Friday, November 30, 2007

St Andrew's Day...

so NaBloPoMo is over and done with - and Ive managed it.

Let us not even begin to consider why it is so distressingly easy to achieve those things which I have no need to achieve...let's just rejoice that for once I've finished something that I started.

Doing almost anything regularly for 30 days has to be a record for me, so I'm rather pleased - though very aware that quality was sacrificed to regularity along the way.

Nonetheless, if you have been, thanks for reading :-)
Normal patchy service will be resumed with immediate effect.


Hot on my post yesterday about the sad demise of Advent, this week's Friday Five is full of the "joys" of the season - the ones that send you screaming from the room. If I didn't know already how much I love and appreciate will smama this would have convinced me :-)

Please tell us your least favorite/most annoying seasonal....

1) dessert/cookie/family food :
I hope it won't sound terribly snooty if I say that I utterly detest all of the commercial varieties of brandy butter/rum butter that I've ever tasted....Good home made brandy butter is the only possible justification for Christmas pudding - so to have to consume the one without the other is a miserable experience in my book.

2) beverage (seasonal beer, eggnog w/ way too much egg and not enough nog, etc...) I'm mostly spared yukky drinks...don't think anyone has ever even offered me eggnog (am pretty sure I'd hate it if they did)....and I really love mulled wine. When LCM and I were first married and spent our Christmasses at his parents, there seemed to be an expectation that all women would really enjoy a glass of green chartreuse at the end of Christmas dinner. Deeply, truly and unmistakeably revolting (think bad cough mixture and double it). Thankfully, that tradition passed when the in-laws sold the family home so nowdays I guess I really only dislike drinks that others consume in excess, leading to unhappy atmospheres at social events. (Lord, that sounds sooooo prudish and kill joy. Should I delete? )

3) tradition (church, family, other)
The good thing about being the only child of two only children (deceased) is that I've pretty much been able to set my own family traditions,- so naturally they are completely perfect!
There's nothing specially awful at church either, though at St M's, I've never got the point of fixing blue filters over the lights in the chancel for Midnight Mass - which then have to be removed by weary souls atop exceeding high ladders, before we can safely go home to bed...but that's more incomprehension than actual loathing.

4) decoration

Anything that is up already. It's not even Advent yet...(OK - that was yesterday's whinge; let me come up with something more original). One year we had the misfortune to win a fibre optic village scene in a raffle - which the rather young Dufflepud adored. Let's just say that he was in a minority of one.

5) Gift received or given
There was the year when my MiL produced a wincyette nightie AND some scented writing paper (though she also produced assorted far more desirable gifts - she is one for whom the expression Generous to a Fault was probably invented...)

BONUS: SONG/CD that makes you want to tell the elves where to stick it.
Absolutely no contest.
"Come, they called me, par um pa pa pa pum"
And then I put my foot Right through his drum.

And may all your grimble-tides be white!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Losing our grip on Advent?

Ask the Matriarch this week is all about how we can hang on to Advent in a world that wants us to keep Christmas - and of course, this is the hot topic for clergy in late November. On Sunday evening at St Mary's we will have our Advent Carol service - moving through from Palestrina's Matin Responsary to the great shout that concludes "Lo he comes"..."O Come quickly...Alleluia, Come Lord Come".
We will celebrate our journey from darkness to light, will hear the readings appointed for centuries, together with those great collects that send shivers down the spine as they call us to "cast away the works of darkness".
It will be wonderful, moving and appropriate - but
I can almost guarantee that there will be at least one disconcerted family who slips away before the end, appalled to discover that, despite the candlelight, we won't be singing "Away in a Manger" at all...
Because no-one out there "gets" Advent. They may be aware of the name, because of the countdown element of their Advent Calendars - but these tend to major on a daily chocolate and a Disney theme, and even the explicitly Christian ones lead you straight into the Christmas story. Schools are breaking up early too, which means that the first school carol service (which will be well and truly Christmassy) takes place in St Mary's on 11th December - and my first Christmas dinner will be courtesy of the Mothers' Union on this coming Monday 2nd December. Advent, it seems, is a lost cause - and it's dotty to waste the opportunity that Christmas provides to welcome people into the church, to "tell them the stories of Jesus they love to hear"

At Greenbelt 06 FabBishop suggested that it might be wise to make the most of any common ground the church has with the Hallmark calendar of secular feasts - and it doesn't feel in any way helpful to go on saying, in a chill but holy way
"Advent is a time of preparation, of pondering the Four Last Things" while outside everyone else is already waxing sentimental over The Little Drummer Boy. We're supposed to be ministering in the world...not tying ourselves in knots because the world doesn't grasp the niceties of the liturgical calendar. On the whole, I'm not prepared to lose a golden opportunity to celebrate God's love -it's lonely up on the moral high ground!
So - do we have to abandon all hope of taking time to breathe, to put our spiritual house in order as we prepare to savour the wonder that is to come?
An article in last Friday's Church Times suggested a possible solution - that we move the "waiting/preparing" element of Advent back into November, into the "Kingdom season" which otherwise passes almost un-noticed. I think I might be up for that idea. You might be able to lure people to a study group at this relatively fallow point of the year (That's right -before the Christmas parties start!) - but Advent is, surely, a season for preaching to the converted. Meanwhile, with an eye to mission, one church in our deanery is holding a "crib festival" - an exhibition of some 100 cribs from various sources...another has a Christmas Tree festival....People will pour in to enjoy those, people who would be utterly lost and confused if confronted with the solemnity of Advent.
So let's be content to keep Advent for the "conoisseurs" - our core congregation - but to do everything we can, and more, to make sure that those outside are invited to hearing the message of the angels.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Time well spent? part 2

Just because many another is doing it, - and also so that I know for myself, this is more or less the answer to "What does a curate do all day?".

