Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sermon for Trinity 7 Yr C (8.00 at St Matthew's)

Hospitality – a great Christian virtue – one central to the life and ministry of the church, defined by the OED as “the reception and entertainment of strangers with liberality and goodwill…”
I like that. 
Liberality and goodwill would seem to me a good starting point for any church seeking to engage with the community...but hospitality is often more complex, more wide ranging than we dare to imagine.
Think about the Old Testament and Gospel readings this morning, with their accounts of hospitality given and received.
suggest a wider definition, though, as they present two different pictures of hospitality given and received.

In Genesis, we hear about Abraham’s purposeful activity in preparing a suitable meal for the strangers who've appeared, unexpectedly, out of the shimmering heat of the desert. He's very much the host - seating his guests while he rushes inside to instruct Sarah to get baking, chooses an animal as the main course for the feast and ensures that all hospitable duties are lovingly performed.Abraham is busy doing the right thing, obeying the ancient laws of hospitality simply because they are there. He has no knowledge of his guests, no inkling that he might be entertaining angels unawares…He just does what seems right to him.

Of course, this is the story that inspired my favourite icon, Rublev's Hospitality of Abraham - about which you may be weary of hearing by now!
Looking at the icon, there are clues to suggest that there might be more going on than simply an unexpected dinner. The three strangers in the picture are each haloed, and the alternative name for this icon is “The Holy Trinity”. 
Certainly, when we hear verse 10, the last read to us this morning, we realise that something significant is happening, something well beyond the conventional expectations of host and guest. Outrageously, the stranger speaks of a personal matter, the subject of the childless couples’ deepest regrets and most fervent prayers, and announces coolly
“Sarah will have a son”.

The lectionary leaves us there, with that bald announcement changing the whole balance of the encounter. 
Here is Salvation history being played out again, unexpectedly, through the promise of a son, coming late, against all hope, to fulfill God’s covenant with Abraham.
If this is the crux of the encounter, then we must ask 
"Who is the true recipient in this hospitable exchange?"

We’ll leave that question hanging for a minute, as we turn to the Gospel, where we find Martha engaged in the sort of bustling activity which is almost a paradigm of hospitality. She is, in one translation at least “Distracted through much serving” and it's easy to imagine her checking through lists in her head, dashing in all directions as she strives to ensure that Jesus receives only the very best in her home and at her table. 
No detail must be overlooked. He must be in no doubt that he is truly welcome.

The trouble is that, as many of us have discovered, it’s easy to get so involved in arranging a meal that we find ourselves spending the whole time in the kitchen, instead of with the very people we want to entertain. Poor Martha. Not only does this happen to her, but Jesus tells her off for it. Her frenzied activity, her anxiety to devote all her domestic energy to Jesus, is not what he wants at all.                        Traditional courtesies are superfluous.                                                                          Jesus wants her attention, not her cooking.

Again, as in the Rublev icon, there is a stillness at the centre of all the activity. Here Mary sits at Jesus’ feet,- something revolutionary in itself, for this is the place for a rabbi’s disciples, not somewhere for women to stake a claim. Amid all the bustle, Mary is simply there, listening, drinking in what Jesus has to say to her, learning to receive while her sister concentrates on giving.

So, in both stories, the presumed guest is in fact the one with gifts to bestow. Abraham and Martha both came so close, in all their work of hospitality, to missing out on the whole point of the encounter. Their focus on doing threatened to cloud their recognition of the unexpected gifts on offer.
They are called not to do things for God, but to be where he is and to receive from him.
Being hospitable involves being open to a myriad unguessed at possibilities…including the possibility that our efforts, our activity, whether as individuals or as a church, may not be essential!
As someone with decidedly Martha-like inclinations, I struggle with this. There is always so much to do.
Surely I’m not being told to stop all meetings, leave funds unraised, forms incomplete, discussion groups unvisited…Am I?                                                    However, I keep coming back to some words of Austin Farrer’s which I first heard many years ago
“Do you want to bear fruit for God? Then simplify your life. Do fewer things and do them better”
We’re not called to be frantic, harassed by the fulness of our diaries, or our parish newsletters. We’re called to bear fruit, to be human beings, not human doings.
Doing fewer things will give us time to listen to and receive from the One who invites us to be with Him, to be nourished by all goodness, to encounter his unexpected Grace, …which is all we need as we set out to serve Him.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Remembering Keble

