Monday, 18 October 2010

Here I am again.....

Most of you will have given up looking for any new blog from me since August. All I can say is that I think you needed a respite from my rambles. So what has stirred me to write....

I read an article recently by Graham Cray addressing the issue about failing Fresh Expressions. Sadly words like FE and fail are not often acknowledged in our present church culture. GC makes an observation that I think applies not just to Fresh Expressions but also to Church 'as we know it'.

'Perhaps the key lesson is that fresh expressions are more likely to be fruitful if they grow out of relationships, than if  they use an event to establish relationships.'

Effective church communities, whether 'inherited traditon' or Fresh Expression are those who understand this and make the relational and network value central to their life and mission. 

Yet somehow many of us still think that what we put on 'in church' will be enough even though our theology is rooted in the one who 'moved into the neighbourhood'. As a parish priest I am only to aware of the expectation from all sides that we must do 'something' to 'bring them in'.
Nothing is more effective than relationships and building community - whoever and whatever people are invited to.

Friday, 6 August 2010

The Score

Having read 'The Plot' by Madeleine Bunting this week, I have been struck powerfully by the memories evoked by music. There are some pieces of music that evoke good memories and some not so good. It has nothing to do with the merits or otherwise of the piece of music but association with people, events and circumstance. On our way back from a walk Sheryl and I were listening to Mahler's 5th Symphony - Mahler has been all the rage at the proms this year and to be honest I haven't found his music the most enjoyable. However I have been attracted by it's variety and 'interest' if not it's 'tunability' - though it does have a bit of that. Listening to the Adagietto - a beautiful piece of music - took me back some years ago to a very difficult time in our lives. Maybe my antipathy to Mahler is more rooted in personal memory rather than the music's intrinsic value. There are pieces of music that I will listen to that evoke good moments - Schumann's Rhenish Symphony for instance - though only because it was on the radio at a moment when I knew things were on the up. I can't say Schumann tops my charts every day!
Music can lift the spirits but to be honest if some music gets associated with certain events - personal or otherwise - it's going to be a tough call for that tune! I haven't of course mentioned Wagner...

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

The Plot

Holiday reading includes the latest by Peter James, Elizabeth George, John Ortberg etc 

One I highly commend is 'The Plot' by Madeleine Bunting. A really great piece of writing and a moving account of a plot of land in North Yorkshire owned by her father and upon which he built a Chapel. No wonder Simon Scharma describes the book as being 'among the very best about what it means to be English.' To be honest whether you're English, Welsh, French or anything else you may still find it a brilliant read! It is a very moving account about what it means to be part of a culture with its history and all that means in terms of its highs and lows, gains and losses - and at the same time weaved through it all is the life of Bunting's family - again with its its highs and lows etc etc 
All looked at through the 'lens' of a piece of land.
I can't go to Cheltenham (my home town) without thinking, reflecting and wishing I could have written a book like this. I am sure many of us have our 'plots' even in this age of national and global mobility. 

Place is significant becuase it speaks to us about where we have come from and who we are now... it may have also have something to say about our future...

'the Word became flesh and moved into the neighbourhood'.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Cycles, Sunflowers and the point of it all.

Pedalling along we passed a place called 'Le Point du Jour'. It means 'Daybreak' apparently. My first reading of it was simply 'the point of the day', (but then french was never my strong point), and wondered what an interesting name to give a place. In one sense we all need a point or reason for getting out of bed at the start of a day. Like many people I sometimes wonder what the point is to be honest - but even when it is hard something or more usually someone makes it worth the point. To live in love and relationship is basically the point of life I think. It takes a few days out of the routine to make me appreciate afresh someone else's love, the beauty around me, the call of serving others and that there is a point even when sometimes it feels that there isn't. Those who live in 'Daybreak' in this part of France wake up at this time of year surrounded by fields of sunflowers - those beautiful plants who live to face the sun and soak up it's energy and warmth. I always remember an old nun telling me that for her prayer was sunbathing in the presence of divine love. Now that's a point....

Time for wine methinks.....