Monday – is WonderfulVicar’s day off, so though I begin the day at 9.00 with Morning Prayer up in church, I’m usually on my own with this. For a while one or two others joined me most weeks, and this led to some valuable conversations and the feeling that this was almost an unofficial “surgery hour” – but that seems to have lapsed a bit recently. Sad. The rest of Monday morning is study time. This somehow never means sermon prep, despite my best intentions – but rather emails and a serious attempt to make inroads into my looming piles of unread delight. I might take the dogs out briefly at lunchtime then the afternoon is geared to visiting, though if there’s a funeral on Monday, that will always be mine. 5.30 sees me back at church for Evening Prayer, followed by a said Eucharist (usually led by a retired colleague – but I cover for her from time to time) and the evening might well involve a baptism preparation session at home, or an out-of-parish meeting

Tuesday – Morning Prayer followed by a staff meeting till around 11.30…then home often to carry through some action that the meeting has suggested.
After lunch, I have about an hour to prepare material for the JAFFA Club at the Junior School, - where I’m busy till 4.30. There’s an hour clear now till Evening Prayer –one of those bits of time I find it hardest to use well. Maybe that’s where a dog walk could fit in…
5.30 Evening Prayer

7.30 (often) a meeting – usually till around 9.30…If not, this is a mother and Dufflepud night in, when we’ll try and watch some amiable rubbish together

Wednesday – DAY OFF. Enough said!

– Morning Prayer, emails etc then Little Fishes till 11.45 – followed by networking time in the parish office (or perhaps more accurately, preventing A. the Administrator from getting on with her work too) Home 12.30 ish – lunch, dogs etc Afternoon – visiting, Home Communions etc (though most of “my” round seem to have died, - and we’ve a strong team of laity who carry out this ministry, so it’s a very small part of my current routine) Evening Prayer 5.30 7.30 Often another meeting – timing as before, if it’s a sub committee –but rather later if it’s the full PCC!

(Every other week) 7.30 Eucharist followed by Morning Prayer Friday is also a school assembly day – about once a month at the Infants’ School (Junior School Assemblies are on Tuesdays, and more like twice a term generally) Back to my desk, sermon prep is becoming rather pressing…so procrastination is essential…but unless there is a particular need, I’m unlikely to go out visiting on a Friday in a sermon week, though it’s a day when I might see a directee from time to time..

– muddly day. Not really free but I won’t wear a collar for most of the day. Could involve a wedding, or CME (continuing ministerial education) or even the odd baptism. Will certainly involve panicky sermonising – with the essential help of the 11th hour Preacher Party

- (every other week) begins in time for the 8.00 Eucharist, continues through the 10.00 and coffee afterwards, so that I’m usually home around 12.30 unless there’s a baptism. The afternoon features some down time unless it’s an OpenHouse Sunday, continues with Evensong at 6.30 and the day ends with Koinonia Youth Group till 9.30.

The trouble with writing things down is that, even as I do so, I’m aware of all sorts of “regular irregulars” – visiting my spiritual director, clergy chapter and meetings of diocesan groups, time in school just being available....
None of these will happen every week, but they do come round with reasonable frequency.

And then there’s the whole “living over the shop” problem of drawing lines between work and home life.
If I’m chatting to friends on msn last thing at night? – that’s my time.

If I’m chatting to someone from church (or even beyond), who wants to talk through tricky issues? – I guess that’s work.

If I’m reading a subject that I love, that engages and excites and restores me – but it happens to be work related?…umm…
Dog walking feels like time out – but the reality is that I so often get involved in long conversations with people from outside the congregation who have huge things to talk about, so it could equally be work.
I suspect that even if I tried much harder than I do, I’d find it impossible to arrange my time in tidy categories.
Reflective blogging, for instance? Where on earth do I put that????? I know that some of the writing and thinking aloud that I did before last week probably got me the job, as it enabled me to work out exactly who I am in ministry, my priorities, my weaknesses, my gifts.
Right now, though, I’m very clear that if I don’t stop blogging and get on with devising a service to celebrate the Senior Citizens’ welfare group’s 60th birthday, someone somewhere is going to get Very Cross Indeed.
Ah – that’ll be me, then!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Time well spent (part 1)

Everyone seems to be considering their schedules at the moment (here, here and here for starters), and I am very aware that I need to build in some strategies to ensure that my time is spent sensibly (no blogging at random moments, I guess) when I’m a real live Priest in Charge (Yes, I know it would be good to get that sorted as a curate – but with fewer non-negotiable responsibilities it has been a bit more fluid – sometimes alarmingly so).
At last week’s interview, I was honest about my struggles with schedules.
It's not that I’m fundamentally disorganised. I used to run the office for a busy charity before ordination, and once upon a time I co-ordinated a huge network of volunteers via the NCT (something I’d almost forgotten till I was doing my skills-audit before the interview) – but I do need lots of pressure in order to accomplish things. It's certainly true to say that the more manic my life is, the happier I am (in an hysterical "Omg, I'll never get it all done" sort of way - but, friends, those shrieks are a necessary part of the process) and the more I'll achieve.Longer deadlines, though, are a disaster. The Little Fishes Songbook which I began planning 2 years ago will be done before I move on – but probably only because I am moving on. Hmmn. Really not great. The strategy I suggested at the interview was to build myself artificial deadlines along the way – and to deal with all the straightforward and undemanding stuff as it comes up. Sounds simple, but we’ll have to see. Meanwhile, I’d love any tips (particularly from other ENFPs) about sensible time management, and tomorrow I'll say a little more about the vexed question of how I actually use my time at the moment.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Most remiss

It was pointed out to me last night that I had failed sadly in my pastoral duties. After all, it's pretty rare in these parts for someone to give up their Sunday evening to catch up on an act of worship they've been unable to attend.
Generally, if someone in the congregation is missing, it's the fault of the clergy if we don't check that all is well pretty speedily (though of course there's the attendant risk that this might be construed as unwelcome intefering....). It's certainly the exception for a parishioner to appear in contrite person, asking for a blessing - and when they do, it is surely something to celebrate, not to ignore.

