Reflections on ministry in lockdown – Good Friday 2020

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First attempts at set up for Sunday Worship for 29th March 2020

Over a month since I last posted!
Somehow life isn’t quite the same… and I’m not sure anyone saw it coming.
40 days on, and things have become very strange indeed.
But you’re living it too, so you know that.

So this is by way of a memorandum and reflection to myself, as to a few of the things I’ve learnt and needed to be creative about, to maintain ministry in the lockdown necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

2020-03-27 14.25.56 HDR
Technical support and a ‘behind the scenes’ view of that first attempt at recording services in the garden. Glad I was that I’d liberated a couple of necessary props from church before locking up the last time, and that I have horded an interesting selection of useful heirlooms.

As a minister I think I’d become too reliant on contact with parishioners on a Sunday morning in the physical spaces that are our church buildings. Those are special times (especially in memory, when you can’t stand round and have coffee), but actually I’ve spent more time talking to people, and talked to more people more meaningfully, one-to-one, particularly the phone, than I ever have, at any stage of my ministry. I feel embarrassed that people have been surprised that I’ve rung, and depending on their circumstances, more than once. Without exception, everyone has been positive, understanding and supportive, as my colleague and I have grappled with the new needs of ministry in lockdown. If by any chance, you’re one of them, reading this… thank you, it has been hugely appreciated.

Jesus walked, and talked, and met people, and talked and taught some more. My husband and I took what should have been our statutory one-hour walk one day last week, on a route we know takes us about that, one hour. It took us 2.5 hours, as the socially-distanced conversations flowed! We’ve lived here over 20 years, so many familiar faces crossed our paths, parochially related and otherwise. I had a strong sense of healing in what at times was some fairly black humour, of words becoming the new sense of touch, of gift that God was providing in these days of glorious weather. As is so often the case, it is in looking back at your footsteps that you see where it was that Christ carries you.

Christ has a such weight to be bear now – and his burden gets heavier each day; and there should be no irony in the fact that I say that on Good Friday, as we acknowledge most particularly his sacrifice on the cross. A few months ago, I’d wondered whether I ought to change my pattern of ministry to take in some connection with our Foodbank. Not unusually I’d done nothing about it, distracting myself with other things, and probably appropriately getting excited about growing a fresh community project. But the cafe plans are of necessity on hold, though I must make sure they’re ‘oven-ready’ at a week’s notice, for when we’re free to fraternise again.

2020-03-22 22.29.51Instead, I find myself giving significant support to that previously noted Foodbank – not least because so many of the regular volunteers are now forced to protect themselves in isolation. Whilst it is horrible that we live in a society where one is needed, and tragic that the economic impact of the Coronavirus have brought so many more people to the crisis-point of needing one, there is a (slightly exhausting) joy in being able to deliver those shopping bags to socially distanced doorsteps – it’s not just food, it’s hope and a sign that people care. The same goes for the donations that have come flooding in, in particular through Eversley’s Centre Stores (who have carefully stocked the Foodbank to people’s cash donations) but also to our doorstep – one of the benefits of having lived here for a while. People’s generosity has been great, and the Foodbank is so grateful for it. No, making such things happen is not without anxiety and risk, and yes there is a cost in that, but after all, being a herald of hope is one of our diaconal responsibilities in ordination. Once again, perhaps I’m fulfilling more ordination vows more fully than before.

So, where’s the creative Rachel been? Lost, literally, frequently and for long periods, in an open source video editor (OpenShot), Facebook ‘live’ and otherwise, Zoom for Messy Church (less messy and calmer than it’s cousin, at least if you’re not ‘hosting’), and Zoom for PCC and other meetings; all via computer, phone, iPad and camera! I’ve ended up looking at myself in a way that I really would prefer not to. Perhaps, I’m seeing myself as Christ sees me, more than I do normally – flaws and all – but I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that.

