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Tea and Theology

Attend…properly!

This week has felt rather busy, and as I look back I can see that I have definitely been guilty of cramming too much into my diary and therefore failing to give real time to anything. It has struck me that this is very much the way of our modern world: fit as much as you can into as little time as possible to prove how productive you can be! And yet, I’m not sure ministry is a business of productivity or a measuring of success…if it was, as the Church Times article about Broken asserts, many of us would be failures!

The week began with a baptism in our first service…

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…and the revival of a worship band with me on cajon in our second service.

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On Monday morning I decided to walk around a part of the parish: collar, rucksack and trainers on! This is becoming something of a routine, which I love! It gives me the space to respond to whatever comes my way…to attend! I was also combining the walk with a short photo shoot in each church, as setting the churches up on social media was also on my list of things to do for the week! It was lovely just to spend time alone in God’s presence as I worked.

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When I arrived at the second church, there was a lot of activity. We also had a young offender working with us. As I looked at him, whilst he had nothing to do, he looked completely bored and disinterested. God took over as I hauled him into the church, showed him how to use the camera and encouraged him to get lost in it. He certainly did, and there was a huge sense of pleasure as I watched his attention to detail develop, and his eye fine-tune to the potential of the camera. He took some beautiful photos with particular focus on light.

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The real reward came when I asked him whether he had enjoyed it, to which he replied, “I did actually”, and his whole face lit up as a broad smile crossed it – what a privilege! Yet it was one that I didn’t see until I was half a mile up the road, lamenting on how few people I had encountered that morning! I had been responsive, but completely unaware that God was with me in that whole encounter!

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A candle to remind me that Christ is with me was a bit of a theme this week in my encounters! One particular encounter really humbled me, as a woman asked me to address an envelope for her as she could not spell very well. She insisted on sharing every detail of the letter with me, which was a real privilege, and came with great responsibility. I would have been happy to just address the envelope, but I realised that she needed to share.

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Other encounters reminded me of the need to not only attend with people, but also to be mindful of ways in which they might practically need help. Gardens are beautiful, but can become extremely burdensome to someone who is housebound. Whilst they might not ask, can we do something to help as a church?

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That tied in with a brief exchange I had with STAR (Supporting Tenants and Residents) when thinking about how we could support their work in the parish. They said the one thing every agency struggles to provide at the moment is time…Attend!

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Lectio Divina also reminded me of how Ruth attended her mother-in-law, refusing to leave her side despite being given permission.

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Then I was reminded about the need to attend to the community – where is God already working? What is going on that we can join in with? This was part of an art exhibition of prisoners’ work, and was one of the most amazing drawings I have ever seen!

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Again and again I have come back to thinking about attending, being fully present in the flesh, being pervasive, almost, in our world.

Attend!

Attend! Listen! Watch and wait but what will I see? What will I hear? What am I even waiting for? A miracle, a bolt of lightening, the transfiguration or Jesus coming on a cloud in glory? Maybe one day, be prepared as they say; but no, that’s not what I mean. I’m talking about attending in the here and now; immanence rather than transience…being God with skin on or the hands and feet, eyes and ears of Jesus. Attend! Listen!

There is something in the saints saying God is with us come what may; God incarnate in you and in me. So attend, listen to that voice deep inside the soul.

Take care not to attend so much that you fail to see what is right in front of you though. Gazing up to the heavens, desperate to hear God’s guidance I almost didn’t see the hope offered through an exchange with an offender; the woman struggling to cross the road; and the man desperate to talk and be heard, had I not heard the pervasive plea from God, “Me in them not me for thee!”

The Art of Encounter

This week I had felt drawn to walk the parish. Having been given boundary maps and a Leicester A-Z last week I was fully equipped! Not being fully sure what I would find I set off on Monday morning after Morning Prayer, rucksack and camera in hand. It would be wonderful to have been able to walk the whole parish in that day, but one of the first things I became aware of was the sheer scale of it – this was a project not a small task!

