Monday, September 29, 2008

Oh St Michael!

Today, as you probably know, we celebrate the feast of St Michael and All Angels.
Doesn't that have a lovely ring to it?
And I love this golden autumn festival, which seems to encourage one to look upwards to see the flights of angels overhead.
For me it's part and parcel of the early autumn blessings of newly ploughed fields, trees laden with apples and clumps of Michaelmas daisies flowering unbidden in corners of the garden (not here, sadly...there are no clumps of anything in the vicarage garden, which is still recovering from having been a building site).
So, I was looking forward to a nice quiet little Eucharist in celebration this morning.

Quiet it certainly was, at least initially, as I had a congregation of precisely one.
Not to worry. It's a while since the saints have been observed here, and I'm really only doing what I would want to do anyway...not exactly expecting that red letter observance will build me a brand new congregation overnight.
My congregation was exactly the person whom I most enjoy praying with here, anyway...and we got on splendidly, give or take a rather broad grin from both of us as I introduced the Peace
"We are the Body of Christ"....
Well, we are. Not just M and I but the whole church militant and triumphant..angels, archangels, the lot...
The grin got broader
"We being many are one bread..."
but what finally undid us was the bread itself.
You see, we'd had two donations of harvest loaves.
The lady who always decorates the Lady Chapel had done a beautiful job this week, and had asked that, if we couldn't use her loaf for the main Parish Eucharist, we should nonetheless use it to during worship some time over the weekend.
I cut a chunk to use at the 8.00 yesterday, and thought we'd have another this morning...But I'd reckoned without the fact that real bread, specially real crusty wholemeal bread, takes a good deal of chewing.
Fine when there is one person working their way along an altar rail...allowing plently of time for the bread to be consumed with due reverence before it is followed by the chalice. Not so good when there are two of you, side by side, communicating each other.
I have to say there was a tide of most irreverent giggling as we chomped, chewed and chomped some more.
But I was comforted by remembering a sermon from FabBishop on Hebrews, where he talked about "angels in party mood"
I don't expect St M or the angels minded too much, and God is more than used to my periodic collapse into helpless laughter. I rather think She joins in!
So, we did

Saturday, September 27, 2008

We mustn't forget...a harvest sermon for Church in the Valley.

Yesterday afternooon a group of some thirty assorted children and their parents were having a wonderful time in here celebrating Messy Harvest. They arranged flowers, they made leaf prints and sunflowers…They put together the frontal we’re using this morning and they even constructed the amazing Harvest loaf which we’ll break and share at Communion. The whole church was full of joy and excitement as they charged from pillar to post, anxious to try everything…but we did manage to spend a few moments sitting down together trying to remember what Harvest Festival is all about. Together we told the story of our loaf, from the seed sown in the ground, through the work of the farmer, the miller and the bakers to the bread we can admire this morning, and we agreed that at each stage of the chain there are people whom we need to thank. Then we thought a bit wider, and realised that at every moment of every day there are literally dozens of things to say thank you for. And that, of course, is why we are here celebrating Harvest Festival. It’s time for us to pause and say, “Thank you! Thank you for all those good things that have come our way this year.” To pause and think; to pause and thank. Now, thankfulness is an attitude central to Christian belief. Even the name of this service, the Eucharist, means “Thanskgiving” We really should, always and everywhere, give thanks. Unfortunately, generally we don’t. We look at the world, at all that we have to enjoy, and we take it as our right. We no longer see God in it.. And it’s hard to see God in a tin of chopped tomatoes, a loaf of bread or a pizza. But God is there. If we open our eyes, wherever we look in creation, we see signs pointing the way to the creator. Creation is so much more than a gigantic supermarket, a mine from which we extract what we want, using or discarding to suit ourselves as if nothing has any value. Creation is, rather, part of the love song of our God who delights in creating…our God who looked at all that was made and declared that it was good.

But we do forget, don’t we? We’ve come along way from the garden of Eden and we rarely look back over our shoulders. It’s a situation foreseen by Moses in our Old Testament reading. He, like me, was preaching at a Harvest Festival….at a time when the children of Israel were invited to give thanks for God’s generosity –the gift of land which produces food abundantly, a land “flowing with milk and honey”. Moses urged the people to be thankful – and he recognised the danger that lurks embedded within any successful and affluent culture…the risk that success might encourage us to believe that we are sufficient unto ourselves. Maybe this past week has diminished that danger a little for us…All across the world, people are that bit less sure of themselves…that much more aware of the fragility of the systems we’ve come to rely on. And maybe that’s not a wholly bad thing. I’m not suggesting that we should in any way rejoice at the economic hardships that seem certain to confront many who thought themselves secure…just that perhaps there might be some encouragement to remember the true security, the true source of all good gifts. .

