Leaving the family – Romans 6:1-11 and Matthew 10:24-39

My final blessing at St. Mary’s Old Basing and Lychpit – every priest gives God’s blessing clutching a pink sparkly balloon, don’t they?!

Last Sunday it was time to leave St. Mary’s Old Basing and Lychpit for pastures sort of new in Eversley. I’ve been so busy since picking up the threads and meeting new people that I’ve not stopped to say thank you ‘in print’ to my Old Basing family for their generosity, patience, love and companionship during the three important first years of my ordained ministry. It has been something to treasure, together with the physical gifts I was given.

So here, for the sense of completeness is my leaving sermon: 

There are times in our lives when we have to explain some tough truths to people we love, and they aren’t always easy to live out. We might not all be parents, but we are all someone’s child, and whether it is as a parent or child, an employer or employee, a trainer or trainee, there will have been times when we’ve felt we needed to explain to people we love, that the cost of that love is that the nature of the relationship needs to change; or alternatively that something specific needs to be done by one party, which will of necessity change the dynamic of close relationships. It isn’t easy, but it is healthy. It’s about love, but it’s also about sacrifice.

Our Gospel this morning, is both an explanation and an example of this sort of ‘tough love’. After the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is taking time out with his disciples to teach them about the expectations that will be made of them as they do God’s work with him, and then are left with the responsibility of taking it forward as his relationship with them changes after his death and resurrection. If our lives are going to reflect his, then the cost of that mission will be tough at times, require changes to our relationships, and involve sacrifice to bring about something new in God’s mission on earth.

If we’ve chosen to place ourselves here this morning in what we might term our “father’s house”, gathered to share in bread and wine at his Son’s table, then we’re telling each other, and the world, that we are a disciple of Jesus. Other people know we’re here, so it’s not like our faith is something we wish to keep hidden. Indeed, we might find ourselves challenged by some people, as to why we bother?! Hopefully we can respond by talking about what we understand Jesus to have done for us in his death and resurrection, and the new life we understand ourselves to live in as a result of our relationship with him (Romans 6:4).

That’s great, as far as it goes. The challenge then becomes what that relationship requires of us. The life of discipleship has to have an intensity that is parallel to that of the bond we have with Jesus. This is what makes whatever small bits of work God wants us to do, as vital as our time spent with God in prayer, worship and in receiving the sacraments. To become an apostolic witness, according to Jesus, is to experience the intensity of a relationship in which the teacher is in a sense reproduced in the student. Taking Jesus as the teacher, and ourselves as the student, C. S. Lewis put it like this: “The Church exists for nothing else but to draw people into Christ, to make them little Christs.” To do that, requires making sacrifices that at times take us out of our comfort zone, and/or away from our family a bit, and possibly into places in which we confront unexpected challenges. By making those sacrifices, we learn afresh what is means to trust the God who knows and loves every sparrow in the air, and every hair on our head (Matthew 10:29-31) – however many, or few, we may have!

This morning, I can’t help but make this personal. I was called here to St. Mary’s for my curacy because I am a disciple of Jesus. The church, an organisation which tries, at least at times, to follow the teachings of Jesus, wouldn’t allow me to play it safe and stay at home if I was to live up to my calling to ordination. I also knew that if I was called to serve the huge variety that exists among God’s people, staying in the lower church traditions in which I had grown up, wasn’t going to be helpful. As a consequence, the last three years have at times been challenging. Some of that challenge has been God making ME think about what I believe and do. I have to say you’ve made the pain very easy to bear, because you’re a lovely, welcoming, positive bunch who have seen a few curates come and go in your time, and you’re open to some of their wilder ideas… and shirts! But I’m also aware that some of the challenges have been for others, like… Fr Alec… and all of you too, and I really appreciate that too.

