Nehemiah – responsibility and working together #ActOfWorship #Schools

Tork roll rope, on which had been written our prayers for the church, made in St. Peter's Yateley, January 2007.
Tork roll rope, on which had been written our prayers for the church, made in St. Peter’s Yateley, January 2007.

This week I’ve achieved another first in curacy, my first Act of Worship in our local CofE Junior School. The brief was to link the theme of RESPONSIBILITY (joint responsibility, working together in school) to the story of Nehemiah rebuilding God’s people, and the wall at Jerusalem. 

I found Lesson from Loom Bands 3 over at SPCK Assemblies.org.uk which looked at exactly this story and sort of idea, and told it in a clearer context than the Storyteller Bible version I’d been given. The problem is I am not loom band compliant, so I needed to think of another way of explaining taking individual responsibility as part of a team to make something stronger.

My mind when back to 2007 in St. Peter’s Yateley when we created a rope of prayers from lengths of blue and white tork roll! St. Mary’s Old Basing has tork roll which I could plait since I didn’t have the rope-making gadget and quickly achieve a similar effect and demonstrate increased strength. St. Peter’s Yateley said I could borrow the rope woven round a cross, and I fiddled slightly with the Assemblies.org telling of the story to fit it better to the Act of Worship plan at the school, and so I had an Act of Worship!

So, here ’tis. If you’re interested in more about the full rope making idea, which features equipment in the shape of a cross, ask me and I’ll blog about that another day.

Theme:
Now then, thinking caps on; who can tell me the word that we’ve been thinking about last week and this week? RESPONSIBILITY
Last week Fr A talked about our responsibility to support people in our community, like you have with your Food Bank donations, and across the world where people may not have enough to eat or clean water to drink.
This week, we’re thinking about that word RESPONSIBILITY again, but in a slightly different way.

Tork roll, and plaited tork roll, used and created with the children of St. Mary's CofE Junior School, Old Basing, Sept 2014
Tork roll, and plaited tork roll, used and created with the children of St. Mary’s CofE Junior School, Old Basing, Sept 2014

Activity:
Can anyone tell me what this is? TORK ROLL – PAPER FOR DRYING HANDS (giant loo roll!)
One of the things that this paper needs to do easily is to TEAR, so that when we are washing our hands we can have a piece each to dray them on. So would we say that this tork roll paper is WEAK or STRONG? Fairly weak.
Now, I’ve got 3 LENGTHS OF TORK ROLL here, and we’re going to see if we can do something to make this tork roll STRONGER by several of us WORKING TOGETHER.
I used a representative of each year group – 2 boys, and 2 girls.

One child hold all three bits of tork roll, gently knotted together.
The other 3 children, TWIST your individual length of tork roll just a bit, so it’s slightly more like a piece of string.
Now, I need you to PLAIT your three bits of tork roll together.
Left over centre, right over centre, keep going… the 3 children moving around each other.
Taught but not tight.

Careful remember the tork roll tears easily!
After a few minutes plaiting, test the strength of the plaited bit. Shouldn’t tear as easily.
BY TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR OUR INDIVIDUAL TASK, BUT WORKING TOGETHER, WE MADE SOMETHING THAT WAS WEAK, STRONGER!
Show ROPE of tork roll (borrowed from St. Peter’s).

Bible Story:
Going to read you a story from the OT part of the Bible, that talks about someone called Nehemiah: Nehemiah and the walls of Jerusalem

Nehemiah had a very important job in Persia (now called Iraq), working for the king, but his heart was in his homeland, in Jerusalem, which is in Israel. He loved his homeland and missed it very much. Some 100 years before Nehemiah was born, some of his people had returned from exile in Persia to their homeland there and had rebuilt the temple.

One day, Nehemiah heard that the walls of Jerusalem had not been rebuilt after the many years of armies invading and breaking them down, so most of the people were still living outside the walls rather than inside the holy city. Nehemiah’s people had lost their identity as God’s people.

