Sunday, May 31, 2009

The wonderful Dorothy McRae-McMahon once wrote (in "Liturgies for the Journey of Life") a creed that I love to use.

It begins
"The people of God have a human face.
We lift our eyes and stub our toes"
I've just had an alarmingly forceful reminder of the truth of this, as the smiley peacefulness engendered by a wonderful morning's worship, a gentle afternoon doing happy things and a lovely dog walk in my favourite woods was obliterated as I confronted a piddling little 1st world problem entirely of my own creation.
Having had a thoroughly juvenile stamp and snarl session, I was recalled to better order by a lovely comment from a twittering I can continue with the rest of the affirmation of faith

"But God is God
and Jesus is the Christ
and the Spirit
will lift up our feet."

It's true, - so for the second time today "THANKS BE TO GOD"

Borrowed words

A small congregation gathered for the 8.00 this morning; those allergic to incense, or to children, or to both. Those who revere Cranmer's prose as the only proper vehicle for worship.Those who just like this service best.
I'd not felt creative yesterday, so turned to the archives, where I found a story that, iirc, Dr Moose posted three years ago.
Looking for calm and restoration after a tiring week, I turned to it this morning as the lynch-pin for my thought for the day.
I never know what this congregation makes of my periodic story telling, but I was glad to tell it and to remember its message myself.

The Feast of Pentecost is our yearly celebration and opportunity to bond with the reality of God's personal presence—the God who is alive and who gives life to the Church…but somehow, we often seem to struggle to celebrate this feast and this presence.
For too many years, it seemed that the Spirit was the poor relation of the Trinity, and most Anglicans tended to behave as his coming at Pentecost was a one-off event, necessary to give birth to the church, but of no real relevance in the life and practice of the faith in recent times.
While I remember with joy other church festivals of my childhood, "Whitsun" was simply baffling, - even the hymns weren't as good, - possibly because there's a limit to the number of rhymes for "ghost".
Of course, this changed with the charismatic movement,- but a new problem arose as different factions within the church tended to behave as if they assumed monopoly of the Holy Spirit…We might, for example, find ourselves invited to join in “spirit filled worship”,- as if only styles of service that fit a particular template can hope to interest God! Sometimes it seems as if we’re in danger of forgetting that the Spirit can come as gently as breath, as well as in the dramatic excitement of mighty wind and tongues of flame.
But the reality, as expressed in our reading from Acts, is greater than any of our attempts to confine or restrict it…
God’s promise, mediated through the prophet, is more radical than we’d dare to imagine
“I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh
Barriers and boundaries - of parish, denomination, even of faith - are out.
“I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh
The great inclusive tide of God’s love will simply sweep our human obstacles away…
And so, let me share with you a Pentecost parable, told me by a friend.
It reminds us that God’s dream is the dream of a world in which EVERYONE who calls upon his name will be saved.

There were once three men who lived in a hot, barren and rocky land. One day each of them noticed that a spring had appeared on his land, and the waters were making a lovely pool. It was cool and refreshing. Each man gave thanks to God and wondered what he should do with the pool and the water.

The first man said, “I know. I'll use it to swim in. I will float in it. Splash in it. Luxuriate in it.” And so he did. He even invited his friends to join him in enjoying it. But outside his neighbours continued to suffer in the heat, dust and barrenness.

The second man thought differently. “I know,” he said, ”I will channel it and help it to flow through my land. I will make little waterfalls and pools, so I can relax at the end of each hard day's work to the sound, and I will drink the fresh water.” And so he did. But outside his neighbours continued to suffer in the heat, dust and barrenness.

The third man said, “I know. There's enough here for everyone. I will invite my neighbours to come and use the water. Together we can drink it, swim in it, listen to its sounds and use it to water our lands and crops.” And so he did. And his neighbours became his friends and the land became green and fruitful and they all gave glory to God.


Take one vicar with wild and catholic leanings, a congregation of willing accomplices and enough committed families to produce an assortment of children even on the final Sunday of half term, when the English summer is at its startling best.
Add a Major Festival and a pre-Selection candidate with techie expertise and the result is inevitable...


By pure Grace, the pew end ribbons left by yesterday's bride were deep gold and red, decorating each pew at Church in the Valley.
Of course the flower guild had done wonders - they always do.

S's mum had produced a fantastic birthday cake (working into the small hours, I gather...what a star!), so one way and another by the time I'd added armfuls of balloons it was impossible for anyone to miss the fact that this was a special Sunday.

I'd asked the congregation to wear red, with no confidence at all that they would remember, or feel like bothering - so my first "ahh" moment was when I stood to give the notices and realised that in almost every pew were dashes of flame colours. So many people made the effort - and it really isn't part of the culture here...

My second "ahhh" was during the Acts reading. D., our visitor on placement, produced a fantastic soundtrack that completely transformed the reading...Moreover, while S read (beautifully - exactly the right person to cope with the extra surprises) I'd invited the children to do just what their parents might have discouraged them from doing - to run around in church.
Armed with flame coloured streamers, they moved up and down the aisles, filling the church with colour and life.
The talk involved balloons- soon being batted and floated all the way down the aisle as a demonstration of how the disciples, filled with the Spirit, sent the Good News all round the world. It involved, too, lighting a taper from the Paschal candle before it was extinguished...Birthday cake candles were lit using the taper,and Happy Birthday dear Church duly chorused...
We can no longer see Jesus, but the light of the Spirit shines on.
And these candles were the most emphatically inextinguishable I've ever come across. Long after we were ready to move on, they kept springing back to life...It would be hard, I think, to miss the message that you cannot quench the Spirit.
Intercessions were writen on coloured flames and scattered on the altar at the Offertory, the Eucharistic prayer was, predictably, pure joy
"This is OUR story...this is OUR song."

Later, after coffee & cake had been consumed, I went back into the church, now quiet and empty.
Except that it wasn't.

As I looked at the prayer-flames on the altar, I could almost hear the gentle laughter of the One who had danced with the children.

Thanks be to God!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Trying not to stand in the light

If you've been loitering in these parts for long enough, you may remember that a couple of years ago, I enjoyed a wonderful retreat, led by the ever inspiring DH, in a beautiful house in Cornwall. Everything was good about that week, but for me the best bit was the conversation over supper. Emboldened by the memorably excellent wine (another area in which DH knows his stuff) I was able to shed inhibitions and join in discussions that ranged far and wide, through life, faith and the places they meet. When it comes to matters of theology and priesthood, DH's word is pretty much law for this particular vicar, so when we found ourselves discussing the question of relationships with a congregation, and how they can help or hinder sacramental relations, I was all ears. With the big move from my training parish looming I was considering how hard it seemed that once departed thence I couldn't return, even to bury much loved souls or to baptise long awaited bumps....but DH was very firm, stressing that when that happens, it undermines the whole objective reality of ordination. What matters is that there is A priest there, not which particular priest it is...
I still struggle with this, - though I've steadfastly stayed away from a few rites of passage for special people at St M's - but it's always challenging to work out where the line comes between complete "depersonalisation" (the tradition that would have the priest remove wedding rings & all traces of individuality in the vestry) and over dependence on personal relationship, the sort of approach that I could too easily fall into of just standing their loving the congregation and soaking up love in return. That matters, but it's far from the whole story.