Friday, 30 July 2010

Randonnees en France

Day 2

Wandered up to the Boulangerie via the church. Lovely prayerful space. I am not someone who thinks that because a building has the label 'church' and looks like one, it has to necessarily 'be' so. Preached on Jacob and 'Bethel' (House of God) last Sunday which to me means that in a culture which saw God in very local and possesive terms, there was the emergance of some sort of understanding that God could be encountered anywhere he chose to meet with them - and they with him. 'Where two or three' and all that....

Anyway onwards and upwards to the bakers. I entered looking like the Englishman abroad and uttered the word 'Bonjour' as one does, only to get the response 'Hullo, Monsieur'. I spoke French in my English way, whereas Madame spoke English in her French way. Just got me thinking a bit about culture and communication. As I'm holiday I won't go too far with this. I just need to learn not just to speak French but to 'speak' French in a french sort of way. Maybe a gallic shrug here and grunt there. Discover your 'inner Gaul' is the sub- title of a book I'm reading at the moment. Communication is obviously more than simply saying the right words.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Randonnees en France

Day 1

Staying in a friends house in the depths of the French countryside near Limoges in the Hautes-Vienne. Rural, peaceful, warm - so time to wind down a bit. How hard is that!
Steve keeps chickens so a wander over the road to say hullo, next doors dog sitting in the window watching my every step, a stroll up to the boulangerie for 'le pain' (cakes to die for) and 'confit de canard' cooking in the slow cooker. Plus church bells, across the way, timed to ring morning, noon and night to remind the workers in the field to get up and go to work, have a break and then come home at night. Timed by satellite apparently - Belstar!? A mix of the 'ancienne et moderne'.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

A Father's legacy....

For some reason I started thinking about my father. He wasn't perfect, and as an imperfect father myself, I appreciate that now. Having preached this morning on the 'furious longing of God' and also remembered Tom Smail saying that his interest in the Fatherhood of God was shaped by the father he never knew, prompted me to simply consider what my Dad bequeathed to me.

Dad was an intelligent 'labour' person. He played the piano, he loved a breadth of music, he would build radios from scratch, he would work on various DIY projects, maintain a car, build furniture, develop a complex form system to feed his love of horse racing as well as having a 'clever' job, but not highly paid, inspecting the building of aircraft. I think he was extremely underrated by many of us, myself included and suspect the equivalent job today would be seen as extremely responsible and be better paid. 

What did my Dad give me?

A love and appreciation for music. He had a wide appreciation of music, especially music that as Natalie Wheen says has a 'good tune'. What a gift to pass onto your children. And as far as being a Vicar and worship leader who longs to see worship engaging people where they are, nothing does that to be honest, more than a good tune. I say this realising that a good tune is subjective. And that is something else I think he taught me - his tastes were very broad. I remember him bashing away on the old piano in the hall as the small council house was filled with the tunes of Beethoven, Addinnsell, Gershwin, Oscar Hammerstein, the Beatles, Procol Harum and then back to a bit of Bach. A good tune is a good tune in anybody's language and culture. He came to hear me lead and accompany a school production of Oliver, and his pride and joy at hearing me 'glissandoing' my way up and down the old ivories was a treasured memory that has stayed with me these past 35 years.
Again for me as a worship leader, when it comes to music it is what tunes (and words) enable people of all generations and cultures to engage with God - but not necessarily all at the same time!

That is why I have no problem with developing congregations that are generationally and culturally different.... being catholic is about finding  means of unity and oversight rather than conformity. How else is Post - Mixed economy church going to be effective?

Another gift my father gave to me was an attitude that never quite takes things at face value.Out of this came a questioning spirit that could sometimes manifest itself in prejudice but more helpfully gave me an attitude that will question, dig a bit deeper and challenge what I perceive to be unjust and unfair attitudes and systems. I also encourages me to work hard at developing self - awareness - something I needed to do when working in a 'charismatic' context. It is not a gift that I have readily appreciated and found easy to handle. My Dad had a hang- up about religion in general and the church in particular. For him it was more than the usual jibe of 'hypocrisy' but something about 'priests' controlling and manipulating peoples lives. He wasn't far from an 'opium' of the people view- something that he hoped I would grow out of! Yet he did have time for Jesus Christ as the man from Nazareth. I have inherited for good or ill a similar sort of attitude which makes me feel increasingly that once the church believes it is THE church as an object of belief then it has lost sight of its calling and mission. I believe that power and authority in the church is not about controlling others and seeking to get them to conform and behave in certain ways.