So, let me without further ado publish a photograph of the penitent in question.
She had a wonderful time at Youth Group, once we had persuaded her to emerge from beneath her chair...
but I'm still relieved that the other "no show" from St Francis-tide, Hissing Sid himself, has thus far remained at home.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

"Going public at both ends"

is the slightly infelictious way in which the Bishop suggested that we announce this morning that the period of scanning small ads and wondering (and worrying) is over for the Curate's family.

I spent Wednesday being interviewed by parish reps from Cainscross and Selsley and at tea-time that day the phone rang
"We'd love you to come..."
I'm still trying to sort out my thoughts and my feelings.
I loved the people whom I met on Wednesday and the little glimpse of the two parishes (which have been a "united benefice" for a while now) - and I'm bowled over by the brand-new vicarage.
(It has, praise the Lord, a fireplace - so, for my family, I'm onto a winner come what may!)

The two communities, one urban, one rural, are very different - and both have so much to offer, so many strengths to build on, so much potential to tap. But I'm very aware that there are challenges, both obvious and unimagined, ahead. When I left the interviews on Wednesday I said to Longsuffering Clockmaker
"I have no idea whether I'm up to the task, but I'd really love to work with those we'll just have to see if God wants me there"
Given the final outcome of the interviews, I have to believe that God does, and that He will give me the gifts I need in order to love and serve those people for his sake.As Hattie Gandhi pointed out, twenty-five years after leaving university - I've finally got a responsible job!

I want to leave here well - to tie up as many ends as are mine to tie and to ensure a smooth transition for the Dufflepud, who is in the run-up to GCSEs next summer, so I'm hanging on in Charlton Kings until after Easter. I know that may look like malingering to my new congregations, who have had a year of vacancy (though their NSM Associate Priest, who trained with me, is a real treasure, and they could not be in better hands) - but with such an early Easter I could not in all honesty be ready to leave here before Lent began - and it seemed wrong to arrive for Easter without walking through Lent with these people.
So I have four months to prepare, to read, to plan, to pray.
Please pray too for the parishes of Cainscross and Selsley, and for the whole Good in Parts family as well. I'm so looking forward to discovering where God wants us all to go together.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Another adult in the family.

The weather turned suddenly colder in the third week of November that year.
I went to bed really early, because I'd not been sleeping too well.
Late pregnancy is like that.
In the attic room upstairs, Longsuffering Clockmaker was busy making something the church needed in time for Advent.
I slept heavily but woke up suddenly and completely at around one a.m. and told him it was time to phone the babysitter.
Within half an hour we were on our way to the hospital.
"Well, you've quite a long way to go" the midwife said
"Your husband ought to go home and get some proper sleep. Nothing much will happen till the morning at least"
Two hours later the slow movement of the Mozart flute and harp concerto was drowned by the indignant cry of my first son...the boy that, after 3 miscarriages, I had been assured I would never carry to term.
He lay there beside me, calm and alert...seeming already to have a wisdom that I could only envy.

18 years on, he is still the wisest member of our family, and a calm presence when mother and sister boil over, as we often do.
Flute music remains his signature - his birthday present looks alot like this

(if you're a flutey person, it's a miyazawa PA102)

And I love him so very much that I'd embarass him to admit to it in public...but he's one of the best Huggers on the planet so I think I'll just go and collect one
without further ado.

Happy Birthday, Hugger Steward.

Friday, November 23, 2007

A point of information

Happy wanted to know the source of the Henri Nouwen extract on waiting...
It came to me as a Daily Reflection from the Nouwen Society but each reflection is originally from "Bread for the Journey; a daybook of Wisdom and Faith" which does just exactly what it says on the tin.
It works much better for me having each day's readings delivered to my in box, but the hard copy is a comforting presence on the bookshelf too.
Cannot recommend it too highly - a book of gold.

Travelling hopefully - remembering gratefully

A year ago today I was in Kanyakumari, where three oceans meet at India's southernmost tip...the furthest I have ever been away from home and family. It was extraordinary for a northerner like me to realise that I was nearer to Australia than to Europe.
The journey there was one of the most memorable parts of my whole memorable sojourn in India. We gathered in the compound of St Mark's Cathedral in Bangalore, - a motley crowd of hard-working clergy of the Church of S India, , and the little band of English visitors, - then boarded
2 "luxury" coaches. The atmosphere had more in common with a junior-school trip than a clergy conference as people jostled for a seat with friends, worried that they might get hungry and rushed off for iron rations just in case. It was late on a Sunday evening, and night fell rapidly as we left the city behind and headed south.

Three weeks into our stay, we thought we had come to terms with the Indian approach to driving, where the only rule of the road is "honk and hope"....but this trip was something else again! Our driver was the most horn-happy man I've ever encountered. He hooted to tell the world he was there, to announce a planned manoeuvre, to celebrate its completion or to lament its failure.
He hooted as other vehicles passed us, and as we passed groups of pedestrians in the country that never seems to sleep.
Come what may, he hooted.
Moreover, remember that my companions were all in parish ministry in CSI - and that means being available 24/7 regardless. No mobile is ever switched off (even during worship) and for the most part clergy ring-tones were set to familiar hymns. Never again will I be able to sing "Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us" or "The Lord's my Shepherd" without a faint electronic resonance somewhere at the back of my mind.
Temperatures plummetted once the sun had gone to bed - by the small hours I was wearing everything I could lay my hands on (including my towel - Douglas Adams would have been proud of me) - even my sun hat in a desperate attempt to retain some heat somewhere...
We stopped every few hours, and a line of clergy stood beside the road, doing what comes naturally with no reserve at all, or crowded around a tea stall, seeming convinced in the face of all the evidence that if they didn't take advantage of this opportunity for food and drink there might never be another one.
It seemed at times as if we'd never get there as the rutted road ran out and for a hundred yards or so the bus lurched over baked earth, jolting as it crossed the pot holes until, suddenly, we were back on tarmac.
When the sun rose, our landscape had changed as we passed the huge paddy fields and flood waters of Tamil Nadu.
Finally, when we were beyond tired, we reached the Peace Centre in Kanyakumari...and understood why we had come.

