Yesterday afternoon, I sat down for a spot of therapy in a busy Sunday. I needed to paint a stone for the Charles Kingsley School art installation commemorating 165 years since they were founded. It’s got a Brimstone butterfly on it, but that’s not the point of this post.
I became distracted when a bird flew in through the open french window. We hastily shut the internal doors and opened all the appropriate windows, hoping it would fly out, but no, it simply battered itself against the windows we couldn’t open and then perched panting on a picture frame.
I fully expected it to be one of the resident baby Blue Tits that clamour in the apple tree for their parents’ attention, but no, it was of all things, a Nuthatch, something we rarely see in the garden let alone in the house!
My husband needless to say grabbed the camera, whilst I acted as bird-wrangler in chief. In the end, after further capers round our dining room, I briefly caught it and steered it out the window, after which it sat panting on the pergola, recovering its equilibrium before flying off. Sadly it lost four feathers in the process but otherwise it seemed none the worse for its adventure.
Needless to say we now have some excellent photos of a Nuthatch that we wouldn’t otherwise have! In the process I noticed something that you don’t normally see when they’re pressed against a tree trunk… they have the most beautiful little pillowly clouds of pale feathers underneath.
Always grateful for these up close encounters with wild animals, even if they’re sometimes a little nerve-racking. Here’s to the next.
I’ve been keeping a secret, and finally I can share it.
Back on 21st March, I had finished a meeting at Winchester Cathedral, and got in the car, when I heard an incredibly distinctive noise that had me behaving like a terrier on ‘point’. It was not a sound I’d expected to hear at the Cathedral, but it had me out car and over to the iron railings with the binoculars that live under the car seat, faster than you can “Church of England”!
There, sat on the roof of the north aisle, flying to the west and end and back, were two individuals of a species I’d only ever seen briefly and at great distance on Cornish cliffs, or in organised, camera assisted watches at Salisbury and Chichester Cathedrals. Peregrines. I only had my phone, pictures on which showed but specs on the roof, but the video of the distinctive calls were good enough to send to Keith Betton of Hampshire Ornothological Society (HOS), to check that I wasn’t going mad. Returning to my car, a passing bishop seemed rather bemused to see me peering at the architecture with binoculars, but thankfully didn’t query the behaviour of one of his junior clergy!
Keith assured me I wasn’t bonkers, that a nesting tray had been freshly inserted into the (cathedral sized) gutter that had flooded in these birds 2017 attempt at nesting, and that fingers were crossed (and perhaps prayers being said). These were birds that HOS had been aware of for years, and which had been ousted from their previous site by the demolition of the old Hampshire Police HQ in winter 2016-17. The news that they were nesting on purpose built, hopefully flood proof, accommodation at the Cathedral this year, was however to be kept quiet at this stage, at the request of the Cathedral staff. So I stayed ‘stum’.
My camera has accompanied my two excursions to the cathedral since, nestled among my robes when arriving to volunteer as a Cathedral Chaplain. I’ve taken what photos I could: the male showing well on the first trip, male and female visible most recently. Quiet conversations with the birds guardians (the virgers) were had. I also reported in to Keith when I saw them.
Last week Keith did me the courtesy of letting me know there were three chicks that needed ringing, and this was achieved on Monday 21st May. At that point the Cathedral staff also agreed the news could be made public, so you may have seen it on their Facebook feed, or on the local TV morning news on Tuesday 22nd May. I hope this success story might encourage Winchester Cathedral to work further towards become an Eco-cathedral as the diocese works on become and Eco-diocese.
To be able to photograph Peregrines on ‘my’ cathedral, in the city my father grew up in, and in which my grandmother lived all her life, was thrilling. Then I was offered the chance to be among a small group who could watch the chicks on a different nest in south Hampshire being ringed 22nd May, and the diary was flexed to make it possible. So this week I watched four chicks of these Schedule 1 species, having their ID fitted under license, so that they can be identified, and their future distribution and success tracked.
