Stones into bread #givingitup 10th March #Lent2014 Matthew 4v1-4

Now, NOT my ordination stole, simply my festal stole! No less significant for all that :-)
Now, NOT my ordination stole, simply my festal stole! No less significant for all that ūüôā

If anyone tells you that the Church of England, or the Diocese of Winchester in particular, don’t do change… DON’T believe them!

Today was Deacon’s Day in the Diocese of Winchester, and despite what I’d been led to expect it was a really good day. I got to see friends, existing and yet to be, as we sat together as a cohort of 12 for the first time. Important information was made as fun as possible, and our Bishop didn’t pull any punches in a seriously inspirational talk making quite plain what we were letting ourselves in for as far as being and ordained minister in the Diocese of Winchester is concerned. He was willing to make himself vulnerable to our sometimes searching questions, and very honest when the answer was ‘we haven’t got there yet’ whilst giving us as much of the ‘game plan’ as he probably could. It was obvious, that if we’re not up for ‘living the mission of Jesus’ now is definitely the time to say so, and take a step back. I remember being part of the Vacancy in See consultation a few years back and the whole of my group told the relevant folk that basically we wanted someone who would bring fresh ideas and a fresh way of doing things. We got exactly what we asked for, and now I get to help be part of the change, part of proving that the Church of England “aint’n’t dead yet”!

We also got to meet the lovely Precentor Sue, newly installed last week at Winchester Cathedral. She and the Bishop hadn’t had a chance to meet about this yet, so it was slightly like a game of tag. This was the point where we managed to get the Bishop’s head in his hands, poor man. I almost felt sorry for him as conversations about robes and stoles got very silly in a variety of ways; apparently patent pink DMs aren’t appropriate because pink is not a liturgical colour, and the laces would take too long to sort at the point in the service where the Bishop/s washes our feet!

Then I felt sorry for myself. I really must learn that if I’m going to be organised and efficient and get things done well in advance, I can expect to get my nicely laid plans well and truly shot out the water. Winchester has always (as far as I’m aware) have always ordained in white stoles, and as regular readers will be aware I’ve got my deeply significant¬†ordination stole all finished and tucked away ready. Or at least I thought I had.

After they’d left us to the finer details of tat grants, the Bishop and Precentor had a little conversation, and the Bishop popped back in: were we up for being ordained in red stoles (signifying the Holy Spirit at Pentecost)?! Much excitement ensued from most, and in the end, I and two fellow early pre-planners, sort of gave a lopsided grin recognising that we’d be in danger of inhibiting change that signified the movement of the Holy Spirit if we didn’t go with the idea. It wasn’t like I’m not getting a red stole, and have a particular personal connection with Pentecost, and it IS a red letter day on 29th June (Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul), so… I told the Bishop I’d be ‘fine about it in the morning’ ūüôā

So, after that snapshot of having to accept change when you’ve asked for it, Maggi Dawn gets me turning to Matthew 4:1-4 for tonight’s Lent reflection: the devil tempting Jesus, who is fasting in the wilderness, to turn stones into bread.

My immediate thought is that it’s not a rock that needs softening to feed our bodies, but our hearts that need softening to feed our souls, and the souls of others; we mustn’t get ourselves set on there being only one way of doing things!!!

Maggi talks about a period of 40-somethings (days, years, whatever) signifying a concentrated period of preparation and transformation in Bible-speak (as per the Israelites wandering for 40 years in the desert). How long it was in reality might not involve the number 40, and that isn’t actually a concern – the point of there being concentrated preparation and transformation is much more important. So like ordination training and formation then ūüėČ

Maggi notes that the temptation with food whilst fasting emphasised Jesus was as human as you and I, and in turn emphasises our physical existence. I would add that this in turn emphasises that all that we are called to do can ONLY be done through the power of the Holy Spirit but that we need to know when it is appropriate to invoke God’s power in this way.

