Saturday, June 30, 2007

A universal secret

Recently, Paul posted this
"Now - here is my secret: I tell it to you with an openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God - that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love."
(Douglas Coupland, Life After God)

I wish I’d remembered these words yesterday. I was talking to one of our congregation who lives in a rather wonderful Care Home run by the Sisters of Nazareth here in CK.. The majority of the residents are elderly, and several suffer from dementia, which my friend finds very distressing at times. Together we were reflecting on the awfulness of Alzheimer’s, the way it strips away the reference points that give a sense of self, the heartbreak of watching someone you love vanish slowly, while their beloved shell remains. Inevitably we began ask one another where we found God in all this. We wanted to make some sense of it all, and our attempts felt increasingly inadequate – band-aids applied to staunch a haemorrhage of pain. Try as we might, we could not arrive at a nice tidy conclusion that felt good, so in the end we decided we had no option but to live with the mystery.But in our conversation, I was aware of something nudging away at the edges of my mind, a sense that for me rock-bottom has always been a good place to look for God. I tried to articulate that, but my friend’s experience had been rather different and she imagined that the world of dementia might be equally cold, dark and lonely.
Coupland’s secret, which seems to me pretty well universal, might give us another perspective. When we’re unable to do anything for ourselves, when we are utterly helpless in every respect, God will act in us and for us. That’s so hard for us to accept. We long to hang on to autonomy, to the illusion that we are able to go it alone. And as long as we can almost cope, we can fool ourselves into thinking we’re in charge, that we are capable of independent life, not just independent existence. We fight to resist God’s boundless love, standing defiant like so many Canutes while all the time it sweeps towards us in a vast and unstoppable tide. Maybe those whose personalities have disappeared, who seem to spend their days in empty darkness are actually in a stronger position than we are, when we try to go it alone. Maybe we shouldn’t attempt to keep our need of God secret.. The less there is of me, the more space there is for God to fill….

Friday, June 29, 2007

Peter and Paul

I’m so glad they were both called, these men of faith and passion, who came to understand that nothing in life mattered as much as the good news they'd been trusted to proclaim.

They were so very different.
Peter the fisherman, the rough diamond, quick to love and to condemn, not so much rock-like as rocky, prey to his feelings in a way that I recognise all too well. Peter, the one who ran away.
Paul the Pharisee, versed in each nuance of the Law, relentless in pursuit of anything that threatened the supremacy of his unquestioned truths. The one whose life was turned around in an shining instant that has become a by-word for conversion.

Neither of them got it "right" (I nearly said "neither of them were saints"- a reflection on the prevlailing unreality of some concepts of holiness) , though they both saw and recognised the truth of Christ and lived out its implications as they could.
Both of them erred, repented, erred again, but they became the founding fathers…the ones through whom God put the Kingdom firmly on the map.

God used them, despite (or because of ) their weaknesses…Just as he uses us.

Almighty God, whose blessed apostles, Peter and Paul
glorified you in their death as in their life:
grant that your Church
Inspired by their teaching and example,
and made one by your Spirit,
may ever stand firm upon the one foundation,
Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

A break from saints...

or "at last someone understands"

Thanks to John for posting this on his blog. It's quite simply perfect.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

A good month for saints

Today the church remembers Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons and teacher of the faith...Not someone we focus on every day, but still pretty significant, - and not simply because he provides a pretty clear link, through Polycarp ( whom he had heard preaching during his childhood in Smyrna) with the apostle John (who had apparently preached to Polycarp). (This bit rather reminds me of my childhood piano-teacher, whose piano teacher had been a pupil of a pupil of Chopin - which seemed in her eyes to make me a kind of great-great- grandchild of Chopin).Irenaeus was equally proud of his pedigree as a teacher, and as a priest and bishop - and on the strength of it was an early proponent of the apostolic succession

As a theologian, he spent much of his time contending with the gnostics, whose world view taught that since the material world was dark, corrupt, evil it could have nothing to do with God.
"How can the perfect produce the imperfect, the infinite produce the finite, the spiritual produce the material?" they asked.
Logically, this view also meant that Christ could not have truly and fully taken on human flesh, but simply appeared to have done so, like the avatar of a Hindu god. Of course, if Jesus was not really born he equally did not really suffer or die, but merely appeared to do so - so the resurrection becomes a bit of a non-issue too.
Definitely not good news.
In contrast to this, Irenaeus asserted the reality of the Incarnation

"God became what we are, to make us what he is" . or, if you prefer
"The Word became flesh and lived among us"

I doubt if he was at even the back of Joan Osborne's mind when she wrote her song, but you could certainly say that they sang from the same hymn book!

If God had a name, what would it be?
And would you call it to His face
If you were faced with Him in all His glory?
What would you ask if you had just one question?

What if God were one of us? Just a slob like one of us?
Just a stranger on the bus Trying to make his way home?

If God had a face, what would it look like?
And would you want to see
If seeing meant that you would have to believe
In things like Heaven and in Jesus and the Saints
And all the Prophets?

What if God were one of us? Just a slob like one of us?
Just a stranger on the bus Trying to make his way home?

I can almost see Irenaeus nodding sagely, as he agreed "That's just the way it is".

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Rites of passage

Yesterday Hugger Steward sat his last A level and, apart from the Music Department residential in a couple of weeks, has finally and definitively left school.
2/3 of my family more or less grown up. Help!

