Up close and personal with God’s creation

My husband and I have a bit of a thing about insects. If we can get up close to them, we love to photograph them, as only that way can you see the beautiful detail and colouring that so many of them boast. Until today our best success of the year was the husbands fab Stag Beetle in flight (I held the torch!)

Then today, there I am out on my own on the usual dog walk, with the worst camera in the family in my pocket, and I see something new in the grass; a butterfly I can’t easily identify because I’ve never seen one like it before.

I reach for the camera, and the dog dashes over enthusiastically wanting the stick thrown, knocking what seems to be fairly newly hatched flutterby further down among the grass. Stick thrown, dog shouted at, I reach down and lift out this little beauty:

Up close and personal with a Purple Hairstreak

It took me about 15 minutes struggling with a camera I didn’t know, grass stem or butterfly in/on one hand, camera in other, to get these shots of a Purple Hairstreak.

According to my book they are scarce or have scattered distribution, and usually live high among the treetops of oakwoods. This is presumably why I’ve never seen one before – I don’t spend much time high up in oak trees! I suspect this specimen was newly hatched, and/or with a slight kink in the right wing, perhaps not flying strongly? It could be classed as early specimen (just) as the book notes it as appearing July-August.

Caterpillar of the 6 Spot Burnet

Last night my husband and I actually shared an evening dog walk (a mid-week rarity). For the first time this year we spotted the caterpillar and chrysalis forms of Six Spot Burnet moths whose life cycle we’ve followed in previous years, though we’ve not really monitored their emergence dates before.

However they are late this year (I’ve just found some photo’s last year dated 5th June), and in short supply, but we’re noting it here for comparison in future years. There’s a photo of the adults mating here taken a couple of years ago.

The thing we’ve never sussed is whether they overwinter as eggs or mini caterpillars, and whichever option, where do they overwinter?!

Cocoon in which the 6 Spot Burnet caterpillar pupates

The other thing in short supply are Ringlets. In 2009 we spotted them first on June 20th though they were late last year after ‘the’ field was grazed for the first time in several years. This year they are there, just a few, but in short supply, and easily missed among the more numerous Meadow Browns. We think they are scarcer in the last two years because of the fact the field is now occasionally grazed – this year in late spring. Always flighty we’ve not managed to photograph one yet this year.

There are plenty of Little Skipper’s around in the field, and a few Common Blue’s out on the back of Blackbushe Airport where we find the Burnet’s.

We’re in ‘always carrying a camera’ mode this time of year, and soon the school holiday’s come, so we should get more photo’s – though doing so will probably test the patience of our son!

(The book we have is ‘Collins Guide to the Insects of Britain and Western Europe’ by Michael Chinery – 1986 Edition with paintings. The up to date edition uses photographs.)

Creating stories that build trust in God – Genesis 41:15-30 and 39-40

Joseph. Joseph of “Technicolour Dream-coat” fame.
The ‘leading man’ in one of the best stories in the Bible.
Born to be talked about, and even sung about.
Possibly tall, dark and handsome.
Definitely, the focus of my attention on my hen-night!

Joseph; someone who would gain any man’s trust, quickly and efficiently.

In the chapters before our reading this morning, first Potiphar, then a prison governor, had placed an awful lot of trust in Joseph, and it wasn’t anything to do with a coat, or with dreams.

No, scripture tells us that that Joseph appears to have been a very able administrator…. “the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.” (Gen 39:23) Someone must have recognised where his talents came from, for the fact to be noted in scripture!

But when it came to explaining dreams, it’s Joseph who, quick as a flash, shifts the responsibility for what he’s about to say away from himself. It’s not Joseph, it’s God who’s going to do the explaining!

Joseph says it three times, just in the verses that we’ve heard this morning:
v16 God will give Pharaoh the answer….
v25 God has revealed to Pharaoh, what he is about to do;
v28 (again) God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do.

But Joseph isn’t passing the buck out of a sense of self-preservation. God was giving Pharaoh these dreams, and therefore it was imperative that Joseph gave the credit to God for their interpretation, otherwise the significance of their meaning would be lost.

Because, Joseph knew that God was up to something! He recognised that God was trying to make it clear to Pharaoh that he was about to do something really significant. It was quite simple to explain that God was giving Pharaoh privileged information, the inside story on what he was going to do next; that he was going to give Egypt seven years of feast, followed by seven of famine.

