Sunny day in the New Forest

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We’re staying with my Father in the New Forest and today have been blessed with plenty of signs of spring and other brief delights.

This morning a whole variety of bees, including Bumblebees were working the sea of crocus flowers in his garden. Among the busy Goldfinches and Siskins, Longtail and other tits, was a female Blackbird collecting nesting material!

Then we spotted first a male Brimstone and then a pristine Tortoiseshell – the first butterflies of spring 🙂

This afternoon we took a walk out near Woosen’s Hill and Mark Ash. We found yet more ancient beech with naval timber marks, extending our search from others found at New Year. A Buzzard called and wheeled above us, Fallow Deer grazed in a sunny patch and I spotted a Cole Tit among the plentitude of small birds. The best moment was when a Tawney Owl flew out from an old pollarded Beech and silently twisted through the trees into the distance.

I love these days – they are like oases to a thirsty soul that lift my spirits high. And I still think “my” forest is the very best cathedral! Thank you God.

Not that things aren’t good – they are. Just a lot of stuff going on that I can’t blog about.

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Doing my bit for the Armed Forces – launching new project

Ever since my involvement in a Royal Marine Funeral last summer, I have found myself consistently finding little bits of my life and work linked to supporting our Armed Forces.

A couple of weeks ago whilst listening to local army padres, I was able to give my Deanery Chapter advanced warning of a project that has been launched this week by the Armed Forces Christian Union and Mothers’ Union in the Diocese of Winchester (for whom I’m proud to be Head of Marketing and webmistress.)

Today I’ve been able to get all the web and social media announcements out, and I’d be selling this pilot project short if I didn’t mention it here and link to it. So please go and discover for yourself how and why we’re providing funding for Armed Forces Relationship Counselling.

Sadly at present it’s only for those with connections to the Diocese of Winchester, but by providing funding for professional relationship counselling over several sessions (much more useful that the single session the MOD fund) we’re hoping that we can show the project is worthwhile and works well, so that Mothers’ Union members in other Diocese around the country can pick up on the idea.

My prayer now is that a few people in need will take advantage of what we are offering in this project and that they will find the counselling they receive will bring their relationships to a better place. To apply for this counselling please follow this link http://www.afcu.org.uk/relationship_counselling.htm

The power of wonder

We need not "wonder" much longer - spring is on the way!

There have been several things over the last few weeks that have got me wondering… about wondering. I’m not sure this post will make a whole lot of sense, it’s more a conversation of ideas, that may have considerable significance for me, or for the church I minister in, in the future. However, if you can bear to follow through and respond, perhaps with ideas or examples of how God has used the ‘power of wonder’, I’d really appreciate it:

It started with a conversation with Laurence Gamlen of CPAS in preparation for my recent sermon on our “outward value”. He suggested that to engage people in how the value might be relevant to the way they behave and how we seek to “be” St. Peter’s, the preachers should pose questions like, “What would it look like if…” or, “What would we need to change if…”

Although it was a technique that was suggested in Reader Training, it wasn’t one that I had used till now. From some of the verbal responses that I’ve received, the sermon provided a stimulus to thinking ‘outside the box’ and in doing so, presented people with some significant personal challenges. As yet, I’ve not progressed those conversations to discover more of what those challenges might be.

Then I read a book with a chapter by Revd Dr Samuel Wells which was sort of about the use of imagination in ‘preaching’ in an UPA (using Godly Play techniques). This passage (among many) particularly struck me:

Wondering does not test knowledge. A sentence that begins ‘I wonder’ does not have a question mark at the end. Wondering stretches the imagination, challenges compassion, provokes empathy, trains perception. The newcomer may bring as much or more to this exercise of listening and discerning as the most established regular…”

It got me thinking about how we miss out on exploring the gospel with adults who can not read and write (something I’ve become more aware of since taking a Romany funeral recently), and who may feel the constant use of the written word in worship, liturgy and preaching is patronising and ‘alien’ to their culture.

All this got topped off by reading a recent blog post by Bishop Nick Baines all about Imagination where he talks about how God creatively imagined this world into being, and how Jesus challenged us to radically re-imagine the world into a place that better reflects God’s character.

I have frequently struggled with a poor recall of Bible passages, ideas and ‘theology’ – it contributes to a sense of inferiority that I sometimes grapple with when placed into a conversation where people want to argue a theological point. What I can talk about is what God has done in my life, and how he speaks to me through the processes of creating an act of worship, or a sermon. God speaks to me through my imagination, and enables me as a result to (sometimes) ‘bless’ people with God’s peace, encouragement, or challenge. I think there is something here about the future shape of my ministry, but in the pressures of our vacancy, I’ve not completely sorted out what that might be yet.

On a less personal, and more parochial note, if we are called to take Jesus into people’s homes as I suggested in my recent sermon, however hidden those people may be from the representation of our local social demography that sits in our church week by week, then perhaps the transformation we should be seeking from the Holy Spirit (our ‘upward’ value) is to imagine and wonder more. If we pray to be given the power of wonder, where might God lead us?

Taking our ‘armour’ off so people see Jesus – Luke 19:1-10

I have today completed a pattern of preaching where I preached the same sermon in all five of our Sunday congregations over 3 weeks. The idea was to unpack and give a Biblical background to each of the three values that we worked on last year. An introduction to the work we did to get to them is here.

The process of preaching the same sermon 5 times has itself been an interesting learning process, but I’ll blog about that another time. For now, here’s my sermon, based on the story of Zacchaeus, and our “outward” facing value which says we want to seek God by meeting with the people of Yateley to explore the relevance of new life with Jesus.

I’m pretty sure that Zacchaeus took his shoes off to climb the sycamore fig tree, because to be honest climbing in sandals is pretty difficult! I guess feet that live in sandals like Zac’s probably did, are tougher than many of ours, and bare feet have a natural degree of grip that is a big improvement on a well worn strip of leather. Even so, as Zac climbed up to see Jesus he made himself vulnerable to cutting his feet on the nobbly stalks which the sycamore fig produces as it flowers and fruits along it’s stems. But being able to see Jesus was more important to Zac than a few minor scratches.

Actually the sermon suggested we take more than our shoes off, and was rather longer than that 🙂 – probably the longest I’ve ever preached it rolled in at about 25 minutes long! From the feedback it seems to have had a significant impact on those that have heard it, and neither they, nor I, really noticed the time. There whole text is here: Sermon Luke 19v1-10 (outward value – final version)

I feel like this sermon was very significant, for me, and for those who heard it. Now the question is, can we go and live it?