My first recorded Morning Prayer, was a spur of the moment experiment outside St. Mary’s, but received an encouraging response. My colleague also took up the challenge and ‘went live’, and we were glad we’d started promptly, as within the week we were on lockdown, and leading worship purely from home. Bless him, he’d done a little video editing before – I am a complete newbie. I am grateful he’s putting together the really complicated Sunday Services like our first attempt. There has at times been some distinctly un-clerical language; “purely pastoral” as a past spiritual director would have it. There are also unhealthy strains associated with so much screen-time, on the eyes, the back and on the anxiety levels.

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Cuckoo-pint… or do you know it as Lords and Ladies? Photographed in a nearby lane, 8th April 2020 on our less than daily constitutional.

But once again, there is a strong sense of fulfilling my calling in not only a different way, but in a way that is reaching more people and encouraging them in their discipleship somehow in a way that may have a greater long-term significance of them, then perhaps our regular church-based worship does. I’m not sure that says much for our regular services, but I do find myself wondering what of all these skills and forms of worship need to be kept when we find a new way of post-lockdown living and liturgy?

There have been times to relax… there’s a crochet blanket for a loved-one slowly taking shape, an activity that can prove a prayerful Compline of sorts at the end of a long day, and there have been some gems of moments around the home and on our walks. More of the former in other posts, but if happen to have read this far (bless you) enjoy some Pipistrelle bats at late dusk – another use for my mobile phone which has resulted in interesting pastoral, and wildlife related conversations!


Praying in Advent through five festivals

5-candlesRegular readers will be aware that I’m currently on placement in the North Hampshire Downs Benefice. One of the mini-projects that I’ve been focusing on is leading the prayer element of a couple of Prayer Suppers in the Parish of Odiham.

Alongside the re-ordering of the physical church, the people of All Saints Odiham have also been focusing on prayer as part of their own re-ordering as a community of Christians. The ‘bring-and-share’ style suppers (an hour for fellowship and food, followed by an hour for prayer) are a part of this process, and the vicar and I will be reflecting on how they have gone before I complete my placement.

This particular hour of prayer was inspired by the Service of Five Candles celebrated each Advent Sunday in All Saints Church, Minstead in the New Forest (where I grew up). That service involves children processing five large ‘pascal’ sized candles with appropriate motifs, readings and collects, one for each of the five main Christian festivals. It was brought to the parish in the 1960s by the then Rector, Rev’d Clifford Rham.

This pattern of prayer involves ordinary-sized candles, shorter but appropriate readings and collects, and uses them as an inspiration for prayer, which need not be restricted to the bullet point suggestions provided.

The attached document forms a folded A4 sheet that anyone could use for a an Advent reflective service or similar. The illustration above shows how the five candles can be used and decorated.  advent-hour-of-prayer-through-five-festivals

Does loneliness still cause the greatest pain to ‘The Wounded Healer’?

Detail of a painting from a Crucifixion sequence by Kari Juhani Hintikka (recently of Alton Abbey)  "Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me." Ps. 22:16,17
Detail of a painting from a Crucifixion sequence by Kari Juhani Hintikka (recently of Alton Abbey) “Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me.” Ps. 22:16,17

I’ve just finished reading Henri Nouwen‘s ‘The Wounded Healer’ (in an updated form of the 1972 original) as part of background reading for my ‘Pastoral Care’ module.

Throughout this little classic, Nouwen identifies closely with the suffering and particularly loneliness of people, including ministers. He encourages the reader to acknowledge and understand their own pain, and especially loneliness, as a means of removing barriers to creating space for the hospitality of healing.

I love the image of hospitality being part of the gift of healing. Well before I understood my calling to the priesthood, I openly acknowledged and practised the gift of hospitality. In fact a broadening understanding of hospitality, and a frustration that study greatly restricts it’s practice, is becoming a constant thread to my ordination training.

I agree with Nouwen that we need to make space for hospitality in our lives. If I understand him correctly, we are to set within the hospitable space we create within our own strivings, something like a bowl of water with which we can refresh our senses with an awareness of our own suffering, to enable us to attune ourselves better to the suffering of others.

