As I called to mind – All Souls

I have to say that preparing my talk for this afternoon’s All Soul’s service was one of the harder things I have had to do so far in ministry. I am indebted to Rosalind both for her comments on my last post, and also the guidance she gave me by email.

Reflecting now on my struggles, I suspect that it was for two main reasons:

  • It felt right to make use of my own emotions at a point of bereavement in my life, and I knew I wanted to focus on the image of feet (my mother’s and Christ’s) – but part of my difficulty was to see a moment in my life that I have until now tended to regard as negative, almost repulsive, in a positive light that would be something that might help others. The result I think is that it has helped me to love my mother more.
  • I was uncertain as to what I understood, or wanted to say theologically speaking. I’m still really not sure what I have said, but I wanted to be sure not only to provide people who have been bereaved with some comfort in the memories heightened by such a service. Knowing that several of them do not have regular contact with church, I also wanted to offer some affirmation that through Jesus the power of death has been broken, and we can hope in a future of love with God and with those who we have lost.

I used readings from Lamentations 3 and 1 Thessalonians 4. The Lamentations reading, is one of comfort that gave me phrases I could hook my talk onto. However, in retrospect I’m not sure the latter was the right reading to chose, but I haven’t yet worked out what I might use on a future occasion.

If you want to read what I finally said it’s here: Service Thanksgiving – Remembering (All Souls 2010) Talk Feel free to comment below if you can spare the time – and remember I will learn most from constructive criticism!

If you want to read a story that someone else used, here is one that Revd Lesley posted this evening, that raised a lump to my throat.

The service also included a poem I found in a book at my father’s. ‘A Psalm of Hope in Bereavement’ written by Jenny Gateau in “Mike’s Story – a Journey of Grief and Grace” published in 1997 by SPCK. In an effort to stick to copyright rules, I’ve not printed it here but I thoroughly recommend both the book and the poem.

Random facts: my mother was called Lesley. Though never wishing to be ordained herself, she was a member of the Movement for the Ordination for Women, travelled to Ripon in 1994 for the first service (I think) where women were ordained to the priesthood, and studied Pastoral Theology at a Catholic theology institute. She died in 1997 before completing those studies.

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Struggling with theology – preparing for All Souls

I’ve hit one of those moments when as a fairly rooky Lay Minister not having a Vicar leaves me with less options of who to ask tricky questions of. So, for any of you theological or ‘vicar types’ out there, if you could bless me with a few moments of wisdom I’d appreciate it:

Since I’ve been involved with a few funerals recently, I’m leading and giving a short talk at our All Souls service on Sunday afternoon (31st October) to which we have invited all those we know who have been bereaved and/or for whom ministers in the parish have led funeral services.

I don’t have a theological problem with this at all and I know that pastorally it is very helpful (having been on the receiving end elsewhere in other times). We’re using a format of service used locally for a few years, and haven’t changed much as a Vacancy is not a time to fiddling with stuff un-necessarily.

I was left to chose readings (Biblical) and a (non-Scriptural) reflection and to write a short talk. I felt the service wanted to have elements of comfort and hope within it, and offer the specifically Christian hope that we would like to think that all people who approach a church for a funeral might believe in. I chose Lamentations 3:17-26 and 31-33 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-end from the options that presented themselves through Common Worship Pastoral Services and our diocesan training course.

I’ve got some ideas about how to say something that a few might find helpful, and as I’ve worked on the whole thing, I’ve also developed some ideas on liturgy I might use another year should I be asked to do this again. But I’ve sort of hit a conundrum and I don’t even know if it’s a problem.

I would naturally agree with Michael Perham (‘Handbook of Pastoral Liturgy’) when he says

All the Christian dead are with the Lord and all of us with them are bound together in one communion and fellowship.

These ‘Christian dead’ are the ‘dead in Christ’ of 1 Thess 4 v16, yes? They are in the words of funeral prayers I’ve used recently those for whom

Lord of all, we praise you
for all who have entered into their rest
and reached the promised land where you are seen face to face…

We also read in 1 Thess 4:14 that God will ‘bring with Jesus those who have fallen sleep with him’

But we’ve also prayed at many funerals something along the lines of

Above all, we rejoice at your gracious promise
to all your servants, living and departed,
that we shall rise again at the coming of Christ.

Is this one of those Biblical paradox things that I should understand as ‘both – and’, and therefore that our dear departed are both with Christ already, and also to be raised from the dead to be with Christ at his second coming? Or have I missed something obvious? Or am I worrying un-necessarily?

