church by the west door! Talk about spoiling. I never expected to make it to the West Porch boards,- this is clearly the silly season.

Celebrating the Visitation

Back in March, Mary had a visitor...
While the angel was with her, it was relatively easy to make the momentous decision to say "Yes" to God, even though she must surely have been bursting with questions as to how the miracle would turn out. with Gabriel's departure, the questions must have grown and grown
Who would believe her account of an angelic appearance? Would Joseph really be able to love the promised child as his own? How would the local community react to an unmarried mother in their midst?
Mary was left in her familiar surroundings, but with everything turned upside down, and nothing to do except wait, with too much time to think.
She realised that she couldn't deal with the waiting time alone, but thanks to Gabriel's message, she knew that someone else had also received amazing she set off to visit her cousin Elizabeth, another mother of an unexpected child. Perhaps her courage failed when she finally arrived at her cousin's home in the hill country. It would be only natural if she had hesitated on the doorstep, wondering what reception she might get.

But God was at work before ever she had opened her mouth to explain the situation to Elizabeth, and inspired by the Holy Spirit the older woman recognised at once how amazing this moment was. Her greeting must have been the most precious gift to Mary...proof that the angel's promise really was coming true, an assurance that God would take care of every detail for her as his plan unfolded. As someone who often needs this sort of human reassurance that God is in control, I'm comforted that even Mary, who represents most fully a human response of obedience, faith and trust, needed and was granted this extra encouragement.
And when it arrived, all the excitement that happily expectant mothers can feel, all the joyful anticipation of the future bursts out in Mary's great song of celebration. I imagine the two women hugging each other, clapping and dancing round the kitchen as they exult in what lies head and all that God has done already. Before he is even born, Jesus in changing things, making Elizabeth's child leap for joy, filling his mother with hope and excitement.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour;
he has looked with favour on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed;
the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name.
He has mercy on those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm
and has scattered the proud in their conceit,
Casting down the mighty from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
to remember his promise of mercy,
The promise made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children for ever.

Being there

A couple of comments on the last post deserved a bit more thought than a comment in my own comments - I'm still not sure where is the correct place to continue discussions on one's own blog when others have taken the conversation on a step or two forward and I'm not consistent, I know...but this time, here's a follow up.

Having had a specially disappointing turn out of families for his Pentecost cafe church (which sounded really good - but that's not something you ever notice when you're the one wondering where assorted semi-regulars are, as I know too well) Dr Moose was musing further about the residual connection between public holidays and Christian festivals here in England. Like the question of when to celebrate major festivals that don't happen on Sundays (Ascension, Epiphany et al), this isn't quite as straightforward as it might seem. I'm thinking specially of Easter, because this year the decision of Gloucestershire schools to break up on Maundy Thursday meant, yes, alot of hard work for choristers, servers etc who were involved in Holy Week services but also that it was perfect timing for inviting local schools to the Experience Easter Trail,- which was a great success right across the diocese. At last year's Greenbelt, FabBishop led a seminar on the need for the church to make the most of any possible connections with what, for want of a better phrase, we could call the Hallmark Calendar. He advocated a recovery of as many festive moments as possible in the year, - on the basis, I guess, that people are more likely to turn up to church if they know that, for example, the way the saints light up the world will be celebrated by fireworks after the Eucharist at All Saints tide...Mind you, he really believes in the attractional power of liturgy done well, - which works in the right places (I think Ch Kings may well be one of them) but would be pretty meaningless in many a context. No conclusions, but I think it might help to keep revisiting the questions.

In another response, Caroline Too suggested that " 'attendance' is an illusion of church family not a genuine aid to family making"...which is probably true. But the question then becomes, how do you forge genuine community? If Anglicanism allows for too much diversity (praise God!) for it to be simply founded on a shared body of belief set against those of others, and if being together celebrating the Eucharistic feast still allows some to feel distant, not fully connected...what is the trigger for building real family? Perhaps it's shared experience and corporate memory - which works in a settled community (and may indeed be what creates the family ties that do exist at St M's) but is harder to achieve in a more mobile context.
If you feel your church "works" as family, what makes the difference?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Maybe secularism isn't all bad?

Just thinking…..