The great medieval mystic, Meister Eckhardt, once said,
"If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough." I’m not sure, though, if I quite agree. Saying thank-you is important, certainly. It’s a great thing to recognise one’s blessings and say so from the heart. But on another level I would say, SAYING thank you is only a small part of the full meaning of what thanksgiving is all about. Thanksgiving is both an attitude and a response, it’s both faith and works. We need, in other words, to DO our thank yous too. That’s where our second reading comes in… Paul reminds us that we are the recipients of God’s ceaseless, overwhelming generosity – and that this should be our own model in giving. Think for a moment about how wildly profligate God is in creation. Thousands of thousands of seeds, each with the potential to create a whole new life. Myriad creatures so small they can only be glimpsed through a microscope. Endless demonstrations of overwhelming creative genius…with one end in view
“So that having all sufficiency at all times, you may abound in every good work”
The measure for our giving should be our receiving…God’s goodness is without limit, and so it follows that our response should overflow…that the more we receive, the more we can open our hands to pass on the gift.

It seems to me that my own besetting sin is the fear that there might not be enough. I want to give, I want to be generous…but at the back of my mind a little voice says “Have you made sure you’re saving enough for old age…Did you remember that you’ll have 3 children at university any minute now….” Instead of trusting that with God there is always enough and to spare, I wonder and worry and lapse into protective meanness. Let’s face it: we do not need everything we have to live abundantly. Indeed perhaps the more we have the more cluttered our spirits become. That’s a general truth but perhaps we are also at a juncture in human history where we will be forced to face certain realities- that our economies cannot and should not grow forever, and that we may have to be content with what we have, or less “Tis a gift to be simple…” says the old Shaker song…but it’s a gift that we are strangely reluctant to grasp even if we remember the second line “Tis a gift to be free” We seem determined to shore up our fragile selves with all sorts of material props…we focus not on thanksgiving but on thanksgetting…like a child who asks his friend on Boxing Day, not “what did you give?” but “what did you get for Christmas?”

But at harvest festival we have a chance for a rethink.
We come together to celebrate all that we have received, and we express that celebration by giving of our best, our first fruits, just as people have through many centuries. Harvest festival sounds cosy, reassuring, a link with the golden days when churches were full and summers were hot. But I’d like us to use our harvest festival as a challenge this year. If you and I can remember that we are celebrating thanks-giving, and not thanks-getting, if we can live lives that reflect the boundless generosity of God, then we can honestly say with Meister Eckhardt that a simple prayer of "thank you" expressed in word and in deed, will be enough. In fact, it will be more than enough, abundant and overflowing with grace and love made manifest. And so let’s thank God, for life, thank God for food, family and friends, thank God for the opportunities of living in a rich land flowing with milk and honey, and thank God for being able to express our gratitude in acts of love, sharing and giving. Amen.

Messy Harvest

was an unqualified success.
More than thirty assorted children and their adults, many of whom had never willingly crossed the church threshold before.
Lots of willing and talented craftspeople, offering everything from breakmaking to turning discarded beer cans into simply stunning sunflowers.

Sunshine, smiles and a whole church to fill with activity.

Is it surprising that we had a ball?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Over at RevGalBlogPals, SingingOwl writes:
Raise your hand if you know that today is Johnny Appleseed Day!
September 26, 1774 was his birthday. Johnny Appleseed" (John Chapman) is one of America's great legends. He was a nurseryman who started out planting trees in western New York and Pennsylvania, but he was among those who were captivated by the movement west across the continent.
As Johnny travelled west (at that time, the "West" was places like Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois) he planted apple trees and sold trees to settlers. With every apple tree that was planted, the legend grew. A devout Christian, he was known to preach during his travels. According to legend, Johny Appleseed led a simple life and wanted little. He rarely accepted money and often donated any money he received to churches or charities. He planted hundreds of orchards, considering it his service to humankind. There is some link between Johny Appleseed and very early Arbor Day celebrations. So, in honor of this interesting fellow, let's get on with the questions!

First of all, big thanks to Singing Owl as Johnny Appleseed is one of those figures of American legend that mean very little over here. I'd heard the name but had no idea about the story...

1. What is your favorite apple dish? (BIG BONUS points if you share the recipe.)
When we were living at Lower Farmhouse, we had a mini orchard with 3 apple and 5 pear trees. Irritatingly, none of the apples was a cooker - they were a rather small eating variety called the Rissington Redskin (yes, really)...and I got so weary with trying to find ways to use up all the fruit that I no longer really enjoy most apple dishes...though the apple/lemon cheesecake recipe from The Penguin Freezer Cookbook is very nearly the exception that proves the rule. Too late and too weary to hunt it tonight...but will dig it out if there's any demand.

2. Have you ever planted a tree? If so was there a special reason or occasion you can tell us about? In, I think, 1996 there was a big diocesan festival at the Cathedral at which every church leader was given a fruit tree to take back to plant somewhere in the parish as a sign of spiritual growth. For assorted unfathomable reasons the Rissington tree came to live with the Flemings - which would have been fine if I'd not known what it was supposed to represent. Any sign of ailing in the tree (which was familiarly known as "spiritual growth") sent me into advanced panic. The good news is that it survives and flourishes still, though we've yet to see it produce a solitary cherry.