Ever the picture of efficiency, in the bit of this story that hasn’t been read this morning, Joseph then outlines a rather natty little plan to get Egypt through the famine; save a fifth of the good harvests of the first seven years, to feed everyone during the next seven years. “Simples!”

Joseph, in this one swift move, gains Pharaoh’s TRUST, his respect and achieves the miraculous – he opens Pharaoh’s mind to God’s control of creation. “Since GOD has made all this known to YOU …” says Pharaoh to Joseph.

That’s massive!
This is a Pharoah we’re talking about, a God among God’s! Here was a Pharaoh not only acknowledging the control of another God over the created world, but also acknowledging that though it was Pharaoh who God had given the dream to, he, Pharaoh, was powerless! Without God working through someone other than Pharaoh, someone even lower than his own servants, Pharaoh had no way of knowing what was going to happen. No wonder he was going to lay all his TRUST in the man who had just revealed all this too him!

Joseph was right, God really was up to something. Up to something big. It was much, much bigger than a 14 year cycle of feast and famine. It was bigger even, than working through the dreams of a Pharaoh to save a few lives!

The book of Genesis is all about conception, about God’s plan for the world he created, and specifically his plan for the people and tribes of Israel – it’s all about God making stuff happen. For the tribes to recognise their freedom under God, to enter with him into their promised land, they must first increase in number in Egypt. God’s people were going to grow and be protected among the wealth of Egypt, created by the administration of one of their own, Joseph.

We don’t know whether Joseph recognised the big picture. We don’t even know if Joseph at this stage foresaw a time where being in a position of power in Egypt would enable him to protect his family and be reconciled with them.

But what we know he did recognise, was not just God’s control of his life, but God’s use of him to impact on the lives of others. Joseph TRUSTED that God was in all things. The fact that he was good at his job, the slander and lies that put him in prison, the dreams that seemed to surround his life, and the lives of those around him. God had his hand in all things, and Joseph TRUSTED God enough to recognise that and proclaim it.

It’s a good story isn’t it. The Joseph story has got it all: attempted murder, family intrigue and relationship breakdown, sexual harassment, extremes of wealth and poverty, prisons and palaces. At the centre of the story is Joseph, but every time it focus’s on him, he turns the story back to focus on someone else; God. He works hard using the skills the Lord has given him, but when he succeeds, he’s pointing everyone back to God, not himself.

For the servant who brought Joseph to Pharoah’s notice, and for Pharaoh, their dreams were important things. When someone who was known as TRUST-WORTHY proclaimed their meaning and by doing revealed the future, that got their attention and TRUST still further. So when that person, Joseph, then said this was all down to something else, to God, that too could be TRUSTED. God was acknowledged and trusted by Pharaoh because of the trust and respect placed in the one who proclaimed him.

2 Timothy 2:15 says this:
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed, and who correctly handles the word of truth.”

The word of truth is that we should not accept for ourselves the credit for our skills, but point rather at the living Word, our creator God and Jesus Christ, as their source. After all the Psalms tell us that “He who trusts in himself is a fool!”

To be the TRUST-WORTHY people we hopefully are, we must consistently point to the greater truth of how we come to be that way.

I have many Facebook friends, but one of them is a bit special, a bit different, and has a tendency to crop up in my sermons rather a lot! We’ve only met him once, but because of the many stories we’ve heard about him, and the people who TRUST him, he has our respect. And every time we read a story about him, or from him, God always gets the glory. He’s Canon Andrew White, the vicar of Baghdad.

Relatively recently he had a team from God TV with him filming in Baghdad, and though I haven’t seen the programmes, Canon Andrew’s commentary on the responses of the film-crew to their visit was telling. The crew said:

“The most amazing thing was the people; people who had seen such persecution and yet we could see the Lord in their eyes and the Glory of G-d in this place.”

We are safe and comfortable here in the West, in our leafy semi-rural suburbia. But can people see the Lord in our eyes and our lives, the glory of God in Yateley and it’s people? Perhaps we’ve been able to bring God’s glory to visit in the testimony of those we’ve invited to Yateley, but it’s us that really count. We are the one’s who people meet on the street, in the shops and round the take-aways and pubs, the ones whom people locally need to recognise as TRUST-WORTHY and who must point to God as the source of our skills and attitudes.

