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.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Painful Explanations

My ordination stole and gift of Chalice and paten
At lunch time I had to do some of that explaining which Archbishop Rowan was talking about this morning. To a (secular) youth-worker in the secondary school where I am occasional chaplain. She was outraged that the Church could discriminate against women when her job was all about building up young people's confidence and encouraging them to fulfil their potential. Wasn't the Church in that kind of business too? So why limit the potential of 50% of the population?

And then there was the dinner table conversation with my children this evening. Completely at a loss to understand why women can't be bishops.

In both cases, I explained that the Church of England had actually decided that it did want women to be bishops. It decided that several years ago. Yesterday was not about that. It was about the particular legislation which would enable women to become Bishops. General Synod, did not decide by a large enough majority that the proposed legislation offered the kind of protection that those opposed felt they needed, if their theological positions were to be properly respected in a way that allowed them to remain in the Church of England.
"Protection?!" exploded the youth worker. "Why does anyone feel they need protection from women in church?"

As I tried to outline the theological positions, or at least how I understand them, to her, I realised how hollow I sounded.
For you see, I have been sympathetic to those opposed to the ordination of women as priests (and therefore as bishops) I have read their statements and publications, many of them for an MA essay on the topic. I disagreed with them but felt with all my heart that one of the strengths of this church I have been called by God to serve in, is its very diversity. When we gain insights into God's character from other ways of worshipping and being, we are all enriched and gain a fuller picture of God.

On a personal level, I find, for reasons that I don't entirely understand, that I am deeply wounded that my calling is a source of hurt to others who also seek to love and follow Jesus. Jesus himself didn't say anything much about bishops (or if he did, the evangelists didn't record it for posterity) but he had quite a lot to say about unity. And loving one another for his sake. And about looking after those on the margins and whom society rejects. Those, perhaps with different views to the majority, those perhaps who feel that they do not have a voice.

So I really wanted to try to do that. I didn't add my name to the letter in the Independent because I wasn't sure that this was legislation that was the right legislation at the right time. I talked with my husband (who thinks I'm mad to worry about this) about my ambivalence towards the measure. I kept quiet and prayed.

At the recent church beetle drive someone (me) drew
 a female scarabeus episcopus
The strength of my own reaction to the news of the defeated legislation has taken me entirely by surprise. In a way I kind of expected it to fail. Those opposed to the measure had been very good at getting representatives elected in the House of Laity where the required two-thirds majority was not reached. Suddenly, those on the margins, whose views and beliefs I have tried so hard to respect and hear had achieved what they wanted to achieve, and in doing so have left the majority of Synod and Church members feeling they are the voiceless ones on the margins.

So, I've just read Bishop Alan's article and I think I may have been trying to be nice. And in trying to be nice I'm left explaining things I fundamentally disagree with to an incredulous youth-worker, who thinks that my ability to minister to young people, encouraging them to fulfil their God-given potential is fatally compromised; and also to my children who I otherwise encourage to know, love and serve God through his church.

So I will continue to pray and wait and listen. And I will try to respond and offer explanations with grace, respect and love. But perhaps I may have a re-think about how much I need to go on holding the pain of others who will never agree with me.
For right now, my own pain, and that of the vast majority of the Church of England is about all I can cope with.

For other, more intelligent views, and there are many more than these, but for a starteryou could do worse than  Bishop Nick BainesLucy Winkettmy very articulate friend, Revd Claire , the priest who waxes his kneesLaura the Lay Anglicana and this very interesting piece by Jemima Thackray

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Adding to the chaos

OK. So this is an excuse really. And it's probably a bit self-indulgent. But I thought I'd share with you one of the reasons blogging has taken a bit of a back seat recently.

Meet Millie, our Golden Doodle. That's a cross between a Golden Retriever and a Poodle. This was her at about 3 months, not long after she arrived with us back in June.
She joined our decidedly geriatric Golden Retriever, Holly. Holly will be 14 this month and although she's a bit creaky and slow still enjoys life (apart from the indignity of being played with by a six month old Golden Doodle) and after a number of scares in the last year now looks like she' might outlive us all...

After a visit to the grooming parlour aged 5 months
Millie is a lot bigger now. She loves to go to Southampton Common or the Sports Centre near where we live and run around like the mad things she is. We never intended to have two dogs. But a combination of circumstances meant that it seemed like now was a good time to add to the family - although on the face of it, you might think that the last thing I needed was a puppy.
But there have been a number of benefits - the huge amount of fun we've had with her, especially when she was little (even now she is singing along to my daughter's cello practice) The children have spent less time watching TV as we've played with her, and taken her to training classes and I enjoy the opportunity for longer walks in the (now) Autumn air as they arise. Do feel free to remind me of that when it's pouring with rain and blowing a gale.

Somehow in adding to the chaos, Millie has nonetheless enriched our lives and although she has been hard work, what worthwhile things in life aren't?

Monday, 24 September 2012

After Mary's song...

A sermon for St Mary's Patronal festival. Preached on 9th September 2012.
I always get the best reactions from a narrative sermon. 
What did Mary say after singing her song? How did she explain it to others, to herself?

Luke 1:46-55

My soul magnifies the Lord! My Spirit leaps for joy in the God who is my Saviour!

Why did I sing that song?! How? It came from my heart in an uncontrollable stream, as if the words were given to me by God himself. My joy in the Lord felt like it would burst from my body – and I suppose it did - in song. As I approached the house, I saw Elizabeth – obviously with child as my visitor had told me she would be.She cried out as she saw me, feeling her baby leap within her. It seems to me that we have both been richly blessed by God.
But why?