I’m not sure I’ll always have it quite so easy elsewhere, but to move forward with God there has to be this turning away from you; a loving, supportive Christian family who I will miss. It’s not easy, but it is the cost of discipleship for my family and I, as it is for you. It is part of the cost of being a training parish, and indeed of breeding ministers from among your own too; they depart all too soon. The other part of the cost you bear for setting your fledglings free, is to pick up on those parts of God’s mission that we have discerned together are important, which may mean more stepping out of comfort zones in different ways.

If we were to take an example, a fairly obvious one would be Messy Church. It may well not be your thing. You may not see wrapping wool around a bunch of nails tapped into a bit of wood in the shape of a cross, or getting kids to spell out ‘Hosanna’ in painty hand-prints as particularly worshipful, sacramental or part of being a disciple of Jesus. But for people who may not understand what worship or sacrament means, or for children who with perfectly valid reason, struggle to focus or sit still, there may be no other way in which they can hear about and meet Jesus. The personal cost of discipleship, in this example, isn’t just about helping make a Messy Church happen with offers of practical help to the team committed to taking it forward. It might be about inviting our neighbours and friends to come to Messy Church, and then coming with them – even if it’s not really your thing. If you are used to going round and cooking a meal, or giving a lift, when a family is in crisis, or you’ve recently volunteered to hand-out Who Care’s leaflets in the shops or at the carnival, bringing a family to Messy is just another way of being a disciple of Jesus. And it will change your relationships with our neighbours because you have to keep on doing it; once is unlikely to be enough for them to start wanting to learn about Jesus without continued encouragement!

Doing things we don’t necessarily want to do, or feel comfortable doing, is part of the sacrifice that is required of those who follow Jesus. Just as we have to leave the parent-child relationship of a training parish with a curate, so we need to build new relationships with people who don’t yet understand the love and grace poured out through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Just as the people who make up our personal family units change over time, with additions and subtractions, so does our church family. Those changes, alter the relationships and the dynamic of how our families work, quite often in a lasting way, and, at least in part, this is what Jesus was saying to the disciples in our Gospel this morning. My hope and prayer, is that just as you have nurtured and changed me and my ministry over the last three years, and as we share in the pain of parting, so you too will know yourselves and your ministry to have been changed by the experience, just a little, so that together as the body of Christ we will continue to share in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

Financial battles – 1 Tim 6:6-19 Luke 16:19-end

I was back in Old Basing celebrating Eucharist and preaching this Sunday, before being back on the road again next week.

The Epistle and Gospel spoke about money, at times using some quite militaristic language I thought, but also about listening to God, to Jesus’ example and instructions for living a life that helps to extend the Kingdom of God. To understand my reference early in the sermon, it will help to know that my training incumbent Fr Alec has previously served as a padre in the Guards during the Afghan conflict.

2016-08-04-18-14-02I wonder how many battles you’ve fought in your lifetime?

Some, like Fr Alec and others among you will have fought in, or at least witnessed personal, armed conflict with a dangerous aggressor.

I’ve been reading my great-uncle’s diary, written at least in part during the Battle of the Somme, and it has struck me forcibly that in battle, listening to, and passing on accurately, commands and current positions is vital; you need to know when to move forward and where to, else your battle line will not be covered by supporting fire; you need to be aware of when retreat is the only option; and you need to listen to those around you, to know where the fighting is fiercest. And if those in command are ill-informed, misdirected, or won’t listen to the wisdom of those who have seen and experienced the front line, however junior their rank, then the battle becomes an even more pointless waste of life than it was already.

Many of you will have fought other battles. Battles with various illnesses, battles to get members of your family the support they need, battles of a legal nature when things have gone wrong or accidents happened. And quite probably we have all fought a battle with money in some way.

2016-09-27-12-48-03cHowever rich or poor we are, most of us will say we could do with a little more money. And of course there are untold millions of people in the world, for whom a little more money would make a massive difference. They’d be able to eat more than one tiny meal a day, perhaps have a roof over their head, and be able to afford to send their kids to school. They could leave behind sheer misery, and yes, probably be content with their improved financial lot.

