A new commandment – a ‘crafted’ sermon

My creative output has done better than blogging of recent months, not least due to the death of not only my wonderful father-in-law but of some good friends. However, to my great surprise, I keep selling items via the Etsy I started in January, particularly on the seashore theme; indeed I’ve received and completed a couple of commissions. More of the developments on that score soon.

Often life and ministry inter-twine; one speaks to and feeds the other, and my sermon this week is a good case in point. Reading around this week’s passages led me to a ‘weaving’ theme, and thus, unsurprisingly, to Dorset Buttons. The sermon needed a visual aid – not least as it was to be preached outside in St. Mary’s churchyard – and so a new ‘button’ design was created, and first a wall-hanging and then earrings formed themselves.

My ‘Celtic Cross’ wall-hanging. Yarn is gorgeously soft and stunningly coloured Malabrigo Caracol Merino ‘Whales Road’ via Beaker Buttons, the beads were mostly gifted, and the seashells were four Purple Topshells from Weston Shore, Southampton and a larger type of Topshell (I think) from my stash.

I don’t suppose for a moment that the design is a new one, but it was one I worked out myself, without recourse to instructions from Jen Best of Beaker Buttons, or the Henry’s Buttons team, so for me at least it’s a significant step forward. Both scales worked well, and I will try and create some more of each.

Celtic Cross earrings on silver hooks. Yarn is a small hand-died batch from Jen Best at Beaker Buttons, which I bought some months ago.

The sermon itself is below; it is reasonably specific to our context as parishes, and as much for reference for me, as it might be of spiritual or missional use to anyone else – although the wider post-pandemic vision will resonate for many. It does sow another thought in my head (or perhaps that should be ‘sew’ an idea?), but I need to work that through much more and discover whether it’s viable before sharing it widely.

A new commandment – weaving on the framework of our faith.
1 John 5: 1-6 and John 15: 1-17

Some of you will be aware that in the last 6 months or so, I have found & started to develop new creative skills & ideas, based (increasingly loosely) on the heritage of Dorset Button making. 400 years ago making buttons to adorn the fine clothes of the gentry and the work-wear of craftspeople and labourers, was a valuable cottage industry. Today the same skills are being revitalised as artworks in their own right &
feeding the creativity of many, particularly but not exclusively, those with a strong connection to nature.

The process of Dorset Button making sees a ring bound in thread and then spokes created through which an intricate or random pattern can be formed. This is then embellished with whatever you have to hand. For example I have lots of beach-combed seashells to use, and I’ve acquired many beads!

The sermon illustrations propped at the base of our churchyard lectern. (Photo credit: Graham Hartland)

Similarly, the writer of 1 John 5 binds together faith in Jesus, with love of God, love of one another, and obedience to God to create a complex but beautiful picture. Faith in Jesus, and the pattern with which that is threaded into our lives, is the framework onto which the beauty of love and obedience can then be woven. But like all intricately crafted patterns, it can be tricky to see how we might bring something so creative to life ourselves – except at the cost of a lot of time & effort.

If we have chosen to take part in this worship today – in whatever format suits our circumstances – then we are responding to the love we have experienced and understand as being from God. In doing so we are self-identifying as “children of God”. Sharing in worship (weekly or daily) is part of the framework that brings faith to life in our lives. Of
recent times we may have (even if grudgingly) learnt new ways in which that framework can support our lives. We might be a bit wonky and uneven at times, and need the occasional knot tied when threads part, but we know ourselves to be loved by God and respond with faith.

The author of 1 John 5 doesn’t offer details of what the love that should adorn that framework of faith will look like. It seems like he expects us to know God’s commandments. We do, don’t we? But in case we need a bit of help, the lectionary handily offers Jesus’ summary of them in today’s Gospel; that “we love one another as Jesus has loved us”
(John 15:12). Jesus has indeed shown us examples of what this love might look like, through his ministry of healing, feeding, offering forgiveness, and raising the dead.

Jesus was being obedient to the pattern of life that God had sent him as the Messiah to fulfil. As God’s only begotten Son he came into the world by the “water and blood” of human birth, the same as you and I. But having been with God from the moment of creation (Colossians 1:15-18), the pattern of his example would be completed through the pouring out of blood and water of his crucifixion (John 19:34, Colossians 1:18-19). Our life as children of that same God comes into
being through the framework of faith, and the beauty of the love that we exhibit as our lives form their pattern, should be similarly Christ-like, perhaps even cross-shaped.

