A heavenly scene of “Life…” on canvas

A photo, of a canvas, of a photo, of a painting, of "Life..."

Well it’s been a while, but I finally achieved something special in time for my husband’s birthday today – with a lot of help from some lovely people.

Back last summer, I wrote about a wonderful trip to Hitchin Lavender, and posted some of my husband’s photos of the heavenly scenes. At the time I said I was saving the best – the reason being that I wanted to get it put on canvas and hung in the extension we completed in 2009.

I like to give credit where credit is due, so today’s roll of honour goes to 3 local photographers with great skills and generous, encouraging hearts:

A friend from church, Steve Mann (who is Nelson Art) for tweaking the original image slightly (at his own suggestion because he liked G’s photo when it was posted on Flickr) which removed some distant telegraph poles and people. He also made the colour balance look like the sunflowers are so real you could reach out and touch them – and suggested the canvas idea.

Another Christian friend (a GP who is a rather cool photographer) Dr Andy Teo (Photocillin) who suggested the right man to make the canvas and did the clever uploading bit I wasn’t sure about.

And Glenn of Digital Blush who was that man, and has produced a wonderful canvas that looks like it could be an oil painting. He is a man I think we will be visiting again.

Glenn, like us, likes the label on the artist’s box. It says simply “Life…”

Life… is good, praise God!

An Hour at the Cross – some of ‘The Things He Carried’

In order to understand the cross you need to stand under it… with the imagination as well as the mind. With the heart as well as the head. (Right Revd Stephen Cottrell)

The dais as we closed our 'Hour at the Cross' (the tomb was actually left from the 'All Age' service in the morning)

I have been hugely encouraged by the quantity and type of feedback that I got about the ‘Hour at the Cross’ that I put together and led on Good Friday. I’ve had several phonecalls and comments through Easter Week, been stopped in Waitrose, and had a text message which described it as “a powerful service and most definitely divinely inspired.”

It was not a service that I’d ever attended here at St. Peter’s Yateley – we’ve tended to go ‘All Age’ in the morning up till now. But it was a challenge I actually asked for, as I particularly like putting together liturgy that takes people on a challenging journey – and you can’t really get a more challenging journey that being at the foot of the cross on Good Friday.

Crown of Thorns - made by my Father from bramble and Burberis

I focussed on John 19 and used all sorts of resources including: selected bits of Common Worship ‘Times and Seasons’ Liturgy for Good Friday, other prayers adapted from Celtic Daily Prayer from the Northumbria Community, and two unaccompanied Taize songs. But the most important resources was a book I’d bought earlier in Lent: ‘The Things He Carried’ by Right Revd Stephen Cottrell.

I found Bishop Stephen’s form of reflective writing very moving, and inspirational. His ideas for group work (the book can be used as a Lent Group or Home Group resource as well as for personal devotion) included having something to hold, and I was able to adapt and create similar ideas – Gorse for the Crown of Thorns and blood soaked (inked) bandages for people to take up as they knelt at the cross at the close of the service. I didn’t have a formal sermon – the whole thing was more of a thought journey: which is one of the things that people seem to have really appreciated.

"Blood" soaked bandages (permanent red ink, flicked from a cartridge)

I’m a great believer in sharing worship ideas that have really worked, and this (contrary to some people’s expectation) was not off-the-peg, but as my friend texted, divinely inspired. Creating, and delivering it (helped by a number of people reading, and my husband doing the prayers), were spiritual experiences in themselves for me – and also contributed to answering some doubts I’d had about my own journey of faith and ministry.

Hold a Gorse twig and ask yourself "What do you do that causes Jesus to suffer?"

If you’re interested in what it might look like and want to use this service, please feel free to download it but please also tell me honestly what you think: Hour at the Cross – Good Friday 2011 (The document is full of hyperlinks for you to access the resources or order books and the service lasted an hour exactly – though a significant number of people stayed at the cross for some while after.)

The service concludes with the following prayer, which is the one that Bishop Stephen concludes his book with. It has been suggested to me that this might be useful in some pastoral situations.

Loving God
your Son Jesus Christ carried us to the cross,
shed his blood for us
and brought us into a new community with you:

help us to follow in his way,
deny ourselves and take up the cross he give us,
that the world may learn his way of peace;

may his life and his purposes be alive in us this day,
and may we be alive in him;

and when our hearts are broken,
and when the burdens of this life feel too great to bear,
take us to the cross,
and enable us to see there
the great weight that Jesus carried;
for here we receive the affirmation of your love,
the assurance of your promise,
and the strength to persevere.

