Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas gifts

this year were many and varied. The solid, material ones included some rather stunning ear-rings, which make me worry that I might actually be grown up, as they feature both rubies & marcasite, which I had always assumed were grown up stones; and a wonderful purse made by my incredibly talented, creative daughter...who also contrived to jazz up the socks that her parents have used for our rather "after thought" stockings since Before Time Was by sewing on any number of beautiful multicoloured stars AFTER I HAD GONE TO BED ON CHRISTMAS EVE. Can you think of more love than that???? Also lovely CDs, and a pile of books. Just what the vicar needed/ordered.

The less tangible but no less wonderful gifts arrived unlooked for in the course of our worship at Church in the Valley...
  • At the Crib Service, the baby Jesus (6 weeks old) slept throughout the service, and his peace somehow rubbed off on all of us, so that instead of the rather manic, overexcited abandon of past Christmas Eves, this year we went home glowing gently with hope and holiness.
  • At Midnight a self styled "redundant" opera singer, who had appeared for the 8.00 on Advent 4 was seated in the front pew with his family and his beautiful voice lent the body that we needed to our music and even supported my nearly-exhausted post-cold soprano through all the essential singing
  • Hugger Steward read the lesson from Isaiah 9 and as I heard those words drop into the candle-lit silence their truth unexpectedly overwhelmed me and brought me to tears 
      "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light

  • A young man whose disability meant that getting to the altar is a real struggle helped me to understand a little better what the Incarnation means...With help from his mum he managed to reach the altar rail and kneel, but depended on me to place the host on his tongue - he could only get so far on his own, and needed me to meet him when he had reached the end of his own resources. So many important lessons for me summed up in that one encounter, which, please God, I'll carry with me way beyond this Christmas.
So - thank you. Thank you friends and family. Thank you, Church family too. And thank you, very much.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Signs of the Kingdom, Signs of the times Week 3 Tuesday

My diary this morning looked really innocuous...Morning Prayer, Home Communion, a bit of desking, another nativity then hospital visiting before an evening of undiluted mummying, in honour of the Dufflepud's school prize giving.

It looked innocuous, but appearances, as you'll be aware, are all too often deceptive.
All went fine initially, with the joy of driving my very own car for the first time in almost a fortnight...but all through the day there were little hints of heartbreak.
The first came as I picked up an elderly parishioner, who was joining me as I took Communion to a friend of hers who is now completely housebound. One of the drawbacks of having a two parishes placed so beautifully up hill and down dale is that the hills are always there to be negotiated, and too often they become an impossible obstacle for the elderly. However that first hint of heartbreak had nothing at all to do with hills. When my passenger was settled, we exchanged a few pleasantries and she then began to cough. Concerned, I asked if she was fighting a winter lurgy
"Oh no, K, I'm fine..." she said, cheerfully, "It's just that I haven't spoken to anyone since Sunday so my throat is a bit surprised now we are chatting"
Not a hint of complaint.
She has been widowed for almost 3 years and this is quite simply how life is.
One of my core Sunday congregation, whose voice is going rusty from disuse...

The visit for Communion was good, though as always when I visit H, I was concious of the weight of the past pressing in on him, the multitude of good memories that seem, for him, to rob the present of any value at all...Nothing will ever match up to what has gone, and here and now is a rather chilly, empty place. Still, today he told me some wonderful stories about his childhood on the edge of the Forest of Dean, and we laughed at least as much as we struggled not to cry.

A very muddy dog walk (featuring a vicar spreadeagled inelegantly in the mire), the Infant's nativity and then hospital visiting. When I got to the ward, the door bore this notice
"Please close the door. We have a wanderer on the ward"
Going through, I saw that screens had been pulled across the corridor, and from behind them came the most terrifying sound, barely human in its raw intensity, intended to communicate nothing beyond total pain and desolation.
An elderly lady, her mind completely destroyed by the ravages of dementia, shrieking and howling her pain to any and all that could not help but listen.
She braced herself in the corner, eyes shut, her only focus the need to give voice once more to the agony...and beside her, speaking gently, soothingly, throughout the whole length of my visit, was a young nurse, who really couldn't have been more than 21. Her words met with no response, but that didn't deter her from trying, with infinite love, to break into the fearful darkness.

There in one corner of a busy ward, all the pain of humanity in microcosm, and beside it, in shining hope, the constant reminder of redemptive grace.

