Wedding Admin – the wisdom of limited experience

Yep, me signing the registers on my wedding day!

Today I handed over the last of the administrative responsibilities I have accumulated over my recent years as a Reader at St Peter’s, Yateley: the administration of Banns of Marriage, reading of Banns, and writing of Banns Certificates, along with the writing of Marriage Registers and Certificates!

In preparation I made some extensive notes for my successor which I happened to tweet about yesterday. The Vicar’s Wife asked me for a copy and suggested I blog it!

So after our ‘hand-over’ session today, which our lovely vicar also wisely attended and added his wisdom to, below is a .pdf summary of what I’ve learnt, which I have hopefully de-localised so it might be of use to others.

Please note:
It is the accumulated ‘wisdom’ of several years undertaking administration connected with weddings at my local parish church, including those things I learnt during a year of vacancy during which I seemed to spend a lot of time talking to our Diocesan Registrar! However, this doesn’t make me an expert, so if you find you are told differently to any of what is attached by someone important and trustworthy, please trust them not me!

Click the link to download the .pdf How2-Banns,Marriages&Certificates-CofE

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 😉

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!

Last Swallows of Summer (and other news)

Young Swallows photographed at The Bell, Willersey in August 2011

It looks like the Swallows left before summer had had it’s last gasp!

It’s now just over a week since I last saw Swallows heading South-East across the heath at the back of Blackbushe Airport. For the sake of the records in was 21st September.

But there are plenty of other wildlife sights to keep me interested on our regular dog walks. This week alone I’ve seen Buzzards and Red Kites riding high in the late summer thermals. There are Nuthatches hard at work in the copse, and out on the heath there are still a smattering of butterflies including numerous Small Heath and what I think was a faded Grayling.

Is this a late and faded Grayling?

And if you’ll excuse the pun, we’ve been swallowing the last fruits of summer too. The french beans and courgettes are over, the chard is probably on it’s last legs. We’re still pulling pot-bound carrots. I had hoped to late sow more carrots, but gardening looks like it’s going to be purely maintenance this autumn as we’re now spending alternate Saturday’s in Winchester where our son is rehearsing with the County Double-Reed ensemble. That means we’re exploring new places with the dog too, especially Farley Mount Country Park, that started our Sloe picking season. This year we’re freezing them before starting the Sloe Gin process!

We’re still eating the last few tomatoes (some were roasted with garlic and sieved to a mush for winter stews). Of particular note have been the Dasher turbo tomatoes which are by far the most delicious addition to the summer salad. I shall be looking to have more than one plant next summer. Outside the late Alicante tomatoes have meant we’ve been able to produce big batches of Green Tomato Chutney (with, and without onions). Even the rather odd apple tree is feeding us. As well as contributing to the chutney, I’ve discovered a fab Dorset Apple Cake recipe in The Countryman and they are now keeping us well caked, despite not being particularly tasty raw!

The best of summer 2011 - Brimstone

So that’s a bit of a round up of late summer interest really. Amidst it all I’ve completely failed to make a link to what I reckon is my best photograph of the summer. So here it is – photographed in August on a footpath near Upper Slaughter:

In other news, this weekends sees the 5th Reader from St Peter’s Yateley to be licensed in 3 years, and we’ll all be turning out tomorrow at Winchester Cathedral to celebrate at the annual Reader Licensing Service. In fact with a new vicar to be licensed to, we shall all be getting our new licenses I guess. It was really wonderful that (together with those with ‘permission to preach’ and pastoral training) we have so many people in our church who have committed to authorised ministries as lay people.

We have a new Diocesan Bishop (designate)

Well, for once I am surprised by the speed at which the Church of England has moved.

It’s not often us Anglican’s can say that, but in the matter of appointing a new Diocesan Bishop to the See of Winchester, this seems to have been the case. I had the privilege of meeting the Appointments Secretaries earlier this year as a representative of the Readers in the Diocese, and at that point we were warned that an announcement was unlikely before November! So let us praise God for such a pleasant surprise.

The second part of this great news as far as I am concerned anyway, is that Revd Canon Tim Dakin, currently Executive Director of CMS, has a passion for mission, for the connection between the people, the bricks and mortar of church, and the communities they live in. Update: some folk on twitter who know him suggest he’s ‘think outside the box’ on mission… or even ‘leave the box behind’!