But this week one friend reflected on a visit to her home town to conduct a family funeral, while more happily I was privileged to officiate at a lovely wedding for a school friend of Hattie Gandhi's yesterday - both occasions when relationship with the key players was really important. And though I was absolutely terror struck before yesterday's service (realising that this was the first time someone had invited me to take a wedding, specifically as "me" and not as part of the staff of their church) it never occurred to me to say "No"...It seems to me that there are times when not making the most of our relationships would be just perverse.
I took another wedding this afternoon, - this very much because I'm vicar of the parish, - and the groom was kind enough to tell me that the welcome they'd received, and the fact that I'd given the church a human face had changed his attitude to the whole institution and maybe even to God.
I think the important thing is, perhaps, to be able to get out of the way now to allow the fundamental relationship with God to flourish...It's all about being a signpost, after all.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Birthday Girl

Strictly speaking, Libby's birthday was last week, - but as befits the one who rules the roost, she has in fact celebrated with any number of moveable feasts, some sanctioned, others (the consumption of the DVD remote among them) less so...However, as she keeps reminding me, she DID graduate from the "Good Dog" class and is considered an official canine good citizen, - and as you can see, she's very proud of the title.
I can't believe that last July I was havering over whether a golden retriever was actually the best use of my farewell cheque from training parish. She is such a joy - even if she does insist on relandscaping the garden.

Music for Ascension to Pentecost

I spent Saturday morning at an excellent diocesan workshop on choosing music for worship...Well presented, lots of reminders of important things it's too easy to forget in the hurly burly of parish life, and some bright ideas and new resources. It confirmed me in my awful suspicion that the hymn book I'd thought of investing in at Church in the Valley was not, after all, the best one for the job - and that there really IS no perfect hymn book out there. With very limited funds, it's annoying that we can't find one book to do the whole job, but I'll just have to resign myself to life with a few extraneous sheets along the way even after AMNS has been consigned to the great hereafter.

However, I didn't start this post to whinge about hymn books but rather to share a treat. At one point, we were working in groups to pick 3 hymns for the following day, based on the Lectionary and working with one book (with all its limitations). My group was given the Morning Prayer readings, - with the result that I found it almost impossible to come up with any hymns at all, because all I could think of was this.
In my 6th form years I was a chorister at Eastbourne College, where each year there was an early Eucharist on Ascension Day - at which we sang this as the anthem. I had to catch the first train of the day, and it was exciting to be about when it seemed most of the world was still asleep. I'll never forget the journey across the Pevensey Levels, the mist rising slowly, just a few feet off the ground while above the sky was clear and blue...
I'd walk from the station through still deserted streets, to reach the school chapel where suddenly all was activity. This was one of the feasts where we used incense, I think...certainly there's a firm connection in my mind between the swirling morning mists on the marshes and clouds of incense as we processed in.
I guess the Mass setting would probably have been Darke in F, or maybe Wood in the Phryg....but I was living for the moment when, having received Communion, we'd sing the Elgar
We certainly didn't sound like this - but oh, what a piece!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

John 17:6-19 Easter 7/Sunday after Ascension Year B Jesus prays…

In the diocese of Gloucester, June is very much ordination season.
In two weeks time, those ordained Deacon last summer will be ordained priest, while at the end of the month another group of men and women, among them our soon-to-be curate, M, will kneel before the Bishop, who will lay his hands on them, and by the grace of God ordain them as Deacons.

Before each ordination, there will be a retreat: three days spent, mostly in silence, praying, reading, and focussing with God on what lies ahead.
It’s a very special time, a gift even to chatterboxes like me – but knowing my deep love of words, my wise spiritual director sent me on retreat with a very specific assignment.
I was to take the seventeenth chapter of John’s Gospel, the chapter from which our gospel reading came today, and write it out changing all the times that Jesus prays for them/theirs and inserting my name instead.
It may sound simple but it was one of the most powerful prayer exercises I’ve ever been involved with.
To go through that great prayer, line by line, and hear Jesus praying it for me.

You might like to take a few hours one day and try it for yourself. Never let it be said that time out with God is only for the professionals, - those strange creatures, the clergy, or for super spiritual souls quite unlike us.
Spending time with no other agenda than listening to God can be one of the most empowering and transforming things ever…
Now, though, I’m going to invite you to imagine that Jesus is speaking these words about our church.

Hang on.
Less of the imagining! Jesus IS speaking these words about our church.
We are the successors to the disciples…so we are the people for whom he is praying.
This prayer is part of his great farewell; Jesus speaks these words on the night before the crucifixion, but they are apt too for Ascension-tide, when we remember his second leave-taking.
But though they are words of farewell, they are not a to-do list – the kind of thing I was feverishly concocting in my last weeks in my former parish.
It’s not a question of Jesus firing instructions at his disciples….but rather of him committing them lovingly to the Father whose love he lives to reveal.
He speaks aloud his longings for the community gathered around him, confident that his Father hears and will respond.
In this passage Jesus does not offer tips to the community on how to be “the
church in unity” or how to “avoid evil” but he prays from his heart, with passionate intensity and we are privileged to be invited to listen as God speaks to God.

He prays because, though it’s easy to lose sight of this, THE FUTURE OF THE CHURCH DOES NOT DEPEND UPON US, BUT DEPENDS ULTIMATELY, ON GOD.
During his earthly ministry, the group that was to become the church was wholly dependent on Jesus…but as he prepares to depart, Jesus returns the responsibility to his heavenly Father…It is HIS church, relying for its life on God’s love and grace.
Throughout the gospels, we’ve repeated evidence of the intensity and focus of Jesus’s prayer life. As he speaks to God, it’s clear that this is no casual acquaintance. Jesus knows he will be heard; Jesus knows he is being heard
He’s not battling to change God’s mind
“I am expecting that your promises will come to pass”. Jesus and God want the same thing so there is no need for one to reason or bargain or convince the other; they know what the other wants and needs even before it is expressed, because they are at unity in themselves.

And what is the heart of the prayer…the deepest longing that Jesus shares with his Father?
It’s here
“Holy Father, protect them in your name …so that they may be one as we are one”
That’s the fundamental expression of the church – as we proclaim it week by week.
Our unity is to reflect God’s unity.
Its not just a nominal arrangement, an easy recitation of the Creed
That’s quick to say – almost automatic…but so much harder to be, and to do.
Still, this is our DNA as church.
One, holy, catholic

We say that we believe it, but do we actually live it?
Holiness isn’t easy – though it too is fundamental to this prayer, for holiness means being set apart for God
“They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth””
ARE we holy? Sanctified because our life, our being is rooted and grounded in God?
To put it more simply, would anyone really know we are Christians by looking at our lives? If we’re NOT making at least some waves in our community, the probability is that we’re not actually being true to our calling as church…
“The world has hated them because they do not belong to the world..”
Being Church is not all about being nice, smiley people…Sometimes it will be about challenging injustice, about walking away from greed, about slamming the door on dishonesty. Not the best way to win friends and influence people.
When was the last time that someone got really angry with you because of your faith…? Maybe, just maybe, it should happen more often.

And what about the call to be both one and catholic – universal?
We assert our belief, but what we present is a church torn in a thousand different directions by differences as trivial as taste in music, or geographical or historical accident, as well as by differences of doctrine and theology.
But Jesus makes it clear
We’re to be united “so that the world may believe”
And in our disunity – we block that process.
The sad truth is that often, as we pray for Christian unity, what we’re envisaging is a world in which everyone else comes to agree with us…in which differences are ironed out because we are proved to be right all along.
And so we continue to fight our corner.
As we squabble, as we try to maintain that our way is best, that others are acceptable only when they have come round to our way of thinking, - we block the gospel message from reaching those who need it so badly.