Maybe that is why the news about Jeffrey John, not being short listed for Bishop of Southwark, came across to me as unjust and unnecessary. Leave the man alone and give him a job that he is patently able to do well. The news about the proposed amendment of the Archbishop's in relation to Women Bishops just made me angry. I can hear my Dad huffing and puffing about how irrelevant the church is, full of its own self-importance and living in a little world of its own making. Mind you the way that amendment was defeated at Synod was a sign to me that God will have his way messing up the best laid, (and the not so best laid), plans of men. I now see that my Dad had a point. A point I ignored because I was too busy defending 'my' church. We do become irrelevant and out of touch when we lose touch with Jesus and seek to manage God and mess around with the his basic creation values of justice, equality and human dignity.

So - thanks Dad, no doubt other things will come to mind. I never got the hang of fishing. Spending hours with you by some very bleak and damp Gloucestershire river bank was never anything that floated my boat as it were, but I'm sure it has given me the gifts of endurance and holy impatience. Being a Vicar and Chair of my home county's University, (I think he might be a bit chuffed), has certainly helped me to develop those gifts!

PS: Sheryl notices that my father's DIY, car maintenance and technological skills were obviously not passed on.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

The Blessed Mary - Queen of Shops - visits the CofE

Like the 120 Bus - you wait a week and then two or even four come along at the same time - so another blog within the same week.

I heard this week that some Local Authorities are seriously exploring the idea of sharing key senior staff members with each other. Who needs their own CEO at vast expense when you can share one with the neighbouring authority? The other thing that resonated was the TV programme 'Mary - Queen of Shops'.This week saw this fiesty business lady dealing with a hippie type bric and brac shop in Kingston. She got a result. Life and business has been transformed for the couple who own and run it. There were some tough moments and tough decisions to make - not least managing the exit of their erstwhile son who kept insisting on wearing his dressing gown in front of customers! Hard choices and tough decisions. They listened and moved on - sadly the son didn't! Result - obvious growth, a happy fulfilled couple plus contented customers. 

Where am  I going with this? For the Church of England if it is serious about mission and growth in a Post Christian world and tap into the desire of many Christ Foloowers in congregations scarce resources will have to be more effectively used and focused. The idea of Dioceses sharing senior teams and resources has been knocking about for years but those in 'power' seem to resist it like mad. It was like the General Synod having to vote for fewer members - it did but to be honest it was a turkey voting for Christmas scenario and is still too big and unwieldy. We don't have the money to pay for cumbersome, out of date systems of leadership, management, governance and administration. Wise up Cof E - with our Gospel values and faith we should lead the way in this. If we want it, if we listen - it will happen. Maybe a visit from the Blessed Mary - Queen of Shops to all our Diocesan offices and Bishop's Staff meetings.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Ordination - 'Just like that'

My colleague is on a cycling holiday with an ordained 'magician'. All will be revealed - 'just like that.' 

The past few weeks have seen a number of people being ordained as deacons and priests in the Church of England.
On BBC 2 at the moment there is an interesting comedy called 'Rev.' Vicar of Dibley it is not. Someone has been watching the Cof E quite carefully - for TV I think it is amazingly accurate and perceptive. It can even become too close for comfort.  

One of the most profound stories in the New Testament that speaks to me time and time again is that of the birth of John the Baptist. More specifically the story of his Mum and Dad, when they received the news that they were going to have a child. Two old people, childless, barren, marginalised, seen as a bit of a failure to be honest. But Zechariah was also a priest and his once in a lifetime opportunity to lead worship in the sanctuary came along. There he was told about God's gift of a special child. Yep - God speaks even through the old ways but mercifully not to keep us there!

