Monthly Archives: August 2013

Come to Me, All Who Are Weary

Come to me all who are weary

Come to me all who are weary

Last week as I started to draft out this blog, I was sitting in a small cafe in the middle of the busy market town of Bradford on Avon. Its patrons were a mixture of tourists and locals, all taking the opportunity to grab a bite to eat; a quick coffee. Outside the roads hummed with cars and lorries performing an intricate and continuous dance punctuated by roundabouts and traffic lights. Tucked away in a window bay,  it gave me the chance to spend precious moments just ‘musing’ amidst all the hustle and bustle

Nowadays,  in this all too brief earthly world, it can often appear that everything needs to be planned to the nth degree. People rush headlong into the next thing they think needed doing yesterday, so that the present moment is never savoured and burnout is experienced not only in the gym but equally in everyday living.

So often we take on too much, trying to knit together all our tasks into a beautiful complex pattern only to despair when it all starts to unravel. We long for a breathing space – sometimes we just simply want a chance to breathe. When was  it that it became necessary  to live life at such a breakneck speed that each day blurs into the next?

No doubt we would all end up in chaos if we all decided tomorrow to lay aside our ‘work’ and rush to the nearest beach/mountaintop/woodland to escape it all…. rules and regulations both written and unspoken keep us on track most of the time; still it makes sense that creating regular moments aside is not only sensible and healthy, but essential for our spiritual well-being – so why not make a rule to create a recreation space for ourselves

St Benedict in the sixth century introduced his rules for the monks in his community. Not only were there set times for prayer, work and private study but time was set aside each day for recreation and fellowship. However, if you’re still thinking you’d find it difficult to do something like this daily even taking a few minutes each day to re-centre yourself can be helpful – for me the time spent in morning prayer seems to set me up each day. Take five minutes to start with a moment of quietness and then gradually extend that time a little bit each day. I was also recently reminded that the Jewish faith uses the evening before their Sabbath (Shabbat) to say their prayers so that their minds and bodies can be prepared whilst resting overnight – why not take those five minutes then, to quietly review the the day, giving thanks for all the good things and gaining strength for the day ahead.

Jesus himself knew the benefits of taking time away from his work in prayer and solitude. Whether he ever fully achieved this is uncertain during his ministry years, but at least he attempted to and undoubtedly did cherish that time. Ultimately though his concern was for others ….

‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ Matthew 11:28-30

…… A welcome invitation. Nevertheless,  for the majority of people the closest thing we get to finding a real space for rest is during an annual holiday – which is exactly what I’ll be doing over the next couple of weeks. This is when we can and should allow ourselves to relax and rediscover our inner self – the self that as children just woke up and made of the day whatever adventure  presented itself to us.

Now where did I put that bucket and spade?

Fun, Faith & Festivals

Packed and ready to go!

Packed and ready to go!

Despite being a child of the 60’s [six months as a baby in 1959 doesn’t count]; a teenager growing up around Reading in the 70’s and a fairly liberal-minded, eclectic-music-loving married woman thereafter – there has always been one type of event that seems to have passed me by….the Festival.

Images of the original hippy-love-in Woodstock festival in 1969 caught my attention and the ‘perceived’ debauchery and drug-fuelled excesses of the Reading festival in the seventies seemed tempting but off limits. Even the classical, ‘ever so proper, frightfully good reputation’ of Glyndebourne  wasn’t enough to persuade me to go and sit in a field!

The muddy visions that so often accompanied reports from Glastonbury, looked good fun until you thought about traipsing all that gloop in and out of a tent and the year when my daughter and her friend’s tent almost floated away at Momentum did nothing to modify this opinion

Nowadays though, festivals are de rigueur for everybody from screaming teenagers at T4 on the Beach to classical music’s Proms in the Park – they simply keep popping up everywhere! So when I mentioned to my husband, David, that Greenbelt, a festival that brings people together ‘to explore faith, arts and justice issues‘ was celebrating it’s 40th anniversary this year and that I’d quite like to go, I surprised myself and was even more surprised when he agreed to come along too…. on one condition….. that it didn’t include a sojourn in a tent!