One of the very noticeable things about Joseph, and also about Canon Andrew, is that they proclaim their TRUST in God BEFORE they know or see revealed how it is that God is working through them, or others to reveal himself. Even before he’s heard the dreams, Joseph tells Pharaoh (v16) that God will reveal what they mean. I’ve read about Canon Andrew doing similar things, particularly with the American military personnel that he has worked closely with. I’m sure it is only through TRUSTING God repeatedly, and knowing exactly how God tends to use us, that we can make that TRUST apparent in advance, in such a way that people really sit up and take notice (like Pharaoh did!)

We’re more fortunate than Joseph. Through scripture, and the revelation of God’s work in millions of individuals before and around us, we can see much more of the big picture than Joseph could. We know of God’s faithfulness to the family that became the tribes and nation of Israel. We know of his promises to them that God honoured despite their failure to TRUST him. We know and love the Lord Jesus Christ who brought about the relationship we now enjoy with God. Jesus did that because he understood his own place as God’s Son, and because of his great TRUST in the purpose and will of God, he revealed the God’s love to us through the cross and resurrection.

Detail of 'The Risen Christ' by Carl Edwards from St Clement Danes, Central Church of the RAF

I had the privilege on Thursday of meeting, praying and worshipping with Christian members of our Armed Forces, at their main Day of Prayer event in London. The theme of the day was Hope, the Christian “hope” that one of them described as being the environment in which love thrives best, like fish do in water. Theirs was a hope that spoke not of wishful thinking, but was based on scripture, and even more importantly their experiences of working to gain people’s TRUST in some of the grottiest places in the world, knowing that the risen Christ was along-side them in what they were doing. Theirs were lives that noticeably gave God the glory.

My reflection on their lives, was that because of who they are, what they do and how they do it, I TRUST them and I TRUST their testimony of God at work in their lives. Just like the padre who said love swims round in hope, so I believe I saw hope, swimming around in the TRUST that they place daily in God, through the love of Christ at work in the world and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Are the people of St Peter’s to be trusted? Are we living lives that point to God through the way we use the skills he has given us? When people tell stories about us, or we talk about each other (and we know we do), are they stories that build TRUST, not just in us, but in God? Are we trusting God to use us, seeking to recognise what God is about to do, what he is saying to us at this moment?

I know these are questions that face us as a church, at a time of anticipating new beginnings. But in the story we heard today, God was at work on a huge scale, through one key character, Joseph. God was recognised through the TRUST that Joseph placed in God and witnessed to, by what he said and how he did things. That responsibility is now yours, and mine. And it’s not a story in a book, or on stage, but it’s real. Do we TRUST God enough to proclaim his name?

The opening words of Psalm 25 say this:
“To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul, in you I trust, O my God.”
They echo the words of Psalm 23 which are a statement of trust;
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

God is at work in each of us. We each have the ability to witness to the TRUST that we have and place in God, and the impact that has had on our lives. We need to allow God to shine his light through us, so that others can see and hear that we TRUST God, so that they can do so too.

Trusting the testimony of Christians in our Armed Forces


St Clement Danes, The Strand (Central Church of the Royal Air Force)

On Thursday, I had the privilege of meeting, praying and worshipping with Christian members of our Armed Forces, at their main Day of Prayer event at St Clement Danes in London.

I was there on behalf of Mothers’ Union in the Diocese of Winchester trying to raise awareness of a pilot project we are running funding relationship counselling for those serving in our Armed Forces. I was able to link up with various Chaplain’s including senior RAF and Naval Padre’s that my husband and  I worked with last summer. My colleague and I also managed to link up with more members of the Armed Forces Christian Union who are working with us on this project.

But I gained so much more from what I shared with them.

The theme of the day was “Hope”, the Christian hope. In his sermon at the formal service, The Ven Ray Pentland (Archdeacon to the RAF)  described hope as being the environment in which love thrives best, like fish do in water. He also spoke of the hope that Christian members of the Armed Forces have being not wishful thinking, not based purely on scripture, but being the experience of knowing the risen Christ was alongside them in what they were doing.

