Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday edition

Mary Beth invites us to ponder:
The sad news of Michael Jackson's untimely death has me thinking about music and its effects on us - individually, as cultures, as generations. Let's think about the soundtracks of our lives...

1) What sort of music did you listen to as a child - this would likely have been determined or influenced by your parents? Or perhaps your family wasn't musical...was the news the background? the radio? Singing around the piano?
My very earliest memories are of music - the sound of the Morning Concert on Radio 3 waking me to begin the day (my father turned on the radio as he prepared breakfast in bed for my semi-invalid mother) or piano music seeping through the wall that separated my bedroom from the sitting room as he played to unwind at the day's end.
Favourites were Mendelssohn Songs without Words, or Chopin waltzes .... or perhaps a piano arrangement of Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite. When I was about 4 one of my most favourite games of all was to dress up in some long petticoats, relics of my mother's dancing years, and whirl around the sitting room to Anitra's Dance. I sang before I talked, and Daddy was happy to play folksongs again and again for me. Some forebear of my mother's (I never quite worked out who) had been a kind of Scottish equivalent of Cecil Sharpe, collecting folksongs in Highlands and Islands, - and the one I loved singing best was Ho ro, my nut brown maiden. I'd not thought of it for years til this meme jogged my memory. Thank you, Mary Beth...glad to be reminded :-) )

2) Going ahead to teenage years, is there a song that says "high school" (or whatever it might've been called where you lived) to you?
I was a pretty intense classical music geek through my teens, but around about my 18th birthday I loved, loved, loved dancing to the Patti Smith single
"Because the night..." and that song is a backdrop to the complicated set of memories of that final summer at school. In my Oxbridge term I shared a room with a girl who loved Judy Collins, so she too is part of my memories of that era. My own music collection was entirely classical, though: I nearly missed an A level exam as I pondered how to spend a birthday record token...should it be Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis? or The Lark Ascending? (somehow I ended up both, though I've no idea how that was achieved in those pre-credit-card days...Maybe I used my train fare home?)

3) What is your favorite music for a lift on a down day? (hint: go to and type in a performer/composer...see what you come up with!)
Pandora will only play nicely with US citizens, so I'll just say Bach, Bach and Bach again...He is pretty much the answer to any question, in my experience, and I've never been so miserable that his music makes no difference.

4) Who is your favorite performer of all time?
Oh...WHAT an impossible question. How do I choose between Jacqueline du Pre and Emma Kirkby? Between Ian Bostridge and Pablo Casals? Artur Rubenstein?
Menuhin in his prime? I just can't. I am grateful to them all, and so very many others.

5) What is your favorite style of music for worship?
I guess I'm Cathedral choral tradition to the bones. For the Eucharist let's have perhaps the Mozart Coronation Mass, or maybe Byrd for Five Voices. At Evensong, Gibbons Short Service is hard to beat...And psalms sung well to Anglican Chant are a short-cut to heaven.
But back in the real world, really pretty much whatever my congregation will sing with conviction works for me.

Waiting for Sunday

When the post arrived this morning, it included a postcard from our diocesan retreat house. I fell upon it with delight, because since Wednesday evening my thoughts have kept drifting in that direction.
On Wednesday 16 ordinands, to be made Deacon at Gloucester this Sunday, began their ordination retreat, and among them is my soon-to-be colleague (who may develop a blogname in the fulness of time, but is as yet blisfully anonymous)...

To be honest, it's been quite hard to think about much else, as the experience of my own ordination retreats is still so fresh in my mind. I've imagined the group standing in the Chapter House to take the oaths of allegiance to the Queen and to the Bishop (in all things lawful and honest)...enjoying a very English tea (mine was at the Deanery)...travelling to Glenfall.
I've remembered my own expectation that now was the time when I really would be found out, my inadequacies revealed. An announcement would come from ABM to say that there had been an administrative error and I should never have trained at all...

Actually my diaconal retreat was one of the most significant events of my journey so far. Because I was ordained beside many with whom I had trained at WEMTC, in some ways the experience looked a little like just another WEMTC residential - but during those 3 and a bit days we found ourselves moved along on a process which presented us at the Cathedral as ready as we ever would be for what was to come. It was a time of huge and lasting blessing.

So, I've been thinking and praying for this year's ordinands, and praying with extra fervour for the nearly-Curate and for our role here as a training parish.
When I was first asked to consider receiving a Deacon this Petertide I was incredulous. The phone-call came just a few months after I'd arrived here, when I was still wrestling on a daily basis with the absence of my very own, much beloved, training incumbent and trying to work out what it meant to be priest-in-charge in these two parishes.
Now they expected me to train someone myself?!?! Laughable!
In much the same spirit that I started my diaconal retreat, I continued with life as usual, confident that "they" would wake up to the impossibility of pursuing this route. It just wouldn't be fair to the ordinand...
A few weeks later, an email arrived introducing us to one another. Could we at least meet and talk? The diocese recognised my anxieties (how, for example, could I hope to train someone who will exercise a high proportion of is ministry outside the parish, in his workplace?) but thought we would both benefit from meeting face to face anyway.

And when the meeting actually happened - challenge suddenly became opportunity.
I remembered with joy that you really can't be a training incumbent without doing heaps of theological reflection.
I recognised that I was being offered the chance to learn about ministry here in greater depth by facilitating another in ministry.
I thought about how WonderfulVicar allowed me to find my own way in ministry, while providing support and friendship and mopping up diasters when they struck.
I remembered the delight of praying the Office regularly with a colleague (though we've not yet worked out how this will actually happen, given work committments, that was so much at the heart of my curacy I'll do everything I can to make it possible at least once a week).
And so I became, characteristically, excited.

I loved my curacy.
I'll do all that I can to enable my new colleague to have an equally happy experience - and I'm so looking forward to learning with him, and from him as we travel together over the next 3/4 years.

I first received an Ember Card when Hugger Steward's godfather was ordained back in the 1980s. In those days, we giggled rather at the implications of the concluding lines
"Please pray also for Fr X and the parish of St Y's where Z is to serve"
teasing our C that with him as their curate, they would need all the prayerful help they could get.
The diocesan Ember Card this year doesn't mention prayer for training incumbents and parishes - but it would surely be welcome.

