Spiritual Battleground

There is just so much stuff in my head at present, I’m really struggling to sift out the important, the possible, oh and write my Theological Reflection on my Placement.

This morning I read an article in the Reader Magazine about the disciplines of spiritual formation, something I’m rubbish at. It referred to and reminded me of Renovare, leaders in the field but with whom I’ve not really managed to connect in the UK. But, more important it led me to a lot of muddled thoughts. Here are the ones I’m trying to hang on to, but where do I start?

  • I enjoyed the pace and space of All Saints, Basingstoke on placement but here at my home parish, church life is so much more frenetic – how can I successful combine the one into the other?;
  • I think I’ve been using the blog/s as an outlet for my urge to be creative, because I’ve not had time to sew or silk paint whilst training… I’m really missing the silk paints in particular and came up with an idea for wall hangings on our pillars in St. Ps… but having packed up for the builders all the kit is now in Dads garage, and I’ve loads of other things I must do… (has anyone else considered blogging as a creative arts movement?) There is something about doing something creative which allows space for God to act in your inner core… I think… and I’m sure that’s part of my problems;
  • My thought about prayer to close baptism visits (see update on previous post) led me to acknowledge that despite my professed calling, I have rarely if ever shown practically my spirituality publicly to non-Christians… it’s going need God to take some really direct and ‘Grace-Full’ action to act within me, so that I can fulfill what feels like a dammed up river inside me… to whit I need prayer myself – I failed to respond to these types of thoughts many times before;
  • During the night, after those thoughts about prayer and me needing to be filled started, the pain levels suddenly and inexplicably returned (small painful medical niggle you don’t need to know the details of – not life threatening) having been much, much better for 2-3 days… are these facts linked? I’ve just read back my 2003 diary, when I had similar problems over > 6 months, at a time when there was a lot of new stuff going on… a period when my life in parish and MU was just beginning to grow and develop… I wouldn’t have called it a ministry then! Could the fact that the same problems have appeared again be linked with these concluding months of Reader Training, the beginnings of parochial ministry, and a possible impending role change in Mothers’ Union within the diocese?

That will do for now… I’ll be brave and post this via Facebook… would welcome comments or ideas on the blog, then they are saved for future reference and use.

Baptism – engaging people in a journey

Baptism preparation is going to be among my parish ministry roles as a Lay Minister. I’ll be making the second of 3 visits made in my parish to parents and children prior to agreeing a baptism date.baptismstrichardsterling

I’m hoping that alongside sharing my faith and encouraging others to develop theirs, it will provide a chance to talk to young families in the community and tie my Mothers’ Union interests in with parish life. I’m also realising it’s the beginnings of grappling with the parochial responsibilities that many ministers, usually clergy, have to decide how they are going to handle.

Some of the issues surrounding infant baptism have been highlighted in the Church Times over the last couple of weeks. Revd Robert Reiss of Westminster Abbey (whilst commenting on the role of the Church of England as the established church being one of responsibility rather than privilege) stated (17 April) that

“the rights ordinary people have to their parish church… [include]… If parents want their child’s birth to be marked by baptism, then most clergy will readily do so, even though, wrongly, some may try to impose conditions, contrary to canon law.”

This week Ian Robins in a letter of response comments:

“How can it be wrong to respect the integrity of the participating adults who are being required to commit themselves to the Christian faith and to involvement in the Body of Christ?

To “turn to Christ” must mean something.”

Yesterday I shadowed our curate doing a second visit. We showed the CPAS DVD First Steps, discussed the wording of the baptism service, talked about various activities at church for young families and the choices to be made regarding Godparents. During this and in discussion afterwards several things became obvious

  • as ministers we want to make the most of the opportunity to proclaim the Christian message, show our faith as being relevant and our community as being supportive and fun to be involved in
  • parents (often dominantly the mother) aren’t often that worried about what they are saying, it’s more a case of ‘doing the right thing’ or an excuse for a party – perhaps that is a comment on how people generally have a poor regard for the integrity of what they are saying
  • as ministers we want people to understand the seriousness of what they are doing and saying on behalf of their children – and to encourage them to turn to Christ seriously
  • it’s almost more about reaching the adults involved than the children being baptised!

I will be a lay person, and a fellow Mum, making a visit between two visits by clergy. I may therefore have revealed to me more clearly people’s real reasons for bringing their children for baptism (they won’t be saying the ‘right thing’ for the vicar), and be viewed as more approachable with their real concerns… I wonder if this will prove true?