When Nehemiah heard all this, he wept. What could he do? He was only one man and not a builder at that.

The King of Persia noticed that Nehemiah was sad, and Nehemiah wasn’t normally, so he asked him what was wrong. Nehemiah explained and the king asked him what he wanted to do. Nehemiah was brave and asked to be sent to rebuild Jerusalem and the king gave his blessing for Nehemiah to go and rebuild the walls of his beloved city. So Nehemiah set off on the long journey home, with some building materials that the King had given him.

Once there, Nehemiah toured the city walls by night. He found rubble and stones and burned gates. He thought that his heart would break. Just like a single strip of tork roll!

‘Let’s rebuild, the city walls,’ he said to the people. ‘I can’t do it by myself. It will take us all working together, but I am sure that together we can do it!’

That is exactly what happened. Different families took charge of different sections of the walls. All along the walls, families took up their spades and shovels and got to work. It was a huge task. There were so many repairs that Nehemiah could never have done it all on his own.

In working together, sharing the RESPONSIBILITY for rebuilding the walls, the people of Jerusalem had all grown stronger together, as well as now being protected by the finished wall. They had once again found their identity as the people of God, and their joy was very great.

Reflection and Prayer:
So, what did the people end up doing under Nehemiah’s guidance that is like what we did with plaiting the tork roll?
Each family took RESPONSIBILITY for a section of wall.
Worked together to make the wall STRONGER, where individual efforts hadn’t been enough.

I’m going to pray now, and if you want to say at the end that you agree with what I’ve prayed, what do you say? AMEN!

Dear God,
Thank you for the story of Nehemiah and his friends.
Thank you for our friends and classmates.
Help us to each take RESPONSIBILITY for working together
so that we can make this school a strong, and happy place.
Amen.

For those wrestling with vocation and discernment (Phil 2:1-13)

Bishop Edward King Chapel, Ripon College Cuddesdon (photo credit to my husband)
Bishop Edward King Chapel, Ripon College Cuddesdon (photo credit to my husband)

This week I had the opportunity to lead worship in my college group. I used the reading for Morning Prayer that day which was Philippians 2:1-13 and adapted some worship from Celtic Daily Prayer from the Northumbrian Community themed for those struggling with vocation, discernment and obedience.

As I said at the time, the fact that this reading resonated in this way with me, might suggest some of the issues I’ve been facing myself of recent weeks. However, thinking that there are others out there, facing discernment interviews of various sorts with Diocesan advisors or at Bishop’s Advisory Panel (BAP), I offer it as a companion for your journey.

Celtic Worship for Vocation and Discernment (Feb 2014)

Intercessions for Christmas Morning 2013

Detail from a stained glass window at All Saints, Cuddesdon, Oxfordshire
Detail from a stained glass window at All Saints, Cuddesdon, Oxfordshire

Here are the intercessions I have written for the service I will be attending on Christmas morning with my family. They are based, very loosely, on those labelled H5 in Christmas material in Common Worship Times and Seasons, with the addition of closing lines adapted from the R5 Acclamations.

I offer them in advance of the day itself just in case they are of any assistance to those for whom writing intercessions is not a welcome distraction from writing an essay!

May all those who stop by here know the presence of the Christ Child in their lives each and every day.

 

At the end of each section of our prayers this morning,
when I say
Lord Jesus,
please can you respond
hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus,
hear our prayer.

 

Jesus, whose mother was Mary:
we give thanks for those who have been mothers and fathers to us,
and for your own coming into this world.

We hold in prayer before you
all families of every size and description,
but especially those whose family life is broken in some way,
through abuse, bereavement, estrangement, debt, depression or distance.

Jesus, as Joseph and Mary were bound to each other in love for you,
draw each of us to those whom you have purposed us to love,
that we might do so with patience and perseverance, insight and inspiration.

