Sunday, March 28, 2010

Displacement here we come!

I've just discovered the perfect game for those whose brains are in pieces as they contemplate the rigours of Holy Week
I encountered "Unconscious mutterings" via a twitter friend whose own blog name "Scatter Cushions" proclaims a being almost as divertable as I am myself. For a full explanation of the process see here but the idea is simple...first thoughts inspired by these words
  1. Bow out ::retire
  2. Relationships ::complex
  3. Facebook ::status
  4. Items ::missing
  5. Ours ::not to reason why
  6. Sting ::death (oh, I should get out more!)
  7. Hangover :: no chance!
  8. Contacts :: glasses
  9. Lonely ::cloud
  10. Seven days ::it'll all be over!


We had such a lovely time this morning!
The miserable weather forecasts proved unfounded so we gathered at Valley Church school in bright spring sunshine and made a loud and joyful journey down the road to church, waving the flags that Messy Church had made and singing Hosanna! As is my wont, I'd not absolutely worked out all the teeniest details of quite how, so there were a few pieces of creative ad lib - but so much genuined celebration that I can't think anyone was too truly appalled.
We thought about the way in which "Hosanna" and "Crucify him!" constantly fight to have the loudest voices in our lives, ably led with cue-cards by E. & M., two of our lovely 1st Communion group; we sang all the essential hymns (at least to my way of thinking) and made Eucharist together.
Then, when all was done there, the Herring of Christ (tm) and I drove up the hill to do it all over again, - this time with a dramatised Passion and  the full Palm Sunday liturgy. This Holy Week is ludicrously full, ridiculously busy, and I love very much!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Servant King

This year for the 4th time I'm welcoming children into a church that I serve to "Experience Easter"...The trail was devised, originally for Gloucester Diocese, by our excellent Children's Advisor & Primary Schools Advisor, both of whom are stunningly creative & inspiring women - so the stations in themselves are highly effective. However, what makes me rejoice as I walk them with group after group is the fresh light that the children shed on events that are so deeply embedded in me.

Yesterday we opened "Experience Easter 2010" with year 5 from Valley Church School and as usual I came home with much to ponder. Insight of the day came from A. as we considered our different understandings of "servant" and "king" and how those two roles could be combined in Jesus

"Jesus understands exactly how it is to be doesn't matter how different they  are,  what  they look like to other people...Jesus knows how it is because he has been there - from servant to king. He understands children and bullies too".

I'll never sing that song again without this added layer of meaning.
Jesus, in one action,  giving us not just a model for Christian life, but a glimpse of the heart of the God who knows us all inside out.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sermon for Passion Sunday yr C - Costly love

Today, as you probably know, is known as Passion Sunday...It's the day on which, in some churches, statues and crosses are veiled...the day on which we pass an invisible marker find that, like Jesus, our faces are now set firmly towards Jerusalem, and the drama that will unfold there.
So it's the day on which Passiontide begins – and passion is at the core of our gospel this morning. I wonder how that makes you feel, where you are in this story...With the disciples, Martha, and Lazarus looking on in confusion? With Mary herself? With Judas?
I wonder...
How does Mary's extravagant gesture make you feel? Embarassed and uncomfortable?
That would be quite reasonable, specially for us...After all, we Anglicans, with our love of the middle way, are sensible and prudent people on the whole.
We believe in moderation in all things, in wise husbandry of our resources, in fabric funds and planned giving.
We wouldn't want to see anything go to waste and we wouldn't ever want to make a scene, would we?
But, though prudence has its place, I'm not sure it belongs in our relationship with God. In this passage, it's the approach advocated by Judas.
“What a waste. Think of all the good you could have done if you'd sold that perfume, think how many lives you could have transformed”
Thanks to hindsight, its easy for us to reject everything that Judas says, but truth to tell, here his thoughs may well chime with our own. The needs of the world are huge and pressing and it seems wantonly thoughtless to simply squander a precious gift...think what a difference it could make in Haiti.
But that's not the message of today's passage. We remember Jesus saying “Whatever you do to the least of my little ones you do to me” but today our focus is direct action, an immediate heartfelt response to the reckless generosity that God heaps upon us.
Today, it seems, Mary has learned the lesson of grace – of God's costly love...the passion that will reach its fullest expression on the cross. Today Mary is our teacher .She recognizes, however imperfectly, both who Jesus is and who she is in relation to him.
Her discipleship is based on service, on the service of anointing that is both intimate, with its intense focus on hands, feet and hair, and public – the whole house filled with the scent of the oil.
In John's account of the Last Supper, just one chapter later, Jesus models the kingdom as he gets up,ties a towel around himself,fills a basin and washes the disciples' feet.That is what he wants his followers to do, but he doesn't just tell them, he shows them.Do as I say, he says, and do as I do.Mary, our teacher for today, anticipates that lesson beautifully, acting from her heart, responding to all that Jesus has been in her life.
Note, she anoints not his head, declaring him king, but his anointing reserved for the dead. Jesus recognises the truth of this and the prophetic message of that lavish gift. There will be nothing economical about his death, just as there has been nothing economical about his life.  In him, the extravagance of God's love is made flesh.  In him that love is poured out for the sake of the world.