However, 40 years on from when Nouwen originally wrote, and whilst acknowledging that loneliness can be a very acute problem in the lives of some people, I am not convinced that loneliness is the dominant, life threatening, injury that we are most likely to meet in a pastoral encounter. From my limited experience, I see today’s culture of busyness as being the festering wound that causes the greatest pain in both the world and specifically in Christian ministry.

I grant that busyness can itself create loneliness and isolation because it creates a barrier to the spaces in our lives that enable us to priorities love, and exist in the expectation of encountering Christ in others. The non-existence of busyness in the lives of the unemployed and dis-empowered, probably increases a sense of loneliness through the inappropriate assignment of guilt and a lack of opportunity to contribute to changing their own circumstances.

Perhaps, as an only child who has always enjoyed my own company, who is comfortable with a certain degree of introspection and the company of a window, good books and great music, I have yet to encounter true loneliness. But as I replay conversations with people I’ve met, and connections with those in ministry (often via their blogs), the greatest burden today repeatedly comes over as being busyness.

As we move towards Passiontide and focus on Christ’s suffering – the archetype of the wounded healer – I am trying to understand where lay the greatest pain of all his wounds on the cross.

We are used to the imagery of Christ’s lonely suffering on the cross; pain is after all a deeply personal experience (whether physical or emotional) that can not be shared or fully understood by any other living person. We are fond of saying aren’t we, that only Christ can truly understand our pain.

Painting from a Crucifixion sequence by Kari Juhani Hintikka (recently of Alton Abbey) "I have offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; I have not turned my face away from insult and spitting. Lord Yahweh comes to my help, this is why insult has not touched me, this is why I have set my face like flint and know that I shall not be put to shame." Is 50:6,7
Painting from a Crucifixion sequence by Kari Juhani Hintikka (recently of Alton Abbey) “I have offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; I have not turned my face away from insult and spitting. Lord Yahweh comes to my help, this is why insult has not touched me, this is why I have set my face like flint and know that I shall not be put to shame.” Is 50:6,7

However, if we read the Passion narratives, much of the busyness of accusation, beatings and denials, happens before first light – the time today when the stress of busyness torments the sleepless, before cock-crow.

Similarly, the male disciples may be largely noticeable by their absence at the foot of the cross, but in common with any busy, out-0f-town, tourist attraction in the middle of a ‘Holiday Friday’, the taunting tumult of conversations, and offers of inappropriate beverages, form an overwhelming noise around the cross.

Is it not therefore, the constant barrage of questions, appointments with secular and religious officials, off-stage whisperings of fraudulent friends, and the intrusive clamour of the lynch-mob, that produce the wound of busyness around the central sacrifice, and which that actually causes the greatest pain to the wounded healer on the cross?

Writing this reflection on my recent reading I realised that there are links here with the ‘I’m not busy’ Lent campaign, and Stephen Cherry‘s ‘Beyond Busyness’ book, which I haven’t had time to read 😦 

Any thoughts on what causes the greatest pain in our society, or recommendations on reading round the theme of ‘Wounded Healer’ as a model for pastoral care, would be greatly appreciated.

An Hour at the Cross – some of ‘The Things He Carried’

In order to understand the cross you need to stand under it… with the imagination as well as the mind. With the heart as well as the head. (Right Revd Stephen Cottrell)

The dais as we closed our 'Hour at the Cross' (the tomb was actually left from the 'All Age' service in the morning)

I have been hugely encouraged by the quantity and type of feedback that I got about the ‘Hour at the Cross’ that I put together and led on Good Friday. I’ve had several phonecalls and comments through Easter Week, been stopped in Waitrose, and had a text message which described it as “a powerful service and most definitely divinely inspired.”

It was not a service that I’d ever attended here at St. Peter’s Yateley – we’ve tended to go ‘All Age’ in the morning up till now. But it was a challenge I actually asked for, as I particularly like putting together liturgy that takes people on a challenging journey – and you can’t really get a more challenging journey that being at the foot of the cross on Good Friday.