For we ask it in his name.

I am indebted to Bishop Stephen for his permission to use his work in this way, and to blog about it. The photo’s in this post were taken by my husband.

God’s worth in a Royal Wedding! Matt 28:16-20

Matthew 28:16-20 (this morning’s lectionary reading) got me thinking about worship – giving God worth. I’ve also been thinking about weddings again – I booked one in last night, and there’s this big wedding in London at the end of the week 🙂 So I wondered, how will God’s worth be shared through the Royal Wedding – and can we part of that?

Here’s my (short) sermon for this morning:

“When the disciples saw Jesus, they worshipped him; but some doubted.” (Matt 28:17)

I always remember to think about worship, the worship of God through the person of the resurrected of Jesus, as ‘giving God worth’. That way I’m reminded that worship is not just something that we do in church, in prayer or in song. As Christians we should be giving God worth with the whole of our lives, and recognising and proclaiming God’s worth where-ever we see it.

And we do that, despite or at least with, whatever doubts we may have, just as these remaining eleven disciples did. In this passage the worship of Jesus is mentioned before the doubts of the disciples. On that mountaintop, meeting with Jesus in obedience to his request, the disciples were in the presence of their one true God. God is fully revealed to them in, and as, Jesus himself. Jesus is the ruler of the world, as the result of the resurrection, completing the meaning of his birth as the Messiah. (with thanks to Tom Wright’s ‘Matthew for Everyone’ for the theology!)

We may struggle to get our heads round the idea of God as the three persons of the Trinity; the disciples as Jews were struggling at this stage with the revelation of a twofold divinity of God.

We may doubt sometimes that we are really seeing, or experiencing Jesus in our lives; the disciples, had watched, or run-away from, his crucifixion and knew for a certainty that he’d died and been buried in a tomb.

We may certainly doubt our ability or worthiness to stand in the presence of Jesus, but…Jesus is our risen Lord – and he has invited us to be in his presence, to recognise him wherever he might be revealed, and then to baptise, to teach and to be obedient whilst remembering that he is always with us.

There is something important about putting ourselves mentally and physically, in a place where we can recognise Jesus and see the worth and worship that others offer him, whatever the situation; high place, or low. It requires us to be obedient, not to the whims and fancies of the world, but to look carefully at that world so that we can see Jesus revealed as our Lord and God, quite often through the lives of others.

It is sometimes difficult for us to recognise God’s worth close up to ourselves, in what we do, or in what our church does. It’s easier when it’s set at a little distance from us, but in such a way that we can’t avoid it – like the risen Lord on a mountaintop!

You’ve probably noticed there’s a wedding at the end of the week – a rather big one. There is plenty of hype: media outlets clamouring for the first or best interview for their programme. Even the Christian media and comment systems on the internet, have been questioning this, that and the other detail of the wedding. This has included the motivation for Kate’s recent Confirmation. Rather than doubting her sincerity or motivation (without knowing what it really was), shouldn’t we celebrate that she wished to re-affirm for herself the baptismal vows others had taken, and that it formed part of their preparation to get married?! If a couple are taking God’s place in their personal lives and marriage that seriously, surely that’s a good thing?

Wouldn’t it be good to acknowledge the precedence being given to God by William and Katherine at their wedding? It’s not like God is the uninvited guest – they are getting married in his presence, so it’s his mountaintop they’re climbing to – he’s the host! In this single event, God, through Jesus, will surely be proclaimed and worshipped as the creator of the world, full of grace and truth. As well as the setting at Westminster Abbey, Jesus will be revealed in the liturgy and music, the symbolism and the vows that William and Kate will make. Among the pomp and circumstance, the two billion people who watch the wedding will also be in a position to recognise Jesus.

As Christians it is our responsibility, on the mountain top of razzmatazz that will be the Royal Wedding, to emphasise God’s role, and Jesus’ worth in it. I’m sure that since he’s preaching at the wedding Bishop Richard Chartres (Bishop of London) will make a significant nod in God’s direction. But as Jesus’ disciples shouldn’t we should also be ready to make the most of the opportunity to do the same. What we say in conversation with our friends and neighbours, could (though I hesitate to suggest it) make more difference to the faith of a nation (and the world) than what a bishop says – because our words won’t get manipulated by the media!