Values for St. Peter’s Yateley – more about ‘being’ than ‘doing’

Altar Frontal - Winchester Cathedral

I have been involved in a small group at St. Peter’s Yateley that earlier this year gathered regular to tease out and discern what VALUES God would have at the centre of all that St. Peter’s does. There is much more about that process here.

Now that we are settled into a period without a vicar (vacancy), and have accomplished the paperwork involved with seeking a new one, it is time for us to share more clearly with the wider church community what these Values might be, and engage them in considering if we can live them out as a fellowship.

It fell to me at our monthly Wednesday Worship this week to start this process off. Below is the heart of what I shared:

If we think about the life of St. Peter’s we probably recognise that what we do is based on the acronym WORDS:

Worship – our services on Sunday’s and at other times
Outreach – like, Wayfinders, Messy Church our Christmas events like the open-air and Christmas Eve nativities
Relationships – we hope build with the community through all of those activities of worship and outreach
Discipleship – our commitment to learn more of God, to put Jesus teachings into practice in our lives, to trust the Holy Spirit
Service – simply meeting people’s needs, in the ordinary and extra-ordinary circumstances of their lives.

These areas of ‘doing’ give us our purpose as a church – and we think that if we didn’t do those things, the community we serve would be poorer.

One thing that has struck me powerfully as I’ve started to work with local families at some of the most difficult times of their lives – when a loved one has died – is that it is not so much what you do for them, or even the words you say to them or for them, but it is the way that you do it that makes the most difference to their lives.

It is how you comfort someone that has the biggest impact on what people will remember. It is the being Christ that is vital not just the doing of God stuff for them.
So when we think of our activities as a church, our WORDS, it is not simply what we do that is important, it is HOW WE DO them that will enable people to see Christ.

That is what a small group of us in St. Peter’s spent the first half of this year trying to teaze out with God:

How do we think God wants us to be Christ as St. Peter’s Church?
What is important to our being as a church?
What is it that we value that will inspire the way that we do stuff?

There are three values we’ve identified.
One that we believe will drive the way we relate to each other.
One that we pray will form our behaviour towards people who don’t currently attend St. Peter’s.

But we’re starting with the most foundational; the value that should be at the core of how we live our relationship with God:
We believe that God is calling St Peter’s to seek a relationship with God that
surrenders us to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

It’s not about doing, it’s not even about a form of words that you see or here, it’s about whether we can live it, whether we are seen to have been transformed, whether we really have surrendered to God’s Holy Spirit.

If we think God wants us to live as a church where people can see Christ in us, we want to turn that from being an aspiration of what we can be, into something that we are. We have to start with what’s inside each of us – the passion and energy with which we are willing to surrender ourselves to God, and our openness to being transformed by his Holy Spirit. If we can’t do that as individuals we really can’t expect our church to do it as a community.

It has been a real privilege and very humbling to part of the process that has tried to discern what God wants us to do as a church – and I am very aware that it has been part of a transformation that God is doing in me.

I can’t and won’t go into the personal details, but it is a bit like being set on fire inside. Every time I’m called upon to write down, type up or speak about these values, and sometimes when I’m simply preaching or doing something else, I feel the Holy Spirit setting something alight inside me that I want others, you, all of us to see and experience.

I know that through the power of the Holy Spirit I’m being given the energy and transformed into someone who can better be Christ for others, in a way that I would never have believed possible, even a few months ago. These values, and this one in particular, are part of that process of surrender to God.

I firmly believe that God wants St Peter’s to be a flame of God’s Holy Spirit here in Yateley. I also believe that the values that God is calling us to live out and be, are ones that we can all commit ourselves to, once we have understood what they are and why they are important. They will equip us with the energy and passion to make tough decisions about how we approach our doing of Worship Outreach Relationships Discipleship and Service.

Please consider prayerfully whether you believe we’ve understood correctly what God is asking St Peter’s to seek BE in the way that we do business with him for others. Then, please share your thoughts with me, or with other leaders in St Peter’s.

Why use Social Networks to reinforce social campaigning?

Some of the things that I talked informally about in the bar at #muconf10 (Mothers’ Union All Unit Conference at Swanwick last week) was my understanding that ordinary people need to reinforce and make visible their commitment to and passion for particular forms of social action by talking about them on social media networks.

