Sunday, 20 April 2014

An itch where my dog collar usually is....

Happy Easter! Christ is risen!
This Easter has been slightly odd. It's the first Easter in years where I haven't been responsible for anything happening in church. No liturgy to prepare or take part in. No sermon or intercessions or family service to lead. Nothing.
The Easter Cross at St Alban's Church, Southampton
where I served my title.
It has been lovely in lots of ways. I spent much of my time over the past few days worshiping in the beautiful surroundings of Winchester Cathedral. The three hours devotion on Good Friday was thought-provoking and moving. Judith Maltby's addresses did not shirk the difficult issues (including the latent anti-semitism in some of the readings and liturgy) and the choir were in sublime voice - Lotti's Crucifixus  was beautifully delivered. If I was to be a little critical, I'd have liked a bit more silence (although the supreme fidget I was sitting next to might have spoilt that a little anyway)
The Saturday evening vigil was full of the liturgical drama of the new fire, light and new life at the font (with one of my former 8 o'clock congregation being both Baptised and Confirmed) It was a gorgeous sensory experience but as the risen Christ was proclaimed and celebrated in the Eucharist, something odd happened. My throat was itching so I scratched it. And realised that I was itching exactly where my dog collar would have sat had I been wearing one. And in that moment I realised that while I had loved being ministered to by others, I really missed being the one proclaiming the resurrection, and taking, blessing, breaking and sharing the bread. My vocation as a Christian was certainly affirmed in all that we did together in that service as we all remembered our Baptism following a sprinkling of water by the Bishop, but my vocation as priest among the people of God was itching to be expressed.
Next year and probably for every other year until I retire (!) I will be doing that. This year was lovely. But confirmed in me (yet again) that vocation is a Godly itch that needs to be attended to. I look forward to doing that in a new place very soon.
Happy Easter - may you know the joy and peace of the resurrected Lord - and scratch where you are itching!

Friday, 21 March 2014

Imagining reality

The Great Hall
This week, the family went to the Warner Bros Studios at Leavesdon where the Harry Potter films were made. We're all huge Harry Potter fans in our house and we were looking forward to going very much. We were not disappointed. We spent hours there, and because it wasn't too busy we saw everything we wanted to see and had a go at a few things too. Like riding on broomsticks, casting spells and drinking butterbeer.

It was fantastic to see such familiar sets and scenes for real - the Great Hall really is spectacular, and we loved the potions classroom, the Gryffindor Common Room and boys' dorm, Diagon Alley, Dumbledore's office, Hogwarts Castle.... and all of it really The Triwizard Cup, the golden snitch, Buckbeak, Aragog, the Ministry of Magic. Objects, characters and places that are familiar both from the books (where they looked slightly different in my mind at least) and the films where of course they emerge from the designers' imaginations.
On reflection, although this was the "real stuff they used in the films", none of it was really real. Just like in any other movie, props are made and manipulated by the talented crew to appear to do things they don't do or have characteristics they don't have, and this is even more pronounced when the film is about a magical world that has come from the imagination of a talented storyteller. Sadly, the magic wand my daughter bought in the gift shop is showing no sign of being magical at all (although as we're muggles we probably couldn't make a real one work anyway....) and the Time Turner I bought has failed to provide me with any extra time in any day. So it was real stuff and yet, not really real  - if I'm still making sense.

The Sword of Gryffindor

When the Harry Potter books first became popular, I remember having conversations with Christians who were concerned that the "witchcraft" themes would become an unhelpful influence for children. As the saga continued and more books were published, I think it became clear that the books were filled with influences from the Christian story, and the climax (SPOILER ALERT) involved the sacrifice of one for many and a resurrection to boot. So perhaps those early fears proved groundless.

But the books and films and spin-off merchandise are all the product of a very creative imagination. And I've been pondering the power of imagination all week.

Hermione's time turner. My own is yet to produce
 a single millisecond of extra time!
I'm in a Diocese where the Synod recently set four strategic priorities, including to "re-imagine the Church". I love to use imagination in Bible study, in preaching and in worship, and some of the best feedback on preaching I've had is where I preached a completely narrative sermon, imaginatively re-telling the story from the point of view of one of the characters.
 Human imagination is undoubtedly a precious and powerful gift from God. Christians do need to use imagination to properly engage with God's mission because it inevitably involves change.
Perhaps there is a hint of this in Jesus' words to his disciples that we need to become like a child to enter the Kingdom.
What does it really mean to be good news to the poor, to bring sight to the blind, freedom to captives? What does that look like in 2014? In the case of the churches in my Diocese (and probably elsewhere too) we need to accept that it probably doesn't mean more bums on our cherished pews, and also that re-imagining the church will mean that quite a lot of what we already hold dear will have to change beyond recognition.