  • About how loudly some of our congregation has been heard to lament the separation of bank holidays from the Christian Festivals they originally marked…
  • And about how this one weekend when Pentecost (Whitsun) actually coincided with what is now the late spring but was for many year the Whit Monday Bank Holiday a good third of that same congregation was actually away so that attendance was right down at the parish Eucharist
  • And wondering if, perhaps, the fact that schools will only have Good Friday and Easter Monday off next year, and their official Easter holiday at another time altogether might not be an unadulterated disaster after all. I seem to remember reading on a RevGal blog that someone was anxious because their school holiday next year would be likely to coincide with Easter - and thought this would have a bad effect on attendance. I was simply stressed about my kids being in school during Holy Week, and not available for the traditional clergy collapse in Easter week itself...but perhaps I'm wrong. Though we did have record attendance this year, even with the Gloucestershire school holidays beginning on Maundy Thursday. Just thinking....

The trouble with good advice...

is how often it transforms itself magically into a weapon with which to beat oneself up.
For example, Caroline at The rollercoaster of life has been having a really rough ride of late, and is doing fantastically – but laments the fact that she’s not yet back to top speed…and we, her friends, were maybe a bit too ready to tell her that she was expecting way too much of she’s added that to the things to feel bad about.

Meanwhile, in like vein, I was reading Kate Litchfield's Tend My Flock whose subtitle is "Sustaining Good Pastoral Care".
The clue to the guilt-trip is all in that "s"- word
Giving good pastoral care is in many ways the easiest part of ministry for me . It comes naturally …I’ve never not wanted to open my arms and my home to anyone struggling. I guess one legacy of a childhood spent with a seriously ill mother is that the urge to make things better is incredibly strong. Too strong sometimes.

But I know that. When I was on placement during training, I very nearly ran myself into the ground by spending every hour I could in the wonderful parish, then coming home and spending long loooong nights chatting online to a friend who was going through a particularly difficult time. Both areas were priorities. Both needed someone….but I was indispensible to neither.
I think I learned then, and have had numerous reminders since, that we are called, as Oscar Romero so beautifully put it, to be "ministers not messiahs".

Similarly, I know that whatever my instinct towards endless availability, boundaries matter. I almost came unstuck with regard to this earlier in my time here...again, I hope I've learned the lesson of experience, though I'm hugely grateful for those whose wisdom and friendship protect me from my own stuipidity when necessary.
I suspect that whatever else, I know myself quite well by now, and I'm keen to work on weaknesses, butI want books to help me to address them constructively rather than pointing out all the danger-areas with pretty minimal guidance as to what to do if things go wrong.
Litchfield's book is full of good sense, and no less full of scenarios to contemplate...points to reflect on are built in every few pages, so this could almost stand as a workbook for pastoral studies...but escape routes in case of disaster are thin on the ground. It's rather as if she has drawn a map of ministry liberally sprinkled with "here be dragons" - and has invited me to ponder the thickness of the dragons' hides.
Reading , I found myself saying repeatedly "Yes but...." or, alternatively, "That's why I thank God for J, M, M, S et al..."
Because of course, the difference between the friends who hold one accountable and even the most sensitive and helpful handbook is that the friends are just that...friends. They know me, they love me, and, if they find me drowing in a muddle of my own making, they are more likely to throw me a line than to give me a lecture about the folly of arriving there in the first place.

I'd love to have time to start all over again and reorganise myself, my home, my training and all sorts of other aspects to fit with the best practice of the book. I probably will revisit and attempt some of the reflective exercises later...but right now, I just feel rebuked that I'm not doing it "properly" - and more grateful than ever for those who help me keep on track despite all.
So, J, M, M, S et al - hugs and thanks, OK?

Monday, May 28, 2007

Out of the mouths

Forgot to mention two rather delightful moments courtesy of the under 3s at church this weekend.

  • During the Saturday wedding, I had just told the congregation that "If any of you know of any reason why these two persons may not lawfully marry you must declare it now" when a small and indignant voice piped up "Nooooo"
  • And yesterday, as the Acts reading ended "Anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved" a determined wail from a very small visitor indeed.
So there we are...Someone is going to be alright!