So as someone new to this role, how do I strike a balance that will overcome parents lack of engagement with what they will be saying during a baptism service, whilst not being so prescriptive as to put them off from taking a small step in what many would say was a belief in God?

I think the answer has something to do with God’s Grace – do I do my best to show them that God really loves them for this little step they are taking, and then leave it to him?

Update: (thought of this on the way to bed after posting last night)

The curate said to me afterwards that they prayed silently during the baptism visit. What would be the impact of closing the visit with a short verbal (in simple English) prayer for and with the family? Would it frighten them off, give them an example of what we think prayer is and how to do it, what?

Honest Thomas

Saw this on Maggi Dawn’s blog and wanted to make a note of it.

maggi dawn: Honest Thomas

I preached on this a while back, and it also links with fond memories of a local clergyman who died last year, for whom Thomas was very important (partly because he was ordained NSM on St Thomas’s Day I believe). Thomas is in fact the first to proclaim “My Lord and my God” I seem to remember – and in doing so, made a very important connection!

Will try to dig out my old sermon and attach it… tomorrow!

And there’s more at http://maggidawn.typepad.com/maggidawn/2009/04/faith-and-certainty.html

Also St Anselm’s quote “faith seeking understanding”

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Dealing with bombshells

OK, so you think you’ve got the next few months planned out and then a major link in the chain drops out. Where is God in that empty, sinking, confused feeling that seems to take over every thought, and completely mangle your attempts at prayer?

You’ve probably guessed by now that the last few days haven’t gone smoothly! And you’re right. For months we’ve been going through planning and building regs applications with our very efficient architect, and keeping the builder we want in the loop, working towards a commencement date in late April, and a budget based on 10% more than their estimate figures because we know the economy is playing whatsit with things.

So, when the builder arrived to agree spec, price and dates, discovering the price was 20% over estimates, with an earliest start date in late July, definitely counted as bombshells.

Suddenly, all the other things that need doing in the same time frame mount up in your mind, and you are looking at a mountain. The health issues drag you down more, the studies seem even more daunting, and the impact of other news seems magnified. Suddenly, despite all attempts at prayer, you can’t string things together, and without wishing to put barriers in the way, you can’t feel God, or see or hear answers.

I suppose fortunately this was my first Sunday back in my home parish, and this meant there was a ministry team on hand to pick up the rather shredded trainee who had returned. And that’s why having a ministry team, or friends who can pray for you, are so vital. There really are times (and I know from experience they can be worse than this) when their prayers provide comfort, and a knowledge that someone is still tuned in to God, even if you’re not quite there yourself. Holding on to what they say and do in prayer, is what can maintain our faith… it provides the re-assurance that God is still there, is supporting us in this mess called life, and somehow there will be a resolution which will give him the glory.

At least, that’s what I holding on to today.

Best options for laptop wireless internet – away from home

Been wondering what to do to make it possible to operate on the web when away from home – like being at my Dad’s or out in the car waiting for Chris at orchestra practice or the like. This is partly because Dad wants things done on the internet, but doesn’t want to be on it himself… he’s spending his money on a new camera instead!

So, what do I do, or can I do, and how do I do it? Then I read this on the Church Times Blog from Spring Harvest, though it may be Dave Walker has a Blackberry rather than a laptop, I don’t know:

“One final note: I’m sorry that I haven’t have used the video camera I mentioned in my first post – I’d have liked to have done a few quick two minute interviews with people here about their experiences. However, having made enquiries and talked to someone from the communications department I was told I wasn’t allowed to use video without media accreditation, which I hadn’t got around to organising. I understand this policy, and realise in hindsight that I should have looked into this well before I arrived, so accepted the decision cheerfully. Having said that, in the blogging age such policies will in time need to become more open, as the divide between ‘media’ and ‘non-media’ will become less defined and people will talk online using all kinds about their experiences here, policy or no policy. If nothing else there are a lot of good stories to be told, and it is shame that there are restrictions on doing so using the technology that is now so freely available.”

I’d welcome any thoughts folk might have on solutions, or should I simply not bother?

Easter Fire


Today’s Easter Morning service at All Saints, Basingstoke was a fantastic spectacle to be part of, though I feel my feet never touched the ground.

I was serving as candle bearer (starting with taking the Easter Fire and sharing it among the congregation), helped with asperging as we renewed baptism vows, read the Epistle, helped with the sermon and then got hauled back up to be given a small send off!

There wasn’t really a chance to worship unfortunately, simply because there was so much to do, but I definitely felt loved!

I shall look forward to returning after Licensing to prove I’ve done it.

