Is it me, or is the programme?

OK I’ve been having a problem recently, as you will have been able to tell from the layout of the last couple of posts, with getting things to layout clearly, with all the gaps and paragraphs I want.

If I paste something in from a programme like Pageplus X2 (which is what I write my sermons in, so they print out as a booklet) then even when I use the “full screen” mode with the “kitchen sink” nobs and whistles, when it’s published I lose most of the paragraphing etc… which is REALLY irritating.

Now I am quite willing to believe this is caused by my ignorance, rather than WordPress (and yes I’m up to date) but I’d really welcome some guidance please – if you understand this and think you can help!

Peace at Pentecost

Last week I led a ‘Celtic’ Morning Prayer at 8am for Pentecost. As part of the opening to the service I read something I had found in last week’s Church Times, and which (for those who don’t subscribe) I’ve shown below. I then used it to open my sermon:

O come, Holy Spirit, inflame my heart,
set it on fire with love.
Burn away my self-centredness so that I can love unselfishly.
Breathe your life-giving breath into my soul
so that I can live freely and joyously,
unrestricted by self-consciousness,
and may be ready to go wherever you may send me.
Come like a gentle breeze
and give me your still peace
so that I may be quiet and
know the wonder of your presence,
and help diffuse it in the world.
Never let me shut you out;
never let me try to limit you to my capacity;
act freely in me and through me,
never leave me, O Lord and giver of life!
by Michael Hollings and Etta Gullick from “It’s Me, O Lord” (Mayhew McCrimmon, 1972)

I’m not sure what you’ll think about my ideas on peace – I was really stretched, and didn’t have time to read round my thoughts thoroughly, so feel free to drive a horse and cart through my theology: Sermon John14 v8-17 and 25-27

Peter had been waiting – Acts 2:1-21

Part of a banner at St Mike's Aberystwyth

Pentecost marks a spiritual anniversary for me – which won’t surprise anyone who has ever worshipped at St. Michael’s Aberystwyth, or experienced the excellent preaching of Revd Stuart Bell. Something clicked open inside me in May 1988. Though I may frequently doubt myself, I hope that I allow God’s Pentecost gift to remain the powerful force of direction in my life.

For the 2nd time in three years I will be waiting on the Holy Spirit in our Chapel at our 8am Morning Prayer on Sunday – waiting expectantly to hear Gods’ still, small voice as he moves among us. I already know that what I will be preaching this year, will differ greatly from what I preached in 2008, although the Celtic liturgy of the service that I will lead will be the same (something I’ve adapted from Iona material).

For the sake of comparison, and completeness (since I wasn’t blogging in 2008) here is what I preached then (I will publish this years sometime next week). It is a short reflection written around Acts2:1-21 which should be read in the middle of it:

Peter had been waiting…
For a gift, some sort of spiritual present, that Jesus had called the Holy Spirit. It was to be some sort of power that would enable the disciples to take the stories of what Jesus had done, all over the world. Jesus had told them all, to stay in Jerusalem, and to wait…
It had been 50 days since Jesus had returned to them after his crucifixion and burial. After the resurrection, he had been almost more real than before; so real the walls and doors that hid them from the authorities, had appeared completely insubstantial when he’d suddenly returned. And then, last week he had left them again. The manner of this going suggested it really was the last they would see of him. But before he’d left, he’d been most insistent that they stayed together and waited…
Peter was scared, again. There was no longer any denying of what he’d seen and what he now believed, but he was scared; he felt out of his depth.  There were about 120 of them, folk who had been with Jesus during most of his teaching journeys round the region, all crammed into a house together during the day. It was safer to discuss things that way, than send messages between different groups. The authorities were still twitchy, especially as word had started to spread about Jesus’ resurrection appearances. And there had been things which needed sorting out, if they were to remain together as a group: the gap in their fellowship caused by Judas’s betrayal for a start. People had seen Peter’s point when he suggested it, and Matthias was a good choice. At least it had given them something to do, as they tried to be patient and wait…
What was going to happen? What was Jesus going to do next? The anticipation was more acute than that experienced when they watched someone with a disability approach Jesus. On those occasions Peter had known that through the peace and the calm with which Jesus did everything, something quite amazing would happen. That was, after all, why the people came, because they anticipated that somehow through this teacher, they could be healed. Now, Jesus was gone, and there couldn’t be any more miracles, could there. What were Jesus’s disciples going to say to people, when their hopes were dashed? The disciples and their friends worried about what they should do and say, and they wondered just what was going to happen, but they did as Jesus had asked them; they waited.
Acts 2:1-21 Light a candle, and an incense cone
Whatever he’d expected or imagined, Peter hadn’t foreseen such an extra-ordinary experience. That wind, and those flames had been totally unlike anything they had experienced whilst Jesus had been with them.
Jesus had been a physical presence with them, a powerful presence, but tangible and touchable, even after his resurrection. Peter knew that it was only this that had proved to Thomas that Jesus really was alive, so that he’d declared what they had all been gradually trying to understand, that Jesus was, their Lord and their God. This wind had held something of the same power and presence as Jesus, but more so; suddenly with that wind Peter had become aware of the sovereignty of God, the reality of the power given in the Lord’s name. It was this which had enabled him to suddenly make the connection between what Jesus had done, and the old prophets teachings, and spoken through him to those who’d had been attracted to the house by the noise the wind had made.
Those tongues of flame, had been pretty spectacular. Jumping and dividing, reaching out, with a very personal touch for everyone present. It was being touched by those flames which had inspired the urgency and purpose with which Peter had spoken, teaching from the old scriptures with a similar sort of authority he couldn’t have imagined having. Peter hadn’t felt brave, and most of his friends knew he normally wasn’t, but the explanation had to be made; this was a sign to the whole world that God had inaugurated His Kingdom on earth in Jesus, and that he, Peter, and the rest of these disciples, were being given the responsibility for proclaiming that message.
Peter knew now, what it was he had to do, but he also knew that the message had started out ahead of him and his friends. Those flames had been so personal, that everyone attracted by the noise of the wind had heard the disciples proclaiming their faith in the resurrected Lord in language they could understand, even though they came from all over the world. Of course there had been a few scoffers present, but Peter had been able to disabuse them of the idea that what they were witnessing was the result of a party. Instead, this Spirit was a demonstration of the power of God in action; the same God of the old scriptures, but now manifest in a new and powerful way, just as had been prophesied.
There must have been three thousand people who had responded there and then to the touch of the Spirit and the Gospel of Jesus. People that now believed that God’s sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, had been his victory at his resurrection. They understood now, what they hadn’t understood before. Peter too, understood. He knew this Pentecost wasn’t a remembrance of the Law being given to Moses at Sinai as they had celebrated in the past. Now it marked the arrival of a new law, one which would insist on a new way of life, a new purpose, a new way of living with God.
Now the crowd had dispersed. Peter was drained, but he was also full up, bursting with emotions and connections, an energy and faith that he had never had before. He knew now that his life had been changed, again. Perhaps even more dramatically than it had been when Jesus was alive. Peter knew now, that for all of them, this was only the start. They would need to take a fresh look at all the old scriptures, to really understand what it was they were saying with new understanding; to remember as accurately as possible what it was that Jesus had taught them, so that they could share its importance with others.
Peter knew now that this Holy Spirit, this gift Jesus had asked them to wait for, was the power by which Jesus expected them to share these ideas and teachings together.
But that fellowship would be vital in other ways too. They would need to find new ways of living in fellowship with each other, not just as 12 men, or a group of 120, but as a multi-cultural fellowship around the world. They were fast becoming a really unusual group of people, from lots of different backgrounds, with different skills and experiences. Sticking together, keeping a core understanding between all these people as to what was most important would be really important. But that fellowship would need to give freedom too; freedom to go out into the world and tell the story of Jesus, and show the power of God, in ways that would be relevant to everyone; not just those they knew but everyone else as well.
And they would need to pray. When they met together, they would need to pray with faith for the power of this Holy Spirit to give them wisdom and discernment they needed, to show them how they should meet each others needs and even more importantly what actions would enable this good news to be shared as widely as possible.
The question in Peter’s mind was: would those who had heard and responded to the Spirit of the Lord as it touched them today, respond in faith with actions that others would see in the days and weeks to come?