Understandably Zechariah laughed. Whisper it not but even priests find some things hard to believe! For this he was struck dumb. No -  I believe, (as in my spin on the story), he was given the opportunity to reflect inwardly - the gift of silence. As he offered the prayers of the people of God he was able to tap into God's ways and purposes. When he had finished his priestly 'stint' he was asked what family name the child would be given. He wrote the name John. No-one in the family had that name - this was counter-cultural - it cannot be. 'His name is John.' is emphatic, purposeful and a one point sermon!. John meaning: 'God is gracious'.
Right from the womb JB had a model of being counter-cultural for God's sake and the name of grace.The name God wanted for this prophetic forerunner of the fulfilment of all those prophecies - Jesus - the 'neighbourhood' embodiment of God's grace and counter cultural religion. ('He sits and eats with tax collectors and sinners')
Zechariah the old fashioned and conservative priest has himself become in a real sense a counter - cultural prophet.

Maybe a vital aspect of ordination is that of prophet. A hard calling but in these Post- Christian days a vital one.  'Rev' highlights the complex and difficult context into which people are being called to ordained ministry and the real need for prophetic voices from within the 'priestly' and ministerial culture. For me to be ordained has been about becoming not less human but more, not so much about speaking 'truth' but embracing the one who is truth and being shaped maybe in ways I wasn't expecting. Rather than finding more words to say it is becoming (at last) more about listening and when called to speak, using fewer words with grace and courage .(haven't mastered the one point sermon yet though working at it) 

                                            John describes Jesus as full  of 'grace and truth'.
Someone the other day described to me 'grace and truth' as the 'Jesus trick' - what a good way of describing the ordained as those who seek to do this 'trick' and model it for others. To do the trick though - we need - Jesus. Just like that!

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Compromise in the Name of Jesus

Reading Graham Robb's book on Discovering France (holiday approacheth!). Great read and found this:

'The beloved village priest, the staple figure of romantic fiction, was a very rare breed. In most people's minds he was supposed to be useful, like a snake doctor or witch. The Cure of Ars is the only priest who managed to make his parishioners give up drinking and dancing. Most other priests who won the hearts of their pagan parishioners did so by reaching a quiet compromise with the pagan world. Since most of them were sons of artisans and peasants they shared the fears and visions of their flock.'

Put this alongside Graham Cray's comment about Fresh Expressions:

Ideally fresh expressions are planted following a process of prayerful listening, and making relationships through acts of service. But if the initial point of contact is a worship event it can only be one which it is hoped the relevant people will like, rather than one which they are involved in shaping, or which we can shape for them with greater care, because we know them.

The first comment comes out of a mega Christendom context (18th century 'catholic' France though I don't think disimilar from 'protestant' UK). The second from a Post Christendom context (21st century UK).

There is something in me that resonates with the concept of the Christian leader and community coming from the real world and having a healthy concept of compromise in the name of Jesus.  'He sits and eats with sinners etc'  Jesus was prepared to pay the ultimate for being misunderstood and compromising.

GC's comments just remind me that whereas Church As We Know It tends to start with a modified version of CAWKI ('Let's invite them in to what they think they would like, becuase we do really...'), maybe to work with the 'quiet compromise' issue and be with people for a while where they are, is God's way forward as we enter a Post Mixed Economy era.  'Presence is such a delicious word.'

Saturday, 19 June 2010

“The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” Audrey Hepburn

It's been a tough old week on number of fronts. I shan't bore you with details - we all have our personal issues to work through.

The lovely Audrey Hepburn said: “The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.”  Reminds me that without good friends and loving relationships - life becomes just a struggle. Yesterday I met up with friends from Bristol days and immediately felt a bit better. Another friend has just phoned and again I feel more hopeful. Sheryl is very grateful that others supplement the love, understanding and care she pours into my life. Thank God for the hugs, smiles, listening ears and an understanding spirit. These friends ask me 'what can we do?' I could give them a wish list but for me it is enough to know that people are there and care enough to take time out of really busy schedules to spend a couple of hours every now and then to listen to and sit with 'poor old me'.

I also want to thank God for Facebook, Skype and all the other means by which people can receive love, encouragement, prayer and share it with others. An enhancement to community for some but for others I am sure the closest they may get to it.

The pictures used on this blog were taken in and around Turville - Dibley - to many people. Quotes come to mind like: "Wouldn't it be lovely if some kittens were born with pink fur and you didn't actually have to paint them yourself?" 'Things have to change. Look at traffic lights.'

Yes - it was a show about the church - but to be honest its continuing popularity rests in it being about diverse, (and then some), people in community taking precedence over the institution. More often than not the Vicar is the one who goes out on a limb to underline the fact that community matters more than tradition and building.

