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.