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privilege

Left behind…

As autumn falls around me, I’ve been thinking about this idea of being left behind. I have had the great privilege of planning and leading two funerals this week, and have been reflecting on the differences in approach of each and the reasons for these aside from obvious character distinctions.

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This led me to further ponder what and who we leave behind, the order and disorder of that, as well as when the leaving behind takes place. Last year I was invited by a church to speak to a group of people who had been brought together after they had suffered loss. I had been asked to share my story with them, and as I prepared I was struck by how familiar that feeling of being left behind was for me.

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I was never the quickest learner in my class, something which I have since learned was probably due to undiagnosed dyslexia, and as my peers whizzed on past I was often left still scratching my head. My sister left home as I started secondary school; I effectively felt like an only child after that. When it came to making decisions about sixth form and university, my friends seemed to know exactly what they wanted to do, as I continued to ponder and seek that spark which would ignite my interest.

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It seemed that people were always rushing on ahead of me, knowing exactly where they were going, as I ambled on via Japan. On my return after four years of living there, I still did not really know what I wanted to do – except that I did not want to teach! Strange then that I should discern a calling to teach shortly after that. That is perhaps where I stopped feeling so left behind and found my direction, but it had been a long time coming!

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And now I find myself looking at a new horizon. Having been ordained deacon nearly four months ago, this horizon is less familiar than it sometimes feels. Indeed it was only a short time ago that I was living, working and worshipping within a very different community to the one that I now find myself serving within.

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This transition is not a bad one; it is one which I have been eagerly anticipating, and have spent the last few years preparing for; and yet I have been so conscious over the last few weeks that with every beginning, there are a number of endings. I am not sure we allow ourselves enough time or space to process these endings as well as the beginnings – I am certainly guilty of throwing myself into the next thing! Now, here I am, still very much loving this way of life and path that God has put before me, whilst also feeling a twinge of culture shock.

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Here there are those things that are cast aside or strewn along the way rather than intentionally or carefully left behind in designated areas.

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There are those marks or tags which people want to leave to show that they were, or indeed still are, present. These instances of leaving aspects of life behind are more likely performed in chaotic, or even desperate ways. A part of my culture shock is not knowing how to walk alongside those who are on such a different path from my own. I have been reminded in Craig Greenfield’s Subversive Jesus that Jesus would have been far more radical than I, and far less privileged. Jesus made it his raison d’être to walk alongside those whose lives were most chaotic, who lacked any real sense of what privilege would feel like…so how much of that sense of privilege do I leave behind as I learn to walk this path?

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How much do I allow my feet to make imprints on the ground, in the hope of bringing about real social change which could have a positive effect, and where do I forget the bigger picture and just hold the hands of those who need company on their lonely path? What most contributes to impacting that sense of being left behind, or loss and loneliness? As Olivia Laing in The Lonely City puts it:

“We are in this together, this accumulation of scars, this world of objects, this physical and temporary heaven that so often takes on the countenance of hell. What matters is kindness; what matters is solidarity. What matters is staying alert, staying open, because if we know anything from what has gone before us, it is that the time for feeling will not last.”

Impatience is a Virtue…

I’ve been reminded of an advert from about ten years ago which claimed that patience was for yesteryear, now impatience is a virtue. This advert has come back to me a number of times as I have thought about how telling it is of our society in some ways. The immediacy of communication has made us impatient for news and information, as well as for material items – why wait when we could have it now? I am beginning to realise how ingrained this perspective has been in my own attitudes, despite understanding myself as a fairly patient person…well, with some things!

As I walked around part of the parish earlier in the week, I felt the impatience of others so keenly, and it began to surface in me as well.

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Impatience of parents, trying to get through the tasks of the day with children who are also impatient as they would much rather be doing something else; older children playing out, struggling when things do not go their way; the impatience of many with a welfare system which affords them very little, despite hard work or ill-health and; even the impatience of those providing services because it is the twentieth time someone has complained to them about x, y or z this morning. These are just some examples…

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My own impatience manifested itself through a deep desire to act now, to do something –  anything – for those who were struggling. Why wait on God when I could just roll up my sleeves and get cracking? I could do some practical things to make a real difference in some people’s lives here and now…. But what about tomorrow, when I couldn’t do those things, when I wasn’t around?

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This building site as a symbol of the early stages of building and the need for strong foundations reminded me that those things that are worthwhile cannot happen overnight, as well as giving an echo of the impatience that those waiting for their houses to be built may feel!

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Ministry is not like a game of pool, when whoever pots all of their balls followed by the black wins. I was thinking about how much easier that would be, as I played pool with our 13+ group (not that I was so skilled, sadly!).

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There are times when the phone rings, and it is appropriate to drop everything to be where you are needed. It is a real privilege when that happens and people let you into their lives in all of their grief and sadness, and I am so grateful for the times that that has happened this week.

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More often though, I wonder whether ministry is like ironing shirts – it takes time and patience to do it properly, and even when it is done another shirt will not be far behind!

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I perhaps had not realised how impatient I can be sometimes, and there has been much to reflect on around my approach to ministry this week. No longer am I an ordinand, in one place for a very short time. I am not chasing ideas for portfolios, essays and presentations. This is the long haul, and it is essential to wait on God and capture God’s vision and God’s ministry in this place. Afternoon tea on my day off stopped me in my tracks and reminded me of this…God did promise the Israelites a land flowing with milk and honey!

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So what does God’s place, or the Kingdom of Heaven, look like? People running to catch buses, frustrated when they miss them, children screaming at one another, people shouting at one another? Or people showing love, care, joy, peace, patience and kindness? How can we encourage this, rather than reacting to the impatience in our communities and wider society?

Impatience is a Virtue

Impatience is a virtue
Did no-one tell you
Patience is so yesteryear
Just for those who fear
All that is exciting or taboo

What good can come
From a patient hum
A steady stroll through life
Avoiding fun and strife
You might as well be numb

Get out there and live
You have to give
All of yourself to the cause
Sing until you are hoarse
Let go of all that is negative

Then you are caught
In a cycle fraught
With danger and dis-ease
Ceasing to please
All around who thought

Impatience is a virtue…
Patience is a virtue
Possess it if you can!

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!”

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 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. 

Rhythm of Life

#538 #backintherhythm of #communityliving #morningprayer #eveningprayer #lectures #communitymeals #privilege #cherisheachday 

Privilege?

#448 Lovely #sunsets at Cuddesdon remind me of how privileged I am to be able to afford the time to bask in the beauty of #God and #creation. #grateful 

Hospitality 

#438 #hospitality today in the form of #openday. It is always a #pleasure to welcome prospective ordinands into this space that we are privileged to look after! Today I #pray for all exploring #priestlyvocations as well as those discerning next steps. May they hear God’s voice above all else. Amen. 

Funeral ministry

#399 #day17 of placement involved a funeral preparation visit. Having been involved in a #funeral in the first week of placement, along with this has given me a real sense of the importance and privilege of #funeralministry. It seems to be one huge act of #service to a family, both in getting the preparations right, but also with pastoral care of mourners long after the funeral, when society expects normal life to have resumed. it’s such an important ministry which is a #privilege and comes with a huge #responsibility. 

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