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Stebbing, Great Dunmow, Essex, United Kingdom
The occasional blog of an Anglican priest in rural Essex

Sunday, 28 September 2008

I'm going home ... to see my baby

Ten Years After sang that at Woodstock. It was very long - a whole side of the LP I think.

I went "home" yesterday, ten years after I was ordained, to an ordination at Salisbury Cathedral, where we were both ordained. A good friend was being made deacon, and co-incidentally so were two other people I have shared church with in different ways, all on the same day in the same place.

I don't normally go in for Cathedral worship - too much flouncing about and expensive finery, but this was a special occasion, and so I entered into the Spirit of the Liturgy and found that the old lady (as they call that fine building) had once again become a "thin place" - where the divide between heaven and earth is thin so the sense of God's presence is strong.

Now I know that's not a very rational thing to write and I remain agnostic about exactly how a place is holy but I am beginning to appreciate that there is a link between spiritual experience and temporal location. Places where we met with God in the past evoke memories of those encounters and so make us perhaps more open to another fresh encounter; thus, in supporting my friend in her ordination I was able to relive the amazing experience I had just over 10 years ago, and in reliving it I was refreshed by the Word, (the sermon was great, aimed at non-churchgoing families of candidates who wonder what's going on) the Spirit, the Sacrament and the general atmosphere of celebration.

That's why even though I don't live in Wiltshire any more, and Essex is my home, Salisbury Cathedral will always be my spiritual home, my "filling station", my oasis.

Arsenal 1 Hull City 2 that's why I love football

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Ch ch ch ch changes ...

Phil won't like it, but I really don't like Man U. At all ...

And this was my first conversion.

As a youngster in the late 1970's I was a keen follower of "The Red Devils", with bobble hat, scarf and posters, panini stickers etc. The Greenhof Brothers, Martin Buchan, Alec Stepney, Butch Wilkins etc were the bread and butter of school bus and playground conversations. we watched FA cup triumph and disaster and I can even remember something about the 20th anniversary of Munich '58. But I was not living anywhere near Manchester; my parents supported Liverpool and West Ham because that's where they were from (or near enough). I followed Man U in the same way I followed TV or film or pop stars - from afar.

Then, a few years on, I came to understand the real meaning of football supporting when a friend took me to Vicarage Road to watch Watford, our nearest first division team and I was soon converted from the Red Devils to the Hornets. This was more like it. The pre-Hillsborough terraces were charged with a great atmosphere; the ground was (?is) small enough to mean you felt really close to the action. I remember they beat Southampton 7-1 and at the next home game you could buy a pen with that score printed on it! We'd cheer the names on the team sheet as they were read out and appeared on the electronic scoreboard - Ray Train was always accompanied by a graphic of a steam loco. Being there, being almost close enough to touch your heroes, made for a much more authentic and exhilarating experience.

Of course this was the early 80's and that meant your colours were firmly nailed to the mast. Woe betide you therefore to come upon a crowd of away supporters on the way home - a bunch of Gooners (i.e. Arsenal fans) did for me one wet Saturday. The only time I have ever been physically attacked.

But that was enough. From the commitment of every home game I stopped going, and went back to armchair football. I've been to 1 FA cup game (Millwall vs Oxford Utd, mid 90's, with Graham Tomlin and a bunch of spotty ordinands) and a couple of Pickering Town home games since. So I became a supporter of "anyone but Man U".

And they make it easier for me almost every week, with their designer arrogance and their manager's blotchy-nosed strops at the referee or the groundsman or anyone else who's fault it might be other than his or the team's that they didn't win. I think it's great now that Quieroz has left, Sir Alex has to talk to the TV and press again. There is an air of assumed invincibility about the whole industry that is Manchester Utd, which my Christ-inspired tendency to support the underdog really rails against, so like 'King Kev [sic] I love it love it love it when they lose.

Just like someone who's stopped going to church and turned against Christianity, I've turned against Manchester Utd.

Mind you, should anyone from the Monotheistic faiths put their name behind a team called The Red Devils? I did once meet their chaplain though.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

I want to ride it where I like

Oh yes, the good old Ride and stride, sponsored bike ride yesterday, so lots of saddle sore backsides in church today.

Looks like out little lot have raised over £1000 which is 5 times more than last year, but then 5 times more people were involved this year, and 5 times as many people as last year now know we need to fix the church roof (that comment applies to both Stebbing and Lindsell!)