J.K Rowling's imagination produced a world of marvels and much-loved characters. It's fantastic and fun and  a story which contains lots of important truths. And still none of it is really real.
In contrast, Christian imagination used for the transformation of disciples and through them the communities they live in, can produce something that is really real. For if we're imagining God's Kingdom, we're imagining the most real reality there is.
In my "do nothing" moments this Lent (for more, see here) I've been doing a bit of, what I like to think of as, holy day-dreaming.
I have yet to come up with a world of Muggles and Quidditch (and that's been done already anyway) but perhaps those moments will allow me to catch a glimpse of eternity and inspire me to do my bit to re-imagine, not just the Church, but the world which it is here to serve.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Not busy

This year I am not busy for Lent. To find out more, click here.
It involves intentionally sitting still and doing nothing for at least 10 minutes every day.
Sounds simple?
Well, the idea is simple but the execution is proving much harder than you might imagine. The temptations are endless - radio, TV, internet distractions, books sitting around to be read, magazines and papers with tempting articles, music to be listened to.
I have decided to not have the radio or any music on. I really am trying to still my mind. I failed on Ash Wednesday completely. On the Friday I forgot. But from the attempts I have made so far, here is what I have learned:

1. 10 minutes is a long time. I set a timer and the first day I did it, I kept looking at it. This did not help time pass more quickly.

2. I will remember lots of things I need to do as soon as I sit still. However I have decided not to pick up the pen and write them down as that definitely counts as Doing Something. I have yet to discover if I will always remember these things after the 10 minutes is over, or if I will forget them entirely. Or indeed if it matters if I forget them entirely. Perhaps I will find out that it's OK if some things just don't get done.

3. It is easier to do this when I'm not running a busy parish. But perhaps that's why I need to get into the habit now so that when I do get back into a parish, it's already a regular part of my discipline.

4. It is much easier doing nothing when the puppy comes and sits on the sofa with me and I can stroke her velvety coat. I have convinced myself that this still amounts to doing nothing. After all, who could resist this?

Sunday, 9 March 2014

All change

Now gone to a good home!
Today has been a difficult day in lots of ways. A final service in my title post, where I just about managed to retain my composure and although I know I gave the final blessing, I'm not sure exactly how.
Then lovely cards, flowers, astonishingly generous gifts, and  a lovely feast even although it's Lent. I know I have friends here who I will be sure to stay in touch with, and to think of how much I have grown and changed and learned priest-craft ( is that a word?) in the almost four years I have been curate in the parish, is humbling.  But somehow it doesn't seem real.
Somehow, part of me thinks I am getting up in the morning to say Morning Prayer  in St Alban's. But I won't.  Well I will say Morning Prayer.  But alone, in my study.  Because a house move is not imminent,  it all feels a little as if I'm not leaving at all.
But something happened today which felt much more real. We had sold our climbing frame on a well-known internet auction site. It was a gift from my parents when we moved to Basingstoke (The Big Move South) and our children were both under three.  It has been a feature of our lives for nearly 12 years.
And now it's gone. 
It provided hours of fun for our children,  and many of their friends over many years. It was a great asset to the garden.
And now it's gone.
More real than the end of my title post.  More real than the move to a new place.
Our children are now amazing young people,  growing up,  and with us for only a few years more.
The other changes will kick in and become real over the next few days and weeks.
  But this one is real now. 
All change. 

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Endings and beginnings

Signs of new life are all around.
And today there's even some sunshine!
Today as I was sitting at my laptop writing my final sermon to be preached tomorrow in my curacy parish, I received an email with the rota for the services in my new one.
It feels odd.
The format is different.
The service pattern is different. 
The other names on it are different (although it really helps that there's a good friend already there - for a while at least) 

It's concrete (or at least paper) evidence of the change that lies before me.

I have long prayed for this change. A new role that allowed my children to stay at their school at least until after public exam courses are over. A context completely different to the one in which I served my title - I'm moving to a much more affluent parish, to churches with large congregations and a growing staff team. A job that will allow me to study and perhaps teach. But having the paper evidence of this change in front of me somehow makes it more real and simultaneously scary and exciting.

