I'm certain that I'm not alone in observing that, the greater the muddles we get ourselves into, the more obvious it is that God is hugely involved, sorting things out for us as we go along.
It has been that way this week...specially with regard to yesterday's wedding. Through many dangers, toils and snares we finally got to The Day. After a morning of chill and mizzle the sun burst through the clouds, the bride looked stunning - amazing dress and shining joy are a pretty unbeatable combination - the music was great, the bells rang out as the couple walked under the arch of swords provided by the groom's RAF comrades....and God was tangibly present in every word and deed. This morning was equally blessed....and the muddle equally evident. We started well. St M's takes its ritual quite seriously, - but it's very hard to retain a dignified bearing when the whole procession has to go into reverse because habit has taken the advance party down an aisle leading to nowhere, thanks to to building work! It's a sight and a half, I tell you, a crucifer, acolytes with candles, the whole works shuffling slowly backwards in a confined space, while singing "All my hope on God is founded". And so it went on, so that singing "Just as I am" at the Offertory gained a new, comic potential...Just as we were this morning was clearly not quite as ordered as might be desirable...but with lots of God about the place, which is infinitely preferable. The sermon went better than expected too (thanks in the frequent large measure to Dylan) and all in all it was a good morning.
WonderfulVicar being on a richly deserved holiday, this was the week when all sorts of things, both good and bad, came out of the woodwork. Writing it down in bullets it just looks mad and unmanageable, but actually there were quite a few glimpses of God as we went along, and I think my assorted commenters are quite right that the death of the church has been exaggerated.
Points along the way included
Surreal juxtaposition number 1 – on Monday….from funeral to 50th birthday party for Ch K’s Brownies….Brownies don’t seem to have changed since my mum was, briefly, a tawny owl back in the 1960s..Happy little girls dance around a toadstool…they sing songs you’d never meet anywhere else….they enjoy arts and crafts…and the hot pass the parcel prize, in this age of urban sophistication, was bubble tubs. It was fun being 8 again, just for an evening
Attendance at the meeting of a group for which I have only the very shakiest of credentials – except by way of an episcopal suggestion…so that I spent a morning wondering why I was there, what I could possibly contribute
Truly wonderful funeral visit – in which 2 hours were filled with memories and deep thinking about someone, - after an opening gambit by the family “No idea what we can say about X…She had a very ordinary life”. Incredibly, given the way these things usually work, our ordinand on placement was actually able to share this visit – I can’t imagine a better first experience of the genre than the generosity with which this family shared themselves with us.
Amazing and wonderful efforts by church warden and parish secretary to produce a team of ringers and a presentable church for a wedding couple who’ve had a few disasters on their way through the conveyor belt of wedding prep. Longsuffering Clockmaker and Hugger Steward also joined in the “spruce up the church” campaign, shifting paving slabs and helping to make a silk purse out what is, though only for the moment, a sow’s ear. Not sure which,if any, of the key players reads here, but in case they do drop in THANK YOU VERY MUCH!
Holy ground at the bedside of a dying parishioner….her family there….the hospice staff kind beyond measure…and as I prayed for her, I was conscious, too, of 2 good friends whose mothers also died this week, a 12 year old across the Pond who has lost her father, and still born twins (who would now be older than me) mourned and commended to God...As I write, I’ve just heard of another friend's bereavement. Sometimes it’s just so hard…
And then another surreal juxtaposition – straight from the hospice to a wedding rehearsal for tomorrow,- all jokes and nervous energy in our suspended building site. Talk about life’s rich tapestry…
So now it’s late, and I’m more tired than I remember being for a very long time. Mostly good tired, though perhaps this was not the wisest week to finally lose patience with my post India weight-gain and sign up to take action,- but if not now, when?
Lots of things ticked off the to do list, but I have a wedding address to sort before I can even begin to think of Sunday’s sermon,- and then there’s the afternoon worship for confused elderly and some creative something for Koinonia if I make it through Sunday's Evensong. Oh, and the aptly named Michaelmas Madness, St M’s takeover of the junior school playing field for an open afternoon of games and crafts for the community…that’s after the wedding…. Ummm….Head down, and make for Monday seems the best strategy…see you on the other side!
The Church is dying. Its structure and theology make no sense todayand haven't for decades. Far from being innocuous, their outdateduselessness goes beyond a nostalgic irrelevance to purposefulinsidiousness, not just taking up space, but monolithically standingin the way of the spirit. The dying Church impedes God's variousattempts at theological and liturgical progress, obviates meaningfulspiritual communication and change, and squanders the precious timeof people desperately seeking nurture, affirmation, and God. (Chuck Meyer: Dying Church, Living God)
Someone posted this on a preaching list I subscribe to - and it made my blood run cold. Is this really where we are, do you think? Though I know Meyer's name, I've not read any of his writing and wonder where he comes from in the debate.
When I was clearing assorted diocesan hurdles en route to ordination, one of my interviewers asked me how I felt about signing up to work for a moribund institution...and I said, then, that I wasn't that fussed, as what mattered was that people were enabled to encounter and engage with God - and if the church had ceased to facilitate this, then it no longer had meaning, was indeed no longer truly church.I'd still say that, but I wonder what declarations like Meyer's say for the faithful ministry of thousands of priests and ministers across the world.To my mind, our best efforts are expended on ministering to those "seeking nurture, affirmation and God" - whether they are part of our congregations or (almost more often) outside them. In my experience the church has largely provided an enabling structure for that ministry...it's clearly a long long way from being the whole answer, but is the church really more part of the problem than the solution?