My basic logic is this (and based on the recent launch of Mothers’ Union Bye Buy Childhood campaign):

Mothers’ Union officers and staff go to the trouble of launching a long-term campaign that seeks to encourage some constructive change by businesses on the issue of the commercialisation of childhood, follows up on manifesto commitments by our political parties on the subject, and will also provide practical help to young families who want to deal with the related problems they encounter in daily life. They get good coverage in the national press, from the BBC as well as national papers.

But how does the wider media world know that ordinary people, whether Mothers’ Union members or not, really care about issues like this? They don’t, unless ordinary people (whether Mothers’ Union members or not) are out there talking about the issues involved, and showing themselves to be committed to supporting the campaign on their social media networks, and preferably on the networks used or noticed by people who will talk about this sort of campaign.

Now, if you’re reading this, you know I have a blog. I’ve been on Facebook for several years and the blog linked to my Facebook presence fairly soon after I started it. I use it to communicate with real family and friends (people I’ve met and know) who over the years have become spread around the globe. I want to talk to these people about the things I’m involved with, what I feel strongly about, and why. So yes, I talked about the Bye Buy Childhood campaign on Facebook as it was launched.

I’ve been on Twitter since early this year – these days to save time, my blog posts feed my Twitter account, which in turn automatically feeds my Facebook account in one easy electronic process, and I read and write the whole lot in one application called Tweetdeck.

Those folk I follow, and who follow me on Twitter, tend largely to be a different network of people. I have not necessarily met these people, but I’ve read stuff by them or about them, that makes me value their opinion and want to communicate with them.

Among these folk are people who I’m glad ‘follow’ me, because it means I feel like I’m getting information about what I think and care about into their lives. So yes, I talked about the launch of the campaign on my Twitter account –  and if that means Ruth Gledhill of The Times (who for some reason follows my tweets) took just the smallest notice, that can only be to the good.

Basically the more people that know that grass-roots Mothers’ Union members are passionate about the campaigns the organisation launches, the better it is for the campaigns and for Mothers’ Union. The same would be true for any other NGO!

There is another reason for Mothers’ Union members specifically to social network their commitment to their faith and Mothers’ Union: Mothers’ Union members had an image that suggested they were a bit ‘behind the times’. Getting ordinary members out into the world of social networks is another way of dispelling that image and getting our voice heard and respected in the public arena, and not just the hallowed corridors of power.

I know that Social Networks can be regarded as the big bogi-men of the internet – that much was apparent at the conference from some conversations I had. But if handled carefully, with the appropriate privacy levels, I’m totally convinced that social networks are and can increasingly be, a useful tool that we can use wisely to change our world for the better.

I was really encouraged that whilst writing this post (over a couple of late evenings) I found that people are way ahead of me: try reading Graham Richards Serentwitterpy page to learn more about the power of Social Media and how to Twitter usefully. Another person who can talk much more technically on this sort of stuff than I ever will is Dr Bex Lewis.

And thanks to Alec Muffett for getting me into all this stuff in the first place!

Social networking and blog based content management

I spent part of my time at the Mothers’ Union All Unit Conference #muconf10 at Swanwick talking about what I know about Social Media and back tracking to what I shared at last year’s MU Marketing Conference about using blog software to create websites.

The initial result after 24 hours home from conference, is a smattering of Twitter followers from fellow Mothers’ Union members who the MU Communications Officer (Fiona Thomas) and I have convinced to take the plunge. For these brave souls I will blog a little more of what I said later next week.

In the meantime, for those people who were interested in what I produced last year about why and how I came to use blog based content management for www.muwinchester.org.uk HERE is the link to what I wrote last year on that website, and the document I wrote and shared at last years conference: Blog Based Content Management 4 MU

Entering that sacred space

Lake at Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick

I am currently at the Hayes Conference Centre at Swanwick in Derbyshire for the first Mothers’ Unit All Unit Conference. #muconf10 for Twitter followers.

Travelling, and the first few hours here have produced several blessings – including my Dad back at home who as well as walking the dog has posted my laptop power cable on behind me!

Another blessing was half an hour (waiting for room keys) beside the lake where I had two good views of a Kingfisher! I aim to return to the lake tomorrow with camera (so I probably wont see it again.)

The third blessing was the opening words of this evenings conference Eucharist (with Bishop Ken Clark/e?) which I found deeply moving. The words are attributed in our service sheet to Macrina Wiederkehr:

Deep within your soul
there is a knowing place
a sanctuary
where gifts are nurtured.
Enter that sacred space.
Spend time there
tending your gifts.
There in the chapel of your heart
you will become a gift to be given.