Lord Jesus,
hear our prayer.

 

Jesus, cradled in a manger:
we give thanks for those places we regard as safe, warm and welcoming,
acknowledging the blessing of the security we experience.

We hold in prayer before you
all those who are homeless and living rough on the streets,
prey to violence, disease and in some cases their own addictions,
and all those refugees living a long way from home
in an effort to find a measure of safety,
and provide food and shelter for their children.

Jesus, as Mary gently cradled you,
hold in your loving care each desperate individual and struggling family,
that with Mary & Joseph they might know your presence
and one day come to proclaim your glory.

Lord Jesus,
hear our prayer.

 

Jesus, sharing the stable with the animals:
we give thanks for the wonders of your creation which you came into
so that we might know your light and life.

We hold in prayer before you those things we have done to your world
which have damaged it to breaking point,
our greed to possess the best of everything,
and our obsession with draining away the gifts and wonders of what we call the natural world.

Jesus, as the animals brought warmth to your first hours on earth,
give us the humility to set greed aside,
and the strength of will to use wisely the resources you provide.

Lord Jesus,
hear our prayer.

 

Jesus,worshipped by shepherds and kings:
we give thanks for the diversity of cultures, nations and races which are together
what makes us in the likeness of God.

We hold in prayer before you those disputed regions of the world,
where diversity of opinion or politics forms a barrier to peaceful co-existence,
and where borders and barriers seek to hide
brutal injustice, terror and torture.

Jesus, just as you were brought gifts,
help us to use wisely those gifts of forgiveness and reconciliation
which you have given us for the good of all nations.

Lord Jesus,
hear our prayer.

Jesus, our Emmanuel:
we give thanks that you came not only in the form of a human baby,
but continue to dwell with us through the power of your Holy Spirit.

We hold in prayer before you those in particular need
of the knowledge of your presence with them,
that through your Spirit they might know your strength,
your healing, your peace and your amazing love for them.

(We remember especially today…)

Jesus, just as you come to us daily,
may we consciously make time to come to you,
not just this Christmas Day, but every day of our lives.

Lord Jesus,
hear our prayer.

Jesus, we give thanks to you our living God:
born of the Virgin Mary,
revealed in glory,
worshipped by the angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed in throughout the world,
exalted to the highest heavens.

Blessed be God,
our strength and our salvation,
now and for ever.
Amen.

 

A further set of  Christmas Intercessions I wrote for 2018 are available here.

Gates, stiles and openings… as prayer stations

A New Forest gate, well padlocked. A familiar part of my youth.
A New Forest gate, well padlocked. A familiar part of my youth.

I grew up opening gates, unlocking barriers, and sometimes climbing over fences that had no other means of being navigated.

That was part of life as the daughter of a Head Keeper in the New Forest, at any chance I had to go out to work with him, and even when we just went because we love being out in the natural world.

When we went out looking at wildlife, or some other excitement, I was given ‘the’ key and spent much of our travelling time behind the scenes of that wonderful place, hopping in and out of the land-rover/van unlocking and opening gates and barriers, and then closing them again once Dad had driven the vehicle through. They all (mostly) had the same lock and many were from a limited range of designs. These days, I’m often the one driving if we’re out on the forest with him, so others get to do this.

A narrow way: above Askrigg in the Yorkshire Dales near Mill Gill, August 2013 (Note the appears to be a steep drop on the far side, and a choice of directions!)
A narrow way: above Askrigg in the Yorkshire Dales near Mill Gill, August 2013 (Note the appears to be a steep drop on the far side, and a choice of directions!)