Thanks to this month's book choice, there's been quite a discussion over in RevGal-land around questions of hospitality versus church identity. I didn't even try to read the book (somewhere in the curate's brain, a glimmer of realism stirred) but I wanted to throw in my 2 cents worth on the topic. The springboard for discussion was a scenario in which visiting Buddhist monks (iirc) were welcome and communicated at the altar...and there was much to-ing and fro-ing around the implications this has for baptism as a rite of entry and identity.
Back in the spring, I heard Bishop Lindsay Urwin speak on these very issues (and blogged it, here).At the time I was (and remain) deeply taken with his suggestion of porous boundaries, and a "lively doctrine of exceptions" which would allow for the Eucharist to become a sacrament of evangelism. If, as he argued, an encounter with Christ in the sacrament of bread and wine might inspire someone to seek baptism, can you imagine the incalculable damage that might be done by sending a longing communicant away empty-handed? And, as Bishop Lindsay pointed out, we rarely, if ever, enquire about the baptismal status of visiting adults who appear at the altar rail on a Sunday morning...we rely on the implicit belief "The Lord knows his own, and what he's done to them".
For me, the invitation that the Iona community offers (Holy Communion Liturgy B in the Wee Worship Book) puts it best (though I recognise that, as ever, cowardice combined with denominational accountability might not allow me to proclaim this explicitly as often as I'd like)
This is the table not of the Church but of the Lord. It is to be made ready for those who love him, and who want to love him more.
So, come, you who have much faith and you who have little, you who have been here often and you who have not been for a very long time, you who have tried to follow and you who have failed.
Come, not because it is I who invite you: it is our Lord. It is his will that those who want him should meet him here.
at St M's - and for the first time since I've been there, it really felt as if our efforts to build relationships with the schools and uniformed groups was having some impact. There were lots of children in church. Definitely double figures, which for a Sunday morning is simply stunning.
My lurvely friends in the youth group spent yesterday afternoon here at Privet Drive making some excellent bread to illustrate the talk on the feeding of 5000, and our ordinand on placement did a star performance around the theme "God provides and multiplies". Trying to consume the "12 baskets over" that had inadvertently been consecrated presented a few challenges to my personal theology of Eucharist, and led to a good few stifled giggles at the altar...but all has now been sorted, with due care and reverence...and all in all, it was a very happy morning.
Bring to God your gifts for harvest Celebrate God's love with praise God has filled the earth with good things in their season year by year. Field and forest, mine and ocean Yield their crop for all to share, Given for our lives' enrichment, Tokens of our Maker's care.
Bring to God your gifts for harvest Celebrate God's love with praise Gifts of mind and hand and talents Echo God's creative power. Human hands tend God's creation Body, mind and soul are fed Work and rest and worship offer At God's feet may all be laid.
Bring to God your gifts for harvest Every day's activity. Worship God in home and office Boardroom, classroom, factory. Join the song of adoration Join the symphony of praise Bring to God your gifts for harvest Brint the fruit of all your days.
Hardly was the virtual ink dry on yesterday's musings on my sad failure to declutter, than the Friday Five popped up at RevGals...on the self same topic. Since I then spent the rest of my day off trying to declutter picture files on the computer, I'm coming in late, as part of my sermon-evasion-process.
Sally wrote Making the most of our resources is important, I have been challenged this week by the amount of stuff we accumulate, I'd love to live a simpler lifestyle, it would be good for me, and for the environment I think...
With that in mind I bring you this Friday 5;
1. Are you a hoarder or a minimalist? I'm a kind of accidentail hoarder. Hard put to it to say why or how much of my junk appeared, with no particular yearning to keep any of it - but there sure is alot of it about.
2. Name one important object ( could be an heirloom) that you will never part with. Well, you know,that's a real struggle...When the floods were rising, Hattie Gandhi lovingly moved all her musical instruments upstairs, so that they had a better chance of survival if the crunch came - but I honestly couldn't think of anything that I cared about that much. I have a rather lovely carved Indian box, with a "secret" lock - in which I keep things to encourage me on a rainy day - but that's quite a new arrival in my life, and though it represents some special things and people, I'm not actually that attached. I think, books apart, it could all go without too much distress - perhaps a ring or two of my mother's, and the silver bangle that came from Bangalore...I don't know, honestly.
3. What is the oldest item in your closet? Does it still fit??? Hah...There is a midnight blue evening dress from Laura Ashley that was new for my 21st birthday party - a couple of years ago now. Not the sort of garment I need every day for some reason, so I've no idea if it actually fits (though I fear its unlikely) - and only worth keeping if HG might want to wear it. Note to self: ask her, next time she's home.
4.Yard sales- love 'em or hate 'em ? They aren't quite so much part of life in the UK - but I obtained most of my children's toys at the toddler, pre-school age from NCT Jumble Sales - so I guess that means that, where there's a need, I'm ready to leap in and rummage with the best of them.