Meanwhile, if you are so inclined, here is the prayer on the diocesan card...

Father, you have taught the ministers of your Church
to be the willing servants of others.
Give to those soon to be ordained deacon
Skill and gentleness
in the practice of their ministry,
and perseverance always in prayer;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Gritty Reality - or why the vicar is just a tad ashamed!

The thing about preachers is, - do we ever manage to practice what we preach?

After spending Saturday afternoon/evening focussing on God's presence in our storms, you'd have thought I might be able to weather at least a minor squall, no?
But, as so often, I thought I was writing about the Great Drama of life - real griefs, terrible losses, earth-shaking events.
This meant I was quite unable to apply my own words to the minor irritation that drove me to frenzy yesterday.

Yesterday, coming as it did between Saturday & Monday, turned out to be Sunday - and not just any old Sunday but the third in the month.
This meant that in addition to the usual morning selection of Eucharists, at 8.00, 9.30 and 11.00, in the afternoon we also have 2 hours of Messy Church ...and this month I was a bit more personally involved in preparations, as some of the team were sadly unable to be with us.
So, when I packed my bag for the morning rush, I included my purse - planning to lapse into a bit of Sunday shopping in the form of fish fingers & French Fries at the big supermarket at the bottom of the hill after morning worship.
Three services later, I pulled into the car park and delved for my purse.
Scrabbling around on the floor of the car (a favourite hiding place) brought no results.
Nor did returning home to my uncharacteristically tidy study...nor retracing my steps around the churches.
Failing to remember my own words (after all, Jesus is only any use for the big crises, right?!) I launched into my own particular combination of panic & tantrum, the emotional squall that tends to assail me whenever inanimate objects fail to fall into line...
Given cards, driving licence, and my last few rupees, which I had tucked away in a side pocket as a promise to myself that one day I will return to India, the panic element was considerable - the full "knotted-tummy,-unable-to-concentrate-on- much-else" deal.
Sound stormy yet?

LCM, whose profession requires an eye for detail, accompanied me on this search and we investigated vestries in both churches, the upstairs office where I'd done some copying and pretty well every flat surface my bag had ever been on.
The bag in question is one of those hessian shopping bags that are designed to discourage you from adding to the global plastics it has an open top, and yesterday it was pretty full.
As the Messy Church team assembled we discussed possibilities, and reluctantly concluded that my purse had been at the top of the bag in a public space for just long enough to tempt someone. Apparently not the first time things have vanished, even from more sensible spots in church - and even during worship.
Add a measure of pastoral guilt (what sort of church leadership creates a climate in which someone might come to worship and combine this with a spot of minor theft?) and the internal turmoil was beginning to reach gale force.

The concensus was that cards should be cancelled without more ado - so LCM promised to do this while I continued with Messy Church (which, despite all this, was its usual delightful, community-building self: I specially love the meal, when parents, children and teenage helpers all sit down together. I love this even more when K's marshmallow crispies are on the menu, but that's beside the point)
I received lots of sympathic outrage from parents and helpers, indulged in a fair bit of messy creativity myself, and even managed to make the point that Peter was often not so much "Rock" as "Rocky" without noticing a similarity...

It wasn't until much much later, when guests had departed, the team cleared up, and the Dufflepud and I were locking the vestry...or maybe it was later still, when I'd dealt with all the relieved embarassment created by his finding the purse, on a dark chair, in a dark corner, where LCM and I (and 2 or 3 others besides) had already hunted to no avail....but finally, sometime last night (was it before or after the phone lost and found? I really don't know)....finally I MADE THE CONNECTION.

I spend so much time reminding people that God is involved in every aspect of their lives, that God cares about details, that we can and should look Godwards in the most "trivial" situations...that Jesus won't leap out of our boat if the seas are a bit rough...
So I guess this is by way of a very public confession!
I have not done those things that I ought to have done, and I have done those things that I ought not to have done...
I just left God out of my calculations through one long and wearing afternoon.
Fortunately, She's not one to bear grudges - so I'm off to preside at the Eucharist for St Alban.
Thank God for new days and fresh starts - and a week without credit card can surely only be good for me!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Trinity 2 Yr B Mark 4:35-41

When I was a child, I had a picture by my bed, a sea scene that included the Breton Fisherman’s Prayer, “Oh God be good to me. Your sea is so vast and my boat is so small.” Growing up on the Sussex coast, that made such good sense to me. I was familiar with the days when the waves roiled and surged, throwing shingle up from the beach onto the promenade, so that favourite beaches took on a wholly different form from one storm to the next. I knew which shops and houses would need to close their storm shutters, to ensure that the glass wasn’t broken on stormy winter nights. And I knew, too, that the sound of day time fireworks, a maroon going up near the fishing harbour never meant good news, but rather a signal that the lifeboat was needed. Stormy seas were part of the fabric of my childhood.

Fast forward to my later teens, and life was pretty stormy too. Losing both parents within six months, just as I was leaving school, was scarcely a recipe for halcyon days….Somewhere, the wind was getting up and the waves were beginning to grow larger. But it wasn’t until a few years later, when I began a series of miscarriages, that I really found myself sharing the experience of the disciples. By that time I was certain that I was a Christian. The faith that I had absorbed pretty much by osmosis, the sort that “goes without saying” had flourished during my student years, as I found myself in an environment where everyone wanted to ask the Big Questions, and sat up late night after night debating them. I knew that Jesus and I were travelling together, that I was in his boat (or was he in mine?)…that life would now be all sunshine and smiles.

Except that it wasn’t.
As miscarriage followed miscarriage the emotional storm was almost overwhelming. From my perspective, Jesus was asleep right enough, and, like the disciples, I was pretty sure that he didn’t care at all “Teacher do you not CARE that we are perishing?” Unlike the disciples, though, I didn’t have the sense to try and waken him. Instead I struggled on alone, filled with resentment. With so much wrong in my world, why wouldn’t my God intervene?