In the tender compassion of our God
The dayspring from on high SHALL break upon us
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death
And to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Signs of the Kingdom, Signs of the times - Week 3, Monday

I've blogged more than once before about the rather wonderful school at the top of the hill (not, sadly, the same hill which gives Church on the Hill its name - the school for that community closed before I left university),  a school whose staff work with children disadvantaged in so many ways, care for them passionately and teach them to believe in themselves. It stands as a sign of the Kingdom for me all the year round, not just during Advent.

Though it's not a church school, we've now established warm and friendly relations. I'm in there for Assembly at least once a month, getting to know both staff and children, and tonight the Juniors brought their Carol Service down to Church in the Valley. It was a simple service, with short readings delivered beautifully, telling the story from Annunciation to Epiphany and 100% traditional carols sung with great enthusiasm by all the children. It made me very smiley to think that this group of children at least will have the same sound-track to Christmas that I grew up with...whatever else overlays that foundation.

All lovely stuff, then - but perhaps most specially the tortoiseshell butterfly that was roused by the warmth as the church heaters lurched into action, which flew from the sanctuary down the nave over the heads of the delighted children and then returned to settle gently on, of all things, the Christmas tree.
New life, anyone?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Homily for 8.00, 3rd Sunday in Advent Yr C

Rejoice in the Lord always

That’s the theme of this Sunday…the midpoint of Advent.
When in times past the seasonal emphasis was very much on repentence, today was a holiday
Gaudete Sunday…a chance for the gloom and solemnity to lift briefly…a chance to glimpse the promise of shining glory yet to come.


But in these days when conspicuous consumption has replaced austerity, this can pose a problem.
We’re up to our necks in the synthetic excitement and manufactured jollity of the tv Christmas…
We are blinded by the flashing fairy lights of a thousand High Street displays yet know that the tinselled celebrations on offer are only the palest reflection of real joy.
We hear the exhortations to rejoice but we hear also the words of John the Baptist, and apply them to ourselves.

You brood of vipers….

John is intent on challenging us, spurring us on to a life of radical discipleship, a life in which our faith is evident not just in our words but in our works and even in our wardrobes

Conscious of our own shortcomings we note that in Luke’s account, John’s sermon in the desert is replete with images of violence..
Even now the axe is lying at the root of the tree…
His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire

That is deeply frightening.
Are we wheat or (as in our hearts we may fearfully suspect) chaff?
Can we even bear to ask?

And yet, in the very next sentence we are told
“So…he proclaimed the GOOD NEWS to the people”

And this is Gaudete Sunday?
Once again, I find myself struggling. How is this Good news? Where is the cause for rejoicing?

We're half way through Advent.
The world is pressurising us into one last frantic push to boost the sales figures
We're conscious of the gap between our reality, as damaged, fallible people,  and the idealised Christmas that is rammed down our throats 24/7…the season of saccharine good will
And a voice at the back of our minds echoes John
"you generation of vipers"
We know that in so many ways we fail God
We look at the fruits of our lives and see only inadequacy
We do NOT do justice
We pile up possessions we do not need, fill our cupboards and our freezers so that we can share with those whom WE choose to invite to our table.
We are often dissatisfied with what we have – and fearful that there may not be enough to go round….

So we look at ourselves, and suspect we know our destination.
We feel small, weak, beleagured in the face of so many huge issues
climate change, economic melt down, the collapse of the Anglican Communion
In our hearts there is more of fear than of expectation…
But for all that, this IS Gaudete Sunday…and our salvation is indeed nearer than when we first believed.

Time, then, to heed the words of Zephaniah.
We do not need to fear, nor to despair.
The Lord our God IS in our midst already
“You shall fear disaster no more”
Because the God in our midst comes not with judgement but with joy.
It is his delight to renew and restore us
The Lord our God comes to us SINGING
He knows us to the core, with all our failings, fears and weakness but he is so much in love with us that he sings.
Ponder that for a moment.
YOU make GOD sing for joy!

And because of that glorious, extravagant love
“The Lord has taken away the judgements against you…

John saw only a part of the picture.
His vision was founded upon justice, but God acts not in accordance with our deserts but in accordance with his love for us.
So there is no need to fear.
Truly, this IS a day to rejoice.

So, let’s pause for a moment in the Advent madness and ponder what we might do to add our own harmonies to God’s song.
Where can we join in? What can we notice that  might make God sing in our lives, in our world, in the days ahead?

