An unusual Mothers’ Union banner – All Saints Minstead

Mothers' Union banners being processed in Winchester Cathedral 2009

Mothers’ Union banners are often seen in churches around the country. The older ones tend to show lilies, and/or a representation of Mary with Jesus. The more modern one’s often reflect images of modern family life, perhaps combined with the work Mothers’ Union undertake’s overseas.

However in Minstead, the church I grew up attending (where sadly there is hasn’t been a Mothers’ Union group meeting in my lifetime), the banner is rather different. For me it is quintessentially Minstead, and certainly reflects the surrounding countryside of the New Forest, if not it’s family life – though there will be local families who were raised under the spreading arms of an oak tree!

The Mothers' Union banner that hangs in All Saints, Minstead

On more than one occasion I’ve been asked about the history of this particular Mothers’ Union banner, so for posterity, here’s what little I know:

The banner was made in the 1930’s and was designed by Mrs Horton the wife of Revd Henry Horton (who was vicar of Minstead from approximately 1933-1943). It was the gift of Sybil White in memory of her late husband Isaac who died in 1933.

Sybil was still alive when I was a child, still living alone in the cottage she’d lived in since her marriage, but actively involved in village life especially playing the piano for things like the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations when all the children in the village maypole danced on the village green. She died in 1985.


Pray for our British Armed Forces, especially this Remembrance Sunday

Serving soldier looking at material supporting family life - Armed Forces Day of Prayer 2011

It was a Royal Marine funeral last year that profoundly affected my ministry.

Since then I have had the privilege of meeting members of the Armed Forces Christian Union (AFCU) through work on our Mothers’ Union pilot project funding relationship counselling, and of attending this year’s Armed Forces Day of Prayer.

I saw the YouTube video below at a presentation given by the AFCU at Mothers’ Union. Produced last year, it struck me at the time how appropriate it would be to be played this Remembrance Sunday, as an alternative way of conveying the message that as well as remembering the dead, we need to pray for those who still serve.

I hope you will take 4.5 minutes to watch it. Perhaps it may move you to use it, possibly in a church or other service, and my prayer is that encourages others to do what it asks:

Follow these links to find out more about the Armed Forces Christian Union and how we can Pray for our Forces.

As the video says:

Lord, hold our troops in your loving hands.
Protect them as they protect us.
Bless them, and their families,
For the selfless acts they perform for us
in this time of need.

Wanting to trust the local press – a question to take to #cnmac11

I’m being followed.

For someone who seems to spend rather a lot of time on Twitter, and is a member of the Twurch of England (who have a cool new website), this obviously shouldn’t bother me. It doesn’t. Well, normally it doesn’t. So, why should my most recent follower on Twitter be worrying me, everso slightly?

You see, it’s not so much who he is, or what he does, but what he did. That is what has just niggled at my normally quite open social media conscience.

OK, so he’s a local journalist, a gentleman (I hope in all senses) who until this week I’d never heard of, and who I have never knowingly met. I follow the Twitter feed of the religious correspondents of three major daily papers so it’s not like I’m allergic to the press or anything. In my ‘marketing and communications’ capacity for Mothers’ Union in the Diocese of Winchester, I’m actually more inclined to be chasing the press for coverage of something, than being worried about them chasing me.

But, you see three days before following me on Twitter this chap had phoned me up (presumably having got my number off the church office answering machine) wanting details of a funeral that he’d heard was taking place at St. Peter’s this week.

Now, as a Christian, I want to trust people. I want to be open about my faith, and I hope by being open about some of the details of my ministry may help in a small way to improve the public image of Christian ministers. In fact, I’m a fairly trusting sort of girl generally – until experience tells me to be careful.

In this case my experience of what he asked me, led me to question whether I could trust him. ‘Funeral chasers’ horrify me. For me, that counts as intrusion by the local press.

Any ministry to the bereaved is normally totally personal and private unless with their permission they want something about their loved one publicised, or a very public funeral or memorial service is appropriate. (I’ve had one of each of these in the last 18 months, so I know about them too!) Why should the press wish to invade someone’s grief just because they might be ‘different’ or ‘interesting’ in some way?

Twitter, like a blog (which is presumably how this chap found my Twitter feed) is a public conversation. My Twitter conversation often revolves round my ministry, sometimes the funny side of church life, and often I (like many of the Twurch) will refer to the generality of the pressures of ministry, with references like “Three funerals this week… prayers for strength and sensitivity welcome!” (I made that one up btw.) Especially during our recent vacancy when I was responsible for many things to do with funerals and other ‘occasional offices’ I was tweeting about such things because there is a collegiality to the Twurch community that was incredibly supportive when operating slightly ‘solo’ and needing instant, supportive/helpful answers to sometimes daft ministry questions or statements.

It’s just I don’t want to jeopardise my ministry, nor compromise the Twitter community that contributes to how I learn and share as a minister. I also want to have integrity in both my faith and in my pastoral dealings.

