Announcement: Associate Priest

20170530_122819wThis morning 11th Feb 2018, it was announced that the Bishop of Winchester has appointed me on a permanent basis as Associate Priest in the Benefice of Eversley and Darby Green. My Licensing Service will take place at St. Mary’s Church, Eversley on Monday 9th April, rather appropriately the Feast of the Annunciation.

My husband Graham and I will remain living in our home in Yateley, my ‘sending’ parish, and the place with which Eversley and Darby Green has strong historic, social and economic ties. On paper it doesn’t look like we’ll be living in the communities I will be serving; but because of the way they relate to each other, and how the congregations are spread among them, I will be. I will also remain a Non-Stipendiary Minister – the accepted terminology in this diocese is Self-Supporting Minister (SSM) but I’m not self-supporting as I don’t anything from anywhere; and my ministry is enabled through the love and generosity of my spouse!

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My ‘popcorn’ sermon at St. Mary’s Eversley

I will be honest, for a long while I didn’t think this was what God wanted. But, it’s not the first time I’ve been wrong, or been very slow on the uptake – my call to ordination being a fine example. Whilst some significant moments in my ministry have included instantaneous recognition of God’s hand on my life, sometimes I have been too busy trying the doors that fit my dreams and/or the recommendations of those around me, or burying my head in the sand, to notice or accept the calling God is trying very hard to make obvious. In this case, as Graham and I sought to discern where God wanted me next, he opened an unexpected new job for Graham in his vocation as a teacher at the same time as the door that logically fitted it for me, closed in my face. Then when we looked at another exciting door for me, and found it very willing to open, with heavy hearts we realised it wasn’t compatible with where Graham’s new job was being affirmed and confirmed, so we had to firmly close the door I liked so much.

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Epiphany at St. Barnabas Darby Green

Cryptic, well it has to be really. If you’re interested and meet me face to face, I can explain a bit more. But it seems appropriate that such painful decisions are acknowledged in the process of discerning a new ministry, role and context. The struggles are important in themselves, but sometimes we can get lost in our struggles, and ignore the calling, the welcome, and the work, that is staring us in the face. Such is the case in this instance.

The warmth of the welcome last year when I was deployed to St. Mary’s Eversley, and the encouragements I have received over the intervening months both there and more recently at St. Barnabas Darby Green, have been a significant in me coming to realise where it was that God has called me to serve these churches. Developing a great working relationship with the new incumbent has helped too!

So, here’s to Lent, the time of preparation and penitence that suitably for me starts this week on Ash Wednesday and will lead through to Holy Week, after which I will take a week’s retreat in the run up to my Licensing for this new work. I’m looking forward to it, and to seeing where God is leading both these communities in the months and years to come.

 

It’s Jesus’ job to walk on water – Matthew 14:22-33

Don't try walking on this water! Looking from Hartland Quay to Lundy Island (a recent holiday snap.)
Don’t try walking on this water! Looking from Hartland Quay to Lundy Island (a recent holiday snap.)

In our Gospel this morning, Jesus takes possibly the shortest retreat or holiday on record. If we assume he dismisses the now well-fed five thousand and his chastened disciples sometime before the speedy fall of a mediterranean dusk, and walks out on a turbulent sea to find their boat at dawn, it was approximately 12 hours. Enough time to shake off the clammer of the crowd, to feed his inner introvert, to rest his body and mind, to talk quietly with his Father. After all, the writing was on the wall, he was going to be ministering to massive crowds for the foreseeable future, people demanding he pour out his healing presence and his wisdom, whilst the authorities find an excuse to silence him permanently.

For anyone feeling overwhelmed by people’s expectations of them, the demands of work or family, or anticipating a long period of either or both, cutting yourself off for a few hours, or days, without means of getting back to family, friends or colleagues is not just a good thing, it is a vital necessity. It rejuvenates and energises and sometimes expands our future capabilities, or perhaps more often, makes us more realistic about what those capabilities are. But I’ve talked about that before!

What about the disciples in this story? The disciples have been pushed off in a boat onto choppy seas, to fend for themselves – something they are far more capable of coping with, especially given the number of fishermen on board, than they are the sight of Jesus walking towards them through the dawn light. Their fear and superstitions take over. Dawn light can play tricks on the eyes and they had perhaps been awake for a considerable part of the night maintaining the boats progress or at least stability, in a head-wind. We shouldn’t be surprised at the exclamations of horror at the ghostly apparition walking toward them.

Peter did not have twelve hours of retreat, rest and restorative prayer behind him when he impulsively got out of the boat to see if he could emulate his teacher. As a fisherman and natural leader, in the boat with his colleagues he’d probably been playing to his strengths, using his God-given well-honed skills to keep them all afloat. But many fishermen are not confident swimmers, and the ability to walk on water is not a known attribute of any human, so when the reality of the situation he’s just walked into, or onto, really kicks in, no amount of divine guidance and support from his Master can over-ride an overwhelming sinking feeling. Peter had only got out of the boat having checked that Jesus would be there for him, though he was after-all just a little bit of a show off, the first to try and show he’d understood what Jesus was trying to tell them!

When Jesus accuses Peter of having little faith, there could in fact be a couple of teaching points. Many of us know the most obvious; Peter had only stepped out of the boat with Jesus’ encouragement. He and we need to realise that when we metaphorically do this, we need to keep our focus very firmly fixed on Jesus, if we dare to go it alone when a storm surrounds us. But it may be that he’s only supporting us in this so that we don’t drown, and are therefore both still alive and better equipped in the future to focus on what it is we are actually called to attempt and achieve in our lives.

