Probably the greatest spiritual joy to come from lockdown, and we have and we will continue with it into the future, are the prayers that we’ve livestreamed daily at 10am from the Facebook pages of St Barnabas Darby Green and St Mary’s Eversley.
On the days I lead them (currently Mondays and Thursdays, though it can vary a bit) I try and download the recording from Facebook, and then upload it to my YouTube channel. This is because social media can become very excluding to those who don’t engage that way, but do have computer access. In this way I know I’ve extended our praying community to those whose lifestyles don’t mean they’re online at 10am!
The community that connects and engages in prayerful support of each others , and those we name in our intercessions, is drawn predominantly from those communities, and the town of Yateley which connects them. I am well aware that people sometimes dip in from far further afield, either because of friendship networks, or because of their own need to be nurtured in their faith.
Praying from my garden (or my Dad’s) in the summer was lovely, and once I’d purchased a microphone for my mobile phone (that cut out some traffic noise but not the birdsong) of real value. Sometimes I’ve even managed to lead prayers remotely, from the churchyard or the hill above St Mary’s Eversley one glorious morning in early autumn, from my car, with the phone afixed to the car door, and from the churchyard of All Saints Minstead, (where I grew up) when the need to support our wider family meant we were there during the school holidays.
This outdoor worship is always appreciated, I think because it gives people a lens into our lives as ministers and is an example of fitting our prayer lives into our ordinary lives. For those with mobility issues, it also takes people who can’t always manage it for themselves out ‘into the countryside’. I hope it creates a more holistic environment for those who are watching, though the opportunities through the wet autumn and winter is more limited, so it is an occasional treat rather than the norm!
On Mondays I tend to use parts of Common Worship Morning Prayer. In the middle of the week I kept with the local tradition of using prayers from the Ffald-y-Brenin Community in Wales that they’ve now also made free (download or paper versions) for the situation in which we are all living. Wednesday and Friday prayers are now led by lay colleagues, sometimes from church, sometimes from home, and sometimes whilst fishing!
Initially I was also leading prayers on a Friday and for that I adapted prayers from the Iona Abbey Worship Book (available as a book or download). I was particularly struck by their prayers for a Friday that places people in a church building, and affirm that even if the walls were to crumble God still dwells within us. This seemed particularly for the context of lockdowns where people can’t pray in church, which some find particularly difficult to accept. So whilst my pattern of online prayer has moved from Friday to Thursday, I’ve kept with that liturgy as both the tradition from which it comes, and the words themselves are appreciated and seem so pertinent to the context of our restricted lives during the pandamic. Perhaps when this is all over, I may offer something else. If you want to experience it for yourself, an example of the livestream recording is here, and the liturgy here:
So, if you want to join us, on Facebook at 10am daily and get a reminder when we go live, do ‘like’ our pages. If you’d prefer to stay off social media, then this is my YouTube feed (also comes with wildlife videos!) Feel free to avial yourself of the liturgies we use via the links above, and join us. It’s always good to know who is with us, so do please use the appropriate comment facilities so we know where you are, and if appropraite, what your prayer needs are, so that we can pray not just with, but for you. Go well and God bless.
Last Sunday was the first in Lent, and time for a change of focus towards the Easter story and all that scripture challenges us with as we explore who Jesus is and what he came to do.
Many of us, old and young, still enjoy an advent calendar, opening the windows that tell the Christmas story, creating a sense of anticipation as we move closer to the festivities, perhaps consuming chocolate along the way, or enjoying cute pictures of candles, angels, an ox or a donkey.
Lent is a similar season liturgically.
I’m wearing the same purple stole, though with different symbols on it (because it’s reversible).
We are preparing for a great Christian festival, which we celebrate with much joy, and more chocolate.
But we don’t have Lent calendars in the same way. It would, after all be difficult to fit 40 windows across a picture at a scale sensible enough to be propped on the average mantlepiece (I struggled enough making 5 windows on one for the children).
