Will Diocesan Bishops meet their clergy before #HofB meet? #synod

What to me is now a rather poignant carving, in the choir of All Saints Church, Cuddesdon

At approximately 5.50pm last Tuesday night (27th Nov 2012), the Right Revd John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford, climbed into the pulpit at All Saints, Cuddesdon to preach to the massed ranks of ordinands and their newly resident community of nuns. He looked at his watch, and commented that it was a week, almost to the hour, since General Synod had made a big mistake.

Then, with Rt Revd Michael Perham the Bishop of Gloucester (who was presiding at Eucharist) looking on, Bishop John apologised. He apologised on behalf of the General Synod for making a mess of things over the issue of female bishops, and specifically for making our lives as ordinands, and our ministries in curacy, even more difficult than it is already.

He went on to explain that in the days immediately after the General Synod vote, he had met with 50+ of the 250ish female clergy of his diocese, to try to share their pain and hear their immediate responses.

With the news yesterday that the Archbishop’s Council have this week

recommended that the House of Bishops, during its meeting in a fortnight’s time, put in place a clear process for discussions in the New Year with a view to bringing legislative proposals before the Synod in July

I was set wondering as to whether all the Diocesan Bishop’s will be holding such meetings with their clergy before the House of Bishop gather to consider the next synodical steps in this painful journey.

So last night, with the help of Twitter, I discovered the details I list below.

You may well be able to add to this, and if so, I would invite you to please ‘comment’ the details below, so that those who might not have such meetings planned in the near future, and/or whose Diocesan synods meet this weekend, can have a clear picture of where they fit into the pattern of communication and care provided by the Bishops of their Diocese, to those affected by and concerned about last weeks vote.

  • Durham, St. Albans, Oxford, Birmingham, Portsmouth and Southwark have met with clergy already, in some cases only with the female clergy, though in the case of St Albans all clergy/readers/laity have been asked to write with feedback
  • Bishops in Sheffield were meeting their clergy last night
  • Dover/Canterbury is holding a Eucharist and discussion on Saturday 1st Dec, which is open to all, not just clergy
  • Ely Bishops are hosting Eucharist, coffee and discussion on Saturday 1st Dec
  • Exeter are meeting Monday 3rd December
  • St Edmundsbury and Ipswich meet on 5th December
  • Southwell and Nottingham on 6th December
  • Liverpool meet (with only the female clergy) on 6th December
  • Chelmsford is hosting a Champagne breakfast (not sure when)
  • Gloucester is meeting all clergy next week for Eucharist, with lunch provided for discussions with female clergy aftewards
  • Coventry has planned a gathering for early December

Among the additional comments I received on Twitter last night were the following:

  • disappointment that not all these meetings are open to all clergy, some are just for the female ones
  • in those diocese that have already had meetings, the ‘diary clearing’ by Bishops that enabled them has been much appreciated.
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How do you ‘find’ a spiritual director? A reflection on experience

Sound II by Anthony Gormley, in The Crypt of Winchester Cathedral, 23rd November 2012

I was asked recently (via Twitter) if I would be prepared to write about my experiences of seeking and finding a spiritual director. It would be for some work Revd Mark Godson, who is Director of the London Centre for Spirituality, is doing to write a guide for those new to spiritual direction.

The official route to a spiritual director in my diocese is via our Ministry Department who maintain and support a list of spiritual directors. If you ask them they will put you in touch with someone who has the space and time, with reference to any particular requirements or interests you have at the time of requesting direction.

But I’ve not yet managed to do it that way; trust me to be different.

When it was first suggested to me that I ought to have a spiritual director, it was as part of my rather ad hoc journey into Reader Training. To be honest I can’t remember who suggested it, but at the time I was a Trustee for Mothers’ Union in Winchester Diocese (MU), and my calling to a ministry that included preaching and teaching was growing out of that role.

I was fortunate to come by the wisdom of the wife of our Diocesan Bishop of the time, who suggested I spoke to one particular lady about spiritual direction. The lady in question was a long-standing MU member, but also one of the first women to have been licensed to Reader Ministry in the 1970s as a young mother – something I needed to juggle into the ministry equation.