Elizabeth is I suppose the wife of a Temple priest so must have some importance in God’s eyes. But me. I’m no-one. Just a young woman, and only just a woman. Unmarried, living in a small country that was once great through God’s blessing but is now ruled by a foreign army. I’m completely insignificant. A bit of a dreamer of dreams perhaps. But nothing special.

And yet I had that visitor who came and said such strange things  - he told me that I have found favour with God. In spite of my being the least important person I know, God has come to me, chosen me even, to be the mother of a baby who will be a king forever.  A king, forever! This baby, the visitor told me, will grow up to be called the Son of God himself! He’ll be the fulfilment of all that God has promised to us since Abraham. Doesn’t that all sound a bit crazy to you? It does to me too. But I have never been more certain of anything in my whole life. That’s what makes it even more crazy!
I know in my heart and trust in God’s promise that this king will do great things. 
My son will do great things. 
His kingdom will not be like the ones we know now – not even like the great kingdom of David.  This new kingdom will be a place where those who are powerful become as powerless as me. This kingdom - my son’s kingdom will be a place where the thrones humans build are torn down and people who have nothing, and who think of themselves as insignificant nobodies will receive an abundant blessing from God. I know this for sure because God has started already – with me.

He has chosen me, such as I am, to take part in something that seems impossible. No, not impossible, for I know that cousin Elizabeth says, like our ancestors Sarah and Hannah, that nothing is impossible with God. So, not impossible.
But astonishing. Miraculous. Amazing, wonderful - and rather awkward and difficult to explain. Especially to your fiancé.

I can still see the hurt and anger on Joseph’s face when I told him the visitor’s news about the baby that I’ll have. The baby that will come directly from God, and not because of him or any other man. And that it’s already inside me beginning to grow. As crazy as it sounds, I know that it’s true, and I think Joseph wants to try to believe it too. He’s a good man who fears the Lord. But his good reputation will be damaged when my news gets out. And it will. I’m not going to be able to hide this pregnancy forever. Joseph has said he has to think about what he’s going to do. So I’ve come to Elizabeth.

I wish Joseph could share my joy in all this. But he is wise, and knows it’s not going to be easy for either of us. People won’t believe that the baby is from God, and if Joseph publicly says it’s not his, and sends me away, I don’t know what will happen. That scares me.
I do believe that this is all in God’s good plan – but I don’t know why his plan involves such pain, hurt and rejection. Must the fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham and his family include such pain and disgrace for mine?

But then this new kingdom sounds like trouble. I don’t know much about anything, and nothing at all about powerful people - except it seems that those who have power want to hang on to it. And would not like having their thrones taken away from them – even by God.
I’ve never been rich – I can only imagine what it must be like, such comfort and luxury – no work, and servants to look after the household chores. That all sounds great. But God’s new kingdom will see rich people sent away with nothing. I do know what that’s like, and it’s not fun.
No. I’m guessing the rich and powerful might not like this new kingdom. This revolutionary kingdom can surely only come about at a price. And if the price of the birth of this new king is rejection, humiliation and pain so that God’s mercy will be shown to the poor and weak, then I will pay that price. And what’s more, I will teach my son to do the same.

For my joy in the Lord, my song, comes from knowing the stories of God’s love and mercy taught in the synagogues and in our families. I know that somehow I am a part of that story. That God’s mercy and salvation and the blessing promised to Abraham will be seen in a new way through the son I will have.
My job is to bring this new life, this precious, miraculous life into the world and nurture it so that God’s will can be done. My son is not just for me. In a way I can’t explain, I know he is for everyone. For God’s promise through Abraham is for all nations and generations.
Perhaps some people will think that they’re not important enough to be part of this kingdom. But that’s not true. God will use the least important person I know to do an important job for him. That’s me.

You know, He could be asking you to do something important too. You’re not too insignificant. Do you want to be a part of God’s new kingdom of mercy, love and justice? 
Yes, it’s possible for this kingdom to exist.

For nothing is impossible with God. And that’s why I sing!

The photograph is of a window in the Church at Taizé.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Questions, questions

Sometimes you plan something that you're a little wary of. Sometimes you wonder if it's really going to work. Sometimes you wonder at the last minute whether you really shouldn't change your mind and forget it altogether.

Today was a bit like that.
I was preaching in one of our churches - a small congregation, mostly elderly and mostly those who have worshipped in the church for many years. They are lovely people but concerned about the future of the church, and unsure where to begin to look for growth. Like many of us. they sometimes they don't like new things, and sometimes surprising them with something unusual doesn't work. So what I planned for my sermon today was a little risky and I nearly didn't do it. But I'm so glad I did.

Today's Gospel passage was Mark 9:30-37, and in these short verses there were many things I could have preached on. I even found my sermon from three years ago, preached in a very different setting and I enjoyed reading it - but it did not address the thing that was really standing out for me this week.
"They [Jesus' disciples] did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him." (Mark 9:32 NRSV)

I don't always use the internet for sermon preparation but when I do I often visit Working Preacher where the commentaries can be helpful (or, as is the case with most commentaries, unhelpful!) I was struck by one of the suggestions on there which was to get the congregation to be braver than Jesus' first disciples and ask him a question. So I handed out slips of paper and pens at the beginning of the service, and then preached on the importance of a questioning faith - a faith which seeks answers from God and trusts that He is big enough to take our questions in his stride. The I asked the congregation to write an anonymous question for Jesus on the slip of paper. The questions were collected
 in the offertory as a sign that as we bring our gifts in faith we also bring our questions to Jesus' table.

After the service I took the questions home and sat at my desk to read them.

I cried.