In fact, if we focus more closely we can see that unity is not a goal but a realised reality…It is based on, and must reflect, nothing less than the unity between Father and Son. That unity cannot be forced. There is no element of competition or of anxiety because God knows there IS enough love to go round.
As Jesus presents the reality of his relationship with God, so he creates a template for the church. All that Jesus does and is, he does and is in obedience to the Father – and that same unity of purpose and belief is part of our Christian heritage. We cannot present a convincing Christian witness to the unity of Father, Son and Spirit while we bicker and fight over the truth….but because the Church is, in truth, the Body of Christ in the world we can trust that there is still a deeper unity, sometimes hidden but never wholly absent.
We do not need to fear.
There IS enough love to go round.
This is our story. This is God’s story.
And this story is truth – for his word is truth.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The lovely Mary Beth invites RevGals & pals to take time to wistfully think about VACATIONS!

1) What did your family do for vacations when you were a child? Or did you have stay-cations at home?
My mother's health was so poor that we didn't often venture far from home. I remember 4 or 5 holidays in all my childhood...We usually stayed in a pleasant "country house hotel" - once in Scotland, once in Connemara, once in Wales, once in the New Forest. We must have managed a few more escapes, but I've lost track of them. My childhood home was on the Sussex coast, so summers when we didn't go away were spent on the beach. I loved it so much, even the "bracing" chill of the English Channel.

2) Tell us about your favorite vacation ever:
Oh heavens...How to choose? Was it Venice with Hattie Gandhi, who is so similar to her mother that it was like being on holiday with myself? Or maybe it was a trip with her to Cornwall? It might have been a week in a cottage in the Yorkshire Dales, when the children were tiny and honorary mother Eirene joined us..but I expect it was one of the timeless weeks on the narrowboat, when destination is unimportant beside the joy of life at 4 mph on the waterways of England.

3) What do you do for a one-day or afternoon there a place nearby that you escape to on a Saturday afternoon/other day off?
The boat now lives just half an hour away, so though I have yet to benefit from it (I broke my arm at precisely the wrong moment, and Polyphony has been having major repair work recently) the plan is to bolt north to Tewkesbury when the diary looks helpfull blank.

4) What's your best recommendation for a full-on vacation near you...what would you suggest to someone coming to your area? (Near - may be defined any way you wish!)
Gloucestershire is the county of the Cotswolds, and there's many a gentle holiday to be spent exploring the villages, enjoying some of the ancient churches, and investigating the numerous gastro pubs that have sprung up in the past couple of decades. You could head north to Stratford, to indulge in a little Shakespeare, or south to Bath in time for the festival...East is Oxford, and west the literary joys of Hay on Wye. Really, there's enough to enjoy within 60 miles to make me feel really rather guilty that I don't make better use of my days off.

5) What's your DREAM VACATION?
Italy, I think...Time to return to Venice, Florence and Assissi then continue south to Rome ....and finally to see Pompeii, Herculaneum and the mosaics at Sorrento. Perhaps after all that culture a bit of beach combing somewhere along the Amalfi coast.
But there's also the longing to explore India by train with all my children. That's a dream and a half, though I doubt if it would feel like a restul/restorative holiday.

Bonus: Any particularly awful (edited to add: or hilarious) vacation stories that you just have to tell? ("We'll laugh about this later..." maybe that time is now!
When Hattie Gandhi was 18 months old, we booked a holiday cottage in Cornwall. It was September, often a golden month.
Not this year.
It rained each and every day.
The cottage was both chill and damp.
Hattie Gandhi cut no less than 7 teeth in teh space of 2 weeks, while I, newly pregnant with one of my lost babes, was sick morning, noon and night for the whole fortnight.
It took a good many years for me to consider Cornwall in a different light. That holiday was the nadir of all holidays.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Intimations of mortality

Some half formed observations...and a pretty huge dose of naval-gazing. You might prefer to wait for the Friday Five.
If not, "let's talk of graves, of worms and epitaphs"

During the Easter holidays, on one of our philosophical dog-walks (gentle reader, tis the walks and not the dogs that are philosophical), Hugger Steward and I were discussing the golden invulnerability of youth (particularly, perhaps, of Oxbridge youth).
We agreed that his peers were, for the most part, secure in a bubble of immortality, that however bright they were, none of them would be likely to imagine themselves ever becoming middle-aged accountants, or, of course, would ever entertain even the faintest possibility that the world might one day have to carry on without them.*
That's what youth is all about.
You KNOW you have answers to all the things your parents struggle with.
You KNOW you will live forever.
Then Hugger Steward turned to me and asked
"But do you REALLY know that you're going to die one day?"
and there he had me.
Because, for all my familiarity with death, both at close quarters (2 parents at 18, several lost babes in my 20s) - death remains out there.
And it's almost impossible to imagine a world that doesn't include me, because of course, my own perspective is the only one I really know.
So while my reason is fully appraised of the fact that I shall one day die, it's still in no way real for me emotionally (and as an F, emotions are the deepest reality).

Then, just yesterday, Hattie Gandhi (home for post Finals R&R) took a phonecall.
Someone wanted to speak to me & when HG told the caller that I'd ring them back when I got in from a funeral, the caller said
"Oh no - I'll phone back tomorrow. She'll be tired after an emotional experience like that"
HG reflected that, as a vicar's daughter, she has to be careful not to see funerals as every-day events, that if a uni friend mentions attending a funeral it is probably a really Big Deal and not something that happens at least once a week in their working life. And we wondered what impact that regular exposure has on clergy...I once worked with a priest who was terrified of death. She worked in a setting where funerals were rare, and that only worsened the situation. Each funeral became a crisis, part of her own on-going struggle against the dying of the light. I so wanted to change that for her, but for all her faith, fear was stronger. I wondered if I was strange, not sharing that huge angst. I wondered if I would feel different if my time came to be as involved in these liminal stages as she was.
Now I am, and I've learned that actually I love taking funerals.
They are a time of the utmost reality.
Nobody messes about, nobody pretends, hides behind what they think the vicar would want to hear. Rather, people are utterly real in their grief, anger, thankfulness, staggeringly generous with themselves, their feelings and stories.
And to me falls the task of weaving those stories into the Great Story of love and transformation that is the gospel. Mind-blowing privilege. And sometimes I'm told, and sometime I can feel, that it makes a difference. Staggering!

But in a way that familiarity with death does nothing to increase its reality for me. I know it happens (9 funerals since Easter) but caring for others as they deal with it increases the feeling that, whil
Align Centree it's no more threatening than other physical characteristics that I don't share (blue eyes, long legs, golden hair...) it is quite definitely other. Still not really anything to do with me.

Is this healthy self-preservation, or dangerous delusion? I honestly don't know.

The final catalyst for trying to collect my thoughts in this post was a visit to the ever-thought provoking Digging a lot. Graham too spends alot of time in church-yards and produced this comment, that brought me up short
I’m looking round the graveyard- where I once saw stones, I now see people

I've yet to bury anyone I know well, but in a settled community like that of the valley, it can only be a matter of time. I wonder if that will change my perspective...
Of course I don't WANT to wake up suddenly afraid of death.
I don't want to be halted in tracks by a sudden paralysis as I confront its reality, any more than I want to be on a sort of professional automatic pilot, that disengages me emotionally even as I seem to empathise..
But I would like to be reassured that my confidence around issues of death and dying stems not from denial of death's reality but from a deep conviction of the truth of resurrection.
Perhaps I won't actually know that until the death that confronts me is my own.
But Donne's Hymne to God the Father, which became real for me on the day that my own father died, has never yet let me down. I think actually, it's all OK.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore ;
But swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore ;
And having done that, Thou hast done ;
I fear no more.