The day before, LCM and I drove over to Oxford where a really very small sum of money changed hands , and we drove home in convoy, with what will officially be Hattie Gandhi's car.
In real life, I suspect that I'll probably continue to lend her mine whenever she wants to travel any distance, as at 21 years old, the "new" car is probably best kept off the motorways...but that's fine. Despite age and size, the baby car is really fun to drive, putting me in mind of my much loved and lamented 2CVs. So, as my children become more grown up by the day, their mother is rather enjoying reliving her youth.

Mind you, there are some things I need to relearn.

1)Elderly cars need their lights turned off when you park. Removing the ignition key is not in itself enough.
2)And the day of torrential rain and serious flooding is perhaps not the best one on which to need the RAC twice in the space of an hour (nothing seriously wrong with the car...just issues with the driver and the weather).
3) I've forgotten how to make a wire coathanger do the work of a radio arial (and there sure as heck isn't a CD option here)

But it's lovely that I can now say "yes" if HG wants to go travelling, without having to tear my hair out over the impact on my diary. It's good, too, that she can start to build up a no claims bonus of her very own. The "young driver" loading that insurance companies apply makes the cost of driving almost prohibitive; the annual premium for 3rd Party cover is nearly 3 times the value of the car. Ouch.

I'm very uncomfortable about the fact that we are , if only for a season, a 3 car family . I feel that our global footprint is beginning to resemble that of BigFoot, though I'll continue to cycle most places about the parish. But even a long suffering clockmaker cannot carry clocks in a bike basket, and most of the places that HG needs to go have pretty impossible public they need cars...and I'm too used to having one to sort out the complications if I didnt.
So here we are...moderately repentent but not able to see a more workable solution right now.
In any case, baby car represents freedom - surely an important part of being young in the summer time.

Do you recognise anyone here?

Yesterday's session of the Spir Dir course was, incredibly, the penultimate one. That means that 26 weeks have passed - which I find very difficult indeed to absorb. I've really enjoyed the work, and the people - though there has been some difficult stuff dredged up in the process, which I'd probably have preferred to let lie ("An avoider? me?? la la la...what a lovely day....look at those fluffy white clouds over there").
One way and another I've certainly benefitted hugely - and I hope that those whom I see for direction will benefit too,- since that's the point of the whole thing.

Yesterday amid the heavy stuff we were given a sheet which described caricatures of various styles of spiritual director....It might be copyright, so I'd best not post the whole thing much though I'd like to, but as was intended I recognised some of these tendencies in myself,- and one or two others made me giggle inordinately too.

Choose from the following selection while stocks last - probably buy one, get one free...

Blind Man's Buff - or "Your guess is as good as mine". The basis is to cover your tracks by avoiding any impression of expertise

The Agony Aunt - or "Lay your burdens upon me". The basis is that the director is there to "answer" or "solve" problems whether moral, psychological, emotional, intellectual or practical.

And I will raise them up - or "The art of coarse Messianism". The basis is a belief that the director must be the one to help this soul in need, to lift their burdens and save the world alone.

Never mind the quality - feel the width - or "the bluffers guide to spiritual conversation. The basis is that if I talk for long enough people seem to go away happy.

The Black Hole - or "it's hell but it's home". The basis is "don't expect any light. It it's painful it must be doing you good."

(Important note - none of the wonderful people who've had the dubious pleasure of directing me show any of these tendencies. I couldn't even guess which ones they might have to battle with.)

Thoughts on icons

In her comment the post below, Mary asked what John might be holding. I've hunted online for readings of this icon, but can't actually find it at all (the picture I posted was a photo of the card I borrowed for prayer). Maybe there should be a prize for the most original suggestion as to what that black thing is, though it would be hard to better Mary's suggestion of a bag of vipers. You never know when those might come in handy to support a bit of proclamation in the wilderness.

What I found interesting, though, was the fact that I simply didn't take in that bag (?) at all when using the icon. I was aware of something black and possibly folded, of course, but simply passed over it, thinking, if I saw it at all, that it was just part of John's garment.
Instead, I saw what I needed to see, which appeared to be an outstretched hand, not grasping anything...letting it all go.
I hadn't thought my time with the icon that fruitful when I first reviewed it, but in the week since it has thrown up all sorts of riches. They really are powerful things - I should try to use them more often.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The record of John

One way and another, I seem to have spent quite alot of time with John the Baptist recently, which makes it the more ironic that his birthday feast was pushed out of our calendar by the Youth Group celebration this morning.

Though actually,being pushed out of the way is very much what he's about.

I encountered this icon of him last Monday on the SpirDir course, and spent a fruitful (if demanding) time praying with it. As one who struggles constantly in ministry with the paradox of needing to be fully there and fully myself, yet transparent and leaving the way clear, John the Baptist feels like quite a good patron.

Ironically, when we were living in Great Rissington and he was indeed our church's patron, I didn't appreciate him at all - but now I can't think of a much better prayer for life and ministry than John's reflection on the coming Christ.
"He must increase, and I must decrease."
The John that I used to reflect then on was a rather alarming figure...a warm- up man who seemed intent on alienating the crowds -"You generation of vipers" is hardly the best approach if you want to win friends and influence people...He seemed alien, remote, voicing a challenge that was too frightening to be entertained.
But then, and now, I was drawn to his passion. "A burning and shining lamp"...pointing the way to Jesus...
Yes, I could go with that

Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior by preaching repentance: Make us so to follow his teaching and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and, following his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth's sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Sunday Cake blogging revisited

Considering that the cake was baked at around 1.30 am. and decorated as the dawn chorus got under way, its looked pretty good, and managed to feed the whole of the 10.00 congregation - who appeared more than satisfied.