On holiday in the Yorkshire Dales this summer, I was reminded of this, as I clambered, pushed, wormed and struggled my way over or through the most amazing selection of gates, stiles and other passageways I have ever seen. I became utterly fascinated by their variety and how they spoke to me with regard to my circumstances, faith and journey in ministry. Several weeks on, I find myself returning to the photographs I took, and regarding some of them as prayer stations. In fact as I prepare some ideas for an act of worship based on Psalm 84, I am struck by the fact that a montage of such photo’s as these might prove something people might use as a focus for their reflections:

Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favour and honour;
no good thing does he withhold
from those whose walk is blameless.
(Psalm 84:10-11)

St. Oswald's, Askrigg viewed from a narrow gateway on the walk down from Mill Gill, August 2013
St. Oswald’s, Askrigg viewed from a narrow gateway on the walk down from Mill Gill, August 2013

The image that speaks most clearly of my own circumstances at the moment is one of a narrow gateway, in a rather awkward field corner which was hidden when viewed from any distance, looking across to a village church. I know where the church is in this photo, but in the reality of my developing ministry that isn’t the case. Some of the reason for my sporadic blogging at present is the journey of discerning where I will serve my ‘Title Post’, or ‘Curacy’ as it may be better known. This is done under the guidance of my Diocesan Director of Ordinands, Bishops’ and others, and it isn’t a process that can be shared publicly, but suffice to say I’m waiting on “Plan B” and trying hard to learn something about patience.

In the meantime, I shall keep seeking prayerful inspiration from my photos – and I think I might be able to put together a montage that would fit Psalm 84:3 too, but that would involve nests, rather than gates!

Building communities – Steve Chalke at #gb40 might relate to #winchestermission

My blurred last image of Greenbelt 2013 - Duke Special and the Greenbelt Festival Orchestra were on stage.  'Colourful but very blurred' is about how well I currently see the mixture of theology and pragmatic community opportunities that ordained life is currently  looking like. I wonder, does it, will it, ever come into focus?
My blurred last image of Greenbelt 2013 – Duke Special and the Greenbelt Festival Orchestra were on stage.
‘Colourful but very blurred’ is about how well I currently see the mixture of theology and pragmatic community opportunities that ordained life is currently looking like. I wonder, does it, will it, ever come into focus?

It’s great to be told half way through ordination training, that “theological colleges are training people for the wrong things!”

I heard that gem, among others, from Steve Chalke at Greenbelt over the Bank Holiday weekend. After my issues with camping that curtailed my experience of Greenbelt 2011, this time I stayed with a dear friend in Stroud (real bed & bathroom in peaceful surroundings) and had the company of my sixteen year old son, and was thus encouraged to focus on music and poetry, rather than talks.

But Steve Chalke’s talk “The Business of Salvation: Building holistic communities in the 21st century” was one of the exceptions, and I think it may prove to have relevance to our Diocesan Conference this week “Living the Mission of Jesus” where the keynote speaker will be Tom Wright (Revd. Prof. N.T. Wright, to give him what may be his formal title).

Steve Chalke’s point about theological training was that we’re being trained as theologians to run churches, rather than what he thinks we need, which is to be trained as entrepreneurs or ‘pioneers’ (to use one of Bishop Tim’s favourite “p’s”) in social infrastructure and community building.

Making the link between the original social functions of the Jewish synagogues and the need for local Christian communities (as opposed to out-of-town mega churches) Steve said something like this:

Church groups need to become/create/found infrastructure organisations – something they can do, together with businesses, local council’s and other community organisations. We have to be in the mix so that stuff isn’t done for profit, and pragmatically to stop stuff in our post-welfare state society from not being done at all! Being are core/key part of the debate gives churches/Christians a voice in the debate and protest – because we will have “skin in the game”.

My impression is, that this is exactly the sort of collaborative partnership that we may be directed towards at conference, and which as a Anglican Diocese with hopefully still a building (or similar resource to sell or redesign) and a fellowship of Christians in every parish, we are hopefully well placed to use.

