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.