At the water's edge I was adopted by a beggar woman, who had hoped I might be a source of rich pickings. Even when she realised I was determined to disappoint, she followed us as we explored the tourist sites , posing for a photo that remains one of my definitive faces of India. When we parted, she rumaged beneath her sari and brought out a grubby purse, from which she produced 2 tiny shells. I gave one of them to Hattie Gandhi, her very own piece of the furthest shore. The other remains in my own purse, where I find it whenver I rootle for change. It makes her seem very near, even a year on.
Encounters like that were worth every mile - and as for my first swim in the Indian Ocean, in Kerala 2 days later. With every apology to my native Sussex coast, that was simply an impossible act to follow.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A thankful post

A couple of years ago, wonderful Bishop Stephen Cotterell came to lead our Shrove Tuesday Quiet Day in the Cathedral…It was a good good day (though bitterly cold) and towards the end of it he sent us away to ponder the things that God gives us as extra treats just "because [to Him] I’m worth it”…because he loves us completely, wholly, unswervingly – with an everlasting love.

This was my list then – those things that brought (and bring) me most joy…the things in which I see the un-mistakeable evidence that I’m loved

“Because I’m worth it God gives me
Bach cello suites, Mozart Arias and a children’s choir singing folksongs
The dogs playing rough and tumble
The smell of new-mown grass
Candle-light on Christmas Eve
The nestling stillness of a new born child
The warmth of holding and being held in love by children taller now than me
Springy turf beneath bare feet
Hot water welcoming me at the end of a long day
Words falling in the perfect wholeness of a Herbert poem
Family music-making
A cat curled purring on my feet
Watching waves dance in sunlight or assault and bruise the shingle shore
Pools of coloured light falling on ancient stone
The half glimpsed pattern of stained-glass
More and more people to love – a web of friends stretched right across the world
Little Fishes and their parents, who allow me a space to play"

This morning, at Little Fishes we passed around a light and each adult in turn shared one thing for which they are thankful. The children gave their carers a Thank you sticker (you try buying affordable bouquets in November) and we were thankful together, for all these things and so many many more.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Waiting on God

Yesterday my "thought for the day" from Henri Nouwen was entitled "Active Waiting"

Waiting is essential to the spiritual life. But waiting as a disciple of Jesus is not an empty waiting. It is a waiting with a promise in our hearts that makes already present what we are waiting for. We wait during Advent for the birth of Jesus. We wait after Easter for the coming of the Spirit, and after the ascension of Jesus we wait for his coming again in glory. We are always waiting, but it is a waiting in the conviction that we have already seen God's footsteps.

Waiting for God is an active, alert - yes, joyful - waiting. As we wait we remember him for whom we are waiting, and as we remember him we create a community ready to welcome him when he comes.

I’ve been reflecting alot on the process of waiting…of being wholly in the present moment because at the moment there’s nowhere else I can possibly look to…
I don’t know where I’ll be living, who I’ll be working with, what new frienships, delights and frustrations lie in wait for me in the next few months.
I can’t spend my time constantly teetering on the brink of farewell…that way madness lies.
So, for the moment my calling is to be fully here without worrying or wondering about what comes next.
Easy to write.
Doing it? Hmmn…not quite so good.

One of the liturgies in the first edition of the Iona Wee Worship Group included a response
“So thank you for the waiting time” – and in this thanksgiving week I’d love to be able to pray that with conviction.
But I’m a doer. I want to get on with the next thing (usually well before I’ve finished the one before – I have a zero score as “completer/finisher” on the Belbin tests) . Though I promise I don’t see the world, or even the C of E, as something to subdue, I can sympathise with Alexander the Great who reputedly wept when he discovered that there were “no worlds left to conquer” because I like the thought of new horizons, fresh outlooks…

Just too bad, really.
I’m not called to be adventurous.
I’m called to be faithful.
To live in the here and now because actually, here and now is all that I have.
This is where I must look for God and expect to find him.

"The meaning is in the waiting".

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Where prayer has been valid

As you might expect, since I've lived and worked in Gloucester diocese for 17 years now, Gloucester Cathedral has featured largely in some significant events in my faith journey.
It was here that we came with the Dufflepud aged 14 days. a tiny snuffling bundle in a sling to launch that apparently damp squib,the Decade of Evangelism with a wonderful service with a huge orchestra and lots of excitement.
It was here that we travelled through the wardrobe door into Narnia, and joined Captain Beaky and his Band at some wonderful Children's Festivals. There is even one pillar on the north side of the nave that, I think, still bears traces of some purple glitter glue, after a careless gesture the year I ran a workshop at the Children's Festival.
More seriously, of course, it was in the Cathedral that I knelt before the Bishop and received the grace of Holy Orders, it was here that I took solemn oaths which felt as ancient and as weighty as the stones themselves, and it is here that each year I come to renew them during the Chrism Mass.

