We have just returned from a third graduation ceremony this year, this time for Joanne, who has just graduated from Sheffield University with a First Class Honours Degree in Music. Needless to say that we are very proud of her, she has worked extremely hard over the last few years, but not at the cost of being a whole human being!
Jo has always loved music, she began playing the Viola, her main instrument when she was seven, and has continued with it ever since, playing with school and County Orchestras in Essex and Norfolk, she also played with the Norfolk Symphony Orchestra, and for the North Norfolk Gilbert and Sullivan Society along with a number of (often paying) engagements. At University she played with the orchestra and with various ensembles, earlier this year we enjoyed hearing her play Vivaldi's Four Seasons as a part of a small chamber music group .
Having said all of that Jo is not intending to make music the focus of her career. In fact she recieved news today that she has a place on an internship with a Luton based charity who go into schools and work with young people providing workshops and therapies for young people who are finding life tough. Jo herself knows what that is like, having a brother with a major heart condition meant that sometimes her needs were overlooked, and she struggled with that in many ways, and had some difficult years as a teenager.
She has overcome all of that to become a beautiful, confident, talented young woman. Her interests include sailing ( a family must!), pot holing ( just mad) and reading ( dozens of books often several at once). She has been an actie member of St Thomas Crooks Church in Sheffield, but will obviously be moving on to pastures new. As with the other two this year it brought a lump to my throat to see Jo recieve her degree. I can only repeat; I am very proud of her!
I have just returned from a great meeting with a church who are planning to have a party on Back to Church Sunday, a day which obligingly coincides with their anniversary...
The theme taking the story of the Prodigal Son as a basis will be the God who throws parties, there will be cake, and party bags, balloons and party poppers...
Invitations have been made, and the newspapers will be informed. What is more encouraging is that this initiative has come from the congregation, with a team of enthusiastic and forward thinking folk heading it up, all the more encouraging because, in their own words; " this time last year it could not have happened!" Through some difficult and messy stuff they have come through by the grace of God, and they are smiling and encouraged! This is grace in action, praise be to God!
I am beginning to dread conversations with those few words in them, they are used for a variety of reasons, and the main reason is that the folk concerned don't want change. I have fallen foul of them a few times this year, and have allowed things that have "always" been done to carry on, finding out in some cases that they have not always been done like that, and in others that actually things were changed years ago and that the "always" is a backward step.
Then of course there are the opponents of always who don't speak up when things can be changed but choose instead to mutter and complain behind the scenes, and they are only heard when they finally complain to one of the few folk who sit in the middle of the "always" group and "the mutterers", and who praise God choose to communicate with me.
I am working hard at getting folk to communicate, not only with me, but also with one another, and with God. I am encouraging folk to pray about why the do/don't want change, I know that I have my blind spots and being an advocate of change might not always fully appreciate the need to leave some things as they are...
Perhaps the funniest "but we've always" that I have encountered this year opened unexpected doors and an entrance into two primary schools- but on the whole I'd prefer not to hear those words....
As for God, it seems thats/he is often on the move....
what God says, the God who builds a road right through the ocean,
who carves a path through pounding waves, The God who summons
horses and chariots and armies— they lie down and then can't get
up; they're snuffed out like so many candles: "Forget about
what's happened; don't keep going over old history. Be alert,
be present. I'm about to do something brand-new. It's bursting
out! Don't you see it? There it is! I'm making a road through the
desert, rivers in the badlands.
Yesterday Tim and I traveled to Lancaster for the second in this years round of Graduation Ceremonies. This time it was to see Jon graduate with a BA in Theatre Studies.
Jon has always been the family entertainer, as a young child he could memorise not just adverts, but entire TV programmes and recite them back to us complete with impersonations!
Family dinner times have never been boring with Jon around, as he ably manages to tease everyone, without ( somewhat miraculously) causing offense!
That said Jon did not discover his real talent for acting until he was 16, when he landed the lead role in an adaption of Terry Pratchett's Night-Watch. That kicked off a passion in Jon and although he did not study Theatre Studies at GCSE he decided to apply for a place on the A'level course and was readily accepted. Since that point he has played roles as varied as Toad in Toad of Toad Hall ( adapted from Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willow's) to Othello. The later was played in his second year at University, and it was during that performance that Tim remarked that he had stopped watching Jon and started watching Shakespeare!