It’s a question others ask me, again and again…I’m hearing it more at the moment, as redundancies bite, as funds run out, as political and environmental upheavals dominate the news. Many people feel as if they are teetering on the edge of chaos, and so they ask “Where is God? Doesn’t he care? What’s going on?” It’s pretty much the same question that Job had to deal with, as he experienced the undeserved loss of all that he held dear. Oh God, why? Are you asleep, that you let such things happen in your world?

The answer Job is given is nothing like the answer he hoped for.
God doesn’t apologise, or justify Godself. Instead God reminds Job, and through Job reminds us, of God’s formidable power. Where we you when I laid the foundation of the earth? And the answer, of course, is that we were nowhere about…because what is going on was and is simply too much for us, beyond our ken in every way.

You see, here’s the thing. We long to domesticate God, we demand that God behaves in ways that fit our schemes…
We like the idea of God as a cosy talisman, to be taken about with us as a guarantee of safety. Jesus asleep in the boat on a bright sunny day is just fine for us. Pretty much perfect, in a sleeping Jesus can surely not make too many demands upon us. But then the storm strikes, and with it all that is dark and chaotic in our selves and in our world. And Jesus sleeps on, resting in the face of turmoil and danger.
Does he not care, or is he simply so rooted in God that he knows there is nothing to fear?

And then Jesus wakes, and the storm is calmed – and that intervention is almost as frightening as the storm.
The disciples are terrified They want God’s action, but on their terms, in a way that they can handle…And so once again, they model the behaviour of so many through the ages. “Give us the theory” they cry “but don’t give us yourself. You are too great for us to cope with…too much for anyone to handle” Jesus asleep in the storm seems a let down. Jesus awake and active, calming the waters with a word, is more than we can deal with. But, though the tempests rage everything IS under control. We may be battered and bruised, we may be fast running out of faith, but there is a small, solid pebble of reality in which we can trust. Jesus was able to sleep in that storm tossed boat because he knew that his Father willed nothing bad for him, or for any of his children. He rested in his faith, the faith based upon a perfect trust between Father and Son.

Storms will happen – and their severity has no basis in the strength or weakness of our faith.
Storms, personal and circumstantial, are the way life is.
Sometimes it’s quite right to be afraid, and always it’s quite right to ask for help. That help may not appear in the instant, and it may be almost as alarming as the danger….for it will not be help on our terms.
But it will be enough…
We can trust that.

Julian of Norwich had her visions of God as she came close to death.
She was almost overwhelmed by her own trials, but instead of sinking, she learned to float again, and offered her experiences as a gift to the church, a gift of faith and love still valued centuries on. Listen to her
"He said not 'Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be dis-eased'; but he said, 'Thou shalt not be overcome."
Amen. May it be so.

Blogging block

On Thursday a text from someone whom I love dearly prompted me to tweet a prayer request for all those bearing the hidden grief of miscarriage.
The response was generous, with comments appearing in many forms and from all directions, some quite unexpected....and I thought to myself, "I ought to reflect on this. It's clearly huge for so many people".
But somehow, I didn't quite want to.

That puzzled me. Though I am that strange contradiction, a shy extrovert, I much prefer to engage with people in total honesty, and a major aspect of the blog has always been as a place to do just that. To work through who I am before God in the situations of the day, and sometimes to look at the past in the light of the present.

But I've never written about my miscarriages, that I can remember.
I had so many of them, you see.
I'd only been married a few months when, unexpectedly, there was a little ring at the bottom of a test tube and I found myself joyfully pregant.
My parents were married 11 years before I appeared on the scene, and died before I thought of asking what lay at the root of the childless years...For some reason I always assumed infertility (possibly because of my mother's life long health problems) so I was jubillant that I had managed to conceive so easily.
We phoned everyone...
Just days later, I started to bleed.

As we phoned everyone again, I began to learn of just how "normal" this is.
Many had stories to tell. We were among the first of our own generation of friends to marry and attempt parenthood, but so many of our older friends shared their own stories of loss, redeemed in healthy families (our peers...who might have had brothers and sisters to be our friends too).
It didn't help much, though at least I began to realise that all the things I was feeling had been felt by others before me.
I was introduced to the Miscarriage Association and cried as I read of the experiences of others, my sisters in secret bereavement.

By the time it happened again, I had a small collection of books and pamphlets on my shelves....and mourned the lost babes whose stories were told there even as I mourned my own.
I wondered if my body, - always taken for granted as efficient, if not beloved, would forever let me down.
It was ironic - years earlier, while trying to plot a course for my life, I'd realised that my longing for children was absolutely fundamental, non-negotiable. I'd abandoned the vaguest possibility of serious singing, because a wise teacher told me
"If you can think of anything else you might ever want to do, don't attempt to make singing your career".
And now, the "anything else" seemed to be slipping out of sight.

But suddenly, - before the doctors thought I could even dream of conceiving, my period was late, the tests were positive...and this time the babe stayed safely where she belonged until, one snowy January morning Hattie Gandhi was placed in my arms and the world shone.
Medics reassured me - "just one of those things...we don't know why they happen but you'll be alright now"
But I wasn't.
Again, and again, and again.
Each loss weighed heavier, until after a particularly frightening miscarriage at 17 weeks, when blood and tears seemed set to drown my world, I gave up on God.
I lay in bed in our terraced S London house on the Sunday morning afterwards. LCM had taken HG to Mass, but our West Indian neighbours liked their music loud and that morning it was, for some reason, not their usual fare but, bizarrely, the Faure Requiem.
A work I loved, had sung many times...the work I would have chosen as music for my own funeral...and I felt nothing.
Where words and music had always been a sure route to consolation, as I flung myself sobbing into God's arms, - nothing.
I was past being angry.
There simply wasn't a relationship any more.

I went through the motions, attending worship because I simply didn't have the energy to explain to LCM that the whole thing was pointless.
When I could, I found ways of avoiding it, though, pleading headaches and feeling relieved when Hattie Gandhi was fractious and needed to be taken out of church.
One day I was sitting in the car outside the Brompton Oratory and something changed...
I found myself swearing away at God, using language I'd never used in any other context, the gist of which was
"You needn't think I'm going in there to talk to you, you.........................."
And there were the words, almost visible in their reality
"That's quite alright...we can just as easily talk here".