Crown of Thorns - made by my Father from bramble and Burberis

I focussed on John 19 and used all sorts of resources including: selected bits of Common Worship ‘Times and Seasons’ Liturgy for Good Friday, other prayers adapted from Celtic Daily Prayer from the Northumbria Community, and two unaccompanied Taize songs. But the most important resources was a book I’d bought earlier in Lent: ‘The Things He Carried’ by Right Revd Stephen Cottrell.

I found Bishop Stephen’s form of reflective writing very moving, and inspirational. His ideas for group work (the book can be used as a Lent Group or Home Group resource as well as for personal devotion) included having something to hold, and I was able to adapt and create similar ideas – Gorse for the Crown of Thorns and blood soaked (inked) bandages for people to take up as they knelt at the cross at the close of the service. I didn’t have a formal sermon – the whole thing was more of a thought journey: which is one of the things that people seem to have really appreciated.

"Blood" soaked bandages (permanent red ink, flicked from a cartridge)

I’m a great believer in sharing worship ideas that have really worked, and this (contrary to some people’s expectation) was not off-the-peg, but as my friend texted, divinely inspired. Creating, and delivering it (helped by a number of people reading, and my husband doing the prayers), were spiritual experiences in themselves for me – and also contributed to answering some doubts I’d had about my own journey of faith and ministry.

Hold a Gorse twig and ask yourself "What do you do that causes Jesus to suffer?"

If you’re interested in what it might look like and want to use this service, please feel free to download it but please also tell me honestly what you think: Hour at the Cross – Good Friday 2011 (The document is full of hyperlinks for you to access the resources or order books and the service lasted an hour exactly – though a significant number of people stayed at the cross for some while after.)

The service concludes with the following prayer, which is the one that Bishop Stephen concludes his book with. It has been suggested to me that this might be useful in some pastoral situations.

Loving God
your Son Jesus Christ carried us to the cross,
shed his blood for us
and brought us into a new community with you:

help us to follow in his way,
deny ourselves and take up the cross he give us,
that the world may learn his way of peace;

may his life and his purposes be alive in us this day,
and may we be alive in him;

and when our hearts are broken,
and when the burdens of this life feel too great to bear,
take us to the cross,
and enable us to see there
the great weight that Jesus carried;
for here we receive the affirmation of your love,
the assurance of your promise,
and the strength to persevere.

For we ask it in his name.

I am indebted to Bishop Stephen for his permission to use his work in this way, and to blog about it. The photo’s in this post were taken by my husband.

When I crucified my Lord

I asked Pilate to crucify Jesus. Not nicely and politely, but I shouted at him in a public place, jeering in front of confused crowd, frustrated at waiting for the answer I wanted. The answer Pilate was so unwilling to give, and washed his hands of. I cheered as Jesus cried out in agony as he was scourged by solders, heckled as he fell and had his cross carried for him, and celebrated as he was raised up high on the cross.

'Lift High the Cross' 10th April 2011 Yateley

As my husband outlines here, I was one of the ‘religious leaders’ who this week called for Jesus to be crucified.

When I volunteered for the part in “Lift High the Cross” I envisaged a fairly simple acting task. However, although I knew I could remain my usual fairly detached self when it came to the day I really didn’t want to do it. I really didn’t want to crucify my Lord – even as an outreach event aimed at sharing the Gospel story.

It just felt wrong.

I, who sit alongside people in their grief, stand at a graveside commiting people’s loved ones into God’s care, or share in the excitement of a miracle birth, or the plans for a wedding in the presence of God, had to ask for Jesus, who is the person of the love I profess to share with them, to be crucified.

Like my son I felt much more detached than some friends who as ‘wailing women’ really and truly cried as Jesus was nailed to the cross. And yet I didn’t want to be there. What made it worse was that the script gave space for the words of various hymns to be sung (either by us all or by a solo voice) and I had to flit from my Christian faith and ministry, back to my bigoted, uncaring, humiliating role, every few minutes – I could not retreat into either ‘reality’.

Finally to cap it all, very few people really wanted to talk to me. Whilst I kept my black cassock on, people avoided me. Some friends actually said they didn’t like me any more – they were joking, but it wasn’t until I took my cassock off and flung it over my arm, that I was once again really welcome in the conversations of the people round me.