We might have doubts about the fuss being made about a wedding, and we don’t really know about the degree of Will and Kate’s faith and trust in God – it is not our business to. We might even have doubts about the security of our own faith or ability to witness to it. But, whatever we think of the rest of the hype, which many of us will wish to ignore, if we watch the ceremony closely, shouldn’t we look out for the positive things it says about the person of Jesus – and then talk about these, rather than simply moaning about whatever disastrous coverage the media give us, or passing comment on a dress?

In this Easter Week, let us not dumb-down the resurrection of Jesus, by editing his presence out of the Royal Wedding, or ignore him by ignoring the opportunities to share the gospel that the wedding presents us with. We have been commissioned by Jesus to make real in the world the authority he already has, to make disciples of all nations, so let’s recognise it when we have the chance and give it worth wherever we see it.

Creating a more relaxed mind – by fly-fishing!

Well, it’s been a long time coming but I’ve finally managed it. Twice inside one week!

One of the battles I’ve had since being licensed as a Reader (Lay Minister) has been to make time for my hobbies – any of them. Since we went into vacancy that battle has become even harder, for all sorts of reasons. There is always so much to do in Christian ministry, so many urgent tasks that appear to need attention (preferably yesterday!)

I’ve been working with my spiritual director to have more ‘creative spaces’ in my life – times where a (much neglected) craft activity gives my brain space to ‘free wheel with God’. Success has been very limited, though I did make my husbands Valentines card. It seems that often my creative spaces end up being times when I bake cakes for the family or catch up on some domestic chore, and nothing gets made.

3 Rainbow Trout from John OGaunt 13th April 2011

For the last two years I’ve talked about going back to a hobby I started with my Father years ago – fly-fishing. Last year I even bought a Rod License, then the vicar left and I never used it 😦

Well, with much encouragement from the family (who all like eating the proceeds), and my spiritual director (who fancies a go herself) I’ve been fishing twice in the last week, and even more importantly yesterday I went fishing on my own: at 42 I set myself free from parental oversight and went fishing on my own.

It’s a tough life fly-fishing – NOT! Almost always, fly-fishing lakes are set in the most beautiful places, surrounded by God’s created world in all it’s glory:

John O’Gaunt fishery at King Somborne in the Test Valley is Dad’s regular haunt – and somewhere I must remember to take some photo’s of something other than fish. It’s not on the river itself, but spring fed still water within a few hundred yards of it. Unadvertised from the road, you have to know where it is as well! I might have caught 3 trout (between 2.5-4.5lb each – the fishing here is relatively easy) but just as much joy came from the March Tit and the female Sparrowhawk, Little Grebe (Dab chick) and Great Crested Grebe (as well as the usual duck and coot).  I also had early sightings of Hirundinidae but whether they were Swallows, or Martins I couldn’t tell – they were passing through fast and I was meant to be concentrating on the end of the line!

Pair of Mandarin Duck at Vale End, Albury Fisheries

Yesterday I went somewhere different – having discovered late last summer how close Albury Estate Fisheries are to my in-laws (less than 15 minutes!) If anything, this is even more beautiful if a little less tranquil because the main road is rather close to the lakes. The fishing is also not as easy – I suspect the stocking levels are lower, and some of the fish have definitely got wise to what us fishermen are up to. But don’t let that put you off. The fisheries are stunning, and once again full of wildlife (as well as in some cases being stream fed, so you get Brown Trout as well as Rainbow). Yesterday between Weston and Vale End I saw Orange Tip, Red Admiral and Comma butterflies, saw multiple Buzzard, Little Grebe, Mandarin Duck, Swans and Geese.

2 Trout from the Albury Estate Fisheries 18th April 2011

I also managed a brace of trout, a Rainbow in the bottom of the Weston Lakes by the stream inlet, and a smaller fish with markedly more spots in the river fed pool at Vale End. I now have 2 trout tickets left to use another time – the Albury pricing system makes fishing more cost effective for those on a budget, which with one teaching income we definitely are!

So among all the fish and the wildlife, where was God in all this. Well, a very great awareness of his creation first and foremost and also of our need to care for that creation – I’ve not yet met a fly-fishery that isn’t very careful and caring of wildlife management.