* Just read a report of a Theos poll that suggests that Hugger Steward and I were wrong in our estimate of the attitude of his contemporaries

Thursday, May 21, 2009

God is gone up

but the rest of us are plodding along here as best we can.

This has been a good day, but utterly relentless.
It began at 0.dark. thirty when I woke to finish material for the magazines and write a talk for the school service. At7.20 it was down to church to set up for the 8.00 Eucharist...a good congregation blending both hill and vale, which is always a treat.
School service followed, featuring a rocket carried in in procession. We talked about whether anyone would know we even had a rocket if we left it safely on the altar and agreed that would be a foolish plan. Then we decided that if the good news of Jesus needed sharing in the same way, it would make sense for us to light the rocket using the flame from the Paschal candle - except that it proved totally impossible to transport said flame from church to playing field without disaster. We did our best to cheat ("trust me, I'm a vicar...I would never lie to little children") convince the children that the flame had survived but when it came to the 8th or 9th match, we had to admit defeat. The rocket, once persuaded to light, was most spectacular.
Home Communions, Action Learning Set, Funeral, Sermon prep, then back for rather depleted choir practice & the Eucharist. This was lovely. 30 people whom we persuaded to sit together rather then in the traditional Anglican diaspora, great hymns, good singing, and for the first time since the arm, I was could manage the elevation at the end of the Eucharistic prayer. My homily was well organised, thanks to kind and helpful friends online (no idea how it was received of course - the day there is actually some feedback I'll be too speechless to blog) and when the service was over, servers and sidespeople came back to the vicarage for drinks and nibbles.
All went well, but I don't think this group had ever been feted before, so that it was hard for them to believe I was (and am) genuinely appreciative.

Now it's late, I'm wiped out...but the day has been good.
Happy Ascension all of you. I need to descend into sleep now.

For the other magazine

One of the down sides of this job is that every second month I have to produce not one but two magazine letters...The first (which is monthly) is relatively straightforward, as it's for our regular parish magazine - which goes to church-goers in both parishes, but is unashamedly "in house" in tone and content.Leaving aside the question of whether we should be producing something aimed more at those beyond our walls (of course the answer is yes), that does allow me to be moderately "churchy", or at least not to have to explain what every single festival is before I mention it. The other mag evolved because it was felt that one community very much dominated the parish mag (though it would be very easy to include material from both communities, if people only submitted it)and is described as a "village magazine", majoring on the cricket club fixtures, gardening news etc. I'm invited and expected to write a letter for this too and there are months when this is a real struggle, as I've usually used my light and accessible reflection on current events slot for the other publication. So this week I seem to have spent the best part of 2 days writing magazine letters...this is the second one, with huge thanks to Graham of digging alot for the kick start that I needed.

Dear Friends,
This past week, the third in May, has not been a great time to be a political leader.
In the US, there has been some disappointment and anger at President Obama's perceived back-pedalling while here in the UK the row over MPs expenses threatens to engulf the House of Commons completely. The Speaker resigned yesterday and there is increasing speculation as to whether an early election might be the next big things on the horizon. In any case, we have elections in 2 weeks time, - though everyone seems to find it hard to muster much enthusiasm. Politicians – disappointing people pretty much since the creation of the world!

I’ve been thinking about power and about leadership a lot recently, because at the end of June our churches will welcome a new member of the clergy, Mathew Page, following his ordination as a Deacon. Mathew is very much a local, living with his wife Karen and baby son Isaac in Stonehouse and worshipping in the Stanleys through many years. He also has a very demanding secular job, so will be carrying out much of his ministry as the majority of God’s people do, - living in the real world, the world beyond the church. I’m excited that we’ll have his gifts and insights to draw on in the benefice, and am pleased that our parishes are seen as a good context in which he can learn what it means to be ordained in the Church of God. Because he is above all with us to learn, we’ll have to take care never to view him as a helpful pair of hands, always a temptation when a new curate arrives in any parish.

For his first year with us, as I said, Mathew will be Deacon’s orders, - the primary ordination of all clergy in the Church of England. This is the “foundation stage”, which remains part of your calling, no matter where ministry takes you. Even Archbishops remain also Deacons, - and the heart of the Deacon’s ministry is service, recalling the servant-leadership of Jesus, as he washed the feet of his friends at supper on the night before he died. That’s something radically different from the power-games and jockeying for position that we have come to expect from our government. So, though I’m afraid I’m probably dreaming a hopeless dream, I’d like to leave you with some words by the poet Stewart Henderson, of which an internet friend reminded me recently.

‘I believe leaders should be servants
and servants should be powerless
I believe all leaders should spend
part of their training
playing on merry-go-rounds
and building sandcastles.
I believe the church should be a refuge,
a swing park, an embrace.

Playfulness and service – not bad antidotes to the current wave of cynicism, I’m sure.
With love and blessings

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Receiving a curate

I promise I really will blog about last week's training for training incumbents as soon as I've assimilated enough to write coherently, but meanwhile I've been trying to help the parishes understand something of what it means to be involved in the ministry of a non-stipendiary curate. Of course, I'm hampered in this by my lack of direct experience. The model of curacy I experienced was completely parish-based, and its central axis was the daily reality of praying the Office with Wonderful Vicar, morning and evening, 5 days a week. That this will not be possible is a real sadness, though I know that I'll learn every bit as much as Curate-to-be as he works out the shape of his ministry in both parish and workplace, and am confident that the whole thing will be a growing experience for all of us.
Meanwhile, though, I'm conscious that the first reaction of many to the news of Curate-to-be's arrival was a joyful
"Oh, I'm so glad you'll have some extra help".
I really appreciate the concern of my congregations, but truly, this isn't what curacy is all about. The people of Ch K were generous with themselves during my curacy, - allowing me to minister to them, and ministering to me in return so that when the time came to move on there was, I think, real grief on both sides. I hope and believe that I did make things easier for WonderfulVicar (if only by carrying my share of occasional offices, which were very busy in that place) but he never made me feel that I had to do anything to keep things afloat. Rather he let me find those places where I could grow and flourish, let me explore and experiment, and offered me enough love and support to enable me to dare things I'd never have expected. I hope I'm able to half as good a job for Curate-to-be.

Meanwhile, this is what I wrote for the parish mag. Comments and suggestions welcome by bedtime tonight! It goes to press tomorrow...

After several months of meetings, letters and emails, it was a great joy to be able to share the good news that Curate to Be will be joining us as a non-stipendiary curate, following his ordination as Deacon at the end of June. I’ll leave him to introduce himself next month, but for the moment wanted to say something about our special role as training parishes.

Of course, I know that role is already familiar to most of you, for this benefice has shared in training many curates. However, each curate brings his own specific circumstances and training needs, and while Curate to Be is learning more about parish ministry with us, he will also need to give time to the other callings in his life – his role as husband and father, and in his profession too. He will have a lot to negotiate as he discovers what his ordained ministry means in terms of these other areas of his life. Often relationships and expectations of work colleagues are dramatically altered by ordination. Friends who’ve known you for years aren’t sure quite how to treat you, now you have this strange label “Reverend” in front of your name. They stop inviting you to join them for an after work drink, and when they tell jokes they tend to apologise in case they might have caused offence.