So began the long, slow process of forgiving God. The arrival of the boys helped of course, though they were never "replacements", but always, gloriously, themselves.
Time helped too.
And I woke up one morning realising we were gently, undramatically, friends again.
But I've never really made sense of that waste of life's potential, those oceans of tears wept by so many women.
I understand now that God weeps too...and that each of those babes is safe in God's arms...but for those whose arms remain empty that's never answer enough.

No wonder I've not written much about this before. I try to make this blog a place of resolution as well as honesty - but some things are beyond resolution this side of eternity.
I don't hurt any more, but I truly couldn't offer any words in answer to the prevailing question at the time "Oh God, why..."
So, once again, I invite you to pray for those bearing the hidden burden of loss that is miscarriage...

Friday, June 19, 2009

Life is a verb

An irresistible Friday Five posted by Jan, in response to this book

Patti Digh worked her book around these topics concerning life as a verb:
  • Say yes.
  • Be generous.
  • Speak up.
  • Love more.
  • Trust yourself.
  • Slow down.
This book has been the jumping off point for this Friday.

1. What awakens you to the present moment?
The physical...The feeling of fresh air on my face as I stand at the bedroom window at the beginning of the day, the warmth of the pup's head on my knee as I sprawl on the sofa at its end, thirst quenched by cold water, sadness comforted by a hug.

2. What are 5 things you see out your window right now?

Open gates onto the road, busy with homeward traffic this Friday evening

The line of trees that is the vicarage landmark for visitors

A jack russell taking his owner for an evening walk

Teenagers waiting at the bus stop opposite

and a small silver Fiat containing Hattie Gandhi. She's home for the night! Squeee...

(returning much later)
3. Which verbs describe your experience of God?
Loving, challenging, exciting, delighting, renewing

From the book on p. 197:
Who were you when you were 13? Where did that kid go?

At 13 I was over responsible and over anxious...My mother had had heart surgery the year before, after many years of poor health, and I believed that her well-being depended on my being a "good girl" (though this obligation was one I laid entirely on myself: my parents were keen to let me be a child for as long as possible - and back in the 1970s, the early teens carried no veneer of sophistication to confuse the issue). As an only child, I knew that not only was I probably the centre of the universe, but it was all up to me,and it (whatever it was) was probably all my fault. Who else was there?

But I escaped my self-imposed burdens through books, through music, through writing endlessly.

Where did that kid go? Somewhere around my 40th birthday I realised that actually it didn't all depend on me...even the children who were my responsibility were also repsonsible for themselves. I threw away the anxieties (mostly), but books, music, writing are still a refuge and a joy.

5. From the book on p. 88: If your work were the answer to a question, what would the question be?
What makes you get up in the morning and sing as you walk down the road?

Bonus idea for you here or on your own--
from the book on p. 149: "Go outside. Walk slowly forward. Open your hand and let something fall into it from the sky. It might be an idea, it might be an object. Name it. Set it aside. Walk forward. Open your hand and let something fall into it from the sky. Name it. Set it aside. Repeat. . . ."
How beautiful. I've always always loved the Advent Prose "Rorate coeli" - drop down ye heavens from above and let the skies pour down righteousness" Righteousness, peace, reconciliation ........but I love walking outside, so there is more
I have to catch a star - of course I do. I've wanted to for hold that gleaming miracle, its light leaking out from between my fingers.
Then comes self-confidence - something to use myself and then pass on to some much beloved people who cannot recognise their own shininess.
Finally, a golden apple. In a world where treasures might fall from the sky, I return to the ancient myths that provided a longing backdrop to childhood imaginings...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Death & Hope

The service on Tuesday had two visual centre-pieces, one a globe surrounded by "Children for a Change" candles, which were sent with each school at the end of the service, and the other a beautifully bare silver tree, on which every Year 6 class hung a prayer dove.
I didn't get to read any of the prayers, but I'm not likely to forget that powerful image, - expressions of hope and of peace set in front of the memorial tablets of long ago.

I would love to be there at the end of the week, when the tree will be completely covered with these visual expressions of children's dreams, a solid embodiment of the song written specially for this service.

Lead me on as I travel on my journey
Lead me on wherever I go
Give me courage and hope for the future
Be with me as I grow, grow, grow

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

17th June 1978

Might just have been the day when I grew up - or thought I did.

It was, you see, the day on which my house-master came into the school library, where I was determinedly revising for my first A level, to be sat 2 days later, and told me that my father had died.

In common with many another only child, the death of my parents was the substance of, quite literally, my worst nightmares - and suddenly, here I was living it. But God is kind, and this, like so many other imagined fears, was less cataclysmic in reality than my dawn terrors.
The protective wall that had surrounded me through childhood was, in a moment, blasted away, but the world beyond was both gentler and more welcoming than I had dared to believe.
It contained music and poetry that would give meaning even in this situation of apparent chaos, where the certainties of life had been obscured.
It seemed I might not sink without trace, might even eventually enjoy learning to float.

That I was even half-ready to try is, of course, thanks to the unconditional love that my parents had lavished on me for so long that I never, for a moment, doubted that in this universe the facts are kind.

What's more, they bequeathed to me a language that enabled me to interpret what was happening when, as I travelled home by train to confront this life changed utterly, I was met in a railway carriage by a love beyond anything I could ever have conceived.

So 17th June is a day when, for all my concern for inclusive language, my thoughts will always be full of Fatherhood. It's the day when it seemed to me that, as one father's love was interrupted, I experienced Another's in ways I'd not dreamed of, a day to give thanks to one Father for the other.
Thirty one years on, I still do.

