Last Swallows of Summer (and other news)

Young Swallows photographed at The Bell, Willersey in August 2011

It looks like the Swallows left before summer had had it’s last gasp!

It’s now just over a week since I last saw Swallows heading South-East across the heath at the back of Blackbushe Airport. For the sake of the records in was 21st September.

But there are plenty of other wildlife sights to keep me interested on our regular dog walks. This week alone I’ve seen Buzzards and Red Kites riding high in the late summer thermals. There are Nuthatches hard at work in the copse, and out on the heath there are still a smattering of butterflies including numerous Small Heath and what I think was a faded Grayling.

Is this a late and faded Grayling?

And if you’ll excuse the pun, we’ve been swallowing the last fruits of summer too. The french beans and courgettes are over, the chard is probably on it’s last legs. We’re still pulling pot-bound carrots. I had hoped to late sow more carrots, but gardening looks like it’s going to be purely maintenance this autumn as we’re now spending alternate Saturday’s in Winchester where our son is rehearsing with the County Double-Reed ensemble. That means we’re exploring new places with the dog too, especially Farley Mount Country Park, that started our Sloe picking season. This year we’re freezing them before starting the Sloe Gin process!

We’re still eating the last few tomatoes (some were roasted with garlic and sieved to a mush for winter stews). Of particular note have been the Dasher turbo tomatoes which are by far the most delicious addition to the summer salad. I shall be looking to have more than one plant next summer. Outside the late Alicante tomatoes have meant we’ve been able to produce big batches of Green Tomato Chutney (with, and without onions). Even the rather odd apple tree is feeding us. As well as contributing to the chutney, I’ve discovered a fab Dorset Apple Cake recipe in The Countryman and they are now keeping us well caked, despite not being particularly tasty raw!

The best of summer 2011 - Brimstone

So that’s a bit of a round up of late summer interest really. Amidst it all I’ve completely failed to make a link to what I reckon is my best photograph of the summer. So here it is – photographed in August on a footpath near Upper Slaughter:

In other news, this weekends sees the 5th Reader from St Peter’s Yateley to be licensed in 3 years, and we’ll all be turning out tomorrow at Winchester Cathedral to celebrate at the annual Reader Licensing Service. In fact with a new vicar to be licensed to, we shall all be getting our new licenses I guess. It was really wonderful that (together with those with ‘permission to preach’ and pastoral training) we have so many people in our church who have committed to authorised ministries as lay people.

Making Connections at #gb11 and beyond

Mothers' Union staff and members at Sunday Eucharist Greenbelt 2011

Well I’ve come to the final post reflecting on what I gained from attending half of Greenbelt 2011. Basically it was all down to making connections.

Some of those connections involved styles of worship, ideas for community, and fresh theological reflections. It was also good to link up with fellow Mothers’ Union members and friends who gave me particular joy by taking in this waif at the Sunday Morning Eucharist. There were also good times shared with one or two people I already knew a bit, for which I was incredibly grateful.

But on top of them, and the Twitter friends I met for the first time, perhaps one of the best things about Greenbelt was… blogging about! Blogging my rambling reflections has started conversations with people I met, and also with some I didn’t manage to link up with in person. It has produced suggestions for future reading, and ministry, that I possibly won’t be able to use immediately, but that I can return to in future, and which may inform other areas of discussion I’m involved with.

A rainbow of connections at Eucharist Greenbelt 2011

Not long before Greenbelt I had considered stopping the blogging thing, fearing that what I shared wasn’t worth much, and that it was soaking up time that I could use more valuably in other ways – either in ministry or directed towards my family.

Instead, I’m going to keep going, and now I’m looking forward to my next new adventure in connectedness: learning how to do this social networking stuff so much better at the Christian New Media Awards and Conference in October! Roll on #cnmac11 posts!

Needing to use the gate – John 10:1-10

The frame of the lych gate at St Peter's Yateley that once held a rotating lych gate (photographed at a rather interesting wedding in 2010)

I find preaching to a small congregation of people who have been committed Christians for decades one of the most difficult things to do. I want to give them something fresh, and something that might encourage them in what for some are their ‘fading’ years.

I tried to do that this week when I preached at our mid-week Morning Prayer. I took the image of Jesus saying “I am the gate” and rather than concentrating on the traditional context of shepherding in the Middle East (which is perhaps what I should have done) I focused more on a the image of a ‘British’ gates that many in our rural-suburbia will be familiar with.

