Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Someone to celebrate

Today the church remembers Catherine of Siena, for whom I've had a rather soft spot ever since Sister St Edmund gave me a prayer card depicting her as a reward for finally finishing the term's sewing project in Junior 2.
Given the quality of my needlework, then as now, it is fitting that the only words of Catherine's that I remember were given to me by a very wise priest early in my curacy
"You are not called to perfection but to infinite desire".
Infinite desire....That sounds like me,- a dreamer of huge dreams who is so reluctant to see anything as settled, complete, perfect....
That one sentence reflects both an abiding sense of aspiration, of stretching out towards something that is just beyond reach, and the reminder of reality.
I will not achieve perfection in anything - and that's actually quite alright.
Catherine simply encourages us to go on looking beyond the immediate horizon...daring to engage with ever greater visions...and to believe that God will bring them about.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Healing wounded history

was the theme of a remarkable diocesan day on Saturday. I went along with rather limited expectations. For reasons that I shan't go into I'm currently a member of the small "Diocesan Healing Group" but have found the few meetings I've been able to attend less than hugely engaging. Saturday was the swan song of the current leader of the group and just two weeks ago we had seriously considered cancelling it altogether, as somehow publicity did not seem to be working and bookings were distinctly slack. However, we'd had to cancel the day when it was planned a year ago, and it seemed just plain wrong to disappoint those who were hoping for another chance to hear the main speaker so we took a collective deep breath and decided to go ahead.
That was so obviously the right decision!

Saturday was warm and sunny, the best kind of spring morning - which was just as well, as the registration queue stretched from the church porch into the churchyard but people were in very good heart as I made my way along the line, sorting out name labels to speed up the process inside. From nowhere well over 100 people had appeared (our target to break even financially was, iirc, 75) and all were in good heart.
When the first session started I discovered why. Russ Parker is simply terrific.
His theme, healing communities by hearing their stories, was completely and utterly perfect for my current situation, as I try to learn the reality of my new parishes. Its message was a glorious escape route from the pessimism that insists "History repeats itself. Has to. Nobody listens." His suggestion that the churches should become the "new acoustic communities", where stories are heard, valued and offered for redemption, chimed with Isaiah 50
"He teaches me to listen, so that I might have the word that refreshes the weary."
It seems to me that there are so many weary people around these parts, each carrying a live legacy that confirms that "all history is a current event".
Of course, we were reminded, we cannot change the past - but if we hear well, we can ensure that our response (as individuals and as a church) is appropriate.
We were reminded, too, that in serving our communities we cannot stand outside their story...The past is part of the present reality, and these people, their story, their wounds and their joys are now mine, part of what I can bring to God. The joys are important too, because what is not celebrated shrinks and dies...

I attended his first workshop session too, and felt a wave of recognition when he described the experience of the priest in the parish as often that of an actor in a play someone else has written, a play whose lines and moves we can't quite grasp. Expectations are shaped by the past experience of the community, so we need to read its history in order to help to reclaim it and to seek its redemption.
Even those mostly closely bound by it may not be aware of the story they carry, but healing can come when the story is recognised and owned.
To illustrate, Russ told us the story of a mining town, founded by the forcible transplantation of the workforce from their home county, hundreds of miles away, by a Victorian industrialist who put people second to progress. His workers were offered a stark choice...move or be unemployed. No third way was presented.
In common with most of the captains of the industrial revolution, having established his pit and built housing for his workers, the owner of the mine then built a church - and brought in a priest to serve it...not a local man...not in any sense "one of their own."
The relationship between congregation and clergy continued to be distant and strained through the decades that followed, no matter who was called to serve in that place (barring one "home grown" priest, who was remembered with respect and affection for long after his death) until, while Russ was serving there, he heard and grasped the history of the place. Then, one Sunday morning he was inspired to apologise from the pulpit for the church's collusion in the founding of a community based on exploitation and greed. As the congregation realised that their past was being honoured, they experienced the sort of healing that can change everything - and indeed everything changed.

We were invited to re-read the greetings to the churches in the opening chapters of Revelation, to see there the recognition of the story of each community and to consider what the Spirit might say to the angels of our churches. My two parishes both date from the nineteenth century, but were founded in such different circumstances that it is no surprise that difference seems built into their DNA.
To consider the story of their beginnings has certainly helped me to make sense of what I am learning about their current realities as I begin to look for God's way forward.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Deeply indebted to

a handy site entitled "Sermon helps", which does just exactly what it says on the tin, here is my contribution to Rogation Sunday at Church on the Hill. The Longsuffering Clockmaker says I ought to get on with living this way. I say I'm a human becoming, not yet a human being, and the inconsistencies are part of the journey. Anyway, here's what I did with Phillippians 4...

