Monday, 30 March 2009

You are welcome?

How it is that on visiting two churches yesterday, one open and available for public worship and the other redundant I got by far the friendliest welcome at the redundant one?

The visit to the open church started well. As I was spending the weekend at my parents house I headed off on the Sunday morning, feeling smug that I had remembered the time change, to worship at the local parish church. Describing itself as liberal, catholic and inclusive certainly this church did all the right things on paper…. a note in the service sheet as well as a general greeting at the beginning of the service welcomes new comers and invites them to stay for coffee afterwards. The curate on the way out, shook my hand, recognised I wasn’t a regular and so enquired of my name and such like…. and a nice lady, rushing off to open the fair trade stall, invited me to come and shop...but that was it as far as being made welcome went.
I arrived fairly early and sat in the church at the end of a row watching the pre-service bustle, neither the people handing out the books/service sheets nor the people who sat around me in the church managed to say anything to me beyond, is this seat taken? Even when I was clearly struggling in the service trying to work out where we were in the liturgy (to many sheets/service books/hymn books for my liking!) there was no offer of help. At the end of the service, I got a cup of tea and stood in the hall drinking it for a good ten minutes, numerous people bustle passed me and yet not one of them said a word to me, or even seemed to notice I was there. At this point I cut my losses and headed home…

… contrast this with a few hours on. My parents and I decided to head over to look at Gorton Monastery. Once a Franciscan abbey and parish church it was closed in the late eighties and after a period of neglect and looting was in a terrible state by the mid-nineties. Fortunately for the monastery, a group of passionately devoted people were determined to save it and formed a trust which took ownership of the building and performed a truly magnificent restoration job on it. The monastery now operates primarily as an events venue but opens for a few hours on Sunday afternoons for the general public to look around, at no charge. At the door were a few greeters with wonderful smiles, handing out leaflets about the building, asking us about our reasons for coming, pointing us in the direction of some people who have expertise that might interest us … in our case an expert on the building restoration in response to my fathers expressed interest in the architecture.
Once inside there was activities for children scattered around, various information points with videos and photos of the restoration and several more volunteers on hand to pass on their enthusiasm for the building and to answer any questions. All this was done is a really friendly and yet un-pressured way. Several visitors there seemed happy to wander quietly on their own and no-one bothered them from their solitude.

Why, oh why, oh why can we not display that level of enthusiasm, passion for our mission and care of visitors in our parish churches?? My parents local parish church is far from unique in its inability to deal with visitors well. I have visited or indeed been a member of many other churches where the exact same scenario happens… It’s not in anyway deliberate but rather that everyone is so busy with their stuff, whether it be a particular job to do or catching up with their friends, or doing some business over after church coffee that the stranger amongst them is all but invisible. It’s so easy to do and yet so off putting. My parent’s parish church is clearly a lovely place, with huge amounts going on, and they clearly feel a mission to engage with their local neighbourhood, but ….. maybe they are so busy doing all that that they have ceased to expect that the local neighbourhood may be in their church and feeling uncared for and unwanted.

Yesterday was certainly a salutatory reminder to me quite how easy it is to get it very right and also how even easier it is to get it very wrong…

Thursday, 5 March 2009

1662 and all that…. (addendum)

Morning prayer this morning reminded me of another revelation that I have had about BCP since being at Ridley. That is that is remarkably flexible… no really it is…

This morning in chapel we came into an open space where all the chairs had been removed and we were invited to stand, sit, kneel or lie down as we wanted. The service was a BCP Taize and the combination was extraordinarily powerful. The tradition language sang, underpinned as it was by the simple music of piano, cello and violin. The simple chants sung as responses enabled me to focus truly on the depth of the commitments I had just made in the liturgical prayers, and the sense of the world wide connectedness of the Taize movement was enhanced beyond measure by the sense of historical connectedness of the BCP liturgy.

For hundreds of years and in hundreds of places these two streams of worship have refreshed people, this morning they combined into a torrent of living water…

Truly God is good.

Saturday, 28 February 2009

1662 and all that….

Its that time of term again…for 3 weeks at the end of each term, college goes incredibly retro and switches to book of common prayer for its morning services.