The great hymn writer Isaac Watts surely recalled this scene when writing his wonderful hymn
“When I survey the wondrous cross” and made the connection between the outpouring of sorrow and love that is Christ's anointing at Calvary, and the perfume flowing over his feet at Bethany...May his words and Mary's example continue to inspire and challenge us as we reflect on our own response to the passion that Christ has for each of us.

Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were an offering far too small
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Thinking about our mothers

Such a lovely morning
Enough people in both churches to make me feel hopeful, a goodly gaggle of children down in the valley and even a rather charming and utterly unexpected family up the hill
Space to be real about the pain that Mothering Sunday brings to many, without, I hope, making those who wanted to celebrate feel their joy was unwelcome.
The highlight for me was a prayer tree at church in the valley, on which we hung leaves bearing the names of all our mothers, regardless of whether the parent/child relationship had been a source of delight or of despair. 

I stopped off at valley church on my way home after my journey up the hill, and took a moment or two to read and pray through some of those names.
There they all were,the long-dead Mabels and Ednas who had mothered the grandmothers in my congregation today, the young mums whom I know well from the school gates, the Nigerian matriarch whose son brings his sons to church faithfully, week on week, my own mother, Joyce, and close beside  my own name, placed there by the Dufflepud...
I found the whole thing quite startlingly moving.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

How many mums? an All Age Talk for Mothering Sunday Yr C

What day is it today?
I promise it's not a trick, if you look at your Grapevine, is very firmly described as
Mothering Sunday
NOT Mothers' Day....because for us in church at least, though today is a day when we do celebrate and thank God for our mothers, we celebrate even more the huge army of people who mother us....
Our Old Testament reading highlights the truth that, in the words of an African proverb, it takes a village to raise a child, as it gives us a picture of the infant Moses receiving love, care and nurture from not one but three mother figures – and I'm confident that it's worked that way for most of us.Each one of us needs so much love, care and encouragement...and I know as a mum that though I do my best, my children would have a very raw deal if they relied only on me – but I know that I've shared in the real work of mothering with so many others, just as I received that sort of care from many different people besides the loving and loved woman who gave birth to me.
If I had to make a list I'd start with her right enough, but I'd add at least 3 other women who showed me huge love and care as I grew up, the parents of friends who supported me when my own parents died, teachers, men and women, who encouraged me and brought out the best in me, friends of my own age who took care that I wasn't alone at the traditional family times....And I'd need to mention lots of children – my own included – who've known when I might need a hug to help me feel better, or worked hard to make me smile...
So much mothering given and received, - and that's just how it should be.
Today can be difficult for many people.Some of us never knew our mothers, or lost them along time ago.Some of us have children who have disappointed us, or whom we have disappointed.Some of us longed for children but found that it didn't work out...or have suffered the awful pain of losing a much loved child.
Life is often messy, never perfect, - and families are just the same ...whatever the greetings card industry might like us to believe
But the message today is that family exists where people are loving towards one another – not just where there are mum, dad and children.
Our gospel reading shows us how that sort of family can be Jesus asks his mother to look after his best friend, and that friend to look after his mother.
He knows that he won't be there to care for either of them but wants the best for both of here, even while he's telling John that Mary is now HIS mum, and Mary that John is to be her son, it's mostly Jesus that does the mothering.
You see, you really don't have to be a woman, let alone a MOTHER, to share in that important work
It's something we can all do...
Jesus brings a new family to birth through his loving care and the family he establishes is the family that's here today...the Church.
In this family, we can and should share in the work of mothering...
That is what we celebrate today.
Mothering Sunday is about ALL those who mother us, women, men and children – those who care for us, who teach us and help us to grow. We go on needing people like that whether we're 5 or 50 so let's ask God to help us to share his work of mothering, of loving and caring for one another and let's make our church a true family where all are welcome.

Mothering Sunday Yr C - the "adult" version

There's an African proverb that, I believe, speaks a great truth

It says “It takes a village to raise a child”

In other words, in order to grow up balanced, healthy, secure we all need care from all sorts of different sources, - the extended family, the whole clan, rather than just the simple nuclear model of 2 parents and 2.4 children that we might imagine is the ideal today.

And today, as we celebrate MOTHERING it's good to remember that.

Mothering is never in any way confined to mothers, you see – it's something that we can all do – men, women and children...those who have had wonderful, loved and loving parents and those whose experience growing up was anything but positive.

When people think of today as “Mothers Day” it can be deeply painful.