Until we moved last month I had a Simon Drew cartoon blutack’d over my desk. It showed large and impressive monument, and beside it a terrier with a huge variety of “thinks bubbles” emanating from its head, saying things like
“Now where did I put the car keys”
“Will I be able to pay off my credit card”
“Did I leave the gas on?”
“Whatever can I do about global warming…”
Beneath was the caption
“The tomb of the unknown worrier”
I loved it because I’m one who too easily spends valuable time and energy fretting over that sort of thing (car keys, church keys….they all go missing far more regularly than I like)
I think, though, that I’ve got quite a long way to go before I join the ranks of those who, in a recent survey, lost on average 21 working days each year because of that contemporary ill, stress. Stress seems to be the endemic disease of our society…From captains of industry to beleagured teachers and their charges, almost everyone will admit to feeling stressed from time to time. It has almost become a badge of honour, a sign that you are taking your work as seriously as it deserves… Or at least that might be the case in most secular jobs – but clearly it shouldn’t be part of the picture for us as practising Christians. Actually, of course, anxiety is rarely helpful, since it is usually a vague but persuasive sense of generalised tension and distress
“the sky is falling, I must go and tell the King."
It’s worth distinguishing anxiety from legitimate fear that has a clearly defined cause…and probably also a clear and specific remedy. Anxiety is rather different, but certainly pretty prevalent...and it’s placed firmly beyond the pale for anyone serious about living their faith.
“Be careful for nothing” says Paul to the church in Phillippi…or, if you prefer it
“Don’t stress”
Such sensible advice, but so hard to follow…though to be fair, Paul doesn’t just forbid us to worry. Instead he presents us with a pretty comprehensive antidote to anxiety with his cry to rejoice in the Lord always, and by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving to let your requests be made known to God.
Here’s his prescription founded on an attitude that can overcome the anxious heart.
"Rejoice!" He says it twice…look to the things that give you joy – focus on things that are good, and remember that we have the all time best reason to be cheerful.
This isn’t the approach of a Pollyanna, denying legitimate grief or anxiety…Paul isn’t acting as a kind of spiritual cheer-leader, insisting on an upbeat response to any and every grief…
His hearers are a part of a church filled with doubt and fear in the midst of a crooked and depraved generation and an aggressively evil environment. Every day, they face dissension within and opposition without.
And yet Paul forcefully exclaims, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.”
Joyful Christians? Is this an oxymoron?
So many people out there would say that Christianity provides a crutch for the needy, but brings with it the sort of demands that tend to rob life of its pleasures.
Maybe, - but then, pleasures are not the same as joys.
While joy is the Christian virtue, happiness is the virtue of the world. Where happiness is external, circumstantial depending on the things we have or can acquire, - power, fame, a cosmetic make over, or maybe even a beautiful church - joy exists independent of the environment and will persist through any and all circumstances
To coin a phrase “Joy has a much longer shelf life than happiness.” The secret to joy is not to look at the circumstances of your own life. Rather, look to Christ , what he has done for you and in you and to you.
Don’t worry…Be careful for nothing.
This does not mean “Be careLESS of everything” but rather do not be worn down by anxiety…
"Present your requests to God" Let God know specifically what troubles you – what your needs are –No matter what is going on, in all things PRAY!
That, of course, is why this reading is appointed for Rogation Days…those days
when we ask God’s blessing on the crops we have sown, and on the growing season and the harvest that still lies far ahead. We ask, confident that we will see results.
Planting a seed is always and everywhere an act of faith.
How could something so small and fragile carry within it all that is needful to make any particular plant flourish and grow?
How can burying that tiny fragment in the ground lead to the growth of a whole new plant, just like its parent?
Clearly with the planting of each and every seed, we find ourselves in the realm of miracle…We trust that once again the processes that I for one barely understand will come into play so that from that tiny dried up kernel new life will emerge.
Sadly, the faith that inspires us to plant seeds, and to believe that we will be alive and well to see it when they reach fruition seems to be missing too often from our daily route though life.
We look at the situations around us and resort once again to worry…Truly it seems the only rational response.
But there is another way, of course…
We need to maintain our communication channels with God…to carry on praying even when it seems to be a completely fruitless activity.
Just as planting a seed involves us in a process of patient waiting, while nothing much happens, we have to believe that a similar process will bring about the answer to our prayer if we keep on talking
And the peace of God which "Transcends all understanding" something NOT BASED on human reason or logic,- the divine peace which is based on God's presence and protection not on shallow, unpredictable human promises, will fill your heart and mind!
A seed of prayer sown, leads to the miracle of a mind transformed.
Actually, Paul says it will “keep”, or "will stand watch over your heart and mind" In other words, the peace of God will come and occupy the place anxiety once held!
It may be a small seed in itself, but like those in the soil, it will come to a transformative fruition if we leave it to germinate, to flourish and to grow
We pray and God plants a seed within us, diverting our attention from those things which cause us pointless anxiety, which drain our energies and rob us of our sleep.
In their place we are invited to focus on
whatever is true,
whatever is noble,
whatever is right,
whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely,
whatever is admirable
if anything is excellent or praiseworthy…
--think-about such things!
So here is Paul’s prescription – his four part antidote to anxiety:
Attitude: Rejoice! all shall be well, for God is in charge!
Action: In everything – absolutely everything – give thanks and pray! Ask for what you need, and it will be given to you
Answer: Instead of anxiety, you will experience the peace of God!
Affirmation: Think about some new things!
So today, as we ask God’s blessing on farmers and their crops, seeds in the soil and plans for the future, we ask too that he will bless in us the seeds of faith…We pray that through his transforming power the small nugget of belief we bring to the table may flourish and grow, so that as the body of Christ in this place we may be full of that irrepressible joy of which Paul writes and may live lives grounded in the peace that is beyond our reason, beyond all understanding.


That last post seems to have been my one thousand, one hundred and eleventh since this blog began in August 04...What alot of words! I do go on, don't I?
Thank you, those who read them and comment. I suspect things may be thinner here in future, but can't see myself stopping altogether any time soon.
Not while there are sermons to leave unwritten ;-)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Ancient or modern? Time for a Friday Five

just to prove that I am still a real blogger, I'm here with the RevGals Friday Five,this time an offering from Singing Owl

Yesterday I had two separate conversations in which people were musing about how much change is occurring. The WW II generation, of which my mom is a part, went from horse and buggy to automobiles, saw the lessening, or even the end of many diseases, went from widespread use of kerosene lamps and outhouses (in the country, and most folks were rural)) to a totally electrified and plumbed society. The fastest means of communication was a telegraph. The second conversation--gulp--was about MY generation and how much change occurred in the last half of the 20th century. The person said his 13 year old had not seen a vinyl record album until a few days before, couldn't remember a time without cell phones, and on and on.