The population growth since the first Hampshire pair in the 1970s, is one of the success stories of conservation post WWII (when they were shot so as not to stop the passage of vital carrier pigeon messages to the resistance in continental Europe) and post-DDT. I’ve now witnessed two of the nineteen successful Peregrine sites in Hampshire this year!
I’m still on placement in the North Hampshire Downs, and was blessed today by a stunning run between the villages, scattering Redwings and other thrushes to the four winds, and narrowly avoiding a flock of Partridge who had less concept of what wings are for! The less said about People In Lycra On Cycles the better.
On the liturgical front, celebrating Holy Communion in a rural church (Tunworth) lit largely by candles was lovely, though with no heating I breathed ‘smoke’ through the whole service and found my hands frozen by the silverware at the altar – all of which made the warm cup of tea provided from an urn in the open church porch much appreciated! At least at the second service (in Greywell), the Eucharistic Prayer was not accompanied by a loud quacking from the river that runs past the churchyard… this time 😉
Some might say as a trainee on secondment I should have pulled the punch that this week’s Advent Gospel packed, but there has to be an integrity with the season, and why should those living among parishes in vacancy not be challenged to consider how they may be being called to consider how God might be calling them to change their ways, just as he calls me to change mine as I write?
When we moved to Yateley about 18 years ago, there were 4 fruit trees in the garden. An apple, a Conference pear, a plum tree and a cherry. It is a small garden, but the intention was to keep them all; we are big fans of fresh, home-grown produce.
But within the first 12 months, it became abundantly clear that the plum and the cherry had canker; areas of damage to the bark that at times oozed a nasty brown slime. They were the two smaller, weaker trees, and unsurprisingly they produced no fruit. Since the canker was in the main stem, we couldn’t simply remove an infected branch, as the fungal infection that causes canker would have remained.
We cut them down to ground level, treated the stumps with something so that we didn’t get sucker growth from the roots, and took the stems away to the tip, since bonfires aren’t allowed in our neighbourhood. We didn’t want the infection getting into our compost heaps or otherwise spreading through the garden. The apple and pear have survived, and after a good frost-free flowering period, bear a good crop of fruit.
In our Gospel reading this morning, John the Baptist is effectively likening the Pharisees and Sadducees, the spiritual leaders of their community, to a canker infection in a tree that needs to be cut out and thrown on the fire. The canker itself is the overwhelming arrogance and pride that the Jewish elite took in their inherited relationship with God, forgetting that their God is the maker, creator and hope of all things and all people, the Gentiles included as our Epistle highlights.
Ordinary people were flocking to John the Baptist in their hundreds to receive baptism in the river Jordan. They knew from their scriptures that the Prophets had said that God would come back to his people, when they repented. So people came in droves to repent. Confessing their sins, they were baptised with water in Jordon; not just a symbolic cleansing of individuals, but God doing a new thing in history as they went through the Jordan a second time, 1000 years after the Exodus.
God’s defeat of all evil and the establishment of his kingdom on earth as in heaven, is proclaimed by their actions as imminent. It was the beginning of a true repentance at the heart of ordinary people, that wasn’t just sorry for the day-to-day things they had done wrong, but would be life changing for those who recognised the one who would come immediately after John: the Messiah, the new King of the Jews, the inaugurator of God’s new Kingdom. His roots might be in the House of David of whom Jesse was the father, but this new Kingdom wasn’t just for Israel but for the whole world.
Of course, when the spiritual leaders of Israel sussed what was happening, they didn’t want to miss out on the excitement and anticipation that ordinary Jews were experiencing; but they were met with a very different reception. Not for them the immediate new life and forgiveness symbolised in the waters of baptism. John you see knew that at the heart of their presence was pride in their own status, and the ancestry of the Jewish people as a whole; a purity which they sought to protect.
John prepared the way for Jesus coming, knowing that God really is God; God isn’t simply a kind, indulgent parent who seeks to gently correct his children. Jesus would balance his mission of forgiveness, healing and comfort, with the solemn and stern news that when the Kingdom of God is completely fulfilled, God will demand complete allegiance. In Gospel of St. John we hear Jesus say, “I am the Real Vine and my Father… cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes…” (John 15:1-2 MSG). The vine does not even need to be suffering from canker to find itself pruned hard so that it bears fruit!
