View from the Curate’s stall – ministerial isolation?

The curates stall at Harvest Festival

The curates stall at Harvest Festival

I sat in the congregation at a friends ordination service recently, for the first time in three months. I was in a church I’d never been in before.  I didn’t have to do anything, other than simply worship, and listen, and pray; no choreographed moves, no desperate search of the memory bank for what I needed to do next, no sense that stuff was expected of me, only the sense of expectation that accompanies the knowledge that God was there. I even got to sit next to my husband, and hold hands during the Bishop’s excellent sermon!

The occasion brought sharply into focus some of the changes that I have experienced since my ordination. One of these is that in my new church, I’m always sat in the curates stall, and not among the people. They’re all able to watch me, if they feel so inclined, and I can see some of them, and watch their expressions if I so wish. In my sending parish, where I led worship often as a Reader, this was only sometimes the case, not always.

In the curates stall, I’m isolated. There might be a server sat behind and to one side of me out of sight, but partially tucked behind the pulpit and across from the vicar, there isn’t anyone nearby. From here, I suspect that I’m possibly missing out on the spiritual hum, that hopefully exists within any Christian worship, because I need more than simply my eyes to sense it.

I can’t hear the stifled, swallowed gasps or giggles at the preachers jokes or references – only the ones that escape out loud. I can’t feel the hands or the hair of the person behind me brushing the back of my head as they pray. I can’t see the physical tremors that speak not only of possible infirmity, but of spiritual encounters with our Lord. I can’t catch the eye of a friend, and raise an eyebrow in shared, unspoken comment on something in the proceedings – or at least, I don’t feel that sat up there in curates stall that sort of behaviour is really appropriate. Any sense of expectation of, or reaction to what God is doing, is confined to the bowed heads, reverently lined up at the altar rail, hands outstretched to receive the elements at Eucharist.

My pinata-headed training incumbent stills the target for the children to attack during our Harvest celebrations in September - about as close to part of the congregation as I've got so far in our main morning service.

My pinata-headed training incumbent stills the target for the children to attack during our Harvest celebrations in September – about as close to part of the congregation as I’ve got so far in our main morning service.

That underlines the heart of the difference I suspect – I only get close to people at the Communion rail, or occasionally on the floor with the children in front of chapel altar in smaller services. Here is the isolation of the ordained minister that I had been warned of before ordination, and for which the antidote is the occasional offices with which we encounter people, often, though not exclusively, those outside of our regular congregation.

I wonder if this is one of the reasons why in more catholic, Eucharistic worshipping communities, the value of pastoral visiting is heightened? Is this the experience of others who have migrated between traditions, or am I making more of the significations of this ministerial isolation than I need to?

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A neighbours first aid box – Luke 10 The Good Samaritan

My 'first aid box' is hardly an approved medical standard, but it did help me unpack the story of the Good Samaritan and what it means to love our neighbour.

My ‘first aid box’ is hardly an approved medical standard, but it did help me unpack the story of the Good Samaritan and what it means to love our neighbour.

Our Family Eucharist is a regular term-time feature of parish life attracting families with very young children because of it’s late morning service time (11.15am). It uses one of the Children’s Eucharistic Prayer and has a simple pattern of the same songs being sung weekly, except for a single one that reflects the theme of the Gospel. 

The Gospel for today was Matthew 22:34-end the first part of which is the two greatest commandments, but I decided to unpack the second of these actually using The Good Samaritan (Luke 10) in The Storyteller Bible (p80), and asking the children sat on the rug between the Eucharistic table and the lecturn: What does it mean to love your neighbour? Helping make them better? What’s in my FIRST AID BOX?

Tissues = mopping up the tears…. just giving someone tissues to dry their tears if they are really sad is showing love towards that person – it proves you care even if you don’t know or understand why they are sad. It might also mean praying with them, or it might mean going home and praying for them later.

Plaster = stops the bleeding when we cut ourselves – stopping the initial problem from getting any worse. If we just stop and look for a moment, we might be able do something to stop a problem getting worse – it’s what the priest and the other man didn’t do in the story! sometimes we don’t understand each other, and taking time to listen to what your parent, friend or sibling really means can be like putting a plaster on a wound to stop it getting any worse. Then you can go back to being friends again.

Bandage = for when things are really broken – it stops the bits that are broken coming apart completely. It’s what the Good Samaritan had to do before he even put the injured man on his donkey to take him to safety. A hospital will actually put a plaster over this. It gives time for the broken bits to heal back together so that the break is as good as new and whatever was broken can be used again. Sometimes it can take a long time for people to heal up.

Cotton wool = padding…. we can be someone who comes between a hard place in life and the person it’s affecting. It might mean going with them to a difficult place – like a parent who goes with their child to the Doctor, like the Samaritan put the injured person on a donkey and took him to a place where he could get better.