Happy Birthday, Youth Groups!

We want to see Jesus lifted high!

Youth Group birthday weekend once more...the culmination of weeks and weeks of preparation and creativity from members of Koinonia, who'd put together a Eucharist on the theme
"Come together...we are all one in Christ"
We felt that we were going out on a limb with this one a bit. The whole liturgy was led as well as written by the group, and took place within the context of a drama - itself a morning service in the village of "Charlton Queens", where punks and PCC members have come to worship but are, unsurprisingly, not seeing eye to eye.
All the building blocks of the Eucharist were there, but presented rather differently.
For me, the highlights were the silent intercessions, reflecting on images of situations that badly need prayer
The privilege of consecrating and breaking the beautiful loaf that was made during last night's sleepover
And the sheer joy of sharing in singing "We want to see Jesus lifted high" with the kids out front and the congregation sharing in the actions, if not the singing, by way of a recessional.
There were lots of smiley faces at the church door, but also comments on the depth and spirituality of the service.
Thank you, God, for meeting us all this morning, in the anxiety, in the laughter, in one another and in the breaking of the bread.

(mgbf and co - I'll put the rest of the photos on flickr later....a bit rushed now)

Friday, June 22, 2007

Happy feast day, St Alban

When I arrived for the 7.30 Eucharist this morning, I'll admit I'd forgotten St Alban.
So, apparently, had most other people.
The frontal was still green, and when I looked in the service book, Alban only featured as a lesser festival. Rather a shame, that, as he is the first British saint and martyr, and it's been suggested that he might make a better national patron that the semi-legendary St George.
Alban won his martyrs crown by putting himself in the place of a Christian priest whom he had been sheltering from the Romans. His martyrdom was accompanied by the usual crop of miracles, which in themselves tend to diminish the impact on 21st century rationalists (though reading his story as chronicled by Bede is a splendid experience).

What strikes me about his story, though, is the fact that in itself his gesture was futile. Amphibalus, the priest he tried to shelter was still executed. His first convert, the executioner who was so impressed by Alban's witness that he declined to do his work, was put to death immediately afterwards. The whole brief story of Alban's life of faith began in fear and ended in bloodshed - and yet, he is remembered and venerated 1800 years after his death, simply because he had fully understood the nature of worship,and refused to put anyone or anything else in the place properly belonging to God.
He told the local magistrate
"I worship and adore the true and living God who created all things" - a piece of daring that condemned him to be sacrificed before the Roman gods...but by his death he shouted into their darkness that there was a better, truer way of being, in relationship to a God who desired mercy and not sacrifice.
I suspect (and hope) there's not much chance of my ever needing his physical courage. Probably not much chance of my ever attaining his shining faith. But perhaps I might aspire to his clarity of vision, so that I could come to recognise that there is actually nothing that matters more than putting God in the place where God belongs.

Eternal Father,
when the gospel of Christ first came to our land
you gloriously confirmed the faith of Alban
by making him the first to win a martyr's crown:
grant that, following his example,
in the fellowship of the saints
we may worship you, the living God,
and give true witness to Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

More tales of the interrupted

Yesterday's CME wasn't the only thing I've had to leave after only part of the programme this week. On Sunday our PCC met for lunch and an "away day" discussion on vision and strategy for the next three or four years. In part their discussion was informed by the new Diocesan Vision Statement*. The PCC focussed much more on nuts and bolts, starting the afternoon with a brainstorm of things that St M's does well, and those that it finds harder.
Really interesting stuff (specially noticing that some of the same items appear on both lists). Once again, I had to leave at this point, so I just don't know if they explored again what they understand the church to be for, - but judging by the papers that have emerged there was an hopeful focus on prayer, and also an anxiety around communication and inclusion. It was noticed that only a very small minority feel "brave" enough to join us as we pray the office, and we were speculating about why that might be so, wondering if the concept of "safety in numbers" applies here. I'm sure that many, not just at St M's, struggle with the interface between private and public prayer, and feel insecure in a situation that might seem to be not quite either. Late last night I read this over at Michael's place, and found it a really helpful focus around which to collect my own thoughts about a future church community, and reflections on the here and now.
This was the crunch part for me - as I try to work out ways to be "both/and"...

"Emerging generations long to experience authentic community. They crave to be in a smaller worshipping community where they can have ownership, deeply share their lives (the good and the bad), ask hard questions, and struggle with less than definite answers.'

I reckon everyone involved in what we're growing here in Gloucester would sign up to these words. As we've begun to experience 'small' worshipping community, and realised that there's nowhere to 'hide', that there's no consuming, only participating, I think we've all begun to realise that although there's a cost involved, it's a cost that comes with a generous payback.

The first part comes from Emerging Worship, the next is Michael's own reflections. "Nowhere to hide" would be hard for many people in my congregation, I suspect, though it would be wonderful to make them feel so aware of their value that hiding simply wasn't on the agenda.
Ah well, I guess I may just have to buy Dan Kimball's book - quoting it on the blog twice in a week seems to suggest it needs reading!
(Note to self; possibly read everything else in the queue first? Just an idea...)