I chose the photo above because although Jon will tell you he is arrogant I believe that the truth is far from it, he is not concerned with being "the star" and is willing to put in every effort to help others, he is also willing to take a back seat and accept a more minor part in a play and he sees and appreciates talent in others. That said, he loves to take the lead, and is very able to do so! His talents are wide ranging and much of his degree has been concerned with physical and adaptive theatre. Next year he and some friends will continue at Lancaster to complete an MA whilst setting up their own Company "Sticky Tape". The University will aid and support them in this.
Jon is hard working and fun loving, yesterday was a wonderful celebration, especially when we consider that we almost lost him to mis-diagnosed diabetes when he was twelve, Tim and I had both taken him to the doctor the week before and were told he had a stomach bug, we left him with my parents and went away for a weekend and he deteriorated rapidly, they got him to their GP who called for the air ambulance. It is with thanks to the swift responses of the staff at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford that we still have Jon with us, and for that we are very thankful!
I have just read two excellent blog posts, both personal reflections from two women one an Ordained Church of England Minister, the other an Ordinand. Both are celebrating yesterdays Church of England Synod vote to press to press ahead with the measure that will allow women to be
consecrated as Bishops. They reflect on their own calls, and the difficulties of living with the tensions of celebration and denial of who they are.
Helen tells of her own joy at the news in 1992 that women would at last be consecrated as priests:
"Driving home from (of all things prophetic) a church leader's conference
at St Andrews Chorleywood I switched on the car radio. There, in the
middle lane of the M25 the newsreader's voice announced that General
Synod had voted in favour of ordaining women as priests, and my
involuntary shout of 'Yes, God, thank you' was not triumphant; it came
from the sudden and unexpected relief of a weight being taken from me; a
weight of oppression and pain at almost 2000 years of 'Church'
diminution of women that I hadn't even been aware of carrying. To my
surprise, (for I had no personal interest then in being ordained and had
not been involved in any campaigning) I found myself crying with
thankfulness that God could break through in my lifetime to address such
a fundamental injustice. For me, the debate about the role of women in
the church has always been an issue of justice. And so it continues."
And so it continues.... and it continues amidst much debate and angst, it continues to be a place of pain and at times of joy. Commenting for Ekklesia Simon Barrow says:
"The papers are full of Anglican argument once more. The presenting
issues, as usual, are sex and gender. But why?"
"Sexuality is a part of human experience which, for many people,
vividly embodies the sheer joy as well as the occasional terror of
living. It is intensely personal, it is a channel of life-giving but can
also be a place of deadly abuse. It is a source of pleasure and
fulfillment, but can sometimes make us feel weak and fearful.
In Christian terms, sexuality also raises the root questions about
the meaning of our foundation texts, the way ethics is constructed, and
who or what determines the shape of our lives. The problem is, these
issues are not best or most constructively addressed in the midst of
pain and confusion, and the claims made about them when one group of
people are trying to police another are mostly overwhelmed by power and
It is fairly evident, for instance, that the detailed texts of the
New Testament and the Hebrew Scriptures cannot properly be used either
to deny or to sanction committed same-sex partnerships in the modern
world in some finally and conclusive sense, because this issue is simply
not the one these verses are addressing. A wiser and more humble
hermeneutic is needed."
A wiser and more humble hermeneutic is needed, that of course will mean that we dare for one moment to take a deep breath lay down our prejudices and long held positions and choose to love our neighbour as ourselves!
Heather describes how she as an Anglican Ordinand is struggling to understand and interpret the different positions that are taken by members from the various flavours of the Anglican Church:
"In some ways I have some respect for the Con Evo position, which
(imo mistakenly) interpret the bible literally and so are against women
in leadership and homosexuality - at least they are consistent. I find
the Anglo-catholic position more difficult to understand, as they
generally have no problem explaining away the bible passages that are
considered by some to be against homosexuality but get stuck on women -
as a woman its hard to experience their attitude as anything other than
misogynist. Perhaps someone can enlighten me what is the tenant of their
argument - I think its something to do with Jesus being a male and so
someone representing him needs to be a him as well. This strikes me as
problematic considering Jesus was also black and Jewish, and most
Anglo-catholics I know are white gentiles, but there we go...
not going to give a theological defense of my position - there are much
more articulate expressions of the position I align myself with than I
can write (see NT Wright here
Elaine Storkey here among
many others) I just want to share my experience of being a women
ordinand committing myself to the CofE at this time.
