Parish ministry in vacancy – God at work!

My husband's panorama of Church End, Yateley.

The advert for a new Vicar for St. Peter’s Yateley was published in the Church Times yesterday (it will be there next week too!). The parish profile is now attached to the home page of our parish website, and looking great. Our prayer for those considering to come and lead, inspire and minister among us, is also up on our prayer blog.

In the light of all this, I’m taking a few brief moments to reflect on what God is doing in me, and in our parish, at this time.

It’s not every day that you end up praying in the back room of the The Village Florist, but it was exactly the right thing to do today. The florists are members of our congregation, and involved in our youth work (though where they find the time and strength given the hours they work, only God knows!) Another member of the same family works for Parkers, our local undertaker.

One of the things that seems to becoming an important part of my ministry (completely unsought for, but seemingly unavoidable… God keeps forcing the issue) is having the privilege of working with the bereaved in our community. I’m not yet taking funerals on my own, but with two in the coming 10 days, I think that it won’t be long.

Chatting with the florist at tea time (as I collected flowers for our stand at the local wedding fayre at Casa Dei Cesari tomorrow) it was wonderful the way that conversation and prayers naturally flowed around the families who the church, the florist and the funeral directors are all serving. Each hurting person, is not only at the heart of the ‘service’ we provide, but in the prayers of those providing them – and the sense of community as so many folk are drawn together into this work is a real blessing and encouragement.

It is also a real joy to hear the work of the Holy Spirit forming a natural part of conversations, or being recognised at work through the meetings that naturally take place in a shop like a florists. It’s good to know that people in need know they will find support, and also prayer in a place like that. It happens in our charity shop Discoveries too. As well as in St. Peter’s itself, of course!

But stepping out into a new area of ministry, where I recognise that God is making things unavoidable, means setting things aside as well – and that’s really tough. It hurts.

This week I’m completing what should be my last ‘Archway’ for Mothers’ Union in the Diocese of Winchester. Not because I don’t enjoy doing it, and not because I’ve found someone to replace me as editor, because neither is true. It’s simply because there’s not enough of me to give across such a wide scope of ministry. There needs to be a little bit of me left behind for the family; and a lot of me making more time to become totally reliant on God – because more and more I recognise I can’t do this new tough stuff without spending more and more time with him!

I’ve even had to pray to have my preaching slot at the West Hill wing of HMP Winchester taken from me by willing hands – and today, that prayer has been answered too. Again, it was simply recognition that in a week with two funerals, where each visit and funeral takes a lot of time and effort (largely because it’s all so new, and even though I have priestly support from the deanery), would mean my personal candle would start to be burnt in the middle, and that’s a fast and slippery slope to a physical struggle I can’t win.

However my commitment to Mothers’ Union will remain in other ways, even though I’m going to have a sabbatical from Trustees for the rest of the vacancy – I shall continue to maintain their website, and I’m looking forward to their national conference of unit leaders at Swanwick next month #muconf10. There is a sense though of feeling the focus of my work changing from such a Diocesan-wide perspective, to a more parochial one; I don’t know if that will go beyond the vacancy or not – God hasn’t told me that bit yet.

So God is hugely at work, in parish and in personal ministry at this time of vacancy for St. Peter’s. These few notes only scratch the surface of things – there is plenty that shouldn’t be put on the web. It is hugely exciting, it is hugely challenging, but it is wonderful to know that God is at work!

Lose some, gain some – blogs and poverty

I was sad to see last week that “A Man Breathing” has hung up his blogging fingers, but have some understanding of the pressures that might lead to such a decision. Sometimes I find blogging really helpful, but it can endanger other things. However I’ve got much encouragement and inspiration from A Man Breathing and I’m sad to see him go – God bless on his journey onward.

June 2005 - Rt Revd Paul Butler (then Bishop of Southampton) with Rt Revd Michael Scott-Joynt (Bishop of Winchester) leading the MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY rally to Winchester Cathedral.

However, you may have noticed me picking up on Richard Littledale’s Preachers A-Z of recent weeks – a great encouragement to those with L-plates to be part of an ecumenical community of preachers.

And today the Church Mouse has announced that one of our erstwhile suffragans has started to blog, and I’m looking forward to reading what Bishop Paul Butler has to share. I have fond memories of Bishop Paul supporting MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY and Mothers’ Union in the Diocese of Winchester.