Jesus’ “new commandment” to love one another, as he loved us, is about creating within ourselves as faith-full Christians an image which is as close as possible to Christ’s pattern, but in our own unique style and colours. But we can only weave it, by listening to God carefully through the power of the Holy Spirit so that we understand the intricacies and difficulties of what it is that we are called to be and do. As with Jesus’ crucifixion, the biggest test of our faithfulness and love of God will be at the most challenging points in our lives and the life of our community. Loving as Jesus loved us will probably court opposition and controversy, but probably not violence and death as it does for some in the world!

So what does all this mean for us today as individuals, and perhaps more particularly as a fellowship of Christians? Jesus was giving his new commandment to his disciples at their last meal together, somewhat unusually hidden away from prying eyes – perhaps as we have been for too long. Here was worship and teaching to sustain them for what lay ahead, for what really mattered. Of course, Jesus normal rule of life saw him perpetually on the move: having individual conversations, occasionally in people’s homes; bringing healing to people on streets and in leisure facilities like the local baths; teaching forgiveness and justice on hillsides as well as in synagogues and temples. This private conversation was all about equipping his disciples as they went out into the world after his resurrection!

Over the last year our worship has been forced out of our church buildings, but been found to speak into people’s lives through video-streams and paper bags, as well as in blustery churchyards. I know many of us want to get back to singing in the warm, but should that be our main aim if we have been given a pattern to follow that involves loving others in our communities, as God has loved us?

Of course we need our church buildings as places to do things that serve our communities, not least the beautiful examples of the Foodbank at St. Barnabas, and even St. Mary’s hosting socially-distanced teacher interviews for CKS on Wednesday this coming week. But the fellowship we share in the buildings we love, that ‘worth-ship’ (giving God worth) that we may be so keen to return to, looks
dangerously like us doing the things we love, rather than focusing on the sort of love Jesus would have us show to others, a love that doesn’t involve making other people conform to ‘our way of doing things’, but is obedient to the pattern that God wants us weaving in the life of our
communities.

I am no more comfortable with what I’m saying than many of you will be; but as Jesus showed us, love isn’t about our own survival, as individuals or indeed as church fellowships. For those of us on our church councils, when the pressure is on us to meet attendance and financial targets, it’s very easy to inadvertently start equating God’s love with getting bums on pews, money in the offertory, and metaphorically (or otherwise) propping the walls up!

The love that 1 John 5 is talking about is world changing, indeed world conquering – and if we look at our world, it jolly well needs to be! For the faith we profess in our worship not to be contradictory, or lacking in integrity, we must remember that it’s God’s love that we are sharing not on our own; it’s no more about what we love about being a
church fellowship than it is about the buildings use! When was the last time we as Christian fellowships changed someone’s world by bringing them to faith, and an understanding that God loves them?

It’s going to be tough, uncomfortable & difficult weaving beautiful acts of love onto the framework of our faith, the faith that has sustained us through the last difficult months. But if we truly believe that we are loved by God as his children, it’s time we started working out what new threads of obedience we need to use to make the cross of Jesus sacrifice for us visible, and find the embellishments that will draw people toward the beauty of his love.

She sews seashores and trees and…. When the creative imagination demands an Etsy outlet!

A couple of years back, on a day out to visit a friend, we happened upon the old circus store at Weyhill, now (or at least normally) a wonderful community of craftspeople and their shops. Among them was Beaker Buttons where Jen and her crafting community specialise in the tradition of Dorset Buttons. Not having heard of this craft before, I picked up one of their wonderful kits, which I completed during a summer holiday – all of which tells you this was probably 2018-19!

More recently, I’ve learnt a bit more about this tradition, completed more kits, bought more supplies (Jen sells online, thankfully), and started to experiment. Many of the Christmas gifts we gave last month were based on the tradition, augmented experimentally with additional materials, including beads. It was an experiment that seemed to work.

Along the way I’ve found a use for some of the seashells and other materials I beach-comb, something I love doing when the opportunity presents itself, and learnt to work a few basic jewellery findings, including in stirling silver. I’ve even made suncatchers and wall-hangings! There’s some images here of what I’ve produced and given as gifts. Everything is unique and no two things are ever quite the same, even if I’ve used similar principles.