I hadn't realised until I read them what a gift I was asking them to give. I was unprepared for their honesty, puzzlement, pain and insight, and for my own reaction to that.  They range from the practical to the intellectual, and I felt humbled to be reading them. I wish I had easy answers, or indeed any answers for them. But I think that above all Jesus wants us to ask questions of him - about life as his followers - and that in asking the questions we are able to begin to live the answer.
I'd love to know, and offer a hug and reassurance to the person who asked how what they did was important. I'd love to talk further with the person what asked why they found it so difficult to ask Jesus a question. I rage with the people who are dismayed and angry about suffering in the world and current levels of violence over matters of faith.

And I will. Perhaps not directly but this has given me such an insight into God's precious people in that church and their concerns that I hope we will address at least some of them in preaching to come, and as we discuss a possible year of mission for our 80th birthday.

I am hugely grateful for the promptings of the Spirit who I'm sure gave me the courage to see my slightly mad idea through, and to the congregation who have trusted me enough to share what's on their minds and hearts before God.
So, what question would you ask?

New beginnings and writer's block

So, it's been a while. I am sorry about that. Part of me has missed blogging but a larger part has had something of a crisis of confidence. And so I have used the general chaotic nature of my life as an excuse - I don't have time to blog.

But of course what we have time for depends on our priorities and I guess that blogging became less of a priority for me. And so I stopped. And after a while, it became harder to re-start. I wasn't convinced that I had anything to say.
But September arrives with all its shiny newness amidst the fading summer. New shoes and pencil cases and in our house a complete new uniform, and routine as my daughter started secondary school. All of that went well - at least so far, and so I began to wonder if I shouldn't  do something about this blog. Its bookmark has been staring at me rather balefully from the toolbar of my browser, feeling a little unloved.
And of course as soon as I started to think that I might give this another go (with the encouragement of family and friends) something inside of me was released and I find that I have several blog posts in me just needing to be posted.
So as the chaos of my life takes a new shape this Autumn, with changes in schooling and my husband's work pattern, we'll see if this moves up my priority list. I want it to, and so that's probably the key.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Were you there? A Good Friday reflection

(Sung) Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
            Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
            Oh sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble,
            Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there?

Not many were at the end. Some women, one of his friends. Perhaps the rest all finally understood where all this Kingdom of God stuff was going. And how it could be their turn to be arrested next. They were frightened. Disappointed. Wracked with guilt by their betrayal, cowardice or denial. They finally got it – following Jesus was not going to make them popular. It was even going to be dangerous. So they left.
But didn’t he tell them that whoever followed him was going to face insult, persecution, opposition from their own families, never mind the religious authorities? Didn’t he say that if you wanted to follow him you had to take up your own cross? If you were there, you could now see exactly how that might work out. I’m not surprised that so many left the scene.
Following Jesus, living in the Kingdom of God means standing up for the weakest and the voiceless. The poor, and sick, certainly, but how about the asylum seekers. The prisoners. The drug addicts, the trafficked sex-workers. You can just see how much trouble that lot could get you into. Do we still run away from it all?

Were you there?

Were you there?

Was it you who stood at the foot of the cross? Your true self, I mean. Not the one we put on for others. But the self we don’t need to put on before God. Or, even at the foot of the cross where all is laid bare, the depths of human fear, hatred and cruelty are exposed, are you hiding behind a mask of respectability? Perhaps frightened to drop the mask – if I reveal my true self, if people knew what I was really like, they would hate me.
And yet, at the cross we find acceptance of our true self. The you that you hide is there accepted by Jesus as he opens wide those everlasting arms of love. The you that you yourself don’t much like is forgiven, redeemed and transformed. But you need to know that God loves you imperfect as you are in order for the transformative love to take effect. If we are forever hiding behind our mask of respectability, even at the foot of the cross, then we will never fully grasp the possibility of abundant life that Jesus offers. Last night we heard that unless we are washed by Jesus we have no part in him. And how can he wash that which we do not show?

Were you there?

Were you there?

Really there, I mean. Did you see that ruined body, a man in his prime bloody and beaten from wounds that might kill him anyway staggering through the streets carrying a huge piece of wood? Were you there as he was first laid down, then nailed down, then hoisted up? Were you there as the nails were driven through flesh to find wood? Did you hear, see and smell the agony of slow suffocation? Did you hear the mocking voices? See the utter humiliation, degradation, not to mention the agonising pain? The physical pain of the cruellest of deaths, and the emotional pain of abandonment and desolation.
Yet, were you there to hear his words? Words creating a new family. Words expressing a human need. Words of accomplishment. Were you there to hear those words– the smallest hint of hope for the future, of life beyond this dark day. But perhaps for you lost in the unspeakable horror of it all until afterwards.

Were you there?

Were you there?
We were all there. Whether we like it or not, we were all there. Every wrong thing we’ve done, every kind thing left undone, every cruel or mocking word we’ve ever said, every time we held back praise, affirmation or kindness. They were all there.
And so were we.
The worst parts of our humanity. Made clean by this terrible death. The inexplicable wonder of God nailed to a cross, taking all the world’s hurts and pain on himself.

We were all there.

(Sung) Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
            Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble,
            Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Monday, 19 March 2012

A Chaos scale

I've been thinking about defining a chaos scale. Kind of like the Richter scale for earthquakes or the Beaufort scale for wind.

Last week in particular was very busy. With my training incumbent away, the phone calls to the vicarage come through to me, and last week it was very busy on the phone. It seems that now spring is here, thoughts of many people around here are turning to Baptisms, and it was my smart idea to suggest that clergy visit soon after an initial Baptism enquiry is made (along the lines of the Weddings Project suggestion for weddings) Previously, the office took the booking but we may not visit the family for many months depending on how far in advance the Baptism was booked.
This week, I've done five visits.
That registers highly on the chaos scale as it eats into other time I may have available for preparation for other things. But it's all about building good relationships and I really enjoy it.