But this last year, I've had new and no less wonderful experiences here, thanks to feig.
I blogged about one back in Holy Week, and last night once again this small emerging community was given the run of the building and created worship stations nestling in pools of light. I don't know how many of us were there in the course of the evening. After my welcome from Michael I was conscious of a just few others intent on soaking up God as they made their way around the building - but the impact was if all that space, all that beauty, all that tangible prayer was there simply for me. At the beginning of a challenging time for me, and on the brink of the Advent madness, I can't think of a better way to meet and feel myself loved by God and enfolded in his peace.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Hilda and ecumenism

Today the church remembers with gratitude Hilda of Whitby. When I set out to write about her during ordination training, I was disappointed that there was relatively little material to draw on, beyond the pages of Bede.
After all, as Abbess of a “Double monastery” of monks and nuns living together she is a real inspiration for women called to leadership in today’s church, today’s world, and it was heartening to read that in the Celtic church the belief was
"there resides in women an element of holiness and prophecy, so that men do not scorn to ask their advice nor lightly disregard their replies”’

[Aside:I love the idea of a double monastery…of a group of women living, 2 or 3 to a hut, in one part of the foundation with men in another and all uniting in daily worship. It seems to be a kind of ecclesiastical version of my dream existence for couples, each living in a tower of a gate house, with living rooms over the arch, to be visited when company is welcome!]

However, back to Hilda. Though her leadership of the community at Whitby brought her respect and renown in her day, she might now be almost forgotten were it not for the Synod that she hosted, to decide the course of English Christianity. The decision to follow the Roman calendar, and Roman practice generally was not without some cost – Aidan and his monks withdrew to Lindisfarne and their influence waned – but it seems to have been brought about with remarkably little resentment. Oswiu, the Northumbrian king who had ordered the synod, produced a succinct rationale for clarifying the situation of the English church
it behooved those who serve one God to observe the same rule of life, and as they all expect the same kingdom in heaven, so they ought not to differ in the celebration of the Divine mysteries”
Having spent yesterday evening at our annual Charlton Kings Churches Songs of Praise, I can only agree.
Perhaps Hilda and all those who through the ages have been prepared to make some painful concessions for the sake of the gospel will pray for us as we continue to tie ourselves in knots and hurt one another both within and across denominations.

Meanwhile, Bede has a lovely legend of the time before Hilda's birth when her mother
[Breguswith] fancied in a dream that she was seeking [her husband] most carefully, and could find no sign of him anywhere; but after having used all her industry to seek him, she found a most precious jewel under her garment, which……..cast such a light as spread itself throughout all Britain; which dream was brought to pass in her daughter…whose life was a bright example to all who desired to live well.”

The legend is reflected in the Common Worship Collect for today

Eternal God
Who made the abbess Hilda to shine like a jewel in our land
and through her holiness and leadership blessed your Church with new life and unity:
Help us, like her, to yearn for the gospel of Christ
and to reconcile those who are divided;
through him who is alive and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit
one God, now and forever.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Not my will...

Another gem from that training day

Vocation is going from one place to another
In the direction God wants.

Vocation is responding to so many demands
Even if they demand a lot from you.

Vocation is knowing to be still in your inmost being
And listen to the voice in the depth of your hert.

Vocation is living the life of Him
Who is God’s Son, the Living Word.

Vocation is always wanting to choose Christ
So as never to lose Him.

Vocation is meeting Christ in your life
And letting Him speak through you.

Vocation is the strength of God in your life
Which never lets go of you,
Even if for a time
You see his light no more
You no longer understand his voice
And have to walk the road alone because of Him.

Vocation is giving sharing and breaking for distribution.

Vocation is giving love for love.

Vocation is dying, but dying in order to live.

Vocation is kneeling, praying and bowing down

Vocation is always being a witness to the Lord.

Vocation is walking the Lord’s way to the end of the road,
Through desert and death
Till we reach the eternal.

Put your life then in God’s hands
And know the He in Whom you trust
Loves you with an eternal love. Fr Gerard van der Ven

Saturday, November 17, 2007

What to look for …part 3

One thing that has fascinated me as I’ve scanned the small ads in the Church Times week by week is how very little they actually say about the parish in real terms.
They probably give you a hint about the churchmanship of the place ("Bible based preacher" or "Parish Mass" )…and of course, about its geography, both physical and social.
They are keen to outline the qualities they are seeking in a new priest – a paragon that would put each and every member of the heavenly host to shame, if you believe all that you read.
(Interesting aside: I learned recently that when they scan the job ads, most women will only consider applying if they can tick 9 out of 10 boxes on the parish’s wish list, while men are contented with a more pragmatic 5 or 6).

Anyway, let it be known that all parishes want an archangel who is good with children and the elderly, and everyone in between, at ease with both traditional and modern worship, a gifted teacher and preacher with a huge pastoral heart, a capable organiser, a visionary, a born leader who is expert in change management…..and so it goes on. In the light of that, it is remarkable that any church ever finds a new priest at all.

So, you find yourself circling ads because you think that you might be able to work there…sending for further details for all sorts of jobs, both realistic and completely off the radar…hoping and praying that God will make it clear when the right job comes up.
I thought I might have found it when I read this ad – though the reality, after talking to friends in the know, is that I lacked the experience to undertake such a challenging role in a diocese where I have no contacts, where every single aspect of our lives would have changed.

But all the same, here’s a vision statement I would so love to run with. Just listen to this....

  • People grow here because they are loved into believing all things are possible in them
  • Because we live in a broken community we value each other because of who we are, not what we can do
  • We want to reflect the light of Christ who embraces the poor, the destitute and the lonely
  • We want the undesirables to come back to the place where they know they are wanted.
Perhaps God has put it on the heart of another church somewhere, the church that is waiting for me.