The thing is, I don’t think it worked. Perhaps I tried to say too much in too short a space of time, or just got too tied up in the images I chose and made the Gospel fit them, rather than the images fitting the Gospel? I don’t know: see what you think? (Healthy criticism welcome!)

For those of us who have been Christians some considerable while, the “I am” sayings of Jesus are very familiar. We know that they can’t be taken in isolation from each other, just as this reading about Jesus being the gate to the sheepfold can’t be taken in isolation from what follows where he refers to himself as being the “good shepherd.”

We probably know that in the Middle East shepherds usually know each of their sheep by name and will lie down in the gateway of a sheepfold to stop predators getting in, or sheep getting out. Inside the fold the sheep are safest, but outside they have their needs met when the same shepherd leads them to the best pasture they can find. In this way the sheep gain the best of life as sheep.

I guess we recognise too, that there are sheep rustlers who want to make a quick buck by stealing what is rightfully someone else’s, either by leaping directly over the wall of the sheepfold and taking everyone by surprise, or by calling the names of the sheep in the hope that they’ll be confused into going the wrong way when hearing their names called.

But then, if we are the sheep, gathered this morning in the fold of the church, to listen to the voice of Jesus, our true shepherd, what are some of the distinctive things about his role as “a gate” that we could be hearing as fresh today?

The first thing that could strike us about gates in a much more general, purpose built, and dare I say ‘British’ sense, is that they are traditionally made of wood. I know we now live in a more metallic world, but our old lych gates were made of wood. Five bared gates, or garden gates are often still made of wood. To make a gate a tree had to grow, be felled and be sawn into specific shapes, then fitted carefully together to produce a strong shape that can’t be easily broken.

We could describe the process by which Jesus became the gateway to God’s presence, as being very similar. God’s own Son, his seed, was born and raised in such a way that he grew into a strong image of the one from whom he came, like an oak tree from an acorn. We recognise that on the cross Jesus was cut down, sacrificed so that something new could be built, God’s new kingdom. Through the Resurrection, and Pentecost, the ultimate shape and strength of the gate was revealed as not simply consisting of Jesus, as God made man and raised from the dead, but is being held in place as a presence in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The second thing about our more British image of a gate, is that very often you can either see through it or see over it, to something that lies beyond. We look and hopefully go, through a gate, drawn by what we know, or can see, of what is ahead of us.

We are told in Phil 2 that Jesus was “in very nature God”. We see God through the character of Jesus and we can only come closer to God through faith in the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus also inaugurated God’s new kingdom to be visible in the world, presented as a vision of that final pinnacle of God’s creative powers that will be ultimately revealed, through the peace and love of Christ shown in those who believe. So, the gate that is Jesus has a very distinctive design. No-one before or since has been able to copy it as the way in which it reveals the kingdom of God.

And then of course, there’s a third thing about gates: they are designed for us to use to go in and out by. Very often these gates are made to only open one way because of the set of the hinges, but that doesn’t mean we can only move in one direction. In a few places, gates were made to open both ways, or alternatively to rotate like a revolving door to allow a continuous flow of people in both directions at the same time. Of course our very own lych gate here at St Peter’s was originally designed on exactly this principle, though it has long since been superceded by an open space under the roof.

God did not create us, his flock, to be static, stuck in one place nor permanently sheltered in some haven of bricks or friendship, that we call church. If we are to experience the fullness of life that God offers through faith in Jesus 2the gate”; if we are to find our needs met by tasting the rich pasture to which Jesus the shepherd wants to lead us; then we have to move in and out through the gate.

The pattern of our lives is that there are times of safety and security in which we can be still, feel the security of the sheepfold of his church, defended by the prayers of the faithful, and safe in the Christian activities in which we are involved.

But we are made by God for freedom through Christ. The rich pastures that enable us to be fed and to grow into maturity are often those places that are out in the world, the places where we might struggle to hear our shepherd. We cannot grow in experience and understanding of the skills God has given us, nor the roles for which he has called us to be active in the world, without being sent out through the gate and fed through an active and fulfilled life.

Jesus “the gate” is still the means by which we get there. His sacrifice is still the price that has been paid for that freedom. We should be sure enough of his presence through the power of the Holy Spirit that whatever we are doing we know we have that gateway into the secure presence of God always at hand.