So here we are – festal virgins – all packed and ready to go. Do not let the picture fool you – it may be okay for gap year backpackers to set off with little more than a change of underwear and a song and a prayer but us more mature festival goers need a little extra……. you can’t see them, but the wellies are already packed in the car!

As is my wont, I have scoured the programme and am already looking forward to laughing at Milton Jones’ one liners; getting into the varied rhythms of Amadou & Mariam, the London Community Gospel Choir and Courtney Pine; listening to John Bell just talk and searching out the folk from Hopeweavers. It will also be good to meet up with some old friends that I know are going to be there and maybe meet some new friends. It’s going to be fun!

So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people to do in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them. Ecclesiastes 8:15

And before any earnest, festival aficionados berate us for forgoing the pleasures of the whistling canvas and dewy walks to the lavatories at midnight may I just offer you the hand of hospitality and a warm shower at the Premier Inn should the predicted forecast of rain and storms materialise…

For more information about Greenbelt  go to

Pivotal Moments and the Parable of the Lobster!

Pivotal Moments!

Pivotal Moments!

In life, there are key moments that are scattered along our timelines. Moments that stand out and are remembered as pivotal. Some of them are more general – like birthdays, weddings, the bearing of children… others are personal – times when something has happened that has taken us in a new direction and changed our lives.

Sometimes the change has been welcomed and sometimes it has been scary and uncomfortable. Sometimes we’ve been able to avoid it altogether by simply refusing to acknowledge that there is any need for change. So at church today, at what would be one of those pivotal moments in my life, I thought my talk could revolve around that topic.

All church congregations can become complacent from time to time -or maybe it’s just our particular brand of Anglicanism? We know what is going to happen each week, so we turn up with two or three minutes to spare; find our usual seat; exchange brief pleasantries with the people in the pews in front or behind us; offer a quick arrow prayer that the service will not take too long as we have visitors coming for lunch; settle down to say those well-worn and comfortable words of the liturgy and hope we won’t make it obvious if we go off into a daydream during the sermon…..

I warned them…. I really did! I warned them that some of them weren’t going to like it; some of them would be happy to do it but that some of them would have a little moan about it. However, that they were to moan to me afterwards and not amongst themselves!

I simply asked them to change their positions, to move around and find a different space. Then, when they were sitting comfortably – or uncomfortably as some of them now appeared to be – we did a dramatic reading of one of Jesus’ less well-known parables… the Parable of the Lobster*! Before you start searching for it, you won’t find it in any of the Gospels or even the Apocrypha, but it is a parable nonetheless – a simple story to illustrate a point

The Parable of the Lobster

Narrator: Long ago, when the world was very new – there was a certain lobster who determined that the Creator had made a mistake. So he set up an appointment to discuss the matter.
Lobster: With all due respect, I wish to complain about the way you designed my shell. You see, I just get used to one outer casing, when I’ve got to shed it for another. Very inconvenient and rather a waste of time.
Creator: I see. But do you realise that it is the giving up of one shell that allows you to grow into another?
Lobster: But I like myself just the way I am!
Creator: Your mind’s made up?
Lobster: Indeed!!
Creator: Very well, from now on your shell will not change . . . and you may go about your business just as you are right now.
Lobster: That’s very kind of you. (the Lobster leaves)
Narrator: At first the lobster was very content wearing the same old shell. But as time passed he found that his once light and comfortable shell was becoming quite heavy and tight. After a while, in fact, the shell became so cumbersome that the lobster couldn’t feel anything at all outside himself. As a result, he was constantly bumping into others. Finally it got to the point where he could hardly even breathe. With great effort he lumbered back to his Creator.
Lobster: With all due respect (sighing), contrary to what you promised, my shell has not remained the same. It keeps shrinking.
Creator: Not at all (smiling). Your shell may have gotten a little thicker with age, but it has remained the same size. What happened is that you have changed – inside, beneath your shell. You see, everything changes – continuously. No one remains the same. That’s the way I’ve designed things. And the wisest choice is to shed your old shell as you grow.
Lobster: I see, but you must admit it is occasionally inconvenient and a bit uncomfortable.
Creator: Yes, but remember – all growth carries with it both the possibility of discomfort . . . and the potential for great joy as you discover new parts of yourself. After all, you can’t have one without the other.
Lobster: That’s very sensible.
Creator: If you like, I’ll tell you something more.
Lobster: Please do!
Creator: When you let go of your shell and choose to grow, you build new strength within yourself — and in that strength you’ll find new capacity to love yourself … to love those around you — and to love life itself. That’s my plan for each of you