Tales of a wet Bank Holiday

Once upon a time, a wet Bank Holiday would have meant that the house got cleaned or the ironing mountain scaled...but today, knowing that most of the town centre shops would be open I sallied forth to buy some shoes for latest god-daughter's baptism this Sunday.
WHY doe m*o*s*h*u*l*u sell quite so many delicious styles that actually fit my incredibly awkward wide feet with high instep? I suspect that those who attempted to steal my credit last week may have done me a favour, as armed only with a debit card I had to go for the either/or rather than both/and option. Not saying I won't go back for the other pairs, mind...But the pale stone pair, 2nd along, will do quite beautifully - (Caroline - they are to go with that linen skirt you passed this way a while with skirt as a gift, I feel entirely justified in a quick splurge on footwear). I found a jacket too, but am awaiting HG's return from uni to confirm whether this will in fact "do". Meanwhile, am so excited about pretty shoes it's pathetic, really! I should get out more.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

When the day of Pentecost had come the people of St Mary’s were all gathered together in one place and suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire church where they were gathered and……

So began the sermon I preached this morning, to a slightly half-hearted congregation in a half full church (Bank Holiday weekend and the start of half-term, - we shouldn't have expected anything else really) , with rain and general mizzle going on outside. And as too often, I emerged from our celebration of this wonderful feast feeling bedraggled and disappointed.
No drama for us!
No tongues of flame, not even any speaking in tongues...
I know that St M's, and its curate, are part of the anything-but-charismatic end of the C of E, but wouldn't it be lovely if the Holy Spirit would sweep us off our feet and surprise us, even so?

But then I remembered a very uncomfortable period in my teens. The Christian Union at school had been gripped by pentecostal fervour and it seemed that everyone in the entire school was speaking in tongues, except me. Earnest 6th formers laid hands on me again and again and again, and I waited excitedly for the amazing gift that I was certain was just around the corner.
Only it wasn't. As the term went on, the 6th formers began to weary of me. They decided that there must be some huge block that was preventing the Holy Spirit from getting through and I began to feel guilty. What had I done that made me so uniquely awful that the Holy Spirit would have no truck with me?

And then (for the first time, I think) God spoke to me - quite clearly. It was, as I remember, on the bus home from school on one wet and windy Friday. I was laden with a cello and the meal I had cooked in Home Ec., as well as the additional burden of feeling outcast and despondent when from nowhere God said
"I have given you the gifts that you need for the work I want you to do. Stop longing for the gifts of others and rejoice in being yourself"

Funny how hard it is to learn that one!
I was 14 at the time, but clearly I'm a distressingly slow learner.

Happy Birthday, everyone!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Still no time

and less inclination to get on with anything serious.
All this week's funerals done and dusted. In the event, WonderfulVicar rescued me from back to back services in two different places, which was a great relief - but meant that I didn't get to see the chocolate bouquet that the family had decided was most appropriate to their father.
Never dreamed of such a thing - but a quick google reveals any number of images so clearly I just don't know the right people!
When I was at Cambridge , a guy organised a Milky Way tree , as a wild romantic gesture for his chocoholic girl friend during a May Ball...I wouldn't actually object, if anyone felt like trying that ever, though I'd prefer Green & Blacks, if I'm honest. Not when I'm dead, though: I'd hate to miss out.

Now it's time to shift focus to weddings - and the usual 11th hour sermon panic, compounded by some sort of throat infection which has made me both Groggy and Croaky (a disreputable law firm, perhaps?)
Will hope to find time and inclination to blog something worthwhile very soon.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Being busy

I really haven't got time to blog at all, still less constructively this week -so naturally, here I am!
Life is being led in a rather stream-of-consciousness way, because I'm knee-deep in funerals and addresses/sermons for a wider range of situations than normal, which has left me with a constant anxiety that I'm about to use the wrong words for the wrong people in the wrong place. Special service to sort out with/for Koinonia; Annotated Eucharist for 1st Communicants; euros for Dufflepud's History trip; wedding rehearsal; did I remember to appear to inter those ashes? is there any milk in the fridge? and what about flea-ing the animals?
I'm out every evening too. Deanery Synod and PCC shouldn't be allowed to fall in the same week, such is their life-enhancing potential.

On the other hand, an evening spent listening to Ken Leech speaking (for InclusiveChurch) around the question "What is a parish in the post-Christendom era?" was simply wonderful. The awful thing is that by the time I can process and blog it properly we'll probably be hurtling towards the end of next month and the moment will have passed. He has always been a mega-hero for me, and is probably partly responsible for my long-time yen for a run-down urban parish (or is it that yen that made him a hero in the first place?). With "The Future" becoming something I really do have to consider seriously, I'm trying to discern whether I have, in fact, anything to offer in the sort of context I've aspired to for so long. I was 25 when I moved away from Kennington and the life of SJDK. It might just be that my vision of inner-city ministry is impossibly romantic and that I couldn't even begin to cut the mustard if I actually found myself in a UPA parish. I just don't know, - but I'm trying to be open in all directions.
Amazingly, I had the chance to actually talk to Ken over a curry later last night, when obviously the fact that I could have said anything meant that I managed to say nothing very much.
But he's no disappointment, that I can assure you. He must surely have done Greenbelt in the past, - Isn't it time he returned?