The point of the image of the gate is that it needs to be used. It’s all very well understanding that Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice to become “the gate”; it’s all very useful to be reminded that through Jesus “the gate” we can see the nature of god and perhaps a vision of his completed kingdom; but unless we move in and out, into both the security of God’s presence with the family of his church, and the security of being fed and nurtured as his ever-expanding flock, then we won’t be making best use of the gate; and both the vision and the sacrifice of Jesus will have been in vain.

Thoughts from hearing about ‘New Monasticism’ at #gb11

Greenbelt from the Grandstand (Jerusalem)

I had not really registered the term “new monasticism” before I went to Greenbelt.

I initially considered going to “New Monasticism: is it all hype or refriaring the church?”because I’d started reading the “The Hospitality of God” co-written by Bishop Michael Perham, and he was on the list of speakers; but somehow I didn’t quite make it, which was possibly fortunate as it was heavily over-subscribed.

Then as my physical and emotional spirits failed on Sunday lunchtime, I found myself in the Grandstand (Jerusalem) at “The parish as Abbey” listening to Karen Ward of Church of the Apostles, Seattle. Although she wasn’t the easiest person to follow (but that was partly the state I was in) I found myself intrigued by these snippets I noted down:

  • community of God’s hospitality
  • inviting community to come and own the space (of a disused church) through inviting (and not charging) bands, artists, and offering (cheap) refreshment
  • chapel and the Daily Offices operate as the engine house of the church, even whilst other things going on
  • there is no intention to coerce people into the Kingdom of God – we can only invite.

This work is apparently an example of new monasticism. I realised through other things I was reading in Michael Perham’s book, in the Greenbelt guide, and hearing around me, that there were many other examples in the UK.

But I also looked at my parish here at home. I wondered what parts of the things we do at St Peter’s, show signs of us being drawn towards a form of community that might eventually be something along the very broad lines of new monasticism. At the moment it may simply be the (cheap) hospitality of our coffee shop, the weekly toddler and children’s dance groups that operate (beyond our own church Wayfinder and Messy groups), and the art group that gather weekly mostly from outside the churched community. Things that have been going on for years. What’s missing is in fact the Daily Offices, though there’s many small groups of us who gather there to pray for something at various points through a week or month.

Then last week, my son told us he had to correct his GCSE RS teacher who suggested that Anglican churches are often only used twice a week! In fact St Peter’s so regularly has ‘stuff’ going on that it can be difficult to find time to slot in a funeral.

And so I thought of new monasticism again, and realised that others were too (like Revd Claire.) So I listened via MP3 download to the discussion I’d missed at Greenbelt (see link above) and here are my further thoughts:

  • The “new” of new monasticism isn’t the rhythm or love or prayer shown by monastic life patterns, but the new contexts into which they are being placed – God is making things new through the creative obedience of those that enable him to be seen, either in new places, or in old places in a new way;
  • Many expressions of new monasticism are being located in desert places, but the participants in the discussion seem to suggest these are mostly urban places. (Except for Tessa ? of Contemplative Fire but that seems a mixed dispersed community.) Why are urban areas any more of a desert than the rural communities of England where people live lives isolated by their wealth (both too much wealth, and too little wealth)?
  • Physical (geographic) community seems to be important in the majority of cases. I liked the idea about communities being built on three types of people, the remainers (who have stayed, sometimes against the odds), returners (who want to be part of the resurrection), and relocators (who move in missionally for the purpose). Yet with a largish ex-Romany/settled-traveller community, within and around us here in Yateley how would, or could, a loosely monastic community work among them? Would it need to come from within – someone more friar, than monk?
  • I liked the emphasis on “exegeting” your neighbourhood; learning and understanding it’s struggles and history, what makes it distinct or discrete from others. My own birthplace in the New Forest is very distinct, particularly through it’s commoning and forestry heritage, tinged as that is now by tourism.

I don’t like label’s very much, but I think “new monasticism” has more appeal than most. I think it’s because it describes a very lose collective of different ways of trying to extend God’s Kingdom, rather than trying to define clearly what people should be thinking or doing.

I’m not sure if, when, or how, such small reflections may bear fruit, or feed my ministry. But I have a sneaking suspicion that they will.

Motherhood and media coverage – surely not all negative?