Rites of Passage

You don't need to have read very many of my witterings here to realise that one of my greatest pleasures in this particular job is the excellent relationship with Valley Church School, children, staff - the whole community. Making space in our churches so that children can awaken the surrounding adults to the reality of God's presence is very much a guiding passion. I would never presume to say that I'm trying to enable children's relationships with God: in my experience, they have a far greater sense of God's presence, and an innate spirituality that it's a genuine privilege to spend time with them.
So I'm always excited when I'm invited to spend time in school, or, as yesterday, to go out and about with a class.
It was a Very Special Occasion for Year 6, their trip to the Cathedral for the Leaver's Service. During this week, our Mother Church will welcome 2000 children who are preparing to move on from Church Primary Schools at the end of term...but for the Valley children, the excitement began well before we reached the Cathedral.
As we boarded the coach, I was reminded of the sheer adventure that going ANYWHERE by coach represents to the young...Indeed, as the last time coach travel was part of my life at all regularly I wasn't that much older than the Y6s, I found myself sharing something of the same hopeful anticipation.
I don't think I ever aspired to quite their level of breathless wonder at the ordinary, though. That whole journey made me wish once again that Libby the retriever could actually talk! The way those children bounced and delighted in the most ordinary things was so reminiscent of her attitude on walks
"Kathryn,Kathryn....can you see the swing in that garden"
"I can see a horse...And a cow....and a train"
"We're going over the motorway..."
"Can you see the Big Wheel"
"Oh, look..I saw...I did...I saw a TEENAGER"
I wish we could hang onto that immediate wow factor! These, of course, are things I drive past regularly without a second glance - but the children helped me, for a moment or two, to see something special.

Then we reached the Cathedral.
"It must be really old. Is it about 100?" (On being told the actual age of the building..."No, they didn't have stone in those days did they?")
"This place smells....of holiness."
As the building began to fill with children there was a happy buzz. Valley School sang early in the service (and made their vicar cry - they were so very shiney and hopeful, singing about the light of love)...
Then came the mime - an interpretation of the feeding of the five thousand reflecting our diocesan theme in this Year of the Child, "Children for a Change".
It was, quite simply, was the children's response.
In the artist's interpretation, the boy with the loaves and fishes was clearly disabled, his walk a painfully slow lumber...He wasn't the brightest star in the firmament either, but when he reluctantly offered the fish he had caught so laboriously, when he suddenly realised that he WANTED to give his treasures to Jesus, when Jesus welcomed and affirmed him and held him in the sort of hug that should last forever, - well then everything changed.
He did indeed go walking and leaping and praising God...and as he bounded around the Cathedral, full of the joy of his restored mobility and new self confidence (I am one whom Jesus chooses to hug), gladly throwing the precious fish from his unemptiable basket to all whom he encountered (for this was truly an illustration of what it means to be blessed to be a blessing), the children caught and ate fish no-one could see, that were yet so real that I too reached for one as it was thrown towards me, recognising that this "fish" represented the grace of God, encountered unexpectedly in all its transforming wonder.
After that it was small wonder that the whole Cathedral stilled as our suffragen prayed...with that quality of stillness that, just once in a while (nothing like often enough), you encounter before the Post Communion prayer.
These children knew exactly Who they were speaking to, and why that conversation mattered.
Pure joy to be with them.

eta. Caroline's comments make it rather clear that writing about something when you really ought to be tucked up in bed, just so you can get something else posted on the "right day" is not a good idea.
Just to clarify, the service in the Cathedral wasn't a Communion (though this diocese encourages the admission of children to Communion, and it's on the agenda for many church schools at the moment, we're nowhere near the point at which the majority of children could receive - so it would be just as inappropriate to make the Leavers' service a Communion as she suggests!)...I was simply trying to find a moment with an "average" (is there such a thing?) Sunday congregation that could be compared with the holy silence the children achieved.
And the mime, - well, that really didnt feel like intentional evangelism. It was far more about the potential to make a difference that exists within even those who consider themselves to be small and useless (the persona of the child in the mime)...and the transformation that discovering that potential can make.
No idea if I've clarified or muddied, but had to make an attempt!
OK....move along now....

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sermon for Trinity 1 Yr B - 14th June 2009

I'm not quite sure how I feel about this sermon. It had to do too many jobs, covering a baptism for a non church family in the valley, but also working in material provided by the diocese with a particular focus on the work of the church in parish and diocese. I wrote 3 versions - an 8.00, a 9.30 & an 11.00 but felt that none of them quite did what I wanted...On the other (and confusing) hand, I received very positive feed back from Church on the Hill, which given the theme of the sermon is perhaps only fitting.

Incidentally, the morning's baptism was a delight. Young L slept pretty much throughout, his older brothers were thrilled to be invited to trace the cross in oil on his forehead (by the time they'd finished he glistened in the sunshine!) and the lap of honour on which I took him at the Peace brought huge joy to the congregation. I've no idea whether any of his family will have heard (or taken in the implications of) the child friendly version of my words - but that's what happens when you sow seeds. All in all, I had a lovely time....

All it takes is one seed.

That’s what Jesus said

He was trying to explain to the crowd how God’s Kingdom comes about…what it might look like….and he chose to talk about seeds.

It was a good thought because, of course, seeds are amazing.

So very very tiny…but each with the potential to grow to something amazing.

Unless you’re an expert, you probably can’t tell just by looking at it, quite what a seed is going to turn into…but all seeds contain with them tremendous possibilities, possibilities of life and growth.

All they need is the right treatment…

They can’t manage alone.

If we left them in their packets, they wouldn’t stand a chance. To flourish, they need to be planted in the right kind of soil, to be given room to grow, together with all the water and light they may need.

And they need time as well.

The sort of growth that transforms a tiny seed into a tree just doesn’t happen overnight…

But all it takes is one seed – and great things can happen.

That’s a good thing for us to remember today, as we rejoice that L has come here for baptism.

Each of us who comes here Sunday by Sunday does so because, once upon a time, someone planted a seed.

Think about that.

It might have been a seed disguised as an invitation

Why don’t you come along to church with me next week? You might enjoy it”

It might have been the seed of a friendly word at a time when you needed one.

It might have been a seed you’re not even conscious of…like a friend who on the day he was ordained, received a letter from a lady who’d lived nearby when he was a child. Though he had no inkling of it, she had been praying for him every day of his life, asking that he might grow up to know and love God, and to do something particular for him.