Afterwards, I commented that before the story I had asked them all to make a change and that I had noted that some of them were very happy to do so and had made quite a radical change, moving far away from where they had been sitting. Others only wanted to make a slight change,  and still others really, really didn’t want to move at all, perhaps being like the lobster at the beginning

The truth is, change, however big or small, is often difficult and uncomfortable, but God calls us to do it many times in our lives. We often try and keep change to a minimum, trying to maintain the status quo, trying to change the circumstances we find ourselves in to fit with what we have planned…maybe weeks, months, years ahead

But what if God were to change those plans? How would you react?

I heard a really good quote the other day by a writer called Bob Goff. He said ‘I used to think I could shape the circumstances around me, but now I know that Jesus uses circumstances to shape me’ Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World

How is he going to shape us so that we can be a blessing in the world, so that we can move out into the world as kinder, gentler people filled with power and filled with strength?

Those plans we made may have to change, but instead of trying to predict how it will affect us far into the future maybe we should think of it simply as what is the next thing that God wants us to do on our journey with him and how are we to do it. Is it to get up and change a particular aspect of your life; is it to go on a walk and spend some time with God; is it to do something radical – to say here I am God?

As I mentioned earlier, from a personal point of view, today I am at one of those pivotal moments. At the end of the service I ‘laid down’ my scarf as a Lay Reader in preparation of the move into the new phase of my ministry as an Ordinand. To reach this point there have been many changes in my life – some filled with utter joy and some filled with utter despair.

What I do know is that I haven’t faced it alone because God has met me in the change and has given me a lot of wonderful people to walk alongside me – and most of them were sitting there right in front of me at church.

Change brings a lot of challenges and a lot of blessings – it needs us to be willing to stretch and become more than we already are – but remember that we don’t do it alone. My hope and prayer is that even though change is often difficult and uncomfortable, you’ll welcome it as a tool from God to help you become who he wants you to be. All you have to remember, is that God loves you. Amen

The Bob Goff quote was from Steve Weins blog Thank you Steve for allowing me to share

*Author unknown – if anyone is aware of the authorship please do let me know

Children Should Be Seen And Not Heard!

Children should be seen and not heard!

Children should be seen and not heard!

A lot of my ministry so far has been with children and young people – whether at home, through the church or through my work with primary schools. So when I was told that I would need to do a 5 minute presentation on a topic of my own choice for BAP (Bishops’ Advisory Panel) I thought that the persistent attitude that some churches have towards children could be a good place to start

Topic chosen – timings……difficult! My original piece came in at 12+ minutes. Editing is easier said than done. How do you cut out words, yet alone sentences, that you’ve spent ages choosing so that they say exactly what you want them to say and still make it have the same impact? Nonetheless, repeated attempts at timings certainly do get the contents into your head, you can work out the parts you stumble at each time, and eventually you get it down to 4 minutes 46 seconds – give or take a second – and you hope with a fair wind and barring a complete meltdown that you’ll get through it.

The piece below is an amalgam of the original and final version just in case you think I delivered this like the actor John Moschitta in the FedEx adverts!