Sometimes, we have to admit we were wrong to attempt something that was outside our skill set, grasp firmly on Jesus’ forgiving hand, watch our pride sink, and with him, get back in the boat. Jesus will always be there for us in these moments, making sure we aren’t lost to the wind and waves, but as we return to the boat, dripping and repenting our rash actions, the important thing is that we are aware of God’s presence now on board, just as he always intended it should be. Our God-given skills, combined with his presence in the one that has been sent to us, Jesus Christ our Lord, is what makes for a much calmer journey to the place where his ministry must take centre-stage, not our desire to copy him. Faith may involve seeing the boat for what it is; a shared experience with the opportunity to work collaboratively, waiting for the person God has sent to join the team and lead us into calmer waters.

It is Jesus’ job to walk on water, not ours. Jesus is the Son of God, divinely equipped to feed, to heal, to calm troubled waters, to rescue us when we get ourselves into deep water. We aren’t. We, like Peter have been called to be faithful disciples using our God-given skills, and when equipped by the presence of God through the Holy Spirit (as Peter would be with the rest of the disciples at Pentecost) to undertake difficult tasks, take risks and put ourselves in the way of tricky situations, so that the grace, love and forgiveness offered in and through Jesus, can be brought to people’s attention.

Our job as Jesus’ disciples, is to reach out and place our hand firmly in Jesus’ grasp. In doing so, not only will we have the safety and security of his presence with us, both individually and as a fellowship of Christians, but we will then also discover where he needs us to go, which shore we are called to land on, so that both his divinity and his humanity can be proclaimed in his love for all those who aren’t currently in the boat with us.

 

Growing in new ground: deployed curacy

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St. Mary’s Church, Old Basing and Lychpit
I wrote my last essay two weeks ago, handed in my training portfolio a week ago, and today it was announced that I am on the move, ministerially speaking. I see the Bishop to conclude the formal element of my curacy later this month. Then, it will be all change at the end of June.

I have spent three fascinating years with the people of St. Mary’s Old Basing and Lychpit. They have been welcoming, loving, patient and kind; a joy to know. They’ve even seen the point of starting a Messy Church, and laughed at my husband’s jokes. I was told this morning by one gentleman that my smile will be missed – a very gracious comment to one who defaults to ‘serious’ when she has a lot on her mind. Another lady reminded me that it won’t just be me going, but that my husband will be missed too; apparently he could “sell snow to an Eskimo” (as the saying goes), though I think she means ‘books to a publisher’! [You have to have seen him selling second-hand books to realise she’s right.]

My occasional, itinerant ministry around the North Hampshire Downs Benefice over the last year will also conclude next month; one Basing gentleman has described me as a ‘travelling saleswoman for God’ of recent months. Helping ease their burden during a clergy shortage, as well as my formal placement there, has given me the confidence that I can to adapt to almost any liturgical context even at short notice, and I will miss them too.

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St. Mary’s Eversley
Instead of all this, I am being deployed by the Bishop a little closer to home, and indeed to the other parish to which my itinerant ministry took me last year: St. Mary’s Eversley. They, with their sister church at St. Barnabas Darby Green, are in vacancy and continue together to look for a full-time, stipendiary, Priest-in-Charge. In the meantime they need ministerial support, and in my half-time, self-supporting capacity, I’m it for St. Mary’s. I already know I will be among friends, as there are a few familiar faces from shared ministry with my sending parish of St. Peter’s Yateley, but there will be plenty of new people to get to know, to journey with in loving God, and to collaborate with in sharing the love of Jesus. The Holy Spirit isn’t averse to using obvious geography to support God’s church, and since I live less than a mile from the parish boundary and just three from the church building, it seems such a good idea – and the alarm won’t have to be set quite so early when celebrating Holy Communion at 8am!

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The giant Redwood in the churchyard of St. Mary’s Eversley – from tiny seeds grow…
Eversley was the parish of Charles Kingsley, the Christian socialist and author of among other works the “Water Babies”, but he was also a keen naturalist – I suspect a rather more knowledgeable one than me, and certainly far better travelled. The giant Redwood in the churchyard by the simple war memorial was a seed from a cone he collected in Yosemite, that was planted after his death by his daughter!

Today, St. Mary’s Eversley is a Christian community that describes itself as ‘mixed-economy’ in worshipping style; “a traditional church… with contemporary values”. I look forward to seeking with them how they can grow and strengthen; as I know from my own youth, a long clerical vacancy does not have to be a time of frustration and atrophy, but can enable growth in discipleship and people’s understanding of their own callings under God as they ‘turn a hand’ to tasks and find giftings they never knew they had! That’s part of my story, and I expect to grow as a priest and minister with them as I become part of their story for a while.

Whilst I will be continuing to seek a permanent house-for-duty role somewhere, and my journey with St. Mary’s Eversley will be of necessity short-lived (I have a year to run on my curate’s license, which is why I’m being styled a ‘deployed curate’), I am looking forward to the adventures we can have together. Here’s to 26th June when it all starts in earnest. First come the bitter-sweet good-byes.

Mothers’ Union

Just done something I’ve been meaning to do since I started this: create a page relating to how so much of my life, including this blog, has come out of my journey of discovery with God through Mothers’ Union.

I have recently agreed to stand as Diocesan Head of Marketing and Communications between 2010-12, which will mean I remain on the Diocesan Trustee Board, and am currently praying (and letter writing) to confirm whether or not I need to have a dual license (to Mothers’ Union and to my parish) when I become a Licensed Lay Minster, hopefully later this year.