Having a spiritual director who has some connecting points to my own journey in ministry became important, and is a pattern I have repeated since. It gave us some ‘touching points’ on which to build a growing relationship, a sense of empathy which bred respect (hopefully mutual), and gave me the confidence to take seriously and try the ‘new’ approaches to building and improving a pattern of prayer into my life.

Right from our first meeting, informally in a Debenham’s coffee shop, we agreed how our relationship was to work; the regularity with which we would meet, and the overall length of time she would ‘walk with me’.  This was important for her in her semi-retirement, and for me to know that as I progressed through to another stage in my own ministry I would require different expertise and insights to those I required through Reader Training.

It turned out this my first ‘director’ was actually on the ‘approved’ list maintained by the diocese, but I didn’t know that at the time. She was also very open about her own spiritual support, not that she wanted me to imitate her spirituality as a Third Order Franciscan, but so that I knew she had built in the support she required to help others, and was ‘practising what she preached’ as it were.

Ministry as a Reader took more than one unexpected turn for me, which is documented elsewhere on this blog. Part of that journey including a niggling sense of calling to the priesthood that I sort to ignore initially but which was highlighted through the circumstances of a parish vacancy in which I took responsibility for occasional offices. A brief lapse in my pattern of spiritual direction couldn’t possibly be allowed to continue.

As I finally took seriously the question of why on earth several priests of my acquaintance thought I was called to that ministry rather than continuing as a Reader, it was one of these priests that suggested another, as my companion for the next leg of my ministerial journey.

My new spiritual director and I had spent a year as colleagues and friends in ministry, so much of my ‘back-plot’ didn’t need to be sketched in when we met to discuss the idea of changing a relationship of friendship. Some of our initial agreements were much the same as last time were repeated (frequency, and over-all length of direction) but we had to be clear about different things: particularly that I wasn’t going to be pushed into the priesthood, and that we would maintain our conversations of friendship each meeting over lunch, before making a specific ‘candle-lit’ change of focus to my spiritual journey. It was a relationship that works well; even now that period of our lives is now concluded, we have maintained and grown a friendship that is built to a large degree on mutual trust and the need for confidentiality regarding each other’s circumstances.

In the process of discernment of a vocation to the priesthood, I found it particularly helpful to have someone totally outside the process, and in fact the diocese through which that process was being managed, though she had experienced it elsewhere. It enabled my director to help me ask questions of the system and myself, that I’m not sure would have been asked if we had been closer to my diocesan staff and systems.

This year, that leg of my journey concluded, I have with the encouragement of both that spiritual companion and my DDO, started to build a relationship with a new spiritual companion, or ‘soul friend’ as he prefers to be called. Known to, suggested and approved by all concerned, and someone with whom I had already started a significant acquaintance through my developing pattern of retreat days, we again have a regular pattern of meeting, but with a more open-ended time-scale of involvement.  Conversations are less focused on the needs of ‘what I need to do next’ and have a more serendipitous nature, but at the moment as I struggle to engage with the highly academic context of my ordination training, they’re best focused on where the most difficulties are at the time, and so doing the job of keeping me moving forward in my spiritual life quiet nicely.

And it’s not escaped my notice that as my own journey moves on, I find I have others approaching me not yet for spiritual direction, but for insights I can offer from my experience into their own questions about faith and ministry. The one thing I have told them categorically from my own experience, is that if you are to support yourself, a ministry and a family of loved ones, all at the same time, then some regular pattern of spiritual direction and companionship is vital to keep your relationship with God grounded on common sense, as well as filled with the deep wells of spiritual resources you need to even attempt the journey!

Wedding Admin – the wisdom of limited experience

Yep, me signing the registers on my wedding day!

Today I handed over the last of the administrative responsibilities I have accumulated over my recent years as a Reader at St Peter’s, Yateley: the administration of Banns of Marriage, reading of Banns, and writing of Banns Certificates, along with the writing of Marriage Registers and Certificates!