Listening to some of the padre’s, and a military physiotherapist talking about the Walled Garden Project at Headley Court and sharing in their prayer focus (deployed personnel, the uncertainty and change caused by the Strategic Defence and Security Review, their dependants, and the decision makers of government, MOD and world leaders) and worship was humbling.

It was also the best congregational hymn singing I’ve experienced since I left Wales 20 years ago!

My reflection on their lives, was that because of who they are, what they do, how and where they do it, I trust them, and I trust their testimony of God at work in in their lives. As I said in my sermon this morning:

Just like the padre who said love swims round in hope, so I believe I saw hope, swimming around in the TRUST that they place daily in God, through their love of Christ at work in the world and in the power of the Holy Spirit… Theirs were lives that noticeably gave God the glory.

(Sorry about the fonts folk… not sure why, but I’m too tired tonight to start again…)




Pressing the pause button – intermissio

There are all sorts of reasons why people need to pause, take time out to think and re-assess (the past, present or future – usually the connection between all three). For Christian’s that process involves holding ourselves before God, and often working with a guide or spiritual director of some sort so that we look at what we’re considering through the clearest lens possible.

I am now meeting monthly with a spiritual director or guide, who is both challenging and encouraging of my journey in ministry. This has been immensely valuable especially a ministry helping to support my church through a period of vacancy. I am fortunate to also count her a friend – this week when we met, I appeared to receive spiritual direction in a ‘swap’ for a little light furniture moving and horticultural encouragement 🙂

Churches need these sorts of times too. I’m not suggesting they need to get outside help for their furniture and horticultural decisions; I believe that is what a Diocesan Advisory Committee is for?! What I am saying is that it is very valuable to take time to review and re-evaluate the focus of our church activities and how they are carried out.

In St. Peter’s we started this process in early 2010 working with Laurence Gamlen focusing on our “values”, which because of his work with us I remember as being the things that drive our behaviours, the way we do whatever it is we do as a church. I blogged rather a lot about it last year, and you can track back through our experiences here.

My own view is that the work is only partially complete, and needs to be re-visited once our new vicar has their ‘feet under the table’ so that our values are even more clearly defined, and much more firmly part of natural behaviour as individuals and as a church, but that isn’t for me to decide, and I guess God’s got a plan!

The ‘values’ work with Laurence was helped by the mission agency he worked for, but it seems that in these times of austerity, even mission agencies are cutting back, and whilst remaining a part-time parish priest, Laurence is now ‘going it alone’ as a ministry coach and consultant from his new website – intermissio.

If you’re in ministry and think you, or your church, could do with pressing the pause button, I would thoroughly recommend Laurence to work with. He is one of life’s encourager’s, insightful, firm and gentle (yes, all at the same time!) With great good humour and open to the Holy Spirit at work, Laurence will help you to dig deep within yourself/your church to find what it is that God is really seeking to do within and through you, so that you come to a place that is re-invigourated and re-inspired to carry out God’s work… perhaps you may even find a whole new ministry lying in wait.

I was meant to just act as ‘secretary’ to our little church group that worked with Laurence… what I hope he knows is that experience has fed some significant changes in the way I view ministry, and what I think God is calling me to do! I can’t recommend him enough and wish him God’s blessing in his own new adventure in ministry.

Under the gaze of God: Confession for Pentecost – Acts 2:1-12

Altar Frontal - Winchester Cathedral

We normally have an awesome open-air service for Pentecost out in the blazing sunshine. This year we had what I’m told was an awesome service… inside!

It fell to me to lead this year, with a Reader colleague preaching using the ideas of fire, wind and water. Part of his focus for fire was as a purifyer, so it seemed obvious to follow into a time of confession after this part of his talk.

Yet, when I came to peruse the options of Common Worship I found, that even with the help of James Ogley (a fellow member of the Twurch Of England also from my Diocese) I couldn’t find anything from Common Worship Times and Seasons (starting p483), or New Patterns for Worship, that I felt was suitable for the service (All Age format), and linked with what the reading and talk ideas suggested.

I love the creative act of putting together liturgy from different resources, but it has to be just right, and if I can’t find what I think will help people meet with God, I tend to write it myself! This may or may not get me drummed out of the Church of England 🙂

So here’s the prayer of confession I came up with. It came with a sort of free-form introduction. Feel free to use it, or comment, or point me in the direction of something else or authorised!