Witch Hazel = something to bring the bruising out faster so it doesn’t hurt for so long. Often we can’t make the pain go away, but perhaps by doing something with them to cheer someone up, we can give them something else to focus on, so the really bad pain of the nasty thing that happened to them doesn’t last as long. It can be why people buy someone flowers, or a present, when it’s not their birthday or Christmas! After all the Good Samaritan had to spend money to give the injured man a safe place to stay, even though he didn’t stay with him for the whole length of time that it took for the man to get better.

So, being a good neighbour means thinking about what we can do to help them when they need it. It means we’ve got to take time to be with people, and perhaps listen to them, even when possibly we’ve got into an argument with them. It means remembering that when people hurt it can take a long time for them to feel better. It might mean praying with them and for them, telling God how much we care and we want their lives to be made well, just as we want to get better when it’s us that’s hurting.

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Because we can’t get the toothpaste back in the tube – Matthew 21v23-32

2014-09-27 22.06.59 cSermon for the 15th after Trinity (Proper 21)

Ezekiel 18:1-4 and 25-end, Philippians 2:1-13 and Matthew 21:23-32

On Thursday afternoon I watched as two of the children from St. Mary’s School, stood here in church during a Year 5 Act of Worship and drew faces on a piece of black card, with toothpaste. Their teacher made it into a bit of a race, but I was as mystified as the kids as to what the purpose of this strange activity was. Until that is, he asked them to try and get the toothpaste back in the tubes!

Of course, the children couldn’t do it, and there was considerable hilarity all round.

The key word for the last couple of weeks in school has been RESPONSIBILITY and the point was made that once we’ve said, or done, something, we have to take responsibility for the consequences, whether or not we did or said that thing deliberately.

It’s a tough lesson in life isn’t it? Whatever we choose to say or do in our lives, however minor, will have consequences for which we have to take responsibility. A lot of the time, things go smoothly. Sometimes however, we make wrong decisions, either because we simply haven’t thought things through for ourselves in the heat of the moment, or perhaps because we’re scared of the consequences of all the possible options, or perhaps we deliberately decide on something to avoid the embarrassment factor of having to admit that perhaps a decision we made in the past was the wrong one.

There are in fact lots of reasons for making the wrong decisions, but the chief priests and elders of Israel seemingly manage to notch up several of them all at once in our Gospel reading this morning.

They are all out to get Jesus to state unequivocally that he is the Messiah, but they don’t want to raise the question directly. After all, Jesus has just had the nerve to make it look like he thinks the Temple is his, by turning over the tables, throwing out the money changers and sacrifice sellers, and firmly quoting scripture: “my house shall be called a house of prayer”. It’s a provocative act, and it inspires the chief priests and elders to try and get this upstart from Galilee to blaspheme in the way that others have done before him, by declaring himself to be the Messiah, God’s long-awaited, and chosen means of drawing people to himself.

Trying to trick people into declaring a particular stance that you want to be theirs, is rarely a good way of moving a conversation forward, as the leaders of Israel discover, when Jesus carefully uses one of their own, long-held, rabbinic forms of debate to try and get them to think through and declare the answer for themselves.

Then, by dodging that responsibility and taking the route of diplomatic uncertainty, rather than offering their own viewpoint honestly, they forfeit their own right to a straight answer to the original question. It’s not that they’re stupid, it’s an act of self preservation: they don’t fancy being lynched. Equally, they don’t want to suggest that John the Baptist was divinely inspired to baptise people, including this Jesus, because that leaves the door open to the possibility that he is exactly what they don’t want him to be, but they do want him to claim he is. If he were the Messiah, God’s anointed, it not only places him in authority over them, but it rather puts them out of a job with regard to the Temple! One could say they are jealously guarding their existing rights and ways of operating, and that’s an unhelpful motivation in anyone.

In the parable that Jesus goes on to tell, pointedly directed at the priests and elders themselves, what counts is not what we promise, but our performance, and for this we have to take personal responsibility. Jesus even gives them the answer to their original, unspoken question in a roundabout way, by pointing out that they have failed to recognise and acknowledge God’s saving action towards all people, including, and particularly the outcasts of their society. The point is of course that if the chief priests and elders had themselves believed that the baptism John offered was divinely inspired and directed, they would also be accepting of Jesus as the Messiah.

It’s not like their scriptures didn’t show that God had clearly and repeatedly asked them to take responsibility for their own misguided understandings in the past, including a tendency to blame God for their own mistakes. Our reading from Ezekiel (18:31) shows this as they are as to get themselves ‘a new heart and a new spirit’. Generations of leaders had it seems failed to learn from their own mistakes. It was a theme which is warmed to in our Epistle this morning too, as the early Christian community in Philippi are exhorted to ‘work out their own salvation with fear and trembling’ (Phil 2:12), to take seriously their own spiritual inadequacies!