Some fruits of this approach were evident at yesterday's family service. We had over 60 people in church - around two dozen children, and there were three families there who have recently started coming regularly following the Baptism of their children.
The service itself registered quite high on the chaos scale - with all those children around, there's a certainly inevitablility to that. But they were mostly engaged and had plenty to do in the service which seemed to help. The giving of Communion was less ordered than usual but no-one seemed to mind, and I was really pleased that a Banns family came to the altar for a blessing as they prepare for their wedding in a few weeks. There was a lovely atmosphere and we are blessed with having the kind of old(er) ladies who really like having a lively service for families and not the kind I have met elsewhere who might otherwise complain.....

So if my scale of chaos is to reflect anything, it will probably reflect when I have time to blog. Infrequently just now, but I hope to redress that this week, which, at the moment has (deliberately) fewer appointments and (fortuitously) no sermon to preach on Sunday.

I'll keep thinking about how I'd like to express my chaos scale, but feel free to make suggestions!

Although it has been busy, I did want to share some moments where I felt the chaos was particularly hallowed. For God is there to be found anywhere anyone chooses to look.

A fantastic concert by my son's school...... a lovely Communion in a sheltered housing complex...... a very moving hospital visit with a man with dementia - as he struggled to remember his wife's death, and wept for her, he paused and uttered a prayer from his heart, "Lord, help me!".......... some laughs with the Cubs as they talked about objects in the church...... praying with a dying man..... the peace of the 8 o'clock Communion service on Sunday.

So, tired but blessed, I continue to embrace such hallowed chaos.

Image of Richter scale via

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Noise from the shallow end

I came across a quote today that I rather like. Attributed to Canon Bill Vanstone,  the Church (of England) is likened to a swimming pool where all the noise comes from the shallow end.
Others may have heard this already but it's new to me, and I can't help thinking how apt it remains. There's lots of noise at the moment surrounding the church on issues of gay marriage, wearing of crosses, and our response to the economic situation. But is there any depth to our thinking on the subject?
This challenges me about the depth (or lack of depth) of my own spirituality - especially in Lent when I've been trying, through the chaos, to do some proper reading. I feel that often I merely paddle in the shallow end of the pool instead of plunging into the depths of God. And as a consequence, I can find myself feeling ill-equipped to comment or think about the issues that face the church and the world today.
No particular conclusions about this at the moment, except that I need to be doing more praying, thinking and meditating on God's Word so that I can take a few more steps towards the deep end of the pool.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Forgiven at the cross

A wordle of last Sunday's sermon which was very well received. At least half the congregation (of 20!) told me how powerful it was. For Lent we're focussing on aspects of the cross, rather than preaching from the readings, so this week I preached on the cross as forgiveness. That's a big thing for me as my MA dissertation was about forgiveness in the Criminal Justice system. This was as a result of a placement in a prison when the Chaplaincy was running a restorative justice course. Seeing prisoners face up to their offences, some for the first time in more than 10 years inside was incredibly moving, and convinced me of the power of asking for and receiving forgiveness. It is forgiveness that allows us to move on from past hurts. Ann Lewin, poet and liturgist talks about forgiveness - not as forgetting but as remembering differently. The sting is removed from the memory.
In Jesus' death our sins are forgiven, and we are made whole. It is part of our Christian discipleship to learn to forgive others - and I don;t want to under-state how hard that is -to the point of seeming impossibility. But forgiving another frees us from hurts which might otherwise dominate our present and shape our future. Someone described failing to forgive as being like allowing someone to live rent-free in your head. Forgiveness also offers a new opportunity for the forgiven offender to imagine a new life which is not dictated by the past. This is what Christians believe is offered to them in Jesus' death and resurrection. And this is the good news we're called to share.
I'm always interested in the work of The Forgiveness Project, the reconciliation ministry of Coventry Cathedral, and St Ethelberga's. Any more I should know about?

Friday, 2 March 2012

Women's World Day of Prayer

Well, I was going to blog about this but my friend Revd Claire got there first and has said much of what  I wanted to say. So, check it out!
Today's service was prepared by the women of Malaysia and had as it's theme "Let Justice Prevail."

I remember this service from when I was a child, and little seems to have changed. As an act of worship, I'm afraid I still find it wordy, and bitty, with too many elements.
But I think it's more the fact that it only appeals to a small section of our congregation, that concerns me. It is actively avoided by men (at least where I am - I was ridiculed for suggesting in a magazine article that the service should be attended by men as well as women) Why should something as important as praying for justice to prevail not be a concern to all of humanity, not just half of us? It still feels slightly (and I could be wrong) as if the women are being allowed to go and have their little service while the men do other, more important stuff.
That's not to say that I don't see the value of a group of women getting together to achieve something. I was a Guider for many years so firmly believe that there is a place for women-only spaces. I'm just not sure that this is one that I particularly feel comfortable in.

Having said all that, there were some really positive moments today- and here's a picture of some of the props that were made - these lovely butterflies to remind us of the colours of Malaysia.
I also love the thought that as our service finished, another one somewhere in the world was just beginning, and that we took up where someone else left off.
And I had a great conversation with a Roman Catholic lady who is in favour of the ordination of women and who was a bit upset by the arrival in the RC church of former Anglicans in the Ordinariate.

So, perhaps as an act of female solidarity, it's worth retaining, but perhaps also the ultimate goal should be that eventually the whole of God's people would recognise that issues that affect women require all of God's people to pray and act - not just the female half.
Claire feels ambivalent about this - and so do I. You?

Tuesday, 28 February 2012


I know. I'm nearly a week late. Such has been the chaos of life over the past week that I haven't had time to post anything. I keep saying it will be better next week but life always proves me wrong.