And with all this in mind, I must now turn to planning our ‘Hour at the Cross’ for Good Friday.

Thoughts on being crucified

'Lift High the Cross' Yateley 10th April 2011

My son was crucified as a thief next to Jesus last Sunday (Passion Sunday). In the heat of an unusually warm spring day. ‘Lift High the Cross’ was the idea of our retired priest; an open air passion play that involved all the local churches.

C is 14, and was recently Confirmed. I wondered if the experience would have any impact on him – emotionally, or spiritually. So I asked if he’d write a bit for this blog, and let me post it with a picture. He’s a great lad, and agreed fairly willingly 🙂 This is what he said:


To be honest it didn’t really feel like much of anything. The shouting was acting, the screaming was just acting, everything was simply acting.

Carrying the cross hurt a lot, being strung up on it for 20 minutes hurt even more, and getting my legs ‘broken’ so that I could be stretchered of was a relief, but he rest was bland. No emotion.

I don’t think you actually can get anywhere near the emotion that they would of had that day, with out doing it completely really, nails and blood and whipping and all. But unfortunately I don’t think health and safety would like that very much.

My husband (who also took the photo) was in the crowd and his thoughts are here. My thoughts are different again, and will follow shortly.

Honesty at the Cross

Good Friday is a major focus for me this year. Partly because in the run up to Holy Week my son and I are participating in ‘Lift High the Cross’, a local ecumenical open air passion play in which C will be crucified as a thief. But also because, I am also leading our Hour at the Cross service on Good Friday.

In preparation for all this, I spent part of my day at Alton Abbey this week, reflecting on some reading I’d been doing in a book called ‘Praying for England’ that is about “Honesty” (an essay by Andrew Shanks, Canon Theologian at Manchester Cathedral) and what he says about the crucifixion. I’ve only done this sort of thing once before (Maundy Thursday 2009) but rather than go into details I simply share what I ended up writing – a sort of reflection on

Honesty at the Cross

Crucifixion - The Forest Stations, Lincoln Cathedral

Jesus was crucified.
Not alone,
But with two others.
One insulting.
The other,
Fearing God,
Sharing the sentence.

One said,
“Save yourself and us!”
The other,
“Remember me,
when you come into your kingdom”

Jesus answered them.
Both requests
answered in death.
A saving grace
administered through
the commitment of his spirit
to God.

It was not the only
Many had died before,
many more were still to die.
The only reason to remember them,
was him,
the one who had,
“done nothing wrong.”
Only Jesus
returned their individuality,
when it was being
cruelly removed
by Roman genocide.

Easy to say
it was others that
crucified our Lord.
But who do I crucify
The passer-by,
The pleading need,
too costly?

Who does my neighbour place
upon a common
Whilst I stand by.
Manipulating their actions
into a place
I cannot see?

If we expect
Jesus to remember
must reveal
those we
crucify into obscurity

The crucified Christ,
remembers each silent victim,
of our oppression.
Ignorance and silence
offer no protection,
from the revelation
that Christ died today,
for all.

Finishing a familiar story – or is it just a beginning?

Leeds Resurrection by Simon Smith

Back during Holy Week, I posted “I’ve gotta go” the first of a trilogy of interpretations of the Holy Week story, written by my husband.

Although not quite to time, he did complete them, and I post all three here for you to read and think about.

“I’ve gotta go” I’ve gotta go 2010-04-01 (Good Friday)

“The morning after” The morning after 2010-04-03 (Holy Saturday)

“Your faith is in vainYour faith is in vain 2010-04-15 (Easter)

Anyone connected with CPAS or regular readers of the Church Times may spot that they (and particularly the third story) has been inspired by the artwork created by Simon Smith. Someone else I know was commissioned by CPAS to create reflections on them, but following from our Storytelling retreat with Sarah Rundle in March, G was really inspired and Holy Week gave him the space to use his creativity. If he didn’t teach, I’m sure he’d write stories…

Perhaps you could encourage him to share my blog and have some pages of his own!?