Just like the chief priests and elders of Israel and these early Christians, we all do it, sadly. We all would prefer to avoid the responsibility of thinking for ourselves, taking the consequences for our actions, making our actions live up to our words, and making our daily lives live up the Christian faith we profess. We don’t like the fact that we can’t get the toothpaste back in the tube!

In the case presented in our Gospel today, the inability of the chief priests and elders to set aside their own prejudices, jealousies and unwillingness to seek a new heart and a new spirit before God, cost Jesus his life and fulfilled the ultimate expression of God’s love for us all, as is so beautifully expressed in the early part of the Philippians passage.

The key, I think, is in the very last words of that passage…’God is at work in us, enabling us to will and to work for his good pleasure’ (Phil 2:13). It is incredibly hard, but we have to give God free reign/rein in our lives, that is our prime responsibility. That’s why as a church we create opportunities for prayer and worship throughout the week, why we’re running the Pilgrim Course, we share fellowship together, collect for the Food Bank, care for the churchyard, seek new opportunities to share the Gospel etc.

Of course we have to make sure that we’re allowing Jesus into every hidden part of our lives – that’s our individual, private responsibility day by day, that gives our outward actions integrity. We have to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and then ask for the strength to move forward and make changes in our lives, explain or face difficult truths or toughest of all accept that we can be wrong, and do wrong. After all the cross and resurrection offers us God’s forgiveness and the hope of new life with him, every time we come before him with honesty and ask to start again. He’s the only one that can, metaphorically speaking, put the toothpaste of our lives, back in the tube.

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Nehemiah – responsibility and working together #ActOfWorship #Schools

Tork roll rope, on which had been written our prayers for the church, made in St. Peter's Yateley, January 2007.

Tork roll rope, on which had been written our prayers for the church, made in St. Peter’s Yateley, January 2007.

This week I’ve achieved another first in curacy, my first Act of Worship in our local CofE Junior School. The brief was to link the theme of RESPONSIBILITY (joint responsibility, working together in school) to the story of Nehemiah rebuilding God’s people, and the wall at Jerusalem. 

I found Lesson from Loom Bands 3 over at SPCK Assemblies.org.uk which looked at exactly this story and sort of idea, and told it in a clearer context than the Storyteller Bible version I’d been given. The problem is I am not loom band compliant, so I needed to think of another way of explaining taking individual responsibility as part of a team to make something stronger.

My mind when back to 2007 in St. Peter’s Yateley when we created a rope of prayers from lengths of blue and white tork roll! St. Mary’s Old Basing has tork roll which I could plait since I didn’t have the rope-making gadget and quickly achieve a similar effect and demonstrate increased strength. St. Peter’s Yateley said I could borrow the rope woven round a cross, and I fiddled slightly with the Assemblies.org telling of the story to fit it better to the Act of Worship plan at the school, and so I had an Act of Worship!

So, here ’tis. If you’re interested in more about the full rope making idea, which features equipment in the shape of a cross, ask me and I’ll blog about that another day.

Theme:
Now then, thinking caps on; who can tell me the word that we’ve been thinking about last week and this week? RESPONSIBILITY
Last week Fr A talked about our responsibility to support people in our community, like you have with your Food Bank donations, and across the world where people may not have enough to eat or clean water to drink.
This week, we’re thinking about that word RESPONSIBILITY again, but in a slightly different way.

Tork roll, and plaited tork roll, used and created with the children of St. Mary's CofE Junior School, Old Basing, Sept 2014

Tork roll, and plaited tork roll, used and created with the children of St. Mary’s CofE Junior School, Old Basing, Sept 2014

Activity:
Can anyone tell me what this is? TORK ROLL – PAPER FOR DRYING HANDS (giant loo roll!)
One of the things that this paper needs to do easily is to TEAR, so that when we are washing our hands we can have a piece each to dray them on. So would we say that this tork roll paper is WEAK or STRONG? Fairly weak.
Now, I’ve got 3 LENGTHS OF TORK ROLL here, and we’re going to see if we can do something to make this tork roll STRONGER by several of us WORKING TOGETHER.
I used a representative of each year group – 2 boys, and 2 girls.

One child hold all three bits of tork roll, gently knotted together.
The other 3 children, TWIST your individual length of tork roll just a bit, so it’s slightly more like a piece of string.
Now, I need you to PLAIT your three bits of tork roll together.
Left over centre, right over centre, keep going… the 3 children moving around each other.
Taught but not tight.