I felt very reminded of the mess and mortality of human life on Ash Wednesday and this has stayed with me through the first week of Lent. After Morning Prayer, Eucharist and a meeting with my Spiritual Director, I was summonsed back to the church where a lady had appeared in some distress. She was passing on  her way back from a mediation meeting in divorce proceedings, and wanted to call in where she had been married. I sat with her for more than an hour as the sorry tale of an unravelling relationship was told. I was transported back to my tiny office on the outskirts of Glasgow where I used to hear similar stories from clients in my then professional capacity as a solicitor, specialising in divorce work.
There is so much that can be wonderful in a marriage at its best, But at its worst, it must be one of the most miserable ways of living. I don't like divorce. I didn't especially rejoice when my clients' cases were over and the decrees issued, and they were single once again. Where there was abuse - and in that part of Glasgow, it was not uncommon - it must surely have been better for the abused spouse and for any children of the marriage for that relationship to be over if it cannot be healed.
And yet, the lady who I spoke to last week reminded me of the pain of a failed marriage - even where the relationship cannot truly be called a marriage as is it so dysfunctional . In the church where they had made their marriage promises to each other before God, it hurt that those promises had been broken repeatedly over a period of 21 years, and that the relationship was finally to end. It hurt a lot.

Human sinfulness is hideous, and on Ash Wednesday my visitor reminded me of the damage and pain that we can inflict on each other. I have certainly hurt people I professed to care about. That's what we as humans do. We find ourselves doing thing that really we don't want to do and that we know will hurt others and consequently ourselves. I think St Paul knew about that when he wrote to the Romans 2000 years ago and not much has changed.

After the lady left the church, I had (yet another) reminder of mortality in a funeral visit.

Sin and mortality. The ashes felt surprisingly heavy as I made the sign of the cross on foreheads that evening

Monday, 20 February 2012


This week during half-term, I went to the cinema with the family. My daughter's choice of treat was to go to see  the Muppets at the cinema. She had never seen the original Muppet Show. I, on the other hand was taken straight back to my childhood Saturday evenings.
I thought about other things we used to watch as a family. We had seen some of them on DVD in HMV the previous day. The A Team, Knight Rider, Airwolf (Airwolf!!!) It made me wonder why we there seems to be such a trend for 80s TV, music and even fashion. (Thankfully no shoulder pads, but there was quite a lot of neon in Claire's Accessories)
Those of us who were children and teenagers in the 80s now have families of our own - but was the TV really that great? The music certainly wasn't.
So what is going on? Are we so scared of the future that we retreat to the past? If the past is the 1980s, which, as I recall, included a war with Argentina, miners' strikes and millions of unemployed, perhaps we are retreating there because it's familiar. With the news from the Falkland Islands this week, perhaps it's a little too familiar.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Our children are our teachers

My favourite type of chaos again this morning. Today's family service involved pancake-making, alleluia-imprisoning, lots of Cubs, Brownies and a couple of runaway toddlers. There were also hymns, prayers and Communion. I think the church comes alive when we worship together in this service. Today we had three recently-joined Baptism families with us, and a good sprinkling of students from the nearby halls of residence.
Somehow, in the midst of the noise, distractions, and fun, God was present in a powerful way, drawing everyone present into His love.
The children gather round the altar as we celebrate Communion and the image of one three-year-old boy's face as he watched, rapt, as the President took bread and wine, blessed, broke and shared them will stay in my memory for a long time.
"Let the children come to me; do not try to stop them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." (Mark 10:14-16)

That boy taught me lot about how I might better accept the Kingdom of God today.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Dangerous prayers

So, the High Court has ruled that Bideford Council may not longer have prayers as part of its meetings. Heresy Corner describes the ruling as a Pyrrhic victory and has a detailed analysis of the ruling. Archdruid Eilieen reports that the Church of England's General Synod might similarly be affected.
Among the usual outcry from the usual suspects, my favourite reaction so far has to be from Matt, the Telegraph's cartoonist.
Matt Cartoon

Do we think our prayers are dangerous? If not, why not???
The gospel is challenging and subversive, and if it is perceived as a threat then we are in exactly the same position as Jesus himself. If Christianity is pushed to the sidelines, that is precisely the same ground Christ inhabited and while it can be uncomfortable I think there is more scope for Christians to be prophetic when we are further removed from seats of power. I like the fact that the gospel is thought dangerous enough for people to want to suppress it.

One of my favourite artists, Eddi Reader has recorded a song by John Douglas on her
Peacetime album.

Should I pray?
Is it safe?
Put my faith in rewards
somewhere a lifetime away?

Lose all of my friends to these prayers?
Lose the rest of my life to these prayers?
It don't look safe
To have faith.

In some ways, having faith is pretty risky. Prayer can lead you places you might not want to go (my being ordained is a classic example) Prayer is relationship - God and his people working together for His Kingdom. Prayer can feel unsafe because God does not fit into a box we have prepared for him. If I'm ever arrested, like Matt's cartoon cleric, I hope it's for praying. So, can we embrace our subversive status, pray before meetings anyway (God will hear our prayers whether or not they are on the official agenda) and continue to work with God for God's Kingdom to come and God's will to be done  on earth as it is on heaven.

And who knows? Perhaps banning prayers will have the effect of making more people want to try it. Worked for Lady Chatterly's Lover, A Clockwork Orange and cannabis.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Hairdressing church?

Today, I had my hair coloured and cut. I enjoy the extravagant amount of time that takes, and the experience of being pampered. I don't go to a fancy, expensive hairdresser (I did a couple of times, but really objected to the cost) This hairdresser's salon has been there for years and its customers are mostly older ladies who have been going there for years. It's not in my parish but I wish something like it was.
There are two hairdressers but they do so much more than look after people's hair. Many of the regulars come every week, and one lady who had been in hospital was enthusiastically greeted by another customer today with a cheery "We missed you!" My hairdresser was off after work to see one of her customers at home - an old lady on her own who was struggling with her Freeview box, and the analogue switch-off around here is imminent. The hairdresser was off to see what she could do to help. She often takes her customers home or offers to pick them up from hospital appointments. Concern is shown if customers don't keep appointments. Phone calls are made  - "Are you OK?" There is a taxi driver who often drops off customers and who will pick up their pension at the next-door Post Office during their appointment. These are good people doing small acts of kindness for their neighbours and making valuable connections as they do.