I’ve just posted this advert on the website of Mothers’ Union in the Diocese of Winchester. Obviously my involvement as a Trustee means I’ve known it’s been coming up for some while, and yes, I’m expecting to be there.

But, reading the advert provided by Dr Oluyinka Esan, the conference organiser, I’m wondering if the dialogue could get swamped in negativity?

As I’ve raised before, and as the Bailey Report highlights, there are considerable problems experienced by parents (not just mothers) because of the pressure exerted via the media (and particularly advertising) on children.

But, there must surely be plenty of good or useful things that “media coverage” (which I suspect is different from purely adverts, web access and such like) does for parents. The question is can we identify clearly what they are?

I’m going to throw out a few positive bullet points here, uncertain as to whether they fit the conference criteria or not, but would appreciate your thoughts (and also your company at the conference!)

  • The tools of online websites and ordering for so many daily consumables, children’s clothes etc, has made the more thankless tasks of parenting less time consuming – used wisely it can mean more time with children and as family;
  • I think media coverage of women, via things like news stories (whether they write them, or are the story) shows them increasingly able to multi-task productively for the benefit of work (income), family, and society – I’m thinking of someone like Ruth Gledhill active as journalist, and reflecting on Motherhood;
  • For children there are positive (or at least interesting) ways in which forms of media are being used to aid their education: this week my son’s GCSE English teacher is getting the kids to hand in their poems anonymously via a blog, to encourage peer discussion of their work without ‘personality issues’ coming into play. Once it’s working properly, it sounds like a useful development in the use of blogs.

Surely there must be more than that?

Twitter and Facebook – how I value both! #fb

There was me catching up on 130+ posts by other bloggers via my Google Reader, trying to skim through what everyone else wrote about Greenbelt, and life since. I was minding my only business… well other peoples really…

… only to find that my own business puts me No 5 on a list of Twittering Readers/LLMs of the Twurch of England, as compiled by the illustrious Revd Lesley! My flabber has been well and truly ghasted!

Now, for those of you who are my Facebook friends, please don’t get upset, and don’t whatever you do go away. You are the people I really know, who’ve been there through the thickest and thinnest points in my life, who’ve made me tea when I needed it, helped me cry, or stopped me crying, or cleared up the mess after my failures at parenting etc. etc. You are the community to which I feel most emotionally attached, the ones who will ring me up when I post something daft or dozy! Facebook is great for conversation’s where the back-plot of who I am and where I’ve come from is important because it’s the place that links all my pasts to my present.

And yet, I post far more on Twitter than I do on Facebook these days; well, most days anyway. That’s because Twitter is where I have been able to share the moments of joy and struggle in ministry to a community of people who I know will empathise, share, help and pray, as relevant to the moment. Some of my Facebook friends could do that too, and in some circumstances I ask them to, but they don’t want, or need to hear my latest angst about a baptism or funeral visit, and aren’t always there on Facebook the same way a lot of Twittering ministers are. This has been a huge help during our vacancy. Thank you so much.

From Twitter (as well as the blogs I follow) I also learn about new ideas for worship, liturgy, the legal issues that lie behind church weddings, and a massive amount of other things. Ask a question of the Twurch, and someone will pop up an answer it after an hour or two! This starts conversations that are beginning to lead to meeting new people and take me to new places – of which Greenbelt was just one!

Twitter is also the place I get my news feed these days. More so than either terrestrial or BBCNews24 TV. It’s where I heard about the massacre in Norway. It’s how I discovered who our new Bishop is to be (before I’d read my email from Diocese!), which I was then able to share with my many friends from the Diocese who are on Facebook via a round-up of links. Twitter also feeds me the cricket and rugby scores – so I can keep not just myself, but my family regularly updated!

So there – Twitter and Facebook I love you both! And one day I’ll get round to working out how to put your little logo’s somewhere on this blog!!


What have we been given? John 6:25-40

The Chapel, St Peter's Yateley - Flower Festival Sept 2011

This weekend we have had our Flower Festival. This year the theme was the “I am” sayings of Jesus in John’s Gospel, and our new vicar (who didn’t arrive till after we set the theme) got us to start a new sermon series on these same readings this weekend.