The most startling thing however was how little I thought of ministry: my focus on the fishing and the wildlife was complete (beyond the odd text-message to tell the family when I caught a fish!) I simply didn’t think about other things. Today I’m wondering if this is good or bad, but despite the concentration involved in the activity itself (and an aching arm this morning) I do feel mentally rested, more so than for a long time. Surely, that can only be a good thing?

How can God’s “Big Love” get through the admin of weddings?

Marriage Regulations hit the clergy

The regulations surrounding marriage have been in our news and blogosphere recently courtesy of the Churchmouse.

The existing rules, as exercised in my patch of the Diocese of Winchester have also filled a significant chunk on my ‘ministry’ during our vacancy. So today, when I noticed MUF had posted his own excellent cartoon on the subject, I thought I’d round up a few of the things I’ve learnt and note them down, as well as reflect a bit on all the admin involved.
Admin. Something I know I’m good with but prone to taking your eye off the ministerial ball. The important thing is probably to hold God in the conversation spaces (whether electronic, phone or personal) that exist around the various things that need doing to get a couple married – something I know I’ve tended to lose sight of in the endless round of ‘sorting out’ the little difficulties that come up. God, I’m afraid has often not got much of a mention. The Diocesan Registrar’s Office, a wonderfully helpful and responsive resource we share with Salisbury Diocese, has got lots of mention. I’ve possibly turned to them more often that to God. Sad, but necessarily true.
I’m not a vicar, not ordained, and haven’t therefore been to ‘vicar school’. However, from working with our neighbouring vicar (who is also our Surrogate – someone who acts on behalf of the Bishop with regard to swearing affidavits for  Common Licenses), I’m not sure how much of the legal stuff they teach at ‘vicar school’. If a training incumbent hasn’t had certain experiences of a ‘wedding nature’ then they simply don’t know where problems might occur, and therefore can’t teach their curates/ordinands/admin support what needs to be understood.

So in summary, what have I learnt so far (and I’ve no way of knowing if these are local rules, national rules, or about to change, so don’t use me as a reference point – though feel free to comment!):

  • The Marriage Act applies to both the Church of England (CofE) and the Church of Wales, so a church of Wales priest can officiate as registrar at a wedding in the CofE (useful when you’re in vacancy and the bride wants her Godmother to officiate!)
  • Anyone getting married in the CofE who lives in Scotland will need to marry under a Common License because the Scottish legal system doesn’t understand or use the banns system. this one caught us out, but we’re sorted in time for the couple’s big day. Down here in the south I don’t suppose it is common to get a couple coming all this way to marry under a Qualifying Connection!
  • With a Common License, it is not the posh bit of paper that comes from the Diocesan Registrar that is important, it is the affidavit sworn in front of the appropriate person (our Surrogate in this case). If there is not time for the certificate to arrive before the wedding (as in the case of couples travelling from Scotland only 2 days before their wedding), then the officiating priest must make sure the Surrogate gives permission for the wedding to proceed. This is simple when the officiating priest and the surrogate are one and the same person – they only have to talk to themselves 🙂
  • The Qualifying Connection (or is it only the fact there is one?) must be written in Banns of Marriage book when they are read, even if it is not read out. This one caught me out – we haven’t had as many weddings in recent years and our Banns of Marriage book pre-dates the Marriage Measure.
  • Banns of Marriage must be read in a ‘main service’ in a ‘consecrated church’, and therefore can’t (only) be read in the school hall of the planted congregation at which a couple are known and in which they came to faith, nor in the 8am congregation at which a parent regularly worships!

Now here’s a question. Who can read Banns of Marriage?

Some clergy I’ve known let any service leader (ordained, licensed laity or simply with local responsibility) read the Banns at the appropriate part of the service. Yes, at the beginning of our vacancy I was told it could only be an authorised person (priest, read or churchwarden). Now, I’ve recently been told it doesn’t matter!

Our dais at St. Peters Yateley after a recent wedding

Which takes me back to the beginning and my comments about admin. We’re a big parish, serving a community of approximately 14,000 with only one priest (when they arrive). We have no SSMs. We have one retired priest, with a reducing role in Sunday ministry due to ill-health. Yet we have 5 active Sunday congregations.