So many of us have lost our mothers long ago, while others are estranged from them or struggle with disappointment in their children, or sadness that they have no children at all.

All of us, I'm sure, are conscious of the failings in our own relationships – and even if those are in reasonable repair,even on a good day I know that I'll never come up to the standards of those mothers celebrated by the greetings card industry.The enthusiastic paeons in favour of the perfect tv mother have always left me feeling decidedly that, like many women whose experiences don't match ideals, I've been tempted to stay at home on Mothering Sunday.

But, fortunately for my children, mothering has never been the exclusive preserve of mothers, who, at our best, are only human...

This is something that is borne out by our lectionary today.

In the Old Testament reading we have not one but three women offering mothering to the infant Moses. In the Gospel, though there's but one mother, this isn't the soft focus celebration that belongs in the world of Hallmark cards and tv advertising.

It's strangely comforting that in this family sketch we see not a picture of smiling perfection but rather of a dying son, a bewildered friend and a mother whose heart is surely breaking.

Mary knew what it was to suffer, never doubt it...

From the moment she gave birth in a filthy stable far from home, through the refugee years in Egypt, to the days of Jesus's ministry, when her beloved son seemed to determined to cut his ties with her and to place himself at terrible risk...suffering was never far away.

And here at the foot of the cross those risks bring their inevitable reward and she suffers again as she watches her precious child, flesh of her flesh, in all the agony of his crucifixion.

I wonder if she recalled the prophetic words of Simeon

“This child is chosen by God for the rising and falling of many in be a sign that many will oppose...and a sword will pierce your own soul also”.

This, right enough, is the moment of piercing.

Mary knows all too well what it is to be a grief stricken parent.

But in this tableau at Calvary there is one who is actually doing the mothering – ensuring the best possible outcome for those for whom he cares, those for whom he feels responsible.

Even as he hangs there, helpless, Jesus is taking care of those whom he loves.

Joseph has vanished from the gospels (there's no reference to him after the episode when Jesus is 12 and runs away to spend time in the Temple)so it's reasonable to assume that Mary is a widow – utterly dependent on her eldest son. With his death she will be defenceless...pushed to the forgotten fringes of society -so Jesus acts.

Woman, here is your son. Here is your mother.

A new family is created in the shadow of the cross – a family of those who've followed Jesus to the very end (the gospels refer to Jesus's brothers, but it's clear that they aren't among the disciples, that they aren't there to support Mary on the Friday we now call Good) a family based on love and care given and received.

And that family is the one gathered here today – the family we call the Church

As we celebrate the Eucharist together, sharing the body and blood of Christ, so we're continuing the work that Jesus began that day, the work of building a new community, a new family.

Within that family all are called to comfort one another

All to offer strength and support

All to encourage, to welcome and offer hospitality.

To love.

These are the hallmarks of the church – love, comfort, support and hospitality

These are the aspects of true mothering that we all need and that we can all give to one another.

There is no room for judgementalism, or closed-minds. This is no place to be exclusive or arrogant.

Though we often fail to live up to the ideal, it is still something we should strive for.

God calls us to be loving, open, forgiving – we must take this seriously – for if we do, then surely the Church will become irresistible.

The Church exists to reflect and to share the unconditional love of God, - and if we could but show this more effectively, then I suspect we'd replace worries about decline with queues of eager visitors, longing to share in that wonderful gift of grace.

But that's not easy...any more than the life of our everyday families is always easy.

The tableau at the foot of the cross suggests something else about family, that family exists where we make it .

We've all encountered families united by birth, blood, tradition, that are nonetheless completely dysfunctional...they don't operate as loving and supportive units at all.

Maybe it's just too costly.

Family means work. It should mean support and love and mutuality - but it also means effort.

True families don't just happen just because a group of people share a home and a surname – and equally, church families may fall our own larger Anglican family threatens to right now.

True families exist where people are loving towards one another...where they offer love, comfort, support and welcome.

And so this Mothering Sunday lets commit ourselves to being a real family...a community that affirms and welcomes those within and without and celebrates the nurturing mothering love that we can all share every day.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

On NOT going it alone...

Reading yesterday's post on the plates I am juggling, Howard quite rightly picked me up on the absence of references to involving others, and the risks that this approach would present.
Believe me, I'm very well aware of these.
The treasured "golden age" in parish in the valley was during the ministry of my predecessor but one, during the 1990s. Church and culture were rather different then, and he and a succession of beloved curates seem to have presented between them an amalgum of the mythical omni-competent vicar (though, reassuringly, he was also a great one for losing his keys!). In the following years there was, if I've grasped the situation properly, a widening gulf between a congregation that hoped and believed that their priest would make things happen for them and clergy who came to ministry with other, quite different assumptions.
Somehow instead of acknowledging this and meeting in the middle, people subsided into inertia. There was a perhaps a sense of disappointment and lost initiative from both directions - and it seems to me that helping the congregation remember that they are all invited to join in with God's mission to love and serve our community is an important part of what I'm about.