I went off with number 1 son, and we did 12 churches in 4 hours, at a leisurely pace. He seemed to enjoy the challenge and has himself raised over £150.

Just about to have a meeting to plan the Harvest festival, which we are also using as Back to church Sunday. This is a bit of a cheat as lots of people come back to church for harvest anyway. This will be the first time in a while that the harvest has not been that good; wet weather has meant that there are a few fields around here where the wheat is beyond saving, and a lot of what has been safely gathered in has been gathered into the dryer. So our prayers for the farmers will be perhaps a little more sincere this year.

We support Harvest for the Hungry, so in a few weeks we will be boxing up dry goods to ship the off to Eastern Europe. Even in our villages, this is a much more meaningful way of celebrating Harvest than having a procession of marrows etc which will just go manky in front of the altar.

[1 hour later] Not a manky marrow in sight. It'll be great. Now we just need people to bring their friends back to church!

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Go on now go, walk out the door ... (?)

Aha, there it is, staring me in the face from Sunday's gospel reading, Matthew 18, 15-20.

We looked at it again at home group this afternoon, and had some considerable discussion - this is after all a passage with at least three major things in it that cause a stir

- if your brother sins against you, go show him his fault - when's the last time you did that?

Or again, if two on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done by my Father in heaven (my friend H**** had some choice words on that having prayed very hard for her late husband in his illness.)

And again, if he refuses to listen, tell it to the church ... that'd liven up 1662 communion!

But the thing we got stuck into (and perhaps it's fair to say, stuck on) was the meaning of "treat him as you would a tax collector or a pagan" (verse 17 TNIV)

I preached on this passage Sunday using some notes from Rootsonthe web by David Goodbourn, in which he makes the comment,

"There is an irony in letting the outcast be to you 'as a Gentile and a tax collector', given that there were now many Gentile Christians, and elsewhere in the Gospel tax collectors are welcomed into the kingdom of heaven."

Some in our homegroup felt that this implies that the sinner is in fact not excluded (as perhaps Jewish culture of the time would expect - hence the irony) but nurtured and supported and included, as the tax collectors and gentiles (NRSV so much better here) from the Matthean church were. This approach gains some strength from the fact that the rest of chapter 18 is all about inclusion, so on verse on exclusion seems rather out of place. The old "What would Jesus do?" question also lent weight to this idea.

On the other hand, some others in this light hearted and inquisitive discussion felt that the more immediately obvious meaning that, as tax collectors and Gentiles were outsiders to the Jewish community, so the unrepentant sinner should be shunned by the church. I guess this is where you got the practice of 'the ban' or shunning, in certain non-conformist churches and communities.

So it's about either keeping them in and looking after them, or kicking them out and thereby remaining "pure".

On the way home (or rather on the way to teach the Primary School Eoghan Heaslip's "Holy is the Lord") it suddenly struck me that these two potential interpretations would split pretty accurately the two sides of the Communion/ECUSA/sexuality/gafcon/fulcrum maggoty mess (to steal a phrase from Jody Stowell)

You either want to be shot of the revisionists/gay inclusivists (Ephraim Radner's words, not mine), because they "will not listen to the church", so you'd take the second interpretation, or you want to keep the door open, while being clear on what you feel is the ideal, therefore going for option 1.

Blimey, 3 nil in Zagreb and still 15 minutes to go!

Monday, 8 September 2008

Back on the chain gang

It was a really busy Sunday yesterday. I lost 2lbs during the day, despite a roast lunch. I guess that's what leading and preaching at 3 services including the baptism of twins takes out of you. Between the showers we also made it to a charity event in a local garden. Phew! I'm on the wagon for the usual September detox after too many beers in the sunshine, but after yesterday I could really have done with a drink - didn't succumb though.

I guess things are settling down after the back to school/work rush. I've got our Alpha supper tonight. I am speaking not cooking, so I've got it easy as we have no idea how many are coming!

Fulcrum have been busy too, and have produced a really useful summary and response to Lambeth and Gafcon.
I like it mostly because it is short (like Mervyn Stockwood, I'm not high church, I'm not low church, I'm short church!), and doesn't contain too much jargon. It also seems to have given a little more space and respect to Gafcon than I previously noticed on the forum there (maybe that's because I spent too much time reading Pluralist's stuff).
I am most taken though at the turn of events with Bishop Pete Broadbent, usually quite a good friend of Fulcrum, turning on them and challenging their ecclesiology.