The spiritual leaders needed to have that made very clear to them, right from the start, and that was part of John’s role. They would find that the easy way to avoid being cut out and thrown on the fire would be to show they were fruitful trees, not hidebound by pride to their traditional rules, regulations and arguments around those bits of scripture they found convenient. In urging harmony between early Christians rooted in both Jewish and Gentile cultures and spiritualities, St. Paul uses our Epistle this morning to takes us back with them to the Old Testament prophesies that not only Israel, but all nations are summonsed to worship, submit to and praise God.
In this Advent season of preparation, we remember today that John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament prophets even though we encounter him in the New Testament. We also anticipate both our remembrance of God’s incarnation as an ordinary baby in a manger, and the completion of the Kingdom of God at Jesus’ coming again. Binding those ideas together today is John’s challenge to the traditional spiritual leaders of his time echoing forward into our own church congregations who are called to be the spiritual leaders of our own generation, taking our part in the coming of God’s Kingdom. It is a call to take a long hard look at ourselves, individually and collectively, and identify where there might be a certain unhealthy pride in our lifestyle, our roots in and attitudes toward others in the community in which we live, or the practices with which we prefer to manifest our faith.
Before we flock to Jesus for the annual ‘love-in’ at the manger this Christmas, we need to look at where we need to accept God’s challenge and judgement in our own lives, through the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom 15:13). Where is there canker in our lives that needs to be cut out? What in our lives are we being summoned to repent of? It’s not just about being sorry because we can’t seem to help ourselves from making mistakes, but consciously setting aside that which inhibits our ability to share the love of God with others.
The collect that accompanies our Advent wreath today says that Jesus is the incarnation of God’s ‘power’ and ‘love’. Peace should flow from the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ out through those of us who believe not just in his birth, but the truth of his crucifixion and resurrection too. But it will only come from us understanding that this peace with God and with our neighbour, stems from accepting and responding to both the ‘love’ and the ‘power’ of God visible in that incarnation; the balance between healing from God and obedient allegiance to God. The peace of God, which is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5) in our lives, will only be seen when the canker of pride and arrogance that makes us think we don’t need to change anything, has been well and truly cut out, and placed on the fire for God’s disposal.
Collect for the Advent Wreath: Advent 2
God our Father,
you spoke to the prophets of old
of a Saviour who would bring peace.
You helped them to spread the joyful message
of his coming kingdom.
Help us, as we prepare to celebrate his birth,
to share with those around us
the good news of your power and love.
We ask this through Jesus Christ,
the light who is coming into the world.
It’s been a while since I wrote a blog post about wildlife sightings, largely because they have been few and far between – not so much the sightings as the time to make them in the first place! However, having spent both my husband and my father’s birthday’s on Noar Hill, near Selborne in Hampshire, I thought I’d share our increasing love of the place.
At the very end of April my husband and I spent a rather cool day in this nature reserve which boasts among other things great views, and a friendly throughput of knowledgeable wildlife experts happy to stand, talk and share their expertise. Though we met people who had seen a Duke of Burgundy (a rare butterfly for which the hill is known) and also Green Hairstreak, we drew a complete blank, notching up only more common species like a Peacock and an Orange Tip.
We did however see emerging Twayblade orchids, early Common Spotted Orchid, and got some good sightings of singing Chiff Chaff and I photographed this little warbler at close range, which I assumed was a Chiff Chaff (it wasn’t singing so I couldn’t be sure). I’ve since been told by a chap on a birding Facebook group that it might be a Wood Warbler because it has brown legs, though it would have only just arrived on migration if that was the case. Any guidance or definitive explanation would be most helpful via the comments please!
The end of May is my father’s birthday, and leaving poor husband to an INSET day in school, I took Dad to Noar Hill, and this time came away with a list of 7 butterflies seen (Duke, Orange-Tip, Green Hairstreak, Dingy Skipper, Large White, Green-Veined White, Speckled Wood), 4 species of moth (none rare), a Dark-Edged Bee Fly, Twayblade, Common Spotted (including a white one) and Early Purple Orchids, and a Wood Warbler heard (but not seen – Dad’s warbler id skills stretch to song, and certainly wasn’t a Chiff Chaff singing that beautifully!)