I feel conflicted, as being a woman is for me a living out the
calling that God has put on my life, given that God made me a woman. God
has also called me to be a priest in this part of the catholic and
apostolic church (though only God knows why!), and I am training
alongside women, men who support women's ministry and forward-in-faith
guys who don't.
Its hard to hear that "it's not
about you, its about the bible/church tradition" when palpably, it is
about me. Being a woman isn't something I have any choice about (yes I know there are transgender issues but
that's not what I'm talking about). I am unvalued / disrespected
because of who God made me.
It has given me a sense
of what discrimination feels like up close and personal, and confirms
that being part of a community that is disenfranchised is an
uncomfortable place to be. And it leads me into thinking about
homosexuality, as most gay people I know understand their sexual
orientation to be bound up in their identity: they feel they could no
more change it than I can change my gender. If this is the case, I
should be as outraged at the discrimination they face in the church of
God as I do about the disregarding of women's worth as ministers of the
Whilst I have huge amounts of sympathy for what Heather is articulating I cannot really empathise, for although I trained on the same course as both Helen and Heather, I do not come from a churched background, so don't carry with me the hang ups of tradition, and although I know that Methodism has had its own internal struggles and debates about the ordination of women it has reached a place in the UK any way where it is comfortable to have women serving as Superintendents and as District Chairs, and even as President and Vice- President of Conference this year! I have not been challenged by members of the Methodist Church regarding my gender, I am accepted and valued as a Minister and for that I am thankful.
I have been challenged in the past by folk from a Free Church Conservative Evangelical background who have suggested that, amongst other things, I am stealing my husbands ministry. At the time this was painful and difficult, but I have been able to come to a place where I am not held back or undervalued by statements like that anymore.
Yesterday I was asked what my views on this whole debate were, and whether I would be blogging anything. Like Heather I will not attempt to give you an in-depth theological position here, and would point you to the articles she has linked. I think that the best thing for me to do is to enter into the debate by simply being who I have been called to be. I am a woman who is called to be a Presbyter within the Methodist Church, therefore I will take up that calling to both word and sacrament, I will pray for and work amongst the folk where I have been Stationed. I will pray for and seek to represent the church to which I have been called, and I will pray for other denominations, not that they will finally get it right as we have got it right, but that wemight experience God in such a way that a new hermeneutic becomes a reality, that walking side by side if not hand in hand we might find the way of grace...
There will always be issues and attitudes that threaten to divide us, but we have a choice do we see these as opportunities for justice and for growth, or do we retreat again to our own small corners?
I'll let Simon Barrow have the final word:
"To get anywhere, we have to step back from a confrontation based on
'winners' and 'losers' and look instead at how the whole body needs to
be nourished. Not by cutting off the immense gifts brought by people who
are other than us, for a start, I’d suggest."
I guess that it is simply that time in life when change seems constant, but I must admit there is a part of me that longs for a little more stability, a space to collect my thoughts and to allow my heart, mind and spirit to catch up with the rest of me.
Today Chris is heading down to Lee Abbey in Devon, he has decided to offer to become a part of the community there for about a year to give himself some space to discern the way ahead, they say:
"Being on the Community at Lee Abbey means experiencing a unique
Jesus-centred community way of life. It means meeting many, many people
from all over the world. Today there are around 90 of us, representing
more than 20 nations.
It's about living, serving and worshiping closely together. You
can retreat and hide, but being here involves sharing time and space,
and being open to be known for who we really are. It's challenging, but
if you let it, it can also be life-changing!"
In many ways I can see why this is just about perfect for Chris, or anyone else who needs the time and space to reflect on the way forward, and yet be in a place where they can serve others. Community life appeals to him, I kind of get that too!
Also this week we will head of to the second of our four graduation celebrations this year, this time for Jon, who is graduating from Lancaster University with a degree in Theatre Studies. Jon will come home for a couple of months before heading back to Lancaster to join the MA course there. He has a passion for theatre, not simply acting in general, but for theatreitself. He loves Shakespeare particularly, and IMHO plays it well, but has played a variety of roles... I hope we can say watch this space. It is a strange thing to encourage your children to go into crazy careers like the Theatre, or in Emma's case music, but they have a passion for it, and I suppose that the motto "Nothing ventured nothing gained" comes into play here. They are young, they can diversify later if they need to!