I will admit a failure here: I haven’t yet read most of Tom Wrights “How God became King” which was the ordinand’s Christmas present from +Tim last year. (To be honest, I’ve had other things to read in the meantime.) But, I think what he’s trying to say in that, and I have a hunch he will emphasise similar at conference, is that many Christian’s have become too focused on Pauline and salvation theology, forgetting that this needs to be partnered with the Kingdom theology of Christ’s mission in his lifetime, i.e. the things he did between his birth and death as told in the Gospel accounts. These are the bits that tell us God is already doing his Kingdom work, as Steve Chalke put it, and all we have to do is join in! From some reasoning like this, I’m guessing Bishop Tim get’s his vision statement for the Diocese of Winchester that we should be “living the mission of Jesus”.

To me Steve Chalke, Tom Wright and Bishop Tim seem to stating similar things, that come close to the category of “blindingly obvious”. What concerns me is whether there is really not just the aching/longing prayer, the resources (financial and human), and the will-power to do such community Kingdom building, but whether the structure and constraints of an Anglican Diocese is really enabled to make it happen? I’m hoping that I will receive and encouraging answer to this, because I need to be enthused for the year ahead, and hear some substance to the purpose of my possible future ministry.

Going back to my original Steve Chalke quotation about theological training, in my view at the end of the talk he actually partly refuted his own statement. He clearly said that as Christian’s we need both theology (articulated in clear, common language) and the business skills in our church leaders. So when, in the Diocese of Winchester we think about re-structuring our training patterns to enable this long-term living of the mission of Jesus, are we also going to encourage and enable the tools of community enterprise alongside the theological training ordinands like me are already receiving?

So those are my starting thoughts for the week – not much, but where I’m coming from.

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

Travellers in the community – Gospel opportunity?

Travellers in a local public open space, Yateley, July 2012

Last week we had a small group of travellers take up residence in a field, which happens to be a public open space. As far as I can tell they caused no trouble, (unless you particularly dislike what I think was Elvis being played quite loudly), had no dogs loose that I encountered, and once they left, there remained only tyre tracks (though it is possible the Council may have cleared up, I don’t know).

I have been challenged personally over the last year or so in my pre-conceptions of, and reactions to travellers, gypsies and those of romany origin. I grew up in the 1980’s in Minstead, when my father was involved (through his work in the Forestry Commission) with the ‘Peace Convoy’ on Stoney Cross in 1986. I had also grown up with the stories of his previous work as a policeman in the same area, and the old encampment he used to visit on the edge of the village before I was born. There were other, less law abiding groups he encountered too! I knew these groups to be utterly different, but most had brought with them disruption (of different sorts) to the village, and inadvertently created division in the residential community.

I have not met directly, any of the travellers that pass through Yateley, and I don’t like fairground rides, so don’t visit that either.

I have however met several of our local settled Romany community through my work doing funerals, and baptism preparation at St Peter’s. They have without fail, been welcoming, both to me personally and to talking about their understanding of God. They feel very strongly about having a local Christian minister ‘do the honours’, and a loyalty to their local church that to be honest has surprised me. On each occasion, I sensed a strong link with God in the simple things of life: his creation which they value, and the family ties and traditions they keep so strong.

These points of recent contact and past memories, highlighted for me how easy it is to restrict who it is we regard as belonging to our community, who it is we offer a welcome to, who we are willing to recognise as fellow worshippers of God Almighty, who in fact our neighbour is.

It has also made me enquire into and research how the traveller and Romany communities relate to God, use a lot of Christian symbols in their home, and still are quite particular about returning to a parish church to mark the way-points in life.

As part of the selection process for ordination (Bishops Advisory Panel or BAP) that I have spoken about before, you have to give a short presentation on something that interests you, and which you can relate directly to your experiences of ministry so far. (You then have to lead a discussion about it with your fellow candidates!) I chose to do a presentation “How can the Gospel be ministered effectively and inclusively to our native Romany and traveller communities?” You can download and read it if you wish, but please be aware that I wrote it in a deliberately challenging fashion to provoke discussion: Gospel ministry with Romany and Travellers

In the process of putting that together, I discovered many links and a great book about the life and faith of these people, and I draw them together here in case they are of use to anyone else:

The Pure in Heart: An Epistle from the Romanies by Martin Burrell a truly excellent book (also available in Kindle format).