For some people, much of their dealings with money have given rise to uncertainty and stress. Those of us who have lived through the massive fluctuations in the mortgage rates and styles of the 1980s and 1990s, or held savings in more recent financial crises, will know that money will come and go. Listening to best advice doesn’t always guarantee financial security, especially when the greed of a few jeopardises the whole financial system. But, the front line of the battle in individual families is always whether food can be put on the table, clothes on our backs, the rent or mortgage paid, and some form of transport be afforded to get us to work or school. When all is said and done, here in the western world, that is about ALL we need.

Money is NOT of itself evil. Money was a human invention to make the movement of goods and services easier; in and of itself, money is not a bad thing. But when money becomes the thing that we listen to the most, whether we desire more and more of it, or whether we’re in debt because of desiring more and more of what it can buy, then we’ve started on the slippery slope to worshipping it, and that is idolatry. Money isn’t evil. Loving it IS, as our passage from 1 Timothy 6 this morning famously points out.

Loving money, or the things it can buy, makes us greedy, and whether held individually or corporately, loving money will stop us having a generous heart, and that was the rich man’s problem in our Gospel parable from Luke 16. He couldn’t even make the effort to give the starving man at his gate the crumbs from his table. We’ve all seen images of starving people, those on our own streets and those around the world. Written in the pain of their pinched faces and the pattern of their skeletons protruding through thin, fleshless skin, is a picture of what greed can do – even when some of the cause is natural disaster. If we listen to our politicians carefully, we can hear greed in their words too, when the profits made from the sales of arms, far outweighs the increase of a few million in the aid budget to the very places under fire from those armaments!

So in the battles generated through the idolatry of money that leads to greed at a personal or national level, how do we as Christians decide who to listen to, and then how to act?

Money can come, and can go. God doesn’t. He is the constant. His is the voice of instruction that should guide us. In our parable, Abraham listens to the rich man in torment in Hades who has, too late, seen the revelry of his lounging pass away (Amos 6:7). Realising the error of his ways he wants to save his like-minded brothers. Unlike similar fables of it’s time, in Jesus version of this story, there is no happy ending but rather the stark reminder that the rich man and his brothers’ had failed to listen to the voices of Moses, and the prophets like Amos, who taught God’s law. The Law included among other instructions the requirement to enable “the alien, the orphan, and the widow” to collect the gleanings in a field and the last olives from your trees, “so that God may bless you in all your undertakings.” (Deut 24:19-20)

God has not required those who have money, or other forms of wealth, to simply give it away willy nilly. It is as possible to be a wealthy Christian, as it is to be poor one who remains financially secure. The key in battling to handle our finances with integrity as Christians, is not only to listen to wise financial advice and hope it’s at least half-right, but to listen to scriptures like those today. These scriptures, and others like them, are the battle commands we’ve been given and should lie behind all our financial dealings; to fight with our faith and our money those battles that stand for Jesus’ priorities of love, gentleness, endurance, generosity, and other good works, including feeding the hungry at our gates.

With the Foodbank, our support for Christian Aid and other charities, the occasional purchase of the Big Issue, we are caring in small ways for the Lazarus’s at our gate. But, the characteristics of love and generosity aren’t just about us behaving better towards others for our own peace of mind to show we’re better people; they are the essential requirements of being in Jesus’ army. However, it isn’t about buying our way into God’s Kingdom either, it’s about living by faith from the point that we declare for ourselves a belief in the resurrection of Christ on through our lives. We accept our place in this battle through baptism and confirmation, and we will be constantly challenged to move our financial battle lines forward making appropriate forays and sacrifices along the way, listening for the instructions both scriptural and otherwise that show us when to advance, or retreat, and where the fighting is fiercest for those around us. Those will be the places where our generosity of spirit, and our money, is needed most. There will come alive our calling to fight in Jesus’ army.

Let us pray:

Loving Lord who has given us much
We thank you for the example of generosity set us in scripture;
We repent of those times when we have not been generous.
We repent of those times when greed has made our finances precarious.
Open our eyes to the needs in the world, those on our doorstep, and those further afield,
And grant us wisdom to prioritise your kingdom in the financial decisions that we make.