And what better time to do that, than at an ordination service! Red stole it is then!!!

PS: Graham’s blog for tonight is here.

PPS: Now very excited that I’ve realised that Canon Missioner to Exeter Cathedral and Diocese, Anna Norman-Walker is conducting our ordination retreat! At least I think that’s what the Bishop said… (note to self, must listen better!)

Building the aeroplane in flight – reflections on #winchestermission

Rt Revd Tim Daykin speaking on his vision for a  'Rule of Life' for those in the Diocese of Winchester, 5th September 2013
Rt Revd Tim Dakin speaking on his vision for a ‘Rule of Life’ for those in the Diocese of Winchester, 5th September 2013

When I set out to our Diocesan Conference, stuck as I am in a funny place half-way through ordination training, ¬†my sense of calling dry, and confused as to how and where God is shaping my future, my personal prayer was that witnessing the development of Bishop Tim’s vision for the Diocese of Winchester would lead to a revitalising of my sense of purpose in ministry and my passion to serve God.

God did do some business with me, but there was an overwhelming sense was that he did a whole load of business with the diocese. Through the inspirational Biblical teaching of Prof. Tom Wright, through Bishop Tim’s modelling of a passionate and prophetic focus, and through the the work of the Holy Spirit work in the 200 Synod and ministerial representatives present, a corporate re-imaging of church took shape. On Thursday, the priorities were set that require us to become a pioneering ‘mixed-economy’ of culturally relevant Christian communities, living sacrificially as agents of social transformation. If you live, worship or minister in the Diocese of Winchester I do recommend you watch¬†(start at the bottom & work up, slides here)¬†or read the presentations in detail – they will be changing our lives!

Bishop Tim’s use of a video clip where people build an aeroplane whilst in flight was, frankly, terrifying. It was also honest and realistic. We can’t stop being church whilst we re-imagine how we function, not just as a diocesan structure but at every level of our mission and ministry. Witnessing the pain being caused to the ministries of friends and supervisors wasn’t comfortable either, as the speed and direction of progress for some functions of the diocese were subjected to what might be termed a hand-brake turn. The letter of due synodical process may not always have been completely adhered to and some unheard questions may need close examination in the near future, but then I’m not a synodical specialist. Importantly, there was a sense that the Spirit of God visibly moving through the event was of greater importance, if only the pastoral and personal implications can be handled swiftly and effectively.

Prof Tom Wright, past Bishop of Durham, speaking at the Diocesan Conference for Diocese of Winchester, 3rd September 2013
Prof Tom Wright, past Bishop of Durham, speaking at the Diocesan Conference for Diocese of Winchester, 3rd September 2013

There were several specific words of challenge for the ordinands present. I silently wept for myself and others as Tom Wright quoted his own words to others “Don’t be surprised if you go through fire & water, it is the norm. Ministry & mission is cruciform.”¬†Yet, I was consoled to know that even our spiritual leaders have at times spent years surrounded by a sense of darkness whilst in ministry, and I was challenged by interview questions Tom Wright and Bishop Tim have heard of being placed before candidates in their pre-ordination interviews:

  • How would I lead someone to Christ? (My answer would I am afraid, vary hugely depending on the circumstances and experiences of the person concerned – no one size fits all, I would suggest.)
  • What are my two favourite Biblical passages and why?

We were reminded we have to carve the stone, or stones, that are our contribution to God’s Kingdom here on earth, in the context of the groaning and sorrow of this world, so that the master mason can draw them together with all the others his followers have produced to build something incredibly special. My private conversations may have suggested this isn’t necessarily possible, but¬†I just hope and pray I have a small stone to carve in this diocese as the journey continues.

At the other end of the emotional scale, there was strong affirmation that though “‘the parish’ is an invented, not a God given structure”, God (and our Diocesan leadership) take a real delight in the variety of ministries we can offer and the desire to change not just our missional focus, but the structures that support it, so that both parishes and pioneer ministries, and particularly pioneering parish mission initiatives, can be resourced, encouraged, affirmed and celebrated.