As for the questions!

1. What modern convenience/invention could you absolutely, positively not live
I become positively tearful and definitely not easy to deal with if the internet is down for more than a few moments at a time. With the imminent departure of Hugger Steward, our geek in residence to Africa, I'm suffering from anxiety attacks about this. Who knows WHAT might happen while he's away?

2. What modern convenience/invention do you wish had never seen the light of day?
The tv remote control. It seems to be the central cause of so many evenings of bickering, and I hate the idea that we are all so idle that we can't even drag ourselves to our feet to change channel when we've had enough. Yuk.

3. Do you own a music-playing device older than a CD player? More than one? If
so, do you use it (them)?
I do have a cassette option...but I have to admit I rarely use it. However, Hattie Gandhi was very firm in her desire for a system that would allow her to play vinyls (and has been collecting vinyls specially)so as a family we have something that covers most eventualities barring the wax disc.

4. Do you find the rapid change in our world exciting, scary, a mix...or something
I love it. I was so resolutely "young fogey" in my 20s and 30s that it's just joy to engage with the new world that is all about me now. Do you know, I've made some of my very best friends through that new-fangled thing, the internet? ;-)

5. What did our forebears have that we have lost and you'd like to regain? Bonus
points if you have a suggestion of how to begin that process. When I was in India, a popular saying was "In the west you have clocks...Here we have time"
As one who spends her days trying to fit quarts of activity into pints of time, this spoke loud and clear to me...I ought to be able to be helpfully diverted en route to some task or meeting...the diversions are almost always creative and life enhancing...but the timetable makes them also potentially inconsiderate and rude. Don't think I have an answer...maybe if I sleep on it.

Sobering statistics and words of comfort

On Tuesday this week FabBishop had summoned all his clergy to a training day at Cheltenham Racecourse.
Leaving aside the fact that it always feels just plain wrong to be there when there's not so much as a whiff of Greenbelt about the place, it was an excellent day, when I loved catching up with friends and getting to know some new priests in the diocese too.
Our speaker was the Warden of Cranmer Hall, who spoke engagingly about the changing shape of ministry and its impact on the clergy she trains and supports.
There's lots I should share, if only to ensure that I don't lose track of it all in this relentless busyness...but this is Friday, and already things are blurring alarmingly.

She spoke of the sense that so many clergy feel that they are under judgement (their own, their congregation's and God's)....ruled by a concept of fantasy ministry in which we can be all things to all people, meet every need, visit 24 hours a day, hold our own in secular partnerships in the community...
Of our struggle to hold together demands and desires...our appreciation that this is a costly task, and our sense that we ought somehow to be able to do it all

She spoke too of the necessary death of such imagined ministry, to enable us to become real with ourselves and with God...of the harsh reality of knowing ourselves called to plant seeds while we live in a harvest-driven culture...and of the reality of our calling to minister in a twilight world
(The resurrection happened while it was yet dark...)

There was much that I recognised, much that I was glad to hear acknowledged - but I was so very sad to hear that according to an apparently reputable survey, the clergy pray for an average of 25 minutes per week, outside formal worship.
25 minutes.

And the reason that this is the average is that for many, there is no time spent in personal prayer at all.

I simply don't see how you can possibly survive in this task without at least believing, even if you don't always feel it, that prayer is going to make a difference...and thus that it's worth engaging with. My heart goes out to those who feel themselves completely alone, sans colleagues and sans God, in this bleak and hostile landscape.

One of Anne Dyer's main points was that, as priests we need one another ("Brother, sister, let me serve you, Let me be as Christ to you, Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too") I was hugely and delightfully aware as she spoke that I was sitting close to two people who, perhaps more than anyone else, enable my own ministry.
I don't feel alone, ever - and I know that I only have to wave and lifeboats would arrive before I'd ever got close to drowning.

During question time, someone passed on some wisdom from a training incumbent some decades ago
"Say your prayers and do your best"
That I could warm to...that, indeed, is pretty much what I try to do.
But not on my own. Never ever on my own.

It's Friday

and, though I've had a slight incursion into my day off in the form of a service for Scouts, Cubs, Brownies and Beavers (in honour of St George's Day) I therefore have a bit of time to call my own...and in which to blog as well.
I wish there were space to do some real processing -whether online, in a journal or even on the phone to a friend - but currently it's all about living it...getting things done in reasonable order...making connections in all directions and loving for all I'm worth.

So, the blog continues to be a poor starved thing and I so regret the reduced contact with my online friends - but can't for the life of me see viable ways to maintain it at the moment, beyond this very sporadic existence.
One Pedestrian wanted to know about my roof appeal and whether or not we had one of those alarming thermometer wotsits outside the church to track our progress towards being watertight. I'm happy to report that Church on the Hill is made of sterner stuff. The church itself is a pre-Raphelite dream, with windows by William Morris, Burne Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and co, while the appeals committee is pretty much a new vicar's dream too, being full of ideas, enthusiasm and effective purpose. The sum to find is huge, but so is the committment of those involved, so that the appeal actually looks (at the moment at least) not so much like an albatross but more like a good way of getting to know a wide range of people in the village, including those who would never darken the door of the church for worship.
Of course, this raises its own questions about how to help them to move from devotion to the building to a relationship with the God whose love is its foundation - and if I crack that one, I promise you'll hear about it!