There’s also the idea of fasting, as Jesus was forced to do in the desert, so even if we’re not abstaining completely, chocolate’s out, until we get to Easter.
The only animals that feature are wild beasts of the desert like jackals and snakes; no cute animals here, even if there are angels.
The story that leads to Easter day isn’t so cheerful either: Jesus, the baby in the manger, God made man, dies.
The idea of Lent is not to generate the sense of excitement and anticipation of Advent, but to enable Jesus to prize or tear open windows into our hearts that let God in. Through scripture, prayer, study, silence, reflection and repentance, we ask God to open windows into our lives and faith that help us understand the significance of who Jesus is and what he did through the cross and resurrection, so that we can encounter God afresh, and understand that his kingdom has in fact come near.
For Lent, my husband Graham is doing something he’s run for a couple of years now; hosting an online Lent Book Club through his blog, Facebook and Twitter. Anyone can join in if they’re social media inclined. There are some people with whom he interacts who are long-standing personal friends; some we only know through their on-line presence; several who struggle to articulate their Christian faith; some who have been damaged by ill-health or by church communities who have excluded them; some who have been faithful committed Christians all their lives and are now house-bound, struggling to find fellowship; and some with family or work commitments that make them recognise they need to take time out with God. By sharing in the Lent Book Club, all are opening windows for each other that let God in.
This year they, we, are using Janet Morley’s book “The Heart’s Time”, a book that uses poetry – religious, semi-religious and otherwise – to open up our hearts to God’s Kingdom, to scripture, to the work of the Spirit. In her introduction she writes
“Poetry makes us slow down… explore hard subjects head-on… uses irony, doubt, humour and idiosyncratic perspectives [in a way that our church liturgy doesn’t]… [allows readers] to appreciate different layers of meaning…in which each reader finds their own interpretation,… [and] examines the familiar… in a way that becomes newly strange.”
The first poem she uses to introduce the relationship between Lent and poetry is “The Bright Field” by R.S. Thomas, the famous Welsh priest-poet. It describes the relationship between a brief glimpse of sunshine through clouds on a showery day, and our own faith journeys. If, as is so often the case, we forget our brief glimpses of God’s beauty, the hope, mercy, light and fire of his love, then we are ignoring, even dismissing, the promise of the Kingdom of God.
God, in our fast-paced, news-packed, headline-filled Gospel from Mark this morning, where each story could be packed into the now 280 characters of a Tweet, is tearing open the windows of the Kingdom of God, and letting the brief shafts of light highlight who Jesus is, and what he has come to do for us.
At his baptism, in the form of a dove as well as through the voice of God, the window opens to reveal Jesus as God’s son, whose obedience is deeply please to his adoring Father. Jesus is the Messiah of manger-fame, the anointed one, God on the move. But in that Sonship, in language used by Mark only in relation to Jesus’ crucifixion, in the imagery of death and resurrection found in baptism, Jesus is also shown to be our Saviour, the one who will die and rise again, to remake our relationship with God.
In the wilderness to which the Holy Spirit then propels Jesus, the window opens to focus our attention on the paradox that Jesus is both God and man, and therefore subject to the adversaries and adversities of life, signified in scripture though their personification as Satan. Perhaps we know only too well that any period of temptation and the pressure to do other than what God desires feels like a life-time, and the outcome is always uncertain. But for Mark, the outcome for Jesus is so obvious it doesn’t warrant a mention, because other windows, shafts of healing and hope, will show Jesus’ authority over the unclean spirits that oppress this world, and we who inhabit it.
As Jesus moves out into the villages of Galilee, he opens a third window on this new Kingdom by sensing that John-the-Baptist’s ministry is complete so that now his work, and the proclamation of its purpose, has just begun. The time to fulfil all that was promised by his birth and baptism has come; in him and through him, God made man, the Kingdom of God has come near.