Careful remember the tork roll tears easily!
After a few minutes plaiting, test the strength of the plaited bit. Shouldn’t tear as easily.
BY TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR OUR INDIVIDUAL TASK, BUT WORKING TOGETHER, WE MADE SOMETHING THAT WAS WEAK, STRONGER!
Show ROPE of tork roll (borrowed from St. Peter’s).

Bible Story:
Going to read you a story from the OT part of the Bible, that talks about someone called Nehemiah: Nehemiah and the walls of Jerusalem

Nehemiah had a very important job in Persia (now called Iraq), working for the king, but his heart was in his homeland, in Jerusalem, which is in Israel. He loved his homeland and missed it very much. Some 100 years before Nehemiah was born, some of his people had returned from exile in Persia to their homeland there and had rebuilt the temple.

One day, Nehemiah heard that the walls of Jerusalem had not been rebuilt after the many years of armies invading and breaking them down, so most of the people were still living outside the walls rather than inside the holy city. Nehemiah’s people had lost their identity as God’s people.

When Nehemiah heard all this, he wept. What could he do? He was only one man and not a builder at that.

The King of Persia noticed that Nehemiah was sad, and Nehemiah wasn’t normally, so he asked him what was wrong. Nehemiah explained and the king asked him what he wanted to do. Nehemiah was brave and asked to be sent to rebuild Jerusalem and the king gave his blessing for Nehemiah to go and rebuild the walls of his beloved city. So Nehemiah set off on the long journey home, with some building materials that the King had given him.

Once there, Nehemiah toured the city walls by night. He found rubble and stones and burned gates. He thought that his heart would break. Just like a single strip of tork roll!

‘Let’s rebuild, the city walls,’ he said to the people. ‘I can’t do it by myself. It will take us all working together, but I am sure that together we can do it!’

That is exactly what happened. Different families took charge of different sections of the walls. All along the walls, families took up their spades and shovels and got to work. It was a huge task. There were so many repairs that Nehemiah could never have done it all on his own.

In working together, sharing the RESPONSIBILITY for rebuilding the walls, the people of Jerusalem had all grown stronger together, as well as now being protected by the finished wall. They had once again found their identity as the people of God, and their joy was very great.

Reflection and Prayer:
So, what did the people end up doing under Nehemiah’s guidance that is like what we did with plaiting the tork roll?
Each family took RESPONSIBILITY for a section of wall.
Worked together to make the wall STRONGER, where individual efforts hadn’t been enough.

I’m going to pray now, and if you want to say at the end that you agree with what I’ve prayed, what do you say? AMEN!

Dear God,
Thank you for the story of Nehemiah and his friends.
Thank you for our friends and classmates.
Help us to each take RESPONSIBILITY for working together
so that we can make this school a strong, and happy place.
Amen.

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Calling of Matthew (Children’s Talk – Family Eucharist) Matthew 9:9-13

Our collection of 'funny money' great for telling stories like that of the calling of Matthew!

Our collection of ‘funny money’ great for telling stories like that of the calling of Matthew!

Yesterday saw my first talk at our Family Eucharist – a small, late morning, Sunday service in our chapel at St Mary’s during term-time, designed for infant and pre-school children and their families. We were celebrating the Feast of St. Matthew, so here’s my take on explaining his calling:

At the beginning of the talk I made sure each child had at least 3 coins each from my family collection of old and foreign money which we call our ‘funny money’ pot.

Read the bible story from the Lion’s Children’s Bible.

Matthew is a very bad man, collecting money from people to give to the Emperor and keeping some of it for himself.

So if I’m Matthew, you’ve got some money, and you’re going to give me 2 coins each to give to the Emperor, yes? Get the coins off the kids.

So I’ve got… count coins… and here’s me giving ….. count half the coins…. to the Emperor (set aside), and the rest is mine, right?

No? Not right?! What should I have done? …

But what you didn’t know is that the Emperor only asked for one coin from each person, and I made you give me 2 coins each so I could keep the rest for myself!

Which isn’t very nice is it. No. Does that make Matthew a bad person? Yes it does!

But Jesus asks this bad person Matthew to go with him and be his friend. In fact they even have a party together with a load of Matthew’s friends who possibly weren’t very nice either.

People couldn’t understand all this being friends with people who didn’t appear to be very nice, because they took money off the people in their town, and kept some for themselves.

Surely if Jesus was a good person he wanted to surround himself with other nice people, not nasty, bad people like Matthew?!

Wrong. Jesus deliberately wanted to have people around him who needed to be made better inside.
He wanted to make bad people into nice people.
He wanted people who were greedy, to understand they needed to become generous.
And to help them do that, he wanted to be their friends.
Jesus loved the bad people, especially the bad people, even when they had done greedy, nasty things.