I'm sure that she was as surprised and delighted by the blossoming of her seed of prayer as he was to discover that it had been sown, secretly.

For many of us, of course, it might just have been a seed sown at baptism…for after all, this is where Christian life begins.

In baptism, some pretty enormous promises are made.

Promises that could lead to a really wonderful harvest, seeds that have the potential to be life-changing.

But like every other seed they’ll need help if they’re going to grow.

No good leaving them in the packet…They need all the right conditions if they are to flourish...

That’s where the Christian community comes in.

Each of us can make a difference in that process…

L will join our family, and it’s up to us to help him belong in any way we can.

As we think of the people who helped us to grow as Christians, there’s so much to be grateful for.

It was their encouragement, their friendship, their wisdom, their prayers that brought us to this point…and of course, for each of us there is still a lot of growing to be done.

If each of US is a sign of God’s Kingdom….then there should be some evidence in our lives as individual Christians, and as a community of faith, that the seeds planted are flourishing.

After all, a mature plant carries within itself seeds for the next generation…and so it should be for us.

Each of us can sow the seeds of the Kingdom in so many different ways…That’s what being Church is about…why it matters that Lewis is being baptised into the Church family….Because the Church is a place where those who have been loved and nurtured into life in Christ can set about passing on that love and nurture to people and places that need encouragement in their turn.

Because the church is not just a place where our own faith can grow, but a place that plants seeds that make a difference to others.

It would be very strange to find a plant that contained within itself seeds for the next generation, but was hard-wired NOT to distribute them. Indeed, such a plant would not survive long.

Sometimes, though, churches seem to be aspiring to that role. They (we) can get locked into introspective attitudes of self preservation and atrophy, rather than setting out to love and serve others.

Because, of course, all that we do together as Church is for the benefit of others….It was truly said that the Church is the only club that exists to benefit those who don’t yet belong.

The Church here, the Church everywhere, exists to transform communities with and through God’s love.

When we gather for worship and welcome newcomers, when we share our faith in Jesus Christ, when we work together for the good of the community, or share our buildings and our resources – then we are being signs of the Kingdom.

Sometimes the seeds we sow may look very small…but always there is the potential for growth and we need to remember, as well, that we are part of something much bigger…that together our churches in Gloucestershire are growing God’s kingdom in all sorts of different and exciting ways.

When you came in this morning, you received a leaflet – a compass needle pointing the way to the church at its best, the church that is a sign of God’s Kingdom. That leaflet highlights the ways in which our local churches can and do make a difference, and points out too the value of working together, strengthening and encouraging one another to make Christ known as we value our buildings as a sign of God’s presence in our own communities, as we offer worship with and for all, as we try to serve our neighbours and work to transform hearts, minds and souls.

Too often, growth is slow.

We sow our seeds of hope – and nothing much happens.

It would sometimes be tempting to give up on the Church, to give upon faith, because little seems to be changing…

It can be frustrating.

Two thousand years since Jesus walked among us, and still we seem to be struggling.

But don’t be discouraged

Listen to these words, by the martyred bishop Oscar Romero

It helps now and then, to step back and take the long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.............We plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the lord's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.

There ARE times when we won’t see the harvest from seeds we have sown…but there are also times when we benefit from harvesting seeds another has sown. In just 3 weeks time, we'll welcome Mathew as our new Deacon...recognising that we are reaping a harvest sown in other churches, where his ordination means not fresh riches, but a measure of bereavement even as they celebrate his achievement.

We are reaping the harvest they sowed...and that won't be easy even for the most generous communities.

Commitment to Christ and to his Kingdom means faithfulness in good times and in bad, proper use of our own potential in God’s service, and sacrificial giving of our resources, time, talents, even money…

All it takes is a seed…a seed of love…a seed of hope…and from those seeds can come transformation.

So let’s pray that the same God who plants the seeds of his love in our hearts will bring those seeds to fruition, so that we can together form a church that is truly a sign of God’s Kingdom.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Liquid Mass - or please try this at home first, children!

Yesterday, as was beautifully pointed out on many blogs I read regularly, was the feast of Corpus Christi. I had planned a post of my own, as this is one of the feasts of the church that I hold most dear, but actually having visited here there was very little more that I wanted to say, and in any case life intervened!
So instead of posting harmlessly here, I spent most of yesterday putting finishing touches to my first even remotely alternative worship event at Church in the Valley, a Liquid Mass for Corpus Christi.

Liquid worship, for those who are wondering, is worship in which people are free to engage with the component parts in their own way, at their own pace. It's no longer even slightly cutting edge in most places - (Pete Ward's book Liquid Church was published back in 2005) but these are quite traditional communities, who were unlikely to have experienced anything quite like this before.
Because this was, of course, a Eucharist, the stations I was offering needed to cover the same ground as our familiar liturgy.

So, by the door there was space for preparation. I borrowed an idea whose pedigree came from Margaret Silf via a worship experience with (iirc) Dream at Greenbelt...a map on which to plot your current position with God, whether out on a limb, in the desert, on peaks of praise, cliffs of rebellion or just plain lost.
Worshippers were invited to mark their spot with a good firm mark, going through the paper...Now comes the clever bit. They then turned it over to discover on the reverse another copy of the same map, plus the words
"THIS is the best place for you to meet with God today
Where you are (however unchosen) is the place of blessing.

How you are (however broken) is the place of grace.

Who you are, in your becoming, is your place in the Kingdom.

By the font was the tried and trusted penitential station...A heap of stones and this text....
This is the place where the Christian journey begins, with baptism. Water is life giving…you just cannot survive long without it Water can also be life destroying…nobody can doubt that in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami. At baptism, water is poured over us as we are given a clean start, a new life in God. As you stand here, pick up a pebble…think of those things which you wish you were free of, the concerns and worries, the failures and disappointments, all those things which might hold you back on your journey with God….Hold the pebble tightly as you focus on these, then, when you are ready, let it go into the water. Then, if you wish, use some water to trace the sign of the cross on your forehead. This is your badge, your passport for the journey. When you are ready continue your walk.