Over lunch today, though, the net result of such a good evening was another visit to my amazon wish-list, to add those of his titles I don't actually own (too many, actually- my former vicar was generous with her loans, so that I have some sad and unlikely gaps where I'd thought beloved books were actually my own). And that was not a good experience, because I really really want to buy all the books listed there,- but my "to read" pile is currently even larger than my "to do" list. Oh dear.
I do struggle with the concept of a wish list anyway - it feels as greedy and me-centred as those difficult Saturday mornings spent negotiating with LCM in Peter Jones to determine what china we could both live with for the next, who knows how long. On the other hand, there are some among my extended family whose talent for gift-selection encompasses fur coats for vegans etc, so you could argue that it's more a matter of self defence. Either way, though I do have a birthday soon, it seems more than ridiculous to ask for anything from that list when the Christmas titles remain, for the most part, stacked unread around the study...Bother!

We had some CME last Saturday on using the Bible in ministry which I'd also like to blog about, specially in the light of the comments on the Lectionary the following day...but not yet. Of course, I could probably have produced something coherent and (possibly) worth reading in the time it has taken me to witter away - but I didn't. Indeed, I chose not to. Paul had it right, didn't he?
Right now, it's time for the next funeral address, I think - or shall I do a wedding, just for variety?

Neither - at that point the phone rang...My bank, checking some strange spending patterns. Thank God! I might otherwise have found myself financing c£2000 of someone else's spending - but the splendid Co-op guys were wide awake, so though I had to destroy my card and will spend some time changing passwords on every site I visit, no harm done. Nasty feeling though.
Do remember to check your accounts, peoples. Please.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

I really don't know where my towel is BUT

Your Score: Trillian


You are cautious as often as you are bold. An enviable balance. Your world might explode every now and again, but you were pretty much done with it anyway.

Link: The Hitchhiker's Guide Personality Test written by donquixotic on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test

Given recent preoccupations, this seemed quite accurate really. Had I taken the test on Thursday, I know I would have emerged as a clear Marvin.
Thanks to Phantom Scribbler
for the link.

Only the Church of England

Our second reading, in the Common Worship Lectionary for Easter 7, was as follows
Revelation 22 verses 16& 17, 20 &21
Verses 18 & 19, NOT included, read as follows

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; 19if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

So there we have it. Ah well...I sit condemned (together with, I presume, the Liturgical Commission). Would you care to join me in the handcart?

In other news

  • the general feeling of change and movement was exacerbated by the realisation that, with Hugger Steward beginning his study leave on Friday (A levels start on 4th June) I now have more children out of the school system than within it. When and how did that happen?
  • I might just be in love - with the guy who sang the priest in Dream of Gerontius last night - the birthday performance of the CK choral society. I had attended to support friends and parishioners singing, and to hear the lovely James Gilchrist as Gerontius...knew nothing about the baritone singing the priest but when he started "Go forth upon thy journey, Christian soul" - well, let's just say that if it had been up to me, I'd have been instantly obedient. What a voice! It made the evening really rather special. Suspect we may hear more of Derek Welton in the years to come
  • Had there been any doubt, I'm happy to confirm that St M's is indeed, officially a house of God. This morning I was handed a letter from the local council, addressed to "The Owner/Occupier, St M's Church..." asking the Lord whether, as a resident, he had any objection to a change of use in a nearby building. I'm tempted to leave the envelope on the altar and see what happens.
  • Actually, after a really lovely 8.00 celebration this morning, there was absolutely no doubt for this curate at least that God is very much around, at St M's and most other places too. Enjoy your Sunday, everyone!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Reality bites

Never underestimate the concentrating effect of realising that by this time next year you really will have to have moved out of your home and found another job!

I know you all know (I've told you, for one thing) that curates can only stay in post for 3 to 4 years.
I've thought about the future, of course. I've dreamed of the sort of parish I might work in, and prayed and talked and dreamed some more,- but at one level I think I'd not really taken in that it will happen to me, till WonderfulVicar received a letter asking him to consider receiving a new stipendiary curate next summer.

Suddenly, we have to rework the parish profile, and the fact that a house full of Flemings and other animals gets a bit battered seems hugely significant.