Why do I write all this? Simply because I believe that the institutional church will cease to have any real meaning for people, (whether members or non-members), unless it enables and releases its leaders and 'members' to focus on building and enbaling 'community' without having to spend more and more time keeping various 'shows on the road'. The stories I hear from leaders who struggle with this and feel more and more disillusioned are getting more frequent. Like other leaders I know the personal struggle here in Hounslow is not that there aren't people who want to focus on building a sustainable Christ Centred Mission Community, but there are those - both within and 'on high' who seem to feel that other 'things' are more important.

It is a real spiritual battle and often personally demanding. It is the battle for the soul of a national church that declares its aspiration to be a church for the non-member and has as its strap line 'a Christian presence in every community'.

Presence is such a delicious word!

Friday, 11 June 2010

World Cup Spirituality

Many thanks to all those who commented on my last blog. I found your comments and thoughts both moving and challenging. Let's keep sharing..

I am indebted to my friend and colleague in Bristol days - Bishop Lee of Swindon. He made a comment on his blog about the clash of Diocesan meetings with World Cup matches and that they had noticed a rise in apologies for absence.
My reaction is --- 'well done' all those who have put the World Cup first. And well done to the Diocese of Bristol for changing dates accordingly. (maybe having Bishops who love the beautiful game helps). It shows me that there are leaders somewhere who don't just see things like the World Cup as something to give Christ Followers 'trips of the guilties' about (what matters most... 'our meetings or the game' - yeah right) or even see them as evangelistic opportunities (which they are - he said quickly) but see these life events as simply that - being normal and being human. Now if we can cancel any meetings we have that coincide with World Cup meetings and maybe spend the time watching with friends or at the pub - well maybe we're going some way to address the issues I have been talking about in previous blogs. But I bet as church we won't!

My comment to Bishop Lee on his blog was this:

One of the most memorable occasions for me in Bristol was leading a Readers Retreat which coincided with that Rugby match. We all stopped and had a glorious few hours watching and celebrating – myself and the Reader from Kington Langley doing a dance at the famous kick. The Retreat went like a dream after that….

I can also remember an ordination retreat during the last World Cup where we all gathered with Bishop Mike and watched a key match. Some of the ordinands went and did other things and some had their toe nails painted ... it was a highly spiritual few days enhanced by normal human relational activity. Surely a vital Christian principle. (Any Bishops and DDO's reading please take note).

You never know even 'church as we know it' might flow a bit better if we became more normal.....

Monday, 7 June 2010

Rambles on the Railway.

Writing this having just got on a train. I followed the driver who had just brought it in as he walked up to the other end of the platform to take us to Paddington. As he did so he greeted staff members who reciprocated warmly as if they were greeting a long lost friend. A friend and warm colleague he obviously is - everyone wanted to shake the guy's hand.

My experience with the Weddings Project shows that what people 'out there' want in 'Vicars' (as all church leaders, whatever their denomination or ordination status, are called) above everything else is a warm and inclusive human being. Someone who likes people beyond the church door and enjoys being with them. I have said all this before as you know, but what has made me say it again is receiving responses from quite a number of people to my last blog. It all resonates with me. The church agenda - especially an agenda that is confused, unrealistic and multi- expectational - will simply crowd out the time a 'Vicar' needs to work on the fringe that comes with their God given role in the wider community.

A stalwart MU member of a group of rural parishes in Worcestershire remarked to me that although she wanted her Vicar to spend more time beyond the church door, she was sceptical whether other church members would welcome it. Some churches make it clear that they do not want the leaders time being spent outside the church. This can get disguised and theologised into phrases like 'developing every member ministry' or 'having a heart for pastoral ministry'. Nothing wrong with what those phrases stand for but Church leaders do need space to model and practice God's call in Jesus to hang around with the 'non - member'. Many church people have simply lost the art and are unable to connect faith even with those they live and work with. People need to be led out rather than to be cajoled into bringing people in all the time. We don't need more courses but opportunity to develop more confidence in being in God with people.The Jesus 'trick' as I call it.  In many cases it is simply the weight of internal agendas and expectations often related to buildings and general 'keeping the show on the road stuff that keeps us apart. 