We’re celebrating the Feast of St. Matthew today because he became one of Jesus’ special friends, someone who saw Jesus after he was killed on the cross and rose again at Easter, and went on to tell lots and lots of other people how the love of Jesus had changed his life.

So if I’m playing the part of Matthew, what do you think I ought to do with this money, now I know I’m loved by Jesus, and he’s my best friend?

Give it back! Here you are, here’s the money back. Give my share the money back.

Shall we pray? You can repeat what I say after me if you want to:Thank you Jesus,

That you want to be
the friend of everyone,
even when people
have done bad things.
Thank you Jesus,
that you love us so much,
you want to help us
be and do good.
Amen.

After the prayer I told the children that if they kept their ‘funny money’ safe until the end of the service I would swap it for some ‘special money’ before they went home if their parents were happy with this. The special money was of course chocolate money, and it meant I got to talk to every single child/family before they went home, and got our ‘funny money’ back for use another day!

PS: Sorry about the font changes… WordPress being weird; not used it for a while and stuff had changed, typically!

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Patience for maturity – Matthew 13 v24-30 and 36-43

My first sermon as Curate at St. Mary’s Old Basing and Lychpit for 8am Eucharist (BCP) and 9.30am Sung Eucharist (CW)

TRINITY 5 (PROPER 11)
Readings: Isaiah 44:6-8, Romans 8:12-25 and Matthew 13:24-30 and 36-43

The parable of the weeds and wheat as an inspiration to grow in patience and maturity.

The stinging nettles flowering amongst my rambling rose!

The stinging nettles flowering amongst my rambling rose!

There’s something about training for ordination that means there’s much more willow herb and considerably more stinging nettles growing in my garden than there were two years ago! I could explain that it’s for the benefit of the moths and butterflies whose caterpillars thrive on both, but… er… that would be a fib, and I guess it’s best not to start my association with this pulpit by telling lies. So, no, it’s simply that there aren’t enough hours in the day, at least not ones with any willpower and energy lying around spare, for my garden to look as weed free as I would wish it to be.

Some would say that a weed is simply a ‘plant that is in the wrong place’, and to some extent that is true of the weeds in our Gospel this morning, growing among the wheat which the farmer has had sown. But, these weeds present a difficult problem.

The chances are that the weeds of which Jesus spoke, looked not dissimilar to the wheat that the farmer was trying to grow. Unlike my stinging nettles and willow herb, darnel, which some think this Biblical weed to be, is a plant that not only looks incredibly similar to wheat until it’s seed heads ripen to almost black, but it is very vigorous, has stronger roots than wheat, and is regarded as poisonous because it plays host to a nasty fungus. You can quite understand why this isn’t something you want mixed up in your wheat crop, and why, on discovering it, the immediate reaction is to get it out as soon as possible.

But no, the farmer is adamant that the weeds are there to stay until the end of the growing season when the field is mature and ripe for harvest. Only at that point, when it’s really obvious what is weed and what is wheat, and root damage to the wheat is immaterial, will the labourers be allowed to rip out the poisonous darnel and burn it. Then the wheat can be harvested and stored to sustain the community. It’s a management technique that requires patience, and an understanding of how both plants grow.

God has a habit I’ve discovered, of not being very good at conforming to any timetable that WE might wish to set him. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here to be honest; I’d still be tucked away in St. Peter’s in Yateley. As far as I was concerned, THIS (point to clerical collar) wasn’t meant to happen for several years yet, IF AT ALL!

God however, is just as adept at taking a lot MORE time than we might think ideal about sorting out some things. I am sure as we watch the news from Ukrain, Israel/Palestine, Iraq or Syria, or hear that another friend has been diagnosed with cancer, MS, dementia or some other debilitating disease, we wish and pray that God would simply get on with stepping in NOW, to solve the problems and diseases of the world. He doesn’t, because though he dislikes the weeds in the garden of his creation even more than we do, he doesn’t want to destroy the things that are maturing nicely before they are ready for harvest. Or, more accurately, he is active in the world, but he’s active in ways we perhaps find difficult to recognise or understand.

There is a reason why patience is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit – and it is because it forms part of the character of God that we are called to reflect in our own lives! God’s judgement is delayed because he is patient. This parable isn’t particularly about who’s going to be in, and who out, of the Kingdom of Heaven; who’s good and who is bad. Rather, it is underlining the fact that God is waiting for the wheat to mature into a crop worth harvesting, one that can be clearly distinguished by it’s character from the weeds that otherwise look similar but are different and have become poisoned.