Let’s be quiet, to hear the music of that song in our hearts today.

Signs of the Kingdom, Signs of the Times: "Soon and very soon..."

You might have gathered that I'm a bit stuck with pre-festival deskyness, at the moment - so it's been a bit harder to raise my eyes and notice signs this past week. However, the Friday Five Over at RevGals was a gift for the series... Sophia offers what she describes as " another very simple Friday Five in honor of the past, present, and eschatological dimensions of this powerful season of the church year....

Please share five ways that God has come to you (your family or friends, your church or workplace, our world) in the past year, that God is coming to you right now, and/or that you are longing and looking for God to come."

  • as always God has come to me very directly and powerfully through the ministry of children. In this Year of the Child they have been central to so many glimpses of the kingdom, from their dancing with the Holy Spirit at our wonderful Pentecost service to their unexpected, unintended wisdom offered again and again at school assemblies and at Messy Church. For me, the child as model of the Kingdom is unerringly effective.
  • through the slow growth in relationships around Messy Church. For me it's represented by the gift of ice-cream for 40 from one mum who can ill-afford it, and by the way that one young man has appeared, rain or shine, to help in whatever way we need - from moving tables to making Christingles, with a host of other kindness in between. These are people whom I didn't know at all when the year began, and I thank God for them, and for all that they represent.
  • the boundless energy and joy of Libby the retriever when I let her off the lead at the start of a walk in the woods or on the common. She is utterly present in the moment, delighted by everything that it brings - and the unconditional love with which she greets any and everyone whom she encounters is positively inspiring (til she rolls in something indescribable, of course...but that's what seeing "in a glass darkly" is all about!)
  •  new friendships, born here online, with people who've been just exactly the people I've needed, with the particular gifts, insights and inspiration to transform some difficult times this year...those who have said to me "Here is the way, - walk in it".
  • a dream hatched at a planning meeting just this week.The group gathered to discuss our contribution to a deanery-wide mission happening next autumn, - a one-off event designed to encourage people to "Think Twice" about life and faith. By the time we went home we were looking at something far more radical, something that might, with God's help, really make a difference in this community, even if nobody ever joins the church as a result...God so loved the world, - right?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Signs of the Kingdom, Signs of the times

The obvious problem with launching any sort of blogging series is that you create the expectation that you will actually continue it...It would be entirely reasonable to imagine that an Advent series might include posts each day of Advent - but clearly I'm not going to achieve this. That instantly makes me anxious...Am I so busy looking in the wrong direction that I'm failing to recognise signs of the Kingdom? Surely there must be some to see each and every day...
Or is it simply that I lack the time to write about them? (shortage of time has never prevented this born procrastinator from fitting in a blog post, even with chaos and deadlines all around me)
And does anyone really want or need to read them anyway? (I don't have a site meter, so I'm not sure how many people actually visit here, but I do know that there are far fewer comments these days than in the heyday of blogging)

All of which is a very circuitous route to saying that series are probably dangerous. I avoided NaBloPoMo because I guessed I wouldn't have something worthwhile to share every day for a whole month, and I think this applies equally to Advent.
But I'll keep trying to offer the signs that speak to me...because, after all, blogging is a pretty narcissistic activity. If they work for anyone else as well, that's a bonus.

So...I was in school again, continuing to explore the meaning of waiting, and what we might really be waiting for. We talked alot about CHRIST...then one small hand began waving around in great excitement.

"Kathryn, Kathryn...I know what the other bit of Christmas means...It means it's for alot of people altogether. That's what a mass is...So Christmas means Christ for lots of people"

Linguistically dodgy, theologically spot on I'd say.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Signs of the Kingdom, Signs of the times Week 2: Monday

Busy weekend, with lovely C staying, the usual pattern of worship, & a couple of trips across to Gloucester Hospital to visit a poorly parishioner...There were several signs of the Kingdom to be spotted en route but my favourite came about during the All Age talk yesterday.
Using the Malachi passage set for the day, I talked about refining silver, and the need to purify it before it can become the shiny metal that we think of.
My mother's favourite silver tray went on a trip around church so that everyone could see their face in it, while I reminded them that we are made in God's image "to reflect His truth and light".
There was a baptism, too, and I felt more and more smiley as I realised just how strong a theme the image of God is in the liturgy...but my Kingdom moment came when E., Church-in-the-Valley's example of the splendid child who can be relied on to volunteer for everything, held the silver tray so that the curate's son could see himself. 
One of the most charming toddlers I know gazing with joy on the face that gazed back at him...
Indeed, it was very good.