What I'd not foreseen was the effect that larger stones we jettisoned our faults and failures, there was the most satisfying and significant plunk. Something real was happening here.

The ministry of the word, beneath the pulpit of course, offered copies of the gospel of the day together with a simple outline of the process of Lectio Divina and an invitiation to take the passage and work with it...together with some other sermons and thoughts on the Eucharist, for those who prefer to be led along a more defined course.

Intercessions were offered in the Lady Chapel, - which is where we already have our prayer board and votive candle stand. In addition last night was my piece de resistance...a disposable barbecue.
A barbecue???? You say, incredulously.
Isn't that a little rash? over the top even? Well, yes........with the wonders of hindsight I can agree that it was.
The thinking went like this.
Due to the hectic overexcitement of my first Easter Vigil in these parishes I had neglected to do as I had intended and place the numerous prayer slips that had been accumulated during our Experience Easter trails on the brazier when we lit the Easter fire...but they needed to be disposed of reverently at some point soon.
I had in the past used an idea (is it yours, Fr Simon?) that invited people to end their intercessions by placing some incense in a thurible, recalling the psalm
"Let my prayers rise before you like incense"
It sounds good, doesn't it.
But I'd not reckoned on the overwhelming clouds of smoke that billowed from our extremely ethical, co-op FairTrade disposable barbecue. I lit it 45 minutes before the service was due to start, heeding the instructions that suggested that it might take up to 20 minutes for the flames to die down. In fact it took longer, and the smoke - well, the whole thing was disturbingly reminiscent of Isaiah's vision that we heard about on Sunday - but rather without the glory!

Neighbours put their heads round the door to check if the church was on fire
My small but willing congregation will undoubtedly have gone home thoroughly smoked and not even an entire packet of Rosa Mystica, assuming we could have afforded it, would have stood a chance of impacting on such determined and all embracing smokiness.

Once I'd got over the whole
"this is a disaster...nobody will ever come to an act of creative worship here again...I'm going to burn the church down.....what do I tell the Archdeacon?" routine, once we'd all laughed and lamented and settled down, the evening was actually OK.
The clouds of smoke hanging in the air together with the plainsong that I'd chosen as background for the liquid part of the evening created a rather marvellous effect...And I learned not just the "try it first" lesson but also, and more importantly, another lesson in letting go, in losing control of the whole worship experience (which is very much what liquid worship is all about...).
And when I changed the music from plainsong to the Taize "Eat this bread, drink this cup", when we gathered round the altar, told the story that shapes us, broke bread and drank wine together, then all was well.

All praise to you, our God and Father,
for you have fed us with the bread of heaven

and quenched our thirst from the true vine:
hear our prayer that, being grafted into Christ,
we may grow together in unity
and feast with him in his kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Processing can be very hard work!

Processing...that's what I lack time for!

Yesterday was a very full morning of CME on "Living in the Power of the Spirit".
It included an excellent Bible study on the work of the Spirit in mission, a liturgical overview of the Sundays after Trinity (which should surely not be "ordinary" in the sense of losing their unique and special identity), and the ever-inspiring DH talking us through some aspects of the work of the Spirit in church history and in our current di (or are they multi?) lemmas.

All good stuff - demanding action if I can only carve out time to pray, plan and pray again instead of simply reacting to the situations that arrive on my doorstep.
Oy vey - practical processing sorely needed!

Mind you, there's quite alot of the other sort of processing going on too.
You see, in the middle of the morning came a session that was always going to challenge me...
A session in which we focussed on the gifts of the Spirit - and yet again I found myself engaged in the business of comparing myself with others and finding myself wanting. This is deeply unfair to the speaker who was very wise in reminding us that spiritual gifts take many and varied forms...that we can be very slow to recognise the Spirit's work....that sometimes things just don't happen as we pray they will. Actually, his input was quite excellent...personal without being unduly so, challenging and reassuring, thoroughly engaging.

And I KNOW (goodness, how I know) how the Spirit works within the Sacraments of the Church...I too have had times when I've "just happened" to turn up on the right doorstep at the right time, without any clear sense of planning to get there...I too have had experiences of praying with people and seeing things change for them....and week by week, as I preside at the Eucharist, I know myself caught up in something beyond words....

I KNOW all that sort of thing is the work of the Spirit and I rejoice in it....but yesterday I found myself plunged right back into the teenage neuroses of the 14 year old who didn't receive the charismatic gifts when everyone else in the school CU did!
It was a wretched experience...something that has been endlessly useful in sermons and comforting for those feeling sidelined by God in the years since, but at the time, just miserable. I prayed as determinedly as I was able, and endless people prayed with me. Everyone else seemed to be cheerfully speaking in tongues...sporting their oh-so-seventies "Smile Jesus loves you" while I felt like the only one not invited to the party.
The charismatic revival at Hasting High School must have lasted - oooh, a whole week, I guess - and it was one of the most uncomfortable periods of my life.

Later, on the bus home, I had it out with God...
"What's going on? Why not me?"
and God said, with great gentleness
"Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed...And also, Kathryn dear, have you tried considering the gifts that I HAVE given you in order to worship me? Because that's what tongues is all about"
And, for the time being, I understood and was glad.

But always, when conversation turns to "spiritual gifts" I find myself in a lather of insecurity. Yesterday we were invited to discuss with our neighbour our own experiences and my first reaction was to say
"Absolutely none"
I know full well that this isn't true, but it's hard to shed the legacy of that teenage disappointment, that the shiny things that others were displaying with joy and excitement were not being offered to me. And of course, God was quite right ( "nice of you to say so, Kathryn"!!! ) - I've never yet been in a situation where those particular gifts would have made a difference...

God gives the gifts we need for our situations.

But oh dear, I do wish God would help me grow out of the terrible need to compare myself with others and indulge in a wallow of insecurity. The human tendency to return to collect our unwanted baggage is disconcerting when I see it in others, exhausting when I recognise it in myself.

I know that my calling is not to be anyone but me, Kathryn...and that's actually quite OK.
No, thank God, it's better than OK....
And I'm given the gifts I need to be myself for God in this place.