Wedding – horse and carriage

St Peter's Yateley 15th May 2010

Great couple got married at St. Peter’s this last weekend, and with their special guest greeting them as they came out of church, they let me take some photo’s that our webmaster will be able to use on our website. The bride will be riding the horse (who was impeccably behaved) in a triatholon next month.

In conversation with the Moxham’s of Bolyn Wedding Car Hire, they wanted to use a photo I took on their website too (with the couple’s permission), which I was happy to do. They’ve been more efficient than me though and got the picture up faster (here – scroll to bottom)! The horse and the old car (carriage) looked really good together. Another good connection made in case we get to go ahead with the Wedding Fair idea at St. Peter’s next year.

It got me thinking again about the things that people regard as important parts of their new life together, how much these can and should be shared by the couple, or at least understood by both partners as to the degree of importance that is given to different aspects of their life. And how can we enable people to make space for God to be one of those important parts of their life as a couple?

Finishing a familiar story – or is it just a beginning?

Leeds Resurrection by Simon Smith

Back during Holy Week, I posted “I’ve gotta go” the first of a trilogy of interpretations of the Holy Week story, written by my husband.

Although not quite to time, he did complete them, and I post all three here for you to read and think about.

“I’ve gotta go” I’ve gotta go 2010-04-01 (Good Friday)

“The morning after” The morning after 2010-04-03 (Holy Saturday)

“Your faith is in vainYour faith is in vain 2010-04-15 (Easter)

Anyone connected with CPAS or regular readers of the Church Times may spot that they (and particularly the third story) has been inspired by the artwork created by Simon Smith. Someone else I know was commissioned by CPAS to create reflections on them, but following from our Storytelling retreat with Sarah Rundle in March, G was really inspired and Holy Week gave him the space to use his creativity. If he didn’t teach, I’m sure he’d write stories…

Perhaps you could encourage him to share my blog and have some pages of his own!?

Make over

These beauties were in buckets ready to be arranged for a wedding on Saturday!

To celebrate the success of the final essay and the fact it is spring, and inspired by the new WordPress theme ‘Twenty Ten’ I’ve given the blog a bit of a make over.

The new header photo was taken by big G this evening in the churchyard of St. Peter’s where there are currently blue, white and mauve bells (not, I fear, native).

There are various features I think are better, like the footer widgets, though whether I’m making best use of them I’m not sure. If I use more pages, the drop down from the page links will also be good – currently only visible under ‘Theology’. Behind the scenes, the fact that the Editor now gives you an accurate visual representation of what the finished post looks like, is also a really helpful improvement. As yet I’ve not decided whether to customise the fonts – for the moment I like the default; its certainly larger and easier to read than it’s predecessor.

So, please let me know what you think and tell me if there’s anything you’re used to seeing that I’ve missed, or that you want moved up from the footer widgets.

Should I write more permanent pages, and if so what about? One idea would be to feature the wildlife of specific areas, and another the theology of specific things that interest me (stuff on marriage perhaps)? Or should I create a feature page of my essays from the training course, rather than making folks trawl through the archives or the tag cloud? I’d welcome your thoughts please!

Taking up our mat – walking away from spiritual superstitions John 5 v1-9

Pool at Bethesda

Last Sunday I led and preached at our 8am morning service, a short half hour in the peace of our Chapel at St. Peter’s.

I have thought on several occasions that I have spoken for too long at this service, so last week I planned a much shorter talk, and then worried for most of the week that it wasn’t long enough and didn’t say anything particularly helpful to the congregation.

Late on Saturday I learnt that God needed me to give a short talk that morning, and the theme of overcoming our spiritual ‘superstitions’ and acting decisively to step forward into the future with Jesus, was perhaps far more appropriate than I had supposed. At the end of the service (having tipped me off the night before, bless him) our vicar announced that as he starts a new phase in his own life with his wedding in the summer, he will be starting a new ministry among Fresh Expressions projects in Marlow! We enter interregnum in late July.