There was no witnessing the development of our corporate vision; the whole event was participatory even for non-Synod members like me. However,¬†Bishop Tim and the other participants who facilitated our deliberations, made it clear that we’re on a long-haul flight – the changes that have started, including the desire for a Diocesan ‘Rule of Life’ to re-found our mission in keeping with our Benedictine roots, are designed to make the Christian life of this region engage “deep into the mission of Jesus” as our participation in the coming of his Kingdom and his glory, but it can’t happen over-night.

Every parish was at the heart of the prayers, and held by us in our closing worship, at the Diocesan Conference, 6th September 2013
Every parish was at the heart of the prayers, and held by us in our closing worship, at the Diocesan Conference, 6th September 2013

As individuals, as parishes, as departments and deaneries, we might not always sense it, but God really is building God’s kingdom in God’s way… through us!

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 ‚Äď 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 ‚Äď because we will have ‚Äúskin in the game‚ÄĚ.

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.

Here endeth my Reader Ministry

Today, Pentecost 2013 marks the end of my Reader Ministry.

2013-05-17 14.23.56cw-x
Ramtopsrac: Church of England Reader – 3rd Oct 2009 – 19th May 2013

The different diocese of the Anglican church are not known for their consistency in approach to patterns of, or peoples development through, different ministries. But in the Diocese of Winchester the rule is normally that if you are a Reader selected for ordination training, then you are asked to surrender your license as you start college.

The idea is that this change of status marks and somehow enables the change in that slightly nebulous, unexplainable, but very important element of ordination training that goes by the name ‘formation’. I have to say that this has seem a rather odd idea which I really haven’t understood.

The observant or regular follower of this blog will note that I’ve completed nearly a year of my two-year ordination training, and yet I am only surrendering my Reader License today. The intention was that, agreed by my vicar and Diocesan Director of Ordinands (DDO), by keeping my license I could continue to take funerals and therefore support that element of ministry within my parish; funerals were the only thing I couldn’t do as an ordinand that the Reader License enabled me to do.¬†Except, I haven’t in fact taken a funeral since about last July – it’s just the way things worked out.

However, being asked to surrender my Reader License today, suddenly feels very significant.

Partly, it’s because I know how important my Reader ministry, and funerals in particular, were to my discerning my calling to the priesthood. I may have said before, but I had to be a Reader to understand my calling to the priesthood.

However, despite retaining my license till today, I have (at the request of my DDO) undertaken so little ‘ministerial’ practice in the parish (I’ve not preached since August last year) that when I led our Ash Wednesday service at St. Peter’s, some people were surprised because they thought I’d already left the parish!

And I’ve hated that. I’ve hated not being able to, or allowed to, do those things that were so important to me as minister, and so important to my discernment process. Not having the chance to preach has been like having a limb cut off – I’ve not engaged in-depth with individual chunks of Bible for months!

Equally I know that the advice was probably sound; I have struggled so much academically this year that the additional load of active parish ministry would probably have been the straw that broke the camels back. (I’ll try and explain that better in another blog post soon.)

What I’m wondering now is that, since this comes at the end of a week of sorting out with my tutors some academic niggles, and actually falls just a fortnight before I do at last preach again but as an ordinand, finally surrendering my Reader License will after all mark a significant turning point in my emotional engagement and the confidence I exhibit in myself, within in my ordination training.

When I wrote about my licensing in 2009 I talked about things feeling ‘right’, and in God’s timing, and about starting out on a fresh new journey, again. Possibly surrendering my Reader License is something I should have done months ago, but actually it’s something that feels ‘right’ for now, for a point where I’m finally getting some grip on what it is that I can realistically achieve academically in ordination training, and at last feel some sense of excitement as to what God has in store for me within that, and within the active ministry that will follow ordination next year.

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.

