Being a Companion of Christ – the pain, the purpose and the Passion (Lent Reflections 2019)

I originally prepared the following material for Passiontide 2019 when I was asked to lead Lent Reflections for the wonderful local Mothers’ Union group that has nurtured and encouraged my ministry over many years. The reflections focussed on various items, most of which were in a small bag given to each participant.

Obviously this was a group that met ‘in person’ and could share with each other in their thinking, singing and praying, something which sadly this year isn’t going to be possible for most people in Lent. However, some of the material may be useful to the spiritual context in which we find ourselves currently, so I’m making it available in .pdf formats below. Hopefully all the items you’d need could be made or created from items around your home or could be found when out for daily exercise. They include:

  • hand or body lotion
  • two penny pieces
  • three lengths of (preferably brown) wool or string, knotted at one end
  • pieces of pitta or ordinary bread
  • a feather
  • piece of cloth
  • die (dice)

Some written material in this material is from named sources, unattributed elements are my own original material. If you use any of it, please could you credit the appropriate person, and leave an appropriate comment on this blog post.

I am in the process of preparing some Lent in a Bag materials for distribution in our parishes this Lent 2021, starting with ash mixed with varnish and applied to a nobbly stone/pebble. I will share these materials when they are finished.

A mother’s Biblical wisdom from beyond the grave

Mum’s working NRSV Bible. As you can see she was prone to ‘make do’ and has therefore adapted a different Bible cover to protect it!

Tomorrow, on Saturday 15th September 2012, I start ordination training at Ripon College Cuddesdon (also known as the Holy Hill, or the Holy Hogwarts and recently described by Revd Richard Coles as the CofE’s Sandhurst!)

In a box of my mother’s old theology books unearthed from the roof last weekend, among a heavily scribbled on copy of ‘Faith in the Countryside’ and much feminist and liberation theology, I found her ‘working’ copy of the Bible, an NRSV with Apocrypha.

So ended my search for a lighter NRSV to carry for college, having decided I didn’t really want to carry her Annotated Oxford NRSV which weighs in at 3.25lb an may yet be used as a door stop. This one weighs just less than 2.5lbs, but that’s not the only reason I’ll be using it during training.

My mother was a strong character who dominated my childhood, had a dangerous grasp of the English language, and was lethal in her use of a walking stick, wielded from the haven of her folding chair at anyone she wished to speak to – even Bishop’s could not withstand it’s knee numbing impact!

Mum worked hard at Deanery and Diocesan Synods in the late 1980s and early 1990s for a wider use of lay ministry, for a recognition of the difficulties faced by the church in rural communities, and for the ordination of women. Sponsored by the Diocese of Winchester, she studied Pastoral Theology at La Sainte Union in Southampton, though she never completed her degree because she died of cancer in January 1996. She owned the first computer in the family, but thankfully never met the internet, Facebook or Twitter – she’d have loved the idea of harnessing social media to share her faith and viewpoints!

Although we shared our Christian faith, and she’d actually found her faith journey encouraged by my church links at college in Aberystwyth, I didn’t want to follow through on her interests. But as I have deliberately sought to make my own path in faith and ministry, I have been increasingly aware how much all I have been enabled to do results from the work of people like her. And, here I am starting ordination training, wanting to concentrate particularly on (among other things) rural ministry! She will be laughing heartily right now, full of pride and sharing the joke with God!

I’ve never been particularly prone to emotional outbursts, even (or especially) about my mother. However, inside the Bible, among the snippets of paper (for which she was infamous) and quotations written into the blank cover pages, I found her words at her mothers’ funeral, and my words at hers (which I must have placed there shortly after).

I also found and the notes I reprint below. Sixteen years after her death and in light of my own prayers and fears at this point in time, I wanted to share them through my tears and laughter. I suspect that at this particular juncture in the life of people I’m about to meet, and in the history of the Church of England, they may speak to others as well as to myself:

On a blank page at the front of the Bible:

John Chrystostom to Olympias his deacon at Constantinople after his exile in 404:

“When the gale blows, a pilot controls his ship by adjusting the sail, and so steers the vessel safely. You already know this, my dear lady, most beloved of God, so don’t give yourself up to the tyranny of sadness, but be mistress of the storm, which you can do, if you use your reason; the waves are not too powerful for your skill.”

On a thin sheet of paper, in her neatest handwriting, unattributed to anyone else Mum wrote:

I believe in God.
I believe that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son to die for us. For all of us.
How can we as Christians deny the right of any who are called to serve Christ, to test that call, regardless of gender.

Inside the Bible cover is written a quotation by Henry van Dyke:

He who planteth a tree is a servant of God.
He provideth a kindness for many generations,
And faces which he hath not seen shall bless him.

Finally, on a scrap of paper torn from a notebook, a reminder of my Mother’s sense of humour:

Middle Age is when it takes twice as long to rest and half as long to get tired.

At last, like never before, I can thank God for my Mother, her wisdom, and all that she gave me.

Improving relationships

Whilst the decorator is busy doing what he’s being paid for, we continue to live in chaos following our extension. There is a rumour that we can start “moving in” to our own home in ten-days time – but in the mean time live in it! Painting in the extension is complete, the vinyl floored areas will be complete by tomorrow, and the carpets for the other new rooms arrive next week. Getting to know the decorator is interesting; just we discovered a kindred interest in cricket, so I look at the score from Johannesburg and wished I hadn’t – rolled over for 180! Boys what ARE you doing?!