Here’s my public acknowledgement of grateful thanks for the help, encouragement, faith and support our vicar has given me over the last 4 years of training – I am totally in your debt P (I could go on, I won’t!) As you know I thoroughly recommend married life as the best thing I’ve ever done – God’s always been there for me, being married was a bonus!

So for what it’s worth, a short thought on walking away from spiritual superstitions: Sermon John5v1-9

Image from here

Where is God in a marriage?

If theology seeks to answers questions like “where is God in…” how often do we ask ‘Where is God in my marriage?’

In simple terms that was the sort of idea behind the essay that I wrote to complete my Foundation Degree in Christian Theology and Marriage – you may indeed have been part of the process if you read this blog regularly. It has already been circulated among one or two folk, at least one of whom has found it quite helpful.

Well, on Friday I heard I had passed the essay and with it my Foundation Degree, and yesterday I received it back, complete with attendant comments. I got a reasonable mark for it.

So, here, by way of celebration as I remove the ‘nearly trained’ from my blog, I humbly offer the world my thoughts on the theological themes that can be found in marriage and should therefore emerge in a course of marriage preparation.

RT_IndepStudyModule_Essay(FinalV)RH

If you’re looking for a summary of what is after all a 6000 word essay, here are the things that I felt were most significant to ministry whilst I was writing it (I’ll leave you to decide whether they come through in the essay or not):

  • We (anyone with a ministry that touches couples who are wanting to get married) are preparing people to be ordinary heroes! Marriage is something for which many people are ill-equipped by way of existing relationship skills, and they are going to need help to make their marriage last a lifetime. Marriage is also a gift of God’s grace, both to the couple, and through them to others – whether that be to children, their wider family, or the lives they touch during their marriage.
  • Marriage relationships should be places of incarnational love – they are also places of sacrament, covenant and forgiveness. They require constant acts of will, that create the trust, faithfulness, and honesty that make a marriage work.
  • Of the marriage preparation material that I looked at, some focuses heavily on the relational skills, and makes it’s references to God and faith as broadly relevant as it can. Andrew Body’s ‘Growing Together’ material is of this nature.
  • By getting married, couples have a chance to gain a better understanding of who God is. This can only be done if considerable time is taken with marriage preparation, and if that preparation makes reference to Biblical material, and uses real examples of marriages where the Christian faith plays an important role. Nicky and Sila Lees material (DVD, workbook and ‘The Marriage Book’) come in this category.
  • Marriage preparation can not take a ‘one size fits all’ approach – specific pastoral needs will need to be addressed for some couples, whether it be due to bereavements, failed relationships or a myriad of other reasons.
  • Weddings and marriages should not be allowed to take place in isolation from the communities of faith in which they occur. As part of their discipleship, Christian communities need to be encouraged to consider their support of both the weddings that take place in their midst, and the marriages of those who live in their community – because God is active through his grace in them all.

It all seems most appropriate on a day when my vicar has announced his wedding date, and a close friend her engagement!

More wildflowers and spring activities

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A pleasant family walk whilst celebrating two birthdays this weekend produced these delightful scenes at Sheepsleas near West Horsley in Surrey.

I have a real ‘thing’ about Bluebells… which stem from childhood walks at a place near Fritham in the New Forest, and I get very excited wherever I see them to this day. Cowslips speak to me of real English rural pasture, something that we have so little of these days. At Sheepsleas I don’t think it’s grazed but they somehow maintain this fantastic wildflower meadow – later in the season it will be full of herbs, day flying moths and butterflies.

On Wednesday last week I both heard my first Cuckoo of the year, and saw it as well! Dad and I took an hours ramble from Thrifty Gate near Stoney Cross – a good place to meet so we dog walk before I take on the one-way system into Lyndhurst.

Other than that, with the dog’s missing toenail growing back slowly and a rather busy diary, I’ve not been out and about much. We’ve sorted out a load more belongings and I’ve made two trips to our church charity shop. A lot of the things I want to get back to remain slightly hypothetical, though I have got as far as ordering my Fishing License for this year, buying the makings of two hanging baskets and I’ve acquired some greenhouse veg, courgette and spicy salad plants!