In preparation I made some extensive notes for my successor which I happened to tweet about yesterday. The Vicar’s Wife asked me for a copy and suggested I blog it!

So after our ‘hand-over’ session today, which our lovely vicar also wisely attended and added his wisdom to, below is a .pdf summary of what I’ve learnt, which I have hopefully de-localised so it might be of use to others.

Please note:
It is the accumulated ‘wisdom’ of several years undertaking administration connected with weddings at my local parish church, including those things I learnt during a year of vacancy during which I seemed to spend a lot of time talking to our Diocesan Registrar! However, this doesn’t make me an expert, so if you find you are told differently to any of what is attached by someone important and trustworthy, please trust them not me!

Click the link to download the .pdf How2-Banns,Marriages&Certificates-CofE

Rising to the bait of double standards? #feminism #ABC #Remembrance

I’ve spent the evening catching up on various blog posts and in doing so I’ve realised that I been mentally arguing both for, and against, being seen to stand up for what I think, though the subject matter has varied.

First up, I was reading up on what exactly is understood by Christian Feminism in a post by Miranda Threlfall-Holmes. I found her explanation really helpful, but wondered about the need to constantly rise to the bait of people who either (a) don’t think through what they’re saying, or (b) are being deliberately provocative to get a rise out of ‘the opposition’.

In the midst of this there’s a conversation going on via Twitter about the next Archbishop of Canterbury. Apparently the Daily Telegraph’s word is good enough to count as an announcement of reality for many. Really, shouldn’t we wait until Lambeth Palace, Number 10, or Buckingham Palace make an announcement before passing comment and second-guessing a judgement on the brave man who will clasp what some might regard as a poison chalice? Aren’t we rising to the media’s bait if we don’t?

And then I read my friend Claire’s post on Remembrance and wearing badges – wearing as I did so:

  • 2 Twibbons on my gravitar (one for women bishops, one for the Royal British Legion),
  • 2 wristbands on my arm (one RBL, one in memory of the Royal Marine whose funeral I helped lead two years ago),
  • and a RBL poppy lapel pin that can be seen on my collar when my coat is on!

And so I realised that perhaps I was suffering a severe case of double standards! I want to be seen to be supporting certain things, yet I am unwilling to speak out against what I do regard as the misplaced understandings of others, whilst also griping about those who wish to close as soon as possible, an uncomfortable chapter of uncertainty in the church.

Or am I? I wonder if it’s a personal thing.

You see, I’ve never been particularly aware of the remarks or assumptions that people make about things I believe are important. Perhaps it’s because I don’t think very quickly, or I share with them a certain shallowness of thought. Usually it’s others who get upset on my behalf about things that might be said about me, or about the Christian faith I share, or how I am called to live that out. I prefer to ‘be’ and ‘do’, rather than speak – unless of course I’m in a pulpit or on this blog!

And though the next Archbishop of Canterbury will I guess be my Managing Director in the long term, or perhaps because of that, I’m not too keen to speak before being spoken to on that subject.

But over the last couple of years, the marking of Remembrance Day and the issue of women bishops, have become more deeply personal. Adam’s funeral turned out to be a huge turning point in my ministry, as I’ve talked about before. And as a woman now training for the priesthood who is finally coming to terms with the inheritance my mother left me, it seems right to care about the future nature of leadership in the church I am called to be a priest in.

Because these things are personal, I want to be recognised for caring about them, so I wear the appropriate badges, and hope they have integrity with who I am and what I care about.

So I go to bed wondering at the badges that Jesus might have worn, and realise that by speaking up, and standing out for what he knew to be right, he gave us possibly the most recognised badge of all, the cross.

I wear one of those as well, but it’s unlikely to cost me my vocation as it has others their career!

The Sepulchre Experience – The women’s tale

Will you light a candle for the women at the sepulchre? (Minstead Church, November 2012)

For the open day celebrating ‘Life and Lives Lived’ at All Saints’ Minstead, my father was asked to select a reflection on the sepulchre to leave out for people to read. He didn’t. Instead he was inspired to write this retelling of the Gospel which seems to echo something of what Rt Revd Steven Croft has said, and which concludes with what I pray may be a prophesy:

We had no rights. Our laws were strict. As girls we were under the control of our fathers. When we married, which was expected of us, control passed to our husband and we became his property.