Today the Church of England is invited to remember John Keble...
I've just been googling and found a site with these "definitions" of the man as
  •  a hero and a model for the modern church
  • an amazing example of patient witness to the gospel truth 
  • a prominent Tractarian theologian and poet 
As a catholic Anglican I'm very conscious of the legacy of the Oxford Movement in both theology and worship. I've snarled quietly (can such things be?) as commentators have announced that there would be a "mass exodus of Catholics" if the Church of England ordained women to the episcopacy. I am a catholic by heartfelt conviction and for too long it has felt as if the church in which I minister has not, itself, been truly catholic in its ministry.

For me, being catholic is all about being the richness of worship, that involves all our senses, in a theology that recognises that Christ on the cross draws ALL to himself and in a practice that asserts "For everyone born, a place at the table". That sense that we have disabled ourselves by excluding people from ministry on the grounds of gender and of sexual orientation has been a heavy burden. That I've lacked the courage to speak about the situation in my daily context has also been a burden - heavier because this by my own choice, my own cowardice.

So I've been thankful for groups like Affirming Catholicism, Inclusive Church and Society of Catholic Priests  for articulating things I feel, and for providing community - which makes all the difference in anxious times.  I'm also thankful for Bishop David Stanncliffe's reminder of what we are all about

Authentic Catholic faith is grounded in Christ’s sharing of human life and his transformation of it. This is the hope to which we hold: the transformation of our lives,our Church and all creation. This is the Good News.

That Good News transcends all party lines...and should surely bring us together, under God. 
Exciting Holiness provided some lovely material for Mass this morning - but if I hear nothing else today, how about this for a word in season?

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:6)

Lord, in your mercy hear my prayer.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Doing my best

Back in January, while avoiding some piece of essential admin, I noticed a Calligraphy Quiet Day at our diocesan retreat house...I've always envied those who can make even ordinary words beautiful, and I knew that by the penultimate week of term I'm always gibbering, so found it impossible to resist booking there and then.

Fast forward to yesterday and, thanks to the dramas at General Synod, I seemed unlikely to be able to quieten myself, no matter where I went to attempt this. However, the place was booked so off I went....
You need to know that I've never been gifted at the visual arts. I love colour and can get really excited about it...but the gulf between what I see in my mind and what emerges from my pen/paint brush has always been too huge to bridge. No matter how encouraging my mentor, I've never been able to bury my own disappointment that whatever it is that I'm producing doesn't actually match the beauty  of my vision. I wish I could say that yesterday was different - but it wasn't. At least, not where the end product was concerned. But I loved every minute of the process of creating...The time spent mulling and praying and reading and praying some more til the right phrase arrived...The gradual refinement of the vision...the selection of materials to make it happen.
On the whole, I suspect that my finished work might have made a year 7 quite proud...and really only the fact that I knew it shouldn't matter that much prevented me from hiding it away when we reached "Show and tell" time. There was some fantastically beautiful work produced - really heart-singing stuff...and then there was mine. 
But the words that had leapt out at me as I tried to forget about synod and focus that morning turned out to speak, too, to the process of enjoying what I can do, for they spoke of a journey towards beauty - not of an instant of arrival.
A long time ago, a wise selector at my first ABM suggested that I might have a problem with perfectionism. It wasn't something I recognised at the time! I knew the areas where I had some ability, and simply focussed on them, resolutely steering clear of those where I was out of my depths. It worked pretty well. I just didn't risk things that seemed likely to be outside my scope - so I never had to be content with a "best" that was less than acceptable in my own eyes.