The third part of the news that I see as positive, as a woman minister in the Diocese of Winchester, is that it would appear that since he is married to an associate priest, he’s probably fairly positive about women in the priesthood. He is also on General Synod already. This means that I now have someone to send the WATCH postcard I picked up at #gb11 to regarding the issue of women and the episcopate, who might have a positive response. Update: again Twitter conversation with some who have met him during the day suggests he is indeed very pro-women in ministry.

So, with those thoughts, and as I go to do a bereavement visit, below are the weblinks I’ve picked up so far this morning. I only wish I had time to go to Basingstoke’s Festival Place about 2.15pm, or to Winchester Cathedral around 4pm where he will be meeting people as he has a rather hectic day in the limelight. Update: Given the stream of positive comments among my Twitter and Facebook friends it would seem that this hectic schedule was well worth it.

[Update: For what it’s worth I’ve also learnt that Revd Dakin has also been Vice-Chair of Fulcrum in the past.]

I am sure our Bishop Elect (sorry Designate), coming as he does to ‘Bishoping’ in a very senior post, without having been a suffragan first, and with much else to sort out as he leaves CMS, needs all our prayers – he will have mine.

Diocese of Winchester announcement – on their new much improved website, launched yesterday.

CMS announcement

BBC local news coverage so far – I’ll try and up date this later.

Daily Echo


Where does the power come from?

Reflections on writing a sermon

Recently at least one professional (the Vernacular Curate – highly recommended) has written about sermon block. I had that this week – sort of. Then I experienced the other end of the scale – when God went into overdrive. Let me explain:

I’ve had a pretty stressful week with some important conversations taking place and a sermon to write for our main service today. We’re into Summer Sunday’s at St. Peter’s where rather than spreading ourselves across three congregations, we’re all meeting together at 10am. Bringing together people who have three discrete ways of worshipping is always an interesting experience – bit I think it’s now the bit of the year I like best, because there’s a real sense of unity and much more understanding between us than there has been in the past. It’s also a time when God has to opportunity to give us all the same message – but for that to happen it needs the preaching to listen very closely to what God’s saying, and be sure of the message that God wants heard. (But then that SHOULD be true of all sermons!)

This year we’re working our way through the story of Moses, and this week I came up against Exodus 12:1-13 The Passover. Go read it – if you know even a little bit of God’s story you’ll see that there’s a lot that could be preached about from a passage like this.

If I’ve learnt nothing else in the last two years (and the last year in particular), it’s that ministry can do wonders for your prayer life – when you’ve got little to give and lots going on behind the scenes of your life, any form of active ministry, ‘doing stuff’ for God, makes you even more fully reliant on God.

There is just so much theology to grapple with in Exodus 12. I don’t hold things in my memory very well – big concepts and ideas about God that are perhaps ‘common place’ to some, can often get lost in other things. The advantage is I come to every passage pretty fresh (even if it’s fairly familiar) and eager to learn what God wants to say through me, without too many pre-conceived ideas. The first thing for me to do then is to soak myself in the passage and some commentaries about it, and to pray – that the Holy Spirit will sift through all that theology for you!

But a sermon isn’t really about heavy theology, well at least not in my view (sorry, if you don’t agree). It’s about people, God’s people – the ones that know him, and the ones that don’t. Theology for a sermon should be creative – creating stories of God in action.

Amidst all the making connections between a passage of the Old Testament (in this instance) and the revelation of God in Christ (that’s the ‘Good News’ of the New Testament) I have to remember where the people I’m preaching to are. Being involved across the breadth of church activities helps: people tell you stuff; you know what’s been going round the prayer chains; you know something of what’s worrying the church leadership. Basically you know the highs and lows of people’s lives. They’re the bits that God wants to speak into. So you pray again – Holy Spirit, where does all that complicated theology meet all that need?

This week the first attempt at a sermon looked like this (it peter’s out): Sermon Exodus 12v1-13 Freedom to walk with God (Passover) By Friday I knew it was so much horseraddish – bit smelly, and rather too bitter (in other words heavy on the theology!)

God wants his Word heard. Somewhere during the week I knew he’d let me know what that Word needed to be – I just had to listen carefully. It’s not always like this, but yesterday (Saturday) there came a point in early afternoon when I was scribbling a few notes down – and suddenly I realised that the Holy Spirit was simply flowing a message out the end of my pen. I don’t normally hand write my sermons, but I wasn’t about to stop and get the computer out! I just kept going till the sermon was written (minus a few Biblical references I needed to check.) I typed it up later.