As an eldest child we did not inherit our father’s estate; that would pass to our oldest brother. Single women, or those widowed, rarely got the respect they deserved. Women took no part in our religious ceremonies. The rite of membership, that of circumcision, was inscribed in one of our early scrolls, and so as women we were excluded. (Genesis 17:10)

This exclusion was accentuated at the Temple where we were confined to the Court of Women which was nineteen steps higher than the Court of Gentiles, but fifteen steps lower than the Court of Israel. We were still further excluded by Temple rules which viewed the rhythm of our feminine biological clocks as something unclean.

Some few of us made successful lives of our own and because we had not married, were sometimes classed together with the street women who plied their trade. We moved on era by era until we heard of a new prophet who was travelling around Galilee. He had healed several of us and also cured Simon’s mother of fever.

He told how he had been sent by his Father, our God, to fulfil the ancient scriptures. We believed, and so were given a new beginning to our lives as women. We came out from the shadow of the Temple and the old restrictive laws and became empowered to serve fully in the new freedom of his Church.

Our friend Luke recorded many of these wonderful times in his account of the life of this Jesus who had grown up in Nazareth, and you read them as Luke 8:

After this Jesus travelled from one town and village to another proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. They included Mary (called Magdalene), Joanna the wife of Cuza who was Herod’s steward, Susanna, Salome the wife of Zebedee, and many other women. These women helped support the men out of their own means.

This Jesus was both remote and yet intimately close; a presence like no other man. He spread the news that the Kingdom of God was among us, all were welcome and that we as women were fully part of it.

So many folk came to hear him and took to his new Way of living that the priests felt threatened and fabricated charges against him. We were at his ‘trial’, a mockery of justice.

They were afraid that the freedom, justice and equality Jesus preached as a fulfilment of Scripture would diminish their power base. The Roman governor Pilate could find no fault in him. He did not listen to his wife Claudia when she recounted her dream, but bowed to pressure from the priests and allowed our friend Jesus to be crucified.

A group of us stood there by his cross, totally bereft. With us were Mary his mother and her sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, Salome, and Mary Magdalene. The soldiers realised he had died and so we were spared the final agony of seeing his bones broken.

‘Jesus is taken down from the cross’ Station XIII from All Saints’ Basingstoke

As the Day of Preparation drew to a close, Joseph from Arimathea gained Pilate’s permission to take Jesus’ body to the tomb he had bought for himself. Nicodemus had brought embalming spices and together they completed the rituals and sealed the tomb with a large rock.

We had lost him and were leaderless. We all feared were were being spied on, so observed the Passover; but before dawn the next day one of us went to the tomb and in amazement found the stone had been rolled away and that the tomb was empty. She ran and told the others. Several of the men went back with her, looked and went away in great sadness not knowing what to believe. But she was drawn in her own grief to stay in the garden and find a closeness to him in that place where his body had rested.

Through her tears she saw a man she thought was the gardener who asked the reason for her grief. She could only reply, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know what they’ve done with him.” In a voice she never expected to hear again he spoke her name, “Mary,… tell the others I will meet them in Galilee.”

He had chosen one of us, his women companions, to carry to the world the message of his Resurrection. In that brief moment he confirmed that his Church was one without discrimination between the sexes. Years later his apostle Paul put it like this when he wrote to the Galatians:

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

But those fruitful years were short and generations of women were once more marginalised, until in your time a degree of enlightenment dawned and our sex can again live the Resurrection Day experience of being called by name to serve in his Church.

By the time you read this, the last barrier may have been removed, and we will have received his final blessing of complete equality with our fellow male believers.

Michael Clarke, 20th October 2012

He and I are supporting the Yes 2 Women Bishops Campaign. Can you?

Life and Lives Lived – a fresh expression of All Saints and Souls?