It is perhaps timely that I am reminded of Bishop Paul, as today’s headlines include the fact that there is uneven progress on UN Millennium Development Goals. Perhaps I’m almost surprised that the reporting is so positive. Certainly my sense, gained largely through Mothers’ Union links in Africa, is that overall little progress has been made. I’m sure there are pockets of hope, and I know individual NGOs like Mothers’ Union are making progress on things like literacy and maternal and childhood mortality rates through development work.

But, unless governments across the world can really get to grips with reducing corruption, and targeting resources where they are needed, if need be by using the expertise and experience of NGOs, then my gut feeling is that there is not chance of meeting those goals.

I wonder what some of the blogging bishops will be able to say or do to add to the voices calling for change? At times it must feel like working for MDGs feels like voices calling in a wilderness, but the voices aren’t alone. Several Bishops, including Bishop Paul Butler support of the Micah Challenge work to encourage as many people as possible to make their own commitments to support work towards the MDGs. There seems to be lots planned for 10.10.10 but Micah Challenge are also asking everyone “What’s your promise?”

Turning water into wine – John 2:1-11 reveals God’s glory!

It seems strange to think that the last time I preached was in late July. I have done plenty of other things on the learning curve of ministry (especially relating to funerals), and I know that shortly there are plenty of sermons looming in the diary, so life is far from dull. Anyway, I still get greatest pleasure from leading worship, which is what I shall be doing tomorrow – with a visiting priest to do some baptisms.

As I mention here, the summer themes (which are just completing) have been on the extra-ordinary things that Jesus did, mostly told from John’s Gospel. I had the joy of kicking the series off by turning water into wine… with props including bottles of water, ribena, a chalice of the real thing, a toastmaster’s jacket… and Mr Messy! I was reminded of it by Richard Littledale’s recent posts “Mr Preacher“… I’m probably little Little Miss Busy at present (Christian name, “Too”)

Being All Age, the sermon, was in fact 3 mini-talks:

Talk – the first

It’s the school holidays! Yeh!!!!! There is something about being married to a teacher that really makes you appreciate the summer holidays!

It’s a time for going places (especially weddings in our case this year) and for playing games! We do things like the red-telephone box game and pub cricket when we’re in the car. It doesn’t matter that folk are growing up, car games are still fun! We’re not in a car, we’re in church, but I thought we could still play a game this morning… It’s a bit like working out who the mystery guest is on Question of Sport:

Who do you think is in this picture?… [I used a familiar parish face] We recognise him, because we know what he looks like and know what he’s done here in St. Peter’s.
Shall we do another one?… [the next image revealed Mr Messy!] We recognise Mr Messy because we’ve read about him in books.
Last one; who’s this?… [the covered image revealed the crucifix in the gardens at Furzey.]

Because we know bits of the story of Jesus, we’re assume this a representation of him. But actually we don’t know what he looked like. During his lifetime and since, Jesus was really known by the extra-ordinary things that he did. These are what we’re going to be looking at a small group of over the summer, because it is through what we read, that we ‘hear’ what Jesus did, and that’s one way we can come to ‘know’ him.

In our story this morning Jesus is at a wedding, in a place called Cana, with some friends, and his Mum. We’re not told how well he knows the families involved, but we do know he’s only just met his friends, so of all the people at the wedding, it’s only his Mum Mary, who really knows Jesus and has some understanding of who he is.

From Luke’s Gospel we know that before his born, Mary was told by the angel that Jesus was the “Son of God”. When she and Joseph took him as a tiny infant to the Temple to give thanks for him, she was told he would be a symbol of “God’s glory” to the Jewish people he had been born among. At the beginning of John’s Gospel about Jesus, John talks about Jesus as the Word, someone who will be a bit like a book, showing and telling us about God. John says: The Word became flesh and lived among us. We gazed upon his glory, glory like the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Looking at God’s glory is all about recognising God’s presence with us, and we do that by looking at Jesus, the Jesus we recognise on the cross, and these stories about him in the Bible.

I think Mary, is remembering all the things she knows about who Jesus is, and the idea that he would reveal God’s Glory by being God’s presence. She seems to have recognised that at some point Jesus will do some important and extra-ordinary things that will show people that he is special.

But, Mary recognises some other things in this story: She recognises the shame that the host family will feel, and the comments that will be made by unfeeling people in the local community if they run out of wine – traditional Jewish weddings involved the whole village and went on for days – there needed to be a lot of wine involved! Mary also recognises that Jesus may provide a solution to the shame that could be visited on the family hosting the wedding. Lastly, it is she who also works out who will be in the best position to respond to whatever it is that her son Jesus might do… that’s the servants, and she asks them to obey Jesus.