Here are a selection of the treats from the day, though not including father’s fab photo of a Yellowhammer taken out the car window before I’d even managed to park!
I thoroughly recommend a visit to Noar Hill, but don’t miss out on Selborne. There a great public loos at the free car park by the pub, and of course Gilbert White’s house and it’s associated walks, but there is also The Selborne Tea Room and it’s lovely cheese and watercress scones that aren’t to be missed, unless they’ve sold out (again)!
I had spent the morning finishing a book about Forest Church and connecting more consciously with God through nature, and the idea of natural theology where we actually come to understand God directly through his creation.
I went into the garden to have lunch on the bench in the sun and spotted a butterfly, apparently dead, floating in the water trough under our raspberry plant (itself rescued from the compost heap last year). I fished the Small White butterfly out to get a close up of it’s wings – at which it promptly struggled feebly in my hands.
Minutes later, sat in the sun and with the heat from my hands, it was much revived and posing for photographs, some of which are here. A real resurrection moment!
I had already planned to take a walk in the sun – the forecast telling me this was the best day of the week to do so (Wednesday) – and spend some time with God. I also consciously broke one of the rules of Forest Church, which is not to be too attached to your camera!
On my usual walking route through which I watch the seasons and wildlife, I notched up a further species of butterfly: Green Veined White, Peacock, Tortoiseshell and Brimstone. I also found the Common Lizards, Graham and I had found about ten days previously basking back on their piece of car part on Blackbushe.
To my utter delight, I also found two species that have been missing from my usual route since the filming of Rush. There were three Stonechats present, and a pair of Schedule 1 species I’m not naming! Time to start being even more careful not to disturb those nesting in the Gorse and Bramble bushes methinks.
So what among this wealth of wildlife did God say to me? Well it involves Dandelions. As a gardener I loath them, far, far more than Daisies which I’m more than happy to live with. In fact as I finished my butterfly rescue I picked all the Dandelion heads I could in the garden.
Once outside though, all down the verge, across the public field that is not longer cut regularly (which I claim as a blogging success story because they only stopped mowing after I got my Councillor friends to look at the issue), there were literally thousands of these bright yellow heads, or their seeds blowing everywhere in the breeze. For starters I though they’d make great evangelists, noticeable, prolific and seed well into the surrounding community! Then I realised what all the butterflies I photographed were feeding on,… Dandelions! So they’re full of nectar too, obviously a good source of nourishment to our little winged friends.
So, there’s a challenge or two:
should I stop dead-heading the Dandelions in the garden, or see if I can at least put them to good use – Dandelion tea anyone?
should we try to be like Dandelions in our ministry; bright and noticeable, providing refreshment, prolific and sowing seeds everywhere?
The reading Maggi Dawn has set for today is one that is important to my parents, having been the favourite of Canon Rham, the Rector of All Saints Minstead at the time of their marriage and later my Baptism. ‘Consider the lilies of the fields…’ is marked in every Bible they’ve used I think.
Maggi is keeping us focused on the idea that if we’re going to ‘give things up’ it needs to be done in such a way that we “reconnect our understanding of our daily existence to God… [and] no amount of self-improvement will change God’s view of us… The point of the fast is, in fact, to humble ourselves… accepting with absolute honesty our true self.”