Of course, we will do all that we can to welcome Curate-to-be and the family and help them to feel at home in our church communities, but we must remember that he is every bit as fully engaged in ministry when we don’t see him as when he is engaged in leading worship or parish visiting. He won’t be a “Sunday Deacon” (or, eventually, a “Sunday priest”) though we may not see as much of him in the week as we might like. We will need to remember that, though we’re certain to benefit from his many gifts, he is with us to learn. He hasn’t been sent “as an extra pair of hand to help the vicar”, - but rather to gain all he can from ministering in the very different contexts of our two parishes. The national church has very clear & firm expectations of what he should learn during his time with us, - and it’s a long and scary list. We’ll all have a part to play in helping him develop, in telling him when he does well and occasionally, perhaps in offering constructive criticism. Most of all, though, you’ll be able to help him by sharing your own faith stories, by praying with and for him, and by welcoming his ministry as we continue to travel together into God’s future.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

All in day's work

Some Sundays are just weird...
This morning was the nearest to flat that I've ever felt when presiding at the Eucharist. There was torrential rain just when people might have been setting out, so numbers were well down at both churches, the hymn selection didn't work for me (that's unusual - often I can't see in advance why a hymn has been chosen, but it hits the spot quite beautifully, but I guess I can't ever sing "Rock of ages" without mentally transporting myself to the crematorium - and though I value funeral ministry highly, it's not where I'd choose to be on a Sunday morning).Most probably, I was just plain tired after quite a demanding week. Whatever the reason, this morning's worship was at best "OK" and I was sad that it wasn't a shiney Sunday, as it was D's first day with us. He's exploring a vocation & has come to us to experience the harsh reality of an ordinary parish, as he normally worships somewhere rather exciting. Of course I wanted him to see us at our best (even though he isn't an OFCHURCH inspector, I don't seem to be able to help wanting to impress - even though I know full well that's not the point of it at all,at all)...
As we drove back from the Eucharist at Church on the Hill I said to him
"Well, that's probably as bad as it gets" and hoped devoutly that this was true.

This afternoon, though, was Messy Church - and suddenly everything was lovely.
Again, pouring rain worried me...would there be any children there at all?
Arrivals felt slow, - but by the time we were counting heads for supper there were 40 children and assorted carers, having a wonderful time (though not as much fun as me, I'm sure) doing bubble painting, wonderful aerodynamic enterprises with D, flame coloured streamers and all sorts of other delights.
When it came to our worship time, K started them singing "Deep and wide" and it was such fun as we all got tied up with the actions, missed out words and got faster and faster...Then it was my turn. We turned off as many lights as we could, and I lit the candles inside a bowl which we'd covered in flamey paper...I told the story of the first Pentecost, majoring on the work of the Spirit in filling us with love and courage to share Good News...told the children that the Spirit was for them too, and that they could share the Good News with one another. We lit one candle from those in the bowl, then the children very solemnly and silently passed the light one to was amazing. Completely enthralled, silent, the end, I'd planned to pray
"Come Holy Spirit...fill us with your love" but it seemed superfluous...The Spirit was so tangibly present it was almost surprising that the flames remained confined to the candles.

Later we had a splendid meal - take away pizza & v posh ice-cream, - the latter sponsored by a wonderful mum who was so happy to be able to give.
I really do think that Messy Church is doing what it sets out to...such a warm sense of community, of welcome and acceptance.

We had visitors from another church, who are considering the Messy Church model and it was very special to be able to share something that feels so full of God's own loving creativity.
And yes, I did need Messy Church to fly today - and am so thankful that it did.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Love is a doing word - sermon for Easter 6

This is my commandment…That you love one another as I have loved you. You are my friends if you do what I have commanded you

Friendship is a wonderful thing, but it’s not always easy to define.

If you join the internet social network site Facebook, you can collect friends at the click of a mouse…People whom you knew at school, people you’ve worked with, people you met at a conference, on holiday, on the bus…. people whom you barely know at all.
Once you choose to connect with them, Facebook describes them all as “friends”.
In that strange world, my admittedly sociable daughter currently has over 600 friends, while her poor deprived mother has a mere 181…
It’s kind of sobering, isn’t it?

But there are so many different kinds of friendship – I wonder what it really means for us.
When I was a small child I had a slightly twee book called
“A friend is someone who likes you”…but Jesus would put this rather more strongly.
For him it’s all about love…
We are his friends if we obey his commandment to love.


No, not really

Jesus speaks heartfelt words to his disciples, encouraging them to band together as a strong community grounded in God's way of love,- and put like that, it does sound easy.
That’s what the church is all about.
We are a community of Christ’s followers, bound together by that fundamental law of love.
That should be our chief characteristic – the thing that marks each one of us out, and on a good day, I think that really is true for us.
On a good day, but maybe not all the time.

It’s quite easy to come together on a Sunday, find ourselves uplifted by worship, treasure our encounter with Christ in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, and feel warm and loving to all whom we encounter.

But if we’re asked to do something that challenges us, to move outside our comfort zone, to give up something we value to benefit another, - it’s disconcerting how quickly those feelings evaporate.
If love is a matter of feelings, as we tend to assume, then love seems to disappear the moment our emotions change.

But we know better than that, I’m sure.
We recognise that love is a decision, a mode of behaviour that has everything to do with deliberate choice and little to do with warm fuzzy feelings.
Our friends may sometimes irritate us, our children occasionally disappoint us, but we carry on loving them – and we try to carry on acting in ways that promote their best interests.
That, surely, is what love is all about.
Love is a doing word.

And so Jesus does not just tell us about love, - he shows us.
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends…
That sounds fabulous, because we’re almost certain it will never be demanded of us.
We can celebrate it with misty eyes, as we remember those who died in war…but we’re none of us too good at making it real when what we have to lay down is our own agenda, when we are asked to sacrifice something that matters to us…
Love is a doing word – and the doing won’t always be pleasant and easy.
But if we are serious about our relationship with God, we need to be open to this kind of loving.

Our gospel tells us that the initiative lies with Christ
“You did not choose me, but I chose you…”
That intiative demands a response.
Take a moment or two to consider.
What does it mean to you that Jesus calls you friend?
The theologian Henri Nouwen wrote a wonderful reflection on friendship which challenges us all with its deep understanding of a truth that is light years away from the easy-come, easy-go “friending” of Facebook.
Friendship is being with the other in joy and sorrow, even when we cannot increase the joy or decrease the sorrow. It is a unity of souls that gives nobility and sincerity to love. Friendship makes all of life shine brightly.
That’s the sort of friendship that Jesus offers to us…but friendship is a two way street.
Jesus calls you friend
What does your love for Him look like?
Take a moment to consider that.
Can it be detected in the life of our church?
Love in Christ binds and builds, heals and hallows, redeems and restores.
Love in Christ bears fruit that will last, fruit for the whole of creation.

As God’s power courses mystically through human actions, the world is changed.
It can be changed in the smallest of ways – by one friend keeping another company as she waits for important news.
By a man setting aside his plans for an afternoon in the garden, in order to drive his neighbour to hospital to visit her sister.
By friends connected across thousands of miles by the internet, praying for one another, remembering anniversaries, weeping with those who weep, rejocing with those who rejoice…
That is what Christian Aid week is all about…About ordinary people motivated by their love for God to follow in God’s way of love themselves.
God’s love visible in the thousands of people who have knocked on doors, bravely or reluctantly…
God’s love visible in all the quizzes and cake sales
God’s love visible as communities far far away realise that they have friends whom they will never meet, people who care, people who work as well as pray on their behalf.
God’s love visible in our actions…
Fruit that will last.

In our gospel today we receive both a direct command to love and a traveller’s guide to the nature of love itself. John makes up only 10 percent of the New Testament, yet it provides a full third of the references to love. “Love” appears in John more often as a verb than a noun….Feelings won’t suffice.
Love IS a doing word..