And I'm looking hard at all the things I will leave undone, and feeling sorry - and speculating about those which may lie ahead, and feeling inadequate.
Good thing I believe in God!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A rant for Ascension day!

This morning started very early - not because I needed to be up for some dawn service but because the birds outside the window were just too loud to ignore.
For a few moments I toyed with the idea of driving to Oxford, Tewkesbury or anywhere else where that I might find a choir greeting the day atop a church tower, but common sense prevailed. Given the rest of the day, I'm still not sure whether this was a Good or Bad decision. It might have been wonderful - but so was the extra hour of sleep, which I probably needed more than a burst of "Coelus Ascendit Hodie".
The day went on.
Morning Prayer was one of those times when you can hear the laughter of the Liturgical Commission as you dart back and forth through the book, needing every single one of the numerous ribbons provided - and still coming seriously unstuck with navigation. In fact, I stopped and prayed aloud something along the lines of "Dear Lord God, if you know where we ought to be in this service, I'm sorry because I'm sure we're not there but I hope you realise we're trying really hard...."
After that, of course, it was hard to take anything seriously!

There was work being done on the church alarm system, which meant that there were numerous ladders about the place, - and I did wonder if one or more Little Fishes might be tempted to try the Ascension for themselves, thus...(in the event, they made do with the pulpit)

It's sad that Ascension is such a forgotten feast.
This year, few people chose to observe what was in my childhood (and I'm not really as old as I feel tonight) a major feast, deemed worthy of a day off lessons.
I fully understand that it's never going to make it onto a list of festivals suitable for adoption by Hallmark - and, as it lacks both candle-light AND chocolate, it's not a great candidate for the list of "come and see" services. Even within the church, it's just not popular. When I was hunting for an interesting prayer for the day, none of my funky, non-liturgical, knock-you-out-with-the- beauty-of-the-vision books had anything at all. They just leap straight from Easter to Pentecost, which says quite alot about the difficulties people have with Ascension. Too many visions of toes vanishing into the clouds, I guess - enough to deter anyone with a grain of common sense.
But surely to goodness, what we're celebrating is rather more exciting and real than a dodgy medieval wall painting...
Nobody is actually expecting us to haul ourselves up to heaven by our finger-nails (not even grumpy curates, who are feeling that the weight of the whole church rests on their arthritic shoulders)
Nobody is sitting with a tick-list noting which holy days of obligation we've decided not to bother about.
But if we're trying to live and rejoice in the Kingdom, Ascension is a good time to celebrate that.

I'm just saying...

Monday, May 14, 2007

Christian Aid week began

with a splendid lunch cooked by both Youth Groups yesterday.3 courses, some truly amazing puddings and a great crowd there to serve with a smile. We had a visiting preacher from the Cathedral (will blog something from his thoughtful sermon later) who was most impressed with it all. I found myself hovering on the edge of telling him "We're not really as all-age as this looks..." but realised in time that of course we are. We're just not that good at getting together in one place with one purpose,- partly because the parental generation that might act as cement between teens and grandparents is largely absent from our congregation.
So that makes things like the Christian Aid lunch even more important and special.
After Evensong (at which I preached a not-particularly-inspiring-but-what-the-heck sermon) had a happy time with the older teens, who are creating what promises to be a really exciting take on the Eucharist for their birthday service next month. It's frustrating to have to say "No" to some good ideas that just won't be workable with our building as it is (and my vows of canoncial obedience as they are...) but I think there will be enough fresh vision and real enthusiasm to challenge and inspire all of us. I do thank God for those kids, again and again.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

It takes ONE woman

I spent Thursday evening in the Cathedral Chapter house, a chilly miracle of carved medieval stone - hearing Christina Rees speak about my sisters in ministry, African women who've trained thanks to grants from the Li Tim Oi Foundation (now relaunched as It takes ONE Woman). The foundation was set up in memory of Florence Li Tim Oi, the first woman ordained priest in the Anglican Communion, and it gives grants to train women in the developing world for ministry, lay and ordained.
I'd heard of its work before but Christina's talk gave it a new reality, as she spoke of a month spent visiting some of its beneficiaries in Kenya and Uganda.
She told us of Penninah, running 8 deeply rural parishes on her own, in a culture that traditionally discriminates against women, particularly the unmarried and childless. Educated to a professional level, she and her female colleagues find themselves too often ostracised by male clergy (their most likely potential allies and supporters) who are at best patronising, more often bullying...but the authority of their Orders and their huge personal integrity has won them the loving respect of their parishioners. Penninah will walk for hours to sit beside a dying parishioner (HIV/AIDS means that death is never far away). Her congregations cannot often raise their "parish share" - which means no stipend for the clergy...But somehow those same parishioners find the resources to share home grown produce to keep their priest alive.