Crawshaw built Solo for sale – PRICE REDUCED

Sail Number: 4134P1090803w

Wooden, Crawshaw built
Fast boat
Proctor mast
2 sails including Solo B
Trolley, but no road trailer
New wheels fitted
Cover sound but faded


Ashore at Hawley Lake STC
Not sailed past season
Rear side deck varnish needs attention

won 2011 HLSTC Youth Regatta

Owner now gone to university


Please comment on this blog post to express your interest; blog owner will reply by email.

The Rev’d. Mrs.

From Ecclesiastical, our new Insurers... and my Diocese did the same!
From Ecclesiastical, our new Insurers!

Well, I’ve been a Reverend for nearly three weeks. How does it feel? A pretty good fit, like a comfortable new glove.

It’s a title that I have actually been increasingly looking forward to as ordination training progressed. There was no fear attached to it; it was something I knew would come with the calling – part of the deal. In the context of the parish I’m now ministering in, I suspect it will get well used, and I was more than happy to sign my first offering to the pew sheet as “Rev’d Rachel”.

This one's from the Church Times!
This one’s from the Church Times!

But I have discovered an unexpected emotional response, closely related to the use of the term Reverend. In many cases, on all sorts of post, I am no longer “Mrs.” and that I actually find quite distressing.

Let me go back in time, briefly, to a point a few years ago (no more than 10) when this then Editor of the Diocesan Mothers’ Union newsletter was gently chastised for not using the official and correct form of grammar for anyone who is ordained; it should be “The Rev’d. Mr./Mrs.” when the person is first referred to, and then plain “Mr.”or “Mrs.” thereafter in any extended text. I was careful to get this right from that point on.

And yet, having been ordained I find that almost everything is just written as “Rev” (popularised by a certain TV series perhaps), “Rev’d.” or “The Rev’d.”, often without the full stops or apostrophes. In some ways this doesn’t bother me; I’m not usually a pedant, or bothered about the modernisation of language when appropriate. And, I guess for gentleman who are married, who have never had an appropriate form of address to signify their marriage because they simply remain “Mr”, this perhaps isn’t such an issue.

The Rev'd. Mrs. and her Mr. on Ordination Day (photograph by our friend Stephen Usher)
The Rev’d. Mrs. and her Mr. on Ordination Day (photograph by our friend Stephen Usher)

But you see, I’m still a “Mrs.” and very proud of being so! I’ve enjoyed 22 years of marriage to a wonderful, long-suffering, man, who himself is very proud of having a “Reverend” Mrs. We think marriage is a fantastic institution that is part of our relationship with God, but suddenly any public celebration or declaration of this fact in the envelopes that arrive through my door is being hidden by the dominance of the “Rev” bit of who I now am.

Actually, what I’m really bothered by is not the lovely envelopes from friends that come addressed to the “Rev” they want to congratulate, but the envelopes from Christian institutions (like those shown above) that have also noted the change of status, but seem to think that the “Mrs” bit of me has been subsumed – she hasn’t, I’m still someone’s wife, and very proud and delighted to be so!

[Is it me? Or have other married women had a similar reaction to their ordination?]

Time, Miles and Community Pulse – anticipating Self-Supporting Ministry

Much time and many miles will soon be spent passing this spot on the A30.
Much time and many miles will soon be spent passing this spot on the A30.

There are eleven miles between home, and the boundary of the parish in which I will serve as a self-supporting curate. The expense of this travel will, I am led to believe, be met by my Diocese. Once at the parish boundary, my expenses will be met by the parish. In terms of time, it’s a minimum of 20 minutes drive between home and church, but that’s with almost no traffic on a Sunday morning. On a weekday to make Morning Prayer at 9am I anticipate needing to leave home about 8.15am. If there’s an accident on the M3 and the traffic’s all backed up on the A30 between here and Basingstoke, it could take me hours!