As both a flower-arranger and preacher/service leader, I was in the wonderful position of being able to wait till we’d finished most of the arrangements on Friday morning to create our early Morning Prayer service to fit what had been done in our chapel. With a fountain and many candles in addition to arrangements, and the chairs moved so they were ‘in the round’, the atmosphere lent itself to ditching our normal Morning Prayer excerpts from Common Worship, and dipping our toes into a more celtic and reflective form of worship. The service I devised and used is here: CelticMorningPrayer_8am_ServiceSheet

My sermon dwelt on the question of what we do with the gifts we are given. It also suggests that for us to really understand how Jesus can be SO nourishing as to the bread of constant life, we really need to understand and BELIEVE in the fullness of who Jesus said he was among all the “I am” sayings.

The text of what I said is below. It concludes (before a period of silence) with a few words from a book I won this week “The Monastery of the Heart” by Joan Chittister which I won in an SPCK Twitter competition last week, and which I will be taking to the Benedictine monastery of Alton Abbey this week! (They have a new website.)

What have we been given this week?

My husband G has been given lists; lots and lots, of lists. As many of you know he is a secondary school teacher, and so not surprisingly in the first week of September he has been given lists of children for all his classes; lists of the medical and educational issues that the children in his classes have; lists of results for the children of the exam classes he had last year.

C, our son, has just started in Year 10 at school, the real beginning of his GCSEs, the point where being educated turns into something rather serious that involves proving he knows things. He’s been given books: mostly nice shiny new fresh notebooks, each in a different colour, full of pages of empty lines. He’s had lots of other things as well, including a nice new ring-binder, with dividers for music. But I think the best thing he’s probably been given this week is a new oboe, one of his very own, one that is lighter and easier to play than the school instrument he’s had for the last 7 years.

But what have we been given this week?

When we are given something, it is for a purpose.

If G doesn’t use the lists of children’s names to fill out his mark book and his classroom seating plans, he won’t learn who the children are. If he doesn’t take seriously the information he’s been given about their medical and educational needs, then he won’t be fully equipped to plan his lessons appropriately, or to react swiftly to a known medical condition.

If C doesn’t write something in those lovely new notebooks he’s been given, then he won’t retain as much of the knowledge that he is being offered at school, which he will later be able to apply in whatever he does later in life. If he doesn’t play his new oboe, he won’t be able to explore and extend his repertoire of music, giving pleasure to both himself, and to others.

So, what have we been given this week, and what is its purpose?

Each gift we are given, offers us a future that is changed from what it would have been without that gift. We have an opportunity to do something with what we’ve been given that will change our future, perhaps even change the future of others. Sometimes that gift might seem to be easily used up. It may be that it’s not the gift that is important, but how we apply what we do with it; only through what we do with it, will it’s greater purpose be revealed. Just filling a school notebook or markbook with words or numbers isn’t really the point, it’s how that information is used to gain an understanding of the world: that is the real gift.

The thousands of Galileans who had been fed miraculously by Jesus the day before this morning’s reading, had been given a gift. They thought it was bread and fish, and they had used it to fill their stomachs. They were hungry again. They wanted another miracle. They had an expectation that, like the manna that through Moses God had provided to their ancestors in the desert, they would be filled each day with what they needed to sustain them for that day.

They had not understood the real purpose of the miracle, or how it could be applied to their future lives. They were looking to the example of a past gift to understand the present one, rather than seeking the future in what was in fact a fresh gift.

The miracle of the loaves and fishes wasn’t really the gift the people were being given at all. They were, if you like, the notebook, the easily used up gift that if it wasn’t applied and used for its real purpose, only lasted for a short while. Instead, the loaves and fishes were really a gift that should have led their eyes to a better understanding of the person who gave it to them; to the biggest gift of them all; the gift of Jesus himself, the bread of life.

Jesus, the bread of life, was not a gift that simply fulfilled their needs for a day. He was not an instant fix to fill the stomach, or even a notebook of wise words. He offered them a future, a new life that would be constantly full of his presence, a gift that provided a purpose to their lives.

Just like G and his lists, and C with his notebooks, the gift Jesus represented required them to do some work to reveal the real breadth of what the gift could offer them, the fullness of life.

On the face of it, the work that was required doesn’t sound like particularly hard work. It didn’t involve algebra or a spreadsheet, or even writing an essay to prove their knowledge. All they had to do was believe: to believe in the one who had sent this bread of life to them; to believe in Jesus, the Son of God.