Children Should Be Seen and Not Heard

Children should be seen and not heard… a phrase that was actually coined by a 15th Century clergyman called John Mirks; originally intended to refer to young women, possibly echoing Paul’s exhortation in his first letter to the Corinthians, but now simply meaning young children. It is said to emphasise that you think children should behave well and be quiet. I’m fairly certain however, that this phrase is still very much on the lips of many in our church congregations – those who complain about children talking during the sermon, stares given to parents of fidgety children and God forbid that they should be allowed to run freely up and down the aisle!

Children should be seen and not heard – in fact we’re not too sure that they should even be seen in some cases. Nothing may be explicitly said – although sometimes it is – but this attitude definitely lurks close to the surface. A disingenuous attitude bearing in mind the concern shown about the falling number of children and young people in their congregations, and witnessed by the large number of adverts in the jobs section of the Church Times calling for ministers that will build up ministry to families and young people. The dreadful irony is that the thing that people are asking for may very well turn out not to be what they actually want. They want to see more children; they don’t truthfully want to engage with them.

Somewhat reassuringly, in many churches children’s ministry and youth work are given high priorities and their youth ministry flourishes, but even here this is often done as a separate entity building up the church body but not necessarily building up the body of Christ.

The concern that churches are in decline, particularly where young people are involved is not a new problem. The Church of England’s 2004 report Mission Shaped Church pointed out that ‘We are becoming a nation of non-churched people in terms of Sunday school contact’ – and I use ‘Sunday school’ in its loosest form to represent children’s ministry. The report goes on to say that ‘Even by the end of the First World War, the majority of children were not in Sunday school. Those who were 10 years old in 1950 are now fast approaching retirement, and of them 70% did not attend a Sunday school. That means that the majority of even the elderly are non-churched.’ By the year 2000 figures showed that only 4% of children attended some form of church activity.

Conversely, the church is not attracting 96% of the younger generation. Furthermore, the majority of those who do attend church regularly with their parents, or take part in church workshops, have already decided by the age of 9 to leave, and this is happening not only in the more traditional churches but with evangelical congregations as well; although here the age of decision seems to be higher. The reason for this is that they often feel that they are not engaged by the church, seeing it as yet another form of schooling where they are talked at and not to.

Hence the recognition that young people need to be ‘seen’… because quite frankly if they are not ‘seen’ then for some churches, within as short a period as one generation, there will not be a church for them to be ‘seen’ in.  These congregations are looking for new generations to replace the existing one, members to follow on rather than walk alongside. The trouble is that they want children to be ‘the church of tomorrow’ rather than the church of today.

If we truly believe that God loves everyone without exception and that children can experience God, then churches need to become places where this happens. They don’t need another programme; they need people who are going to make a difference in their lives, who respect their spirituality, allowing them to witness not only in church, but in their own families and beyond. They need to be ‘heard’

How is this to be done? Well neither children nor adults should instruct each other by telling them what to do – it’s never about who can shout loudest or longest to make yourself heard! However, children can still teach adults even without verbal communication. Adults basically need to look at what they ARE – and learn. Look at what they DO – and learn even more

We know from the Bible that God uses children as well as adults to work out his purposes … consider David, Samuel, Josiah – even a young teenage Mary giving birth to Jesus. Moreover, the business of learning from children is one that Jesus himself demonstrated and emphasised.

‘And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.Matthew 18:2-3

By doing this he was saying look at the qualities this young person can teach you. He wasn’t asking them to regress to childhood, but to see how the natural humility, honesty, vulnerability and faith of the young are what will ultimately make the difference.

It’s true that churches have been aware of this dilemma and the need to do something significant about it for some time. Programmes like Kidz Klubs and Godly Play were introduced in the late 90’s, and huge investments have been put into youth ministries. Yet the majority of pioneers from these initiatives, now in their 20’s, have left the church in droves and this age group is at an all-time low. Where have they gone? Why are they failing to carry their faith into adulthood?