Strangely, over the next 12 years, God has talked to me quite a bit about this.
I've learned that though it would be churlish to offer God a fistful of wilted dandelions from the bottom of the garden when there are prize roses blooming too, there are times when the dandelions are absolutely fine. "Just as I am" applies to my creative abilities as much as to every other area of life, and, believing this truth, it seems time to work with it.

So, when I came home, I went online and have ordered a real live calligraphy set of my very own. You see, calligraphy is not a process you can rush...- and that's good for me in the sometimes frantic patterns of vicarage life.
It's a process that ensures that you engage deeply with your text...holding it in your thoughts, polishing it quietly til it you know how best to make it shine,and, as you might just have guessed, I love words.
What's more, it's something I'll probably never do very well - but that makes me happy too.

Even slow learners sometimes begin to get the message!

So synod disperses

and across the country clergy and people try to focus on our primary calling, to be the Church, the Body of Christ, in our own communities.
So many words, so much passionate conviction, such fervent prayer.
And today, the prayer after the psalm at Morning Prayer (ps 133) could not have been better

"Grant to your people, good Lord,
the spirit of unity,
that they may dwell together in your love
and so bear to the world
the ointment of your healing and the dew of your blessing;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

Monday, July 12, 2010

Praying for General Synod

The loveliest chapel in Gloucester Cathedral is, I think, the blue chapel...with fabulous glass and an altar of stunning simplicity. It is here that a candle has burned throughout General Synod, here that a prayer tree bears many blossoms of fervent prayer poured out....Among the beautiful resources to focus our prayer this one, with its echo of the Good Friday reproaches, spoke most to me when I visited yesterday.

O loving God, Lord of all creation,
you have created us in your own image.
You have called us, men, women,
young and old, people of different races and nations,
to serve in your church and to love each other.
But we have abused your creation, divided your church through prejudice,
malice and lack of love for one another.
Look in mercy on us, your children,
forgive us, forgive your church
as it struggles against injustice
and strives for honesty and integrity.
Heal our divisions, heal us that we may serve you faithfully. Amen.                                                                     Revd. Jenny Thomas

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Earthed again

After the high tension of yesterday's General Synod debate, which I followed pretty constantly on twitter, it was undoubtedly very good for me to find myself in my lovely churches this morning...Here the high questions of church politics, the anxious deliberations and less than charitable debates in synod could not have impinged less.

All that mattered was that God's people had gathered, and were waiting to be fed.

The Eucharist at St Matthew's was specially lovely...We baptised little A., who was so pleased to find herself the centre of attention that she refused to be fazed by anything we did for her. Not only the vicar, but every one of her party of supporters shared in the anointing - and she continued to smile and giggle at all of us. Even the indignity of three lots of water poured over her had no impact: she positively chortled and buried her head in my shoulder as if we were old friends. Her baptism really was pure joy for all of us there!

But for me the highlight of the day (perhaps the month) came when I said, as I do every week,
"This is the table of the Lord, and all are welcome here".
The chalice assistants joined me in the sanctuary, as did the organist - and there, beside her, was one of the baptism party - so keen to accept the invitation that she didn't so much jump the queue as return to her seat before ever a queue had formed.
It made me so very happy - and I bet God was smiling too.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Pray like Hannah: a sermon for the Eucharist, Trinity 6, 11th July 2010

I was part of a small diocesan working party that put together a pack to encourage our parishes to "Pray like Hannah" - with passionate longing, for the children of our communities...We produced assorted resources, including two sets of sermon notes...this is an amalgum of both, and owes alot to Revd Dr Sandra Millar, the "unclaimed treasure" (tm) who is our Children's Advisor

Imagine, if you will, that it's the year 2037

“Today a small item appeared in the Church Times announcing that the last person known to have been involved in the church since childhood has left. Jake became involved in the parish church as a toddler, through a pre school group. He has continued to attend faithfully, but has decided that the pressure of being the youngest is too great. His church is now concentrating on offering museum tours. Since the demise of Church Schools in 2017, Christianity has been an optional module in the life skills course offered by primary schools. Churches continue to offer a range of worship and activities for adults with different tastes and interests. “It's sad we no longer have children, but in enables us to concentrate on our core ministry and business” said a spokesperson.