Much as we want it to be, the evil in the world around us is not going to be weeded out overnight by an army of God’s labouring angels. We’re not going to be isolated from the rubbish of the world, we HAVE to live alongside it, with the same patience as God. But this isn’t an excuse to sit back and do nothing, to live, as our Epistle puts it, according to the flesh. Led by the Holy Spirit we are instead called as children of the resurrection NOT to be fearful, but to be adventurously expectant, to grow as strongly and as fruitfully as we can towards maturity, so that we will be recognised for what we are: children of God, affected, but uninfected, by the evils of the world; a part of God’s coming harvest.

This parable isn’t about the stuff we do wrong, or a finger pointing exercise about what others foul up. It’s about the stuff we do right, the stuff that reflects the faith we proclaim. This parable is saying there’s time to do MORE of it, BECAUSE God is patient.

For example there’s time to take part in the Pilgrim Course, to share and learn more about Christ, the how and where of his work in our lives. There’s time too, carved out though it might need to be from our own timetables of living, to make our faith more recognisable to others than it is already. On the world stage that MAY mean that those people who are appropriately placed should step out, trusting God’s strength, to help humanity change for the better; equally it probably DOES mean that we should hold those situations, and the people that can make a difference to them, in prayer.

It’s worth remembering that this parable doesn’t liken a farmers wheat field to the church, because in Jesus’ time the church didn’t exist! The wheat field is the world, the world of Old Basing and Lychpit, as well as further afield, and it is in THAT context that Christ will one day be looking at us to see whether we are discernibly different to the weeds that he knows he will sadly need to destroy. That’s why we are called to engage with our local schools, the food bank, and probably a myriad of other community activities I haven’t seen yet, in ways that mark us out as people of Christ.

There is a deep challenge to us all within this Kingdom parable; but rather than being a source of gloom and fear, this challenge should be a cause for hope. Whatever stage of life and faith we are at, because of God’s patience there is time to grow towards maturity in our love of Christ, and the degree to which we reflect God’s character. If we will allow ourselves the freedom to grow, the Holy Spirit is eager to be at work in us, enabling us to be part of the harvest that will be stored in God’s presence as part of his glorious Kingdom.

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The Rev’d. Mrs.

From Ecclesiastical, our new Insurers... and my Diocese did the same!

From Ecclesiastical, our new Insurers!

Well, I’ve been a Reverend for nearly three weeks. How does it feel? A pretty good fit, like a comfortable new glove.

It’s a title that I have actually been increasingly looking forward to as ordination training progressed. There was no fear attached to it; it was something I knew would come with the calling – part of the deal. In the context of the parish I’m now ministering in, I suspect it will get well used, and I was more than happy to sign my first offering to the pew sheet as “Rev’d Rachel”.

This one's from the Church Times!

This one’s from the Church Times!

But I have discovered an unexpected emotional response, closely related to the use of the term Reverend. In many cases, on all sorts of post, I am no longer “Mrs.” and that I actually find quite distressing.

Let me go back in time, briefly, to a point a few years ago (no more than 10) when this then Editor of the Diocesan Mothers’ Union newsletter was gently chastised for not using the official and correct form of grammar for anyone who is ordained; it should be “The Rev’d. Mr./Mrs.” when the person is first referred to, and then plain “Mr.”or “Mrs.” thereafter in any extended text. I was careful to get this right from that point on.

And yet, having been ordained I find that almost everything is just written as “Rev” (popularised by a certain TV series perhaps), “Rev’d.” or “The Rev’d.”, often without the full stops or apostrophes. In some ways this doesn’t bother me; I’m not usually a pedant, or bothered about the modernisation of language when appropriate. And, I guess for gentleman who are married, who have never had an appropriate form of address to signify their marriage because they simply remain “Mr”, this perhaps isn’t such an issue.

The Rev'd. Mrs. and her Mr. on Ordination Day (photograph by our friend Stephen Usher)

The Rev’d. Mrs. and her Mr. on Ordination Day (photograph by our friend Stephen Usher)

But you see, I’m still a “Mrs.” and very proud of being so! I’ve enjoyed 22 years of marriage to a wonderful, long-suffering, man, who himself is very proud of having a “Reverend” Mrs. We think marriage is a fantastic institution that is part of our relationship with God, but suddenly any public celebration or declaration of this fact in the envelopes that arrive through my door is being hidden by the dominance of the “Rev” bit of who I now am.

Actually, what I’m really bothered by is not the lovely envelopes from friends that come addressed to the “Rev” they want to congratulate, but the envelopes from Christian institutions (like those shown above) that have also noted the change of status, but seem to think that the “Mrs” bit of me has been subsumed – she hasn’t, I’m still someone’s wife, and very proud and delighted to be so!

[Is it me? Or have other married women had a similar reaction to their ordination?]