This tree was my first encounter. I smiled to myself as my attention was drawn to it, wondering whether it would be a symbolic theme of my journey – I could not have seen at that point just how insightful that fleeting thought was! There was something about this dead tree which drew me…

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Continuing my walk I began to pass people on my way. Each time I passed someone I greeted them – it seemed like such a simple act and yet it led to so many different responses. I am still not really used to wearing a clerical collar; it’s comfortable but as I don’t see it, I often forget I am wearing it. I think the quick return greeting whilst continuing to stride ahead was a response to the collar – polite, but without a plan to engage as you never know what might happen next! A few people who were approaching me crossed the street well before we were at a safe distance for me to greet them, which made me more aware of being perceived to be part of an establishment as a cleric, someone to be avoided! Others just ignored me completely. Only one or two were happy to pass the time of day. This led me to think about what we have lost in our communities which has led to such mistrust even of a friendly smile…?

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Whilst thinking about our losses I began to wonder about the art of encounter. It seems relatively easy to encounter community en masse, but how can we begin to see individuals again?

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What needs to happen for one to trust another enough to allow them to look into their eyes, and know that they care?

Amongst other places on my walk I came across the local crematorium and cemetery. I became aware of the ways in which death can surround us so much that we fail to see the life.

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Perhaps it is little wonder when life can be so difficult, and lives chaotic. This view of society is often seen by the Police, which I learned something of as I met with a PCSO from the area.

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Later in the week I spent time with the food bank. There I found those with a desperate need for encounter, for someone just to listen to them, as they were given precious food items that I take for granted.

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I also joined a Knit and Natter group who wanted to encounter and share in each others lives as they knitted.

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Weekly pastoral visits bring welcome encounters to individuals who are otherwise housebound, and what a privilege and joy it is to be someone who brings light and laugher into someone’s day, whatever they are facing.

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When invited to a local school summer fair, encounters seemed slightly easier, especially when introduced by a trusted member of their community.

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Here people were willing to show their skills and pass the time of day with me – my henna tattoo was evidence of that!

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As I look back over the week I find myself concluding that the art of encounter is so complex. Some eagerly await and welcome it. Others absolutely turn away from it, perhaps even fear it. On ordination retreat we had the opportunity to have our feet washed by our Bishop, which I took. As Jesus washed his disciples’ feet he said “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me” (John 13:8) and this tradition has been passed down, where those who are to serve must also be willing to be served. It is such a humbling act, but what really pierced deep into my heart was the way that Bishop Martyn intentionally looked into my eyes, into my soul, and encountered me in a way that few people do. It made me realise how necessary and yet difficult encounter is – you never quite know what the other person is seeing. That said we are made in the image of God to be relational beings – we need encounter.

I am completely convinced of the need to just be present in community, willing to greet, be ignored or verbally abused, to walk alongside or to stand alone, to be the hands and feet, eyes and ears of Jesus.

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My challenge to you, should you choose to accept, is to walk around your community this week and greet all those who you meet. It is a tiny act, but it may well make a huge difference to some.

The Art of Encounter

“Death is nothing at all”
Can we really say this
When death and decay
Drain life day after day
Little by little leaning on
All that we know and own
Sapping all that we are
Hour by hour
Minute by minute
Death destroys
Something
Someone
Loved
Tick tick tick

Yet, like corn in a field
That grows and matures
Over the seasons
With sun and rain
In equal measure
Its fruit ripens and hardens
Then dries and dies
Seemingly useless
Yet within a small seed
Lies potential for new life
Nestling
Watching
Waiting
Tick tick tick

New life born perfect
Thrives in community
Love relationship
And solidarity
One encounters the other
As they look
And really see
Into the soul
The heart
As God in all glory
Encounters
Sees
Admires
This beautiful creation

First week in parish…

My first week in the parish has been amazing, wonderful and varied, whilst also providing challenges expected when getting to know new people and a new area – I only got lost once, thanks to the SatNav! I’ve been hugely blessed with people’s kindness and generosity and have ended the week so thankful for the experiences I have had.

There have been a number of threads running through the week, but the one which seems pertinent is that of #memory – memory making, memory lost, and memories to cherish as well as memories of how things used to be. My own memory making, and that of colleagues, has involved a number of celebrations following last weekend’s ordinations. It was just wonderful to share such special occasion with so many of my friends and family….