I am waiting for the clergy job profile that says as a key value - 'prefers to spend time with non- members where they are, loves hanging out and partying with sinners, would prefer to spend Sunday in the sports centre/coffee shop than in church etc etc;'

This would really be post mixed economy church... and church that really believes in being one for the non- member.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Presence is such a delicious word....

'Presence is such a delicious word' says Gordon Fee, someone I believe, who has probably done more than most to explore what that word means in terms of Biblical theology. God's presence in what we consider to be 'place' is key to understanding the Biblical narrative. 'The Word became a human being and moved into the neighbourhood...' is how Eugene Peterson expresses John 1: 14 - probably the most important verse in the Bible from the Christian perspective.
I am an Anglican type Christian because I believe the presence of God in the neighbourhood - is something that matters to us.

As I write this the news is unfolding about 12 people being killed by a gunman in West Cumbria. Apart from key people like Police officers, local leaders and GP's, others being interviewed are local clergy. At times like this the Church is seen as an organisation that belongs to the community and can express the deep feelings of local people. These sort of occasions remind us that in some parts of the country our call as church to be connected to people in place and culture is still recognised and welcomed.

The C of E is still an organisation that wants to connect with local communities (however that is defined) but is unsure how to continue to do this. This call to 'Contextually sensitive mission' (Dan Hardy) is I think under threat. Externally the world has changed which means we have a very real issue relating to sustainability and growth. Internally we don't have the courage and vision where it is needed to make tough decisions which will tackle this issue. If you cannot the sustain the mission and grow it, then you have to look to your structure, staffing and your buildings.

The church because it is an incarnational organisation, so we keep saying to ourselves, means more about people and a presence in the neighbourhoodd than buildings. I am not saying close all the buildings but let the call to mission presence shape decisions about what buildings and structures we need and can afford.

The present mantra of 'Mixed economy' seems to be expressed in terms of 'please keep our buildings and traditions goings - and by the way - make us grow, attract children and youth, make more money to pay our Diocesan share and develop a fresh expression or three' etc

This is not a 'whinge' and I am sorry to sound a tad cynical. I say this because for various reaosns I have seen a number of job profiles recently for both Diocesan and Parish roles. I just want to see a rational and sensible discussion about sustainability and growth. The sort of discussion I have in another sector in which I am involved. In that sector we will not be allowed to keep things as they are. Change is not an option.

Do I think that the C of E is in danger of losing the vision of church as community for the 'non- member'. I am not sure - maybe you can help me with this. If we think we can keep buildings and structures as they are we are seriously deluding ourselves.

Please Cof E grasp this nettle - it is about who we are called to be. Presence is such a delicious word.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Opening the circle....

I am sorry for no blog until now. Some maybe rejoicing so apologies for disturbing you.
Came across this the other day. It is based on Brian McClaren's writing. He is someone like Rob Bell - if you Google the name you are more likely to find first all those who think they are heretics, traitors to the evangelical cause. misguided, downright evil etc
Anyway Ten questions which he thinks every person serious about following Jesus should explore? Here goes...

1.What is the overarching story line of the Bible?
2.How should the Bible be understood?
3.Is God violent?
4.Who is Jesus and why is he important?
5.What is the Gospel?
6.What do we do about the Church?
7.Can we find a way to address human sexuality without fighting about it?
8.Can we find a better way of viewing the future?
9.How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?
10.How can we translate our quest into action?

McClaren does spend time in his book 'A New Kind of Christianity, Ten Questions that are transforming the Faith'  looking more closely at these questions and what it means to be a Disciple of Jesus. I welcome the openness about this sort of journey and although I might not always agree, I think the approach is so refreshing. If you are serious about being a disciple of Jesus then maybe working through these questions will help you - I hope so. You may have some of your own - then please share them.

Found this quote which resonates so strongly about how I believe I am called to follow Jesus.
He drew a circle that shut me out

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout
But love and I had the wit to win;
We drew a circle that took him in.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Through different eyes...