Well, of course, that's just a piece of imaginative writing...but the situation that it describes is not so very far away. In some churches a question about children's work will elicit a shrug, a sigh and and rueful acceptance of the statement
“We don't have children any more”
As if it doesn't really matter...and as if there is nothing to be done.

But it does matter.....hugely....and there is so much to do.

[Today we have the joy of welcoming A. into the church family...Her parents and godparents will make huge promises on her behalf – that she'll be brought up within the church, helped to know God, shown how to pray...
But we in the congregation make our promises too.
We promise, all of us, to welcome her and uphold her in her new life in Christ.
From today, we are all related to her, united by our baptism, by the life of Christ that we it makes sense that we should care about her, hope to watch her grow, get to know her better...
And we all have a duty to support her as she grows in faith
Like all the children baptised in our churches, A is part of us now...What a privilege for us, to be involved in the life of young Christians as they begin to discover their faith. We can support her practically, by making her family feel comfortable and at home, but we can and must support her too by our prayers...for today is only the first step in her lifelong journey.

But what if there ARE no children in our churches? What if our font remains dry, our junior church empty?
Let's look again at the story of Hannah that we heard just now. As she confronted her own childlessness, Hannah prayed with devotion, fervour, intensity. She prayed from her own need (as a childless woman she was disenfranchised and disabled in her own culture), and she prayed in longing to safeguard the future.
In praying for children, we stand in a similar place.
If our churches are childless, our part of the body of Christ is incomplete and disabled.
But though Hannah's prayer was indeed a petition for herself, to free her from shame and bullying, it was also an investment in the future. It is our children will shape the world and carry the truth of the Gospel into the next century...and the Church that they minister from may be quite unlike the one that we inherited from our parents. Does that sound exciting? Or frightening? Maybe both...– but our God is always doing a new thing, always going before us into Galilee, - so the Christian faith has never encouraged us to settle down and let the grass grow.
Always, always there are challenges...
Before even the child was in her arms, Hannah was preparing to let him go – and it's the same for us. When we pray for children, we must recognise that God may have different directions, different plans for them – we may be asked, as parents are, to let them go to grow and flourish elsewhere, in another place.
What matters is not that we should be able to preen ourselves at our “successful” children's work – but that the children in our community should be able to encounter the living God, and know themselves loved...that they should be introduced to the way of faith and grow to hunger and thirst after righteousness, that they should learn and live by the great commandments of love that we've heard again this morning.
What matters is that those baptised as Christians should truly become “Little Christs” - signs of the Kingdom, each and every one.

Remember, we are praying for our children – not for ourselves.

As always, prayer doesn't change God, but prayer will change us.
This summer, churches across Gloucestershire are invited to pray “like Hannah” for children, - and there will be many ways in which we can engage with this...but as we pray, we're invited too to be ready to be changed by God...
Maybe as we pray we'll see new ways of sharing Good News with children, new ways of being church, new ways of engaging with schools and families.
I'm certain that any church community that truly prays like Hannah will find itself more open, more receptive, more aware of the children in that locality, whatever their relationship with the church.
Because, you know, prayer it may be (it probably will be) that this new attitude of awareness will impact on the way the church relates to children.
Do children matter to us?
We know that they matter to God...and if children are important to the church, this will show in the whole ethos – and children may respond to this by arriving, by returning and by staying.

Or it may be that our prayer will have little obvious impact on our own church...but that's good too. So often we plant seeds whose harvest we don't see directly....but we can be confident that, even if God places those children in a different context for their growth and nurture, our prayer will change things.