Maybe one day I will reach the point of recognising that without having to go all round those familiar derelict houses first...or maybe not. But that will be OK too, as long as I remember that, as a wise and splendid friend pointed out to me
"He who calls you IS faithful"

Friday, June 05, 2009

Friday Five - Moving & Changing

Sally at the RevGals has some big moves ahead soon, and offered a timely Friday Five on the subject..

ALL IS CHANGE.... and although I am looking forward to it, it is not without a sense of trepidation, as change always brings challenges.
Changing location also means packing, so next month will be a month of clearing and sorting, deciding what comes and what gets left behind... So with change in mind I offer you this Friday five; ( if you've never moved here's a chance to use your imagination)

1. A big move is looming, name one thing that you could not possibly part with, it must be packed
The piano. I don't play it nearly as often in reality as I do in my imagination...but I couldn't begin to imagine life without it. My father was given in some time in the 1920s, when the wooden framed instrument on which he had begun to learn exploded during an unexpected heat wave. My earliest memories are of the sound of Mendelssohn Songs without Words and Chopin Nocturmes drifting through from the sitting room as he played to wind down after the working day...I suppose that piano represents my childhood and my parents now, as well as the music that waits within it to be released.
Thanks be to God, it's an upright - so it has never been an impossible challenge to move it.

2. Name one thing that you would gladly leave behind
Let's dream here...My own inability to keep control of administrative task can stay right here. As can the miserable filing cabinet in which I fail to file things!

3. How do you prepare for a move
a. practically?
Well, last time we moved, I prepared by running away! I left Training Parish on Easter Sunday, and departed for New Orleans and the first RevGals Big Event on the Tuesday...Not the best way to do it if you want your family to love you, - but it does have quite alot to recommend it all the same. Beyond that, I do try hard to purge all unwanted junk. The last move featured a joyous shredding of all paperwork pertaining to the training parish...The one before a far less enjoyable disposal of extraneous toys that were just not exciting enough to save for future generations. It felt, then, as if I was also disposing of my offsprings' childhoods :(

b. spiritually/ emotionally?
I tend to go into rabbit in headlights mode. I HATE goodbyes, so the thought of leaving anywhere will always reduce me to tears, even when I'm really excited about the next destination.
So my preparation is pretty much of the head-in-the-sand, wake-me-up-when-there-are-no-more-endings variety

4. What is the first thing you look for in a new place?

I'm assuming that this is once the removal van is unpacked,-that we're not looking at why we might have moved to the area in the first place.
So important things in adjusting to a new area are...

A really good place to walk the dogs

A large expanse of water
A Chinese takeaway (who wants to cook in the aftermath of a move? not me!)

5. Do you settle in easily, or does it take time for you to find your feet in a new location?
Superficially, I settle very easily. I love turning a new house into home, learning a new neighbourhood, growing into a new community. But when I broke my arm this year, I realised that I'm gradually moving further and further away from friends...and that as we are all chasing our tails in frenzied mid-life activity, it's really hard to make time to see each other.That's really not good news
When the children were tiny, I decided that I needed at least one friend within easy drop-in range for every half dozen dear BFFs living at a distance. That's still true, but not something you can manufacture overnight. I need people to laugh and cry with...then I'll feel really at home.

The bonus for today; a new opportunity has come up for you to spend 5 years in a new area, where would you go and why?
Oh help! I really don't want to go anywhere at the moment...Can I postpone for a bit? Then I think I'd like to spend some time working with ECUSA. I'd get to be closer to a whole lot of friends, I'd have time to explore at close range what a church that expects more of its members than Sunday attendance...and when not working, I'd get to see the wonders of a continent that offers so much, from sea to shining sea.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

I danced on a Friday...

To set against the hurt and rejection I remebered this morning,my good friend the Crimson Rambler sent me this, after reading about our joyful Pentecost celebrations

The God Who Only Knows Four Words


Has known God,
Not the God of names,
not the God of don'ts,
Not the God who ever does anything weird,

But the God who only knows four words
And keeps repeating them, saying:
"Come dance with Me."


Open arms

Explaining the cross to younger children shouldn't be easy.
I'm thankful that I don't have an atonement theology that demands that I try to explain to anyone, least of all an under 10, why they should love a God who seems set on punishing the innocent, to carry the weight of the guilty.
For me, predictably, the cross is all about love - and so, when I'm talking about it with children, I often ask them what those open arms suggest to them.
Depending how old the child, s/he may insist on focussing on the crucifixion in all its pain...on talking of nails and gazing incredulously at the palms of her own hands.
We need to think about that, - of course we do, but really I have a simpler message in mind and with Reception and Yr 1 it's usually quite easy to get there.
If all else fails, I ask them to imagine that it's the end of the school day and they can see their mum standing at the gate...
When she opens her arms to them, what does it mean?

Well, - that, at least, is how I used to try to introduce that amazing love at the heart of our faith.
But this morning, past and present came together to make me wonder if I need to rethink.

Today I got to wait with some nearly Reception children, at the end of their induction to school. One by one their mums and carers arrived to take them home. Of course, the moment each child saw their mother, the leapt up and ran towards her.
Many bent down and gathered their little one in a warm, floor-level hug.
One or two swung them high, and their oh-so-grown-up,very-nearly-school-aged children clung on for all the world like the toddlers they'd been only yesterday.
Those reunions were a wonderful, smiley thing to witness.
But as I watched, I remembered another time, another place, another group of children waiting.
One by one, those children had been claimed by returning parents.
But towards the end, when only a handful of children were still waiting, the door opened once more, another child rushed towards his mum, full of excitement, bursting with news to share...and received, not a hug but a brush-off.
Might as well not have been there.
Instantly all the joy and enthusiasm left him; he deflated before our very eyes and, oh my heart bled...

So I understood, reluctantly, that not all small children will know what God's outstretched arms can mean for them.
Perhaps that experience of loving welcome is completely unfamiliar.
I hate that this can be so, perhaps even in my own community...with children I know and care about.
And if I feel like this - then God's open arms must ache and ache.