God choses to enter history and God chooses to love us.
God calls us friends.
God’s initiative.
In response, the initiative is ours.
We can make the choice to love, no matter what it costs us…knowing that as we seek to follow God’s way, God will bless our endeavours, for God has appointed us to go and bear fruit.
Fruit that will last.

Friendship part 2

Since it would never do to just get on with my sermon like a sensible human being, I've been hunting some rather lovely words about friendship that came from Henri Nouwen a while ago

Friendship is one of the greatest gifts a human being can receive. It is a bond beyond common goals, common interests, or common histories. It is a bond stronger than sexual union can create, deeper than a shared fate can solidify, and even more intimate than the bonds of marriage or community. Friendship is being with the other in joy and sorrow, even when we cannot increase the joy or decrease the sorrow. It is a unity of souls that gives nobility and sincerity to love. Friendship makes all of life shine brightly. Blessed are those who lay down their lives for their friends.

The words about being with the other in joy and sorrow, regardless of our ability to make a difference to those states are so much a part of online friendship. Sometimes, of course, we have to accept that we can't even be fully present for the people who believe we can make things better. I've just had an example of that, this very afternoon as I had to explain that last minute sermon prep just doesn't leave room for impromptu visits from friends in need (or at least, that those visits have to be limited by what I can physically achieve in not enough time). That's never easy.We'd all like to fix things for those for whom we care, - but sometimes, all we can do is watch and pray.

Back on form

practising the dual arts of sermon avoidance (after all, it's only 12.30 - the day is young) and perpetual lateness, I'm here on Saturday with yesterday's Friday Five, which is a celebration of friendship. How could I bear to miss it?
Friends of mine will know that I really struggle to keep anything in order, so perhaps it's not surprising that I'm finding it incredibly hard to fit friends into categories. If we were drawing venn diagrams,there'd be all sorts of wildly overlapping circles.....childhood friends are also FB friends, school & church friends are also music friends, work friends are very definitely curry friends etc etc. And there are a whole host of lovely people, whom I'd hate to be without, who've eluded any category but just make my life richer and happier.

1. Friends from way back
category 1)(those who are more like family):
I've blogged before about my wonderful Honorary Mother E, & her children who are the nearest thing to family of origin I now have. We don't see each other at all regularly (mostly my fault) but we know that connection is a constant fundamental part of our lives.
category 2) (school days)C, whom I met on my first day in Kindergarten & have loved ever since, is Hattie Gandhi's god-mother (and her son is my godchild too) & there's a similar reciprocal god-parenting arrangement with A., my best friend from the High School (who has care of Hugger Steward)...I used to play piano duets with her endlessly, as the rain lashed down during long lunch hours, & we'd get home only to spend hours on the phone to each other. Now we wave on FB periodically, but because she lives in Ely, close to the loveliest university city in England, I get to see her a bit too. Such a delight.

2. Work friends category 1 (ordained): those I trained with, those who are neighbours in this deanery & further afield, those whom I only see at diocesan hoolies, but always enjoy touching base with. If I've a sticky work question, they'll produce all sorts of solutions between them & never make me feel dim that I don't have an answer to hand myself.
category 2 (non ordained): people I only met through parish ministry, but whose friendship is surviving geographical upheavals; many of these, though not all, fit into a subdirectory of Greenbelt friends, Facebook friends & there are curry friends in here as well. See what I mean about blurry boundaries?
category 3 (in a class of her own): best Spir Dir ever - who also, of course, qualifies as a "work friend" (& with whom I do absolutely masses of very hard work indeed!) but also has the distinction of having moved from being
"someone of whom I'm so much in awe that I'm scared to speak to her" to
"the person whom I'd phone first in almost any situation of crisis or joy".
She's also the one I'd contact first if I needed to report a naked man dead on my kitchen floor at 3.00 in the morning. I know she'd help me bury the body...

4. Greenbelt friends: there's something about people who attend this wonderful Festival that tends to create a bond wherever you meet. I first encountered two or three of my favourite people on the planet through Greenbelt, & every year it provides a wonderful opportunity to touch base not just with them, but with a wide circle of Greenbelt family that stretches across oceans and includes people I've never met but whom I'd still count as friends.

5. Online friends (to include, of course, work friends, Greenbelt friends et al). I had just started training when I began visiting the Christian Aid "Surefish" web community, which together with the Greenbelt forum was my first inititiation into the world of cyber friendships. I'd just been ordained deacon when I began my blog, and the friendships that have grown from there continue to astound me. There are some with whom I'm so close that it feels wrong if we don't speak online for a couple of days, some whom I've been blessed to meet irl, some to whom I feel so closely connected that their joys and sadness become part of me. I've woken at intervals through the night to pray and wonder about a friend in labour far far away, rushed into the house to log on & discover if there's any news for a friend waiting on life-changing decisions, wept over lost loves and lost pets. Every now and then I get an email from a blog reader who has been reading my ramblings, and feeling connected to me without my ever being aware of them. I can never quite believe the joy of this...secret friends, whom I don't even know are there. It's really lovely.

For a bonus we're invited to mention a new blog friend...Song, who blogs here
leapt into my consciousness via an incredibly helpful and insightful comment when I was trying to plan this year's Lent course in a slightly disgruntled, one-armed way. We've now connected on twitter too, & she continues to challenge & inspire me with her posts, & make me smile as I visualise her journeys across London, armed with an instrument case or two. Go and visit: you'll see what I mean.

Now, of course, my furry friends are looking reproachfully at me. How could I blog about friends without mentioning them? But I'm blessed. My world is full of all sorts of wonderful people, human and otherwise...For an only child,friends ARE family and I treasure you all.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Just because

you can never hear too much Tallis.
And because I know several people who are currently engaged in all sorts of waiting for decisions over which they have no control.
And because I long to make things easier for them, but recognise that I can't.
And because waiting in hope is one of the hardest things to do, however often the Iona liturgy invites us to say
"Thank you ....for the waiting time"

Oh, and because I know at least one person out there who will immediately think of garlic, here's the translation...which might actually help, if only a little.

I have never put my hope in any other but in you,
O God of Israel
who can show both anger
and graciousness,
and who absolves all the sins of suffering man
Lord God,
Creator of Heaven and Earth
be mindful of our lowliness

Thursday, May 14, 2009

On not being chosen

today the church celebrates Matthias, the "after thought apostle" who made the cut only after Judas went his own way. Matthias, of course, was famously chosen by lot and as I thought about this with the 9.00 congregation this morning, I found myself drawn to poor Joseph Barsabbas, the one whose lucky number did not come up.

It must have seemed so hard.
I imagine that both of them had been part of the outer ring, - among those who were with Jesus as often as possible, listening to his teachings, wondering at the miracles, by turns exhilarated and bemused, cast down and over-joyed. Now, for most of that group, the adventure was over. Whatever the impact of their time with the Nazarene, they now had no option but to head back to reality, to shoulder family responsibilities, pick up their lives. It was time to batten down the hatches on top of hopes and dreams and re-engage with reality.

Except suddenly a reprieve was offered.

One of them - one of them could join the apostles, and continue to share the joy of that vision they'd all experienced for a while.
But when the decision was announced, it wasn't Joseph but Matthias who was the "winner".
I wonder how Joseph felt...
Tempting, I'm sure, to wash his hands of the whole enterprise...
"They don't need me, so I'll just get on with my life and pretend none of that Kingdom stuff ever happened".
But I hope and believe that what he had seen, what he had been part of, had so changed him that he lived his ordinary life in an extraordinary way...
That he realised that it was not only possible, but essential to witness to the resurrection where he was, in his familiar workaday context...