*This doesn't yet seem to be online. It's certainly a worthwhile document, but one which errs slightly on the side of motherhood and apple pie, in that it would be very hard to argue against any element of anxiety is that it might just allow everyone to sit back and say "Isn't it lovely. The church in Gloucester diocese stands for all these things. We're so glad to be part of it" - which really isn't the point, is it?)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Dreaming dreams (Endings and beginnings part 2)

Our first session focussed on practical stuff around our need to address issues from our curacies that might lead to excess baggage carried on into our new ministries (once again, I'm envious of the CPE programme that seems to be a standard element in ordination training for most of my transAtlantic friends), and suggestions as to how we might retain the inbuilt reflection and support that regular CME has provided for us over the past 3 years. One suggestion I liked was to diary in a day each month that might be a “reading day” one month, a space for reflection and review the next or simply a quiet day without agenda, if that seemed to be the greatest need.
We were reminded of the importance of creating our own support networks, specially if we find ourselves in splendid isolation after the intrinsic collegiality of curacy (though I missed the session on looking after ourselves in ministry - which means that my present dubious practice on this front might just remain unchallenged).

Then we got the chance to dream.
The core question, designed to help our discernment about what direction we might be called in next, was “What is the church for?”
Brainstorming, we produced a huge variety of answers
church is a process more than an entity

Herbert’s “The reduction of man to the obedience of God”
Robin Greenwood’s practising community
Worship (where this is defined as everything that affirms God's proper place in the created order)
To keep the rumours of God alive
To live the Gospel and enable others to do so (these 2 were my contributions)
Holiness, hope, hospitality and honouring (the 3 point evangelical sermon in a new guise, except that I really like these ideas)
To provide words and rituals to filter and make safe awesome religious experiences
("we needed the priest to tell the words where to go")

We went on to play with our own personal description of the purpose of Church - for me it was something around
"Demonstrating to the community that they are loved and precious to God, and enabling their response to this" (ie. social action and the Eucharist.)
Once again I realised the important influence of St John the Divine Kennington, where I worshipped in my early 20s. My one line description seemed to connect back directly to my experience of church there...clearly you can take girl out of the UPA parish but definitely not vice versa.

We were challenged to develop our dreams as we imagined their practical outworkings, and what and who we would need to engage with to make this vision a priority in our current context. Demanding and exciting.
Such a shame I had to leave at lunchtime...

Beginnings and Endings part 1

I know, I know, - I promised a post on Timothy Radcliffe – and it was such a wonderful book I simply have to write it up soon.
But in the meantime, life has been distinctly busy, and some of that deserves blogging too.

Today was that CME training about which there was fairly substantial muddle, chronicled in the grumps of last week.
As a result I could only go to the first part of the proceedings, - but it was still eminently worthwhile.
Aimed at those of us who will be on the move in the next few months, it was held at Holland House, -the place I last visited on retreat before my diaconal ordination – the retreat which first introduced me to DH’s inspirational teaching.
It was quite lovely to be back in that chapel, where I’d heard words that have stayed with me ever since…to see the piano that I played quietly, praying through the music, on the Saturday evening when we returned a small, subdued group, from the ordination of the new priests who had been our retreat companions. Our ordination as deacons would take place the next morning, and we were fearful and excited, both conscious of the demands that would arrive next day, happy that this phase of our journey was almost over, totally unaware of what would really lie ahead..

In fact it was the perfect place to look back on the gifts and challenges of the past 3 years, recognising that experiences in curacy will shape our sense of vocation in the next phase (either in terms of seeking more of the same, or possibly its exact antithesis). We were a mixed group from 3 dioceses. One of us has secured a post already, and begins work in prison chaplaincy in just a few weeks, but the majority are, like me, simply beginning to ponder.
The input today was designed to make our reflections more profitable, and I've got lots to say as a result.
But not right now.
I was up till 2.30 this morning, sorting papers for the clergy tax advisor (hooray, -that's one hurdle cleared for a whole year) and powerpoint for a talk on India, so right now I simply want to reflect on the joy of a comfortable bed.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

It's Fathers' Day

and also the 29th anniversary of my father's death. Back in 1978, he died on a Saturday, and Fathers' Day was the following day. Somehow, that particular celebration has never loomed large in our family consciousness since then.
I've blogged about my father here so often that I don't want to add more this year, but simply to say that I'm glad the blog allows me a space to remember and be thankful. And I am. So very thankful.

This year I'm also grateful to J, because from now on 17th June won't just be "the day Daddy died" but also "the day that J became a Canon".
Losing both parents before I was an adult means that there are all sorts of bits of my life that I can't share with them, so many people I'd have loved them to know. Whenever my children achieve something particularly whizzy, I mind that I can't phone my parents to crow.
Whenever my children are struggling and I long to fix unfixable things, I want to turn to my father- who never had to deal with a daughter growing into situations beyond his that, for me, he remains forever the solution to all my teenage problems.

And on days like today, I just wish that my parents could meet and enjoy some of the people I'm blessed to count as friends. I still don't know what my rather traditional father would have made of my ordination (though he had the courage to outrage his lifelong conservative family by voting first Socialist and then Liberal, so perhaps all would have been well). I like to think he would have approved once the first shock had worn off. And I hope that today he has been cheering J as she gave me something quite different to think about on what has for too long been a rather regretful day.