Recently Messy Church has come to the fore, recognising that if you simply wait for young people and families to step over the threshold on a Sunday morning you could be waiting in vain. Instead it very successfully attracts large numbers of families and young people with no pre-conceived agenda about converting them to ‘bottoms on pews’. Its sponsors, the Bible Reading Fellowship, state on their website that it ‘has deliberately chosen to have a ‘non-controlling’, ‘hands-off’ approach in the way it promotes Messy Church in the hope that this will give God space to grow his church as he wants to, and that it will give everyone encouragement to experiment and innovate’.

If churches are to have children in them, then those children and their parents need to feel welcome just as they are. You need churches where parents feel comfortable; not ashamed or nervous. Worship services where children are free to be … well, children. Even if that means that sometimes they will be loud, will move around, will play and fidget…because that is what children do. Children should not be mini-adults, fulfilling an adult agenda.

It’s about creating experiences to help them to be part of building the Kingdom… because it’s often in the experience that it’s glimpsed – where Kingdom values are not only outwardly expressed but inwardly nurtured as a compass for life.

It’s about providing opportunities for children to be transformed and discipled… where people of all ages gain wisdom from each other; older to younger and younger to older; because you never know the effect that a conversation, an encouraging comment, a ‘get alongside you’ activity will have on the child in a day, a month, a year….. surely every single one of Christ’s disciples needs to be seen AND heard!

P.S. I did manage to remain upright and came in at 4 minutes 54 seconds

What Is This Love?

What is this love?

What is this love?

Please allow me a moment of self-indulgence as we celebrate my daughter and son-in-law’s first wedding anniversary. Lizzie and Lewis were married at St John the Evangelist in Hedge End on Saturday 4th August 2012 and it’s hard to believe that their first year of married life has passed so quickly.

The day itself was such a joyous occasion when we were joined by family and friends to see them blessed not only by God but by all the love that surrounded them

To be sure, marital relationships are not always easy – when the first flush of romance has subsided the hard slog of getting to know each other takes over – finding out what the other likes to eat (*my mother makes the best Yorkshire puddings!); their sleeping habits (your snoring has woken up the neighbour’s baby!); their shopping habits (it’s not the size of your bottom I’m worried about but the hideous colour!); discovering our little foibles (of course I’ve left enough time to get ready!) – but enough about my marriage!

* things to try not to say

What we hope in time within marriage is that our relationship not only with each other but also with God becomes stronger and deeper, because let’s not forget he is part of the relationship as well; and that the love that brought us together will be transformed into a reflection of His love

Happy anniversary Lizzie and Lewis!

What is this love?
a poem written especially for the occasion of their wedding

What is this love?
If not a union when two are joined
in marital estate;
blessed by church and heaven;
strengthened by propitious wishes –
of hope on a journey of discovery

A love springing from the vine,
that sent forth exploratory tendrils
outwards to bind seamlessly –
and then thrusting skyward
in reciprocal ambition,
all the while anchored securely
by the root of Jesse

A love sublime;
honoured by innocence,
yet enflamed by passions
deep within each other;
blossoming like perfect rosebuds –
so tightly curled to unfurl
in velvet beauty; sweetly scented.

It is a love that knows patience
and forbearance,
that acts in kindness,
respectful of each other’s needs –
that forgives completely
and remembers not the cause.

A steadfast love, bound
in mutual trust and respect;
accepting of its own vulnerability
to hurts and wrongs,
yet still spills forth exuberantly
to gladden each heart and
lighten the world it touches

This is a love that seizes the moment
to add memories to life’s album of adventure.
Sharing smiles and tears
which will build a storehouse
of life-enhancing experiences,
guided by the Spirit’s compass

What is this love?
So jubilant in its supremacy,
yet bends its will to another
of great power and gentle nature ;
that bridges time and space
of one love – eternal.