I am writing this surrounded by fields of wild flowers, trees and rows of vines. Nope - not Hounslow but the countryside around Bergerac in the Dordogne. We travelled from here to the Abbaye at Belloc in the foothills of the Pyrenees where I was leading the annual retreat for the Anglican Chaplaincy based in Bordeaux and the Dordogne. The Chaplain is my dear friend Paul Vrolijk - one of my ordination candidates from Bristol days. What an interesting life he, his wife Janine and four beautiful children lead here. They are a Dutch family ministering to groups of Anglican christians (generally English) and the children go to the local french primary schoool! I am deeply humbled by their commitment and passion to serve God in this context and seek to connect the Good News, not just to the many English people who live in this part of the world, but also to local communities. Paul and I spent time on Friday night discussing aspects of Old Testament theology that had been sparked off by the sessions I had led with those on retreat. On Saturday night we did the same - except the subject was a bit more high brow. Ranging from Tommy Cooper, Al Murray, Jack Dee, Michael McIntyre etc How much English and Dutch humour is so alike!??? How we laughed.... it was a real tonic to be honest. Some of the jokes we shared were not particularly PC but for a large fee I will share them with you!!! The journey back from Belloc was the same, except we had Caroline Gordon Walker with us - another ordained person, so the jokes and laughter was even more raucous. Caroline threatened to record the conversation and sell it to the highest bidder...

After the Eucharist, which was led so simply and beautifully by the monks and nuns together with a large congregation of all ages, one of the monks 'hi-jacked me' and showed me around the monks quarters. He showed me some of their treasures - a crucifix that dates back to the 14th century and was dug up in a field, and a wooden carving that was of a similar age. Myself, Paul and Michael (Good News down the Street) Wooderson were invited last night to share with the monks. They were really interested about the Anglican church, womens ordination and even the sessions I was leading. They laughed so much when they suddenly realised I was the English priest who they inadvertently locked out last year.

I have cried a lot these past few days. Tears of laughter, tears of gratitude for the love and welcome I have been given by Paul's community and also the love and grace shown by the monks. Also at the prayer and concern shown to myself and Sheryl as we look to the future. All are welcome at the Altar in the Abbey, and at the Eucharist we shared last night around the dinner table the Abbot came and shared bread and wine with us.

Laughter, welcome, hospitality, tears, prayer, unity deeper than words can express, joy in simple 'human' things, shared conversation, challenge in the context of relationship and grace, eucharist as table fellowship - surely the world seen through different eyes. Dare I say - community that has the potential to transform and offer a hope and future to all.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Grace..... and truth???????? Help......

Full of Grace and Truth

I have just read an Ordained leader's parish letter on hearing a message on John 1 and it has left me really anxious- and I need help to understand why.

The comment was something along the lines of: 'We must be gracious but need to remember that we have to speak truth so it is not as if anything goes'. Why does my stomach do a somersault at this point?

Reflecting on this:

I don't understand what this comment really means?
I, as a Christ Follower, simply don't know what it means to be full of grace and truth.
Some of us are more comfortable with what we understand to be truth, and then feel that grace means to find the nicest (we hope) possible means to encourage others to agree with us.
We are not secure enough to allow the One who is grace and truth to work in the relationship and dialogue - (pre- supposing those of us who hold onto 'truth' have those sort of relationships anyway).
We believe change is about what we do to others rather than what the Holy Spirit does when a person is in a relationship with Jesus. (though of course we really believe this)
We believe change is what the Holy Spirit in a Christ Follower does, as long it conforms to what we believe the truth is, which of course may be right, but we need to give him a helping hand in case he doesn't do it  a) in our timescale b) according to the rules (ours and those in our church - which secretly we may disagree with.. c) answers on a post card

My starter for 10 is that I think we need to work at some basic rules of relationship, listening and dialogue - maybe even feel what Jesus felt when he met people - and then work it out from there.

I am work in process on this - so any thoughts welcome.

Maybe somersualts are not my thing and I should stick to trampolining. (I have discovered that trampolines with walls are on offer in ASDA at the moment!!???)

Off to France tomorrow to share thoughts on looking at the world through different eyes, with some lovely Anglican Christians who form part of the Aquitaine Chaplaincy. The monks at Belloc (Pyrenees) where we meet, last year forgot I was coming early, so I spent the night in an out house watching 'Frasier' dvds. Could be worse and they made up for it afterwards.

So this year I think they are looking out for me. Oooer....