Jo also graduates this year, her ceremony is next week, she is graduating from Sheffield University with a First in Music. She too is looking for work and heads down to Luton next week for an interview with a Charity who specialise in supporting young people. Jo produced an Exhibition for her music and health module on Self Harm, and this caught their eye. Her on line version of the exhibition is here, and in case anyone is wondering yes the exhibition was born out of personal experience.
Paul my eldest and his wife Louise also graduate this year, they are both 28, and decided to go for it and gain a degree. They met at college and have encouraged one another along, and have done it despite all the odds. Louise ( and now Paul of course) has three lovely girls, so they have studied, arranged a wedding, and have been bringing up three children all at once! Paul and Louise will graduate from Anglia Ruskin, Paul with a degree in English and History, Lou with a degree in Psychology. Lou is now teaching at a local High School, and Paul is looking ito teaching at an F.E.College.
Last but not least there is Emma, she will not graduate this year, she completed her degree 4 years ago now and has been studying towards an MA. She has steadily built a career in Peripatetic teaching ( cello and violin), and also plays with a number of orchestras and ensembles. She takes great delight in seeing the growing confidence of children who have discovered a talent in music, often when they have been pushed to the background elsewhere. Her students do well, and Emma rejoices with them!
Right now though all is in flux the younger three are all coming and going at different times, and I never know who will and who won't be here. Questions about their futures loom large, but there is always hope, and sometimes although things don't gop to plan they have a way of working out. The wonderful thing is that we can and do place our hope and trust in God. I was pleased yesterday when one of the members at a village Chapel told me that she could relate to "my" God, because he wasn't only interested in the succesful, and that I talked about difficulties and frustrations in relation to him as much as I do about joys and celebrations.
I hope that, that is true, I hope that I communicate and live out a living faith in one who accepts me as I am with all of my faults and flaws, but loves me too much to leave me that way. I hope that I communicate my dependence upon the ressurection power of the Holy Spirit working in and through me. I hope that people hear my prayer (in the words of the hymn by Jenny Hewer):
Father, I place into Your hands The things I cannot do.
Father, I place into Your hands The things that I’ve been through.
Father, I place into Your hands The way that I should go, For I
know I always can trust You.
Father, I place into Your hands
My friends and family. Father, I place into Your hands The
things that trouble me. Father, I place into Your hands The
person I would be, For I know I always can trust You.
we love to see Your face, We love to hear Your voice. Father, we
love to sing Your praise And in Your name rejoice. Father, we
love to walk with You And in Your presence rest, For we know we
always can trust You.
Father, I want to be with You And do the
things You do. Father, I want to speak the words That You are
speaking too. Father, I want to love the ones That You will draw
to You, For I know that I am one with You.
...and are able to make it their own. As for me I wake up some mornings and wonder how it is that I am a Methodist Minister, where the faith came from, and why the Candidating panel didn't spot me fopr a fraud ( they might still)...
And all is change- for while our children have graduated, my husband Tim is off to Durham to study towards becoming a member of the Methodist Diaconate....
How do you describe an encounter with God that leaves you speechless yet encouraged, for that is exactly what happened at a small North Yorkshire Chapel this morning. I was late arriving because I'd already led a service elsewhere and they had begun in prayer, decided to sing "Thine be the glory"( because someone wanted to) and had just read the Old Testament lesson. Now don't ask me why but rather than bowl in and take over I asked what they had done, and then it seems the Holy Spirit took over, we had a discussion about the OT passage, sang another hymn "Trust and Obey" this time, chosen by another congregation member and then we read the Gospel, another discussion followed.
Any plans I might have had were long gone by this time, and someone asked if we could sing a new hymn, one that nobody knew, but the organist was willing and the lyrics seemed right so we did ( oddly I haven't got the faintest idea what it was now...).
We continued in prayer, and soon fell into silence as we sensed the Spirit moving amongst us. When it came to communion we shared simply serving one another, and again an awed silence fell upon us. Each of us is aware of being touched and healed by God in some way today, and we all left feeling both encouraged and challenged to meditate upon the encounter.
This little Chapel needed encouragement, over the years it has been suggested that it might close, but rather than close just recently we have been considering a community based arts centre project, and yet the task seemed beyond us...and perhaps it is, but it is not beyond God...
What we do know is that we can't bottle and preserve what happened today, but we can pursue the God who came close and touched us, the God who is drawing us on....