After J's party, I spent an hour with a woman in hospital for whom today was also a significant anniversary. As we talked about love and loss, about death and resurrection hope I was so conscious of the way our stories weave into God's bigger picture...and for a few moments, I almost glimpsed it.
This is the most amazing calling. From Cathedral to party, to hospital bed, to wild youth group celebrations "We want to see Jesus lifted high"
and all that is part of who I am and what I do.
No wonder I'm thankful!

Sunday cake blogging

Another celebration, another cake!

Extra-special-friend-whom-I-love-lots was "collated and installed" as a Canon of Gloucester Cathedral this afternoon. Amazing verbs for an extra-ordinary ultra churchy service, (the sort of thing that you pray nobody will ever ask you to explain...How come, for example, that Canons are collated??...Does this mean that from now on all their pages will always be in the proper order?)

Afterwards there was quite a party with some seriously lovely people. All just great, truly (even though I had to leave early to do a stint of hospital only have a photo of the cake and not of the star of the proceedings).

Congratulations, J, - we are indeed hugely proud of you!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Hello lurkers, everywhere!

Yesterday I had one of my periodic supervision sessions with WonderfulVicar.The idea of this part of training is to work on a particular issue in my ministry that I feel needs attention - and this month's choice was that thorny perenniel, boundaries. We helpfully aired all sorts of stuff that feels very current for me, discussed the ongoing question of time boundaries (as long as there's tons to do, there will never be any problem - it's when I can be fluid and free fall that I might just come unstuck) and then he mentioned "Boundaries and the blog". (Sounds like a children's book, no?)

Of course, there are the obvious issues that apply for all bloggers. I've always worked on the basis that I'm too fundamentally transparent (and potentially disorganised) in every area to attempt secrecy either about my identity on the blog or its existence with those I know irl. So, FabBishop knows about the blog, it figured in my recent review with the Archdeacon, and I've promoted RevGal books to the congregation at St M's, about as comprehensive a "coming out" as a blog could require.
As part of my blogging policy,
I've asked various friends to hold me accountable for the blog's content and alert me if they see any potential breaches of confidence or misunderstandings looming, and I try as I type to imagine my PCC always before me, at my right hand so I shall not fall. I don't blog things that I wouldn't be comfy saying directly to those concerned. I don't use proper names without permission, unless the topic I'm blogging is already in the public domain.
But all the same, I do have to be careful, don't I?

The new blogger regs have made de-lurking harder, - you'd have to be pretty keen to create a whole blogger account simply in order to let me know you're there (If you ever wanted to email me about anything on the blog, though, that would be more than fine)
Meanwhile, hello anyway!
I'm glad you're reading - not simply because every writer, even the humble blogger, writes for some sort of audience.
I'm also glad because I firmly believe that, for better or worse, the fundamental gift I bring to ministry is if I'm working with you, you might as well know more about that self and how it may impact on my ministry generally (and my preaching in particular). I do believe passionately in the objectivity of my Orders - that I can and do function as a priest regardless of personal strengths and weaknesses,- but I don't believe in the obliteration of personality by those orders, the separation of priesthood from identity. So, if I'm your priest, I'm also me, Kathryn, with all the muddles and joys that this entails. And if it makes me vulnerable, well, that's the root of ministry, isn't it?

For the record, I'm of course really sorry if at any point I've mentioned something on the blog that it would have been best for anyone to learn face to face. That's just silly and thoughtless of me.I do try to be attentive, but am sometimes more careless than I'd like.

All that, of course, is simply retreading familiar ground. What struck me most of all in our conversation yesterday was that I take my blog so much for granted as part of myself that I simply hadn't thought of it as something "out there", an aspect of ministry both intentional (at times) and unintentional (more often) which needs to be taken into consideration. I've wondered whether I'd be best, when I move on from St M's, to restrict myself to a private, invitation only blog...but then I reflect on the wonderful people I've met since I began writing here, and I know that for me, the benefits outweigh the risks.
But, no matter why you're reading this, I'd be so glad to hear if at any time you feel I'm breaching my own codes. If blogging is part of ministry, then it should be a force for good...

Friday, June 15, 2007

A multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language...thinking about worship..

This passage from Revelation 7 has been floating around in my head all week, since Charlotte Methuen, the new Canon Theologian of Gloucester, used it as part of her inaugural lecture
"Each in our own language: reflections on the Church, Catholicity and Culture"...
It was a good lecture, though there were other things I'd have wanted to hear too, but I really appreciated her central anaglogy of the Pentecost experience of hearing the gospel "each in our own language" set against the universal vision of Revelation.

Unlikely though it may seem, it linked for me with yesterday's "Moving On" training, in which my cohort of curates was notionally prepared for the arcane mysteries of the appointments system of the C of E and introduced to the comforting presence of the Clergy Appointments adviser (who runs a sort of central clerical dating agency, introducing priests seeking parishes to parishes seeking priests).
The connection came when John was talking us through a terrifying entity known as the Common Application Form, which included questions about our preferred worship style, and suggested that if, for example, we preferred to preside in full Eucharistic vestments but were happy with mufti for other kinds of worship, this could be a helpful route to exploring with an interviewing panel the influences that have shaped us so far. It left me pondering that very thing, and reflecting on our worship at St M's (which resembles so much the church of my childhood) in contrast with the relative informality of the village churches where we were rooted in the years up to my ordination. I was still mulling when I came home to read this post of Michael's - (if you follow the link, have a look at the comments too, where Michael unpacks's such good stuff) and the rather wonderful Worship Checklist from Dan Kimball's
Emerging Worship

1) Did we make Jesus the focus?
2) Did we have time in the scriptures?
3) Did we pray together? (including time of quiet in which God's spirit could be listened to)
4) Did we experience the fun / joy / encouragement of being with each other?
5) Do we take the Lord's supper regularly together?
6) Did we somehow remind each other of the mission of the church and why we exist?
7) Did we enable each other to contribute something as part of the body of Christ?