What new windows of understandings to who God reveals himself to be in Jesus are we hoping to tear open this Lent?
Or do we need to stop and be observant long enough for God to break open a new encounter with him?
Are there brief glimpses of the promises of his Kingdom that we run the risk of missing if we don’t keep some sort of Lenten obedience, commitment or devotional practice?
Now is a good time to stop, find new windows on what God is wanting us to do in our lives, and not to walk past and promptly forget the light that shines in, but stop and reflect, take them seriously, and be changed by them. Un-shuttered windows may open on an amazing vista of hope that we hadn’t otherwise considered, or let in a fresh breeze that blows away the cobwebs of doubt or despair. The glass of a window-pane may help keep out the wild animals of a life-style or thought-world that is prone to savaging us if we don’t keep alert, or if the angle of light is just right, form a mirror in which we see ourselves as God sees us, flawed, and yet his special, precious adored child.
Because that is what lies at the heart of Jesus proclaiming that the Kingdom of God has come near to you, and me. We, like Jesus, are his beloved children, and with us he will be well pleased, if in Christ-like obedience we commit ourselves whole-heartedly to the work of tearing open new windows between our lives and God’s and allowing the Holy Spirit to flow through them shining the light of Jesus into the places that only he can reach. We are seeking to know God and his Kingdom better and better each day, so we need to be looking as hard as we would for a hidden treasure or a lost heirloom, and expect to be changed by what we discover.
There are many ways in which we can open the windows of God’s Kingdom into our lives this Lent, and doing a Lenten study, either privately, in a local community like a Life Group, or even in an online context, is one way. It doesn’t have to be via reading poetry either, there are many other study guides. At our Pancake Party at St. Peter’s and at the Ash Wednesday service, Rev’d Lerys gave out different sorts of guides (including #LiveLentdaily readings from the Archbishops) to help us engage creatively in opening windows on what God is trying to do with and for us in Jesus.
‘The Bright Field’ by RS Thomas
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price,
the one field that had
treasure in. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
and imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
This morning a Change.org petition started doing the rounds among my Facebook friends which seemed to suggest that Facebook had created a “law” that stops religious leaders (implying in particular, Christian ones), from using their appropriate title. The warning was that if you tried to use your “Rev’d” “Father” or similar title, Facebook would stop you accessing your account.
I was less than convinced that this was true, so I didn’t sign, but I was concerned about the issue, so I messaged my friend Alec Muffett, who is a computing security guru and importantly, works for Facebook. I asked him what Facebook really do. This is what I discovered:
This story appeared a couple of days ago, after a Rev’d Fr was locked out of his Facebook account. The Change.org petition appears to relate to it, although a different petition is mentioned in the article.
Now, I have a second Facebook account, set up last year when I was ordained, so that my social media relationships with parishioners are separate to those I have with long-standing friends. It’s a boundaries thing, something that lots of us are warned about before we’re ordained. I had, in common with the clergymen in the above article, resorted to using Rev’d in the ‘first name’ box when setting it up, so it read “Rev’d Rachel” and it showed up as “Rev’d Rachel Hartland”. I didn’t really want to have this account blocked, which is why I was interested to find out the truth.
Facebook’s policy is in fact that they simply don’t want anyone using ‘honorifics’ as their known name whether born of employment, ordination, good works or anything else. To quote my friend, “It is not a religious prohibition its a general policy.” The rule would apply to a Knight of the Realm as much as a humble curate!
But before we still jump up and down saying we really, really want to use our legally acquired title on Facebook, however gained, the answer is – we can. There is a place provided for ‘other names’ in part of our profile set up, and it then shows up on our profile.