Tonight we have a Deanery Eucharist at which the diocesan Vocations advisor will preach on the theme
"We are all chosen for ministry".
We do need constant reminders of this truth, and I know there will be some in tonight's congregation who are struggling with what God's call might mean for them, when circumstances in life, or in the church, make straightforward routes impossible.
We are all chosen...
How would I have heard those words in the wake of my first Selection conference, when the panel were very clear that the call I was certain of was not one they could endorse?
Would I have been able to keep my mind open, or would the hollow laughter have drowned out her words?
We are all chosen...though perhaps not in the way we expected.
I'm looking forward to hearing C's words - she's a good preacher, with a clear vision of God's calling for all his children, and I know she'll send us home with much to consider.
I do hope, though, that when she begins her sermon, she might use as her launch pad not Matthias, the one who was chosen, but Joseph, the one who wasn't...the one who had to deal with his own experience of death and resurrection, and then live so that others recognised that story as their own.

Things to avoid

during swine flu.

Pictures of amazing conference venue & serious reflections on all I learned will follow, but this was too good not to share at once. Thanks J, who sent it to me

Sunday, May 10, 2009

(Non) Committal

The church had been full, and all had gone smoothly.
E was a local man, who had never moved far away, though he had seen wartime service across the world and had been an enthusiastic supporter of any and all reunions that reconnected him with hig golden age. In their turn, friends, neighbours and old comrades had come to support his widow, and to say their own farewells. The widow, frail but determined, had coped well with the service, but had chosen not to attend the committal, which followed at the crematorium.
The funeral director had assumed I would not be attending either, but I have never forgotten the lecturer at vicar-school who told us
"From the moment the body arrives, it is your responsibility. Whatever else is going on, that is your primary committment"

His words had challenged me during one particularly sad and dramatic funeral last month, but generally I'm pretty clear that this is non negotiable, so there's no question about my not attending committals, even when the family prefer not to.
This time was different, though.
Whether they were making a point, or just had other plans, the bearers withdrew as soon as they had placed the coffin on the cataphalque.
The organist at the back of the chapel seemed, as quite often, to be in a separate world as I launched into Common Worship text
"The Lord is full of compassionand mercy, Slow to anger and of great goodness..."

To whom was I speaking?
Both God and the departed presumably knew this for themselves...
I hear the words, as I read them usually, as one further reassurance to those left behind - but this time they were not there to hear.
Sometimes, of course, prayer can feel akin to whistling in the dark - but proclaiming into a void is something quite different and rather strange.
Even the words of commital seemed to be simply stating the obvious.
Remembering, commending and entrusting had taken place. Now all there was to be done was a simple act, simply described...Perhaps I should have stayed silent, - but that would have given rise to more insistent questions as to why it mattered for me to be there at all.

Methinks I need to find something else to say for these occasions, though I hope they won't become the norm. I've never fully answered the familiar question "Who is a funeral for?" and it becomes pressing in a different way when the priest is the only living soul there...

Saturday, May 09, 2009

A parishioner phoned to ask if I had any resources she could use to lead intercessions for Christian Aid week. Of course, I've any number, and as I collected them together for her, this prayer by the staggeringly gifted Janet Morley jumped out at me

God of the poor
We long to meet you yet always miss you;
we strive to help you
yet only discover our need.
Interrupt our comfort with your nakedness

touch our possessiveness
with your poverty
and surprise our guilt with the grace of your welcome
in Jesus Christ

On Tuesday we were encouraged to reflect on the MDGs and the church's response to them...Tomorrow, Christian Aid week begins and I read a letter in yesterday's Church Times which I found frankly appalling. It began well enough, acknowledging the discomfort that we all feel in knocking on doors & asking for money at a time when so many are struggling to make ends meet...but it concluded by suggesting that we should adopt the maxim
"Charity begins at home"
buying directly into the culture of self-interest that asserts that there is not enough to go round - not enough money, not enough food, not enough love.

But surely we are called by the God of abundance, the God who gives ceaselessly of Godself, the God who floods our lives with love and grace beyond our wildest imaginings.
We are small and scared - but where we are most fearful, God meets us and offers us all that we need, blessing us to be a blessing in our turn.
Charity begins at home, because that is where we learn how to love and how to share, - but it spreads out in endless ripples that encircle the whole world....

Friday, May 08, 2009

Not quite a day off

While I was a curate, the director of curate training reminded us at regular intervals that it was a mortal sin to work on your day off.
Even then, I lapsed once in a while, - WonderfulVicar and FabBishop both struggle to take time off, and without wishing to deny responsibility for my actions, it can be hard to draw firm boundaries when your bosses tend towards the more porous variety themselves. (+Mary was quite challenging on this front too: somehow she manages a study day each week as well as a proper day off...and I don't seem to have read a real book for weeks)
The big difference then was that,though I worked hard as a curate, I didn't carry the weight of responsibility that comes with being a real live vicar. Days off were fun, but not as physically necessary as they now are.
I don't mean by this that I'm staggering under a hideous load, that I can't sleep at night for worrying about the parish (though I have been known to wake up so horribly aware of items from the to do list that the only answer is to get up and get on with them) - but there is something very different about being the one in charge...and though it's a good something, it's also incredibly exhausting.

Thus my view of days off has altered over the past year.
I used to worry how to fill them creatively.Now, if I don't have a round of entertainment planned, that's perfectly OK. If I don't actually get up till the morning has almost vanished, that's fine too.
But what isn't fine at all is the way things that have to be done can sometimes stray onto a Friday, because I really do know that if I don't get a day off in the course of the week, I'll be floundering by the time the next Friday comes round.

Today, for example, has been Friday all day.
And yet,I've taken two funerals.
There were excellent reasons for this...I lost one parish day this week to the Bank holiday, and another to the Bishop's training/consultation day, and next week I'm away on a short course learning to be a training incumbent (how that came about is a wonder I don't propose to try and fathom) - so the funerals had to be fitted in somewhere...and today was the only solution.
But I know it's not a good idea, and I hate the idea that I might be using busyness as a means of quantifying my value as a minister here. It's always tricky, when you are theoretically in control of your own timetable..and here in these parishes, the expectations of the Sunday congregation are actually quite limited. Provided the services are there, and there are no obvious signs of pastoral neglect, I could pretty much set my own agenda, and, were I so minded, do very little from one Sunday to the next...But that, of course, would make me feel thoroughly insecure (leaving aside the possible impact on the mission of the church if the vicar did nothing beyond walking her dog - actually, that might be quite a positive model of ministry..hmmmn)
With all that lot chuntering gently round in my head, it was a mixed blessing to read Graham's post.
When my arm is sound, I do often cycle, and I'm hugely aware of how good it is. to be visible.
I love walking, though as Revd Last Minute, I do tend to leave insufficient time to get anywhere on time as a matter of form.
But I have to admit, I feel safer, more sure that I'm doing the "right" things here if there are lots of nice concrete appointments in the diary...lots of ways of proving to my own satisfaction that I'm a Really Useful Vicar.
I know that's a load of hooey, but it doesn't diminish its power...If we were all immune to the things we know are actually unreal, I wonder how the world would actually look. Time, perhaps, to consider the lilies.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Seeing and believing

Last night was a milestone in the life of this diocese, and most specially in the lives of those of us who have mourned and prayed and campaigned and dreamed as the Church of England struggles to to reconcile its theology of priesthood, affirming the vocation and ministry of so many women, with its longing to embrace and include those whose views are radically different...
Last night, in Tewkesbury Abbey, for many years symbolic of the strand of "traditionalist"Anglo Catholicism that sees ordained women as anathema (though they neve passed the resolutions that deny women's ministry & have travelled light years with the present vicar, who is altogether wonderful, affirming and welcoming), Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves, of our link diocese of El Camino Real in California, presided and preached at the Eucharist.