I’ve got loads of ideas for what else I can do with various remnant yarns in my collection (occasionally augmented with fresh purchases, because, well ‘yarn’!), but have run out of outlets for them and the backlog of other crafted items I’ve made in recent months and failed to give away.

So encouraged by my family, especially my son Chris who sells hand-made wooden spoons here, I’m officially launching an ETSY today: Ramtopsrac Creations.
I’ve kept prices low whilst covering the cost of materials, and not charged overly accurately for the time they take to make as I enjoy creating them.

Please feel free to peruse this new mini-paradise of gifts for yourself or for friends, and make a purchase if you wish and are able to. All purchases will feed my creativity, and in the long-run hopefully help me to enthuse other local crafters, when that craft cafe idea I had gets the dust shaken off it!

Flower Power: sugar pots and Rudolf’s summer garland

I can’t quite believe I’ve only been crocheting since my first lesson on 24th January. As I suspect so many have found before me – it’s an addictive hobby.

One of the easy little projects that I can pick up and do a few of in an evening, is making flowers. So far I’ve made flowers to decorate tiny jam jars (recycled from eating Lidl’s pate). The catalyst for this was creating decorative little sugar pots for the tables of the Make and Mend Community Cafe that was meant to open at the end of April, but of course ‘lockdown’ has put paid to that, at least for the moment. However, there’s a set of sugar pots waiting with the coffee samples, and I can knock-up a few more in an evening if it looks like we’re going to open. I fear though, that it may be September before that happens.

Then as a silly one day, I made one for Rudolf. You might remember that we bought my mother-in-law a wicker Rudolf for her garden and I knitted him a red string scarf in time for he and his scarf to be her Christmas present.

But of course, it’s too hot for him to wear it in summer, so it had to be taken off, and as a silly thing to do, I crocheted a pair of red string flowers of the same pattern as I’d used on the sugar pots. I thought these could be tied to his antlers… and initially they were. But between us, we got carried away, and I got some jute string of different colours from E-Bay and I made a whole series of them. When we gave them to Marion (my mother-in-law) for her birthday, she instantly garlanded them together round Rudolf’s neck, and he will remain so adorned for the rest of the summer!

String flowers for Rudolf
Rudolf with his summer garland!

By the way: I wouldn’t however recommend crocheting (or knitting for that matter) with string. It’s very hard on the fingers, and some natural jute string is easier to mould to shape than others!

Making and Mending – self-care and creating community

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The mending pile, before this afternoon.

Anyone else got a mending pile?

This afternoon I’ve done the simple things: a button on my husband’s shirt, and a new neck strap on a favourite cooking apron using some webbing inherited from my Mum; she’s been dead 24 years (who says I never through anything away?)!

There’s two pairs of trousers to be turned up after purchases in the sales, and a favourite skirt that needs a new elastic, but those are for another day.

In recent weeks I’ve also been learning new skills. I had a favourite ‘honorary’ aunt who could crochet, and I still have the shawl she made me, but I never learnt – until about 6 weeks ago. So, I’ve been working on my doubles, and triples, made a granny square, and guess what… a scarf!

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The first granny square, with a remnant bit of vari-coloured yarn from a knitting project

Crochet seems quicker than knitting to pick up, and easier put down instantly in my busy, interruptable life – and I’m enjoying it. I’m very grateful to the lovely lady at Pack Lane Wool in Basingstoke for teaching me the basics (after some failed solo attempts), to Bella Coco’s YouTube video’s, to the encouragement of my husband and knowledgeable friends who’ve introduced me to Ravelry and Attic24. I’ve even gone back and now have the yarn for a larger project.

Mending and making. Making… and … mending. There’s something really important about both skills for community life, and for Christians for their faith life. As a Christian I believe we are made to be creative – our creator God gave us creative skills to be used to enhance the beauty of his world, to give to and grace the lives of others, and to build community.

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Starting to sort out the ‘stash’, inherited tools, and the products of sale bins as I begin to set up some small activities that could be picked up off a cafe table and tried. (Photo credits to my husband – he wanted to show his Mum what I was up to!)

As I’ve alluded to previously, getting my creative streak back has become important to my post-training self, mending my state of mind, drawing me into a more positive place. There’s God in this too, the idea of reconciling us to be the very best of who God created us to be, being healed to a place of peace. If we’re in a better place in our selves, we’re more likely to have the mental resources to be there for others too – so it’s important to my calling too!

