Words of change…?

For a few months now, it is almost like there has been nothing to write…actually that has been far from true. There has been so much to write about, to comment on, to realise, to think through, and I have felt verbally paralysed, being unable to find the right words, find any words to express what has been going on and how I am processing it.

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Following my return from Japan, I began to sense a difference, a change, in how I was encountering and developing within ministry and training in my curacy parish. In reality this had begun some time prior to going to Japan, so was not simply brought on by time away. It can be strange how time away sharpens the senses though. The change was, in part, about me, but it was also something I was beginning to sense in prayer. As I delved deeper into these feelings with others, it became clear that my training needs had changed somewhat, and could no longer be met in my current curacy. Over the course of an incredibly painful few weeks, it became apparent that I was to be pushed further out of my comfort zone, and that God was leading me to another opportunity.

Subsequently, it was announced in my diocese a few weeks ago that I am to transfer my curacy from the Parish of Stocking Farm and Beaumont Leys to the Holy Spirit Parish with the two churches of St Andrew and St Nicholas in Leicester city centre. In many ways this is a hugely exciting opportunity, and one that I never envisaged having. I have also been coming to terms with negative feelings around this completely unexpected part of the process though, and perhaps this is where the struggle for words comes.

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This change is not about my failure, and yet there is something about it that feels like a failure. People often refer to this situation as a curacy ‘breaking down’, and there is a lot of pain and stigma associated with that. I have come to realise how much I value the expectations and sentiments of others, particularly as some around me have expressed disappointment and sadness about my departure. One of the church wardens, as she delivered the announcement, said that her ‘heart was breaking’. I noticed a sense of guilt welling up inside; they have warmly welcomed me and I have been greatly blessed by them. Yet, I have failed them because I am not keeping my word – my parish expected me to be with them for three years; instead, I will leave them after a little over 18 months. How often do we make promises, in good faith, that we cannot keep? What words do we use to reassure people, to let them hear that which will offer comfort, without the foresight to truly know that we will be able to keep our word?

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I am a huge fan of the film, The Invention of Lying which explores the power of words. People are unable to say something which is not true, until one individual finds himself doing just that by “saying something…that wasn’t” and baffling his friends when he tries to explain what happened. What would you not have said today if bound by this criteria, if you were unable to offer comfort or care by suggesting something that you believed, but could not be certain of? I was always encouraged not to lie as a child, and I have an aversion to those who lie to me. What about mistruths, though, that we convince ourselves are a kindness rather than an actual lie – how many of those get through our in-built lie detectors completely unnoticed?

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So here I am, eagerly anticipating a new path, a different opportunity, whilst struggling with the guilt of failing those I leave behind…a guilt which may well not be mine to hold. I am beginning to wonder whether this guilt points to something of note: God can work powerfully through each of us when we allow that, perhaps it is our humanity which focuses on the emotion of such an encounter, and less on the encounter itself and what God may have been revealing within that. If you were to savour one sentence or phrase from a memorable encounter, what would it be? What is it about those words that draw you? Do they speak truth, do they comfort, or did they reveal something of the divine in a life-changing way?

Disruption…

Have you ever been frustrated by a disruption to your day? Your plans fail not because of your actions, but because of something completely outside of your control. Many of us would see this as a negative thing, I’m sure, but what about positive disruption? My ministerial training was centred around a benedictine pattern of prayer; in practice this often meant that just when I was getting somewhere with my latest essay, I needed to stop to go and pray.

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This took some getting used to and, initially at least, I failed to see the positives of this pattern of prayer. Slowly though I began to see that, when I did return to my work, I had a fresh perspective. I had benefitted from taking time away, and was developing a greater anticipation for prayer, thus what I had first seen as an unwelcome disruption had become a welcome one.

I began this week with a Lectio Poetica Quiet Day at Launde Abbey. Whilst I was looking forward to this, I was concerned about how little space there was for ‘work’ in my diary. During the Quiet Day we were invited to ‘walk out’ a poem, or recite it whilst walking to find it’s rhythm and the disruptions within that rhythm. I focused on the following poem, and found myself disrupted by it!

The Agony

Philosophers have measured mountains,
Fathom’d the depths of seas, of states, and kings
Walk’d with a staff to heaven, and traced fountains
But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove:
Yet few there are that sound them; Sin and Love.

Who would know Sin? Let him repair
Unto Mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man, so wrung with pains, that all his hair,
His skin, his garments, bloody be.
Sin is that Press and Vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruel food through every vein.

Who knows not love, let him assay,
And taste that juice, which on the cross a pike
Did set again abroach; then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as blood; but I as wine.

George Herbert

Part of the disruption was that I had got completely engrossed in the poem that I forgot to pay attention to where I was walking and found myself lost in the middle of a forest, with no idea of how to get out and no phone reception to find out which direction I should be headed in!

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There was much more to this disruption however; as the last two lines heavily imprinted on my heart I became aware of all of the ideas I had wanted to bring to my churches, and watched them slowly float away!

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Fundamentally I saw that ministry is about two things, Sin (or Good News) and Love, and I was in danger of making it about so much more! The disruption here was incredibly liberating!

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The next day I had my first curates training day – another reason to be concerned about the ‘work’ that I could not do. I laughed therefore when the person introducing the day said that the intention was to disrupt the routines that we were inevitably already building! What if it were not only routines that were disrupted, but also attitudes, stereotypes and preconceptions? My weekly poem, The Dolls House Day, explores this notion in a little more depth.

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I love my diary, and organising my time in order to not miss anything and ensure that I have enough time put aside for all that I need to do – but I wonder whether it is possible to be too organised? Am I still leaving time for God to guide, for opportunistic encounters, and to just be present in parish?

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Equally no matter how organised I am, mistakes still happen, and things are still miscommunicated at times causing some sort of disruption. This happened before my training day with an interment of ashes service which had not been booked in. It did all still happen though, and all was well.

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A regular form of disruption are road works, preventing people from getting where they need to be in the time that they need to get there. Whilst at times such delays could be avoided, is there something important about being made to slow down from the fast pace of our world? Might we see something that would otherwise pass us by?

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One final disruption this week has affected gardening plans – I cannot control the rain! I have become aware of a refreshing, pleasing feeling which comes after the rain. Perhaps it doesn’t matter so much if the grass doesn’t get cut for another few days, and I can use the extra space to be attentive to the beauty and refreshment around me!

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!”