My thanks to everyone at All Saints, Basingstoke for making me feel so welcome – I shall miss you all.

Reflections during Maundy Thursday Vigil


Last night I took part for the first time in the very moving liturgy for Maundy Thursday. My placement incumbent invited me to have my feet washed, and then to lead the intercessions. The service finished (as it should) abrubtly after the post-communion prayer, and the altar and all church furnishings were stripped away during the reading of Psalm 88 and a recording of a Taize call to prayer. The lights were all turned off, except for in the Lady Chapel where amidst candles, a watch was then kept till midnight over the sacrament. I shared in the watch until about 10.15pm and what follows are the reflections I wrote during this time:

All became bare.
We see only what is underneath:
the glory is gone;
the majesty has been stripped away.
Revealed is what?
Bare wood;
the mortar between the stones;
those small things of which we’re made and which we cannot hide.
Somewhere above us shrouded in the darkness,
an image casts a shadow,
but is not clearly visible.
The cross, and Christ’s broken body.

That brokenness is ours.
We have failed, and will fail again.
Though we sit here at a distance,
how close dare we really get?
Our silence is Peter’s.
Is our position in the shadows this night, also his denial?
Who can force us to speak,
hidden between the sheltering walls,
protected from the chill world?
There is no-one here to question who we follow, or what we do;
except the focus of our gaze,
the burning point of light,
the presence of our God.

He has drawn us to this place,
the silence of this emptiness,
an oasis through which he fills us.
His perfect Son he called to give his best,
which was his all,
his body broken, his blood poured out.
We his imperfect children,
he also calls to give our best.
Is this our all?
Are we broken and poured out?

On this night, Christ’s work was not complete,
nor will it be when that shrouded cross
becomes too visible in the high places
under which we will stand and gaze.
As with the ceremony of our memorial,
and with our faint hearts and service,
all remains incomplete, torn, unsettled and discordant.
We struggle with our lack of understanding,
that which turns mere words into knowledge,
the actions of custom into true service.

As we fail in our watchless sleep,
or turn in fear and flee this silent presence,
what will remain?
And for how long?
Will it be that our response will lead us forever away from our Lord?
Or can we let the presence of the Light fill us with a hope
that somehow, midst our seeming failures
and poor efforts to acknowledge this true love,
bring us to a more comprehensive understanding of what it means to receive;
to live and love our God,
whose glory could only be revealed complete,
in this broken way.

With thanks to my hosts at All Saints, Basingstoke.

Why are we here?

Last Sunday, Passion Sunday, I preached (on John 12:20-33) what I think is my last assessed sermon of Reader Training, at my placement at All Saints’ Church, which is part of the Basingstoke Team. There are however plenty of other sorts of assessments still to go 🙂

I am really grateful to everyone at All Saints for making me feel so welcome, for being patient with my questions, so that I feel very much part of the family as we enter Holy Week together. I really feel like I have started some lasting friendships during my time with them, and although in some ways I am looking forward to going ‘home’, I shall miss All Saints when I return to worshiping in my local parish after Easter Day.

At least one couple I’ve made friends with wanted to hear me preach, but couldn’t actually be there last Sunday, so here for them, and anyone else who is interested, is the audio file of my sermon:

(click here) Why are we here?

When you are listening, please remember that this sermon was very much the result of my thoughts during my placement, and my prayers in connection with the Gospel passage from John 12:20-33

I am particularly grateful, again, to Alec to achieving this recording. All Saint’s don’t have recording kit, so I borrowed his Zoom H2 recording microphone, set it up on our old mic stand next to the pulpit, and simply let it run during the whole service. Graham has since cut out the sermon from the MP3 file using Audacity. The technical side of this project has in my view worked really well, and you can guess what’s on my Christmas list!

My ‘unconverted’ state

I’ve just posted on the Mothers’ Union site about Canon Andrew White’s latest venture being into the world of blogging, so to save repeating myself completely I refer you there: the children that empower and inspire

I personally find this man a humbling inspiration, and find his ‘unconverted’ state (follow my blogroll to his contribution’s to the Telegraph’s Faithbook) a huge encouragement since it reflects much of my own experience. I have in the past grappled with a sense of ‘loss’ that I have not had a conversion experience, especially as I meet inspiring people whose journey to faith have changed their lives dramatically.

However, being ‘unconverted’ has also been a blessing – I have always been surrounded by a family of supportive Christians – but not without the occasional doubt – mostly in this last year of Reader Training! It has also not been without it’s periods of dramatic change and growth.

I wonder what your experiences are?