It often strikes me that this is a real community hub. News is exchanged, advice sought and given, and people are cared for - not just their hair but their whole selves. This is a bit like how our churches at their best can be. We're not church simply to care for people's spiritual needs but their whole person. And that is what I see in that small, not-very-modern hairdresser with an extensive network among some of the most vulnerable in our society, and the willingness to serve them. It's a holy place.

And, although it's not in the parish, another customer was at a talk I gave to a ladies' group and reported back to the hairdresser afterwards. Thankfully it was a favourable report, as I really don't want to upset someone who is regularly colouring my hair!

18 000 mile curacy service

This week we had an interesting day of IME (Initial Ministerial Education) training. This is what the Diocese provides to those who have been ordained and are curates in a parish. It can be difficult or it can be quite fun. Today I wasn't sure what to expect as both curates and training incumbents were asked to draw a picture of the curacy so far.
Here is mine:

As you can see, I never won art prizes at school. But I'm the one on the diving board, juggling the items in blue at the top of the page. My family are closest to the pool, cheering me on but also looking at the clock. My Training Incumbent (TI) is the red squiggle at the steps acting as coach - being close beside me but ultimately unable to do things for me. There's an audience, signifying the public nature of the job, and a panel of judges, signifying its accountability. The diving board has an end. sometimes I feel like I can dive off, other times like I want to go back from whence I came. God is the board, but also the pool which is deliberately only bounded on three sides.

I confess I had been a bit sceptical about this exercise but found it quite revealing and affirming. My TI had drawn a positive image of growth and development, and commented that my picture wasn't as confident as I often seem. I can certainly talk a good game, but on the inside it's a different matter.
So far, so good, I think is probably the headline.

Whether I'll want to dive off the end of that board and whether I'll belly flop if I do, is another matter altogether.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Tempus fugit

The last day of January already. And the coldest of the year so far. And time slips between my fingers, as ever. This week I have a time management course. I suspect it will tell me what I already know - that there are not enough hours in the day, and that I get on with my work better when I am not distracted by Twitter and other internet things...

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Twitter friends

At the weekend, much to the disapproval of my children, I met up with people I came to know on Twitter. My children disapproved because I had drilled them never to reveal their identity online or meet anyone they only knew over the internet. We talked a bit about this - and how it was a little different for a grown-up, there was a group of us, and we were meeting in a public place. In addition, I already knew two of them IRL. But part of me still worries a little about the precedent I have set.

Anyway, we had a splendid time! It was great to put real people to avatars and to talk Twitter, life, ministry, church and communication. I met interesting people I would otherwise never have come across. I like Twitter. It can be a distraction when I need few of those and there is some annoying and unpleasant spam out there. But, by and large, Twitter (like "the media" I have posted about previously ) consists of people interacting with one another and- among my Twitter friends at least- in a largely supportive, often humorous way. So thanks, if you're a Twitter friend. It's a privilege to know you, to pray with and for you, and I hope to meet more of you IRL one day soon!

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

A day off

Yesterday, I had a day off. That's not in itself unusual. I have a day off every week (one single day off, please note) The problem with having only one day off per week is that I tend to load it up with domestic stuff that needs doing at home. If there's something that needs a proper clean, I tend to do it on my day off. If I need to catch up on personal emails, or other correspondence, I'll do it on my day off. If I need to research some purchase online, I'll do it on my day off. You get the idea.

The problem with this approach is that very often my day off feels like every other day. If I've spent time at my computer, it's a bit like working. I've been in my study. I do a lot of work from home, so if I don't leave it on my day off, it doesn't feel much like a break.

Yesterday, I had coffee in town with my husband, and then got the train to London. I spent the day at the National Gallery (sadly, no Leonardo for me) and then had a long supper with a good University friend. I got home pretty late (or perhaps early, you might say) so today I can feel I have had less sleep than normal.
But here's the thing. I still feel properly refreshed.

Clearly what I need to do more often on my day off is get a change of scene. Get completely away from the house and do something for that is mostly for me. I should be able to do the domestic stuff in the rest of the week (I'm not required to work every waking moment!!) and actually do something else with my day off.
I have IME on Time Management coming up and I hope that might help me to get strategies to get a proper day off. Away from the house. It doesn't have to be London, but it does have to be out.

A good lesson for the start of a New Year, I think.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Sunday Chaos

My favourite Sunday in the month! Our monthly Family service with uniformed organisations and some people who regularly come to this service only. I enjoy having responsibility for this service but it quite often feels like a lot of work. This Sunday we reflected on "Following Jesus" with the calling of Philip and Nathanael from John 1.
We had some of the children dressed up at Saints supporters and talked about following a football club (about which I know very little but thankfully they helped me out) and what it might look like to follow Jesus.
I love having the children at the Communion table as I celebrate and I particularly enjoy using one of the Church of England's new additional Eucharistic prayers for use with children where children ask three questions during the prayer, echoing the significance of the children in the Seder meal.
The chaos factor was mild-moderate and we still have to find the best place for the choir as we don't want them in front of the Children's Corner, but overall I had lots of positive feedback, which was great as it didn't come easily in the planning. God honours our chaos, when we offer it to him in worship, and I think the congregation secretly like a bit of hallowed chaos too, judging from the buzz afterwards.

And to show that I'm not completely chaotic, the meeting to plan next month's service is tonight!