On the old CLP thing, yesterday at Lindsell we started the parish project and finished the personal project. I used some Appreciative Enquiry questions to begin to get people thinking about the church's core values. We've got to formulate a vision by the middle of November, which could be a bit of a tight squeeze but you'll soon see!

Thursday, 4 September 2008

(Not) the diary of Horace Wimp

That was one of my favourite songs as a kid. Have you noticed by the way that the titles of these posts are mostly song lyrics? That one is a title (adapted) so doesn’t really fit but I couldn’t think of a lyric that fitted.

This is another Leadership Programme journal entry. You may recall that I am supposed to keep a journal reflecting on ministry and my own spirituality and personal life. If I was just doing it for myself I think I wouldn’t be so candid, as I would know when I was kidding myself. Blogging it forces me to be honest, but also makes me discreet! I am writing it on the course but it will only be posted when I get home so is still a bit retrospective.

This time I am only really half here (at Ditchingham, near Bungay), because it is the first week of September and about a million things are either about to happen or are happening now at home. These include back to school for the kids (an event I deemed more important than this morning’s first session and last nights evening event, but then my personal project since May has involved trying to get more time with the family!) and also three services to do on Sunday including a double baptism, and then the Alpha supper on Monday (lets not even go there when it comes to how many people are turning up for that!)

Despite having done a return trip home last night and this morning, then, I have just about managed to convince myself that I am here and I am learning things about myself.
So far these have been

That relationships are the key to my motivation – I do things in personal and professional life that are grounded in relationship – with God (obviously) but also with others. I wish I could post the whole of my Insights /discovery profile, but you’d get very bored as it is all about me. I have not really had much time for indicators of this sort – MBTI, Belbin etc, but this one really nails it, and all the more amazingly because I filled it out very fast with very little reflection.

That I thrive on working in teams. I pretty much knew this and it is good to know I am working to a strength. The issue to address is how to improve my attitude/motivation when by necessity I am working or making decisions alone – I hate that – even things like what to buy at the supermarket.

That I resist the idea of being alone in a spiritual context. I do pray on my own and I enjoy and grow in that, but I would much rather pray and worship with others – even if only one other person such as my wife. Insights suggests I might benefit from a week's silent retreat but where I am and who I am now would utterly hate that except for the sleep and the food! I guess this kind of thing shows up in that I get as much if not more out of spending time with my peers on things like CLP or at New Wine, than I do from the actual teaching.

So far, that has been OK, although I’ve only been to 1 ½ sessions. Last time, in May there was so much to take in I was a bit swamped and didn’t really let much of it sink in. Going over it again here now is good though. I am also very relieved that I am by no means the only person who didn’t do all the homework!

Monday, 1 September 2008

Well I just got back from a lovely trip ...

It wasn't across the milky way, but we did see some stars at the Cite de L'espace in Toulouse.

We were staying near Albi in the Tarn valley. A very hot and quite isolated place. It has a Cathedral which is the world's tallest free standing brick building (no rsj's in medieval times!)

The reason its so big was the architectural part of a power struggle between the Catholic church and the Albigensian sect (aka Cathars, because of their quest for purity). As well as sending in the inquisition (we had lunch next to a well where three inquisitors were drowned after having executed some villagers for heresy) and arranging "the Albigensian crusade" i.e. a number of massacres led by that well known thug Simon de Montfort (well known at least to heavy metal fans in Leicester because there is a gig venue there called the de Montfort hall), the church wanted to impose itself upon the heretics so they built this enormous edifice and decorated it with some groovy frescoes outlining the orthodox faith (although rather nicely the one depicting souls in torment in hell has had to be removed to accommodate an altar).

The heretics have been called there first protestants because they made a big fuss about the rotten state of the clergy at the time, whose moral life left a lot to be desired. So far so good we might say (especially if we are GAFCON) but unfortunately our potential pin up prots were in fact loony heretics who seem to have developed the idea that it was a good thing to starve to death as it showed how pure you were. they were very into purity of life and theology and knowledge - a bit like the gnostics I suppose. In a spooky preview of JW's, they also had two levels of believer - the pure ones and those who lived a normal life (i.e. did not starve themselves etc) but then received the laying on of hands for the baptism of the Spirit on their deathbeds. Weird.

Nice wine though!