5. Name a recycling habit you really want to get into. This will sound smug because we're actually pretty good at this. Cheltenham has doorstep collections of paper, glass and tin cans, while we can recycle clothes,cardboard and plastic at assorted local centres.We compost madly. I wish someone would come up with a way to recycle those polystyrene trays that seem to be an essential feature of so much supermarket packaging - it's nearly all unwanted packaging that ends up in our bin. Why do they have to do it? Surely they see it's just making existing problems worse for the world. Bonus...I realise that, in all my recycling, I'm completely ignoring the question of books. I find these so hard to part with. Even the rubbishy read-once paperbacks might be just the thing if I'm ever stuck in bed with flu...and all the shiny titles I buy for work, once read need to be there as reference books, don't they? When we moved to Privet Drive I was hugely brave and sent 14 boxes of books to fresh woods and pastures new - but I suspect that I've amply compensated for their loss in the last 3 years. Now all I have to do is find time to actually read the new acquisitions that gaze at me reproachfully from most flat surfaces around the study. They aren't allowed to settle on a shelf till they've been read, you see - so if you don't hear from me again, it may be that the leaning tower has finally engulfed me. Should I seek help?
Back in the "summer" I blogged about my determination to declutter my life. I'd signed up at seven things. I have a domestic goddess of my very own who performs miracles on a regular basis every Monday-but the sad truth is that I'm still overwhelmed at the prospect of serious dejunking.
Thus far (3 weeks in, assuming that my "seven things" started on 1st September) I've succeeded in taking 7 books to the British Heart Foundation Bookshop,and setting aside 14 more, and I've also a bag of assorted hats, scarves and the like as another set of 7- which all sounds OK. But the trouble is that I'm tackling this in a completely random, sytem free, Kathryn fashion - so that my uncluttering seems to be almost part of the clutter.
Because of course the issue is far less with my stuff than with the state of my poor addled, endlessly distractible brain. That's what is actually iritating me. That's what makes the domestic junk quite so oppressive. Tis a symptom of my general state of being. On a good day, I tell myself that it simply represents a rich and interesting mix - but at the moment it feels rather more like a state of sad confusion. Ah well. Pass me the black bin bags.
International Talk Like a Pirate day, that is. I was a complete failure at introducing any hint of swash or buckle into Deanery Chapter this morning, so was feeling rather despondent till I read his insight into piratical prayer
Simple, but perfect, my hearties
Edit: I'm forever in Paul's debt for alerting me to this link From henceforth, all prayers should end with Aye Aye.
Re-reading yesterday's post, I'm slightly worried that it might have come across as an anti-emerging whinge...which is quite definitely not my stance. I know I've written about this before, but it's an on-going issue as I try to prepare for ministry in a new place, where and when ever that may be.
As the mother of young adults serious about faith, who patently do not find God in the traditional church often enough to encourage attendance...as a priest serving a parish awash with young m/c families who want to get things "right" in life, have spiritual needs but don't excpect us to meet them...as an individual who loves Anglican liturgy but also needs other ways of worship sometimes to fire her soul...I'm utterly committed to my ordination charge to "proclaim the gospel AFRESH in this generation". I'm hugely excited and thrilled at the ways the emerging churches are connecting with those who are either disenchanted, or have never felt any connection with the inherited church - and I want to be part of that process too. I've never believed that church is only on Sundays...that faith and life are things apart...that the institution matters more than its members...When I say that I want to belong to a both/and church, that is truly what I mean...and I hope always to have passionate (and compassionate) inclusion at the forefront of my ministry, wherever I may go.
This was the scene as I drove along the A40 at crack of dawn on Saturday, bound (via the Oxford Tube) for a blah learning day "Re-imagining Leadership in the Emerging Church". I liked the thought that I was heading into some sort of new dawn...My own ideas of leadership were ripe for reimagining, as I've always struggled with the the "L" word, and it's high time I began to address how it might actually work out in my future ministry. You may not be surprised to hear that I came back with very few answers - and no real cure for my anxieties, - but there was lots of good material to mull over. Maggi began with a great analogy: leadership structures as a skeleton, - an essential framework to protect and support our vital organs, and enable life and movement. She also had lots to say about models of leadership in Acts,- and a necessary reminder that we simply cannot and do not approach the accounts of the Early church as "cultural virgins"...we read from our own context, and with our own baggage. As discussion was opened up, I was struck(not for the first time) by the absence of challenge to the apostles' statement "It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait at tables" and indeed this seemed to be at variance with Maggi's splendid story of ++John Sentamu mopping his church hall floor after a service in his Tulse Hill days...and announcing with his habitual forthrightness "If you're not prepared to mop the floor, you shouldn't be preaching the gospel". Thus the leader is, in every sense, the care taker...the one who holds the vision, who ensures that the quieter voices are heard, that nobody is excluded. That I could sign up to, as a model at least (even if I fail in the reality). I loved, too, the idea of diaconal ministry as a ministry of hospitality - of welcoming and of holding relationships in community....though it then seems ironic that it is only when diaconal ordination is completed by priesting that the ministry includes presiding at the Eucharist.
Doug Gay came at things from a very different angle, challenging the necessity of ordained ministry at all. I liked his take on emerging church as a "sensibility" rather than a movement, or proto-denomination....and his alternative hermeutical cycle, of auditing the tradition, retrieving those things from the past that are worth recovery, unbundling them from the inessentials, supplementing with the new insights and visions of the present and re-mixing to form a church suited to contemporary mission.