Saturday, December 05, 2009

Sermon for Advent 2, Yr C Luke 3 1-6

One of those weeks when recycling seems by far the best this is a reworking of something I preached in my training parish....Sorry if it seems familiar!

Routes and bypasses….our gospel this morning is full of them.
Here we are on the second Sunday of Advent, with the world outside already dashing headlong towards the culmination of weeks of manic shopping.
We must be heading somewhere, the question is where?
Almost every conversation I’m part of at the moment includes the familiar formula
“It’s your busy time, I suppose….” And the inevitable question
“Well, are you ready then?”
Are you ready?
That’s exactly the question that lies behind this morning’s gospel, though the preparations that John views as necessary have very little to do with a shoppers’ jamboree.
I suspect that sounds harsh,- and I’m absolutely not about to deliver one of those diatribes about the “true meaning of Christmas”. We may struggle not to be distracted, but as we come here this morning we are at the very least putting ourselves in the place where we can hope to concentrate on the coming reality…and by God’s grace, we’ll attend to him along the way too.
Meanwhile, what about those preparations?
Are we ready?
Is there a road cleared in our lives, and in our world, fit for the king to travel along?
Dirt tracks and potholes might be OK for lesser travellers, but for royalty something better is needed, a smooth clear road, going directly to its destination…
Travelling as we generally do on roads which are maintained to a pretty good standard, it’s hard for us to really imagine the image of radical land clearance that lies behind the Old Testament prophecy John the Baptist recalls.
But three years ago in the week before Advent I travelled by coach several hundred miles from Bangalore to Kanyakumari at the southernmost tip of India.
The journey was memorable for many reasons but the road itself was unlike anything I’d ever experienced.
It headed out of the city in a promising way, but we’d only gone a few miles before the trouble began.
You see, it really wasn’t ready.
It still needed a lot of work….parts had been washed away in recent floods, parts had never actually been finished, so that often we’d find ourselves bouncing and jolting over rough ground for several miles, until, for no apparent reason, suddenly there it was again.
It existed in theory, when you looked at a map, but not in any real terms, when you tried to negotiate it.
In fact, it was much like the route of salvation that God had provided in the Hebrew Scriptures. It was there in outline, but nobody was doing particularly well at travelling the length of it. For centuries the prophets had tried to point out its whereabouts, crying
“Here is the way, walk in it”, but people seemed determined to veer off course, to take paths that were easier, smoother, more attractive.
Enter John the Baptist, but only after God has bypassed a whole host of important-sounding people, Tiberias, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip, Caiaphas, Annas. These, surely, are the movers and shakers, the ones who can actually make a difference to the way people travel.
Nonetheless when it comes to preparing the way, God looks not to Jerusalem or even to Rome but out to the wilderness, to the unprepossessing figure of John,.
So even at the beginning of the Jesus story, our expectations are subverted.
The messenger sent to prepare the way speaks without the authority of State or Temple. He’s not in the centre of things at all…but he’s the one entrusted with the message. It is his voice that awakens us to our condition, as he reminds us of all the debris that needs to be swept out of the road way, the sins that we need to repent.
Prepare the way of the Lord
It seems that our Advent preparations should really have more to do with discarding than with stock-piling. Extraneous baggage must be abandoned, and Malachi assures us that we will be refined…our impurities burned away until we are able to offer an appropriate gift in righteousness.
Righteousness - things as they should to be….a world running according to God’s ultimate plan.
That sounds like a pretty radical levelling of the rough places…
the same process that we are promised in Mary’s Magnificat.
He has put down the mighty from their seat and has exalted the humble and meek,- just another way of expressing the promise of Isaiah,
Every valley shall be filled, every mountain and hill be made low.  T
he landscape shall be smoothed out, until there are no barriers to prevent us from seeing the salvation of our God directly, for ourselves…
All that is evil will be brought to righteousness and struggles will be transformed into victories.
Then, and only then, we shall all see the salvation of God.
But there is more.
It’s not the messenger in the wilderness who actually does the work of preparation. He alerts us to its need, but in the event, it is the Lord himself who will roll up his sleeves and set to, to straighten the roads, lower the mountains, fill in the valleys.
God will act in order to make us ready to receive him, God will act to create a level playing field for all of his creation, a world of equal opportunities realised in equal shares for all, a world built on justice and peace.
The King is not going to travel along the royal highway in a chauffeur-driven limousine…rather he is going to seize a shovel and clear the way himself, for he is determined to make it possible for each of us to reach our destination.
The message of Christmas time is above all that God does not choose to remain aloof from his creation, sending others to do his work, waiting, with fingers tapping impatiently, for all to be ready for his coming.He doesn’t ask if we are ready, he has worked decisively to ensure that we are.God chooses to enter directly into our experience of chaos and devastation…
God elects to travel with us along our shockingly imperfect, unfinished road, transforming it as he does so.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Friday Five - Do Nothing edition