Children, Scripture reminds us, are a blessing...a joy, a delight, a sign of God's commitment and the fulfilment of God's promises. Today let's resolve to pray like Hannah, that the children of Cainscross, of Cashes Green & Ebley/ the children of Selsley will be in no doubt that they are loved and wanted by God and by God's people.

Pray like Hannah - letter for the parish mag

This month churches across Gloucestershire are going to “Pray Like Hannah”...But why?

It's an answer to a question, and also an invitation. So many churches are asking
“Why do we have so few children coming to church?” - and the answer takes the form of another question
“Have you prayed for them to come?”

The invitation is to all of us connected to the church: Pray like Hannah

I'm sure you remember her story, which is found in the Old Testament Book of Samuel. Hannah is the loved wife of Penniel, but she is childless – in her culture the ultimate disaster for a wife, a badge of shame, a judgement of God. Children were vital to secure the future of the family, the tribe, the nation. In desperation, Hannah is driven to pray, to “pour out her soul”. Her prayer is so urgent, so passionate that the old priest, Eli, assumes that she is drunk.

So the first invitation is to pray passionately for children to know that they are part of God's family. It's as simple as that. It's born from a deep longing and love for children, and a sense of loss that they are absent from our midst.

Hannah's prayer is answered; Samuel is born. But then Hannah takes him to the Temple and leaves him in Eli's care. He grows up to become a prophet and leader of God's people – probably not what Hannah had expected when she longed for a baby to cradle in her empty arms.

So we too have to be ready for answered prayer to look quite unlike our expectations...We may find that instead of the children flocking in to church on a Sunday morning, we are called to go out and take God's love to them....We may believe that we have much to teach them, but will surely find that they have more to teach us.

So this month parishes across the diocese are invited to Pray like Hannah...It's a good time of year to focus on children, a time when things change for many of them as they move from home to school, from one school to another...It's a time with endings to face and new beginnings ahead. It's also a time when we can expect to meet children on holiday from school, shopping with their parents in the Co-Op, riding their bikes in Victory Park. Sometimes their presence will delight us, at others we may wish that they could leave us in peace.....but each day as we encounter them, and each day that we don't, let's pray for the children of our community. Jesus welcomed children – loud, mucky, unkempt street kids...He told us to become like them. As the Body of Christ, the church is handicapped, incomplete if our children are not with please join me in prayer this month.
We know that prayer changes things – so we've much to look forward to.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Oh no...not again

The Church of England - my spiritual home, the boat from which I fish, the organisation that puts a roof over my head and food on my table, - is once again in the news for the saddest of reasons.
On one hand, General Synod meets tomorrow and will vote yet again about how and whether the Church is prepared to ordain women to the episcopate....Yes, they decided in favour 2 years ago, - but, where two or three are gathered together in synod there is always room for dissent, for second thought, and for volumes of nastiness.
On the other, a bit of what appears to be malicious reporting has led to futher misery and vitriol hurled at the rather wonderful Jeffery John, Dean of St Albans.I came within a whisker of rethinking my future on the eve of ordination at the time of his earlier persecution at the hands of the Church. Now we are trudging wearily around the same withered mulberry bush - and I really don't know if I want to continue.

Maggi Dawn has a great post up, with links elsewhere, if you'd like a fuller briefing.
Me, I'm contemplating the daily tasks of ministry while wondering whether the Church really wants me to minister at all.I'm proud to be liberal. I treasure my priesthood. But the Church that ordained me seems to have a very different agenda.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Travel light - a sermon for Selsley, Trinity 5 Yr C