I’ve been sat in the window of my room watching the Jackdaws (we don’t have Ravens at college) and pondering on those things in my daily existence that connect me to God, or should do. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
prayer – whether that be through the use of set liturgy in Common Worship or Celtic forms, or through arrow prayers ‘at the kitchen sink’ or through more reflective times walking, or more often in recent months, gazing out the window watching the rain.
creative things – doesn’t matter whether it’s cooking or something more artistic, and it particularly includes creating acts of worship, and writing sermons; I’ve not stopped cooking though I don’t bake as much (partly for the sake our waistlines), but the others on this list have all been neglected by my focus on, or procrastinating about, my studies – and procrastination is rarely creative! Something I could rectify, possibly?
studying – I’m studying theology for ministry for goodness sake, it ought to connect me with God, yet sadly it’s rarely been in a way that I have found uplifting and really fulfilling, so I guess with the next essay (the theology of land in the Old Testament with particular reference to the Sabbath) that should be my key aim, not just to write it, but to seek God in it.
people – I’ve realised through this course how much I miss people when I have to study, and it’s not just the spending time with them, it’s the practice of hospitality given and received, the seeing Christ in people and where needed, being Christ to others, all of which I so look forward to doing more of in curacy!
So I guess that what I really need to focus on once I return to it later next week (after lots of time needing to be away from it for valid reasons like this study weekend) is humbling myself before the immense amount I don’t know about God, and expecting him to show me things in the essay I need to research and write before Easter.
Feels pretty Lenten to me, even if I’m not explicitly ‘giving something up!
PS: I’m sure Graham will be along later with his thoughts on his blog here.
I don’t know about you, but at times it seems that we’re always being expected to chase things up. It’s like we’re living in a culture of “if you don’t ask, you won’t get”.
In church life, experience tells me, that a personal challenge or request for assistance gets better results than general requests in the notices, and in the case of pew sheet and parish magazine articles, possibly the least said about the typical response rate the better! Or have I just had bad experiences over the years?
I remember many years ago in a church plant, we tried for months to get a second team together to lead the worship band on a rota basis, rather than doing it every week. It was only when my mother died, and we simply weren’t available for several weeks on the trot, that something happened; hey presto a second band had formed, and the result was a rotation of musicians/bands in the years that followed. Situations like this possibly contributed to the fact that, whatever the context I was in, in the years that followed I tended to ask lots of questions of people to try and get answers, get things done, move things forward, for me or for others. It didn’t always make me popular.
When I started ordination training I thought I’d try a different tack. I decided to be less pushy, and not to make myself into the total pain I feared I’d been in Reader Training. I’d wait to see what guidance, support etc I got, given that much was promised from various sources. Some things did quietly materialise in the background, but in other respects, nothing.
I’m not blaming anyone, because I think the cause was largely unrealistic workloads on those meant to be supporting us, but, for example, the building of a support network linking college, sending parish and student, didn’t materialise. I quietly got on with using the one I developed for myself. History is repeating itself though, as I know colleagues the year below me are also having to be self-reliant in this respect. If this is acceptable, perhaps the college ought not to create the expectation it’s needed in the first place?!
The same seems to be true of getting essays marked, at least at M-level. Because the few of us doing it are meant to pick and chose (with guidance) our portfolio subjects, we’re only ever an odd one or two people doing a subject and each to their own essay title or portfolio focus. Hand-in dates aren’t set in the same way, and getting marks back has never yet happened without me asking, nor within the two week period laid out in the course handbook.
At times colleagues have described to me how they don’t feel their Diocese, via their Diocesan Director of Ordinands (DDO), is interested in them. They start college, residential or part-time, and have a sense of abandonment especially in the middle year (if they’re on a three year course). Decisions made at one point aren’t followed up with a “how’s it working out?” type conversations.
That is unless, like me, you get to a stage (in my first year of two) where you have to shout for help because for whatever reason, things have gone wrong, and you’re not coping. I am now very, very glad that curate friends made me go see my DDO and tutors last year when things were getting out of hand – they made it quite clear you had to ask for such such ‘pastoral’ support from your diocese. That was the point where I gave up being less pushy and as a result have received great support and encouragement from my DDO, but I know of others who have simply decided that their Diocese don’t care (which I don’t think is the case, or I don’t want to think is the case).
But it struck me the other day, reading Archbishop Welby’s speech to General Synod, that this doesn’t really balance with the God of abundant grace that we’re expected to model. The Archbishop was talking about the need for cultural change within the church, and the way in which different traditions/factions approach each other within the church. Specifically he identified the Church of England as
… an untidy church. It has incoherence, inconsistency between dioceses and between different places. It’s not a church that says we do this and we don’t do that. It’s a church that says we do this and we do that and actually quite a lot of us don’t like that but we are still going to do it because of love.