Meanwhile, down at Church in the Valley, life continues in a rather more earthed and earthy mode...I've met some wonderful people and been privileged to hear some deep stories of holy ground. I've also been welcomed into the church school, spent a happy morning painting pirate ships with the Playgroup, and talked to a goodly collection of wedding and baptism families. One rather lovely thing is that a mum who came to discuss her daughter's baptism turns out to be the sister of a groom from one of my St M's weddings...and the couple I married will be godparents when their little neice is baptised. I love that sort of connection - I was smiling for the rest of the day after that.

Of course it's not all beer and skittles - (or even red wine and doritos, which I must say I would prefer). Valley parish has quite a high mortality rate, as this is not a wealthy community at all, - so I'm not in danger of forgetting how to take a funeral at all at all.
Funeral visits are always sad, sometimes surprising and often inspiring.
How else could I describe the loving determination of parents who for nearly six decades have made their disabled son the centre of their universe? Now the mother is gone, leaving father and son to manage alone...How much S grasps I really don't know, but his father's grief is raw and heartbreaking and being there in the pain with them feels nothing like enough - but it's all I can humanly do.
Prayers for them both hugely welcome.

On a brighter note, my favourite story to date concerns a hospital visit to a wonderful lady in her 90s. I introduced myself as "Kathryn, the new priest at St Matthew's" and we enjoyed an excellent conversation about cats and other important things...When it was time to go my offer to pray was received with enthusiasm but at the end, instead of loosing my hand she grasped my wrist in a vice-like grip and asked with desperate urgency
"So tell me...what's the new vicar like?!"
"You'll have to tell me" I replied...and after a blank moment or two she broke into smiles
"It's you, isn't it..."

Well, I guess it pretty much is - hard though it can be to believe sometimes.
It is me, and I'm happy to be so.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Really not sure

given all the riches that are available this week, what on earth persuaded me to run with this angle...but here we have a rather rough and definitely risky sermon which I clearly can't post on the St M's sermon blog...and I think it will be a while before I feel brave enough to suggest a sermon blog here. So, for better or worse, and because I hope that it might be good in some parts at least, here's tomorrow's offering

Easter 5 Year A John 14
Good news! Today’s readings are rich enough to inspire at least 3 sermons
Better news – I’m only going to preach one of them!
In all seriousness, it’s rare to be presented with such wonderful riches to choose from…We could think about the promise of a home in heaven, and our route to get there….we could consider our position as living stones, the fabric from which God builds his church –
We could think about prayer.

Having summed up like that, it seemed to me that there was, after all, only one sermon that I needed to offer you today – the one with prayer at its heart.
“Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it”
Whatever you ask
Of course, this doesn’t mean that we can expect the slot machine experience – prayer in equals result out. You don’t need me to tell you that simply adding “in Jesus’s name, Amen” to a string of requests
does not automatically guarantee success, even when the things we ask seem to be wholly good…the sort of thing that surely no loving God could ever deny us.

That’s always a challenge to faith…for even as I speak I’m sure that many of you are remembering with sadness the times when you prayed urgently, with all that was in you, for something that just didn’t happen…
The cancer didn’t go into remission…A troubled marriage did not suddenly come right after all…
Warring nations did not experience a sudden unexpected outbreak of peace
“Whatever you ask in my name…”??
We do struggle with this, don’t we?
Sometimes hindsight makes sense of a prayer that’s been left apparently unanswered…for sometimes the answer is “Wait”. Sometimes, we have to acknowledge that the “No” that was so unwelcome actually led to the best outcome in the end.
Sometimes I think that we’re left in a situation where all we can do is to be honest with God about our disappointment, our rage…
“You are supposed to be almighty yet these awful things happen, despite all our prayers and entreaties.
What are you doing – and don’t you know that this hurts!”
Thankfully prayer is nothing to do with being polite to God, and everything to do with coming as we are, with our wounds, our angers, our deepest most painful needs.
We set out with our best intentions…we try to believe that God will answer our prayer…and then it seems as if nothing has changed.
Yet we have this promise…Whatever you ask in my name…Does that mean nothing?
When we pray in Jesus’s name, we’re actually doing something rather different. Do you remember the protests before the troops were sent to Iraq? Hoards of people marched in many cities across the country, chanting “Not in my name…” because they did not wish to be associated with a government action in which they had no confidence. Whatever the rights and wrongs, they needed to make it clear that what was happening was not an expression of their world-view, their way of being.
We see this happening in many parts of the world, where someone’s name is taken to reveal their inner character.
We talk about preserving someone’s good name when actually we are intent on ensuring that people realise they are people of worth and integrity. Names are powerful things… So…when we are praying “in Jesus name” we should be doing a bit more than using it as a sort of formulaic ending, a quality stamp for our own wishes. Perhaps it’s a bit more like adding it as a signature to our words that precede it. We’re asking Jesus to validate our prayer – and if we are to do that with any integrity, that means we must ensure that our prayers are those we know he can be part of.
In other words, when we pray in Jesus’ name, we must set out to align our own wills with his, so that the prayers that we pray have the hallmark of his presence running right through them, like the lettering on a stick of rock.
Clearly this is something that Stephen had achieved for his final prayers are exactly parallel to those that Jesus prayed himself on the cross – a prayer committing himself to God’s love and one asking forgiveness for his persecutors. We, though, don’t have to pray only those prayers that we know for sure that Jesus himself prayed, though we are blessed that in the Lord’s Prayer we have a model that covers all that we could need for the world’s good
“Thy kingdom come…Thy will be done”
Thy will…In Jesus’ name…
That’s the secret. It’s not about what we want, about what we think would be the best way to arrange things…We aren’t setting out to change God’s mind, but rather, by spending time with him, to change our own minds, our own outlooks.
Once we have got to know Jesus well enough we are enabled to pray in ways that express the essence of his life and love, and so we can trust that God will honour that direction, always.
We get to know Jesus by spending time with him in prayer…and we pray about situations and issues that concern us, trying to discern what is God’s will so that we can place that at the heart of our own prayers…
Jesus gave us the authority and permission to use his name, but unless we take the time to
prayerfully discern his will, the use of his name won’t be of any help to us…
We cannot authenticate our prayer with his name unless it is already authentic in itself.
Sometimes, as you know, to pray about a situation is to find ourselves clear that there is something we should be doing to bring about the longed for outcome. It’s by no means rare, though it can be uncomfortable, to find yourself as the answer to your own prayers. At other times, prayer may bring us to a point where our original desire is transformed…
In any situation, our task is to determine, in the words of those popular wristbands, What Would Jesus Do….We can pray towards that end, but we may well need to engage with it too. We need to be doing the works that Jesus would do, praying His kinds of prayers, having the same type of intimate relationship with the
Father that He did. If we can't identify His works (which are also the Father's) then how can we ever hope to do greater works?
But amid our faltering prayers, and our failures of confidence we have a promise…Jesus said He Himself would perform whatever we ask in His name in order to glorify Father God
So, there’s another question…Not just “What would Jesus do?” but also
“Do my prayers, my inner longings, glorify God?”
If the answer to that is "Yes", then I can surely pray in Jesus’ name, confident that God will honour my prayer.
Prayer works. It changes people and situations…When we pray, we become more Christ-like…we enter into a benevolent circle so that as we pray in Jesus name we become more able to see what Jesus would do…and to work with him to achieve this.
We pray, God works and to him be the glory. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Learning Curve