Sally has been reading Stephen Cottrell's "Do nothing - Christmas is Coming!" and this has inspired her Friday Five

Five things you won't be doing to prepare for Christmas.

1. This Christmas I won't be stressing to plan the perfect menu for all and sundry. We will get some tasty food in, but I refuse to accept that this is The Meal of the Year, - and am not going to follow Delia, Jamie or anyone else....We will cook and eat as best we can, and refuse to stress.

2.I won't be sending a letter listing the achievements and excitements of the family...The children are way too old for this to feel comfortable, - and as I think it's pretty dull to receive a card sans letter, and simply can't write individual letters to all 200 odd who WERE on my Christmas card list, I guess that means very few cards this year either. Will try to create an e card using one of my own photos, as I don't want NOT to connect with absent friends, but the fury of card writing feels inappropriate in its use of time and of the earth's resources too.

3.I'll also avoid buying pointless presents for those who need little. If I REALLY have no idea what might be appreciated, then I'll invest in a goat from Present Aid and I very much hope that my congregation will adopt a similar approach and donate to CA instead of sending cards across the church family.

4.This means I WONT be shopping at Christmas Craft Fayres, and have already (and happily) not ventured into Stroud for "Goodwill Evening" tonight.

5. Number 5 is more of a hope than a guaranteed goal, but I trust that this year I will not be telling myself that the happiness or otherwise of the whole family's Christmas depends on me...I love my children and will rejoice in spending time with them, but I can't be responsible for every aspect of their lives and attitudes. Either the mixture that we create will work and leave us happy, or it won't...but (please note), come what may it WONT ALL BE MY FAULT!

For a bonus, Sally asks for a favourite Advent carol...I'm not sure if this qualifies, but in its simplicity (and in the image of Christ the apple tree, which just IS, from the beginning........) it represents the sort of Christmas I would wish to prepare.

For happiness I long have sought
And pleasure dearly I have bought.
I missed of all, but now I see
Tis found in Christ the Apple Tree.

A blast from the past

Mostly for the benefit of Mary Beth, who has managed to get through life thus far without encountering the wonder that was the Citroen 2CV...designed to carry a basket of eggs and several hens across ploughed fields, and latterly for a multitude of sixties throw-backs...The car was almost inevitably decorated with CND or anti nuclear stickers, usually crammed with children, and always sounded like a weary lawn mower. But goodness, it was fun to drive. It barely HAD an engine (I knew of someone whose most prized possession was the speeding ticket that proved that his 2CV had actually managed to reach 75 mph...) but actually that didn't matter. It wasn't a car. It was a lifestyle!

Nothing to do with Advent...

At the moment I'm struggling with an identity crisis!

Clouseau, the  Citroen C3, comfortably "worn in" via vicarage gate posts & muddy, hairy retrievers, is visiting the garage for a spot of R&R. I'm hoping that he may even come home with the heating working once more...
The garage he's visiting belongs to G, a friend and parishioner, whose normal line of work is substantially further upmarket than the vicar's Citroen. 
Knowing that Clouseau's stay might take longer than just one day, we had postponed and postponed hoping there might be a gap in the diary, but finally conceded that a carless day was just not going to be manageable - so G undertook to lend me a courtesy car for the duration.

Thus yesterday morning he appeared at the vicarage, we exchanged keys, and off he went into the chilly dawn, leaving me with the sort of shiny, perfect, grown-up car that would be the answer to most people's dreams.
It has a big engine (remember, my favourite car ever was my 2CV), amazing electric gadgets to do any and everything at the push of a button, cream leather seats, and automatic transmission. It's a splendid vehicle, which any sensible person would be thrilled to borrow.

And I have never been so uncomfortable in my life!