Debates about parish share are the constant backdrop to PCC meetings in the Church of England, - but we haven't got a clue, really...Too often, a prudent church council sits on large sums, in case there is a "rainy day", and discusses endlessly how much the church can safely contribute to mutual support funds, or to mission beyond our walls, once our own immediate needs are met. Our hot issues are likely to reflect concern about ageing congregations, or more positively the new to reorder buildings to make them appropriate for the needs of this generation. We have so much, and we so seldom recognise this.

In contrast, Christina asked the "daughters of Li Tim Oi" what the hot issues were for them, those things that affected every aspect of life and ministry. Their list included

ignorance and illiteracy
discrimination against women
traditional/cultural values
domestic violence
child abuse and child sacrifice....

I wish I thought I could forget Christina's stories of the evil power of the witch doctors, which survives beneath a thin veneer of modernity. One day she stood looking at the skyline of Kampala with an African friend who explained.."Those low lying buildings will have needed the sacrifice of a chicken to ensure that all went well...The larger houses over there will have taken a goat or a cow, but the high rise office blocks demand the sacrifice of a child"

Against that backdrop, these strong, inspired and inspiring women work with God for the transformation of their communities, reflecting the wise words
"If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a family"

Empowering God,
you chose one woman to be the mother of your Son
and another woman to witness his resurrection;
you chose your beloved daughter
Li Tim-Oi to be a priest in your church.
Where the need is greatest you now call women to be ministers of change in your church and their communities.
Enable the Li Tim-Oi Foundation to empower each of them to fulfil their vocation
that your kingdom may come and your will done on earth as in heaven
today and in days to come.'

Postscript: while I was writing, Lorna posted a link to another article here.

The Li Tim Oi centenary is producing lots of good takes one woman, after all...

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Is it me

or, given the current rumblings about penal substitution, Steve Chalke, Spring Harvest, Word Alive and Jeffrey John (an unlikely collection of associates if ever there was one), is it not a bit pointed to choose Stuart Townsend's song "How deep the Father's love for us..." to sing at a Deanery service for the Archdeacon's Visitation? (Non Anglicans, just don't really don't want to know the whys and wherefores here, trust me!)

As one who really sings, it was distinctly embarassing to find myself having to stop singing at regular intervals through the hymn. I remember as a child the sheer horror when my father encountered a hymn which conscience would not allow him to sing. His voice was a loud and beautiful baritone, and when he stopped singing it really showed. I don't think he'd have enjoyed those words any more than I did...I wonder if it was a "here I stand" declaration for the host church, or simply a case of not thinking very hard. Either way, it didn't contribute hugely to my joy tonight, though the tune is wonderful.

WHAT shaped church?

Yesterday morning I found myself in an entirely elegant drawing room (only word for it) on College Green (Gloucester’s own Cathedral Close) as part of a small group “Doing Theology”.
This was a joy on all sorts of levels….
For starters, the group was convened and facilitated by the wondrous Canon D H, - whose praises I’ve sung before, as one of those gifted teachers who opens endless windows for you with no apparent effort
Then, of course, I love the opportunity to think aloud, with other interested (and interesting) people – and my level of engagement was such that I dared to contribute something along the way, despite feeling a bit shaky about my credentials…And we had a rather excellent lunch thrown in.
All good.

As our launch pad yesterday, D presented us with print-offs from assorted church websites, featuring mission or vision statements where they could be found (apparently these were not always the easiest things to discover– lots of churches felt it was more helpful to make their timetables or history clear than to define what they actually exist for). Vision statements lead us into a discussion on the nature of church...and what colours we would expect to nail to our masts.
Interesting. Very interesting.

The websites D had chosen were mostly from a particular evangelical constituency, - so words like “vibrant” “growing” and “fellowship” were much to the fore together with “Bible” “mission” “discipleship” and similar buzz-words, - many of which were simply an exhausting turn-off to me...Notable for its absence was the word “inclusive”…and any references to Eucharist (OK, exclusive word…Communion?? Breaking bread together???). Prayer did come up, but with less emphasis than worship.

No surprises there, then!