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Ordination Retreat and it’s wildlife

Park Place Pastoral Centre, Wickham, Hampshire

Park Place Pastoral Centre, Wickham, Hampshire

For Winchester Diocese, like Portsmouth, ordination retreats are held at the beautiful Park Place and Wickham in the Meon Valley.  Last week was my Diaconal retreat, shared with those being ordained to the priesthood in our diocese. There were periods of silence, reflection and free time to restore the soul and focus on the role to which I am called.

Anna Norman Walker, Canon Mission of Exeter Cathedral was our excellent retreat conductor, and for me managed just the right balance of humour, Biblical reflection, personal stories, poetry, images and music. Using the ‘scaffolding’ of the Eucharist our 5 reflections focused on the words “take”, “thanks”, “blessed”, “broken” “shared”. I would particularly commend the poetry she used, which was by Gerard Kelly (“Spoken Worship” was the recommended title – something I shall be buying for future use).

Anyway, before succumbing to a lurgy that meant I would have to be nursed with prayer and paracetamol through the ordination day itself, I took a couple of lovely walks in the afternoon free time we were given, along the edge of the neighbouring Wickham Park Golf Course and down to the River Meon at the bottom of Wickham itself, before winding back along the disused railway line to the golf course and pastoral centre. The golf course, it’s bramble and grass lined edges and it’s water features in particular, were a haven for wildlife, and alongside the insects shown below, I also saw Ringlet butterflies, Beautiful Demoiselle damselflies in courtship chases by the Mean, an Emperor dragonfly and a Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly that took a Meadow Brown butterfly on the wing over a pond before taking it high into a will to shuck it’s wings and eat it!

Unexpected update: delighted that this post appears to have inspired Archdruid Eileen to the most wonderful parody of the wild life to be had on ordination retreats; Ordination retreats and their wildlife

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More stoles and stories: red Ordination stole – and purple too!

My red, ordination, stole.

My red, ordination, stole.

Some while back I took delivery of what I thought would be my ordination (white – Christmas/Easter/Weddings) stole and the green (‘ordinary time’) stole, and now my stole maker has completed the red (Pentecost and Saints Days) and Purple (Advent and Lent) ones. During the intervening time the red one has in fact become my ordination stole after the new Precentor and our Bishop came up with the change of plan in the middle of our Deacon’s Day!

Once again I am totally thrilled with the way that Deborah Ireland has turned my scribbled notes and photographs, along with snippets of significant material including more bits of my wedding dress, into the most amazing creations which will mean I carry the stories of my faith journey and some special people into my ordained ministry.

P1080475cwThe red stole is all about the Holy Spirit – Pentecost being a deeply significant time for me, and if it wasn’t for the prompting of the Holy Spirit (both in my life, and in the lives of others who nudged me into getting my head round the possibility of a calling to ordination) I wouldn’t be just over two weeks from ordination  – interview with my Bishop next week permitting! Hidden in the stitchwork is the music for a favourite chorus that will make some cringe, but is one that can move me to tears and remind me of my baptism in the Spirit at St. Mike’s in Aberystwyth (Pentecost 1988) as well as many years of leading or singing in worship bands. I’ll let you guess what it might be!

P1080474cwPentecost was also about the people of God being enabled to do more than they could possibly imagine through the power of the Spirit at work in them – so there’s people there too, and though I didn’t design it with this in mind, everytime I look at one of the characters I think of my mother. The dove of peace is a bit of wedding dress, with one of the beads off the same to make it’s eye!

P1080468cwMy purple stole is double sided and it’s probably easy to spot the bits of wedding dress; losely speaking Advent and Lent. From an early age flower arranging was part of life (or at least sweep up after my Mothers’ church flower arrangements was), so as well as the symbolism of anticipating the light of Christ coming into the world, there’s a slight nod in that direction on the Advent side. There are also stars – something are both a significant interest of my husband and some very long-standing friends as well as being a reminder of the need to follow Christ faithfully even when we can’t really see where he’s leading us!

P1080464cwThe Lenten side used as its inspiration not only the crown of thorns placed on Christ’s head at the crucifixion but also the nails themselves – designed from a photo of some hand-made ‘crucifixion’ nails my Dad had made by a New Forest blacksmith a couple of years ago. Those familiar with the “Water Bugs and Dragonflies” book for explaining death to young people will understand why I wanted one on a stole I might well wear to take funerals – over and above the fact that they’re a big photographic passion of my husband and I. We are really impressed at the lifelike markings Deborah has created on this Common Darter that we photographed together with my Dad in a favourite place in the New Forest a couple of years ago (see below). The dragonfly’s wings are made of net from the petticoat of my wedding dress, and some of the material is taken from a gift received many years ago from a Nigerian Catholic nun aquaintance… I hope she appreciates the use I’ve put it too.