I think family life can cope though main meals may need even more flexibility than at present, and I will not be be nipping home between parish duties to pop the washing on, and moves are afoot to provide me with a ‘bolt-hole’ in the parish between ‘duties’, because losing too much useful time to travel was one of my greatest concerns about accepting this curacy as a self-supporting minster, and there is no parish office. I’m led to believe there’ll also be a mobile phone that will make me contactable whilst ‘on the hoof’, but which I can importantly also switch off on my day off etc.

There’s also an issue I think, about how as a minister who doesn’t live in the community she seeks to serve, I will be able to get to know it, to understand what makes it tick, and pick up on the little nuances of life that alert you to signs of trouble, both practical and spiritual. Hospitality is important to me, and it’ll be well nigh impossible in it’s traditional sense, and my ‘bolt-hole’ should I believe stay sacrosanct. I guess there’s the church kitchen, but no comfy chair to offer. Not living in the parish may have certain advantages: I shouldn’t get parishioners randomly knocking on my door (and as I was told today by a wise clergy friend, that’s not what a curate’s there for), but in some ways that’s also a disadvantage; will I miss hearing the pulse of the community and parish? I intend to use what few local shops there are, especially the butcher and bakehouse, but will that be enough?

So, whilst I think we’re putting in place sensible mechanisms to enable ministering outside of the parish I live in, I’m worried that there may be problems engaging with the community. What have I missed? Are there other issues of this nature that I can pray and plan round?

If you have any thoughts, I’d appreciate the wisdom of others who engage in self-supporting (non-stipendary) ministry at a reasonable distance from the community they serve, or have seen SSM at work in their own community.

Spending my 100% for Jesus

Slowly the gate is beginning to open, and I can see the view.
Slowly the gate is beginning to open, and I can see the view.

Earlier today I posted about my worries that perhaps I was putting my family before my calling.

Thank you everyone for helping me to work through something that’s been bothering me for some while. A good slap with a sensible stick, or several wet fish, never did a girl any harm at all.

To start with talking through your responses with Graham, we think we’ve worked out where this hang up stems from. We both spent a particularly formative period in our lives being told again and again that Jesus demands our 100% and nothing less will do. Whilst that is true, I think that now we’d all say that only part of that 100% is in the sphere of church life and ministry/leadership, and that witnessing to giving some of that 100% being in the sphere of family, creative, sporting or other aspects of our lives is important too. We’re also back in the issues I’ve encountered before with obedience – too much obedience, too little independent thinking, not the other way around.

I was pretty sure my concern was badly misplaced, but it’s actually talking/blogging about it that has shone the light into some of the cracks in the formational process; both my long term formation as a Christian mentioned above, but also the process of selection and ordination training that I’ve been engaged in more recently. I say that because though by the end we’ll have had discussions about all sorts of difficult theology and situations that we’ll face (I’m on a module described as ‘Interdisciplinary Approaches to Suffering’ at the moment), we’ve as yet (with six months to go in my case) not really grappled with some of these issues that, as I see it, relate to how our calling is going to work out as individuals. Part of this is I admit part of the work of a spiritual director, who in my case will I’m quite sure have read this when I see him next week, but there are wider more universal issues too. From what you say about how we understand the commitment we offer in various forms of ministry, the differences between SSM and stipend ministry, and separately priesthood exercised at what is horribly phrased as ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ forms. Perhaps I’m hitting this too early and it comes in IME, or perhaps it should have been thought through more clearly during selection when I took ‘best advice’, but I suspect more likely it’s down to what we each work out for ourselves as we grow and develop as ministers, and as our circumstances and freedoms to exercise our priestly ministry changes over time.

There is also an element I hope, of me crawling out from under a stone here. Knowing where I will be serving my curacy has sparked some hope after what has been a very low few months going round in circles in some theology books. I’m asking questions of myself, and you, again. There’s another post already lined up for next week which I guess starts to look at some of those boundary issues that Pam and others have pointed out, as I start to look forward once again to the joy of vocational ministry (stipend and otherwise) that Glorious Things and others have reminded me of.