Thank you Mothers’ Union for being part of the adventure

Me (almost hidden behind the raised arm on the left) surrounded by Mothers’ Union members of Mfula, high in the Eastern Cape of South Africa (Diocese of Umtata) 2006

It is with some sadness, but also excitement about the future, that with effect from today Friday 20th July 2012, I am resigning my role as a Trustee of Mothers’ Union in the Diocese of Winchester.

It’s been an amazing ten years adventure since I joined Mothers’ Union after taking on editorship of the Diocesan Mothers’ Union newsletter ‘Archway’, and being almost simultaneously co-opted on to Trustees. During that time I have learnt alot about myself, as well as Mothers’ Union. Along the way fellow members have, I hope, come to understand how important it is to ‘shout about’ Mothers’ Union, the huge impact it’s project work has on people’s lives at home and abroad, and discovered that we really can (and must) harness modern media to share the good news of faith in action that we achieve. Please keep using that website at!

My journey with Mothers’ Union started with a phonecall from the then Diocesan President that I instantly recognised as a case of ‘God on the phone’. That journey isn’t ending here. Both Graham and I have every intention of remaining Mothers’ Union members as family life and marriage must be championed, and our overseas workers supported.

However (and I would have said this publicly even had I remained a Trustee), I happen to think that for Mothers’ Union to continue to be supported so that its project work remains viable and as well respected as it is, will require some drastic structural changes to the overall organisation. I suspect that time has come when we seriously need to consider merging Diocese (each is currently an independent charity) or work on a Provincial basis.¬†Part of the problem is that we must continue to work within Charity Law, but alternative ways must be found of remaining accountable whilst celebrating our active passion for marriage and family life. I’m not sure that any of the¬†proposed changes to Charity Law¬†will help this.¬†Being accountable is important, and thus some local administration will always be a necessary burden, but something needs to be done quite radically to change the expectations of local people held by central management, else we will see enthusiastic younger members come, and then go, as I have.¬†¬†Otherwise I fear that the passionate, pioneering and prayerful flames that¬†Mary Sumner¬†sparked all those years ago will be suffocated because the way we work stifles the creativity of those wanting to take projects forward in the name of Mothers’ Union.

Me (right) with Mothers’ Union and Diocese of Winchester colleagues who together had organised the Make Poverty History rally at Winchester Cathedral in 2005

The various adventures that Mothers’ Union has given me, including speaking in HMP Winchester, gathering round Winchester Cathedral during Make Poverty History, in my own and in various other parishes, have all contributed to the call that I am now responding to. Without them I would never have become a Reader, and it is through ministry as a Reader that I came to understand my calling to the priesthood, that I admit many others recognised long before I did.

I will be starting ordination training at Ripon College Cuddesdon, through their part-time Oxford Ministry Course in September, where it is hoped I will achieve an MA in two years, with a view to being ordained in 2014 as a self-supporting minister. Because our son will be working through GCSEs and A-levels during this period, it is currently our intention to stay living in Yateley, though I will need to serve a curacy elsewhere in the Winchester Archdeaconry. Quite what the next leg of the adventure with God will be, only he knows, but be assured I will continue to shout about Mothers’ Union wherever and whenever I am given the opportunity. I hope you will to.

Thank you to everyone I’ve met through, and who has encouraged my involvement with, Mothers’ Union over these last ten years, regionally, nationally and internationally. May God inspire and bless us all as we continue to work together to support marriage and family life.

On being challenged by my new Bishop

I spent time recently finding and replaying two videos of our new Bishop of Winchester, Right Revd Tim Dakin. Nominally this was for the benefit of my father, but it led me to some reflections of various sorts.