It’s the season of school trips and family holidays and that of course means packing.
I think the world is divided between those, like me, who over-pack (I never leave home without at least 3 good books in my luggage) and those who spend the first few days of their holiday stocking up on the things they’ve forgotten. Just a year ago, Jack was preparing for his great expedition to Uganda, and his kit list was formidable. He and his group were to spend 2 weeks on their own in the bush, fending for themselves – but with Explorer Scouts you NEVER go unprepared.
Of course, he had to be able to carry all of it himself – food, clothes, medical equipment, as well as his part of the tent (his group arranged things so that the tent was split between them, and someone else carried cooking utensils). It all went into his back-pack, which was a pretty towering affair by the time he’d finished for he was encouraged to imagine any eventuality, and then prepare for it.
it made for a heavy load – but it also made him pretty well self-sufficient.
But here we have Jesus, sending out the 72, and their kit-list is daunting in its simplicity.
Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals...
I bet their mothers were beside themselves with anxiety…Not even enough money to get out of trouble – and it seemed possible that trouble might well be on the agenda. It seems that Jesus was expecting it
“I'm sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves”
Can you picture it. Innocents abroad, heading boldly towards all sorts of horrible dangers...It sounds like a Disney cartoon...and I'm possessed by the urge to yell
“No...Don't GO there”
But that's not what Jesus says.
The response to his own ministry has been less than 100% positive – and now he sends his friends out to extend his work, with no extra support at all…He invites them to set aside all their props, all the realities of their daily lives in their home communities…and just go.
Actually, of course, he'd already done this himself.
He was asking them to empty themselves, to let go of everything just as he had let go of everything. They were to live the truth of the incarnation, as he was living it. They too must depend on the welcome of others, - however uncertain. With no bag, they couldn't stock up on supplies in a friendly place, but would continue to rely completely on the kindness of strangers.
Utter vulnerability.
The polar opposite of Jack’s self-sufficiency.
Are we feeling uncomfortable yet?
Do we have the faith, the courage to practice radical dependence on God, to let
go of everything we think we need?
Honestly, I don't...
The nearest I've come to it might just be that moment at the end of the ordination service 6 years ago today when +M, rejecting the ceremonious formality of our entrance into the Cathedral, led us purposefully down the aisle, 14 new deacons each armed with a New Testament and setting out without more ado to join in God's mission.
But I knew that a comfortable curate's house awaited me, that there were dozens of ordination gifts piled in the study...and a whole structure of support and training to ensure my survival.
We seem, as a church, to have come a long way...prizing safety above the gospel challenge.
Is it surprising, then, that our mission to herald the kingdom seems to fall flat?
Jesus never offers static security but rather life in all its fulness – a fulness that often involves risk. God calls us out of safe stasis…and he doesn’t want us to try to creep back into shelter by any sort of compromise.
We’re to trust him, and set out. That’s all that is required.
No emergency supplies, just in case.
Possibly not even emergency fabric funds or reserve accounts.
Just us, relying on God and on the life changing power of the Gospel.
Put like that it sounds almost more exciting than frightening.
So, Jesus gives the group authority, and has high expectations of their success but he doesn’t suggest that they work on their PR skills…Quite the reverse. He actually tells them, very firmly, that if people don’t like their message they must give up on them…just like that. No attempts at soft sell. No reworking the gospel to make it more accessible.
You tell it like it is, and if people aren’t happy, tough!
Not exactly the preferred pastoral strategy of most clergy I know, but there isn’t a lot of room for misunderstanding here
Whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into the streets and say “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off”
There it is.
Don’t linger.
Forget your failure and move on.
That may not sound very diplomatic, but it’s certainly entirely practical.
Remember, Jesus' followers were a tiny, obscure minority in the Roman Empire. The vast majority of people knew nothing of Jesus and cared less. Perhaps that too might sound familiar.
There would clearly be no point in endlessly repeating the same message if your hearers showed no sign of having really heard at all.
A pointless and disheartening waste of limited resources.
If at first you don't succeed – move on, without dragging guilt, disappointment, failure along with you.
Shake off the dust.
Sound advice, and not just for missionary preachers. Dragging around the dirt that represents our failures is never helpful, though somehow it seems almost inevitable . In the face of success, we choose again and again to dwell on our failures, to carry them around as an additional burden, a wearisome albatross around our necks.
For example, in the past 6 years I’ve conducted literally scores of funerals. At most of them, I’ve felt that my words have helped a little, that those who are grieving most have experienced something that may be the beginning of the beginning of healing through the service. But the services I remember long afterwards are those where it has been clear that nothing has got through to the mourners at all…that I might as well have read the yellow pages aloud for all the difference my words and prayers made. I’d be surprised if similar things don’t happen for some of you…it’s tempting to allow ourselves to be weighed down by negative experience, to allow past failures to hamper future ventures. Churches can do it too…we tried that in 1974 and it didn’t work…so we’ve no courage to strike out now.
Here, Jesus gives us permission to set our failures aside and leave them behind.
If at first you don’t succeed….move on, move on…there’s a whole world that needs to hear the Gospel.
Strip yourself of all extraneous support, then set out in the strength that God supplies – and to Him be the glory.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Friday Five: I want to be part of a church that.....