It was an unbelievably shiney occasion.

In the course of the week, I've encountered +Mary 3 times, and each time she has reduced me to tears. She represents a dream that might, by God's grace, become a reality...
As N, the chair of our diocesan WATCH, elegantly expressed it in her welcome
"we have seen and now we can believe..what might be for us".
+Mary's words in the sermon and afterwards at Abbey House, following hot on the heels of her address at the clergy consultation/training day deserve a post of own, when I've time to do them justice, but for now I just want to mark the wonder of the event. After she had pronounced the final blessing, and was making her way down the choir, applause broke out from behind me and soon we were all caught up in a great wave of joy.Afterwards, from my station behind the bar, I had a great view of the crowd that packed into the big reception room at Abbey House, and that made me weep internally all over again. There were the older ordained women, the trail blazers who pushed and pushed til the door was open, so that people like me could walk in without pause...There were the young women, of an age with Hattie Gandhi, exploring their vocation, - and some deacons to be priested in just a few weeks now...Women who believe with all their being that they are called by God to minister as priests in the Church...but conscious that so much is still unresolved, that the machinations that may be necessary to enable the ordination of women as bishops may enshrine the two tier version of ministry established by the miserable Act of Synod..All of us there listening to the words of wisdom and grace that +Mary offered, but captivated above all by her ministry of presence. She was there. We were there. We saw that such things are, by God's grace, possible - and we rejoiced.
Thanks be to God!

Monday, May 04, 2009


of what I did on the Bank Holiday. Please note expanses of floor even quite close to the desk.
And behold, here is the desk itself, which is clearly made of wood...and look, there's my phone...I don't have to ring myself up to find it at the moment....And, unimaginable though it may seem,
there are flat surfaces all over the study which don't currently house trembling heaps of scary papers.
If a bereaved family appear tomorrow (which seems highly likely, given the run of funerals later this week) there's even a chance that they could (tell it not in Gath) Sit on the Sofa

So, though it may not qualify as a Grand Day Out, I'm immoderately delighted with the fruits of the Bank Holiday Monday here in the vicarage. That buzzing isn't a fault with your computer, it's the sound of the vicar's purr....

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Sometimes on Sundays?

Part 2 (Sunday evening)

Then just when you might be wondering whether Sunday church, or indeed church as institution has any future at all, you get a day like today which was everything I love...

It began with the unlikely pleasure of an 8.30 BCP Eucharist at church on the hill. I'm not a morning person, and though I love C17 literature, the Book of Common Prayer is rarely my preferred vehicle for worship - but today it was just right. Since my predecessor departed (well over 2 years ago) church on the hill has gone without a morning service on the 1st Sunday of the month to enable us to time the All Age Communion in the valley at a happier hour for families who would really rather spend their Sunday morning in pyjamas. The theory was that congregation from the hill would come down to join those in the valley, but they are a group that likes their worship calm and ordered for the most part - and while All Age Communion is many things, most of them positive, calm and ordered are nowhere on the scene. So, from today the hill folk have a Sunday morning service every week..and I have to say that a said BCP service works a treat there. We gathered in the choir, and just worshipped without fuss or anxiety...and it was lovely. One of the happiest experiences I've had in that church since my arrival. Now to work out what it was that enabled genuine community there this morning, and how to transfer it to the Parish Communion, where God squeezes in as best God can.

Down in the valley, we had the baptism of three children from a rather lovely family who have become regulars over the past few months. E attends Valley Church School, and her little sister is at the playgroup that meets in our church hall, so I really do know them quite well...which made proceedings stress free and enjoyable for everyone. When I asked if they wanted to be baptised, the answer was a squeal of excitement and a pretty convincing hug...but though their baptism was a joy, it wasn't the absolute high spot of my morning. That came courtesy of H, for whom I conducted a naming ceremony in accordance with his father's African traditions, when he was just a week old. That was almost 6 months ago now, and today when his parents brought him up the altar rail for a blessing, his response to my post-scripted reminder
"Jesus loves you very much, you know" was a smile of such piercing beauty that I basked in its blessing for the rest of the morning.

Good conversations over coffee (it's so lovely not to have to charge out the door for the 11.00 on the hill once a month at least) and I even had time to go for a walk in the church-yard, where I had a long and God filled conversation with someone tending a grave. Suspect that loitering in the churchyard ought to be a non negotiable part of my timetable - though it's hard to decide what else I don't do, in order to fit it in.

This afternoon was very church-filled too,as a new colleague was licensed to a well-to-do neighbouring parish, which prides itself on well conducted catholic worship very much in the mould of St M's, Ch K (one influential priest served both congregations in turn, so it's not altogether surprising). FabBishop was joined by +Mary, from our new link diocese of El Camino Real in California, and great was the joyful ceremonial. It was good to revisit a licensing service one year on from my own and to remember again the truth in the Bishop's words, spoken after he has invited the new priest to "receive the cure of souls that is both yours and mine".
"Receive it confidently
Serve Christ joyfully.
Put your trust in God.
He is faithful."

So much evidence of that today - I wouldn't have missed it for anything. In no hurry to abandon Sunday church after all...though still considering how to foster genuine community.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Sometimes on Sundays?

Part 1 (written on Saturday morning)
It's two weeks now since my post Easter break, and I have to say the May Day bank holiday hasnt come a moment too soon...It may be the after-effects of The Arm (still here, still encased in its adjustable cast, but definitely getting stronger: I can now change into 4th gear, to add to my original selection of 1st/3rd/5th & the all too necessary reverse) but I'm definitely much wearier than normal at the moment, and spent Friday's day off doing almost nothing, without a whiff of frustration.This is a busy weekend, with lots happening in both churches plus the licensing of a new colleague nearby on Sunday afternoon & some other bits besides, and though I know I'll love it all when I get to it, at the moment the prospect is more daunting than alluring.
So I'm looking back to Low Sunday with a touch of nostalgia. That was the Day When I Didn't Go To Church, in some shape or form - for probably the first time (other than rare sick days) in something like 15 years.

It was really rather startling how spacious the day was, how much could be achieved when huge slices of time were not committed to church, and so a conversation began (on the site beginning with F) about whether we'd encounter more of God without the strictures of professional religion;
how we might find space to form meaningful community & really explore faith; whether carrying the responsibilty for a community's worship so interrupts our own experience of worship that those in ministry really need another way to pray...
Caroline Too pointed out the limitations of a community which encouraged you to focus above all on the back of the neck of the person in front of you, and I thought of the other places where we sit in tidy rows.
Church as theatre (a place to be entertained)?
Church as airplane (a means of travel - but does that make us passengers)?
Certainly neither of those models would be encouraging.

I'm passionate about community - which is one reason why the Eucharist is so utterly central for me.
It's there that the mish-mash of bruised and broken individuals is transformed, becoming the body of Christ, there that we find our real identity, there that we are blessed to become a blessing.
So for "Sunday church" to work, it needs above all to create real community...something that represents a mixture of all sorts and conditions, - not just a body of the like-minded middle-class, with all their vowels in the proper place. In some places, of course, that can be a challenge.