Lots to reflect on, - but my main regret as I travelled home was the painful irony of a situation in which the "emergers" seem as intent on dismissing the needs and values of those who remain at home in traditional church as ever the traditionalists have been of those who no longer feel at home within the walls. When asked to outline my own background and aspirations in a brief "buzz group" after lunch, I was conscious of at least one slightly patronising smile around the table. For someone totally committed to a both/and church, and hoping to serve in a context that enables both strands of expression to flourish, this is rather depressing...If we're intent on looking at what Jesus is doing in our communities, and then joining in - he's likely to be wherever people are reaching out to one another - and sometimes, surely, that might even include the parish church!
Today's Friday Five is brought by Reverendmother on the subject of meetings, inspired no doubt by the reality of life in the PCUSA.
1. What's your view of meetings? Choose one or more, or make up your own: a) When they're good, they're good. I love the feeling of people working well together on a common goal. b) I don't seek them out, but I recognize them as a necessary part of life. c) The only good meeting is a canceled meeting. I've had too many meetings this week, as the autumn term gets under way, so am feeling less positive than I might...I guess "b" is my normal viewpoint. St M's is stuffed with able people with strong opinions on many things, so it follows that there is a plethora of committees, some happier than others. Sometimes it seems to me that their main impact is in soaking up the energy and enthusiasm of all those involved before they can actually do anything...and at such times, my favourite line is "For God loved the world so much that he didn't send a committee...". As you may have guessed from that, I've not been blessed with too many examples of "a". On the other hand, though "c" for cancellations can be a real gift if the diary is full and you are suddenly given an evening's grace, its probably not the best recipe for long term achievement.
2. Do you like some amount of community building or conversation, or are you all business? I'm endlessly divertable (ENFP, remember) with a strong leaning towards community building at any opportunity, so really have to watch this. On the whole, if a meeting is needful then I prefer to try and concentrate on the job in hand, - though the best meetings are those where everyone likes each other enough to head to the pub afterwards..and the meeting is done and dusted well before closing time.
3. How do you feel about leading meetings? Share any particular strengths or weaknesses you have in this area. I'm rather out of practice after 3 years of curacy,- specially given that my final pre ordination job was as Clerk to the Trustees of a local charity - plenty of minute taking, not much leading. Currently, I'm working really hard at not taking over the leadership role from my lowlier seat...when there are topics that I care passionately about, it can be hard to behave with due discretion and deference to the Chair.
4. Have you ever participated in a virtual meeting? (conference call, IM, chat, etc.) What do you think of this format? Not really...and I'd not be keen. I think faces and body language speak so loudly, it is really sad if they are excluded from the communication.
5. Share a story of a memorable meeting you attended. Ooh....that would be the PCC meeting that happened in our sitting room 4 days after the Dufflepud was born. We had a big decision to make, so had deliberately arranged things so that I could be there come what may...and the new arrival slept and fed and fed and slept and improved the tenor of the evening no end. I've had my share of memorably dreadful meetings too...the sort that start at 7.30, and end at around 11.00 pm, by which point you are voting enthusiastically for your own execution ... anything to make it stop.
I remember a conversation some years ago with a good friend, a cradle Catholic who was struggling to find her own path to faith and to set aside a rather negative experience of gloom and guilt. It was late and we were getting weary when she burst out "Can't Christianity just get rid of the cross".
Today, Holy Cross day, we're invited to celebrate it, to rejoice in all that it means to us, regardless of our understandings of atonement... to marvel that an instrument of death is transformed into the symbol of salvation and the route to eternal life.
Of course, when I'm trying to explain it to children it's easier to focus on what really matters...so I point out Christ's open armed invitation and then send the children round the church to count crosses and remember each time they see one that this is how much God loves them. St M's has a tiled floor with a design a bit like this, only in red and black... so you'll guess where this is going. I will never forget the small boy who came over after about 5 minutes and said "But Kathryn, I've lost count...I got up to more than 500 crosses and there are hundreds and hundreds wherever I look. Is that really how much God loves me?"
There's only one answer "Yes...and more. Thanks be to God."
Transition is always the hardest part of labour. When the Dufflepud was born at home, I remember a point in the proceedings when I announced to the assembled company - GP, midwife, good friend who was doing midwifery training, husband, daughter, the lot - that they might as well go and get on with their lives because I had decided quite definitely that I did not want to have a baby today...so there was no point in staying around. GP and midwife exchanged glances, rolled their eyes and agreed "She's in transition". They knew something I wasn't prepared to admit - that you reach a stage when the only possible route through is to head onwards...and that a destination would inevitably be reached eventually, even if it was hard to determine quite how, or what it would look like.
Well, here we are again. Transition time. I'm absolutely certainly in my last year at St M's... Sometimes this is fine...but at others, as when we're discussing dates and format of services I'm almost bound not to be around for, it feels very odd indeed.
Meanwhile, in the church building a similar state of disintegration en route to a new reality is being experienced. In a bid to increase the flexibility of a beautiful but difficult building, the PCC voted in favour of a moderate re-ordering programme, which involved removing 2 rows of pews at the back and front of the church. The resulting space will be very exciting - already, the youth group are planning how to make their birthday service even more creative and visual next time around...but in the interim, anyone entering the church this week would see sights like this.
I think I'm at the "muffled in plastic sheeting" stage personally...but I love this image of the high altar viewed from the far side of the sheeting. The cross is not artificially illuminated in any way - the apparent glow is just the effect of the light through lots of plastic sheet. Reminds me rather of the last verse of "Abide with me" and, in all seriousness it's good to have such a strong image to focus on and remind me what it's actually all about.