Sally writes

This has been a good week for British Methodism, The Annual Conference has discussed and debated many things and not shied away from some difficult stuff. New Ministers have been Ordained and received into Full Connexion. Add to that the fact that two amazing ladies; Alison Tomlin and Eunice Attwood have taken up their posts as President and Vice-President for 2010/2011- and that they have both inspired us in their speeches and preaching , and you begin to get the picture.

In the Vice- Presidents Address Eunice gave an inspiring account of the type of church she wants to be a part of, almost poetic she said:

I want to be part of a church that is prayer-filled -
A church that is resourced and sustained by the Bible,
A church that can offer hope even in a credit crunch,
A church that can live well with difference and diversity.

I want to be part of a church that welcomes the wealthy, those who have power and influence -
A church that knows how to party and celebrate life,
A church that acknowledges death and speaks boldly of resurrection,
A church that doesn’t pretend to have all the answers but encourages all the questions.

I want to be part of a church that throws parties for prostitutes -
A church that welcomes those who seek asylum,
A church that longs and yearns for justice,
A church that listens to those no-one else wants to listen to.

I want to be part of a church that believes in transformation not preservation -
A church where all who are lost can be found,
A church where people can discover friendship,
A church where every person takes responsibility in sharing the good news.

I want to be part of a church whose hope is placed securely and confidently in the transforming love of God -
A church that engages faith in its communities,
A church that makes and nurtures disciples of Jesus.

A church where the story of God’s love is at the centre.
I want to be part of a church that offers outrageous grace, reckless generosity, transforming love and engaging faith.
This is God’s story Transforming Love: Engaging Faith.

My prayer is that by the power of the Spirit of God at work amongst us, it will increasingly be our story.

I want to be part of that church to, and at the danger of trying to add to such a wonderful litany of dreams/ visions and prayers I wonder which five things would you echo from or add to this. What kind of church do you want to be a part of in the 21st Century?

Simply list the five, and as an added bonus is there a hymn of a Bible passage that you would make your inspiration?

I want to be part of a church that affirms and welcomes the ministry of men and women, straight and gay, in whatever vocation God calls them to...

I want to be part of a church that offers an open table where all may feast on the Bread of Life

I want to be part of a church that understands that she is only true to herself when she forgets herself in reaching out to those who will never come to her

I want to be part of a church that isn't afraid to give sacrificially...a church that knows that there IS enough love to go round

I want to be part of a church that realises that everything with God is whole and holy, that there is no special pleading for those within the walls

In summary, as I've surely said before 

I dream of a church that joins in with God's laughing
as she rocks in her rapture, enjoying her art:
she's glad of her world, in its risking and growing;
‘tis the child she has borne and holds close to her heart.

I dream of at church that joins in with God's weeping
as she crouches, weighed down by the sorrow she sees;
she cries for the hostile, the cold and no-hoping,
for she bears in herself our despair and dis-ease.

I dream of a church that joins in with God's dancing
as she moves like the wind and wave and the fire;
a church that can pick up its skirts, piroutting,
with the steps that can signal God's deepest desire.