Thursday, 12 January 2012

The best kind of chaos...

This morning I had the best kind of chaos in church. 90 children from the local school came to learn about the Christian sacred text and how it is used in worship. So,cue some stories fom the Bible, chatting about Word and Sacrament in worship, showing the font, chalice, paten,  and making a Gospel procession.
The school has many pupils from difficult family backgrounds, but they were all fantastic. Curious, engaged, respectful, enthusiastic, and with lots of great questions: "Why was Jesus killed?", "Why is Jesus so special?", "What is your favourite Bible story?"

It's at times like that when I feel most alive and in tune with my vocation. I went home (pretty tired) to recover and to deal with another kind of chaos - the kind I like least - my desk and study.....

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Media and Communications

Today we had a very good training session with an experienced broadcast journalist (who is also a Lay Reader) We covered lots of useful areas - from practical tips on doing TV and radio interviews to thinking slightly more generally about how and why we communicate as ministers of the Gospel.

I found the former more useful (probably becuase it was completely new) than the latter, and it was interesting to do a day like this with the Leveson Inquiry ongoing in the background. Many of us (curates in yrs 1 &2) confessed to a fear of having to deal with the press and being misrepresented by reporters, and in talking of wider issues, we repeatedly talked about "the media". For me, the main usefulness of the day was when I felt the need to deconstruct the term "the media". Our trainer, Debbie Thrower helped me to see "the media" as a collection of human beings trying to do a job, mostly to the best of their ability, rather than some inhuman beast to be feared. By dehumanising "the media" we give it a power to scare us, and in some ways limit the individual accountability of people working within it. I hope that the Leveson Inquiry will call individual journalists and editors to account for the human choices which they have made, and allow the rest of us all to see that journalists are people, as we all are, with the power to make good and bad choices, rather than being controlled by this media beast. As consumers of media, the wider public also make choices about the sort of newspapers and magazines we buy, and at times this is a half-forgotten inconvenient truth.

For those of us in the church who want to work with the local press to get our news stories out in our communities, and communicate the gospel, it may help us to remmeber that by and large "the media" is made up of people who want to tell stories and where our wish to tell a story can be harnessed to their wish to tell a story, good things can happen. For the church, good relationship with local media can be a blessing, and that will be helped if we can always remember the humanity of the journalists we encounter.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Epiphany sermon 2012

The beginning of a New Year is often a time for a bit of clearing out and re-organising. I wonder if you’re the sort of person who has “a place for everything and everything in its place” or if you’re a bit more relaxed about things. I aspire to organisational standards of the type seen in the IKEA or Lakeland catalogues, but frequently fail.
I remember one occasion when A was away, the children were smaller and after I had put them to bed, I was looking forward to a treat of a Marks and Spencer meal which could be cooked simply by leaving it in the oven for 20 minutes. When the buzzer went off, I went to the kitchen and found, to my astonishment that the oven was empty. I remembered taking the meal from the fridge, and putting it on a baking tray but after that my mind was blank. I could have sworn I had put it in the oven – but it wasn’t there. It wasn’t back in the fridge either, and so I began to search the kitchen for my meal, feeling quite hungry and alarmed by this time! Eventually the meal was located – in the cupboard from which I had taken the baking tray. It did not escape from the oven a second time. Having looked in the expected place for my meal and failed to find it, I needed to re-think and search for it elsewhere.
If you’re organised, of course you know exactly where the thing you need can be found. In today’s Epiphany reading we hear that the visitors from the East, the Magi looked for the new king of the Jews where they expected to find him – in the palace of the capital city. Just as one might expect to find a cooked dinner in, say, an oven. But of course the new king wasn’t there, and after consultation with the learned people of that city, they discovered they had to look elsewhere for the new king.
So, off they went to Bethlehem – city of David and honoured as such, but in reality a small town of no particular importance. Not somewhere you’d expect to find a royal family.
And I wonder if their amazement increased as they discovered that this new king was born into a very ordinary family – a tradesman’s family in circumstances which had a faint whiff of scandal about them. I wonder too if they found the whole thing just too difficult to believe. Were they tempted to turn around, and go home taking their expensive gifts with them? Not finding the new king where they expected to find him, or even perhaps in the kind of family the might have expected to find him in, they could have given up their quest as a lost cause.

But they didn’t. They were overwhelmed with joy when they found the unlikely-looking new king and him with the help of the mysteriously obliging star, and we’re told they paid him homage. They also had enough sense not to go back to Jerusalem as the vicious and jealous Herod had asked them to. Somehow, these men, outside the people of Israel had looked for the living God of Israel , and found him in a rather unusual place – and those at the heart of Jewish hierarchy had failed to recognise at all that God had come among them.
That for me is the heart of Epiphany – God being found in an unexpected place and recognised by unexpected people – it was to shepherds – outcasts- that the birth was announced, and it was Magi – outsiders who recognised its importance.

So where do we look for God? Are we prepared to look for him in unexpected places? Are we prepared to be led there by unexpected people? Do we accept that it is sometimes those who we regard as outsiders who may be the ones to whom God is revealing himself? Or that we, inside the church who think we know where God is to be found can fail to see him when he reveals himself somewhere new?
The beginning of a new year is also a good time to take stock, to assess where we are, where we have been and where we want to be. I wonder if we can do that and think about what sort of church we are here in Swaythling and what sort of church we want to become. We expect to find God here in the building, and I believe we meet him every time we share bread and wine together. But do we also expect to see him in our schools, our shops, our places of work, among our friends and neighbours who would profess no faith?
Having found the living God the Wise Men didn’t retrace their steps. They returned to their own country via another route. Their encounter with the living God had meant they couldn’t simply go back the way they had come. Our encounters with God should leave us similarly unable to simply get back to doing exactly the same as before – we are changed by the experience.
This week, I challenge you to look for God– and let me know where you find him! Epiphany reminds us that God doesn’t conform to our expectations of where he is to be found and who is to discover him – and I pray that we will all be more open to finding him in places we may not have considered looking before.