And yet, believing in Jesus can be so very difficult. It is so easy to be short-termist, to believe only in what we can see, or in what fills our stomachs or our minds, or perhaps in the wealth that enables us to keep ourselves warm. To believe in Jesus, to really be filled to overflowing with the living bread of life, we need to believe in all that Jesus gives us.

I think there’s a reason why “I am the bread of life” is the first of the famous “I am” sayings that we find in John’s Gospel. To really understand how Jesus can be that nourishing to our being, so life giving that we can all plumb the well of his life giving water, then we have to understand, and believe in, all the other “I am” sayings of John’s Gospel.

This morning, we’ve been given a gift. Part of that gift is this reading; the reminder that whatever else it is that we’ve been given, the most important gift of all is the bread of life, Jesus. But to make the most of Jesus, we need to believe in the fullness of all he brought us, and did for us; all that he said he was.

"I am... the Resurrection" my floral contribution to St Peter's Flower Festival 2011. I'll leave you to work out why I chose a rainbow of flowers?!

This chapel is also part of the gift that we’ve been given this morning. In it, we have represented some more of the “I am” sayings of John’s Gospel that we will be considering in the coming weeks. Here we have
“I am the resurrection”
“I am the life”
“I am the true vine.”

This place is also where we are invited to stop, to look and to listen to what God is saying to us about this Jesus who gives us life in all its fullness… A place, and a space, to pray and to accept again God’s gift to us.

This week I’ve been given a book. Well, I sort of won it, accidentally but that’s another story. Among other things, this book invites us to silence. Sometimes I think that it is only in silence that we can really accept what we have been given, to understand both the simplicity and the complexity of the gift that we have been given by God in Jesus.

So, I’m going to read an excerpt from this gift, and then leave us in silence, probably for several minutes, so that we can once again accept and believe in the gift we’ve been given: the bread of life.

"I am... the bread of life" St Peter's Yateley, Flower Festival 2011

“Silence protects us from our noisy selves
And prepares us for the work of God in us….
In silence
we become able
to hear the voice of God calling us beyond ourselves…
It is silence
that prepares us to hear God.”

From John 6:
“The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (v28)
“It is the Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.” (v32)
Jesus declares:“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (v35)

Chiming or clanging bell? Rob Bell at #gb11

Rob Bell addresses the crowd at 'Jerusalem' Greenbelt 2011

Rob Bell was the speaker at Greenbelt who I though I ‘ought’ to go and listen to. I seemed to remember he’d written something controversial not that long ago, but I couldn’t remember what. I still can’t.

In the end, I heard him twice. On Saturday I followed the crowd, sheeplike, to the Main Stage. There I had my first “tweet-up” with a very nice tweeting vicar from the outskirts of London – but that’s beside the point!

Apparently ‘the Good News is better than that‘! Better than twitter, and talking about interesting stuff with fascinating people? Well yes, obviously – in the nicest possible way.

Actually, I spent the first half hour of his talk wondering what on earth I was doing wasting my time listening. He simply talked about himself – I have to say, he seems to do that rather a lot.

Then he got my attention, or rather, God did. For reasons I’m not currently at liberty to discuss on the web, his message “Be yourself, and take the next step”, was something I needed to be reminded just then. The same went for “don’t constantly worry about what you’re not – other people don’t need to hear it”! By the time he said something along the lines of “be patient about the next step and don’t worry about the one after that” I’d decided he’d been talking to my spiritual director. She too, I’ve since discovered, was also there, but I don’t think they’d met 🙂  I went away knowing God had spoken to me through some of what he said, but still not sure what I thought of him.

“Pure undiluted slog” was Rob Bell’s not a very inspiring talk title in the afternoon, but it was the one I was more interested in. Learning to find the things in ministry that set the creative juices running (courtesy of God’s grace and the Holy Spirit), and balancing them with the more ‘run of the mill’ stuff, is sort of part of where I’m at.

Again, the content of the Rob Bell’s talk wasn’t really that startlingly new. Again, there were quite a lot of amusing stories about himself; or at least amusing if you ‘get’ some of the jokes – I’ve never been to America, and I fear some of them were lost on me.