Putting the son before serving the Son

From the 'Forest Stations' by William Fairbank, photographed at Lincoln Cathedral April 2007
From the ‘Forest Stations’ by William Fairbank, photographed at Lincoln Cathedral April 2007

When explaining to people some of the circumstances surrounding my forthcoming curacy, I have been beset by a sense of guilt, a fear that people will question my commitment to my calling, every time I explain why it’s panning out as it is:

  • I will be serving as a Self Supporting Minister (SSM, same as non-stipendury, it means I won’t get paid, just receive my expenses). I’m a freebie basically!
  • This means I don’t have to work full time, and have provisionally agreed to be in the parish 2.5 days a week, plus Sunday’s, to give time for the requirements of training and further study. There are logistical consequences to this for family and parish, which will be the subject of my next post, and there will be a nominated day-off, I just don’t know what it will be yet. That’s an issue to be discussed and resolved elsewhen.
  • I will be doing what is known as ‘primary’ Initial Ministerial Education (IME) such that at some point during my curacy I can test whether my calling really is permanently as an ‘assistant priest’ (which normally means you remain SSM) or whether I am in fact called to some form of ‘incumbency’, i.e. will I always help another priest run a parish, or might I one day be a ‘proper’ vicar?
  • Over and above my uncertainty as to which of these contexts my calling ultimately lies in, part of the reason for being comfortable with my selection as an ‘assistant priest’ candidate for ordination was so that we didn’t disrupt our son’s education at a critical point; being a candidate for  stipend ministry from the start would have made us deployable, and we would have had to move house as well as church. We weren’t prepared to allow that to happen when our son is in the middle of his A-levels! Had he been younger or older, the situation would have been different, but parenting has for us always been partly about giving kids stability at critical stages in their lives, and this is one of them.

And there’s the nub of the guilt trip. There are some Christian’s in churches I’ve attended over the years who I think would question my commitment to my calling to the priesthood because as a family we aren’t prepared to move our son in the middle of this critical period of his life. I’m currently preparing to lead some worship based on Philippians 2:1-13, and whilst I would say I am considering the interests of others (the lad’s education and therefore his future), I’m not sure I’m quite living up to the Christ-like attitude of taking a servant nature to the point of sacrifice.

Whilst NO-ONE HAS criticised our decision to restrict my willingness or ability to serve God at his bidding wherever we’re called, this still leaves me with this nagging sense that people are firstly surprised, and secondly don’t always quite approve.

Looking deep within myself, I don’t think God has a problem with us putting family first in this way at this time (he gifted me a loving family before he called me to ordination); if he did I think I’d have found that this journey had stopped long before now.

So I wonder if it’s actually me that has the problem? Is there a sense in which I fear that by putting limits on what God can do in my life, I’ve closed off a little bit of me/us as a no-go area to him for the moment (in a way I didn’t in earlier parts of my ministerial journey), and that this might have impacted on my connection with him? The latter is something I’ve been battling through these formational months, and now on top of it, I wish I could leave the sense of guilt behind. Perhaps it’s invisible scars of the past, I don’t know.

I wonder if others have experienced times when they feel they’ve put necessary limits on what they’ll give over to God, and it’s had spiritual consequences? Or, should I stop worrying and know that God has blessed me with both a family and a calling that help to promote and celebrate the importance of family life?

In the mean-time what I do know is that I feel very positive about the future, and there is a strong feeling of joy welling up within me, as I anticipate being able to engage once again in serving a parish as a minister, and later as a priest.

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.

Journeying into a place of shelter this #Advent (using Psalm 91)

Advent is a time of preparation. Preparation to understand afresh what it means to us now that Christ came into the world as a tiny helpless baby. Preparation as a minister, to make others welcome at Christ’s Nativity as they respond to their own need and desire to make the story come alive for themselves, or for others.