An alternative Stations of the Cross

I’ve variously been thinking about my theological reflection on my placement at All Saints, Basingstoke (which has a Eucharistic and ‘catholic’ tradition), and how to apply worship ideas in my home context (more evangelical). I also had a conversation with our curate who used a sort of Stations of the Cross idea on Good Friday for our reflective service at St. Peter’s (prompting some negative ‘its not Biblical’ comments as well as much more positive ones I gather).

Part of the 'Forest Stations' at Lincoln Cathedral
My own photo of part of the 'Forest Stations' at Lincoln Cathedral

Thinking that one day I might be doing the reflective Good Friday service at St. Peter’s I wondered if you could adapt the idea to have an alternative Stations of the Cross. I would take as its ‘stations’ different parts of the image of Jesus on the Cross that we see in the Biblical stories.

So I would focus on Jesus’ hands, Jesus feet, the sign over his head, the crown of thorns, the wood of the cross, the fact that it is raised up, with crosses either side. This could be done with digital images from various places I’ve been including Furzey Gardens, All Saints’ Basingstoke, and Lincoln Cathedral’s ‘Forest Stations’ which are beautiful as well as thought provoking.

I also thought that as he died, Jesus was in community alongside the two other with whom he was crucified – and that they represented just the sort of people we are called as Christians to be in community with: those who seek what Christ has to offer in the way of love and forgiveness, and those who reject it.

Railway of the Cross

A fantastic story from the Talyllyn Railway, which was the first steam line that we ever took young Chris on. The Church Times is reporting how the line will be providing all 14 stations of the cross on Good Friday.

If we could be at Tywyn on Good Friday we would be, because added to the beautiful scenery, a moving service (pun originally unintended) and steam trains, is the fact that Right Revd Andy John (new Bishop of Bangor) was curate at St.Mike’s in Aberystwyth when Graham was working there as a Student Pastoral Assistant!

Railway of the Cross planned

by Pat Ashworth

Talyllyn Railway  © not advert

THE Stations of the Cross will have a literal dimension in Tywyn, Gwynedd, on Good Friday evening, when the Talyllyn Railway will be running a round-trip that takes in all 14 stages of the Lenten devotion.

It is the initiative of Ian Evans, a volunteer fireman on the railway and a reader in York diocese. The free “special” is being run in collaboration with Tywyn Churches Together, and begins in front of the cross bequeathed to the Narrow Gauge Railway Museum on Wharf Station by the Revd Wilbert Awdry, author of the Railway Series stories (Real Life, 2 January).

Prayer and meditation at each Station will be led by the new Bishop of Bangor, the Rt Revd Andrew John, and by Mr Evans. The museum balcony provides a platform from which Pilate can look down on the crowds, before the passengers get on to the train and travel to the second station, Pendre, and second Station, where Jesus is made to carry his cross. Here, in front of the passengers, will be the hoist for heavy lifting, which will invite comparisons.

The train will then journey to Rhydyronen for the third and fourth Stations, before heading to Brynglas, where the roadside will evoke the incident where Simon of Cyrene is made to carry the cross.

Engines are watered at Dolgoch, recalling the story of the woman who wiped Jesus’s face. The passengers journey on to Aber­gynolwyn, and will arrive at Nant Gwernol. It is a ravine at the end of the line, with no road access, and with a footbridge over a waterfall to symbolise those who fall by the wayside.

The return journey takes in the last four Stations of the Cross. Abergynolwyn famously has the longest narrow-gauge platform in Europe, a symbol for the arms of Jesus stretched out in forgiveness. The picnic area and walkway at Dolgoch Falls, and the memorial garden on the station at Brynglas, will provide evocative settings for the final Stations.

Bishop John will give a blessing before the train returns to Wharf Station. “The buzz of our own service will not be different from the activity of that first Good Friday. I am delighted to be pre­sent,” he said.

The Revd Nigel Adams, Area Dean of Ystumaner, who will be the guard on the train, said: “It will be wonderful.”

Church Times – Railway of the Cross planned

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