Parish ministry in song

I came accross this song a few weeks ago when Mark Nevin (songwriter and member of Fairground Attraction) was on the radio and I just love it. It really captures for me the way people feel about the church where they were Baptised, married or where their family are buried. It's a strong and deep connection. In church today I spoke to a couple who had travelled 20 miles to be there - precisely because of this family connection.
Parish churches need to make more of this, and find ways of drawing people with these kind of connections in to the church family - which may, in the end result in them attending more and their attendance being more about deepening faith and encounters with God. The Church of England's Weddings project had those aims, and research has recently been commissioned along the same lines for the other occasional offices of Baptism/ Thanksgiving for the gift of a child, and funerals.

I am not keen on all the images used in the video - this one was made in recognition that a Las Vegas Church wanted to use the song as their "hold music" on the telephone, and I think the images reflect that. If I was clever enough, I'd make another one, reflecting my own church context. Listen to the lyrics though - it's a great song!

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Death - again

After my musings earlier on this week about end of life care, I was interested in this morning's news of a report recommending that patients with terminal illness with less than a year to live be given help to end their own lives. Telegraph article
The Independent Commission on Assisted Dying produced the report and Lord Falconer chaired it, giving it some legal weight. But the Bishop of Carlisle has issued a statement criticising the report and the composition on the Commission which it argues was selected to produce this result. The Bishop does not think that the safeguards suggested in the report would be sufficient to protect the most vulnerable, and advocates no change in the present law.

There are so many complex pastoral issues involved here that it's impossible to set up a framework that will work in every case. I understand why people would want to end their own lives, and why families would not want to see loved ones suffer unnecessarily. But in practical terms, how can any doctor know how much time anyone has left? The furore over Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the Libyan man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing springs to mind. Released by the Scottish government in 2009 on compassionate grounds due to terminal prostate cancer, when doctors apparently believed he only had weeks to live, he was found in August 2011 in Tripoli barely alive, but alive nonetheless. Predicting death can be an imprecise business, given the human body's apparently enduring preference for life.

This debate is unlikely to be settled soon, so I will continue to minister to the dying and their families to the best of my ability. No doubt there will be times when I, with them, would wish for God to bring a swift and peaceful end, but I think I'm more comfortable living with that than with a complex (and therefore vulnerable to human error) system of assisted suicide.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012


There's a lot of talk on the news at the moment about faulty breast implants. I heard on the radio today that there is no complete register of all procedures carried out because women didn't want their details kept by clinics. I confess to being baffled.
I just don't get it. I completely fail to understand people putting themselves through any surgery for cosmetic reasons. There are lots of things I don't like about my body but personally I can't imagine going through that pain and uncertainty to put them right. Perhaps I'm a coward. Perhaps I have no idea how desperate some women, and increasingly men, are to change those parts of themselves they don't like.

Or perhaps, rather than undergo unnecessary surgery to conform to an image of ourselves that is - bottom line-  fake, we might encourage one another to be brave enough to learn to love ourselves just as we are, and to reject the pressure to become (impossibly) ever younger-looking and more beautiful.
God made us and loves us as we are, and there is nothing wrong (and everything right) in making the most of these bodies he has given us. But to take this to the extreme where women have discovered that they have jeopardised their health in pursuit of a perfectly-sculpted unnatural figure makes me very sad. I  worry about our culture's saturation with pictures of beautiful women with amazing figures. And I worry that the women who seek to emulate them do so furtively, and want to be anonymous even to the clinics which carry out the procedures.
I hope that the greatest gift I can give to my own children, perhaps especially my daughter is self-acceptance.
I hope she, and I can both make the most of who we are - without the help of a surgeon.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

End of life

I heard yesterday that a lovely member of our congregation (one of the few who remembers the church being built) has died. She was very ill and lost her husband last year. She was at peace and had been ready to go for a while. And yet I feel an inescapable sadness over her passing.
I have been taking her Communion over the past few months, and the whole experience has made me think about palliative care and the end of life. The local hospice has been amazing- the care package when she went home less so. And yet, while she told me she prayed  for God to take her in her sleep; and it was difficult for everyone to see her when she was unwell, I can't help feeling that the last few months were precious. It won't be like that for everyone, but should death be easy? Birth can be difficult. Birth and death both remind us how amazing life is.  While I ponder the bigger ethical questions of life and death and dying, to which I don't think there are any easy answers, this family taught me a good deal about love, hope, grace and service and we had a few laughs along the way.

I hope to be involved in her funeral and to do justice to this lady and her lively faith. May she rest in peace and rise in glory.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

New Year's Day 2012

Today, as well as celebrating New Year's Day, it's the Feast of the Naming and Circumcision of Jesus . I wasn't preaching and it was lovely to hear the sermon from one of our regular lay preachers which made me think. A baby's name is chosen with such care, she said - and I remember the long discussions I had with my husband before our children were born. Jesus was so named because he will save his people from their sins. (Matt 1:21) and throughout the whole service we were encouraged to think about other names given to Jesus in Scripture; Immanuel, Wonderful Counsellor, the Prince of Peace, Alpha and Omega, Son of God. Our preacher went on to leave us with a challenge - those who call themselves Christian, thus bearing the name of Christ, how do we honour that name so fully that it shows forth in every aspect of our lives?

I'm not really one for making New Year's Resolutions, but starting 2012 by being challenged to honour Jesus' name more, and to bear the name Christian with more intent, allowing its transformative work in me to continue is a pretty good alternative.