It's not a speedy process, though there are many hopeful signs this year.
  • My wonderful Reader colleague has just brought a long-held dream to birth in the form of a weekly "Drop In for Tea" session in the church hall (a regular booking ended just as she began to put the final arrangements in place, making the whole project infinitely more manageable)
  • We've had a really positive response to a short course on  pastoral visiting, a team has been established, and just last weekend three fab members of church in the valley gave up their Saturday to attend a really excellent CME event on Baptism.

  • The recent joint PCC away day was another landmark - with some wonderfully honest and self-aware comments from both church councils, and lots of hope for the future.

  • A relatively new member of the congregation turns out to have deep and wide experience of enabling prayer - just as the PCC in the valley identified raising the profile of prayer as a priority for the coming year
So I'm really sorry if I sound as if I'm on my own with all this. There are some wonderful people and, as the induction service made very clear, whatever we're doing here, we need to do it together.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Seeing the wood for the trees

Today was my first session with the rather fantastic work consultant that I have somehow been blessed with (I still find it very hard to believe either that  
a) I managed to ask for help or
b) that she happened to have space and time to take me on)

I talked an awful lot as I outlined the journey so far and tried to give her a sense of the landscape of my life and ministry...In true ENFP I didn't realise some of it til I heard myself speak it aloud - but that was good and useful.
I talked about the energy needed and expended in frantic plate juggling and together we identified some of those plates
  • Sunday worship - with a special focus on my longing to pull the liturgy together and to build a children's choir at Church in the Valley
  • Messy Church
  • Schools work - assemblies, governor work, pastoral support, "being there"
  • Occasional offices - with the wealth of extra opportunities that they present but also the equivalent volume of extra work
  • Trying hard to be a "good enough" training incumbent in a situation that is so utterly unlike my own experience of curacy
  • Working towards our community project, to connect assorted agencies with those in the parish who most need access to them
  • Youth work - building on the embryonic Youth Emmaus group but looking for ways to continue their nurture beyond Confirmation
  • follow on work with our First Communion group
  • building pastoral relationships with care homes, sheltered housing, individuals...those beyond the Sunday congregation
  • shedloads of awful awful admin - the stuff of open churchyards, busy wedding lists, and non-existent parish office staff
I failed to mention spiritual direction, diocesan synod and Board of Education, deanery pastoral committee etc etc but just trying to identify the headline concerns made it abundantly clear that the feeling that sometimes it is all way too much for one person is actually quite justified!

Even rather fantastic work consultants can't make things vanish just like that, though it's possible that she may persuade me to let go of some of them....but she wisely suggested nothing of the sort today! Instead she asked me, interestingly, which thing I felt I most "had" to do, and which one I most "wanted" to do.
The answer to both?
Messy Church!

Over the next few months, I guess we'll work out how to arrange plates, put them down safely, hand over the juggling poles to other people...It's going to be interesting, I think, but a huge blessing to have someone wise and wonderful to wade through the tides with me.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Things I love...

clearly include dotty old ladies.

Since moving parishes - nearly 2 years ago now - I've been sadly deprived of them, and had actually forgotten what a delight they can be.
However, a couple of weeks ago I had a phone-call from the new manager of a care home housed in the one-time vicarage in the valley. Would it be possible for me to hold a service of Holy Communion for the residents once a month?
My wonderful Reader colleague was already visiting a couple of the residents with Home Communion, but there had been requests from residents and families for a proper along I trundled this afternoon, fresh from Evensong at church on the hill.
Divine inspiration persuaded me to remain in my cassock, which was clearly exactly the right thing to do - now I not only purported to be the vicar, I even looked like one. 
All good.

The congregation were the usual mixture of completely switched on 
(KF "Who should we pray for today?" R., a very spry 98, "The government - though they may be past help!")
and distinctly confused.
Highlights of the afternoon included an impromptu exposition of assorted theologies of Eucharist, - inspired when one lady looked at the Sacrament as I placed it in her hand and asked in complete, but brisk bafflement
"What on earth is THAT?"
First I tried"It's Holy Communion"
No result.
A neighbour tried to be helpful...
"Holy bread"
Complete blank.
"It's Jesus"
"Oh HIM. I met him once before..."

Nobody was up to moving around, so it seemed to take ages sharing the Peace but I wouldn't have missed that for anything. Hands that trembled, hands that hung on as if they'd not been touched for years, frail hands, arthritic hands...but all so responsive to my touch and each one a blessing to me.

My confused lady was not the only one who left her wafer untouched on her lap - but for all that, I'm certain that each of us was touched by God at the depths of our beings this afternoon.

And I get to go back once a month - and to call this work!
Thanks be to God.