Friday, November 16, 2007

More about children

A long time ago, I posted a set of 10 Commandments for Church-going adults, which I'd purloined from my former vicar in Small Church in the Cotswolds...But over my desk for a couple of years now I've had a postcard produced by the URC with a Charter for Children in the Church. As I continue asking myself how best to provide for children in my ideal church (no point in even attempting to lead if I don't have some vision of where I might hope to go) they positively leapt off the page, so I share them with you

1.Children are equal partners with adults in the life of the church
2.The full diet of Christian worship is is for children as well as adults
3.Learning is for the whole church, adults as well as children

4.Fellowship is for all - each belonging meaningfully to the rest

5.Service is for children to give, as well as adults.

6.The call to evangelism comes to all God's people of whatever age.
7.The Holy Spirit speaks powerfully through children as well as adults
8.The discovery and development of gifts in children and adults is a key function of the church
9. As a church community we must learn to do only those things in separate age groups which we cannot in all conscience do together.

10. The concept of the Priesthood of all believers includes children.

I'm not sure whether I'm most excited about number 9 or number 10 - The others are pretty well part of my mental furniture, but I love the uncompromising directness "we must learn to do only things in separate age groups that we cannot in all conscience do together". Just beautiful.
I want to be part of a church like that.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Look away now

if you are likely to read the December edition of St M's Parish Magazine! It's my month to write the clergy letter, and fresh from my considerations about ways to foster a truly inclusive, all-age church, I'm writing about the role of children.
First, a little background, that might be useful.
This year for the first time we're combining services on Christmas morning, so that those who habitually worship at 10.00 in an atmosphere of adult restraint and those who gather at 11.30 to worship in reckless informal abandon will meet in the middle, with a Family Eucharist at 10.30 which we hope will enable all constituencies to encounter and celebrate the love of Christ.
We'll use robes, incense, processions - essentials of any major celebration at St M's - but we will invite children to join us in our journey around the church, will make our teaching interactive and multi sensory, and do everything in our power to help them to participate in the festivities and to bring their own worship to the newborn King.
So, my letter is in part an attempt to prepare the ground for this whole-church celebration (the main preparation will be some very intense and focussed prayer - it seems to me that quite alot rides on this service).

Anyway - here's what I said

Somehow we seem to be here again – on the edge of Advent. Bracing ourselves with varying degrees of enthusiasm for some weeks of frenzied shopping, of reconnecting with people we'd all but lost track of, of consuming indecent quantities of almost anything you might care to mention.
And each year, in the churches we try desperately to restrain this headlong rush, to suggest to people that Advent is a time of spiritual as much as material preparation. We try to issue an invitation to step aside from the tide of determined shoppers, to take time out to simply be, and to know ourselves beloved whether or not we’ve assembled all the proper ingredients for the “perfect Christmas”. But this year, I’m going to leave Advent to take care of itself, for you’ll all make your own decisions about how you want to spend it, which elements are truly essential.

Instead, I’m going to head straight for the festival that beckons…straight for Christmas Day itself. “Christmas is really for the children” is a well-worn saying -and of course there’s much to delight any child, from the candle-lit wonder of Christmas Eve to the feverish unwrapping of stocking gifts far too early on Christmas morning - and so much more besides…
But beyond all that is the Child at the heart of Christmas, the Child whose birth we celebrate, the Child who was not just the most amazing Gift of all time, but a real flesh-and-blood baby arriving in the most difficult of situations. A refugee born out of wedlock, crying in the cold of an outbuilding in an occupied town.The Child born to challenge and to subvert the easy comfort of the world. The Child who turned history upside down.

We tend to lose sight of just how much disruption Christ’s birth caused, and continues to cause in our world. We try to assimilate it, to make it part of the prettiness of our celebrations. We sing about an idealised “infant holy, infant lowly” “The little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes”
and this sort of unreality makes us strangely impatient with real live children behaving as real live children do, when they come into range of our adult celebrations.
Clearly, that’s not good for us. When we come together as God’s family, we need each other…If we’re divided in worship, our worship is incomplete, so much less than it could be. We need the excitement of our children, their clarity of vision that can cut straight through the inessentials, and offer us fresh insights into the reality of God…We need their spontaneity, their enthusiasm…Sometimes, perhaps, we need to be disturbed by them, jolted out of our familiar comfort. Of course, it’s not a one-way process. We need to learn new ways of worship from our children, but sometimes we have treasures to share with them ; the awe and wonder that can silence even the most hardened cynic at Midnight Mass, the moments of mystery when we grasp once again that the Child in the manger is one and the same with the Man on the cross.
We need to be together as we celebrate the Christmas mysteries…for the church is a family where all belong, all are welcome – whether noisy toddler or homeless adult, befuddled by drink, or those friends and neighbours whose presence in Christ’s family we take for granted week by week.
Christmas is notreally for the children”. Christmas is for each and every one of us to celebrate together. May it be a blessing to you when it comes.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Not unduly surprised....

Eucharistic theology
created with
You scored as Orthodox

You are Orthodox, worshiping the mystery of the Holy Trinity in the great liturgy whereby Jesus is present through the Spirit in a real yet mysterious way, a meal that is also a sacrifice.













What to look for in the parish part 2

"A church for children" was the one comment I treasured from the visitors' book at our former church in small Cotswold village.
I'm not sure how exactly that guest, who had apparently simply dropped in to the building during the week, had reached that conclusion.
Perhaps it was the displays of children's work all round the building and the child-sized tables and chairs set out in the north transept, where the children met each Thursday after school.
Perhaps it was the notice board, which proclaimed that the only "Prime Time" Sunday service in that parish (part of a multi-parish benefice with one priest and one all the churches had made sacrifices over their patterns of worship) was an All Age Communion.
Whatever made them pick up that impression, it really was the right one.

This didn't mean that Little Church in the Cotswolds was crammed with young families - there were many weeks when my 3 children were 50% of the young congregation.
It didn't mean that we had an amazing Sunday school programme.
But all the same, that unknown visitor was spot on.