The first video focuses on the challenges Bishop Tim offered at his enthronement in April (which sadly I missed due to a prior wedding invitation): 

The second video is something that it has been suggested be played in parishes so that they can get to know their Bishop: 

My first thought was surprise that these videos are no longer easily searched for and available through our Diocesan website from where they were initially circulated last month. I know one of them should exist in my parish as a DVD, but I’ve not seen it yet. However I felt that for people who might wish to refer to it, to show others or as source material for their own reflections, either personal or parochial, not keeping it accessible through the Diocesan website seemed a little short-sighted. (Or perhaps my search abilities are distinctly lacking!)

Rt Revd Tim Dakin, Bishop of Winchester, photographed by my father at a recent Mothers’ Union Festival Service

Rather more important, was the challenge I heard the Bishop give me personally, which I listened  to through the ears of someone recently selected for training for ordination!

1. How passionate am I in my personal spirituality?

2. Do I have what it takes to be a priest in a faith community that shows pioneering qualities?

3. What might be the prophetic nature of my ministry in both a local and global context?

I can’t answer any of those questions clearly here, but here are a few far flung thoughts, that step beyond my initial reaction of ‘I am not worthy to enter ministry under this man.’

1. I am a lot more aware of how important my personal spirituality is to my survival in life, and particularly in ministry, following the changes I’ve made in my prayer life during my journey through a vacancy and towards selection over the last couple of years. Aware enough to have already made this a priority in my work with spiritual directors over my two years as an ordinand. I know that unless I have a deep, well grounded and stable prayer and pattern of life, I will not be equipped to survive parochial ministry at any level. There will be brief mention of where I’m at with this in my mid-week sermon tomorrow, but I believe that our Bishops’ current call to prayer (we’re on the third day of a Winchester Novena) is a pre-cursor of the mission community concept I understand Bishop Tim started at CMS, and has suggested for this diocese.

2. How many parishes (clergy and laity combined) are truly open and willing to be pioneering? I’ve had several thoughts in recent months about ways it might be possible for some rural churches to be pioneering in the way they use their buildings (probably all done before), or enable ‘unseen’ sectors of their community to worship in a way that responds to their own historic context. I won’t expand here, but I will soon post my BAP presentation which touches on one such idea, already well-tried in communities where it was appropriate.

3. I guess that, as with question 2, the prophetic nature of mission depends on context, existing links, and new opportunities. I do think that where these are international, the time is coming where these need to evolve beyond Christians travelling between countries to share practical and spiritual expertise. Mothers’ Union has spent the last century setting examples like their current Family Life Programme (that I’ve visited myself), but will environmental and economic considerations require that we do such things differently?

At least I’ve stepped beyond my initial feelings of inadequacy when I heard his enthronement sermon, but I guess the adventure of responding to my calling has only just begun. Working it all out with this man setting the example at the helm of the diocese in which I serve, is just going to make it a bit more challenging and exciting than it was already!

Reflections after two years of Reader ministry

My Reader colleagues and I at our licensing October 2009

I’ve been aware recently of various conversations about Reader Ministry on a¬†thread of conversation¬†at Lay Anglicana. A while back Doug Chaplin also blogged on why we bother with Reader’s in the C of E, ¬†and to some extent it’s relationship with the permanent diaconate.

Having just completed Reader Ministry Duty Card for 2011, and realising I’ve now achieved two full calendar years in this ministry. The full break-down is here¬†Reader Ministry Stats 2010-11 (RH)¬†and includes some specific¬†reflections on what the statistics of my own ministry tell me, and what they don’t tell you. They are rather practical and parochial, and I’m not sure how much will be relevant in parishes other than St Peter’s Yateley.

However, in the greater scheme of things here’s some other thoughts:

FIRSTLY: I will say for the record what I’ve probably said elsewhere: many people, both connected and unconnected with Anglican churches, don’t understand what the term “Reader” means. Before my colleagues and I were licensed there hadn’t been any here for years, and explaining what we were doing often took some while! More recently, and especially in funeral ministry, people just see the ‘vicar’ or ‘minister’ and don’t have the time or the mental energy in this situation to want to understand what a ‘Reader’ is. I swiftly adopted the title ‘lay minister’ and always explained that I wasn’t ‘THE VICAR’ (especially since we didn’t have one for nearly a year). I still got listed on one family’s phone book as ‘Vicar of Dibley’ though, and that was before they saw me in a cassock and surplice!