Why you may ask (certainly many people round here ask that!) well primarily because BCP is still authorised liturgy of the church and as trainee church ministers we need to know how to use it. I think it’s fair to say that for almost all the students at college this is the first time they have come across BCP and certainly the first time they have attempted to lead it, and I like them, was not at all impressed by the idea when it first came around. Being dyslexic I was fearful of the strange language and the incredibly small print and the complications of knowing what to keep in and what to leave out… but most of all I thought it was totally ridiculous that the church could keep something so out of touch with the modern world and I didn’t want anything to do with it…. That was last year… after this week when I have started my fourth cycle of BCP I find that it has really grown on me. Now that I know my way around it I find the language is understandable and, more than that is incredibly beautiful. It’s fantastically portable with all the services, lectionary and scripture in one small book, quite the contrast to my shelf full of the various books of Common Worship services… and the simplicity of saying the same liturgy every morning gives a real rhythm to the day. I particularly like the fact that the service starts with confession, particularly welcome in this season of Lent.

There are some down sides though…. particularly when reciting familiar passages such as the grace, I have lost track of the number of times I have worshipped the Holy Sp-ost…. as my brain just automatically provides my mouth with the modern version and I still find the text ridiculously small.. but all in all I am glad that the church still has BCP. Whether I ever get to use it out in the parishes however, will I think, be an entirely different matter….

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Picking up and putting down….

Many years ago my vicar at the time encouraged us to take something up for Lent as a change to the usual giving something up… It was one of those sermons that struck a chord with me and ever since I have tried to use Lent as a time for picking something up as well as putting something down.

So today saw me put down snacking between meals... so far so good but its only day one! My problem is that there its far to much of a temptation here at college where a fantastically cheap and well stocked tuck shop at which I can have a nice line of credit is located only a few feet from my room…. I am hoping that blogging this particular Lent aim will mean that my fellow students who follow this blog will help me keep to my promise – I can see them doing a nice line in interventions…. “Jane step away from the fair trade Ecuadorian 70% cocoa chocolate bar - NOW!”

As to the thing to pick up… well never one to take an easy option :o( I have decided to take up better communication. Strange sounding I know but there is a logical explanation, honest!

I want the things I pick up and put down, not just to be things that are good lifestyle sense but also things that help me draw closer to God in this season of Lent. So the lack of snacking as well as helping my general health and expanding waist line will, I hope, act as a reminder for me of all of God’s people that do not have enough to eat and draw me to look at what I can do about that.

The taking up better communication is because I have always found that I can draw closer to God through other people. It will be no surprise to any of you that know me that I don’t do well at the quite contemplative stuff of faith! So often in my life its been the support, love and faithfulness of my friends and family that have given me valued insights into the mind of Christ, they are also the ones that have kept me going through crises of faith and times when God has seemed very far away.
Knowing how important these people are to me and to my relationship with God I struggle with the fact that I am appallingly bad at keeping in touch with people I care about. If I see someone regularly its ok as I am more then happy to chat with people face to face, it’s over a distance that it becomes problematic. I do mean to email or phone people to see how they are and have a chat, but somehow weeks pass and I still mean to but haven’t. I am always planning to blog so that people know what I am up to, but somehow never seem to make the time. Looking back over my life I can see a pattern repeating over and again where I move on and lose touch with all the people that were important to me just through bad communication. I suppose that this is paramount in my mind at the moment as I face up to leaving college and therefore leaving all the people that have been so important to me whilst here. Also, as I prepare to move back to London I am all too acutely aware of how out of touch I am with my friends there…. people I don’t want to be out of touch with. ….
… So that is why I am resolving this Lent to blog more regularly, to answer and send more emails to friends, to talk regularly on the phone with the important people in my life… and in doing so I hope that God will dwell more richly in us all :o)

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Sunday Sermon

John 1:1-14, Col 1:15-20 and Proverbs 8: 1, 22-31.

In a recent poll, American’s voted Herman Melvilles book “Moby Dick” as having the best opening line of all time. Now whilst I agree that his opening line “Call me Ishmael.” does have a fairly distinctive ring to it, I can’t say it really sets my heart racing…

My vote for a best opening line would go to the United States Declaration of Independence. It begins…
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Now that’s an opening….. These words are so powerful, so full of promise, they send shivers down my spine.