But there were some things that Rob Bell said, that chimed with me:

  • when we are creative we are being hypersensitive to God in the ‘place’ we’re in – which is a good thing;
  • we need to move slow enough to ‘see’ God in a place/experience etc;
  • collect things like photo’s, ideas, conversations; (that’s why I love my camera, and twitter!)
  • the reward for the effort of creating something is if it happens to resonate with someone – yes, that is a good feeling, but you created it first and foremost because God put it in you, so you need to be extra-ordinarily grateful for it;
  • creative things can be exhausting, because part of you, or your relationship with God, got dragged up and spilled out; (that’s how we grow in faith and discipleship to my mind);
  • the one I like most was that the cost of being creative, is part of a”Eucharist reality”. Well it’s certainly sacrificial in time, energy, and sometimes money, so OK I can buy that! Is being creative also sacramental; an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace? Well yes, thinking about it now, of course it is. Surely that is what our priests should make the Eucharist: a creative, incarnational experience, for them, and for those who receive it? In fact to my mind, all worship should to mind be a creative space for God to work in people’s lives, which is probably why I got so excited about my “Blessed” and “Molten” experiences.

Some of what he said helped me understand why some of us blog, twitter and generally dump stuff out onto the web – the web has made it so much easier than pencil and paper! Yes, I suppose it’s sort of healthy to just “get it out”, and not worry about how weird it is till later – but on reflection shouldn’t we be more aware of what we are doing than that? We should be able to discern in ourselves what is good and bad, that is why there are edit, preview and delete buttons! Yes, if we’re writing a book, then trust friends and the more experienced to edit it, but we should surely be able to get rid of some of the rubbish ourselves, before it gets to them. If we don’t, perhaps that’s why there’s some serious rubbish out there on the internet!

Of course, as Rob Bell rightly pointed out, especially with the web, but also with a book, you don’t have control over how what you publish is perceived. That is the risk we take. But surely when we’re writing about our faith, or how God could be active in the lives of others, those are the things we should be ultra careful about? Then once committed, we have to rely on God’s strength and insight to live with, and/or respond to the flack that follows?

I think the thing that I found most difficult was some of Rob Bell’s images, and the connections he made with some Biblical passages. It might be my poor memory or bad telling, but when I got home and recounted his ‘gorilla-man’ story to my husband, it clanged with him, and it clanged with me. Surely you give your money to the ‘street-act’ that is the best, whose talent and obvious commitment of time most deserves your respect, rather than too the buffoon who really didn’t have a clue?

In a similar way I didn’t get the link between Jacob’s (creative?) use of a stone for a pillow in Genesis 28, and the importance of his dream. Surely the dream was God’s free gift, his grace to Jacob, and didn’t result from any creativity on Jacob’s part? Perhaps I’m missing something.

So, for me the chiming bits of Rob Bell probably just outweighed the clanging sounds. But I’m still not completely sure to make of him, and I still don’t know why he’s meant to be controversial. To be honest, I’m not sure that I’m that bothered!

We have a new Diocesan Bishop (designate)

Well, for once I am surprised by the speed at which the Church of England has moved.

It’s not often us Anglican’s can say that, but in the matter of appointing a new Diocesan Bishop to the See of Winchester, this seems to have been the case. I had the privilege of meeting the Appointments Secretaries earlier this year as a representative of the Readers in the Diocese, and at that point we were warned that an announcement was unlikely before November! So let us praise God for such a pleasant surprise.

The second part of this great news as far as I am concerned anyway, is that Revd Canon Tim Dakin, currently Executive Director of CMS, has a passion for mission, for the connection between the people, the bricks and mortar of church, and the communities they live in. Update: some folk on twitter who know him suggest he’s ‘think outside the box’ on mission… or even ‘leave the box behind’!

The third part of the news that I see as positive, as a woman minister in the Diocese of Winchester, is that it would appear that since he is married to an associate priest, he’s probably fairly positive about women in the priesthood. He is also on General Synod already. This means that I now have someone to send the WATCH postcard I picked up at #gb11 to regarding the issue of women and the episcopate, who might have a positive response. Update: again Twitter conversation with some who have met him during the day suggests he is indeed very pro-women in ministry.

So, with those thoughts, and as I go to do a bereavement visit, below are the weblinks I’ve picked up so far this morning. I only wish I had time to go to Basingstoke’s Festival Place about 2.15pm, or to Winchester Cathedral around 4pm where he will be meeting people as he has a rather hectic day in the limelight. Update: Given the stream of positive comments among my Twitter and Facebook friends it would seem that this hectic schedule was well worth it.