Little Church in the Cotswolds had grasped something important about the nature of an inclusive church, and though we were neither culturally or socially a diverse community, we did understand that adults and children belong together in the church...that when children are excluded (either because they are not welcomed at all, or through well-intentioned programmes designed to keep them busy while adults get on with the "serious business" of worship) the community's offering of lives and selves to God is incomplete.

So children were part of everything we did in that place.
They received Communion, of course - but they also administered it from time to time...One of my most precious memories is of standing around the altar on Maundy Thursday and watching the Dufflepud, aged perhaps 5, give Communion to Arthur, a retired Colonel, retired Church Warden, on-going saint, aged perhaps 80.
Children served at the altar, they read lessons, they welcomed, they took the collection. Often they helped with the teaching, either by their insights that fed into my sermon prep and that of the vicar, or by writing and offering an interpretation of the lection for the day.

Their parents were never left feeling that they alone were responsible for keeping unexploded bombs under control so that the other adults could get on with "real church"...Rather, other adults (many of them grandparents) shared in the responsibility of helping children to belong, to contribute, to worship.

I'd not really thought about it much then - it was just the way it was....and now, of course, I'm in danger of buying into a church-culture that seeks to provide ways of keeping children gainfully employed during worship.
But, since every advert in the Church Times is anxious to appoint someone gifted at working with young families, I need to think through how my vision of an inclusive church could actually be played out. Ironic if that tiny, "failing" church held the key to this one...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

What to look for in the parish

When I was a small child, I had a series of Ladybird books which set out to be gently educational, and had wonderful illustrations by an artist called Tunnicliffe, whom I later discovered to have quite a serious reputation, beyond the world of children’s books.
They covered what to look for at each season of the year, at the seaside, in the country and even, if I remember rightly, in a country church.
I loved all the titles, and would always take them when my father and I set off to explore the countryside (a regular feature of my early years)
Right now, though I’m wishing they’d update the series to include a volume
What to look for in your first parish

As I try to prepare for the applications and interviews that lie ahead I’m trying really hard to determine not only what I might be able to bring to a church community, but what I need from a community if I’m to flourish there. I really want to remember the wisdom of the wonderful Claire that it’s very very easy for anyone applying for their first “responsibility post” to be so blown away when they are actually offered a job that they’ll say “Yes” to anything.
Sometimes, of course, this is fine – at others, the match is less happy – so it’s really essential to have your own "bottom lines" clear.
So in a bid to clarify my ideas, I thought a mini series of my own might help…

Nobody who reads here regularly will doubt that creative worship really matters to me. I value doing traditional liturgy as well as possible, but I also need room to dream and look sideways, to re-shape and dream some more. Sometimes, if things are particularly hectic, it’s only when preparing this sort of worship for others that I really manage to engage with God myself.
So, I want to be somewhere where this can happen.
I need to be somewhere where this can happen.
The question is,

Does worship create community or community create worship?
We may be fed by the alternative worship movement and long to engage with people beyond the borders of traditional church, but creative worship takes oceans of time and resources...which is kind of tough if there's only one person doing this. And it seems to me that one hallmark of emerging church is that it is a grass-roots phenomenon...aspiring to be a church without leadership, a community church. So if we're the only ones who get the vision, where does that leave us?
Specifically, where does this leave me, as Hugger Steward, my main alt worship ally in the past 3 years, will be off to uni in the autumn? And what questions should I ask to determine how far a church that claims to be interested in exploring “creative worship” actually wants to go?

Monday, November 12, 2007

And down to earth again

Just back from a happy hour spent ironing the church floor! I'm not sure quite how some static tea-lights (sitting peacefully in dear little Ikea glasses creating a path to the chapel) managed to spread themselves about quite so liberally without help, but let us not dwell on that. The thing is that there was wax to be dealt with as best I could before the builders covered the church with plastic sheeting for another week's work.

As if ironing floors was not in itself bizarre enough, I am now sitting in the study while a pair of builders give our roof a shower, in an attempt to discover the leak that caused such havoc a few weeks ago.
I'm not sure where I go from here, but if this is anything to go by, it could be an interesting week!

Remembrance Sunday Evening

After the struggles of the morning, it was with even less confidence than usual that I climbed the pulpit steps at Evensong.
I knew that the sermon I'd prepared was something I could preach with intergrity but I've seldom felt as vulnerable as when I began the process of actually preaching it.
Though I don't think my struggles with Remembrance Sunday are actually a result of being too young to have direct experience of life in war-time (after all, my feelings are hugely shaped by my father's feelings and opinions, as I understood them) I was fearful that some people would simply hear my words as a careless response from a younger generation who benefitted from the peace that was won, but had no sense of the cost...
It felt very lonely in that pulpit...and when I came down, shaking rather, I had no idea how my words might be received.

Hallelujah! Though I had 2 negative "I think you've got that wrong" comments, I also had some very encouraging "Thank you....I needed someone to say that" reactions...It would have been simply stunning, given the popularity of this morning's service, if I hadn't at least irritated someone....but the support, unexpected and unlooked for, was just what I needed.


Once Evensong was over, Hugger Steward and I led an alt Eucharist for Koinonia...
We'd opted to use the chapel, which lends itself to sprawling comfortably on the carpet, and covered the altar with a sheet onto which we projected videos and power point.
There was some wonderful video footage from Blessed, a rite of confession using Coldplay's Fix You, with white poppies as a sign of forgiveness and committment to peace, and then, as we looked at this image of swords turned into ploughshares, we read this wonderful affirmation from South Africa. I read the untruths, and different voices from around the circle responded with the opposing messages of hope.