Today Hattie Gandhi returned to Cardiff properly, having flitted to and fro in all directions this summer...She took over the keys of her student house son 1st September, and decided that as she was paying rent there it made sense to transplant herself well before term starts, to find a student job and generally enjoy the pleasures of her favourite city.
She has decided against taking the car with her, on the basis that if it's not there, she can't use it, so I drove her down and we had fun doing a bit of household shopping and purring over the many delights of The House - including these tiles. Aren't they splendid?
When we were in the supermarket, I asked HG to choose some flowers as a house warmer, and she opted for some Fair Trade roses (never let it be said my offspring are short of conscience)...only to realise when we got them home that the bunch held too many flowers for her one and only vase. But she's nothing if not creative...
Have a lovely term, HG: hoping and praying that this year is every bit as blissful as last.
This is not a good time to be a cat owner in Charlton Kings. Since the Greenbelt weekend, several beloved pets have vanished in the area - (so many that white slavers have been mentioned) and one of them is our lovely Chloe (on the left in the picture). While Teddy the three-legged ginger pirate cat rolls and roisters his way round the neighbourhood, with a cat bowl in every port, Chloe is gentle, quiet and home-loving...so a fortnight's absence is completely atypical. Her son Tallis is spreading himself about the house as much as possible, in an effort to hide the fact that a 3 cat family currently only seems to be able to muster 1 - but it's not the same.
Why is it that if animals have to go missing, we lose those who are no trouble at all - while wherever I turn, however loud the music, I'm still tormented by the incessant barking of Dillon the Evil Jack Russell? There's no justice - and Hattie Gandhi wants her cat back.
One of the many things I love about Greenbelt is the way that it often seems to reconnect me and my children with the streaks of creativity that we allow ourselves to squeeze out for too much of the time. Sometimes it's simply a question of being inspired to do more - so I tend to come back and write manically for a few weeks, as things that I've learned, things that have touched me, bubble away and emerge in new thoughts and connections of my own. This year, though, a particular joy has been watching Hattie Gandhi, always an enthusiastic and gifted writer, allow her visual artist to come out and play as well. Earlier this summer, together we delighted in jo(e)'s artistic extravaganza with her BeautifulSmartWonderfulDaughter as they worked to transform her student room. This year, HG too has moved out of her hall of residence and is renting a house with her friends and she dreamed of making her room just as beautiful and entertaining....but the letting agent advised her that redecoration was just not permitted, no matter how wonderous. So we talked, in a slghtly disheartened way, about how she could really make the space her own...and there the matter rested - until the morning after Greenbelt. What could better illustrate the idea of heaven in ordinary than a wonderful rich patchwork, make from many of the garments that HG and I have jettisoned as we struggle with our Seven Things agenda?
And what could possibly make the transition from Greenbelt to everyday life better than coming home to some of my favourite young adults spreading themselves over our living room floor being creative?
Later in the week, HG spent a day in the drive, happily painting a tree that will be the basis for a wall hanging, since she can't paint the wall itself.
She moved into her house yesterday and phoned several times to share her pleasure in it...and I'm longing to see the wonders she has wrought from our discarded clothes and one bargain basement sheet.
School term began here this week...and I found myself reeling as I realised that I now have only one child of school age. Suddenly Child Benefit, which used to be the sort of sum that made the difference between solvency and disaster each month (3 children) is just about enough to buy the Dufflepud one pair of shoes (1 child). The morning rush for the bathroom is now spread over a longer period, as only LongsufferingClockmaker and the Dufflepud depart on the first wave of exits... Hattie Gandhi is still loosely at home, with about 10 days till her university term begins - and Hugger Steward is stoically hunting paid employment, that will finance his hopes of travel later in his Gap year, so it's not strictly an empty nest - but it still feels significant to have 2 children finished with school for ever. The balance of the family has shifted and the days of back-to-school shopping and parents' evenings are numbered.
After church this morning I was talking to a mum who is dealing with the other end of the process...Her younger child started full-time school this week, and her departure has left the house strangely quiet - and her mother tearful and perturbed. Meanwhile, on the far side of the Atlantic Songbird is dealing with the reality of a teenager despatched to boarding school for the first time and pondering the complexities of beginnings and endings. Parenthood is all about working yourself out of a job, but that realisation doesn't always make the experience easier and I'll surely weep when HG returns to Cardiff, and flood Heathrow once again when HS sets out on his travels, even though I know these steps are both necessary and good.
But I need to remember, if I can, how much I've gained as my children's horizons broaden. As I've stepped back a little from HG's life, she has generously brought her new experiences and her new friends home for us to share. The places that she visited during her Gap year made the world feel smaller, more available to me - she was my trail blazer, so that I'm not sure I would have had the courage to go to India had she not first spent those months in Thailand...It's an interesting one, learning from your child - but it has been part of the picture in my relations with both of my older children for a while as they've grown in interesting, unexpected new directions, and developed talents and interests I'd never aspire to. Instead of bringing home egg-box caterpillars and half-dead fistfuls of dandelions, like her younger self, HG now brings home new ideas, new adventures and all sorts of lovely people - but she does bring them - and this enables me to trust that the boys in their turn will continue to touch base with me as the strings that connect us are paid out more and more.