There's so much to challenge there - I'm not at all convinced that we're very good at numbers 6 & 7 in particular. I guess it depends on what contributions are envisaged. I've had a wonderful time recently putting together the liturgy for the Youth Group's birthday Eucharist later this month...a wildly collaborative effort that really will be thoroughly owned by the young people who will do any and everything we can possibly fit in...In contrast, on most Sundays we seem to gloss over the concept of liturgy as "work of the people" and the majority are pretty passive, beyond joining in the congregational prayers and singing a good few hymns.
If that is the degree to which our congregation prefers to contribute, well I guess that's fine, tom.though it increases the risk of clergy lapsing into performance mode, Sunday by Sunday.
Certainly we need to think a bit.
As for mission?...hmmmnnn....

But after such nuts and bolts considerations, the church today commemorates Evelyn Underhill whose vision of worship celebrates "disinterested delight" in God , and the priority of God.
FabBishop describes worship as "grasping the heel of heaven" - or how about this, from Underhill's "Worship"
"At one end worship is lost in God and is seen to be the substance of eternal life, so that all our attempts to penetrate its mystery must end in acknowledgement of defeat; at the other it broadens out to cover and inform the whole of man's responses to reality, his total Godward life, with its myriad graded forms of expression, some so crude and some so lovely, some so concrete and some so otherworldly but all so pathetic in their childishness. Here we obtain a clue to the real significance of those rituals and ceremonies...which express the deep human conviction that none of the serial events and experiences of human life are rightly met unless they are brought into a relationship with the Transcendent."

Isn't that fabulous?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

was a splendid book in the Teddy Horsley series, which I used to read to the GoodinParts offspring in a desperate attempt to keep them quiet and happy in the pew during their early years of church life.
Reading is so much better than living it, but actually that picture just about sums up the Curate this evening.
Nothing really to moan about, just alot of small frustrations...
Spent this morning (day off) driving to Cardiff to collect the final installment of Hattie Gandhi's belongings - which are now deposited all over the house, whether there's room or not...and I've the clergy from our wannabe "cluster" coming to lunch on Friday for the first time and no time to clear the decks properly.
Afternoon working (nothing to grump about there, as it involved a year 3 class visiting St M's, and I absolutely love using the church as a visual aid to talk about God with young I cheered up briefly)...thwarted by repeated internet collapses.
Discovered that training day whose date I had actually checked (it appeared as the non existent Wednesday 21st on the advance publicity, so for once I emailed to be certain which it was) is actually not on Thursday next week, as I'd been told, but on Wednesay...when I have such fun committments as a session with the clergy tax bods and a speaking committment - which wouldn't be the end of the world, except this training is about moving on to a "First Responsibility Post" - so is distinctly relevant.
Went to the local supermarket for essentials - (chicken pieces) and comfort food (Ben & Jerrys) and came back with 2 bottles of milk...but nothing from my list.
And any minute now it will be time to head off for diocesan synod. I expect I've lost my's that sort of day.
All the more reason, then, to be glad that the school run from Burford takes me past this field.

I don't think I can really justify a long term grump in the face of such beauty - might even have to say sorry to those I've kicked along the way.


Having struggled in traditional Kathryn-style to write last Sunday's sermon at all, let alone at a reasonable hour, when I delivered it it was described by one of the congregation as "sensible".
I can't think when anyone last used that as an adjective for any aspect of my life, so I've been pondering it ever since. Still can't relate it to the sermon, which you'll find here
if you're so minded...but wanted to record for posterity the fact that on Sunday 19th June 2007 I was apparently, however briefly, recognisably sensible.

No wonder I'm all over the place now.


Ever eager to oblige by friends, I’ve nonetheless struggled with the prospect of producing yet another set of random facts for the current meme – but since I’ve now been tagged twice, I feel kind of constrained to do so. I guess last time it was “Five Things” and before that “Weird things”…so this is technically new, but I still haven’t got a clue what to tell you that you’ll not know already.

Here, at least, are the rule of the game
1. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
2. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
3.At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
4. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

I plan to break the “tagalong” one instantly, since this is going round in so many circles that I’m sure most of you have already played. If not, please feel free….I’ll even post an invitation if you tell me that you’d like one. You see, - endlessly obliging, that's me ;-)

1. Though I was born and grew up Anglican, I spent 4 years as a Roman Catholic when I first married LongsufferingClockmaker – not the happiest period in my faith story ever…I’d come from a very engaged, multi cultural 7 day a week congregation whose worship style was bells, smells and Palestrina and the shock of finding myself part of a parish that thought mainly in terms of Sunday Mass attendance almost finished me off…

2. I grew up by the sea and really struggle with the land-locked nature of Gloucestershire sometimes – specially on a stormy day.

3. I’m utterly and completely hopeless at connecting names and faces (possibly connected with long term short sightendess), though I can remember potted biographies and stray random facts about those I meet for years afterwards. Tell me, what became of your cousin who emigrated to New Zealand?