3. Does the idea of roaming around the countryside (preaching or otherwise) appeal to you? Why or why not? Yes please. Not bothered about the preaching, but if I could rove the inland waterways of England in the lovely Polyphony I think I'd be perfectly happy.

4. Who is a favorite "historical legend" of yours?
When I was a child, I was very keen on being Mary Queen of Scots. Perhaps losing my head at such a young age explains alot about the subsequent course of my life...

5. Johnny Appleseed was said to sing to keep up his spirits as he travelled the roads of the west. Do you have a song that comes when you are trying to be cheerful, or is there something else that you often do?
If I'm really struggling, then the Haydn C Major cello concerto usually puts things to rights....or in contrasting vein the Tiger Rag (specially the Baroque variation thereon which features on marvellous CD put together in memory of the baroque oboist David Reichenberg). Music always always helps. Or playing with the puppy, of course.

A post for ElastiGirl (among others)

Juggling was one of the games-with-purpose that found its way into the timetable for the leadership course. With one eye that is both lazy and short-sighted, that was never going to be my forte...though we did have fun devising ways in which we could at least keep our 3 balls in the air between the 2 of us. Later on, though, we were introduced to another game that felt rather too close to the reality of parish life.
We stood in a ring and threw a ball at random from one person to another, calling their name as we threw. After a few rounds of that, we agreed a pattern, which meant that I was always catching a ball from M and throwing it on to G.
I could do this.

Then the pace was increased.
And a second ball was added.
And a third.
It became harder work, and I dropped the ball a couple of times, but it was still pretty much OK.

And a fourth.
Not so good.
With six balls doing the rounds it was completely relentless, and M seemed always to be calling "Kathryn" and throwing something at me.
I dropped the ball again and again and again...I hurled it on in desperation and with ever-decreasing accuracy....
And the thing is, I was trying so hard - but I just couldn't do it.
It felt to me as if I'd let everyone else down if I kept on dropping the balls, but I'd also let them down if I said "No more. This is simply not manageable" and walked away from the game. I really didn't want to do that.

Even as I played, I recognised the sub-text...and knew that I would probably never admit defeat or ask for help as long as the balls kept whirling towards me.

But I don't think that's how it's supposed to be.

Dropping balls doesn't matter in the least when they are they are brightly coloured playthings. But when they are something rather closer to people, and their journeys with God...

Notes to self: remember your limitations before you start dropping things that matter. Ask for help if you need to. Maybe even put down one or two balls for a little while. They'll be quite safe.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Another Tuesday, another training course

I've been away being trained for two days this week. This time it was course entitled "Leadership development in the community", offered by a consultancy firm which does alot of work for the diocese.

Given my long term allergy to the word "leader" (in my mind, leader = either Adolf Hitler or a guy with plastic smile and a flip-chart) you'll imagine that I approached the course with a fair degree of suspicion, though I was looking forward to spending time with colleagues. Missing WonderfulVicar remains a pretty constant thread in my daily experience here. Though my Associate is an altogether Good Thing, he's also undeniably busy, and often absent with his secular job, so there just isn't the same possibility of praying together and reflecting on the life of our churches. Our meetings need to be very task oriented because there's much to be done...(a situation which, in fact, the leadership course had much to say about.)
ANYWAY on Monday evening the timetable arrived and my heart sank.
Sessions started at 9.00 the following morning, and continued pretty much without letup, apart from meals and coffee breaks, till 8.30 the following evening...I'd returned home exhausted from a course earlier this month, which was far more gentle in its approach, so this made me very nervous - and things weren't helped by a pancake-flat tyre as we headed into Cheltenham on Tuesday morning. Still, we got there without too much delay (the RAC really are worth the membership fee in my experience), were presented with our shiney new workbooks, and the first session began. Overall, format and presentation were well outside my comfort zone, but some undeniably helpful things emerged to take away with me including

- the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy (of course I'm always late, because knowing that I am always late I don't leave time for any other possibility...or equally, I expected to hate the style of the course, so hate it I did! )

-the value of praise grounded in reality (not just "you're such a star J" but "Because you always turn up to set up the church before a funeral and ensure that the congregation has everything they need, I'm able to concentrate on the bereaved family. That makes a huge difference to how we all feel..")

-the difference between management and leadership...the one heavily focussed on doing, the other more often on being the inspiration that draws people forward

There was lots about listening, lots about coaching, and we have been placed in "action learning sets" to enable us to coach one another through specific issues in the months ahead.Using the method in a small group on Tuesday evening was most helpful...I actually know what to do in one situation that had been bothering me, which is pretty much the point of the exercise.

I can't say that I enjoyed it all, though there were some not-so-silly silly games that reduced me to helpless hysteria along the way (fed into the timetable just when they were most needed...I certainly can't fault the planning of the whole)
I can, though, see the value of the mind-set we were encouraged to embrace. I'm just not sure I can work out how to make it a reality.