There was a general acceptance in the group that the websites were aimed at a very particular constituency – like-minded people, already churched, who might be moving into an area and doing some prelimary research on places of worship. A couple of us pointed out that websites were also great resources for those who were tentatively exploring the edges of faith – when I have my own church I’m definitely going to include some sort of “Prayer Requests/Light a virtual candle” link because even the most obscure curate blogging quietly over here occasionally gets contacts from people who are hurting, people who need a priest but are nervous of a real flesh and blood one in their neighbourhood, one who might actually ring the doorbell. An online alternative is much safer – pastoral care with no strings attached- and it that's something that a church website can provide, I'd really want to facilitate that.

From here we moved on to a discussion about what we would include on our websites, and thence to the essential nature of church. Hot on +Lindsay’s illustrations of cross-shaped ministry, Mchael Ramsey’s “The Gospel and the Catholic Church” was much to the fore. In it, he asserts that the sole purpose of the church is to proclaim Christ crucified- though we agreed that we’d allow the empty tomb to be part of the proclamation.…Then today Rick (celebrating the silver jubilee of his ordination) quoted some more Ramsey on the same theme of ministry that hurts...

"In your service of others, you will feel, you will care, you will be hurt, you will have your heart broken. It is doubtful if any of us can do anything at all until we have been very much hurt, and until our hearts have been very much broken. And this is because God’s gift to us is the glory of the crucified—being sensitive to the pain and sorrow that exists in so much of the world."
We had to admit that as a marketing ploy "Join the church to have your heart broken" might not work, but I loved one contribution from a priest whoprobably knows a fair bit about broken hearts, since he is currently shepherding his own congregation through the closure of their church building and their migration to join a neighbouring team…He said simply that the church worked on the model of
“Love received, love shared, love given”
That said an awful lot more to me than those sites with their emphasis on discipleship and Bible based teaching – but then, I’d clearly be outside their target group anyway!

Nearly Christian Aid week....

And my mate Linda, who works at Christian Aid Head Office, has just sent me the link to their brilliant video. Even if I weren't a passionate supporter, I'd love this because it really is the India I visited - the place I'm still missing 6 months on.
Have a watch, but more important, UK readers please use the red envelope that should land on your mat next week. We do believe in life before death, don't we?

Monday, May 07, 2007

God's Generosity

God is a god of abundance, not a god of scarcity. Jesus reveals to us God's abundance when he offers so much bread to the people that there are twelve large baskets with leftover scraps (see John 6:5-15), and when he makes his disciples catch so many fish that their boat nearly sinks (Luke 5:1-7). God doesn't give us just enough. God gives us more than enough: more bread and fish than we can eat, more love than we dared to ask for.

God is a generous giver, but we can only see and enjoy God's generosity when we love God with all of our hearts, minds, and strength. As long as we say, "I will love you, God, but first show me your generosity," we will remain distant from God and unable to experience what God truly wants to give us, which is life and life in abundance.

This was yesterday's offering from the Henri Nouwen Society and it made me smile, not just because young D and the other Little Fishes are so very good at reminding me of this truth, but also because of an experience at Llan.

The arrangement for private retreats there is that one wonderful home-cooked meal is provided each day, and the fridge and cupboards in the East Wing kitchen are stocked with all you might need for other snacks and meals during your stay. The food is always local, and top quality and the lack of clutter, barking dogs and hovering computers means that every meal there becomes a leisurely ritual...I eat at a proper table, take time to notice what I'm consuming, and am certainly more consciously thankful than I am amid the muddles of home. In fact, meals at Llan become sacramental acts in themselves.

When I arrived last Monday night there was a lovely loaf of new bread from the local bakery waiting wrapped in the bread bin, and a slice of that with some amazing honey made a blissful breakfast. It was just as good with "Gold and herbs" cheese and salad at lunch time, but though I was making inroads on the loaf there was still plenty left the following morning, when A. announced that G was baking, and there would be home-made bread in time for lunch. I protested that I really didn't need it. The shop loaf was very tasty, and I had quite enough for the whole of my stay.
A. smiled but said nothing, and just before lunchtime, as I sat on the terrace in the sunshine he appeared bearing half a loaf of steaming white bread, straight from the oven.

It was, of course, delicious and I appreciated it hugely for itself, but also for the reminder of God's joy in giving more than we can either desire or deserve.

A few weeks ago as part of the Spir Dir course we had a wonderful day on Ignatian Spirituality, which remotivated me to practice the examen,- and I took Sleeping with Bread with me to Llan.
The story behind the title, as described on page 1 of the book, is a joy...