So, on balance though transitions are always challenging, often uncomfortable, life on the other side can be pretty good too (but this doesn't mean I'm not allowed to bawl my eyes out as each child goes on their way).
Last weekend, as you may remember, I spent quite alot of my time at the bedsides of those who had died in hospital here or in Gloucester. Holy ground - even when you tread there only by virtue of your place on the "duty chaplain" rota.
Ten days ago I had a difficult conversation with one of my own church family who knew that she was approaching the final stages of her cancer. She asked if I would be with her, if I could, when the time came...and of course I said that, if there were any possibility, night or day, I'd be there.
She died this afternoon. I wasn't there...it was so quick that none of her nearest and dearest were either.
I know absolutely that this is so not not about me....but I'm still young enough in ministry to mind (far more than I should) that on the rare occasions when a hard conversation has happened, when I've been allowed to be there as someone has had the courage to confront their own mortality, I've not been able to stay there to the end. T., E., M. - you taught me so much about facing your own death with faith and courage. I'm sorry that it wasn't possible for me to be with you, to hold your hand and pray as we had imagined. But I'm so glad that you are all safe home now.
. When I was growing up, one of my very favourite people was Renate. The daughter of Holocaust survivors, she was married to an antiquarian bookseller, had 4 bright and articulate children close to me in age, of whom I was somewhat in awe, and understood better than anyone else my constant, consuming need to read. Whenever she visited (and this was an era when mothers at home dropped in on each other at least once a week) she brought something for me to borrow and her Christmas and birthday presents were always a joy and a delight. But I wasn't sure about the cover of the book that she gave me when I turned eight. It looked a bit strange - that child's face with the rings was just plain weird. And the background, the everyday context of the opening chapter, needed a bit of translating..This was America and there were unfamiliar words and situations. Just what was liverwurst? And why did Charles Wallace have a surname as part of his Christian name? I'd never met that anywhere else before? But Meg I recognised. Meg struggled. Meg didn't fit in. She loved and cared and got things wrong - but in the end her gifts were enough. I loved her straight away.... And I read the book again and again and again till the (still scary) paperback cover began to wear out. To my surprise, I met some words from that book in church...and it began to dawn on me that there were other things going on, other themes interwoven into the fabric of what I had embraced as just a wonderful tale (and something quite unlike what I'd previously encountered as "Science fiction") When I was sad or frightened, I would try to join in the song of those wonderful winged creatures...or imagine myelf rocked in the arms of Aunt Beast. For a year or two, I must have re-read A Wrinkle in Time at least once each term....and I always emerged feeling safer, more at home in my own world. But I had no idea that this writer whose name I couldn't pronounce had other books to her credit...It wasn't until a book warehouse sale when my own children were at primary school that I discovered that there was so much more to be read. Today, in common with so many others, I'm mourning the death of Madeleine L'Engle - but more than that, I'm so grateful for her life and her writing.
When our Greenbelt wristbands arrived this year, with them was a small flatpacked white cardboard box, the beginning of an art exhibition to which we were all invited to contribute.Our brief was to create our own glimpse of "Heaven in a box" - and all the boxes that arrived at the Festival (a goodly number, though not the 20,000 that would have represented each paying person on site) became a delightful and quirky peep into our deepest joys and longings.
In our family, the artistic/creative people are on the whole also the chaotic last minuters- so we didn't actually realise we could have been doing something glorious until the moment had passed. I've been thinking about it, though, and here's my box after the event...
The contents may not be terribly obvious but include
a minature kaleidoscope - making beauty out of tiny fragments of brokenness...
a shell to represent all that the sea means to me...childhood, eternity and so much else in between
the names of my children and some others to represent the myriad people who show me heaven...
a tiny scroll (one that I've used in alt worship with the youth group), there both to represent all the wonderful words that have opened my eyes to God in different ways at different times and the shiney young people themselves who are clearly a sign of heaven
some notes of music - the surest route to heaven I know
a tea light - so many wonderful acts of worship in more contexts than I can recall, small reflections of the light that shines in the darkness
a square of fair trade chocolate - for itself and for all those who work tirelessly to make the kingdom come on earth as in heaven
So - that's my box full, at least for today. I'd love to know what you'd use to represent "heaven in a box" though...Do add a comment to share your glimpses
as you, gentle readers, know full well, is not the same as a labyrinth. Try as you might, you can't get lost in a labyrinth, as it leads you on its inexorable route to the centre, and then safely out again. Labyrinths* have a long and honourable history in Christian spirituality, whether they simply provide a prayer path on which you cannot go astray, or include interactive stations en route, designed to deepen the experience. The whole point of the labyrinth is that it always takes you to the centre - there is no wrong turning possible. No wonder it's a beloved metaphor for our journey with the God who "searches out our paths and is acquainted with all our ways".
A maze, however, is a very different matter. A maze can involve any number of false starts and dead ends, can confront you repeatedly with the need to turn round and retrace your steps. You may, indeed, never succeed in completing your route at all (always supposing you're sure where you are trying to go in the first place). Mazes are designed to lead you astray...to mislead (an old name was "miz maze" - which says alot about the crazy, wandering path).
I was struck by this as I walked the grass maze at Greenbelt. This year's design was a complex one, based on the forms of two people, curled round each other, each intent on the other**.
Once people are involved, things do get complicated. No surpises there, then.