2020-02-12 Make & Mend, initial advertWithin all this, there is something else being created too, something that might create a space in one of the communities I serve (Eversley), in which people can not only make and mend in a practical sense, but also come together across generations to create a stronger community. I hope the opportunity to work with and in Eversley Village Hall will produce something of value to a community that boasts nothing similar by way of meeting places.

It will be interesting to see the results of both a larger crochet project, and this community project turn out as we move through the spring.

A warm winter – scarf-tastic!

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Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer – scarf knitted (and nose badly crocheted) in red string with added bells.

So I may have gone a bit overboard with the scarf knitting in the last few months.

The most notable were probably the red string (jute twine) scarf with bells on, that I knitted for the reindeer we gave my in-laws for Christmas (which also got a botched crochet red nose), and the Pride scarf I knitted for my God-daughter!

 

But there were others, by request and otherwise. So if you’re not into knitting, yarn, scarfs and crafts etc. I’d probably skip this, as it’s largely going to be a photo-log of scarves I’ve knitted in recent months.

As I mentioned previously, this all started with the need to rest my leg. There ended up being three scarves combining old Colinette mohair yarn with variously, Rios merino wool yarn by Malabrigo that I bought in Wyoming, and some other Colinette chunky pure wool, that I’ve long since lost the label for.

 

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Colinette mohair and one of their old chunkies of variable thickness – scarf the second.

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Colinette mohair and Malabrigo Rios scarf 1

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Scarf 3 – again Colinette mohair and variable chunky

 

October half-term in a fairly damp Exmoor saw me work on two, one for a child in Sirdar Wild (with tiny bells in the tassles), and one being my first foray into something other than plain and purl combinations – feather and fan stitch using Sirdar’s Hayfield Chunky Bonanza.

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Left: Sirdar Wild (which no longer appears in their collection) and the Hayfield Bonanza ‘Raspberry Ripple’ in feather and fan stitch. 

 

 

 

We also went to the wonderful Pannier Market in South Molton and picked up some Stylecraft Cosy Delight Chunky ‘Blue Mist’ which went on to produce another feather-and-fan-stitch scarf (which I appear to have forgotten to photograph before giving it to my lovely Mother-in-Law!)

Other scarves over the winter have included:

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Irish Moss Stitch ‘Pride’ scarf using Hayfield Bonus Chunky

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Dark Grey scarf in basket-weave

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Finishing the Hayfield Bonanza ‘Raspberry Ripple’ with a candle-flame pattern

There was also another Sirdar Wild scarf in a deep purple, for the friend who bought me the wool for the Pride scarf as a Christmas present… what goes round comes round!

I still regard myself as a beginner (you note, no clothing yet) and as I’ve started to use Pinterest more to expand my repertoire of stitch patterns, I’ve come across the concept of ‘blocking’ – not something I’ve ever met before. I don’t remember either my knitting grandmothers or my Mum ever pinning out damp knitting! But many crafty social media friends have advised that this is a thing to do, to give it a smoother more even finish, so I guess I need to locate the appropriate pins, and get soggy with the candle-flame scarf, and one of the early mohair/wool mix scarves, neither of which have yet to find homes!

Next up? Some mending, and a first proper foray into crochet.

Update: Hopefully below is the ‘Blue Mist’ feather and fan stitch scarf I knitted for my Mother-in-law – though obviously the photo below is not of her!

Fighting for creative space

In blogging terms it’s been a draught patch where much of what I’ve been experiencing and reflecting on hasn’t been stuff I could blog about. There are other reasons, but some of this has been because a good friend and ‘mother figure’ in the parish had died very suddenly last month, and although helping to take the services involved was a tremendous privilege and a joy, serving the family and the many friends she had in that way, took an emotional chunk out of me that didn’t leave space for blogging.

Trying to take stock a bit, I’ve turned back to the things I’ve learnt about myself this year.

Some of my personal journey in ministry this year has been finding the place and rhythm of those creative spaces, through which I can set aside the pressure of parish life, feel I can rest in God’s presence, and experience the fruit of the spirit. Having a spiritual director to poke, prod and encourage me has been a ‘God-send’.

The creativity of the spaces seems to be incredibly important to me, something that is produced from my time with God… it might be the means of connecting with God, or the result of that connection, but the creativity is important.