For me at a personal level this year, Advent will roll through winter into Lent, and it looks like all my ‘preparation’ will last till Easter! It is proving to be a time when I have much to think about for events happening later next year, and when I am feeling more than a little ‘helpless’ myself.

God is in control, of that I am certain. He desires nothing harmful to us, though plenty that is challenging.

Yet very recently as a family we have sensed a spiritual battle that has seen (among other things) me suffering ‘mystery rash’, and our bank account being used fraudulently. I have also struggled to engage with the theme of Advent and preparations (both spiritual and more practical) for celebrating Christmas.

These things have proved a distraction from both the ministry in which I am involved in the parish, and my focus on God’s will. The devil it seems, doesn’t like it when we give God full control of our lives; yet I must remember I am not helpless against his works, as we have God protecting us, that we might serve him faithfully.

At my spiritual directors suggestion, I have re-written parts of Psalm 91 to pray with my family, over us. I actually found the process of re-writing it very helpful, as I journeyed emotionally into a place of shelter carrying with me all that I ‘hold’ that is being entrusted to me by God.

Which is much more in keeping with the Advent image of Mary, who trusted and glorified the Lord, despite all that God required of her, and all the tribulations that were sent in the wake of her obedience. It also brings with it a sense of light, in what could otherwise be emotional and spiritual darkness.

Perhaps I’m not so out of touch with Advent after all!

We dwell in the shelter of the Most High
and rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
We say of the LORD,
“He is our refuge and our fortress,
our God, in whom we trust.

He will save us
from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.

He will cover us with his feathers,
and under his wings we will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be our shield and rampart…”

We declare that, “The LORD is our refuge,
and we make the Most High our dwelling.”

There no harm will overtake us,
and no disaster will come near our home.

For God will command his angels concerning us
to guard us in all our ways;
we will be lifted in their hands,
so that our feet will not strike against a stone.

Because we love the LORD and acknowledge his name,
we ask him to protect us, and rescue us
from the works of the devil.

We will call on his name, and he will answer us.
He will be with us in trouble,
He will deliver us and honour
that which we seek to do in his name.

And he will show us his salvation.

A few thoughts… on the passing of a family treasure

3 Musketeers on Wimbledon Common

A few may have noticed that my blogging became rather sporadic before Christmas. It was due in part to a family bereavement, when my husband’s Gran died aged 97. Various things, like clearing Gran’s flat, took a greater priority than proper blogging (except for the odd adventure in the snow!)

In the period running up to Gran’s death, my husband migrated his ramblings from LiveJournal to WordPress and his thoughts and grieving process, which in many respects occurred before Gran died, appear here.

Many of G’s family are not church-goers. However, Gran had been in the past, and from my conversations with her definitely believed in God, and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Her husband had been a Reader for many, many years and she had supported him in that ministry. Even before she died, I had been asked by the family if I would therefore be willing to take Gran’s funeral, as it seemed appropriate as the ‘next generation’ of Reader in the family.

And so, at Putney Vale Cemetery on 22nd December 2011 I led the family in their mourning for Gran (Lily Pepper), and committed her to God’s care. This difficult privilege was something that felt very right, but I am aware that I need to reflect further on the doing of it, when Christmas and New Year aren’t getting in the way! However…

G had asked me to use 1 Corinthians 13 as the Bible reading, as for him it was most appropriate to Gran’s character and the example she set him and his brother as children (as she helped to raise them.) And, to complete the circle of memories he started on his blog, he has asked me to post what I shared with the family here:

I was well aware before I ever met Gran, or the rest of the family, that she was regarded as the family treasure. It was something to do with the way Graham spoke of her, and spoke of the way that everyone treated her. I wasn’t wrong,and i’ve never changed my opinion.