Pip, a 17 year old Romany boy, writes an Open letter to Channel 4 about Big Fat Gypsy Wedding

Diocese of Ely: Travellers and the Church including a download from Revd Martin Hore “Travellers and the Church – a Christian Response”

Friends, Families and Travellers a website aimed at ending racism and discrimination against the traveller community

Gypsies and Travellers – Why Should Christian’s Care from the Church Network for Gypsies and Travellers

I was, and am, particularly indebted to Simon Martin, Training and Resources Officer at the Arthur Rank Centre (supporting rural communities and churches) and Revd Simon Cutmore (who blogs at Rectory Musings) for their help in pointing me in the direction of these resources as I prepared for BAP.

I think that (probably after ordination training) I will be challenged again in this area, so I would welcome your thoughts, reactions, and experiences.

Service for the Celebration of Pentecost

Pentecost candle and holders

On Pentecost Sunday I had the privilege of leading and preaching at the church of All Saints, Minstead (at the invitation of the incumbent Revd Dr James Bruce). This was the church in which I was baptised, confirmed and married. It is also the church that my Dad has attended for the last 60 years, and the occasion also marked his 80th birthday.

In the next post is my sermon, which built on my long association with and knowledge of the community and it’s people and in particular with Furzey Gardens which lies at the top of the village, and last week won Gold at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show for their garden created by members of the Minstead Training Project for people with learning disabilities. (BBC South news coverage here.)

The liturgy for the service I adapted from that in Common Worship especially the Times and Seasons section for Pentecost, to create something that was simple but meaningful. I used the word DARE that appears repeatedly in the “commissioning” that forms the conclusion of that service as the mnemonic that I also hinged the sermon on, producing a over-arching theme that started from the light from the Pascal Candle and the Easter story, and hopefully took them into the future daring to carry the flame of the Holy Spirit. You are welcome to see, use and comment on the form the final liturgy took by downloading this: A Pentecost Celebration

Liturgical Notes:

  • I deliberately asked for the Gospel to be read immediately before the Pentecost Reading, so that the flow of the readings was chronologically correct and drawn together into the one story;
  • I created candle holders that used four of the DAREs in the closing liturgy, and a variety of flame coloured card, so that people had something symbolic to receive and take home (see photo). The master copy for the candle holder is here: CandleHoldersForPentecostDARE
  • The ‘commissioning of people of the Spirit’ at the end of the service was adapted from the original to take account of the fact that we didn’t in fact want people to go outside the church, and I no longer live in the community. They also used the liturgical and historic spaces within the church to guide where I asked local individuals to read the individual DAREs from. These could be adapted to use in any other church and community.

Footnote: I can thoroughly recommend The Trusty Servant pub in Minstead where my family continued Dad’s celebrations at lunch!

To BAP, BAPing, I BAPed – encountering the verb of selection for ordination!

Since announcing on Easter morning that I have been recommended for training for ordination, I have been meaning to explain a little of what happens at a Bishop’s Advisory Panel… known by it’s acronym of “BAP”.

Conversations suggest that this has become a verb. You spend months anticipating and planning “to BAP”. You then arrive for this two-day selection conference to discover you are “BAPping” and when you hit recovery mode, you “have BAPed”.

You only get to BAP if you have been recommended to do so by a panel of selectors in your own Diocese following, probably years, working with a Diocesan Director of Ordinands, and hopefully a spiritual director and other advisors, to discern whether God is calling you to ordination.

The BAP itself includes all those things outlined here, by the Ministry Division of the Church of England. But if you’re going to BAP, you’re probably wondering… what is it REALLY like, beyond all the assessments and interviews the paperwork outlines?