During the bombing raids of WWII, thousands of children were orphaned and left to starve. The fortunate ones were rescued and placed in refugee camps where they received food and good care. But many of these children who had lost so much could not sleep at night. They feared waking up to find themselves once again homeless and without food. Nothing seemed to reassure them. Finally, someone hit upon the idea of giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime. Holding their bread, these children could finally sleep in peace. All through the night the bread reminded them, "Today I ate and I will eat again tomorrow."

As the orphans found tangible comfort and reassurance through holding the bread, so the process of looking back each day and noticing the times of consolation and desolation, the moments for which I'm most grateful or most regretful, makes it easier to attend to God's presence and work in my life. For me, at Llan that day, bread was very much part of the story.

(If you're intrigued by the whole idea of the examen, Lutheran Chik posted a link a while ago to a site which invites a weekly examen as a "Monday meme". I'm not sure that I want to post my examen regularly:you're all very patient with my introspective exercises, but you can have too much of a good thing,-but once in a while it might be a good discipline. What do you think?)

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Burned out?

I'm sure it was just coincidence, but the morning after I got home from the glories of the Shropshire hills, I looked out of the bedroom window to see, where a neighbour had cultivated an impressive clump of pampas grass, a collection of blackened stumps.

We've all heard (and preached) about the need to come down from the mountain top to get on with life on the plain, but I did wonder whether the day after the excitement of meeting God in the burning bush, Moses felt anything like this.

I'm glad to report that things aren't that bad here....though there are times, aren't there??

From trees to flowers

I returned from the calm of Llan to a church all dressed up for a flower festival, on the theme "Let there be Light"
The entire church is filled with incredible creations - including the centre aisle, which posed a bit of a problem for OpenHouse this afternoon. Inevitably we decided that we'd better "consider the lillies" as our theme, and as always God produced a few surprises to add to the mix - this time in the shape of some unsuspecting visitors to the flower festival who found themselves drawn in to the worship and claimed to have enjoyed themselves hugely.

I was specially pleased with the "activity" slot today, which saw children and adults exploring the church, trying to count how many different colours of flower they could find (answers ranged from 24 to 1 million) and decide on their favourite...but then they were invited to discover an important secret hidden beneath a cloth in the (flower free) North Transept.
Beside the cloth a notice asked
"What does God find most beautiful in church today?....Lift the cloth to find out"
Beneath the cloth was ........a mirror.

Of course, the children enjoyed this, but on the whole took it as no less than their due (though I was rather delighted by one little girl's response to my question "have you discovered the secret surprise?" "MEEEEEE"). It was, though, the adults who were most thrilled by this discovery - particularly, I'm told, a rather elderly gentleman who was heard to exclaim
"God finds my feet beautiful" in tones of incredulous pleasure.

He was right, of course!


Apologies for the break in transmission, which crept up on me rather. I'd had my retreat at Llan booked since January, but somehow it surprised me in the last few days, so that I found myself working frantically before I went, in order to be able to go at all.
However, go I did, and had a (now familiar) wonderful experience of God's loving generosity modelled in the hospitality of the house and the gratuitous beauty of the surroundings.
I simply sat there and felt both loved and loveable - highly recommended!

I spent quite a bit of time contemplating my favourite tree. It stands just a few yards down hill from the house, and is always the first thing that I see when I arrive and gaze hungrily at the beauty of the valley.
Since I first visited Llan, it has somehow represented the silent strength of the place, the simplicity of belonging, knowing oneself wholly at home.
On the hot June days before priesting, it offered shade and the promise of refuge if the task ahead should be too huge to bear.
In the storms of March it bent and creaked as the gales made wild music around it and clouds heavy with trouble bowled past.
And in May it stretched out, tip toe towards the cloudless blue perfection, pausing on the verge of bursting into full leaf.
In every season, it positively shouts praise, and for me its presence is both a prayer and a reassurance. I may well not visit Llan again, but it will still be there, giving glory to God by being itself.

As I lay beneath it last week, for the first time I noticed its imperfections. The trunk and upper branches stretch out despite several hollows and holes. Where there mightt once have been three branches of equal girth and strength, one is now broken off, its potential denied, - though even here, thinner, lesser shoots bud and break into leaf.
The tree is damaged but its wounds are no impediment to its praise, and the song continues whether or not anyone seems to be there to hear it.