There are a lot of challenges in the weeks ahead. Uncertainty over when we might move house is the main one. Reading, thinking and exploring various opportunities for further study is another. I feel like I'm entering into a time of uncertainty, although it seems that much is already settled.

As I was preparing for tomorrow's sermon, I came across some words of Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, who is one of the three people remembered by the Church of England's lectionary today.

“We have taught our people to use prayer too much as a means of comfort – not in the original and heroic sense of uplifting, inspiring, strengthening, but in the more modern and baser sense of soothing sorrow, dulling pain, and drying tears – the comfort of the cushion, not the comfort of the Cross.”

I wonder if I've been thinking more in terms of the comfortable, cushioned road ahead (in spite of previous experience telling me that it is always anything but) instead of the way of the cross. I need reminding that a comfortable life with everything settled is not what Jesus promised his disciples. Change and uncertainty are part of the package. Learning to deal with that will be part of my discipline for Lent.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Lenten Garden

Sadly, I wasn't thinking ahead enough to take a
"before" picture, but here is "after".

Yesterday was my day off. It feels a bit odd to have a day off this week as I only have another few days left in the parish, with my final service being on Sunday. After walking the puppy, I took it into my head to do a job that had been annoying me for too long, and I cleared and cut back some climbing plants (botanical skills are zero I'm afraid so I have no idea what they are - only that there is - was -  far too much of them)
About 20 minutes in, I was regretting ever lifting up a pair of shears, but I battled on, and eventually the plants were well and truly pruned. Now I confess, I don't know that they'll definitely recover but I do know that I undertook the same exercise two years ago, and having to repeat it is ample testament to the vigorous nature of the plants. They were so vigorous in fact that they were preventing other things from growing - and so my spring bulbs, of which I am excessively fond, were shaded out and covered up, and as a result will not be the display I was hoping for when they were planted.

This is some of the material cut away.
Cutting away lots of plant material the morning after our Ash Wednesday service gave me plenty of time to think about the spiritual pruning that is traditionally called for during Lent. A time to deliberately and intentionally spend time with God and seek spiritual disciplines to cut away from our lives whatever may be unhelpful and preventing other beautiful things from growing.

 Lent will be odd for me this year as I find myself between posts. There will be time, I hope, as we prepare to move house and I prepare to take up a new post in a completely different context, to engage with some pruning of unnecessary things so that other things will grow. Disengaging from my curacy post has felt quite a lot like pruning, and it has not been a painless exercise. I am aware there is yet more to do, perhaps as the administrative and organisational functions which have taken up so much time of late are handed on, I can re-engage with other spiritual ones, recollect and redefine my identity as priest and child of God. I hope I can end Lent as ready for the resurrection as my garden is for new spring growth.
And remember that I will certainly have to repeat the process again next year.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Thank God for Social Media

On Tuesday evening, Evensong had just finished at Salisbury Cathedral when I checked my Twitter feed.
OK I won't lie. I had been checking it during the service too.
The Synod hashtag feed was repeatedly refreshed, except during the singing by the choir of the Magnificat  - Mary's song. As I listened to the familiar words and beautiful music (Noble in B minor) I had the rising sense that, just as God called the woman Mary to do something that had never been done before, (or since, it has to be said) God was also calling the women of this generation to do something new in the life of his church. Some of them would be Bishops.

My Soul magnified the Lord and my Spirit rejoiced in God my saviour.

And then I read my Twitter feed.

I felt incredibly deflated. Shocked. Bereaved. I remain surprised by the strength of my own reaction and have spent today reading, praying and reflecting on it, leaving my place of retreat with a determination to serve, with as much commitment and compassion as before, the people among whom God has placed me.

But on the night, it was hard. As a Myers-Briggs E, I need people around. I prefer to process what's going on out loud with other people. Admittedly this can have embarrassing consequences, but let's not go there.
But on Tuesday night I was alone. Away on a retreat without my family and friends.

I did, however, have Twitter and Facebook. And there I found the same shock and disbelief I was feeling. I found anger, love and compassion. And an almost immediate determination that the result of this vote will not be to diminish the ministry of women in the Church of England. And even some humour. Especially around gin.

So, thank God once more for Twitter. This Extravert was not alone when she needed company the most.
At CNMAC this year we chatted about relationships made over social media. Of course there are dangers. And we must be aware of those. But they are real, not virtual relationships and I valued them enormously this week.