Now, it’s taken me 24 hours to consider this, but I’ve decided that I’m going to trust this chap, and I’ve ‘followed’ him back. You see, I actually believe we’re sort of in related businesses – I hope we’re both trying to build community in my home town. That involves sharing news. I’m just hoping that he has the good sense to realise that ‘news’ doesn’t include the spectacle of someone’s private grief, and that he’ll trust me (and others – after all, I’m not the vicar) to share the details of those things that will help us as a community, rather than hurt it.

But it’s left me with a question which I’m going to take to the Christian New Media Conference in 10 days time is this: How much do we risk compromising our ministry by taking it into the public sphere of social media?

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?

Cakes thank RAF families – a good news story!

Mothers' Union free homemade cake stall at RAF Odiham Families Day, 10th August 2011 - with Apache Helicopter doing aerobatics above!

Yesterday my husband spent the day at RAF Odiham as part of a team of 16 Mothers’ Union members who gave away FREE homemade cakes to RAF personnel and their families at the RAF Odiham Family Day. His account of the event, plus some of his pictures is here. There’s more on his Flickr site too – especially if you’re into aircraft!

Mothers’ Union are celebrating 135 years of supporting marriage and family life this year and in the Diocese of Winchester we are doing it in the only way we know how – with practical projects and giving thanks to God.

Tuesday 9th August was Mary Sumner Day when as well as celebrating with worship and a presentation by Mothers’ Union Worldwide President, Rosemary Kempsell, over 100 members brought some of the 100s of homemade cakes to be given away at RAF Odiham yesterday.

Next week another Mothers’ Union team will be taking 19 families for a week’s holiday in East Sussex, a holiday they wouldn’t otherwise get.

Among the busy-ness of our small contributions to making these things happen (mostly Press Releases in my case) it struck me that the work of Mothers’ Union, and these small practical projects stand in contrast to other current news stories about family life.

That’s why I love Mothers’ Union – and why it’s work is so important.

Why I’m going to Greenbelt #GB11

Today I received my first ever Festival wristband in the post!

I’ve only ever spent two nights under canvas (in a friends field), and don’t own a tent. I have spinal issues which cause me pain, especially if I stand a lot, or get cold. I’m not that keen on large crowds and like space for thinking in peace and quiet. So… why, oh why, am I going to Greenbelt?!

I am what you might call a ‘Greenbelt virgin’… though officially I’m known as a First Time Christian Leader. I was persuaded to explore the idea via various folk who have been really supportive of me during our recent vacancy; folk like Good In Parts, the Fibre Fairy and Laurence Gamlen. The offer a discount (a Reader it seems is in ‘Christian Leadership’ – which is actually an encouragement in itself) helped a lot – my ticket for the whole weekend is costing me £25! The fact that Tangerine Fields provide a pre-set tent with AIR mattress, sleeping bag, stove and kettle, also made it rather attractive to a rooky participant who will be abandoned by her family with rucksack and cooly box at the gate on Friday to fend for myself over the weekend. The plan is that I will be claimed by my lovely placement vicar from All Saints, Basingstoke, on the Monday and brought back to Hampshire; she’s been telling me for two years that I really ought to go!

But why make all the effort? Well in no particular order:

  • I want to meet some of the people I’ve made friends with on Twitter;
  • I’d like to experience some alternative forms of worship. The iMass appeals because of what I think will be mix of sacramental worship and rock music partly hosted by Blessed; I would love to experience the Jazz Church, Grace is something I heard about when I first started blogging , and to calm down after all that I guess I’ll find the folk of Taize!
  • Mothers’ Union are focusing on their efforts on the Family Life Programme in Uganda, the only MU project overseas I’ve had the privilege to visit, and our great Chief Exec, Reg Bailey is speaking – I’d like to support both;
  • If I can get my brain to work, I’d also like to hear Paula Gooder again (having heard her talk 3 years ago at a Diocesan Lent Lecture), as well as John Bell, Margaret Sentamu, and Nadia Bolz-Weber whose skin tells the story!
  • I love folk music, and have particularly wanted to hear Kate Rusby and Show of Hands (whose ‘Roots’ is my mobile ring-tone) live for several years – both are appearing at Greenbelt, along with the Unthanks!
  • Mostly I want to be part of a ‘coming together’ of all those people that call themselves ‘Christian’, aren’t so worried about the other labels we tend to attach to ourselves, and are willing to listen to each other and those of no faith at all, in an effort to make the world a better place!

What I need to work out is what, among all this and plenty more, will most feed my development as a minister, and help me preach and create worship that might help the people of a ‘Middle England’ parish to be touched by God.

If I manage to achieve even half of that, and sleep, I shall be impressed! What I’m just waiting for now is my ticket to turn up, and the programme to be published (hopefully next week) so I can start planning how it’s all going to fit together. It just leaves you to let me know if you’re going to be there too 🙂

Contraception as an aspect of God’s mercy

I’m catching up on myself today, and also catching up with my family – including reading my husbands blog posts! He’s a secondary school biology teacher and doesn’t blog often because of his workload. When he does, he tends to talk a lot of sense (but then I’m biased).