 

That’s me all set up with vestments then. I look forward to wearing them as reminders of so much of the past, but also the importance of making best use of past experiences and interests in my future ministry, such that God is glorified.

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Bittersweet Pentecost – Thank you St. Peter’s Yateley

The conclusion of the open air Pentecost Service with Baptisms at St. Peter's Yateley this morning.

The conclusion of the open air Pentecost Service with Baptisms at St. Peter’s Yateley this morning.

Ever since Pentecost 1988 when I first acknowledged an encounter with God as being through the power of the Holy Spirit, Pentecost has been special. A time to celebrate that God’s power is so much more than we can imagine, and that he can do things in, with and through our lives that we would never in our wildest dreams anticipate.

So it was a very concious decision to bid farewell to 16 years of worshipping with the lovely folk of St. Peter’s Yateley at Pentecost. I specifically wanted to be sent out towards ordained ministry from the place that has nurtured and helped to grow it so much, on the day that celebrates how God can use and equip people for the next step in his mission.

There are two words that I wanted to share with all those I know and love at St. Peter’s, some who have moved on to new ministries, and some who watch as saints in glory. These are two things that they have provided in bucket loads in the last 16 years and for which I am incredibly grateful:

The first is TRUST. They have trusted me. I have done so many “firsts” in ministry at St. Peter’s, sometimes planned, frequently less so. Often they were firsts in the living memory of the church too; everything from starting all-age services back in 1999, through safeguarding administration to a military funeral, with plenty in between! In every instance clergy and laity alike, have trusted that I knew (roughly) what I was doing, and supported what the ministry was with time, energy, skill and patience, recognising that each was something we shared as we journeyed forward with God in service of him in our local community and beyond.

The other word I wanted to share and highlight is related to this and is ENCOURAGEMENT. St. Peter’s is full of people who have encouraged me in aspects of my ministry, faith and even my flower arranging! Even better, every week they do the same for each other – encouraging each other and thus providing the strength and inspiration to serve the Lord in a myriad of ways. Of recent weeks I have so appreciated the encouragement of their prayers for myself and my family as we’ve struggled with various matters that have created additional stresses among the preparations for ordination. But it’s also been 16 years of hugs, affirmation, guidance, an openness to what God is saying through his Holy Spirit, and the occasional metaphorical slap with a sensible stick, that has made up this environment of encouragement that brings me to this point of needing to leave for the next step of my adventure with God.

So for me, it is trust and encouragement that is encapsulated in the wind and flames of Pentecost this year – God’s trust and encouragement to do his will equipped in with words and actions we never knew we had, just like the disciples. It is trust and encouragement I will both treasure and take with me from St. Peter’s, and which I wish to leave behind, especially at a time when as a church it too is experiencing a time of change and transition in the facilities and ministries it provides. May St. Peter’s Yateley know God’s trust and encouragement in all you do, as you have made it known to me through the love of Christ.

Today is of course not just about me. My husband and son leave St. Peter’s with me; their own decision but one for which I’m grateful as it makes the break a little easier by being shared. Our son has grown up in St. Peter’s from the toddler encouraged to dance in the aisle by the (then) vicar, to a strapping lad whose musical gifts he’s been happy to share regularly in our worship bands. Hubby Graham, is my rock and encourager-in-chief, one of the first to be convinced of my calling to ordination, and without whom  the next steps in ministry would seem even more daunting than they do now. Though many commented today that they will miss his music and his ‘think-spots’, he probably does less now in the life of the church than he’s done in the previous twenty-five years, but whilst that’s partly because if his invisible support of what I’m doing, and to keep the domestic show on the road, I suspect the Secretary of State for Education needs to take a share of the blame!

The beautiful jug and bowl with which I was sent from St. Peter's Yateley to serve others will be a constant reminder of Jesus example of washing his disciples feet, as the Bishop will my own at the ordination service on 29th June.

The beautiful jug and bowl with which I was sent from St. Peter’s Yateley to serve others, will be a constant reminder of Jesus example of washing his disciples feet, as the Bishop will my own at the ordination service at Winchester Cathedral on 29th June.

Ours will now be a strange existence as for the next few years, I/we minister in a community we don’t live in, and live in a community we no longer worship in. There are Yateley people we love and we will try and see in our free time, and others we wish we could see and don’t manage to as often as we’d like. There will of course be social media through which to keep in touch and share the highs and lows of life a little, and I guess occasions when the dog-collared me will be seen dashing through a shop going to or from Old Basing or footling around Yateley on my day off (Friday).

Thank you St. Peter’s. Your gift to God is everything you have equipped me for.

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