We’ll talk about the servants later, but in the meantime, I wonder if we can think about this as we prepare for a time of confession:

  • Have there been examples of us not recognising the difficulties or shame that people around us face?
  • Have there been times when we haven’t realised that Jesus offers the people we are with, a solution to their problems, or perhaps we’ve forgotten that he’s there to help us with ours?
  • And, have there been times when someone has suggested we’re obedient to Jesus, and we haven’t been?

Talks, the second and third, are downloadable here (together with the first bit): Sermon John 2 v1-11

Fear, a burning bush, and the woman who consented

"Burning Bush" Are you standing on Holy Ground?God moves in mysterious ways.

Several ideas and experiences have come together today, and I’m unlikely to be able to articulate them clearly. Please don’t feel you have to understand, as the picture is much bigger than I can write about.

Life ‘in vacancy’ goes on at St. Peter’s (advert due out end of the month!). We have a little Flower Festival this weekend. This accompanies the Garden Society Produce Show, which will take place in Church tomorrow. Great chances to have the community visit the church. My limited flower arranging skills were forced to lay largely dormant during Reader Training, but I agreed to go back on the rota as I find the past-time relaxing: it so happened my week on the rota clashed with the Flower Festival and thus, today I was creating a Burning Bush!

I spent some time reading Exodus 3 and 4 in preparation for the flower arrangement, but whilst also working towards carrying out one of those God-prompted actions that one doesn’t wholly understand when starting out on it. It struck me that initially Moses responds to God cheerfully “I’m here” (Exodus 3:4) but when he finds out what God REALLY wants, Moses allows fear to speak: “Please, get someone else to do your work!” (Exodus 4:13) However, God doesn’t really give him a choice… he gives Moses some help (the promise of his guidance, some miraculous signs and Aaron to do his talking) but basically tells him to ‘go and get on with it’!

And yet to fear is human, as Jan Lemen has highlighted in her blog (HT Maggie Dawn). This is my first introduction to Jan’s writings, but I find it most helpful – reassuring to be told what you experience as true, and to realise that the fear itself might be telling me something: “more often then not, the truth… reveals a daring path forward.”

But there was of course a woman, who despite her fear consented to an angel with great courage: and Mary was waiting for me in Bishop Alan’s blog. This was the bit that got me most:

Aren’t there annunciations of one sort or another in most lives?
Some unwillingly undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride, uncomprehending.

More often those moments
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from in dread,
in a wave of weakness,
in despair and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.

God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.

If we turn away from the fear, the gate may close. God will still be there for us because his love is endless even if ours is not. But our walk with him may be less rich,  the road more dark than light, and probably far less interesting.

So, with fear, a burning bush, and the woman who consented all speaking loud and clear, adding to a clamour of more earthly voices, I might yet say “Here I am” and start another adventure with God! Will you?

When a young man falls in love for the first time…

It seems my young lad (aged 13) fell in love this summer… and I suspect it’s not a passing flirtation either! Her name is ‘Kittiwake’ and putting her in his path was well worth all those lies!

"I name this ship..."

After Grandad gave our boy his lovely green wooden Solo, we discovered that the young man had dreamed for several years of having a boat and calling it ‘Kittiwake’, so that is what she was called.

He has spent a lot of time with her over the school holidays – largely racing the adults at weekends, but occasionally just pootling around Hawley Lake. He also had the adventure of coastal sailing in Chichester Harbour in a Wayfarer, with Grandad and few of others. But ‘Kittiwake’ has been his major focus.

'Kittiwake' (4134) at the start of the first race of the Youth Regatta

He’s had two outright wins against the adults at the club – one in a pursuit race, and more recently in a personal handicap. Then at the weekend, when he thought he’d be confined to a Pico for the Youth Regatta, at the very last moment (after he’d rigged the Pico) he discovered he could enter ‘Kittiwake’ against the older lads in Feva‘s, a Laser and a Comet for the Youth Handicap Class!

So, we’re now very proud parents – because he won! Not just a race, but 4 of 5 races on the day (one on handicap having crossed the line second, the other 3 outright), and therefore the class! And he’s got trophies to prove it!

Edging past the favourite to take the lead!

He may now be gearing up for a new term, the 8 mile Hampshire Scouting Kayak Challenge (aiming to beat last years 2 hours 4 minutes), and a Grade 5 Oboe exam in November, but I suspect that he’s fallen in love with sailing, and is unlikely to ever get the wet stuff completely out of his system!

Today he was wondering if his brief views on TV of the Finn Class World Championships confirmed his suspicion that the Finn is rigged somewhat like the Solo… do I have a budding Ben Ainslie I wonder? Time will tell.