SECONDLY:¬†Reader ministry varies hugely from person to person, and parish to parish, and probably from diocese to diocese. If people work full-time in secular employment (as two of my colleagues here do) then they’re not going to be able to undertake the quantity of commitments that I’ve had recently. As with all ministries each person will also have their own strengths and preferences. If you look at Emma’s Blog you’ll someone with a totally different style of ministry to mine (more orientated to family support and children’s work) and yet we are both ‘Readers’ or ‘Lay Ministers’ depending on your preferred terminology. For me this is part of the richness of ministry that Emma outlines here – and enables our calling to grow, develop and change over time, depending on our own and our parish’s needs, as well as God’s will of course ūüėČ

THIRDLY: I’d suggest that those involved in licensed ministries that involve teaching, preaching and general pastoral work, and who are not called to the priesthood, need to be drawn together under that title ‘Licensed¬†Lay Minister’. This would be a way of helping people understand what it is we are and do. For this reason it should also be done in every diocese in the Church of England. But we all know how long and drawn out a process such a change could entail. The last (revised) report on Reader Ministry was Reader Upbeat issued in 2009, and yet after an initial flurry of interest I’ve not heard much actually happening about it’s recommendations, at least from my Diocese (but then at present we are just finishing a vacancy in see, so that may change!)

FINALLY:¬†The areas of ministry where I feel I am currently most effective are in preaching, taking funerals and creating (occasionally) bespoke acts of worship. By ‘effective’ I mean the places where I best enable people to experience God speaking into their lives, or where I enable God to be represented in some way. At some point in the future I know I need to stretch myself in these areas, particularly:

  • to re-visit some of the variety of preaching techniques we tried in Reader Training but which I’ve not used much;
  • to do more pastoral training that would enable me to cope with some of the aspects of funeral ministry I’ve not yet experienced (ministering to the terminally ill prior to death, to a family on the suicide of a loved one, or through the death of a child);
  • to have the space and opportunity to create more ‘bespoke’ services and also return to learning to prepare or write short studies for homegroup environments.

These are all for the future though. I am aware that various factors in 2012 will change my pattern of ministry; ‘how’ this will happen will probably be revealed later in the year. But in the meantime it’s just a case of meeting the next need and placing God firmly in the middle of it…¬†So, I’m off to write another funeral talk!

Why should our parishes have a relationship with their Cathedrals?

Winchester Cathedral 'Make Poverty History' Rally 2005

I received a very unexpected invitation this year, which has made me think about the relationship between the parishes of our Diocese, and the life and worship of it’s ‘mother church’ Winchester Cathedral.

My parish is on the outer fringes of the Diocese of Winchester, so much so that during Reader Training many people started conversations with “where’s Yateley”, or “didn’t know Yateley was in the Diocese of Winchester!”

In the 14 years I’ve lived and worshipped here the only group of parishioners who seem to consistently ‘get involved’ at the Cathedral are our choir (annually), and those who attend to support Readers being licensed, or friends being ordained. Making sure that our parish has it’s six passes to enable people to visit freely produced interesting and instantaneous results recently, which I hope we can build on during the Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market.

But, I’m sure there should be more, better and regular reasons for going to the Cathedral than once a year for our Christmas shopping!

Now I’ve been invited to contribute to a Cathedral Advisory and Action Group (with the difficult title reference ‘Mother Church and Regional Beacon’), I’m meant to be trying to offer suggestions of ways that the Cathedral and parishes can become more mutually supportive in both worship and the wider mission of the Church, as well as the community.