I found this post ‘So you’re going to a BAP’ by Liza Clutterbuck a really helpful place to start! [When I’d written this post I discovered Emma Goldby also makes a very helpful point here about your relationship with God being key to how you approach a BAP. Then Briony BAPed at Shallowford and her detailed reflections are here.]

Bishop Woodford House, Ely (it’s the low building that lies behind the Diocesan Offices through the double gate)

I BAPed at Bishop Woodford House, the Diocesan Retreat Centre of the Diocese of Ely. (The other regular venue is Shallowford.) I travelled by train and would thoroughly recommend this. The selectors themselves encourage you to take extra-great care of yourself if you drive home, as you are more mentally tired than perhaps you should be for a long drive. The only downside of train-travel is crossing London from Kings Cross to wherever during the rush hour as I did on the way home… I loath the Tube at the best of times… but I wouldn’t have wanted to drive (especially via the M25 at the same time of day!)

Bishop Woodford House is almost in the centre of Ely (you turn left when you get to the roundabout at the top of the hill), close to Kings School (which appears to have taken over many of the buildings around Ely Cathedral and has the new buildings behind the house, which many rooms look out over.)

Ely Cathedral from the park benches to the south

If you’re BAPing at Bishop Woodford House it’s well worth getting there at lunch-time and taking the time to go round the stunning Cathedral before proceedings start at 4pm-ish. As you will read in my sermon illustrations here my visit on a stunning spring day, had a profound effect on me. If you say you are attending a BAP at the Diocesan Retreat Centre the Cathedral staff will let you in for free! Take a small camera, as you see, it’s worth while!

The lovely managers at Bishop Woodford House let you drop your bags there even if your room isn’t ready, and will offer you a hot drink, before you go exploring the Cathedral. If you have a picnic with you, the open parkland through the arch to the south of the Cathedral (the footpath is marked to the riverside I think) has some benches and lovely views, but the Cathedral also has a Refectory.

I have to say that although I found my BAP tiring, I actually really enjoyed it. I’d encourage others to go with that aim in mind. It’s wonderful to meet new people, from a wide variety of backgrounds, and of different ages and traditions. The regular worship gives the event a rhythm and spiritual space to receive from God, which is a good counterpoint to ‘giving out’ of yourself A LOT by way of written and aural conversation with the selectors. The two ‘sermons/reflections’ we were given by two of the selectors during the event, were brilliantly tailored to feed us, emotionally and spiritually.

You have to be aware that the selectors (three to each panel of eight candidates) will be asking as many unspoken questions of you during meal-times, as they do in interview. This could make meals a slightly edgy affair as you are meant to circulate around the different tables through the course of the conference (the selectors stay in the same seats each meal), but to be honest, it was just fun getting to know a bit about them, their ministries and hobbies, as well as your fellow candidates. The food is plentiful and lovely.

Many people suggested to me that it is good to make sure you have a drink at the (self-service) bar, as selectors like to see how you relate to fellow candidates (though they didn’t seem to use it themselves, so I’m not sure how!) I had a soft drink the first night, but departed early to my very comfortable room. It was good to have time to phone home and talk to the family, and get an early night – I didn’t look at the Pastoral Exercise that night, just made best use of the peace and quiet.

The presentations and discussions on the Tuesday morning are probably the most demanding part of the event – at least I found that to be the case. Yet, it was the candidates that made it that way; we all got so interested in what each other was presenting that discussions, though timed-out by selectors, were re-started and continued at all the break points during the morning.

Once you get into the pattern of interviews, there is plenty of time to prepare your Pastoral Exercise in between whiles and into the evening, as the interviews were well spaced. The second evening I focused on completing the exercise (which can be done electronically and printed out on site if you have a laptop and peg-drive with you) and didn’t use the bar. There weren’t tea/coffee making facilities in the rooms, but it was easily accessible at all times of day and night.