Gran did “love”, by the (snow) shovel-full. Adam has already shared with us about the sacrifices she made, her stamina and her character as the antithesis of a Mother-in-law. But “love” does not take pride in itself, but in the successes of others – and Gran always took pride in what members of the family achieved: Elizabeth to university and The City, Marion her nursing, then both Graham and Michael as they moved through school, to university and successful teaching careers. She was always there for them both when they came home from school, cup of tea and cake at the ready.

Real “love” is often grown through a simplicity of life and outlook, and follows through the tough times as well as people’s successes, and Gran’s story is testament to that picture: She was born Lily Hudson, in East Ham, London where her father was a lighter-man on the River Thames and her mother stayed at home to raise the children, Bert, Charlie, herself and her sister May, who sadly died of TB.

When last we spoke at length, appropriately over a bacon and avocado bap with chips at the Windmill on the Common, Gran talked of their simple up-bringing, playing on the roads that were dirt tracks, games like “knock down ginger”, and watching the cricket on the playing fields behind their terraced house until they were chased off by the groundskeeper! She also remembered weekends walking the bank of the Thames to Barking, and was a good swimmer.

Lily married Jim in April 1939 (April 22nd) with whom she enjoyed ball-room dancing, amateur dramatics and rambling. During The Blitz, they were bombed out of East Ham, moving to Harrow where the girls were born. Jim was a travelling salesman, and when Marion was 3 they moved to Parkstone on the south coast, and later into Bournemouth. As well as raising Elizabeth and Marion, she nursed first Jim’s mother, then her own till their deaths, and also found time to support Jim in his church commitments as a Reader, and play the piano for activities like family carol singing before Midnight Communion.

Together they eventually returned to London, and made a home in Viewfield Road, Southfields. Lily worked as a Registrar at Wandsworth Town Hall, and frequently told the story of having “married the butcher” for which service she always received a discount off her shopping. She was always busy, undertaking civil wedding ceremonies for many Jews and Catholics in the community, before they were able to have their own faith ceremonies recognised as legal marriages.

In later life they were able to afford and enjoy several cruises, and also visited her brother Charlie in South Africa, but after Jim’s death in September 1979, Marion and Dave moved to the house with their boys. As they grew up Gran was able to enjoy coastal walks and holidays with Marion and although she had many friends, her main focus was always the family.

Living in the converted garage as she did, she was a quiet, encouraging companion to those of us that had to learn to live at the rather more hectic conversation speed, and volume, that was shared by the family when all were gathered around her. She was always eager to hear what everyone had been doing. If we dropped a snippet of news into conversation, she’d always say “Go on…?”, eager to have the story or success expanded upon.

There were a wonderful selection of doggy companions including Kimmy, Pat, with whom the boys learnt to play ‘tiggy’, then Beau and then the more refined Jamie-dog the Cavalier King Charles. It was Jamie that assisted with the Christopher-therapy after her stroke, as Gran knocked a ball the length of her living room using the up-turned end of her walking stick, so that either dog, or boy, could retrieve it.

Gran was patient, Gran was kind. She did not envy, or boast in herself, and only showed pride in those who were the treasures of her life. She lived a life that loved, protected and trusted everyone in the family, and she was certainly not easily angered.

It is incredibly difficult, to do justice in a few short minutes to the memories that we all share of someone who brought so much joy and friendship to the lives of her loved ones. Whether they make us smile or cry, we should treasure those memories. We need to make them part of our future as well as our past, in a way that means we can build on the values of love and family life that Gran made the focus of her life.

Love, and sacrifice, was of course the focus of Christ’s activity in this world. His was a love that understood grief – he expressed his own loss and pain with tears. The knowledge that Jesus in his humanity, also cried when faced with difficult situations in both his earthly and eternal family, are a comfort and reassurance for those of us who face these situations today. Jesus’ sacrifice of course led him to death on a cross, and to resurrection and his rightful place with God in glory. We can now be assured that Gran too, has her rightful place with God.

Gran has been a living example of loving sacrifice. Let us hang on to those values, and continue to live by the example that she set, because it is a good one. By following it, we will honour her name, and the importance of our memories.