I dream of a church that join in with God's loving
as she bends to embrace the unlovely and lost;
a church that can free, by its sharing and daring,
the imprisoned and poor and then shoulder the cost.

God make us a church that joins in with your living
as you cherish and challenge, rein in and release;
a church that is winsome, impassioned, inspiring;
lioness of your justice and lamb of your peace.

Kate Compston

Where did June go?

Once upon a time I used to blog almost every day...Some posts of the "What I did at the seaside" variety and some reflective writing inspired by life in the parish...I loved writing these, and treasured the community that gradually gathered, the friends I made in places I had never visited...Blogging was an important part of myself.
When I moved from my curacy to become priest in charge here, things changed.
It no longer seemed appropriate to do quite so much thinking aloud. After all, parishioners have the right to expect their priest to know what she thinks on matters of faith BEFORE she hears what she says...and of course the unbloggable, confidential matters multiplied too...As did general busyness...It multiplied, and multiplied and multiplied again - so that last month I managed just 6 posts, (of which one was a sermon and one a "Friday Five"). What price interesting reflective blogging now, then?
But I can't quite give up.
I cling to the hope, however unrealistic, that one day I might regain control of my diary and find the space and time to write more. I really found it helpful, on so many different levels, and though I enjoy the instant communication of twitter it really isn't the same.

So...what HAVE I been doing in June? It's been a rather good month, and I'd hate to lose track of it.

Back on 1st June I hit another decade...This was NOT something I was planning to take in good part...the problem with being a relatively energetic vicar in a somewhat elderly church is that you begin to believe in your own the idea of being old enough to qualify for a Saga holiday was almost enough to push me over the edge. Until, that is, my delightful (if devious) children threw a surprise party for me. Now, instead of being appalled at the passage of time, I find myself overwhelmed at the thought of the many wonderful people whom I can call "friend", whom I've collected over the past 50 years...From S & T ,who have been part of my life for as long as I remember, to C whom I met in the sandpit on my first day at school, A., with whom I spent my teenage years playing piano duets, N., who got me through vicar school, M., the WonderfulVicar who made my curacy pure joy, J who keeps my head above water in more ways than I care to consider,  F & S who gave me the gift of laughter as I learned, and K who ensures that I'm never lonely here...SUCH wonderful people gathered in the vicarage, and paddled in the paddling pool, and ate gin & orange jelly...

And as the evening wore on I realised that 50 wasn't a burden but a gift, and remembered that my children were the greatest gift of all, and rejoiced in loving and being loved.

That first week of June also saw the arrival of the chickens I've wanted since first we moved from London to our Georgian farmhouse in the Cotswolds...Delightful in themselves, but do you know - they even lay eggs!

Then my curate, the Herring of Christ, was ordained priest in a splendid service at the Cathedral, and presided at the Eucharist with just the right balance of confidence and transparency, and I heaved a sigh of relief that, despite the vaguaries of his training incumbent, he is now safely priested and ready to serve the Church.

And my two valley communities, Church & School, had a wonderful combined which lots of money was made but more importantly the community life was celebrated and strengthened

And my youngest child finished his A levels and left school, making me a trainee empty-nester (oh deep c**p) 

I also sang in Bristol Cathedral as part of a rather wonderful choir at the memorial service for Jonny Leonard, a hugely gifted musician and good friend, who died untimely...and found myself remembering that I really CAN sing quite reasonably, and that good choral music is actually quite necessary to me ("quite necessary" as in "air is quite necessary")

And the two parishes continue to delight and confuse and madden and sadden and stimulate and exasperate me (mostly in the space of any given 24 hour period)

And the Church of England seems intent on subjecting ordained women to another round of "Is your priesthood really valid" as synod prepares to vote on the ordination of women to the episcopacy.

I really should have blogged sooner, shouldn't I.
No idea what July might entail, but I'll try rather harder to stay in touch, even if I'm the only one left reading by now.