Oh dear...I had so hoped to be a Better Blogger this week, but the pressures of life continue to get the better of me.
So, here's a bit of what i've been doing - so please just imagine me doing more of the same if I go quiet for a while. It's not that I've died, or lost interest in blogging. There's just too. much . happening.
Monday - morning playing in my lovely church school (still on its spring holiday - so no children in sight, but excellent conversation with the Head and lots of ideas sparked in all directions)
Visits made and received. Weddings are coming in thick and fast, which is wonderful but demanding, like so much else in my life.
Failed attempts to get to grips with the "urgent - pending" tray.
Tuesday - Funeral in church and then interment in the town cemetery - a beautiful site on the side of the hill but with definite challenges for the noble army of grave diggers
A batch of baptism families
Mothers Union AGM
Whistle-stop tour of Parish on the Hill, to help me keep track of who lives where
Wednesday - Eucharist, lots more baptism and wedding visits
Thursday - another Eucharist, diocesan healing group, fundraising committee for Church on the Hill's wonderful and historic roof, social evening in the village on the hill.
Friday - day off. Trip to Ikea. Lovely friend visiting. Time to footle with pleasant trivia.
Saturday - paperwork, visits made and received. Sermon...oh dear me yes, sermon. They don't get better, you know!
And do you know what - unaccountably, tomorrow is Sunday. Again!!!!

I'm still struggling with the urge to say "I'll ask WonderfulVicar" in response to almost any question.I'm wondering by what unwritten law of nature all the ladies in both churches seem to be either Margaret, Mary or Marion and what I can possibly do to change this...and what happens when I drop the first of the many balls I am juggling.I'm beginning to suspect that curacy trains you brilliantly to be the priest in charge of your training parish, but maybe not so much for anywhere else. There as so many things here that fall to the vicar's lot, I fear I won't even notice those things which I've left undone until their absence causes something vital to crash and burn.

Watch this space, dear people!
And keep on praying, please...

A blog less visited - speedy update

Yes I'm still alive. No, I haven't abandoned blogging in favour of some other more exciting pursuit. I am, quite simply, busier than I have ever been in my whole life - and though it's mostly wonderful it's also incredibly demanding and exhausting, so late-night blogging is as unlikely as finding a quiet half hour to blog in the day. One big difference here seems to be that nearly every sort of encounter happens in the evenings, not just official meetings per se - so it's quite hard to carve out time for other stuff (such a motherhood or dog walking) at all. I'm assuming that once I've begun to learn my way round things will settle into some sort of pattern, which may leave space that I can use to blog- though even then, I'm not certain what type of blogging will be appropriate in order to safeguard the new relationships that lie ahead here. The last thing I want is for someone to half read a post and jump to wild and anxious conclusions. So...things may be a bit quiet here for a wee while, though I'll drop in when I can. Meanwhile, boxes are mostly unpacked and there are pictures on the walls. I have survived the APCM at Valley Church (Hill Church has its annual meeting this week), presided and preached at Sunday and mid-week services in both places, taken my first funeral here and spent lots of time with baptism and wedding couples. School term resumes on Monday, bringing with it a whole raft of new connections to be made and, thank God, children to engage with. I'm beginning to have ideas and dream dreams, I'm learning what has been part of the vicar's role here (which might have been sorted by the huge array of "support staff" at St M's) and will hopefully have the full picture before I fail to do something of vital import. I'm having a lovely time...and sleeping the sleep of the utterly wiped out! I am hugely and constantly grateful that the Evil Dillon has settled well in a Jack Russell orientated family, where he is one of 3 bouncy, noisy small dogs and seems to be having a ball. The humans in that household have halos, wings and very shiney medals from the Fleming Family Rescue Society as the thought of Dillon barking the walls down at the vicarage is something that is all too easy to imagine, but would be distressingly hard to live with...Mufti, in contrast, has settled happily on the sofa in the new study and ventures out to the park and the letter box if offered, but is otherwise content with the vicarage garden and the odd game of catch as catch can with the cats...She does a great line as a non anxious presence, does Mufti, which is something to be prized as we continue to learn who we are and how we are here!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Timely reminder