At first I thought it was simply because I was struggling to remember to avoid the non-existent clutch. However, after a couple of unscheduled emergency stops I learned that one quite quickly...
Then I thought it might be because the idea of the car choosing when I should change gear made me feel out of control. After all, I'm supposed to be brighter than this machine, right?
But it wasn't til I had to drive past the crowd of mourners as I followed the hearse from valley church yesterday that the penny dropped.

You see, I was desperate to open the window and assure them that of course this wasn't MY car, that I hadn't so far forgotten who I am called to be that I thought that driving around in something of this degree of shiny splendour would be in any way appropriate. 
I hated that someone, anyone, might see me and believe that the church was that cut off from the life of this community, that forgetful of the Gospel's bias to the poor. 
I felt as if, just driving through the parish, I'd somehow sold out (which is quite ridiculous, and not a little rude in the face of G's generous loan, for which I am genuinely grateful).

I realised, though, that I do see my car as an expression of myself. 
I remembered how hard I found it to give up the ageing-hippy image of my 2CV when teenaged sons were simply too tall to be accommodated on the back seat any longer.I didn't feel ready to drive a sensible car, like a proper grown-up, and was far less excited about a brand new car than people assumed that I'd be. Clapped out rust heap v shiny new vehicle, with much better green credentials. It should have been a no-brainer but there were many tears shed when the 2CV departed forever.

In time, of course, I adjusted - I'm very fond of Clouseau, though he'll never have the personality of Daisy & Skippy, who came before him - but I'm pretty certain that whatever car I find myself driving in the years to come, it will never boast leather seats or the sort of opulence that is currently, nervously, parked in the vicarage drive.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Signs of the Kingdom, Signs of the times Week 1: Thursday

Knocked out by the echoes of the Magnificat in this morning's readings at the Eucharist...
How about this?
For he has brought low
   the inhabitants of the height;
   the lofty city he lays low.
He lays it low to the ground,
   casts it to the dust.
6The foot tramples it,
   the feet of the poor,
   the steps of the need

Later it was time for another funeral - the family had asked for short and simple, and the service at Valley Church certainly fitted that description.
They had suggested that the body went on to the Crem unattended, which is something I cannot and will not allow as long as I'm the one responsible for funerals in this I'd just told the funeral directors I would go along anyway, taken a deep breath and climbed into the scary loan car that is making life so challenging today.
And, when we got to the crematorium, something wonderful happened.

Usually, when there is no family attending the committal, the bearers retreat to the very back of the chapel while I pray and commend, and send the departed on their way. Sometimes the bearers leave me altogether alone, which gives rise to a whole series of different questions about what one is saying and doing at the time. But today, - today the bearers remained standing, side by side, really close to the coffin as it lay on the catafalque. They responded to the prayers, they befriended the body and treated it with all the reverent care that a family might offer. It was quite impossibly moving.
That little group of men in dark suits, whose work and ministry I've come to take almost for granted, stood as true companions, and showed me Christ as they proclaimed, to anyone with ears to hear
"Any man's death diminshes me, because I am involved in mankind..."

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Signs of the Kingdom, Signs of the Times Week 1: Wednesday

I don't get to choose the themes for Assembly at Valley Church School (though every now and then I jettison the official timetable when something seems specially pressing) so I can promise I had absolutely nothing to do with this week's focus "SIGNS".
It was my turn for a key stage 1 assembly, which can be hard work...The children are squished into a relatively small room, sitting on the floor and their concentration is apt to wander, specially if I'm short of visual aids or whizzy activities. 
Not today, though, despite my total failure in multi-sensory terms. 
I'd decided to talk about the signs we can recognise outside- moving from the sign that welcomed us to St M's school so that we knew we had arrived, to those we had talked about at the Advent Service last week - the tinsel and wrapping paper, all the trappings of the season. Then we talked about signs of things that reveal what is happening inside us - yawning when we are tired, crying when we are sad or hurt, giggling when we are happy or excited....

I asked what might be the signs that we were ready "inside" to celebrate Jesus's birthday - and the children got the idea at once, producing lots of examples of behaviours that would reveal our readiness.
In the end we decided that we would adopt our four favourite signs of being ready and try to focus on one of them through each week of Advent...

So, ladies and gentlemen, here are today's signs of the Kingdom, thanks to the Infants of St M's school...
Look out for them as you make your way through Advent.