We have as our Gospel reading today the prologue to John’s gospel. This too has a spine tingling opening; we hear again those amazing opening words
“In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.”
Like the Declaration of independence they are words powerfully laden with promise…The promise of what is to come…

The first thing we hear in this passage from John is that all things came into being through God (John v3). Our Old Testament reading from Proverbs echoes this theme. In it we heard of a creation that was ancient and planned and, most wonderfully, a creation that was a delight to God. (prov v22)
John, of course, in this opening focus on creation is echoing the account of creation in Genesis 1. The creation that John is writing about is God’s powerful creative goodness, which once breathed across the earth, to form life out of a formless void. But we are not just being re-told the story of the birth of this world, John is telling us of a new kind of life, a fresh and creative goodness brought by Jesus, to breath new life into the world’s darkness and to stir humanity to new birth. Creation is being re-made from within.. powerful stuff indeed!

John is himself in the midst of this creation, he is the witness to it, The witness to a creation which is incarnational and intimate for it is the presence of Jesus amongst us – The word became flesh, In Jesus we have that which is so beautifully summed up in the Colossians reading
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.”
Here on earth was God incarnate and John was called to be witness to it.

But he was not called to be a mere passive viewer of these events, his witness was to be much more involved then that, for he was called “to be a witness to testify to the light so that all may believe through him.” Having seen Jesus, John’s calling was to enable others to see that self same light so that they also could be transformed by it. He had work to do.

That calling continues to echo down the centuries. John was the first witness, but thankfully not the last. Each new generation becomes the new witnesses to God’s light in creation. That is his legacy, we are his legacy…for here and now, for this generation in this place we are the witnesses who will testify to the light. We are the ones that can make visible the image of the invisible God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Now I am well aware that such a thing is much easier to say then to do. The rhetoric of the pulpit is all well and good but what are the practicalities of being such a witness? What exactly are we suppose to do as witnesses and where are we supposed to do it?

I will start with the where because that is straightforward – where are we to witness?…. Out there in the world is where. You see – God is visible in here, in this church… We see his presence through the sacraments, We see his presence in the spoken and sung worship, We see his presence in the faces of the people sitting next to us –God is visibly present here…. Its out there in the world that he created where he is not known…As the Gospel passage goes on to say ”The earth the word had made, made him a stranger…” (John 1:10)
So just as God came to us in the form of Jesus rather than staying put in heaven and expecting us to come to him – so we need to be the witnesses out where the people are. We need to go to them rather than waiting and hoping they will come to us.

Now we will have a chance to explore this idea further during our Lent sermon series that picks up this theme of God among us. We will have a chance to hear from people who are being just such witnesses in schools, universities, workplaces and professions. People, who, I am sure, will have valuable insights to share…

And so I will move to the what, the place where many of us come unstuck…
we may well know and believe that we should be witnesses for God in the world, but what exactly does that look like and what exactly are we supposed to do? Sadly there is no formula, no ten step program that we can follow that makes all this easy, because each of our callings in this regard is unique, we each have different giftings and each of us has different lives and so different opportunities to witness.

But don’t give up in despair the clues are there that can give us a start.
For example If we look to the Colossians reading we see various descriptions of God that can we can use in our witness. We see a God who “created all things in heaven and earth” Talking of God the creator can be a powerful witness in a world were environmental issues are becoming increasingly important in peoples lives and we heard only last week from Nigel Cooper of his work on environmental issues in this diocese, a powerful witness indeed.

The Colossians passage goes on to describe God as the one “in whom all things hold together” (Col 1:17) what a powerful testimony to a world falling apart! Our economy is in free fall and for many people this means that the things which gave them their security such as jobs, property, and share portfolios are looking increasingly fragile. They are trying frantically to hold together by themselves, we can offer them the opportunity to trust in the one who can take that burden from them… the one who holds it together even when they can’t.
Why not offer to pray for people you know who are troubled in these troubling times – or better still offer to pray with someone. Prayer is so powerful and interestingly very rarely refused even by those that have little or no faith. Prayer can be transformative, because prayer, by its very nature, brings people into the presence of God.

But most of all don’t forget that the “word became flesh and dwelt among us”….sometime we can get hung up on words, get tongue tied, don’t know what to say and we fear saying the wrong thing…but there are times when it is not about the words, its about the dwelling. It’s about sitting with someone, holding their hand, saying nothing but sharing quietly in their grief and pain.