In human relationships, things are rarely straightforward, and wrong turnings are all too possible. It's tempting to simply leap off an unpromising path and see if the one next door is more productive...but there could be a value in simply retracing your steps and trying to see where you first took a wrong turning. Perhaps it doesn't actually matter if you don't arrive anywhere, as long as you make the most of the journey.
I spent a while watching others walk the Greenbelt maze. Children, in fact, didn't walk at all. They skipped, hopped, ran - and if they reached a dead end, more often than not they giggled hugely. For adults, it was a more serious business. They seemed to walk with intense concentration, even anxiety. Getting things right mattered far more - and the success of the journey would only be determined by a safe arrival at a particular goal. I'm not good at following directions, so I often get lost. Sometimes this bothers me hugely...I get tearful and panicky if I know that someone is waiting for me, that I'm running the risk of letting anyone down by a late arrival or a no-show. At others, though, I'm able to detach the journey from the end point and savour it for its own sake..and then getting lost doesnt' matter at all.
No conclusions to draw - just some thoughts, one morning at Greenbelt.
**I've really tried to find details of the designer online, but without success...my apologies that I'm writing about her work without a link to her site. Stupid of me not to write things down at the time, but there we go.
of heaven in ordinary came during my 3 hospital call-outs this weekend. (the third came as I was collapsing with a glass of red wine after the dramas of yesterday evening - so the chances of my recognising heaven were slim...but it simply wasn't missable, I promise) All 3 calls came in the wake of deaths, one on a ward, two in A&E. In one case, the family who'd requested prayer were present, and that was good and helpful. In the others, they had already departed - but the staff nurses who had called me in came with me to the bedside, and held the hand of the departed as we prayed together. I didn't know these nurses...have no idea of their religious beliefs, or if they had any at all..but the loving humanity that they showed will remain with me as a precious legacy of these chaplaincy months.
Thanks to the Junior School projector, evening worship proceeded pretty much as I'd planned it. Another exploration of Heaven in Ordinary, it picked up where I'd left off with this congregation one month ago, on the eve of the Transfiguration, and worked with my own feeling of returning to earth with a bump after the heights of Greenbelt, and the melancholy end of summer, the resumption of school, the need to get on with the daily business of living.
It was heavily inspired by the Dream worship at Greenbelt, by my beloved George Herbert and also by John Davies and his Common Prayers. We read psalm 23 and then Mike Riddell's "Urban Shepherd" and considered which, if either, was a closer expression of the real landscape of our lives, the place where we could expect to meet heaven in ordinary. I'd taken assorted shots of my route up to church, which we used as an extra focus for this, while we explored our inner landscapes using the Dream map. We discovered with Jacob "surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it" and I offered a few extra thoughts on the theme I began our prayers with 3 of John's Common Prayers, giving thanks for wheelie bins, for bus stops and shopping trolleys - and these really captured the imagination. We prayed for John, too, as he walks a new landscape, finding signs of God along the M62... A far cry from the creativity of last weekend, but a good way to bring some glimpses of Greenbelt back home.
So we sang at the last of our summer evening services, yesterday night. The choir returns next weekend and Evensong resumes - which will be lovely too, but these reflective services in the chapel have had a special feel to them, and provided a rare opportunity to engage in some slightly more creative liturgy. Yesterday, though, the challenge of practising what I preached was pretty well beyond me. "All things...?" Humph.
I've been on duty as relief chaplain for the hospitals for one last weekend. The chaplaincy department is now at full-strength again, so this ministry is ending for me. I've loved and valued it hugely...and this weekend was no exception - though call-outs did play havoc with my readiness for Sunday worship. Still, it would all be OK. I was presiding at the 10.00, so nothing extra to prepare for that. The Baptism at 12.30 flowed along familiar liturgical lines, and young G seemed perfectly content to have a strange woman pour water over him. OpenHouse was scheduled as a celebration of baptism, so we had invited the 100 or so families whose children we'd baptised over the past 3 years - and a good number of them actually appeared. Excellent. Except that at 3.50, as the church filled up, and toddlers began to run in all directions, the data projector died. Just. Like. That. One moment it was happily displaying our "Welcome" slide. The next
Nightmare. Hugger Steward is pretty expert in techie things, and what P can't mend is probably not worth mending...but they laboured to no avail. And everthing,-every word of the songs,every response,the lovely images I had searched for to provide a visual focus for our prayers-everything was lost.
"In all things thee to see..???" Well, not really. I was much too busy panicking. I did have one print-out of the slides, designed to help the lap-top guys know when to move, what was coming next, so WonderfulVicar did a quick dash to the parish office and produced some photocopies of this,and people were hugely patient and tolerant and lovely - but it was so so sad. All those families who'd not tried us since the baptism, there in church for the service we'd assured them was completely child-friendly and accessible,-and they had to field several sheets of paper,and meet flustered, distracted clergy...and...oh dear, really.
Things could have been worse, of course. The activities - face-painting a cross on each other's foreheads to remember the "invisible nametape" of baptism,floating a tea light for each child in the paddling pool before we prayed for them,and the amazing MU tea were all a success- but I was still left with a distinct taste of "could do better". I'm wondering what I should or could have done to prepare for this cataclysm. I really believe that projections are the best way of working with OpenHouse. It means that parents juggling toddlers have their hands free,that there is always something for the children to look at, even when we're praying, and in a church where sight lines are tricky it means that when something is going on at the front (lighting and floating those tea lights, for e.g) there's something for those waiting to engage with. But it's alot to expect of any medium sized church that they have not one but two projectors, just in case.So I'm not sure what I've learned from all this.