The East end of Ely Cathedral viewed from the Almonry garden! I wish I could photograph the sound of the bees in the cherry blossom!

Making the effort to complete the Pastoral Exercise the second night, gave me copious freedom to rest between interviews the last day. Still blessed by brilliant spring sunshine, I took the chance through the late morning, to explore of the Cathedral Close, and can recommend the small garden at the Almonry Restaurant which appeared to be open for visitors to wander around.

Although once the BAP is finished you will probably be keen to return home, don’t feel you have to rush if you don’t have to; if you’re travelling a long distance, or have connections to flights (there were candidates from France and Italy on my panel) then make sure you allow plenty of time before you need to check in for planes.

Lastly, how much you feel you should make or are making friends with fellow candidates is a tricky one to judge, but I found it happened naturally – God seemed to have this in control as much as everything else! I had met one fellow candidate at my pre-BAP retreat & we had rapidly become Facebook friends! Though ‘accidental’ this meant there was at least one familiar face when we all gathered for tea the first afternoon. Four of us caught the same train home (at least as far as Kings Cross). This journey, marked by slight hysteria and long periods of silence as we wound down, added one further person to my network of friends (this time on Twitter). It has since transpired that we three were all recommended for selection, since when a fourth of our number has found me on Facebook – another recommended candidate! I think that if any of us thus connected had not been successful, we were all mature enough to have been pleased for those that did, and sought to encourage those that weren’t. At least I hope so.

So, that about rounds up my reflections on the actual process of a BAP. If you’ve been through the process yourself, and want to offer your own reflections (especially from experiences of Shallowford) please feel free to comment.

If you’ve read this anticipating your own BAP, know that God is with you, and that his will, WILL be done.

Helping Children Deal with Grief

'Thingy' still living in my son's bedroom, nine years on.

When my son was about six, one of those people with ‘grandmother’ status in our family died.

My husband and I had discussed previously that we would explain clearly but simply to him what had happened. Our son was already aquainted with the concept of death, since from the age of three he’d had tropical fish, and sadly through the poor advice we were initially given, and the short life span of some fish, by six years old he had discovered that fish don’t live for ever.

When I came home from supporting my Father at the end of the day that J died, my husband had broken the news of her death to our boy. We knew he would be devastated as she was full of fun and he delighted in the pony rides and mud in her fields he enjoyed when we visited regularly.

I came home with ‘Thingy’, a small toy that had been in J’s lounge and frequently been played with by our boy on our visits there. I explained that because J had died, and could no longer look after it, ‘Thingy’ was now his. It made J’s death a bit more real for him, which was obviously painful, but it meant that he understood why there was a need for us as a family to do more travelling and sorting than normal, and why everyone (especially Grandpa) was rather miserable and upset.

Although we decided it wasn’t appropriate for him to attend the short crematorium service (partly because of sensitivity to J’s relatives), he did attend the far more personal Thanksgiving Service that was held at a week or so later, with the familiar things he knew (her saddle, riding boots and garden flowers) clearly visible along side the wicker urn which held her ashes. We were able to share together our collective grief, and the strain of my role in the service (a reading), as being perfectly normal, rather than something hidden or secret.

I was reminded of all this by a recent conversation with a grieving family who needed to encourage their grandson to explain to the four year old great-grandson, the death of a much loved, and talented, grandparent. It also sent me back to find various resources I’ve been made aware of over the years that can help children, and adults, to cope with their grief at the death of a loved one. I’m really collecting them here as an aide memoire for my own future reference, but thought it might help others too.

I found some good advice at Dragonflypin.co.uk. Here there are also other resources for helping children and adults of different ages as well. In particular I have come across the following two story books which are good:

There is also a good leaflet to support adults helping children when someone has died. It’s produced by Mothers’ Union called ‘Children and Bereavement’ and is available direct or through local members in the community in which you live. It includes other ideas for remembering a loved one, and some contact details for different support groups.