One priest is not going to know all these rules and regulations they might need to know for the various scenarios of parish life. Most won’t even have the time to ask the Diocesan Registrar the answer to the bits they know they don’t know, and exchange the endless emails that are involved with calming the understandably confused nerves of your average bride and groom who are totally bemused by all this! Some parishes don’t have an administrator, or don’t have some dafty (like me) who has taken a sad interest in the whole thing. All this constant contact with couples does indeed build useful relationships, but I’m not sure that it’s really sharing the Gospel or God’s “Big Love”!! Nor is it helping to grow marriage ministry through our parish churches!

So my experiences of recent months mean I can only agree with the Churchmouse when he states that: 

There may be advantages to the Church in taking the administrative elements out of the Church and putt them into the common framework.

Surely it is more important to place our focus on God’s role in the life of the couples that we as ministers are drawn to have dealings with, and the sacramental nature of the wedding and marriage itself?

The ‘advantage’ Mouse speaks of must surely be not only the appropriate application on a case by case basis of the laws and regulations that are obviously necessary. Perhaps more importantly to the church’s mission, is the advantage of the continued sanity of our clergy and the space need for God’s “Big Love” to be recognised and responded to!

(I note that on 1st April the Diocese of Winchester provided new notes on the marriage of foreign nationals to all clergy and extended notes to the Surrogates of the diocese. My fear is that they will now be superseded by the new restrictions, before the ink is barely dry, or the clergy have had the time to read them!)

When I crucified my Lord

I asked Pilate to crucify Jesus. Not nicely and politely, but I shouted at him in a public place, jeering in front of confused crowd, frustrated at waiting for the answer I wanted. The answer Pilate was so unwilling to give, and washed his hands of. I cheered as Jesus cried out in agony as he was scourged by solders, heckled as he fell and had his cross carried for him, and celebrated as he was raised up high on the cross.

'Lift High the Cross' 10th April 2011 Yateley

As my husband outlines here, I was one of the ‘religious leaders’ who this week called for Jesus to be crucified.

When I volunteered for the part in “Lift High the Cross” I envisaged a fairly simple acting task. However, although I knew I could remain my usual fairly detached self when it came to the day I really didn’t want to do it. I really didn’t want to crucify my Lord – even as an outreach event aimed at sharing the Gospel story.

It just felt wrong.

I, who sit alongside people in their grief, stand at a graveside commiting people’s loved ones into God’s care, or share in the excitement of a miracle birth, or the plans for a wedding in the presence of God, had to ask for Jesus, who is the person of the love I profess to share with them, to be crucified.

Like my son I felt much more detached than some friends who as ‘wailing women’ really and truly cried as Jesus was nailed to the cross. And yet I didn’t want to be there. What made it worse was that the script gave space for the words of various hymns to be sung (either by us all or by a solo voice) and I had to flit from my Christian faith and ministry, back to my bigoted, uncaring, humiliating role, every few minutes – I could not retreat into either ‘reality’.

Finally to cap it all, very few people really wanted to talk to me. Whilst I kept my black cassock on, people avoided me. Some friends actually said they didn’t like me any more – they were joking, but it wasn’t until I took my cassock off and flung it over my arm, that I was once again really welcome in the conversations of the people round me.

And with all this in mind, I must now turn to planning our ‘Hour at the Cross’ for Good Friday.

Thoughts on being crucified

'Lift High the Cross' Yateley 10th April 2011

My son was crucified as a thief next to Jesus last Sunday (Passion Sunday). In the heat of an unusually warm spring day. ‘Lift High the Cross’ was the idea of our retired priest; an open air passion play that involved all the local churches.

C is 14, and was recently Confirmed. I wondered if the experience would have any impact on him – emotionally, or spiritually. So I asked if he’d write a bit for this blog, and let me post it with a picture. He’s a great lad, and agreed fairly willingly 🙂 This is what he said:


To be honest it didn’t really feel like much of anything. The shouting was acting, the screaming was just acting, everything was simply acting.

Carrying the cross hurt a lot, being strung up on it for 20 minutes hurt even more, and getting my legs ‘broken’ so that I could be stretchered of was a relief, but he rest was bland. No emotion.

I don’t think you actually can get anywhere near the emotion that they would of had that day, with out doing it completely really, nails and blood and whipping and all. But unfortunately I don’t think health and safety would like that very much.

My husband (who also took the photo) was in the crowd and his thoughts are here. My thoughts are different again, and will follow shortly.