We did some work on learning styles, which confirmed that I am indeed an activist, prone to get myself involved in far too many aspects of the day to day life of my parishes...but as things are here and now, I'm unable to see quite who will provide the energy and vision to make things happen if I don't. The prospect of balancing all my doing with a hefty dose of being is immensely attractive, but I'm brought back to the question beloved of a former Parish Development Officer of the diocese "Yes , but how?"

In all fairness to the course tutors, we were given more than one exercise to help us address this question. One with which I struggled particularly, as a non-drawer of repute, was the assignment to consider my vision for the church, what I would have to commit to in order to achieve it, and how we would get there.
That sounds OK till you hear that we were told to present this graphically.
I cannot draw in any recognisable way at all, so for a while it seemed highly probable that my vision would be constrained by the limited range of things I can make recognisable...Hard to work out quite how a horse's head, a hedgehog and a cello might feature - but those are pretty much the limit of my artistic ability.

Eventually (we only had 20 mins) I decided what my vision was.
The two disconnected churches, on the hill and in the valley, were joined by a line of people, each feeding and befriending his neighbour.Each person had two foci...the bread and wine of communion, held in in the middle of the pictre as a reminder that the Body of Christ is found not in the church alone but in his world, and the church buildings themselves. Arrows pointed in towards the Sacrament and out to the world...the vision was of a constant flow, so that those who had been fed would reach out to feed others.

We were asked what we'd do to achieve our vision.
Having thought long and hard, the best answer I could come up with was
"I'd basically keep on presiding at the Eucharist"

At which point I had a T.S. Eliot moment
"we shall not cease from exploration
and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started"

Eucharist? That I can do.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Church in the Valley, as you might have guessed, is dedicated to St Matthew.
In my book, this means that on St Matthew's day you offer the best worship you can, with as many trimmings as possible - and then throw a bit of a party afterwards.
Strangely, patronal celebrations have been on the back burner in recent years, so it felt quite brave to reinstate them today. Initial enthusiasm from PCC members waned slightly when they realised that the patronal was the week before Harvest Festival, which is the week before the St Francistide Pet service...for one appalled moment I think they realised just what having a vicar with "bright ideas" might mean! However, they are resolutely good sports (L and M, I really can't thank you enough), and though a few people baulked at the later start time (designed to allow us to serve wine at an hour that didn't feel too much like breakfast), and one or two stayed away because they can't cope with incense, there was a reasonable congregation from both valley and hill.
So we celebrated.
Oh, we DID celebrate.
Proper procession with smoke (and a chance to air not just my farewell cope from St M's, but the two in-house copes as well), good solid liturgy with all the propers in the right places, a great sermon from my colleague, some truly splendid hymns (yes, of course we ended with "For all the Saints") and as a special surprise the organist produced one of my very favourite voluntaries, Karg Elert's Nun Danket.

However much I may deplore the style of ministry that allowed the vicar to talk about "my flock...", I have to admit that as we processed out I did feel rather proud of them all, and more than a little propriatory. Not quite "my people" but certainly the people whom God has given me to serve for the moment...We are getting to know each other as the months pass and friendships are growing as we do so.

Standing at the west door afterwards, it seemed that far too many people were leaving without going in to coffee...but when I finally made it into the hall, it seemed I was mistaken. Lots of smiley people drinking wine, eating cake and joining in
"Happy Feast Day to you" with every appearance of enthusiasm.

St Matthew's was founded in 1837.
I wonder how the founding fathers viewed the future.
I hope they rejoiced with us as we gave thanks for our patron and the life of our church through the years down to today.
I'm so glad to be here

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Mercy not sacrifice - some thoughts on the call of Matthew.

The last time I preached on St Matthew's day, I was part way through my training for ordination, and enjoying a 3 month placement at St James's Church in Tredworth, Gloucester It was a memorable evening for assorted reasons.
To begin with, for the first time, though not the last, I had one of those experiences that make a preacher's blood run cold. As the gospel reading began I listened with growing horror. This was not the account of the call of Matthew that I was expecting, the reading that my service sheet suggested, - but something quite quite different. I came within a whisker, as a very new preacher, of throwing in the towel there and then and asking the vicar to take over - but I knew that one of my tutors was there to assess my performance, so that wasnt really an option. Fortunately that night I'd chosen to tackle the call of Matthew via an Ignatian style meditation, inviting my congregation to enter into the story and experience its power at first it was possible to continue with just a few words of introduction. I told the story again from Matthew's viewpoint, highlighting his experience of being made an outsider because of his profession, his lonely existence as the one whom nobody really wanted to know. I imagined people shying away when they found themselves close to him, considered the impact that must have had, the steady erosion of self-esteem till he began to see himself, perhaps, as less than fully human. I talked about the radical shock of hearing himself called by Jesus, of being told that Jesus needed him - him, the one whom nobody needed, nobody wanted Of his amazement in discovering that he could just walk away from his old life into a future made bright by the welcome shining in Jesus' eyes
That despised and broken as he was, Jesus saw his hunger and sat down beside him to eat
I talked about the discomfort of the Pharisees as they were put in their place, - they, the experts in the law and its meticulous observance, hearing it turned against them
"I desire mercy not sacrifice"
Above all, I talked about liberation... The realisation that with Jesus, we can turn from our old way of being, and can embrace with confidence a future beyond our imaginings. That no matter who we are, mercy, not sacrifice, is the yardstick by which we are judged.
It wasn't a bad sermon, actually - but what made that evening memorable was the impact it had on one member of the congregation. I led the intercessions, reflecting the same themes of acceptance and of liberation, and when the time came moved into the nave to share the Peace. That's when I saw him, a middle aged man in rather shabby clothes, sitting in the back row sobbing his heart out. For all my reticence as a learner priest, I knew that I had to go over and see if he wanted to talk. Imagine my surprise when he gripped my hand in both of his and said "Thank you so much. That sermon was my story. You won't have seen me here before because I've been in Dartmoor for the past 5 years. I was released on Friday. I've been the one whom nobody wanted to know...but I'm also the one whom Jesus called, and Jesus welcomed. Now I'm free." My own tears mingled with his as we sang the Offertory hymn, And Can it be "My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth and followed thee"