4. I once lost a contact lens on the shingle of Weymouth Beach – and after 6 hours found it (couldn’t see to drive home safely without).

5. Though I’m not a pioneer by nature in any way, I somehow find myself being sent through doors that have only just been opened more than I’d ever expect – 1st girl to be Head Chorister at my Senior School, 2nd year of women undergraduates at my College (there – you see – someone else had opened the door), 1st woman priest on the staff of St M’s, 1st woman ever to sing the Exultet there in 900 years….Nothing stunning, just a bit bizarre given my general reluctance to take the initiative in life generally.

6. I’m one of those peculiar synaesthetic people who sees some musical keys in colour…A Major is yellow; G Minor green; F Major red…(this means that though I don’t have reliable perfect pitch I can often work out what key a piece is in by the dominant colour that comes up in my mind).

7. An only child of 2 only children, who ran out of grandparents before I was 10, it took me years to adjust to the concept that a room could be full with just “family”.

8. I taught myself to read when I was 5 because my parents weren’t keeping up with my need for the next chapter of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”….and then refused to read at school because they weren’t real books with chapters! As a result, I was put in the non readers group for nearly a year, while whooshing through the rest of the Narnia books and on over the horizon in the privacy of my home.

Now, don't you all feel better for knowing that? No? Ah's a grumpy day in Privet Drive, so I might not be too fussed. Sorry. Normal service will resume as soon as possible.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

What I’m for….

I don’t know if I'm peculiar in this (I said "in this", ok?) , but I tend to find that being away from the parish makes me notice all the things I wish were different, the relationships that I find challenging, the habits of mind or practice that seem unhelpful.

It works on a personal level too, of course. I always come back from retreat with a raft of new resolutions, plans and hopes – this time I’ve even written a “to do” list (which experience suggests it would be unwise to publish) in an attempt to use my energies as positively as I can. Being given the gift of time to spend with God, I become aware of how easy it is to let that primary relationship get crowded out even as I engage in all sorts of activities that should have God's name running through to their very core.
So I took a long and hard look at myself and my own situation, and then turned the same scrutiny on the life of St M’s. By about Thursday night I had decided that things were pretty ropy there…

But then, of course, it was time to come home and this morning I presided at the Eucharist .
J was making his First Communion, so his warm and wonderful family was out in force.
R, knee-high to the organist, was admitted as a full member of the choir, with all the attendant delight of choir and congregation.
And standing on the chancel steps I could see so many dear and friendly faces – and I realised once again the privilege of serving, for the moment, God’s people in this place.
This community, warts and all, is the setting where I'm to try to retell Christ's story in my own life.
This community is the framework in which my ministry has meaning, as we work out the narrative together.
This community is the place where my priesthood can be articulated, as I gather up its concerns and offer them at the altar.
I know I'll move on in a little while, - a prospect that is almost as exciting as it is daunting,- but actually it’s quite OK being here for now. It's what I'm for.

"We're off on the road to Morocco..."

Was one of my father's favourite songs, which was integrated into many a game in my childhood and the "piggy back" rides he offered me were always "camel rides" (possibly because my daddy was always distinctly boney.
However, it's not somewhere I've visited yet (indeed, the whole of Africa still waits and intrepid curate) so I'm having to make do...Matthew, the son of one of my special friends and the older brother of god-son J, has embarked with his beloved on a mammoth cycle ride from Cheltenham to Morocco - all to raise money for Water Aid.
On a sizzling June day, when wearing the full set of Eucharistic vestments was quite a trial, I was so glad to down pint after pint of water after the service - but my experiences in India have made me newly appreciative of this resource. Then I came home, went online and read about Matt's trip. Its such a great thing that they're doing - an amazing journey with a purpose. Worth reading about, I'm sure - they are blogging it here and if you did feel moved to contribute to the work of Water Aid, there's an online link too. Even if it's not your thing, it's quite inspiring to imagine those kids pedalling determinedly on their way - I'm praying God's blessing on their trip and on their fundraising too.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

As you can tell...

it has been a hard, hard week!

Well, in point of fact, since I took myself and all the assorted actual and potential transitions of my life away with me, I did work quite hard, and have rarely journalled with such intensity.

As predicted, I drank in heaps of wisdom and insight from our retreat conductor, and read a seriously wonderful book, about which I'll try to blog shortly.

I also spent a long time wandering along cliff tops, sat in the sun listening to waves and sky-larks, to Dunstable and U2 , enjoyed some excellent supper-time conversations (encouraged by equally excellent wine) and generally wondered at the beauty of it all.

Huge thanks are due to A, who welcomed us all to her home with grace and generosity, to D for providing the sort of inspiration you can never have too much of, and to my other companions, who might well be on the way to becoming friends.

But mostly (if it doesn't sound too pi) to God for such a wonderful place.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Who cares if it's Sunday, not Friday? - Dreams and Visions meme

This week's RevGals Friday Five is a perfect way of avoiding the need to devise interesting worship and/or pack for Cornwall, so givent that this blog will be devoid even of such trivia for the coming week, I'm going to indulge...