"If we don't kick, or pinch, or smack people"
"If we listen and wait"

"If we try to be kind and loving"
"If we are smiley and cheerful, not whiney"

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Signs of the Kingdom, Signs of the times Week 1: Tuesday

  • much laughter and friendship at PTA committee meeting looking back at the Advent Fayre and forward to (what have I done???!) the two school discos in the Church hall on Friday.
  • great encounter with Baptism family, who are seriously committed to exploring faith with their baby son & building a relationship with a church community as a place where his faith can be nurtured.
  • lovely home Communion & talk about faith at one of the sheltered housing developments down here in the valley...Heard of a promise made 70 years ago to a Children's Society organiser, which has been honoured by a collecting box handed in at Christmas each and every year since.

Signs of the Kingdom, Signs of the times Week 1: Monday

  • splendid to spend time with community-minded, eco-Pagan friend (yes, this IS Stroud, peoples...) who is warm and wonderful & makes me laugh as we fall over "language barriers". Is it OK to say "God bless..." as we part? Yes, because she's happy with the concept of a benevolent Guiding Principle behind creation.                                                                                     More laughter.                                                                                       Love that we share a passion for building community, and respecting the planet, making a difference. Love that we share a vision for this community as a place where everyone knows that they are valued. Love her ideas of transforming the burdensome gardens of the elderly into longed-for allotments for those keen on sustainable lifestyles. Love that we're not frightened off by the "language barrier" but can enjoy all the Kingdom signs we both cherish.
  • so many good things emerged from Saturday's fayre, including a real ego boost courtesy of that traditionally hard-to-please phenomenon, the teenage boy...According to one Y8 I am not, as I suspected, wooly, witless and weary but "Whacky and with-it". It must be my flowery Docs, but frankly I'm just grateful for the affirmation, whatever its foundation!

Signs of the Kingdom, Signs of the Times - Advent 1

In case you'd failed to notice, I'm very strongly ENFP - so today's signs are very much about relationships.

  • Our Recessional at the morning's United Benefice Eucharist was, unsurprisingly, "Lo he comes", perhaps my favourite Advent hymn, and as we launched into the final verse there was, for me, a strong sense that we were all truly focussed on being Church together, that people from hill and valley alike were living what they sang"Yea, Amen, let all adore thee!"

  • The apocalyptic imagery in today's gospel was reflected in the weather in and around Stroud on Sunday, which had a distinctly dampening impact on our Christingle service at Church in the Valley...BUT there was something very special about looking at the circle of people spread out around the church just before we turned off the lights, and realising that we had a real connection with virtually every single one of them. 50 people, most of whom I didn't know at all a year ago, but who now feel committed enough to the life of our church to head out into the darkness on the wettest and wildest of evenings.

  • During the Fayre on Saturday, one mum from Messy Church had approached me to ask if she could come to other services in jeans, because jeans was what she had. At the time, I felt like crying...What have we done as a church through the years to make her believe that she wouldn't be welcome unless she came dressed in "Sunday best"?...but at the Christingle service, I rejoiced: she had believed me when I told her that God welcomes us exactly as we are, and had come to join in worship.

Signs of the Kingdom, Signs of the times

A busy busy 1st weekend of Advent...On Sunday our gospel reminded us that when all sorts of wild and terrifying things are going on in the world, we are to look up because the Kingdom begins here.
So I'm hoping to blog my way through Advent noticing signs of the Kingdom as I go along...

Saturday's signs
  • opening the door of church in the Valley on Saturday to a buzz of laughter and creativity, as PTA members arranged their stalls, while in the church hall congregation were busy with the same task
  • seeing the whole place full of happy people, chatting, shopping, enjoying tea and mince-pies or queuing to visit St Nicholas
  • realising that if the vicar simply HAD to buy something on every stall, this would of necessity include the completely fabulous cake stall (created out of nothing, when an initial appeal to school seemed to be producing minimal results - in the event, parents turned up in droves with all sorts of delicious goodies) AND the chocolate tomobola
  • the arrival of J., a teenager who has been helping completely off his own bat at Messy Church, and who clearly feels as a result that other church events deserve his support: he manned the "make your own Christingle" stall pretty much single-handed for an hour. Such a star!
  • a really pleasing total, with pretty much identical totals raised by the two groups, so that a 50:50 split left nobody feeling disadvantaged
  • hearing so many people, from both constituencies, say                       "It's better together..." and "We need one another"