Not all sermons are like this – but sometimes I get a sense that God is really working overtime on this one. It’s almost a physical sensation as the Holy Spirit makes connections in your head that you know you’d never have thought of any other way.

That’s the time I expect a sleepless night – or some other domestic crisis. If God has an important message for his people, and I’ve sensed that, then you can be as sure as hell, so has the Devil! 4am this morning I was reading the first 12 chapters of Exodus (from The Message) in the office because I couldn’t sleep. I did get back to sleep later but only for a while. Pity my poor husband if you will.

I’ve known for some while now that lack of sleep makes me wholly dependent on God – and that’s the best way to preach a sermon, because that way the results usually give him the glory. Feedback today suggested that God spoke to people – it’s good to be able to say to myself ‘I told you so’, and to God: THANK YOU!

It’s just that when I let the Holy Spirit really take control like this (rather than dashing off a thinner sermon in my own strength), I’m a physical wreck afterwards! I was flakers on the sofa this afternoon, physically drained as the andrenalin left my body; uplifted spiritually but with nothing left to give. We did finally make it out for a dog walk this afternoon, and it was good to get the wind through my hair and my legs working again, but ‘wet dish rags’ have nothing on me this evening!

I’d be interested to know what other peoples experiences of sermon writing are? Are all preachers physical wrecks on a Sunday afternoon? Does it ever get any better?

I’ll post the final sermon tomorrow.

Unpacking this silent woman

Feeling a little like this overloaded sugar cane lorry (Uganda 2006) whose axils were going

I’ve got 40 minutes before I go to prepare for the 3rd funeral I will have taken since New Year. For the stipendiary minister that might not seem like a lot, but since Gran’s was my first completely solo effort and marked by my last post exactly a month ago, it feels like an awful lot.

As I try and return to bloggin’ I shall reflect on that, but first I thought I’d try and unpack my silence, especially given other’s posts over the last month about the dirth of women bloggers (especially in the faith sphere).

I’m flattered that Revd Lesley followed up my tiny tweet, and I’m interested in where my reasons for barely admitting that I blog fit with the theories listed by her as to why more women don’t blog.

1. Women don’t do technology and don’t know how to get on Wikio: well I do ‘do’ technology a bit, but largely due to the technical help and support of many male friends and now fellow members of the Twurch of England. What I have found (e.g. when a female staff member at Mothers’ Union head office phoned me for advice this week on setting up a blog) is that some women find the ‘technical language’ used by men a block to their understanding of how they can achieve things in social media. I’m afraid my technique is to keep asking, and explaining it back to them in my own language until I have a faint idea what to do, or get them to show me 1 to 1. Having said this, I was aware of the Wikio ratings because The Churchmouse, but had never realised I could, or even should consider registering (I haven’t yet, but thanks to Lesley I now know how!)

2. Women aren’t competative and wouldn’t put themselves on Wikio: Thing is I am; competative that is. I admit the sin of watching my blog stats, and the amusement value of discovering that my most popular post ever was last month when I posted the ‘First Time Ever’… I guess most people didn’t expect to see a middle-aged woman sledging! There’s probably a sermon illustration in that somewhere 🙂  However I know my limitations, and I wouldn’t expect to succeed in the way that Lesley Fellows or Maggi Dawn has. My world feels intellectually narrower than theirs but I’m happy to be on the edge of theirs via their blogs.

Ten minutes left…

3. Women are only blogging for themselves: these are the main desires for the blog, if I am to keep it going:

  • to share what there is that I do, that might have some use to others (sermons, reflections, the occasional idea of specific interest)
  • to include people in the journey of faith and ministry I’m taking (current pastoral circumstances are however making this difficult… and I can’t share the details, yet)
  • to ask questions, usually about the practicalities of how to do something – whether that be something technical, something spiritual, or something in a ministerial context
  • to share my news with people who know me, but whom because of my other commitments, or the distance between us, I can’t share it with face to face
  • to have a filing system for ideas and links that I probably don’t note down anywhere else – and this I could do better.
  • Is this blogging for myself? Some of it is.

4. Women are too busy to blog everyday: Yes! But so are most men, and definitely most Christian ministers I know (of either sex). I guess that’s why Twitter and the Twurch appeals it’s a more quick fire share of ideas! I have felt guilty for not blogging in the last month, and doubted the sanity of keeping the blog going at all. But, there have been plenty of things that I wanted to blog, if I’d had the time. If I get back into a rhythm of blogging you may discover what other things have caused me to be silent for a month.