I was particularly struck by his latest offering, and wanted to give it a (marginally) wider audience. In it he talks about contraception (a subject that he had to teach 5 times in one day during his schools’ Year 8 Relationships Day, and has taught regularly in this format for years). In his blog post he states that

Contraception is one aspect of the mercy of God to help people not take on more responsibility than they can stand, to ensure that children are conceived within stable relationships, and to prevent the deaths of the unborn.

This is actually part of his conclusion, based on both scientific and Biblical ideas, but he (like me) is actually in favour of chastity and abstinence if at all possible – it’s just we realise that in wider society this isn’t that common.

Have a read, and do let one of us know what you think.

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…)




Vocational and voluntary don’t fit the #census2011

Just a quick note for posterity to say I didn’t seem to fit the Census questions; even having phoned their helpline, I’m not completely happy.

The problems started for me on Q31 – Have you ever worked?
Yes of course I have; I still do!
But I’ve not earnt a wage since 1997 when I resigned from my Duty Managers role at The Look Out following maternity leave.

The lady on the phone said to list 1997, but then write about what I currently do from Q34. This is the bit that leaves me feeling most unhappy. But it’s what we were told to do.

Today I work we reckoned 49+ hours a week, for God.
Either in parish ministry as a Reader (unpaid), or as a Diocesan Trustee of Mothers’ Union (for which I’m not allowed by law to earn a wage). So I’m not an employee, self-employed, or freelance (Q33) so I couldn’t tick anything.

My full or specific job title (Q34) – Reader (Lay Minister) – no room to include my charity role.

I briefly described my main job (Q35) as “Preaching, Teaching, Funerals” – they are things I’m doing most of at present but they don’t really scratch the surface or cover the amounts of admin involved in looking after ‘occasional offices’.

I assumed (unlike The Vicars Wife) that my “employer” (Q37) was was the Church of England so I listed the main activities as ‘Worshipping God, Caring for Parishoners, Evangelism’ and then listed the name of organsation (Q38) as St. Peter’s Church, Church of England.

For those of us who are committed to full-time voluntary, vocational ministry, what problems did you face with the form?

And surely, since there is such a need for voluntary work given the economic situation and the requirements of “Big Society”, aren’t the government interested in the voluntary work undertaken in this country?

Failing to count #myblessings is itself about Mothers’ Union

It’s been a whole week since I Counted my Blessings for Mothers’ Union Family Life Programme in Uganda. In many ways that counts as a fail, but for me it actually speaks about most of the Mothers’ Union members I know!

You see, for me the reason why the organisation excites me is because so many Mothers’ Union members are very involved in the sharp end of practical ministry among families – and thus having the time to ‘blog’ or talk about it, can actually prove really hard to achieve. That’s been true for me during the week, largely being active in ministry in the parish, sadly including preparation for the funeral of one of our faithful intercessory members, but also looking forward to the interview process for a new vicar in the next two days.

So, running through the last week of ideas for counting our blessings with regard to life in Uganda, and my own trip to the Family Life Programme in 2006, what things am I reminded of:

Wed 16th March we were asked to thank God that we know what is going on in the world, and give 5p for each newspaper and magazine in the house – not much for us as we only get two in any one week; the Church Times and the Radio Times.

When we were staying in Uganda, we were near Kampala, blessed by relatively well-to-do

Toilet at a MU-FLP 'model home' - the whole in the ground is kept covered in the ventilated shed by a stand on which leaves or paper are held safely

hosts who had TV. The news they relied on was from the BBC World Service – I don’t know if that remains available to them given the recent cuts. The other thing we noticed was how Kampala-centric their news was in their papers, and how the Premier Division of English football dominated their sports pages!

Thursday 17th March we were giving 20p for every sink and toilet… £1 in the kitty then. With it came a big reminder of one of my favourite photo’s (right) and how proud the ladies involved in the Family Life Programme were of a clean, dry, hygienic toilet!

On Friday we were giving 1p for every door handle, remembering as we did so just how much the Family Life Programme, and other Mothers’ Union projects, open doors to a better life for the people they help.

Cow being 'zero grazed' at the MU-FLP 'model home' in Luwero in 2006

Saturday 19th meant we had to count the dairy products in our fridge – about 50p’s worth at 10p a shot. A cow in Uganda is a major investment for a family. The cow I saw at the Luwero ‘model home’ was kept in a zero grazing system. Grass was grown on the banks that divided areas of cultivation, being cut and slightly wilted (to enable flies and parasites to fall out of them) before being fed to the cattle.

In the west we are very security conscious, and on Sunday we were counting our keys at 2p a go… well over a £1s worth for us if you count the keys to the cases of our musical instruments! But where is our real security? The Mothers’ Union is of course above all a Christian organisation, and it is the faith in God of all its members, and their faithfulness in prayer that give it’s work such a strong, secure foundation.

I think for tonight I’ll leave it there. Hopefully tomorrow, around my commitments in an incredibly busy parish week, I’ll catch up with more of #myblessings.