So in the midst of all this, I’ve been ‘working’. It’s the beginning of a new triennial in Mothers’ Union life, with people taking on new leadership roles, including in my case, Head of Marketing and Communication for Mother’s Union in the Diocese of Winchester! (Sounds grand, but till the last essay for University is out the way, I won’t really get to grips with living it out!)

Amongst the stuff I’ve been uploading to our Diocesan website, is a load of stuff to get us thinking about our relationships, as this years theme for Mothers’ Union is “Relationships Not Rules”. Much of the material would be really good for all sorts of home, prayer and Bible study groups, as well as some that just to help you take stock of your own personal relationships. It might be produced by Mothers’ Union but that just means everyone can use it! Do go visit the link and make use of it.

Mothers’ Union also have something called their “Wave of Prayer” which is also all about relationships – international ones! Each Diocese in which there are Mothers’ Union members  has a prayer support relationship with several other diocese, and once a year that little group form the centre of all the prayers of Mothers’ Union members (in 78 countries) worldwide for about 5 days. So I’m gradually updating the information we have about Winchester’s links which include the area of Kitgum in Northern Uganda – as they struggle to overcome nearly 20 years of war, they are struggling against drought, but still working to support family and community relationships by developing a seed bank.

I miss relationships. One of the most significant issues with both Reader Training and our extension, is that we’ve not had time for people, except to ask them favours (and there might be a few more of those asked in the next few days as I’m going to need a light fitting changed, and a radiator dropped for the decorator next week!) It will be really good to start using the new spaces, welcoming people for meals and generally having time for people again. Soon…

And my relationships with wildlife: well, walking the dog shows that there are still at least one Wrens alive on the heath, yesterday produced a lone Stonechat, and today an immature swan flew over heading towards Fleet Pond. There are also still some Fieldfares and Redwings along the lane. However, tussock field is a slog to walk round in the snow at present. I’m looking forward to more time with the wildlife too!

What does God regard as work?

I’m currently leading a small group in a course called ‘Monday Matters’ as part of my Faith and Daily Life module of Reader Training. Each session involves some discussion pre- and post-Bible reading discussion and prayer. At the end of the 6 week course, the participants will be required to feed back on how I have led the material.

I won’t go into detail as to those sharing in my group (for obvious reasons), but suffice to say that I regard the source material as poorly presented by the diocese and inappropriate in it’s language for any mixed group of people – it assumes that everyone can read close typed text and understand complicated words. Neither does it reflect different learning styles… very little seems to be accessible to the majority of the population who are kinesthetic – learn by touch/doing. I am taking the course at it’s word, and adapting the material each week to make it more accessible, though as at Week 2 I’ve not found a way of putting questions and ideas over without words.

I am at the moment therefore interested in the idea of ‘work’ which the course suggests is the daily activity with which we fill our day. But neither the first two sessions seem to have considered what God created as work, but rather encouraging us to create outcomes through our ‘work’ that proclaim God’s kingdom in some sort of transforming way.

What got me thinking was reading Howard Jameson‘s blog today, about a book “God at Work” by Ken Costa:
“Costa’s definition of work is … part of God’s pattern in creation – something which therefore pre-dates the Fall and presumably awaits us in the New Heaven on the New Earth.”

This sent me scurrying back to Genesis, and I am reminded that (Gen 2:15) “The Lord god took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” This appears to me as needing to be a core thought in how we think about what we do during our normal day – it is (or is it?) something that is God ordained as part of how God made us to interact with the rest of his creation.

I am now wondering if this will form part of the later sessions of ‘Monday Matters’ and why it hasn’t appeared as a starting point? I hope that it does, as this point seems to me key to drawing the two strands of “Faith” and “Daily Life” together.

I shall be watching Howard’s blog more than usually closely in the coming weeks.

Sharing study material

During my training I have had to produce various study materials which now aren’t being used. So this seemed like a suitable place to share them people. For full details, and additional material as I can sort out the various file attachments, please look at the ‘Study Material’ tab (above).

ACTS IN A NUTSHELL

These three Bible Studies were my New Testament assignment. They are for use with adults meeting in home groups, and include teaching and group material (with a small amount of space for participants to make notes) and some reflective material to aid worship.

Since then the two groups that have used them, have found there to be too much material (especially “interesting questions”) for a group to get through in one evening, so you have been warned. My tutor was a little over enthusiastic about them according to the moderator! Perhaps one day I’ll have the time to review and edit them myself based on your comments?!

The material comes in four documents for you to download: and Introduction or ‘overview’ (which is designed for all group members to read) and which gives group members some things today before attending the first study. There are then the three sessions of study material, concentrating on three specific passages in Acts, but drawing out some of themes from whole of Acts. The final one of these, completes the “story” so that participants aren’t left anticipating more.

Please download the pdf files by clicking on the relevant list below:

Acts In A Nutshell – Introduction

Acts In A Nutshell – Study One – Acts4:5-35

Acts In A Nutshell – Study Two – Acts10:9-48 and Acts 11:17-18

Acts In A Nutshell – Study Three – Acts20:17-38