As I leapt out of bed this morning (not a pretty sight) I reflected ruefully that my intent to read at least one worthwhile book every week seems to have fallen well and truly by the wayside in recent weeks...and what's worse, I can't currently see how I'm going to structure life to allow time for serious reading at an hour when I'm not too wiped out to absorb it. Then Cal listed her books so far for the Reading Challenge over at What's for Afters, and so reminded me that I was supposed to be blogging my way through my reading this year....and I was shamed all over again.
Now even Henri Nouwen is getting at me.Listen to this, today's Daily Meditation

Reading often means gathering information, acquiring new insight and knowledge, and mastering a new field. It can lead us to degrees, diplomas, and certificates. Spiritual reading, however, is different. It means not simply reading about spiritual things but also reading about spiritual things in a spiritual way. That requires a willingness not just to read but to be read, not just to master but to be mastered by words. As long as we read the Bible or a spiritual book simply to acquire knowledge, our reading does not help us in our spiritual lives. We can become very knowledgeable about spiritual matters without becoming truly spiritual people.

As we read spiritually about spiritual things, we open our hearts to God's voice. Sometimes we must be willing to put down the book we are reading and just listen to what God is saying to us through its words.

All confirmation of something I know very well - that God reaches me through the written word again and again...so I really do need to get on with making space for this, or I'll hit a wall soon and be no use to anyone.


Meanwhile, what have I been reading at all recently? The only thing of note was the happy sighting of Anne Lamott's Grace (Eventually) on the bookstall at New Orleans airport on my way home from the Big Event. I'd finished it before I landed at Birmingham, and loved it...well written and though provoking in equal measure but so easy to read that I could imagine reading more Lamott for relaxation as much as nutrition. Lovely.
I have this vague feeling that it might be coming up as a RevGals book club special, but I can't persuade the site to show me what's planned, just those titles that have already been discussed. Because most of them are published in the US I've not really keyed into the book group thus far, but maybe I should make reading the monthly book a priority from now on. It scares me to think that incumbency might seriously limit my reading.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Making all things new - a Friday Five about moving.

As Friday is now my day off, there's at least some hope that I might get to Friday Fives in better time these days - and how could I possibly resist this week's offering from Mother Laura?

We are right in the middle of a move--only twenty minutes away, but we're still a mix of busy, excited, nervous and surprisingly full of grief about what we're leaving, for me at least. So this week's Friday Five asks about your experience of the marvels and madness of moving...

1. How many times have you moved? When was the last time?

Ummm...about 10 days ago now. When I was a child we didn't move at all. My mother had survived the disturbing experience of leaving China as the Japanese arrived during WW2. She and her grandmother embarked for Scotland, where the only contact they had was the solicitor who had drawn up her grandfather's Will...This somewhat skewed her attitude to moving,- so it just didn't figure in my parents' Grand Scheme. I thus moved for the first time 6 months after my father's death, when Mummy and I moved from the house I'd grown up in, complete with HUGE garden, to something rather more manageable. My next move was from Sussex to London, when I graduated from university. My one bedroomed flat was exchanged for the terraced Victorian house that both Hattie Gandhi and Hugger Steward first called home, then we left London for rural Gloucestershire and Lower Farmhouse when HS was just 1 year old. Our next move was to Privet Drive just before my ordination in 2004, and now here we are in the Vicarage. So, this is my 5th house move in my 5th decade. Could be worse, I guess

2. What do you love and hate about moving?
I love setting up home in a new place... Before the accumulation of family junk takes over it is delightfully reminiscent of playing house as a child. You get to put everything in absolutely the right place, you get a chance to think where the "right" place might be, and it's all new and shiney. On the other hand, there's this ghastly period when there is a place for nothing and you keep on looking for things roughly where they used to belong...And the process of packing and of saying Goodbye is utterly wretched. HATE IT.

3. Do you do it yourself or hire movers?
Thanks be to God, the diocese pays for movers now ours are clergy moves. Not sure I'd ever dare do it myself anyway....the piano alone would defeat me.

4. Advice for surviving and thriving during a move?
Sadly, none. Except to have a box packed with all your short term essentials - kettle, mugs, corkscrew, glasses...and maybe a few bananas as an instant fix. Thriving is way beyond me at times like this!

5. Are you in the middle of any inner moves, if not outer ones?
Hope so. Working hard on growing up and growing into my new roles...

Bonus: Share a piece of music/poetry/film/book that expresses something about what moving means to you.
When I was a student and moving away from home and first love for the first reluctant time, I used to play the Haydn D Major cello concerto to "warm up" my new room..so forever more, this is the "settling in" music of my inner soundtrack. But generally the process of moving is so gruelling that, atypically, I can't connect with those things that generally give my world shape and meaning. On the whole, I guess I'm a seriously unenthusiastic mover - which makes my current vocation a bit unfortunate really.Guess I'd better aim to be here for the long haul.

I am doing a new thing

What should I write about Sunday's licensing service?

Above all that the church was full of loved and loving people.

My St Mary's family were there to hand me on to the care and companionship of my new communities while those two communities extended a warm welcome in word, symbol and smile. Friends and family surrounded me with prayers and support (and I'm so thankful for those who prayed in very different and distant places as this new chapter began) and clergy colleagues from my new deanery stood beside dear friends who've shared this whole journey with me. Again and again the Bishop reminded us all of why we were there, why the church is there at all
“Alleluia, Christ is risen!”
- both words and response getting louder as the service progressed and our combined confidence grew “He is risen indeed. Alleluia!”