However, I do know where to look for God in the experience, because, you see, an angel turned up. I'd muttered hysterically that though OpenHouse might be bad, the Evening service would be worse.I was relying heavily on images of Ch Kings as we took our turn at reflecting on Heaven in Ordinary, so M, the wonderful woman who runs junior church, got on the phone and a colleague from the junior school broke into the last Sunday afternoon before term starts in order to collect the school's projector and bring it down to church. She arrived in time for tea, though I'm not sure she got any. She did, though, get a hug and a halo...I'm sure of that.
Part of the worship programme, but maybe its alternative label of "transformance art" is more helpful..Even before it began,it challenged...did I want to enter beneath the arch marked "Believer" or would it be safer to enroll as a doubter? why wasn't there a "questioning believer" route?what difference would it make anyway?
A hugely thought-provoking evening, which began with the story of the day God spoke and said "I do not exist" and went on to explore the question of faith, with word play -"Where does your faith lie? Where does your faith lie?"- and striking visuals...around the central image of a towering woman (?Truth? reality?) whose garments (faith) were being unravelled gradually throughout the proceedings.
Ikon explored what happens when you dare to pull at one loose end ...how once you begin to take something apart, it may just not prove possible to recreate it in its original form.
We were invited to edit the creed (visit the Ikon wiki for the final version) as it was projected onto screens around the room...shown what a difference punctuation makes "...Pontius Pilate was crucified dead and buried..." disturbed and challenged again and again.
" We have reified our creeds: I am rightThey are wrong Our truths are binding and We will not let them go" I loved the metaphor of reverse origami...when you unfold your paper bird, painstakingly, hoping to learn how to make it for yourself, all too often your end product is a creased sheet of paper which offers no clue as to how the bird could ever be recreated.
Before we left we were given a strand of wool...symbolic of the unravelling garment of faith, but with potential to be wound or knitted into something new. I tied mine around my ankle and it's still here a week on...faith isn't watertight, finished, rigid...it changes as we change, mirrors our relationship with a God who is alive, mobile, infinitely greater than any construct we may devise to contain God.
Working as I do in Gloucester diocese, it's great to watch an emerging church doing just that, only a few miles down the road, and building a friendship with Michael, ordained as a pioneer minister working with feig. I'm excited by this...even inspired, but all the same my heart sank when I learned that feig's Greenbelt debut was scheduled for 9.00 on Monday morning. Greenbelt provides riches in many different ways...but an abundance of sleep is rarely part of the deal and it was rather reluctantly that I set my alarm as I fell into bed in the small hours of Monday morning. It seemed vaguely possible that if feig's friends didn't support them at such a horrible time of day, nobody else would either.
Oh curate of little faith!
A comfortable crowd appeared and engaged in a prayer experience that drew us to consider not only our own unique journey with God, but also those travelling around us. All the traditional components of Christian worship were present, but the route into them was fresh and thought-provoking. For each stage, we were invited to choose an object from among the various collections about the room, and use that to focus thoughts and prayers.
This was among the things that spoke to me and became a prayer for all those for whom the going is sheer hard work, almost beyond their strength. I know so many people who are simply hanging on for dear life right now.
I also loved this…and used it as a focus for prayer around relationships, making peace with others
But perhaps the most effective thing was the collection of completely random everyday things…tissues, sticking plaster, battery (I think) and assorted other bits and pieces I couldn’t identify. At a festival whose theme was “Heaven in Ordinary” using these as a focus struck me as not far short of brilliant.
All in all a very good start to the day – specially when Hattie G chose to share her (very yummy) cake with me…food for both soul and body.
I really don’t want to bore you…but I do need to note some other highlights of Greenbelt worship this year, if only so I've a reference point when I need it …
Sunday Eucharist: this is always a huge challenge…how do you include up to 20,000 people from right across the traditions, in one act of Communion? If the worship is led by a particular denomination, other groups may complain (as ever, the cry seemed to be that it was “too Anglican”…though wonderful Bishop Nelson from Uganda is surely rather outside the mould of your conventional C of E cleric ;-) )…if there is lay presidency, this raises issues for others. Altogether, creating something that works for everyone is quite a task – but one that Sanctus 1 rose to with creativity and zest. For the last couple of years it hasn’t been possible for everyone to fit in one place, so the worship has been divided between the arena and mainstage areas. Last year I was at mainstage, where the “live” service was taking place but I felt far more connected and involved this time round, when I opted for the arena. This was billed as being more “alternative” but in fact (unless I’m now so used to alt worship that it doesn’t strike me as such at all) there was only one part of the service when things diverged particularly…the mainstage congregation were singing something while in the arena we were shown a video loops on the big screen and invited to pray around it.
As in previous years, we were invited to gather in groups of around 20…friends and strangers together. We gathered as a community by writing our names on strips of paper to link into a multicoloured chain…(which I got to keep – so I have a mini Greenbelt family to pray for when I can). As a community, we released our prayer balloon and watched it join the others, sailing off into the bluest of skies… Later, when the Bishop prayed the prayer of consecration Serena stood in the centre of our circle holding up the bread and wine We sang, we danced, we celebrated…and it was very good.