Alec kindly told me about how to put my “Rev’d” on the appropriate Facebook account, and I’ll put the instructions below, but first I think we need to remember something important if we want to use Facebook appropriately in ministry, with boundaries that protect us, whilst making it clear the capacity in which we’re using an account for the protection of others:
Facebook want to keep people safe by getting them to use their real names, rather than hiding under pseudonyms. It’s for our security, not theirs, and it will help Facebook stop the more dangerous uses of pseudonyms (e.g. for stalking people online) if we respect and encourage their ability to stop people accessing accounts that do not use people’s real names. So, we need to use, and promote, the means by which Facebook have enabled us to honour our calling, and be careful not to assume that social media providers haven’t thought through their policies carefully. There may well be room for improvement, but that goes for ministers as well, and there will be a greater respect on both sides if we try to check things out first, where possible, and abide by the guidance they give. It also means double checking the reasons for petitions it might be suggested we sign up to.
So, the how to get “Rev’d” on Facebook guide (other titles can be used):
Use the little arrow of drop down boxes (top right of your Facebook page) to go to ‘Settings’
Where it says ‘Name’ use the ‘Edit’ button on the right
Assuming you’ve not ‘changed’ your name in the last 60 days (Alec, this I think is the bit Facebook could do with reducing, though I suspect it’s there for security too), take out any title you’ve put in a ‘First’, ‘Middle’ or ‘Last name’ box, but leave in your actual name – then ‘Save Changes’
Click the button just below it that talks about ‘Other names’
Complete it as is appropriate to you – you CAN chose what you want to be shown as; I used ‘Name Type’… ‘Other’ and entered “Rev’d Mrs”, because that’s what I am – then ‘Save Changes’
What appears on our profile page is your name in bold, and in large, but less bold print underneath, the ministerial title under which you are operating on this Facebook account.
All of which seems to me to be quite acceptable. Happy Facebooking ministry friends!
It will take me weeks to sift through the various things that challenged me, or got me asking questions about my use of social media. I could start with the delight of meeting ‘in the flesh’ various social media illuminaries, but others (like the Vernacular Vicar, Revd Claire and the award winning Lay Anglicana) have already made that point.
The thing that’s been nagging at me most since Saturday means I’m starting my reflections at the end, with some thoughts on Dr Patrick Dixon’s concluding presentation.
Dr Dixon challenged us to ask afresh what our calling is, reminding us that Jesus came to transform the world. How much of what we tweet and blog, he asked, is “ghetto traffic”? How much is relevant to the wider world? If we use the language of our ghetto, he warned, we need to be careful who will see it, as we can be badly mis-understood.
Now, I don’t reckon myself a world changer like Dr Dixon. I don’t want to be – at least not on a global scale. If there is to be any butterfly effect from what I do, it will most likely be from simple acts of encouragement, sharing, being there for people, and hopefully by enabling them to be touched in some small way by God. Those things are most likely to happen through face to face conversations of one form or another.
Obviously, there are books, and personal conversations with those more experienced than I to contribute to the sea of wisdom at my disposal, as well as the inspiration of God through the Holy Spirit in quiet moments of reflection; but as the links above suggest, the world of website and blog (accessed increasingly via Twitter, Facebook, and Google Reader for convenience) are of increasing value for being easily searchable.
Of course, if I am going to count myself a practitioner in these fields, I too may have thoughts of my own to share, that others at various points in their own faith journey or ministry, may wish to dip into. Making my own sermons and service ideas available is therefore part of a reciprocal relationship (the open-sourcing were were encouraged to elsewhere in the conference) – not so much holding them up as virtuous but holding them out before God’s people for critique. It may, and has, led me to be open to mis-understanding, but it would seem selfish to do otherwise.
So, I guess that means I am operating in and expanding the ghetto of Christian bloggers and tweeters, that I took Dr Dixon to be criticising. Yes, I do want to be ‘salt and light’ as the Bible tells us (Matthew 5:13-15) . Yes I do want to show people that God is relevant and can change their world. but for me, at present, that means I need the colegiality of the “ghetto” of blogging Christians to feed the individual face-to-face encounters that fill my ministry in this little corner of the world that Jesus wants my help transforming.