A view of the back of Alton Abbey

One of the most useful places have been Alton Abbey, where my reflections might take some written form, and feed my ministry in some way, as in with my struggle to connect with the Honesty of the Cross prior to leading the Hour at the Cross. At the Abbey the atmosphere is one soaked in prayer, the offices, surrounded by beautiful scenery and… laughter (on arrival and at tea with the monks). I never fail to come back refreshed and smiling!

The other successful ‘creative space’ has been the complete focus of concentration in the act of fly-fishing, which brings with it a great sense of peace and joy – things that it took my spiritual director had to remind me are fruits of the spirit; my mind is relaxed in such a way as to return to the parish with fresh eyes, as well as importantly returning with food for the table!

Last week I read in the Church Times of the clergy of history who have on occasion neglected their flock for the river-bank. I’m no clergyperson, have no flock (though responsibilities to a flock) and no wish to neglect anyone, but I’m beginning to understand something of their compulsion to fish. There is a spiritual element to the excercise, and I was intrigued when reading with my husband about the idea of a ‘sixth-day ministry’ that he suggested I explore the idea of leading a fly-fishing retreat and the ideas of patience and preparation as being both those required for fly-fishing and ministry! Something to explore… I wonder if they’ll do a follow-up article on fishing ministers of the 21st Century?!

View from a seat at Alton Abbey... a meadow, alive with the sound of honey bees!

This last 3-4 weeks has seen none of this: I’ve not made it to Alton Abbey nor to a patch of still-water with a rod in my hand. I have missed both, and as I prepare to lead a Pentecost Service I fear that my lack of such creative space, in the face of the emotional needs of myself and others, may mean I don’t offer others the quality of connecting places with God that I know I’m capable of, and by which I seek to serve.

Pragmatically I know it can’t be helped, and I have at least spent a day with my husband at Lord’s … a great, if less spiritually fulfilling experience! However I know that I have a day at the Abbey booked for the end of the month, but it is good to acknowledge that the recognition of need for creative spaces with God needs to be prioritised for me to fulfil my ministry.

There are also still other forms of creative spaces I suspect I can make the most of, spending more time in the garden and returning to the silk-painting, but those are creative spaces at home, and at present I feel more freedom to meet with God when I am away from the phone and the computer!

Wanting to turn cartwheels

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Yateley Green

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First Oak leaves of spring - Yateley Green

These were taken this morning as I walked back from taking the car to have its bumper re-sprayed… the result of a minor scrape at the garage when it went for MOT last month, and all done free of charge. They are my record of two things – a gin clear blue sky without a con-trail in sight (my thanks to the relevant volcano and apologies to suffering friends in Australia, Spain, USA and elsewhere), and the first Oak leaves of spring. As a Forest girl, this is always for me one of the momentous moments of the year – somehow it seemed extra appropriate today.

I never learnt to turn cartwheels but tonight I wish I could. Early this evening I handed in that final (much delayed) essay on the theology in marriage preparation that completes my FdA in Christian Theology and Ministry. No more essays, just the patient wait to see if its good enough, though I admit to being quietly hopeful. I’m hoping too that folk will find it useful, and will probably post it up here… but think it best wait until I’ve had it marked; somehow it seems rude to do otherwise. I don’t intend taking those brackets out the sub-heading of this blog till the result either!

So, my training as a Lay Minister is sort of complete, and yet I know it isn’t… on Thursday I’m back at OAP to do the funerals training that constitutes part of my IME 4, though that I think is it for this academic year! The rest of ministry will also be training, as I know I have much practical stuff to learn, and need to build a little confidence in certain areas – but for tonight I’m not going to worry about them.

I am sincerely grateful to all my family and friends, those that read this blog, others on Facebook, those I’ve almost ignored for years, and the various clergy who I’ve pestered to distraction of recent months, especially my own vicar. Without all of you folk  I wouldn’t have got to today.

Saturday will see me in London, at Mary Sumner House for Mothers’ Union Trustee Training. I need to start to get to grips with being a Unit Co-Ordinator and it seems likely that the next few months will involve playing catch up on a lot of outstanding ‘things to do’ parochially, MU, and domestically. But that actually feels a really exciting prospect right now as I sit beside a Gin and Bitter Lemon. I have also promised myself a gradual return to gardening, sewing, silk painting and fly-fishing in the coming months, but I think it will all take time to happen – though G and I did clear the greenhouse on Sunday and Dad arrives tomorrow bearing tomato plants (and some more boxes of our belongings to sort and house!)

Thank you God for the journey thus far – and here’s a glass raised to the rest of the adventure 🙂