The first part of the service seemed almost overwhelming in its weightiness, so that there was no doubt that the answer to a long series of episcopal questions could only be
“With the help of God I will”
but then, much like the ordination service itself, that help became tangible. I knelt in front of the Bishop while around me everyone sang
“O thou who camest from above...” with its wonderful words that said so much that I was feeling
“Jesus confirm my heart's desire To work and speak and think for thee Still let me guard the holy fire And still stir up thy gifts in me

In an echo of the ordination my hands were anointed, as a reminder that come what may I am a priest, called and graced for a task I couldn't attempt alone, but won't ever need to.
To my surprise, as the Bishop handed me my licence and invited me to
Receive this cure of souls that is both yours and mine” I found myself smiling...Perhaps after all this wasn't an alarming burden (as it had seemed as the slow anxious morning had unrolled) but a privilege and a joy. I was settled into my new stall, together we prayed and a wonderful range of people from the community welcomed me (including, to my joy, some children from St Matthew's Primary School) . Then suddenly we seemed to have reached the Offertory, and my “desert island” hymn, Wesley's great
And can it be?”
Once again the words were just what I needed to sing
“No condemnation now I dread, Jesus and all in him is mine...
Wonderful words, wonderful singing

Next members of my new congregations came forward bearing symbols of the ministry ahead...water, oil, Bible and Prayer Book, bread and wine...and invited me to share in the life of those churches. The official responses once again said all that I would have struggled to articulate

" Together, by God's grace, we will grow in our faith and discipleship...Together by God's grace,we will be a Christ-like community of love...Together, by God's grace, we will tell the good news of Christ to the world...Together, by God's grace, we will worship him in spirit and in truth...Together by God's grace, we will seek to be the living body of Christ...

I pledge myself to care for the community that gathers here, to share with them the Word of God and the work of ministry, to celebrate with them the sacraments of the new covenantand to encourage them in their discipleship. Together may we make this a place where Christian people are equipped for their life and witness in God's world."

The Blessing and another hymn and we proceeded to the west end, where the beautiful glass doors (pictures to come, I promise) showed snowflakes swirling against the dark green of the yews outside. This only increased the slight feeling of unreality, of being outside time in a space apart as I rang the bell to confirm to the world that I had indeed arrived and a new adventure was beginning for us all.
Finally I was taken to the south door and reminded to seek God outside the church too, and to work to love and serve the whole community for God's sake. I opened the door wide and invited the whole congregation to share God's mission for this place
Go in the power of Christ. We have a gospel to proclaim! Go in the peace of Christ. Thanks be to God!”

For the moment, I know that much of my time will be taken up with learning how these church families proclaim that gospel through worship and the minute complexities of their internal life, but I have, please God, the time I need to learn these communities right through. I know I can't do everything by Thursday week (and promise not to try to, at least not all the time), but I can and will be here, trying to live out the all that lies behind the impossibly wonderful Anglican vision of the parish, the recognition that this is God's world and that God is completely involved in all of it.
Jesus has already gone before me into Cainscross and Selsley...There I will see him, as he has promised as I grow into an understanding of these places in all their aspects, and try to serve them as best I can.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Big Event part 2 - sail away

Over that evening and the next morning friends arrived thick and fast...a happy morning eating baignets, buying wool (yarn across the Pond) and enjoying being together, then a less happy time being herded through the process of embarkation, surrounded by over-excited and fractious humanity. With each stage in the queuing process the noise level mounts, but is nothing compared to that which greets us when we finally make it aboard. This is Disneyland crossed with the Christmas rush in Oxford Street - with a dash of the last days of Pompeii thrown in.Everyone is intent on serious self-indulgence...a festival of aspirational over-consumption which is unlike anything I have ever experienced. I was perpetually conscious of the horrific waste - meals discarded after only a mouthful...stunning arrangements of food at the Midnight Buffet that would never even be tasted...oh, and the horrid indignity of waiting staff compelled to sing, dance and twirl napkins to amuse the guests at dinner, which sat ill with the gracious living ethos of our evening meals....Not comfortable (though the ice sculptures at the Midnight Buffet will linger in my memory as the melting reality could never do).

Thankfully our retreat leader Mary Marcotte exudes gracious calm and our first session effectively puts the lid on a mounting panic that being here on this ship at this time might after all be a colossal mistake. Not with these women it won't be...
One thing that startled me was, to state the obvious, how American you/they all are!
When you spend time reading someone over a period of months or years, yu can come to feel that you really know them very well - and in many ways, you do. But of course the slice of life that any of us presents on our blog is at best a very small window onto a much larger world. I had forgotten, I guess, that the world these RevGals share is shaped by a cultural context and a body of shared experience quite different from my own. It's not just a question of accents, idioms and turns of phrase...We are different, in ways it is hard to pinpoint.
I am just about the least reserved person I know, very quick to bounce up to people with my labrador tail wagging - but I am truly astounded at the degree of openness and self-disclosure, the deep sharing of hurts and anxieties that my friends offer without hesitation almost from the word "Go". It was a privilege to listen, even when it didn't feel like the right time for me to talk (a novelty in itself - it's always the right time for me!)