[Update: For what it’s worth I’ve also learnt that Revd Dakin has also been Vice-Chair of Fulcrum in the past.]

I am sure our Bishop Elect (sorry Designate), coming as he does to ‘Bishoping’ in a very senior post, without having been a suffragan first, and with much else to sort out as he leaves CMS, needs all our prayers – he will have mine.

Diocese of Winchester announcement – on their new much improved website, launched yesterday.

CMS announcement

BBC local news coverage so far – I’ll try and up date this later.

Daily Echo


Beyond the grave at #gb11

Part of the graveyard at St Peter's Yateley

I’ve spent much of my ministry as a Reader in the last 12 months focusing on the funeral ministry here at St Peter’s, developing my ministry in this field alongside helping to nurture the parish’s during our recent vacancy.

Though I’ve been involved in a wide range of funerals in that year, and I’d previously had the day of training offered by the Diocese of Winchester, I’ve been more than aware that I’ve only scratched the surface of connecting with different people’s reactions to the death of a loved one.

So listening to Paula Gooder talk on ‘Beyond the grave: what happens after we die’ was another ‘must’ for me at Greenbelt.

I’ve had the privilege of hearing Paula speak before – she covered the Gospel of Mark about three years ago at the Bishop of Winchester’s Lent Lecture, and of course she’s almost a regular on BBC Radio now! I knew therefore that what she said would be very focused on what the Bible actually tells us, but that I’d need my brain to be fully engaged – along with my notebook! I wasn’t disappointed.

Paula emphasised above all that the Biblical narrative may have a variety of views on life after death, but what it definitely and repeatedly states is that it believes in the resurrection of the body. At some future point the dead will rise to a new physical existence in a new created reality.

This made me jealous. Jealous of those that saw the resurrected Jesus, that could talk about first hand; those that walked the road to Emmaus; jealous even of dear old Thomas. Thomas above all others might be able to report to the rest of us the idea of Jesus’ continuous (people could touch him) and discontinuous (people who knew him didn’t always realise who he was) as Paula described it.

You see I struggle to visualise what a resurrected body might be like; my own, or anyone elses. I know, that’s why we have this thing called faith.

Among the funerals, and attendant pastoral visits that I’ve done in the last year, no-one has asked me about the resurrection, nor have they asked me the even more difficult question that Paula focused on, that is what happens between death and resurrection?

For me the theology of God’s new Kingdom being ‘now and not yet’ tends to lead me to agree with the third of the options that Paula identified as being believable from the Biblical narrative: that is, that we are judged at the point of our death, and that we are then held somewhere waiting for the resurrection to take place – you are in heaven if you are not in hell, but you are still awaiting the resurrection.

If I were asked, as I guess one day I will be, where someone’s loved-one is after they have died, I think I am comfortable with saying that they are somewhere awaiting the resurrection when God’s Kingdom is fully revealed.

What I might say if the deceased might not have been a particularly ‘nice’ person, would probably have to dwell on the fact that it is not our place to judge people, but God’s, and that we have to trust that they are in his hands. Or is that too namby pamby?

Paula didn’t really touch on the pastoral issues of what we ministers might say at these times, but she did give us “5 minutes in hell” as she called it. It was basically a debunking of the idea that “hell” is Biblical, whereas in fact she described it as a word used by translators to explain a serious of difficult Hebrew and Greek words.

Three final ideas really struck me about what Paula said:

  • She struggles to use the word ‘spirituality; in it’s common modern usage as fuzzy feelings towards God, as her understanding of the importance of belief in physical resurrection requires her to think in life of our physical body as part of our spiritual relationship with God, and that because of this she thinks we have to take our worship of God with body and with soul seriously (something that the guys at Molten Meditation have I suspect picked up on given their use of space and action – see my previous post);
  • That an essential part of the God who loves us, is that he will punish people; that is, he will pass judgement on the lives we’ve lived – however uncomfortable I find that idea;
  • That actually, at the bedside of a dying friend or parishioner, or comforting the bereaved, it may not matter what our answers to these big questions are; but instead we must hold before ourselves and those we minister to, the words of faith written by St Paul in Romans 8:

 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The full talk by Paula Gooder can be downloaded, or bought on CD, here. Paula also has a new book on the subject ‘Heaven’.

If you have experience of taking funerals, bereavement visits, or other expertise in this field, I’d welcome your thoughts and reflections if you don’t mind sharing.