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The first few days in parish involved getting to know people who belong to the different groups which form part of our church community. I even got to play bingo with Tuesday Friends…although the competitive side of me was disappointed not to win!

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I had the privilege of witnessing the Pre-School Leavers’ Service, as they were presented with gifts to send them on their way. I’m not sure what was more moving; the performance or observing parents watching their child’s performance, keen to capture the moment. It was a beautiful example of memory-making and love.

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I also attended, and later led, my first Communion by extension in a Care Home – what a privilege to bring a breath of fresh air in the form of this sacred meal to people whose memory is perhaps not what it once was in some cases!

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Being present in the parish, as well as looking after my own needs at times, has meant that I’ve been wearing clothes that feel weird in public places, with a mixture of reactions. It’s amazing both how many people do and don’t notice!

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Nobody told me that the clerical collar would take some wearing in! I had been tugging at my collar for a few days, feeling a bit uncomfortable, before I noticed marks all around my neck where it had been rubbing!

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Sharing in Fr Clive’s first celebration of the Mass was a true privilege – and what a celebration it was!

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My interest in people and their stories has been fed this weekend, not least by one parishioner who invited me into his home where it became apparent just how dedicated to cherishing memories his late wife had been – each one encased in a ceramic thimble displayed around the house.

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My first Deanery Synod meeting led me to think about our churches, what purpose they serve today in our communities and how this differs from ‘how things used to be’… 

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Prayer for people, parish and world as a discipline is a habit which has been formed within me, but the sheer joy I have discovered this week in the silence of prayer as I bring situations and circumstances before God has been truly wonderful.

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On my day off I went into Leicester city to find schools congregating around the cathedral, having taken part in the big bike ride – the mixture of joy and exhaustion mirrored my own sentiments perfectly!

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I have witnessed just how precious memory is this week, how frightening it can be when it becomes hazy, and how threatening it can feel to challenge it. How aware of this are we as we interact with one another, with little idea of what each of us are really carrying?

Bringing all of these threads together I was reminded of a poem I wrote last year about memories:

The Echoing Tunnel

Complex journey; seemingly endless
tunnel, a tiny prick of brightness
in the distance – is this the holy grail?
Catch a glimpse of all that lay before…
nothing that darkness fails to obscure.
Of times gone by; experiences…
of people, places, words and faces.
Some are forgotten, distant and dim
whilst others continue to dwell within,
to haunt and taunt, calibrate to fail.
The eyes adjust, determination
over-rides defeat, condemnation
slips away slowly leaving room for
a hint of hope. Faint at first, still raw
from echoes of life lived long ago,
yet gradually it starts to grow.
Here, within the tunnel, a new pale
emerges – ceasing agitation
overwhelmed by anticipation.

Ordination

#700 Today marked my #ordinationceremony as #deacon. It was so beautiful to share this day with so many people who have walked with me and helped to shape me into who I am. It has been such an amazing journey so far, and yet “what feels like the end is often the beginning.” Thank you to all you beautiful people! Xx

Retreat

#699 #ordinationretreat begins here with #mixedemotions I am #signingoff from photographic reflections. Prayers for all on retreat and being ordained this weekend. May the Lord bless us and keep us, may he make His face to shine upon us and be gracious to us. Amen. 

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#698 #ohashi translates as #chopsticks and #bridge in #Japanese. I began the day listening to #bridgeovertroubledwater #forgrenfell and was thinking about what and who might act as a bridge in troubled times. This beautiful song encourages #hope and #solidarity and felt to me like an #actoflove – a #bridge in more ways than one!

Taking things for granted

#697 Following two days without power I’ve found out how #essential a #washingmachine is…especially after returning from holiday! #donttakeanythingforgranted

Cold feet

#696 #coldfeet Terry Waite wrote about the significance of feeling the ground, the earth, under our feet as we walk to be better connected with the natural world. There is something beautifully energising about walking #barefoot through the grass, sand or even the sea…#giveitago 

Ordination part 1

#695 The first #ordinationceremony of #petertide – it was a #joy and #privilege to see these beautiful people ordained #deacon! #prayers for all who are recently ordained, and those preparing for ordination over the coming week. 

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