That evening, two of us at least were so very conscious of the reckless mercy of God...Two of us, amid a congregation of fifty, went home knowing that God still calls not the righteous, but sinners to repentence.

We've no idea what prompted the founding fathers of this church to choose Matthew as its patron, but we can be glad that the gospel truth of unconditional love and boundless welcome is built into our DNA from the day the foundation stone was laid.
May God give us grace to cherish the outsiders and welcome them in his name, even as he welcomes us, broken and battered by sin, to feast at his table.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Life in all its fulness

goes on, and hasn't been allowing much time for blogging.
Some of the events of the past week have included
  • the sort of funeral for which you feel you have been pretty much auditioned (thanks to J the funeral director, who acted as a very affirming "agent"), which takes up hour upon hour but leaves you wondering what you were doing at the end of it
  • manic planning of St Matthew's day service (for both church and school) , Harvest Festival (ditto), Messy Harvest
  • wedding preps for this Saturday
  • Medieval Fayre (excellent event promoted by the local parish council in the park that borders the church yard...) Once again I sat in the pillory, and sang ancient rounds with the community choir while my colleague negotiated 2 stone weight of chain mail and a wonderful Warden took some 40 people up the church tower...Lots of good links made with the world beyond the church railings, great fun, but seriously exhausting on a Sunday afternoon
  • unbloggables of many and varied hues
  • a sad winding up meeting for the parish branch of the Mothers' Union, which is clearly no longer viable as things are
  • funeral visits for more services next week and the week after
  • the sudden unexpected promise of FabBishop to attend a notional Confirmation service on a Sunday next month when we were expecting nothing beyond.... - well, several dozen animals at a pet blessing. No, I didn't invite him and then forget. Nobody knows quite HOW it happened...And of course, I'd love to welcome him almost any other Sunday of the year, but somehow the mix of Church in the Valley's first ever pet service and a Bishop whose liturgical expertise is second to none just doesn't auger well. So, there's alot of frantic phoning going on as we try to work out what's best to be done
  • meetings, more meetings and still more meetings
  • a trip to the theatre - undistinguished piece, but I did love the malapropesque cleaner who referred to "nubile phones from the Carphone whorehouse". Unfortunately the glimpses of semi comic human misery that we were offered in the other monologues were all too reminiscent of so many parish visits - so laughter really wasn't an option.
  • distinctly scary prep for a course on leadership which is taking me out of the parish for 2 days next week (which means that things will only feel busier for a while)...The detailed questionaire we had to complete asked us for our hopes from the course...I wrote something about learning to set realistic targets, and to so focus on the achievable that I won't always have to spend the first two days of any holiday deep in exhausted sleep. Well, it's worth a try, isn't it?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Back to School

It's time for a Back-To-School Friday Five! From theRevGalBlogPalsblog.....

1. Is anyone going back to school, as a student or teacher, at your house? How's it going so far?
All my children are going back in assorted directions. Hattie Gandhi has been more "gone" than "home" for the past month or so, she's so in love with Cardiff, her student house and her friends there. This is the last year of her first degree...I'm bowing to the inevitability of more to follow, though she may well have to take a year out to earn some cash if she really wants to continue to an MA or beyond. Meanwhile, she's happier than the days are long, and living student life to the fullest of full.
Hugger Steward departs for the loveliest city in the UK in two weeks time...I can't quite believe he's going. It doesn't feel that long since I was piling up new clothes on the spare bed and preparing for my first term at Cambridge...He has had far more contact and information from Robinson than I ever did from Trinity - and I suspect that the need to do an intensive "Greek Week" before term proper gets under way may be a really good ice-breaker, though it means he departs sooner than other undergraduates.
Meanwhile, closer to home, the Dufflepud has started his 6th form career at a new school - within such a short walking distance that he actually comes home for lunch some days. That's great for me - I love having people blowing in and out - and it's great for Libby too, on the days when I've meetings wall to wall. Hard to say how he's doing...he says it's "fine" and he is enjoying the courses, but I'd love to know that there was at least one acquaintance who might morph into a friend in the weeks ahead.