Oh boy, is he so right with respect to how different diocese select, support and appoint clergy!
I know I’m a simple soul, but it strikes me that if we don’t model love, abundant grace, taking time for people, asking for and listening to their needs and points of view, etc… towards the ‘young’ newly fledging, church’s leaders of the future, how can they then be expected to model it onwards into their own ministry and relationships?
If the church doesn’t resource modelling the first steps on the ministerial journey with the appropriate staffing levels (be that at diocese or in colleges), then we fall back on the life-style of “if you don’t ask, you won’t get”, and we’ll never manage to show the counter-cultural, grace-filled, heroic and courageous ministers and churches that we are called to become.
Yesterday was to all intents and purposes the last day of my summer. I spent it out in the New Forest on not one, but two walks with my family, because I’m greedy and it was a nice day.
Our morning outing was to a place called Backley grassground and Soldiers Bog, which if you’re driving south from Stoney Cross on the A31 you can see on your left… though it’s probably better and safer viewed as a passenger!
The heather (mostly actually Ling, which isn’t heather at all really, but what most people think of as heather), like most other plant-life this year, is late, so still giving a glorious scent, though the further down into the bog you walk (on a good path), the more it get’s mixed with the equally heady scent of bog myrtle! Walking down we saw two Dartford Warblers, and I got my first ever clear view and photograph of a rarish summer migrant butterfly, in from the continent, a Clouded Yellow! It made my day, and we’d hardly started 😉
Down in the bog, whilst the husband was chasing dragonflies (we were meant to be working with two cameras but it became a slightly amusing squabble for the one we both prefer), the lad shouted “baby frog” but it turned out to be even better – a young Common Toad. We even got a video clip for my husband to use in school.
We were expecting Hobby’s to be visible working the valley bottom for dragonflies, but not a raptor was in sight, so after a little while leaning on the bridge in the bottom watching dragonflies, we climbed the hill again, this time startling a young Fallow Buck about 3 years old, before wending our way back to our access point to the open forest.
After lunch at ‘home’ in Lyndhurst, I was greedy for more and determined to see a favourite raptor, so we set out again to a spot I visited last year where my son and I found a Hobby nest. After a little distraction from a fading Holly Blue on the ling/heather, I heard the sound I’d been straining for – a juvenile Hobby calling from the same clump of pine that we’d found the nest in last year. There were in fact two, and both were well fledged and off the nest, though still clamouring for food from a parent. The light was against us so my poor photo was only in silhouette, but we saw all three birds clearly before walking in high spirits back to the car and ‘home’ once again.
Today, we drove properly home to Yateley again, where the wildlife can be as good, and we have wi-fi to upload the pictures! There are more of them, and some snaps of Curlew and Fountains Abbey on my Flickr site – accessible via the left column.
Now things start to get really busy again, so I shall enjoy the memory of this lovely end to our summer, as I start to get back into the grips of ordination training.
Very quick post with a record of our evening stroll. The venue was Blackbushe and it’s surroundings again as usual.
This Peacock Butterfly looks like it overwintered – though how any butterfly can survive the winter we’ve had, I really don’t know.
The Whitethroats are still showing well, and with patience, I’m getting closer!
The Roe Buck was the star of the evening though, he was in the bottom corner of my favourite field, not far from the gate. I got close enough to lean the camera on the gatepost, and took loads of photos, until a couple who had entered the top of the field and walked round to the gate, disturbed it and it headed back into the copse. We were surprised, they never even paused to watch, even though they can’t have failed to see it!
There are more photo’s on my Flickr site, including a couple taken yesterday in the old chapel at college. They’ve kept the ‘chancel’ area round the altar for quiet prayer meetings, but the rest is now a quiet space to work in – by far the most comfortable and now my favourite place in college.
In case you’re wondering, the walks are an attempt to keep me sane when I’ve got lots of stuff to think through, and the fresh air and exercise are good for me too!