I never did get to like the brash consumerism of the "Fun Ship" experience but I think I would have enjoyed a week on the tube in rush hour with this group, especially after we found our own safe space on the starboard aft deck. I can't think of a better place to spend the transition season, while I shed one identity and prepared to take on another, nor better company for this part of the journey.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Big Event part 1 - an English Girl abroad

Yes...I know I have been home from the USA for a whole week now, and I'm deeply ashamed of my blogging inadequacy - but I've been living life at such a pace that finding time to blog it has been way beyond me.
Now, though, I'm beginning to feel that things are in the right places in the vicarage, even if I'm only beginning to learn what it might mean to be priest in charge of these parishes, so I'm snatching a few minutes to begin to blog some of "what happened next" after I ceased to be the Curate (and thus presumably forfeited the right to blog as "good in parts" for ever more)

The first thing to say about the RevGals Big Event is that it was wonderful. Completely and totally.
It was also the perfect liminal space for me to spend the days of my transition.
I was protected from the finality of moving from Privet Drive and from the endless grumpiness that is a by product of relocating.
I also got to spend time with some of my favourite people on the planet, and it was just lovely.

From the moment that a kind blogger collected me from Louis Armstrong airport, I knew myself to be welcome and among friends. NOLA is the most amazing city, somewhere I could wander happily for days. There seems to be none of that desperate "drive" I associate with 21st century America.
Instead, people saunter rather than dash....jazz, live and canned, fills the air...and the sun shines.
Goodness, yes. The sun does shine.
I had made the decision before leaving home that, as my family were being so amazingly generous in encouraging me to take the trip despite the pressures of packing and moving house, I would savour every moment. So, instead of panicking at the obvious luxury of my hotel, and its implications for my credit card, I sank gratefully into a bath before heading downstairs to eat oysters...Oysters, if you please! Just as well that I'd given myself that talking to (though in fairness I must say that they were among the least expensive items on the menu, and a perfect "light bite" after a day of endless travelling).
An excited phonecall from Revd Dr Kate, and then it was bed and sleep. Serious sleep.
My poor addled body-clock roused me early - but hey, there was a whole new city to explore...So I sat on a terrace overlooking the Mississippi where the paddle steamer Nanchez plied her trade, before hitting the shops in the Riverfront Mall.
I lunched on shrimp po'boy and gumbo and listened to fabulous jazz CDs, before choosing one to take home for LCM..
I wandered, strolled, anything but hurried up town to St Charles Avenue, where mardi gras beads still hung glinting in the trees beside the road.
Progress was slow, as I had to stop repeatedly to admire and photograph the timebered houses, with their wide verandahs and ornate wrought iron balustrades.
I just couldn't stop smiling. I was on my own in this friendliest of cities, accountable to nobody, free just to be...to relax, to go wherever the mood took me, or simply to stay still and enjoy everything.
Of course I took the street car back down to the French Quarter...Of course, I was enchanted by the quarter itself, with its air of past romance bubbling just below the surface, its hints of the faintly macabre in cemetery art and voodoo shops...Of course I sat in the sun and listened to live jazz, while a skilled puppeteer made his creatures pick up their instruments and embark on the theme from the Pink Panther.
A pair of benevolent drunks befriended me outside the Cathedral and shared their Katrina stories and their pleasure in their city. For a moment there was a glimpse of something darker as they told me
"Of course you'll be safe down Bourbon Street at night as long as you stay away from...."(a nudge and a nod towards an African American who was sweeping the pavements) "people like him"...
I was sad.
Already more than half in love with the city, I wanted it to be flawless - but of course, nothing ever is. This is still the deep south, and not all the heritage that lingers is sweetly romantic.
As afternoon drifted towards evening I made my way back to the hotel, where my first RevGal had arrived and offered company for a further exploration. From then on the tenor and tempo of life changed, - but I'll always feel vaguely proprietorial about New Orleans. After all, we had spent a whole day alone together.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

"And we're back...."

Apologies for the break in transmission, but there has been more going on in my life over the past fortnight than any woman can rightly cope with. Definitely good in more than a few parts but wildly emotional and pretty time consuming too The mix of feelings in that last weekend at St M's put even the most extravagant Southern cocktail to shame...After the long night that was Maundy Thursday came the exhausted emptiness of Good Friday. I repeatedly had to stop myself from thinking "last time" thoughts as the complex blend of words and music that is the Holy Saturday Vigil wound its way around the pillars of the church. The Easter fire was kindled and the Resurrection proclaimed in all the ancient ageless beauty of the Exultet, then celebrated in a church full of children for the Easter Sunday Eucharist. Presiding there was a mixture of utter delight and deep sadness at imminent parting. It was always going to be an emotional experience, but nothing had prepared me for the gut wrenching intensity. Clearly one of the many effects of Ordination is to connect you far more closely with the congregation where you have served for even four short years, than even with the home church that nurtured your vocation through the previous 14. Tears flowed at the Communion rail and at the door...and at the same time I was trying hard to offer joyful Easter blessings and "Good to have you with us" as occasional visitors have every right to expect. I so didn't want to high-jack te day and the excitement of our First Communicants did much to balance my free-fall feelings, though I was completely undone when Junior Church presented me with some fabulous art-work, and 2 Little Fishes appeared with an album of the loveliest photos from the group. More lovely gifts followed in the afternoon, including, wonderfully, a 1st century Palestinian oil-lamp, which nestles delightfully in the hand. Incredible to think that I own something dating from the time of Christ...slightly soot-blackened from long-dead flames...to realise afresh that my ministry at St Mary's and beyond is part of a continuum stretching back to that group clustered around the table at the Last Supper. We come and go, but the light goes on shining. I tried, haltingly, to preach on that at Evensong, then more hugs, more tears, and hugs again and it was done. Church keys left on the vestry table, robes cleared from the cupboard, no longer an assistant curate but very nearly a priest-in--charge. That community has taught me so much, shown me great love and endless encouragement, been so generous with themselves as we have journeyed together.
"For all that has been, thanks.
For all that shall be, yes."