2. Were you glad or sad when back-to-school time came as a kid? Always loved it once I was there, always had a weep about endings on the last night of the holidays. Nothing much has changed there, then.

3. Did your family of origin have any rituals to mark this time of year? How about now? On the last day of the holidays I was always allowed to choose the menu and command the company of my parents in whatever activity I wanted...Sometimes this would be a trip to play with the slot machines on the Pier (how my introvert, nature loving father must have loathed that)...sometimes our favourite country walk...almost always a game of Monopoly (which had the added bonus of going on and that the "end of holiday treat" could dominate the first few weekends of term too.

4. Favorite memories of back-to-school outfits, lunchboxes, etc? I loved having new things, but it was less of a deal in those days than it is for my children. I do remember the excitement of my first ink pen, when I was in Jr 3 (aged 9 I guess) and the longing for a proper leather brief case, which was promised if I passed my 11+. I did, the case arrived, and of course after one year at High School it was relegated to use by my father, as none of the cool girls would be seen dead carrying their books in anything like that in the age of the tote bag!

5. What was your best year of school? Bizarrely (because this was also the year of my father's death from cancer), I think it was my final year, the Upper 6th,when I had become confident enough in myself to enjoy the opportunities of a boys' independent school. I acquired my first boyfriend (not at my own school, thereby increasing my kudos no end),I took the lead in the school musical, found myself the first ever female Head Chorister, collected prizes at every turn, and was invited to try for Cambridge...There was that wonderful teenage sense of windows opening in all directions, of shining horizons beckoning me onwards. I loved it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Lurching on

through one of the busiest weeks I ever remember (nothing particularly extraordinary, if you don't count an imminent Medieval Fayre...just an awful lot of everything) there has been the odd moment of pure grace.

One came on Monday evening, when I received a phonecall to tell me that a family who had tried Church in the Valley the previous day had decided that they liked us, and would be returning to this, their parish church, after a few years of worshipping elsewhere.

One came in my biennieal pastoral interview with FabBishop...We talked about the things to celebrate as well as the things that challenge and in his company it was easy to see priorities, to recognise the little local difficulties as things that will pass...and to understand clearly that if God has brought me here, as I'm sure God has, then I don't need to fret about my fitness for the task.

One came when I turned a corner near school on my bike, and found myself confronted with a group of diminuitive cyclists, all equipped with helmets and high-vis jackets in preparation for their cycling proficiency test, who erupted into cries of joy and welcome "Here's Kathryn". I love being part of another school community and am having such fun strengthening the links between parish church and church school. On Mondays now I open Church in the Valley by 8.15 in the morning, to allow staff and parents to drop in and pause for thought at the same time that I'm encouraging the Valley Church congregation to pray for the school. It's so good that the two communities have each other.

So, while I've been racketting around like a ball in a pinball machine, I've had people to remind me of the sheer blessing of being where and who I am. And that's good. Now if I can only manage bed before midnight tonight, and perhaps even a lie-in on my day off tomorrow (or at least a return to bed after the dawn chorus) I shall be well set up for a busy weekend.

One day I'll manage some reflective blogging again, surely! I do want to...

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Before I die...

Talking to a good friend this afternoon, we shared our feelings of shock and sadness at Tom's death, and she observed that we are maybe at the stage in life when friends will begin to leave us suddenly, "before their time..."
What, we wondered, should we do in the next few years, to ensure that we avoided too many "if only"s when our time is done.

Then, fortuitously I presume, Jonny posted a link to this project
Hundreds of people are photographed together with with a sentence "Before I die I want to...."
Interesting, poignant and occasionally surprising reading.

In this vein, I always remember the words of the much-missed Mike Yaconelli
(another who went too soon)

If I were to have a heart attack right at this moment, I hope I would have just enough air in my lungs and just enough strength in me to utter one last sentence as I fell to the floor: "What a ride!" My life has been up and down, careening left then right, full of mistakes and bad decisions, and if I died right now, even though I would love to live longer, I could say from the depths of my soul, "What a ride!"

I want a lifetime of holy moments. Every day I want to be in dangerous proximity to Jesus. I long for a life that explodes with meaning and is filled with adventure, wonder, risk, and danger. are some of my "Before I die" wishes...
  • to return to India with my children and swim once again in the Indian ocean
  • to see the Northern Lights
  • to visit Africa and see the places that mean so much to Hugger Steward
  • to see my children happy and beloved
  • to open my home to those who need a loving refuge
  • to write something I am really pleased with
  • to mend or let go of broken relationships
  • to relish here and now, wherever they may be
What about you?