1. Think back to the time you left High School, what were your hopes visions and dreams for your life/ for the world?
Oooh....well, my departure from school was rather overshadowed by the death of my parents, one a term before and one a month after I left,-but nonetheless, with typical adolescent self-centredness, I headed off in single-minded pursuit of my dream. I was going to Cambridge (well, yes, that did happen), where my singing career would really take off (not quite) and I'd excell musically, academically and socially. "The Glittering Prizes" meets "Salad Days", with a sprinkling of Brideshead and Trilby...and not a grain of realism!

2. Have those hopes visions and dreams changed a lot, or are some of them still alive and kicking? (share one if you can)
I guess, actually, that my poor, neglected academic brain is still something I rather hanker to cultivate. I'm clearly never going to finish my original PhD, but maybe one day some topic will land on my desk looking so irresistible for research purposes that I actually do something with it.

3. Hebrews 11:1 " Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. " Comforting, challenging or frustrating?
Comforting, until I try to explain why it is that I obstinately insist, in the teeth of all the evidence, that all shall be well...then frustrating, as I really can't make sense of that conviction, without recourse to faith.

4. If resources were unlimited, and you had free reign to pursue a vision what would it be?
Big old Victorian vicarage in a run-down area....lots of spare bedrooms which are always available for those who need them...lots of committment from the church to identifying and helping those who might need them....Space specially for single mums in trouble...playroom, babysitters, food and time...enough time to really listen and remind those girls that they and their little ones matter, and that life is there to be lived, not endured.

5. Finally with summer upon us- and not to make this too heavy- share your dream holiday....where, when and who with...
Back to India with HG and HS, to explore the whole country from north to south by train, with frequent and prolonged stops, ending up with a good long stay with some of the wonderful people I met last year, and then a week of sheer decadence in Kerala.

In the absence of funds to make 5 a reality, I'm heading off after the spir dir course tomorrow to Newquay for a rather lovely retreat...led by the amazing DH, whose praises I sing on a regular basis. I'm one of a small group, invited by a colleague whom I don't know at all well (it's happening in her house), and currently torn between delight that I'm going at all, confusion as to why I've been invited and terror because I really don't know the other participants. But there's silence all morning, DH is a genius of the first order and there's sun I'd better stop weebling and just get on with enjoying it. Home on Friday.

"In baptism God is adding to our number those whom he is calling..."

Up betimes (no light undertaking that, with 3 teens at home) .
Really strange to drive past St M's while the congregation were just leaving after the 8.00 Eucharist - and disturbingly hard not to feel guilty. But absolutely no doubt that I wanted to be where we were going, - to J's Baptism at a little church just over the border into Bristol diocese.
My first thought when we walked in was a silent cry of gratitude to God that I wasn't responsible for arranging worship in that building. It was charming in a traditional English village sort of way, but having a chantry chapel (complete with sleeping knight) the same size as, and parallel to, the chancel, and a double aisle to boot, the scope for congregation to hide away from sight was immense. Big chancel, though...a good space to seat people for a midweek Eucharist, perhaps.
I suspect that J's groupies more than doubled the size of the congregation, and we were made very welcome, despite the vicar having to hurtle off to one of his other churches fairly speedily after the service. Benefice of 3 at the moment - but pastoral reorganisation means he'll acquire 7 different ones instead this autumn. I so don't miss rural ministry! (Further fervent prayer that this won't be the direction in which I'm sent next - please)

It felt quite peculiar not to be the one doing the baptising - specially as, inevitably, they did it slightly differently there - no oil, no candle and an abbreviated prayer over the water, which would certainly have made things quicker and easier for an unchurched family, but meant that we missed out on the "edited highlights of salvation history" that the prayer brings together. The place where the whole congregation is invited to join in supporting the candidate was also cut - a bit of a shame, as J is well supplied with people who would have been happy to voice their committment to praying for her along the way. I tend to dwell on that rather when I'm baptising - reminding the congregation that there are no passengers on this journey, and that the support they are expressing by their presence extends beyond the celebrations of the day, since they represent the whole church of God, changed forever by this new arrival. A couple of times I had to stop myself from asking the questions, rather than giving the answers. A bit of role confusion here,then!

However, that's all by the way. What really matters is that my delightful god daughter was duly baptised into the Church of God, amid great rejoicings. She was most enthusiastic about the whole thing from beginning to end,- and I'm so proud of her and excited to have a stake in her journey!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

I’m getting slightly confused here. This is England in summer, right?
And surely that means endless rain and probably the need for a good thick jumper, specially if you’re engaged in any sort of even semi-outdoor pursuit?

But once again, we’ve had 2 days of perfect weather as we cruised the Grand Union Canal on the boat that is now nearly 50% ours. Since her exams are almost over HG came home and it was lovely to have all 3 children together for my birthday. In her usual creative way, HG has also managed to come up with a name that actually pleases all 5 Flemings – almost impossible!
So, from her registration in our name next spring, our boat will be called
We rather like the idea of independent and various tunes coming together as a metaphor for family life on a good day, and hope that the boat herself will be pleased to continue a semi musical theme (her previous owners will, one day, have another Fabian Stedman, so in the event the decision to rename was made for us). In the short term the he/she Fabian/Polyphony confusion remains, but honestly she's a joy even when she's just "the boat". And Biggles the wonderful camera and I have alot of fun en route 4 mph, there is generally time even for me to point and shoot before it's too late. This is just above the top lock at Stoke Bruerne, early this afternoon.

Tomorrow is my youngest god-daughter's baptism, which I'll hope to blog before heading off to Cornwall for a rather special retreat/holiday led by superstar DH.