Do you ever get the feeling your being watched?
Someone who’s looking at you like they know what you’ve done, what you’re thinking?

Well God does… I sure that as the disciples tried not to run away and hide, but waited and prayed in Jerusalem, God was watching them, willing them to be strong and faithful to Jesus’ command to ‘wait for the gift my Father promised’.

God knows how faithful to him we are; as we feel his gaze we’ll know ourselves as he sees us, and know where we fall short.

Dear God,

We feel your loving gaze upon us,
and know our fears, our doubts and our lack of faith.
As we notice the trust that others have placed in your promises,
we recognise our own lack of trust in your faithfulness to us.
As we see and hear your word proclaimed for all to hear,
we remember the times when we have not told your story.

We are not just sorry,
but ask that you might purify us,
so that we might be found whole in your presence.

But God’s gaze is not destructive, he wants to leave us whole, and renewed in our relationship with him so that we can be recognised in the world as people who love him.

He pours out his love over us so that only what is wrong is burnt away through his forgiveness, to leave us whole.

(I concluded with Absolution B77 from New Patterns For Worship)

Fighting for creative space

In blogging terms it’s been a draught patch where much of what I’ve been experiencing and reflecting on hasn’t been stuff I could blog about. There are other reasons, but some of this has been because a good friend and ‘mother figure’ in the parish had died very suddenly last month, and although helping to take the services involved was a tremendous privilege and a joy, serving the family and the many friends she had in that way, took an emotional chunk out of me that didn’t leave space for blogging.

Trying to take stock a bit, I’ve turned back to the things I’ve learnt about myself this year.

Some of my personal journey in ministry this year has been finding the place and rhythm of those creative spaces, through which I can set aside the pressure of parish life, feel I can rest in God’s presence, and experience the fruit of the spirit. Having a spiritual director to poke, prod and encourage me has been a ‘God-send’.

The creativity of the spaces seems to be incredibly important to me, something that is produced from my time with God… it might be the means of connecting with God, or the result of that connection, but the creativity is important.

A view of the back of Alton Abbey

One of the most useful places have been Alton Abbey, where my reflections might take some written form, and feed my ministry in some way, as in with my struggle to connect with the Honesty of the Cross prior to leading the Hour at the Cross. At the Abbey the atmosphere is one soaked in prayer, the offices, surrounded by beautiful scenery and… laughter (on arrival and at tea with the monks). I never fail to come back refreshed and smiling!

The other successful ‘creative space’ has been the complete focus of concentration in the act of fly-fishing, which brings with it a great sense of peace and joy – things that it took my spiritual director had to remind me are fruits of the spirit; my mind is relaxed in such a way as to return to the parish with fresh eyes, as well as importantly returning with food for the table!

Last week I read in the Church Times of the clergy of history who have on occasion neglected their flock for the river-bank. I’m no clergyperson, have no flock (though responsibilities to a flock) and no wish to neglect anyone, but I’m beginning to understand something of their compulsion to fish. There is a spiritual element to the excercise, and I was intrigued when reading with my husband about the idea of a ‘sixth-day ministry’ that he suggested I explore the idea of leading a fly-fishing retreat and the ideas of patience and preparation as being both those required for fly-fishing and ministry! Something to explore… I wonder if they’ll do a follow-up article on fishing ministers of the 21st Century?!

View from a seat at Alton Abbey... a meadow, alive with the sound of honey bees!

This last 3-4 weeks has seen none of this: I’ve not made it to Alton Abbey nor to a patch of still-water with a rod in my hand. I have missed both, and as I prepare to lead a Pentecost Service I fear that my lack of such creative space, in the face of the emotional needs of myself and others, may mean I don’t offer others the quality of connecting places with God that I know I’m capable of, and by which I seek to serve.

Pragmatically I know it can’t be helped, and I have at least spent a day with my husband at Lord’s … a great, if less spiritually fulfilling experience! However I know that I have a day at the Abbey booked for the end of the month, but it is good to acknowledge that the recognition of need for creative spaces with God needs to be prioritised for me to fulfil my ministry.

There are also still other forms of creative spaces I suspect I can make the most of, spending more time in the garden and returning to the silk-painting, but those are creative spaces at home, and at present I feel more freedom to meet with God when I am away from the phone and the computer!