I ran five minutes over. Now off to get the thermals and robes for the latest funeral and burial!

How to say thank you Mothers’ Union style

Today many of my Mothers’ Union colleagues, including my husband, spent the day at RAF Odiham saying thank you to RAF personnel and their families for the commitment and sacrifice they make in serving in our armed forces.

Due to other pressing pastoral commitments in my parish, I was unable to join them for the day, but Mothers’ Union members were able to serve thousands of free pieces of homemade cake, hundreds of drinks, and give away 200 copies of ‘Families First’ (the magazine resourcing family life published by Mothers’ Union.) The husband isn’t pictured… he was wielding the camera between bouts of giving away lots of cake!

Further information, statistics and photographs about the event can be found on the website of Mothers’ Union for the Diocese of Winchester!

It will be interesting to discover if my latent, amateur marketing abilities produce any press coverage of our gifts at this event, despite the poor amount of time I’ve been able to give them. It’s interesting where I find my priorities are being focused, especially now we’re in vacancy. The balancing act between parish and Mothers’ Union responsibilities is a tricky one.

Love, grace and marriage – a Bible Study

Last week I led a very small group of us through a Bible Study that I’ve created that grew out of my FdA extended essay on theological themes that should be drawn out in marriage preparation. (I also discovered this week that this essay received the top mark of any in it’s year group; 64% isn’t very high but I’m still feeling just a bit pleased!)

The idea was to explore some bits of the Bible that show how our marriages can and should be an example of God’s action in our lives, through his grace and love. And then to recognise that weddings as well as marriages should take place in the community of faith (and not just with selected family and friends). I’m really trying to ask Christian’s how they can engage with couples getting married… and then explore the marriage ministries that this might lead to?

If you think this is something that you could use with your church, home or Mother’s Union group, please feel free to download it and use the comment facility to tell me how I can improve it, or whether you’re group found it useful; Love, Grace and Marriage H-G worksheet

Warning: Make sure you have refreshments provided – we had two clergy among the eight of us who used it… and with much sharing of stories and theology, we took 2 hours to get through it!

Wanting to turn cartwheels

Yateley Green
First Oak leaves of spring - Yateley Green

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

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

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

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

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

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

The battle continues

The battle with the final essay for the FdA at the University is still going I’m afraid. Making a commitment to home re-organationand family meant I missed the pre-Easter deadline for the final essay (for the Uni – it’s on marriage prep) though with last minute permission… I saw my tutor this morning (a saint) and though my first version is ‘good’ it needs to re-organised to fit the Uni requirements more appropriately. I have till 23rd April.

Having taken much time out to get the first version written at the end of March, I now am preaching or leading from here till mid-May I think… no I have one Sunday off before Pentecost. Our vicar is off sick recovering well from an op, so I need to do my share.

G and I have agreed this afternoon that we will prioritise family next week, reclaiming some more boxes and working out where to keep their contents, plus catching up with the parent/aunt types (fortunately we can do both at the same time). Then I shall dedicate 19-21 April to shaking down a final go at the essay, I have Funeral Training is on the 22nd as part of my IME4 then its hand-in…
Then I guess a slow catch-up of the past (things outstanding, many MU), and set-up for the future… (marriage prep w/e in October among other things).
C is just completing a week’s Stage 4 Junior sailing course (with Seamanship skills module) which means he’ll be able to race and sail to his hearts content – though as an under 14 one of us will need to stay shore-based with him when he’s at the club… fortunately the sailing club have power I can run the laptop from…
G is just finishing the most difficult U6th practical marking ever – the scheme devised by the exam board is labyrinthine. He’s talking to himself a lot which tells me he’s really, really tired…
Tuesday G and I were very briefly delighted by the site of a male Sparrowhawk chasing a Blackbird through the willow scrub near the top of Silver Fox lane… and today with the much greater warmth we saw Peacock and Brimstone Butterflies. There is the occasional Skylark singing over the airport heath as well, though frequently on the mid-day dog walk we can’t actually see them, just hear them… the Wood Sorrel is also showing bud today for the first time in the copse, with the strappy Bluebell leaves growing fast, though I guess after the winter we’ve had it will be May before they flower… I wonder if the canopy will be too closed over by then for them to flower well, or if the trees are very late as well…
So that’s about all at present… just a sermon or two for Sunday to find now! I’ve made things difficult for myself again… and I’m focusing on Jesus’ command to forgive (rather than the more usual ‘Thomas’ theme)… more of which later…