It is not true that this world and its inhabitants are doomed to die and be lost

It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction

It is not true that violence and hatred shall have the last word, and that war and destruction have come to stay for ever
It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil that seek to rule the world

It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted who are the prophets of the church, before we can do anything

It is not true that our dreams of liberation of humankind, our dreams of justice, of human dignity, of peace, are not meant for this earth and its history

Later we shared naan bread that we'd made together a few minutes before, and listened to Pierce Pettis assure us
God believes in you

To my delight, when I'd given the blessing (more thanks to Fr Simon and Blessed) there was no immediate rush for the door, even from the dedicated footballers who had come away from their game only on sufferance. Instead, we all sat on in the candlelight, dealing with all the different thoughts and feelings God had put into our heads and hearts...Holy ground.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Lest we forget

This morning I presided at the Eucharist in a packed church. People who don't even come at Christmas chose to be with us this morning as we gathered, first at the War Memorial just across the road from the church and then brought our feelings of grief, of anger, of frustration and offered them to God for redemption and transformation.

I struggled, as I always do on Remembrance Sunday.
Of course I am hugely grateful to those who "for my tomorrow gave their today" and, because my father lived through both world wars and served in one of them, I have a very real sense of the immediacy of those conflicts. They are absolutely not long ago and far away. Boys who vied with Daddy for poll position in maths class, who shared his fascination with the sea and ships, who used to walk their dogs with him....ordinary boys with hopes, fears and dreams went to war and they never came home.
That is real and painful....something we cannot afford to forget.

But we need to remember reality, not to subscribe to a collective delusion of glorious heroism, to "the old lie, dulce et decorum est pro patria mori".
My father taught me that - and surely he had earned the right, along with his DSC "for courage", to challenge our annual act of commemoration.
He never forgot. He never made light of the cost of our freedom....but I know he would have been disturbed and even angry that we stood at the War Memorial today and sang a single verse of "I vow to thee, my country..."

War hurts. Always. There are no winners, no matter what the political outcome.

Lead us from death to life,
from falsehood to truth,
Lead us from despair to hope,
from fear to trust.
Lead us from hate to love,
from war to peace,
Let peace fill our beings,
our world and our universe.

Lord, in your mercy hear our prayer

Saturday, November 10, 2007

blah blah blah

I found Last Saturday’s Blah day as refreshing and encouraging as I’d found the earlier one disquieting and alienating.
The theme?
Catholic/Contemplative Fresh Expressions of church…
We began with truly excellent input from Simon Rundell – whose wonderful wonderful resources, first used at blessed in Gosport, are available as a gift to the church here.
He was followed by my friend and near neighbour, Michael, who told the story of feig the emerging congregation that he is nurturing.
feig is both fresh and rooted in tradition, as it lives under the wings of that apotheosis of traditional church, Gloucester Cathedral (to which Michael is licensed as curate).
Later there was a chance to hear about moot's own particular take on community another group that has intrigued me for a good while, Contemplative Fire (and to hear the wonderful instrument that is a hang drum)
Lovely too to see Mary (late of “a raid on the inarticulate), whose departure from blogging means that I was seriously out of touch with how her first months of ordained ministry have gone…(Very well, is the happy answer)

There were many gems during the day, but the thing that I have carried away with me to treasure during the week was Simon's eloquent celebration of the Eucharist as the skeleton of a new creation, the vehicle for our ever-changing encounter with God...of the value of comforting familiarity transformed by fresh ways of seeing, which are appropriate to the context of your own community...and his refusal to indulge in the unhappy compromise that is too often presented under the heading of "All Age Worship".
"We have All Age Worship every week", he said, "It's called The Mass."
If we cannot make the multi-sensory excitement of the Eucharist accessible and enthralling, then it may just be time to hang up our cassocks and head for the hills...

But even better than all that was the feeling that all us of there were in this together…That there are many many others who share my commitment to a both/and church, my longing to explore and join in when God does a new thing and my calling to nurture and sustain those for whom traditional church is the best expression of all. During group discussion I asked the alarming question “Are we looking at the death of the parish system” and was heartened that few around the table were ready to give up on it just yet, though agreeing that it was unlikely to continue looking much like its current incarnation.

Oh, and the journey up to London via the Oxford Tube was excellent too. In talking to Hugger Steward I somehow managed to plan our Lent series of talks and sermons. Just wish I felt as inspired about Advent – I rather think that comes first!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Take care - a restorative Friday Five

One way and another I seem to be spending alot of time feeling rather pressurised but achieving remarkably little, so once again the Friday Five is rather too apposite. Today, Sally wrote

I am writing in my official capacity of grump!!! No seriously, with the shops and stores around us filling with Christmas gifts and decorations, the holiday season moving up on us quickly for many the time from Thanksgiving onwards will be spent in a headlong rush towards Christmas with hardly a time to breathe.... I am looking at the possibility of finding little gaps in the day or the week to spend in extravagant unbusyness ( a wonderful phrase coined by fellow revgal Michelle)...

So given those little gaps, name 5 things you would do to; care for your body
I know that just getting out with the dogs properly every day would make a huge difference both to how I feel and to how badly the Evil Jack Russell behaves....It ought to be possible to carve out 45 minutes, surely...

2. to care for your spirit
Make sure that I sing - it's the surest route to restored perspective and connection with God that I know

3. to care for your mind
Read, read and read some more....Not just my "pending" pile but good fiction, poetry (oh goodness, yes, I badly need to read some poetry), travel (to return me to the wonder that is India)...

4. to bring a sparkle to your eye
Take a bit of time to actually look at the beauty around me...Ch Kings may be suburban, but it is surrounded by so much lovely countryside - going for walks with a camera invariably makes me see and delight in things I'd whizz past without noticing on an ordinary day

5. to place a spring in your step
Spend time with my lovely children or one of my fabulous friends. All of them have the gift of making me laugh, which is worth its weight in gold.

Enjoy the time to indulge and dream.... and then for a bonus which one on the list are you determined to put into action?
Possibly hard to engineer, but a real laugh each day would reduce the stress levels immeasurably I know....