One of the exisiting connecting points is through the involvement of parish clergy as Cathedral Chaplains, something that Revd Claire has been learning about.  From what Claire says, the role of Cathedral Chaplain  seems to be mainly to rightly, but forcibly, insert prayer and pastoral care into the value of cathedrals as tourist attractions.

It strikes me that if it is right to improve the working relationships between our parishes and our Cathedrals, then it probably needs to be through finding things that ‘add value’ to the ministries of both, rather than risk being purely a greater drain on already frantic clergy diaries.

But before we can find suggested answers to how, I found myself asking “why”. Why should our parishes have a relationship with their ‘Mother Church’?

Then I got worried, because I really don’t know the answer.¬†Some fuzzy warm feelings about the Cathedral being

  • at the centre of Diocesan worship,
  • the ‘seat’ of the Bishop from which he leads the Diocese in the worship of God and our mission to God’s Kingdom,
  • the historicity and atmosphere of buildings soaked in prayer,
  • and a traditional place of pilgrimage and the burial of kings,

don’t seem to be concrete answers enough for the modern context.

So, do you think that parishes should have a relationship with their Cathedrals, and if so why?

Blogging in the ghetto after #cnmac11

Dr Dixon speaking at Christian New Media Conference 2011 (taken from my rather low spec android phone)

There were many great things about the Christian New Media Conference last weekend.

It will take me weeks to sift through the various things that challenged me, or got me asking questions about my use of social media. I could start with the delight of meeting ‘in the flesh’ various social media illuminaries, but others (like the Vernacular Vicar, Revd Claire and the award winning¬†Lay Anglicana) have already made that point.

The thing that’s been nagging at me most since Saturday means I’m starting my reflections at the end, with some thoughts on Dr Patrick Dixon’s concluding presentation.

Dr Dixon challenged us to ask afresh what our calling is, reminding us that Jesus came to transform the world. How much of what we tweet and blog, he asked, is “ghetto traffic”? How much is relevant to the wider world? If we use the language of our ghetto, he warned, we need to be careful who will see it, as we can be badly mis-understood.

Now, I don’t reckon myself a world changer like Dr Dixon. I don’t want to be – at least not on a global scale. If there is to be any butterfly effect from what I do, it will most likely be from simple acts of encouragement, sharing, being there for people, and hopefully by enabling them to be touched in some small way by God. Those things are most likely to happen through face to face conversations of one form or another.

But for me to be effective in those face to face conversations, sermons, services and other ministerial happenings, I need to be equipped with all the tools and inspiration that God has placed at my disposal. These include (among other things) the Biblical reflections of others (as recommended to us in Reader Training by our DDO), and their thoughts on and experiences of different areas of ministry.

Obviously, there are books, and personal conversations with those more experienced than I to contribute to the sea of wisdom at my disposal, as well as the inspiration of God through the Holy Spirit in quiet moments of reflection; but as the links above suggest, the world of website and blog (accessed increasingly via Twitter, Facebook, and Google Reader for convenience) are of increasing value for being easily searchable.

Of course, if I am going to count myself a practitioner in these fields, I too may have thoughts of my own to share, that others at various points in their own faith journey or ministry, may wish to dip into. Making my own sermons and service ideas available is therefore part of a¬†reciprocal¬†relationship (the open-sourcing were were encouraged to elsewhere in the conference) – not so much holding them up as virtuous but holding them out before God’s people for critique.¬†It may, and has, led me to be open to mis-understanding, but it would seem selfish to do otherwise.

So, I guess that means I am operating in and expanding the ghetto of Christian bloggers and tweeters, that I took Dr Dixon to be criticising. Yes, I do want to be ‘salt and light’¬†as the Bible tells us (Matthew 5:13-15) .¬†Yes I do want to show people that God is relevant and can change their world. but for me, at present, that means I need the colegiality of the “ghetto” of blogging Christians to feed the individual face-to-face encounters that fill my ministry in this little corner of the world that Jesus wants my help transforming.

Is that really such a bad thing?