How do you talk about God with pre-school children? Prayers and Bears!

George, a prince among bears - soft focus to protect his identity ;-)

George, a prince among bears – soft focus to protect his identity ;-)

There’s something about ministry that means you end up with challenges you never expected to face. Leading a ‘Pram Service’ for pre-school children once a month is high on my current list of challenges. It’s name was the first challenge that I noticed: there are few who have prams these days!

I’ve watched the vicar do it once, with I have to say what appeared to be minimal planning, but he’s clever like that despite feeling a tad out his depth on this himself, I think it’s fair to say.

I was asked to do October’s. At the last minute he was called away to give someone the Last Rites, so wasn’t there to see the result. I used the lectionary for the day for inspiration (Like 11:5-13 The Lord’s Prayer) to focus on prayer, working on the basis that if you can’t teach very young children (some pre-speaking and crawling) anything else, giving them the confidence to talk to God, and making it fun was probably a good idea. I created a hand-prayer sheet. If they had the skills they could draw round an adult hand, otherwise it was simply something to take home to the family to encourage them to pray together (Hand Prayer sheet). We also blew bubbles when we prayed thank you at the end; I talked about God taking up our prayers as the bubble burst. Interestingly, I forgot to pray the Lord’s Prayer at the end as I had intended, I probably should have. An unexpected joy was having a mother confident enough to breast feed whilst I told the story.

These were both ideas I half knew about, but I wasn’t sure if I used them appropriately. However, I was greatly encouraged when the following Sunday a Dad I’d not met before stopped me after our little Family Eucharist service, and told me his daughter had come home talking about the hand prayers and blowing bubbles! Perhaps I’d done something useful?!

Asking around on-line a bit, someone introduced me to the Teddy Horsley books by Prof Leslie Francis et al. I’d not met them, and nor have my parish, but they looked a good idea, as they try and relate to ideas pre-schoolers experience. They also suggested a useful ministry for a beautiful teddy bear I’d been asked to re-home (another story entirely). @CoventryCanon (aka Good In Parts) whose knowledge of such things I deeply respect, also said how much she’d always wanted to start a ‘Prayers and Bears’ Service in her previous parish. I got rather excited at this point: this might be a way forward!

2014-11-17 12.34.56 cwLast week my teddy, now named George, helped me tell the Teddy Horsley Night Time story as we thought about the nights drawing in, all the noises of Halloween and Fireworks nights (for those who could or would talk to me), and how God cares for us. George proved a great ice-breaker – he seemed to make me more approachable, and he’d been taken off by one of the pre-speaking children before I started! The book links to Psalm 91, but doesn’t suggest craft activities, so I came up with an incredibly simple two minute ‘sticking feathers’ activity! The Lord will cover you with his wings Ps91

Last night, with both George the Teddy and some bubbles present, PCC affirmed what the vicar had approved, that from January the Pram Service will be re-launched as ‘Prayers and Bears’.

Although I can sing a reasonable action song unaccompanied when our pianist can’t make it, I have no training in how to approach children who often are pre-crawling, or very shy. I have just the one child of my own for several reasons, one being we discovered when we had him that I don’t “do” small children. God it seems has other ideas!

So, I’m looking for the collective wisdom of more experienced ministers on this. What have I done wrong so far in how I’ve approached them and the materials I’ve used, and who or where are the best places to get training in how to be better at it? I’ve been told for example that ‘Godly Play’ isn’t necessarily the best idea for pre-school children. Right, or wrong? What gems of wisdom and experience can you offer?

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Everyone Counts! The Kingdom of Heaven calls us all to be saints. Matt 5:v1-11 & Rev 7v9-17

I wonder how many of you did a “new thing” last Sunday morning, or were aware of others making a giant leap into the future, one which you also have made at some point in the past?

Personally, I think it’s really rather impressive that 142 of us here at St. Mary’s have used internet and mobile technology to comply with the church’s desire to make sure that “Everyone Counts”!

For many, the internet seems other worldly; a way of working in a different place. Some describe this other place as a “virtual reality”, something unreal, something perhaps a little dangerous. Granted, it can be, especially if misused or handled without care, but it can also be a force for good. In the case of the “Everyone Counts”church census, it makes the anonymous details of thousands and thousands of very real people across the country infinitely easier to analyse in detail, than might be possible with a paper questionnaire, and it helps the Church of England understand the character of the people of God it represents.

It shows in fact, that the internet is just as much a real place holding real information, as anything else that our God given, human ingenuity has created. It is no more unreal than the International Space Station orbiting, largely invisibly, above us. The internet is a real space that intersects with our own in a way that cannot be divided from our traditional earthly space, though some of us may, perhaps through fear of the unknown, try to keep that intersection to a minimum.