All Saints Church, Minstead, lit to welcome those celebrating ‘Life and Lives Lived’ 3rd November 2012

Last Saturday, I had the privilege of sharing in ‘A Service Celebrating Life and Lives Lived’ at All Saints, Minstead in the New Forest. The village church was filled with light and colour as people from all over the area met together at the conclusion of two community events designed to dovetail together.

Minstead Study Centre held a light of heart ‘Days of the Dead’, reflective celebration of death, dying, grief and bereavement, building on the Mexican ‘Day of the Dead’ celebration of dead ancestors.

All Saints Church in Minstead celebrated ‘Life and Lives Lived’ at the same time, with felt angel making, a prayer tree, time to think and talk about the Christian view of life and death over cake and tea, and a vivid illustration of how a school had engaged with patients at a local hospice to explore ideas surrounding death and dying.

The sarcophagus and display material showing the work of pupils from Pennington Junior School with the residents of Oakhaven Hospice, 2012

The service that concluded both the events was led by Revd Kate Wilson, who as well as being vicar of a neighbouring parish is part-time chaplain at Oakhaven Hospice, where, nearly 17 years ago, my mother died. Kate had worked with volunteers at the hospice, Pennington Junior School, a student at Brockenhurst College, and the residents at the hospice to create a wonderful Egyptian sarcophagus which was on display along with many photo’s of all the other activities involved in their project day. Reading and seeing the details of young children working with people who were dying to create things of beauty like Egyptian bookmarks, whilst also talking about the fears of all about the idea of dying, was actually very moving.

Cross and candles in the south window of the nave at All Saints, Minstead for the celebration of ‘Life and Lives Lived’, 3rd November 2012

The service itself was also very moving, as it drew together people of all faiths and none, with the Gospel message being drawn out through non-scriptural readings. With Revd Wilson’s permission I am outlining below roughly what material was used and the order this very informal service took; what she described as “probably what they call a ‘fresh expression’ of church.

Love suffers – a reflection for those remembering

Candles lit in memory of loved ones.

This is the season of remembering. When we remember it makes raw old wounds, the pain of previous partings, and the emptyness of suffering.

Recently my father read the following reflection at a friends funeral, and again this last weekend at a service of ‘Life and Lives Lived’ that marked All Saints-tide. I share it with you now, in the hope that it might speak into the needs of others. It comes from a book he found helpful following bereavements of his own.

Nicholas Wolterstorff is an American philosopher and devout Roman Catholic. ‘Lament for a Son’ is his published journal recording his grieving during the first year following the death of his eldest son, Eric, who died aged 25 in a mountaineering accident. This reflection was put together by Dad from pages 89-90 of the book:

What is suffering? When something prized or loved is ripped away or never granted – work, someone loved, recognition of one’s dignity, life without physical pain – that is suffering.

Or rather, that’s when suffering happens. What it is, I do not know. For many days I had been reflecting on it. Then suddenly, as I watched the flicker of orange-pink evening light on almost still water, the thought overwhelmed me: I know nothing of it. Of pain, yes: cut fingers, broken bones. Of sorrow and suffering, nothing at all. Suffering is a mystery as deep as any in our existence. It is not of course a mystery whose reality some doubt. Suffering keeps its face hid from each while making itself known to all.

We are one in suffering. Some are wealthy, some bright, some athletic, some admired. But we all suffer. For we all prize and love; and in this present existence of ours, prizing and loving yield suffering. Love in our world is suffering love. Some do not suffer much though, for they do not love much. Suffering is for the loving. If I hadn’t loved him, there wouldn’t be this agony.

This said Jesus, is the command of the Holy One, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” In commanding us to love, God invites us to suffer.

God is love. That is why he suffers. To love our suffering sinful world is to suffer. God so suffered for the world that he gave up his only Son to suffering. The one who does not see God’s suffering does not see his love. God is suffering love.

So suffering is down at the centre of things, deep down where the meaning is. Suffering is the meaning of our world. For love is the meaning. And love suffers.

Posted in particular memory of RL known to many as Larry. RIP dear man.