Too many deaths

this week.
A., in his 20s, the son of the Dufflepud's Explorer leader from CK, killed by a mud slide while at work (a victim of this mad and dreadful weather)
D., a colleague who had retired from her NSM ministry in the parish next to mine
in July on the advice of her doctor but continued to be one of those who hold a community together by her prayerful presence, dead on Sunday after a huge heart attack.
And now, checking bloglines, my heart lifted as I saw that Tom had posted...only to discover that the post came from his daughter, telling readers of her father's sadly early departure. I only knew Tom through his remarkable blog. We repeatedly failed to meet, and kept saying "next year at Greenbelt", - but now I'll have to wait for heaven. I stumbled across him in the early days of this blog, and his was one of my "must reads"...His grounded wisdom, his creativity and kindness will have inspired many. He was surely a great priest, and I will never forget an email he sent me after I had lamented my lack of courage at a chapter meeting in the wake of the Windsor Report.
I'm thankful for his life and so very sad for his friends and family.

So many losses - it all feels a bit much right now.
A., D, T - rest in peace, and rise in glory.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Walk the Talk - a sermon for Evensong at Selsley. Jeremiah 7:1-11 & James 1:16- end

A former vicar of mine used to tell us about her former vicar, whose favoured response to the many people who read the tabloids and then proclaim
“I’m not coming to church…it’s just stuffed full of hypocrites”
“That’s quite OK…We always have room for one more”.
It’s a good line, I think.
But you see, we are always in danger of this accusation, aren’t we?
We gather here, Sunday by Sunday – and sometimes on the Thursdays in between, - in the name of the risen Christ.
We find joy in being here in the house of God.
We sing our hymns, we pray aloud and in the silence of our hearts, we share God’s peace with one another and break bread together on our knees and then……
Then we go out and get on with our everyday lives – and there’s the rub.
Because, of course, it’s there that the reality of our faith stands or falls.
There as we deal with all the complexity of life for which there is no prescribed answer, for whose problems there are no surefire solutions.
There’s only one context in which our faith should make a difference – and that context is, quite simply, the totality of our existence.
But I wonder truly if our neighbours can detect any difference, other than the way we choose to spend our Sundays, between our lives and theirs.
Not that we’re any worse than our neighbours, - I guess that we probably look like quite nice people on the whole, - but unfortunately that’s not really the point.
There’s a chapter in one of C S Lewis’s books of Christian apologetics entitled “Nice people or new men” – and the trouble is that too often we are recognisable only in the former category.
When I was a child, I remember being driven somewhere one Sunday by the mother of a school friend. We were passing a local church as the congregation emerged, and she said, quite without irony
“Look…there are the good people coming out of church”.
I’m not sure that anyone passing as we emerge from All Saints this afternoon would be so generous in their assessment, - nor am I sure they should be.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating…
The proof of our faith is in our lives…lives radically different from those who live around us.

Just before I drove up the hill to Selsley, I baptised three delightful little girls at St Matthew’s, - and we talked a bit about the other, more popular, name for the service, - christening. Christening, unfortunately, can’t be guaranteed at any baptism despite our fervent prayers, because christening means nothing less than becoming little Christs…
That’s the calling for each one of us as Christians.
To be Christ-like
And as the gospels make very very clear, to be like Christ has nothing to do with being religious.

It’s such an easy mistake to make.
Religion is, after all, the way in which we express an element of our faith…but think of the number of times someone has said to you
“I’m not religious BUT…” and then goes on to share something of their personal faith that is powerful in its immediacy, or breathtaking in its simplicity…Something that is, quite certainly, in no way compromised by the lack of religious packaging.
Then set against that, the times when someone has tried to hold a religion to account for all the wars and cruelties that have ever been perpetrated in its name.
Religion cannot be allowed to be the whole story. It is never the same as faith.
Listen to Jeremiah, speaking to the devout Jews of his day…those who were rigorous in their attendance at Temple worship, but missed the point of it all
4Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is* the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’

We need to keep those words at the forefront of our minds in the days and weeks ahead. We may know that our energies are directed not towards this building as something precious in itself but towards this building as the place where we encounter God in our midst…but we need to make it clear in every aspect of our behaviour that we are motivated by something infinitely larger than even the most beautiful of buildings dedicated to God’s worship.
The Temple was pretty special, after all – all those exotic woods and gold and silverwork in every corner….but as God made clear to Jeremiah, even the most wonderful worship in the most splendid of buildings won’t feel like worship at all if it’s not supported by lives of generous integrity.

Let’s go back to those baptisms for a moment.
Baptisms are very much about what James describes as “the implanted word”…
In baptism, we are firmly grafted into the family of the church…We are marked with the sign of the cross, an invisible badge that can never be removed. The implanted word indeed…
But it is more than sad if the badge is completely invisible
We cannot and must not rely on its covert presence to guarantee our membership of the household of God…We need to be doers and not hearers…
Anyone who comes through our doors on a Sunday hears God’s word…of course they do.
But it is those who are so touched by it that it impacts on everything they do from then on who will make God dance for joy.