As we conclude let us return to where we began..
The writers of the United States declaration of independence were so convinced of the power of what it contained that they ended it with these stirring words:-
“for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred Honour.”

And my challenge to us today is this – are we prepared to make such a pledge in support of the power of the Gospel? The final words of our gospel passage for today tell us-
“that the word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. “

Our indwelling in the world should be that of
a life lived in grace and truth,
a life that reflects the glory of God,
a life that is a witness to God.

We need not fear living that life, for as the light shines in the darkness, the darkness shall not overcome it.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Looking ahead....

... On a day when I have been facing up to future reality by buying clerical shirts I am grateful to ASBO Jesus for once again articulating, better then I ever could, the stuff that's swirling about in my mind....

I sooooo hate labels, and yet when I stood looking in the mirror this morning dressed in a very formal black clerical shirt complete with plastic dog collar insert I couldn't help but feel that I have just put on the biggest label of my life. Free with purchase comes a whole heap of expectations, assumptions and pre-conceptions none of which I think will remotely fit me. At the moment, how I managed to stay Jane in amongst the craziness is something weighing heavy on my mind... after all experience dictates that the system will change me much more then I have any chance of changing it.....

Still I had one moment of me-ness, in the shape of a black fleece hoodie with a dark red lining which has an inbuilt clerical collar - much more my style of dress.... but oh the temptation to go to one of the shopping centres where they have banned hoodie’s whilst wearing it and see if they dare throw me out..... but then that wouldn't be a very Christian thing to do... would it?

Saturday, 31 January 2009

25 things...

There is a new facebook game doing the rounds where you are tagged by someone in their notes who has listed 25 random things about themselves and wants you to do the same. Since I spent quite a bit of time putting them together I thought I would post them here, apologies if you have already seen them on my facebook!

1. I studied archaeology at university because secretly I really wanted to be Indiana Jones
2. I get really irate when slugs decimate my hosta
3. I never buy French white wine
4. I have performed the Lambeth walk on Mongolian national television
5. I genuinely scare myself sometime when I realise I am speaking and I have no idea what I am talking about
6. I miss my cat – a lot
7. I hope I get to visit Tristan da Cunah before I die
8. Abide with me is my favourite hymn
9. As a child I planned to have six children and be running a multi-national company by the time I was thirty.
10. I would love to learn to play the drums
11. I am a world class procrastinator
12. It wasn’t until last year I realised that I am actually quite a good cook.
13. As if to prove a point over 24 hours elapsed between me writing point 11 and point 12!
14. I am terrified of driving and consequently have never had a driving license.
15. I absolutely adore garden gnomes and hope to expand my collection when I get a place of my own again.
16. I only earned 4 badges as a Brownie, Home help, swimming, world guiding and bookworm.
17. Despite being nearly ordained I still don’t know the order of all the books in the bible – I keep getting lost in the Minor Prophets and the Epistles…
18. I am addicted to Spider Solitaire – which is probably one of the biggest contributors to point 11..
19. I think the closet thing to heaven on earth is a big, comfy chair, a log fire, a large pot of tea, a cat on the lap and a huge pile of books with all the time in the world to read them.
20. Despite being an incredibly clumsy person I have never broken any bones… yet!
21. Jane is my middle name, for some reason lots people in my family go by their second name including my aunts, grandfather, great uncles and aunts and great-grandfather.
22. I much prefer cold weather to hot and detest humidity – so why I keep going on holiday to hot and humid countries is beyond me :o)
23. I love people watching and particular like airports and train stations because you can have great fun trying to work out the stories of why people are there.
24. I never leave home without my keys, purse, I-pod and a book.
25. Nobody can make me laugh as much as my mum, she cracks me up :o)

Monday, 12 January 2009

Todays recomendation...

... Is the film "Slumdog Millionaire". I went to see it tonight and it is blooming brilliant.

In a world where we tend to see the same old, same old over and again this is genuinely different. With fantastic performances, amazing cinematography and a great script its a real winner.

The only problem is it has made me want to go and ride trains in India!

In case you have had you head in a bucket for the last couple of months and haven't heard of the film, here is a trailer.... enjoy!