I wonder however, how much we also regard the Kingdom of Heaven as a virtual reality, an other worldly space; something perhaps more attractive than the world wide web, but still a space that we don’t really understand.
Perhaps most significantly, we don’t expect to inhabit this for ourselves until we die, when we hope we might become an addition to the heavenly statistics. The Kingdom of Heaven, it might seem, is a space that even
though we might try very hard to attain by being ‘good’, we’ve got even less chance of understanding and engaging with in this life than we have of understanding the internet.

The famous Beatitudes of our Gospel reading this morning, have been regarded as a list of ethical behaviours, and an encouragement and manual for discipleship. They are definitely not a series of truths about human behaviour, because we know for example that sometimes mourners do go uncomforted, and those who long for justice, often take that longing to the grave. Neither are they just a tick list of the attitudes that Christians should take to mark themselves out as suitable candidates for this other-worldly space we call the Kingdom of Heaven.

However, they are not so much good advice as good news, and they become easier to understand as good news if we can grasp that the promises they hold are not simply promises for some future heavenly experience we
live in desperate hope of, but are a declaration that in Jesus, God turned things upside down, and the Kingdom of heaven was inaugurated on earth, permanently.

We need to understand heaven as not a virtual, after death, reality, but God’s own space where a fuller reality exists, intersecting with our limited earthly reality in a way that can’t be broken. If the meek – those that humble
themselves before God because they realise their dependence on him and are therefore gentle with others – shall inherit the earth, they can’t do that if heaven is some disembodied after death experience. Do the pure in heart
- those amazing people we know who are pretty free form the tyranny of the divided self that is dependent on the influences and pressures of our own world – really only get to see God in the next life, when it seems they can
already see God in this one?

No.

The clue is in the Lord’s Prayer, where we’re clearly taught, “thy Kingdom come, on earth, as it is in heaven.” God’s glorious presence, that we hear about in our passage from Revelation this morning, his merciful action in coming down from his throne in person to wipe away our tears, started in Christ, and continues in the worship and service that as Christians we offer him in this life, and will reach its highest fulfilment when what we now
describe as heaven and earth come fully and finally together, at Christ’s second coming.

So, the life of the realm where God is already King continues to be brought into this world through those people who have grasped the good news of this realm where God is already King, and made it a visible reality in
their day to day lives. The saints of Christian tradition, and of our contemporary society, are those who recognise that the Kingdom of Heaven is here: it is God’s space, the reality of his constant presence, offered freely for us all to inhabit, and in which we are able to respond by living
according to the example of Jesus.

Pick a saint, any saint. I have a particular affinity for the Celtic Saints, I think because of they lived close to, and attuned with, God’s creation. So, I’m going to pick, St. Cuthbert, a monk and bishop of humble parentage, described in the Northumbrian Litany of Saints as
a hermit and joyous worshipper;
man of prayer and spiritual warfare;
patient minister of reconciliation.
This identifies him as someone who recognised God’s Kingdom was present on earth, not simply through the vision he received in childhood, but throughout his life, and through whom God blessed others as he travelled
through the communities of Northumbria.

There are contemporary saints as well, though perhaps as yet unrecognised by that description. Canon Andrew White, better known as the Vicar of Baghdad, is one I offer as such. Living with the physical restrictions of MS,
he strives as one who mourns the suffering and misery of the world to seek its relief, whilst also hungering and thirsting after righteousness as he works globally for reconciliation between faith groups and seeks to see God’s peace triumph over the evil in the world.

As with the fruit of the spirit, the Beatitudes aren’t a pick and mix selection of behaviours, they are a natural response of those who ‘get’ that the Kingdom of Heaven has already intersected with this earthly space we inhabit. They are not something only attained by those we have identified as heroes of the faith and set up as saints, but are part of our spiral journey into towards the throne of God, as our endeavours to respond to him by exhibiting his character, lead us to receive more and more of those
promised blessings: “blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy”.

Everyone Counts! We are all called by Christ to be saints; to recognise that the Kingdom of Heaven has been announced by him, and that it is not some virtual reality of the future, but a very real reality of God’s presence
intersecting with the world we live in. Whilst we continue to live in hope of the perfect future time when “people from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, will stand before the throne of God”, we are called to do this ‘new thing’ in our own time, and live as saints in the current reality of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The background to this sermon is not simply our celebration of All Saints, but also the fact that were were selected to complete the Church of England’s ‘Everyone Counts’ survey in it’s electronic format, something that some of us at least felt we weren’t particularly well suited to. We were wrong on that. But it inspired this sermon.

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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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