It’s nearly 10 years since my friend Roy died.
Roy was a Warden at the church in Great Rissington.
He worked as a used car salesman – but was respected and loved by all the local community.
He was a leading Rotarian.
He was a constant fundraiser for asylum seekers, for refugees, for single mothers, for those who had few people on their side…those who have replaced the widow and orphan as the forgotten people, the people without status in our contemporary culture.
Each year he organised an amazing fun day for handicapped children at Cheltenham racecourse….and had the time of his life sharing in their excitement at fairground rides and clowns; and
Roy’s death from a brain tumour was rapid and hard for his friends to grasp.
The morning after he went home to God, we gathered for our usual Wednesday Eucharist, and by the sort of co-incidence that is nothing of the sort, the epistle that morning was these words from James

26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Roy’s whole life was a gospel based on this text.
He was a very ordinary man, made extraordinary by his loving obedience to the word of God.
His profession might have led to compromises with truth…but he never allowed them for an instant.
Nobody who knew him could ever doubt that he was indeed a man unstained by the world.
He did spend time in God’s house – he was, indeed, a focussed and devoted servant there – but it was his Monday to Saturday life that made up the gospel he both wrote and preached with every breath.
“Be doers of the word and not merely hearers”

We have faith in the God who did not just tell us how to live but showed us…the God who came himself to model the perfect law that goes beyond mere observance of instructions, however detailed, to a life transformed in every particular…

I’m not a great fan of those rather cheesey “wayside pulpits” that carry a poster with some faintly witty message, designed to inspire reflection as we pass by.
However, there’s one such poster I’ll never forget
It asked, quite bluntly
“If you were put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
Be doers of the word and not merely hearers

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The week so far

has been action-packed to the point of exhaustion.

Monday was going to be an admin day, till a local councillor who's the motive power behind the forthcoming Valley Medieval Fayre appeared, to discuss her vision for building community in this place, to show me the music the community choir will sing on the day (I get to join in - isn't that great!) and to share something of her own fascinating journey. We have so much in common in terms of our vision and our attitudes, but define our spirituality in completely different ways. Quite rivetting to talk to her - one of the most exciting encounters I've had for a while, in fact - though I don't envisage her joining my congregation any time soon! Thanks to her visit the afternoon disappeared before I'd turned round once - which was a bit of a shame really, since I left undone all sorts of things I should have done...Notice a recurring pattern by any chance?

Tuesday and Wednesday saw me ensconced at the diocesan retreat house - for a "new incumbents" residential...looking at leadership v management, the impact of change and how it can be managed without blood on the carpet
(ironic to be sitting in this session while the new curate at St M's wandered across the lawn just outside our window) , and some helpful sessions on self preservation too. It was quite intensive - though we had a splendid evening off allowing a chance to get to know some new colleagues that bit better - and I came home utterly wiped out, - only partly because the material covered was way outside my intellectual comfort zone. On the whole, things that admit to be emerging from a secular business model have to work double- time to get me to engage at all...I did engage, but goodness, was I weary by the time I got home!

Today saw no respite. Mad weather, with torrential rain interspersed with golden sunshine off and on ALL day. My journey up to Church on the Hill (a mile and a half) took something like 40 minutes, thanks to the impact of bad weather on the second day of the school term. The Duffelpud, who initially thought he'd make the most of a lift part way to school, wisely abandoned the car after 10 minutes had seen us move as many yards- and I arrived for the 9.00 BCP Eucharist a good 15 minutes late. I can't imagine ever being fit enough to manage the considerable climb up The Hill on my bike, but clearly I need a contingency plan for days like this.

Just time after the Eucharist to squeeze in a meeting convened by another local councillor with a passion for community building. Interesting group of people there, but I could do no more than confirm my willingness to do what I can to encourage communication and to improve access to the only community space within reach of half of my parish, as I had to hare off to take a funeral...This was a British Legion service, complete with standard, Last Post and Reveille - so I was deeply grateful to the splendid lady who verges for funerals, and coped with all the extra trimmings with calm and efficiency.
Through floods to Gloucester Crem,- all went smoothly there,- then over to Cheltenham to a second funeral. Communications breakdown here meant that though the family and I were clear that they weren't expecting hymns, the organist had been booked and was standing by to after the final blessing she emerged from behind her instrument to point out that she had been forgotten. Dreadful moment as I wondered if I was so overdone that I HAD in fact completely misread my own notes...but the family were quite to reassure that they hadn't wanted hymns. Organist slightly miffed that she had stayed on specially for no good reason...but thankfully she kept this to herself till after the family had left. Not a good situation, but really not a disaster.
Now I'm home, feeling distinctly peculiar and wondering if I am in fact Coming Down With Something.
No time for that option...I had kind of expected to do a bit of work in the study tomorrow, day off not withstanding, but clearly the priority will have to be resting up to ensure I'm fully functional by Saturday afternoon. I've someone coming for a meeting shortly, then I think I might leave the pup in the tender care of my sons and collapse in a heap.
Perhaps I could find my earplugs and sleep through her dawn chorus - she is now quite capable of sleeping through till almost 7 in the morn but old habits die hard, and she really thinks the day should begin at 6. On the whole, I beg to disagree...Just as well she's cute!