Category Archives: Church

Update on “The Process” – I met with the DDO today

I met with the DDO this afternoon and he fed back the feedback from the reports from the interviews.

It was largely positive but it looks like there may be a slight delay in getting the ball rolling – there seems to be a bit of a shortfall on the “Leadership and Collaboration” criterion. To make this up will take time that will take us past the last BAP that would give me a chance of starting training in the autumn.

I’ll be speaking to the bishop in a week or so and will have more idea of what to expect at that time – but it seems that, if all goes well, we’ll be ready to go in autumn 2016.

First Time Preaching for a Long Time

St Silas, Byker
Yesterday morning, I went to one of my local churches to preach.

A couple of months back, I had been invited by the vicar and was available for their Mothering Sunday service.

The readings were: Exodus 2:1-10; 2 Corinthians 1:3-17; Luke 2:33-35.

I had intended to record proceedings but there wasn’t enough time between putting the gospel down and starting to talk to fiddle with the technology that would have been involved. Lesson 1: turn the screen lock off on the phone in preparation. So, if you want to know what I said, you’ll have to read my notes rather than listen.

Has anybody been brought breakfast in bed this morning?

I remember the first time I made a cup of tea for my mum – I was still in single figures, but knew that tea needed to be made with boiling water and had been repeatedly warned, “Careful of that hot tap, the water’s boiling.” Of course, the results were undrinkable and I was very quickly taught how to use the kettle.

Mothering Sunday is, in part, about looking back at where we’ve come from – the homes from which we’ve sprung, the people who have shaped us, and looking for God’s hand in the story of our lives so far. But looking back is only part of the story – knowing where we’ve come from is only useful if it sheds light on where we are now and helps us see where we’re going, or where we ought to be going. Years ago, I fell asleep on the bus and ended up several stops into the unknown, completely lost. I knew I’d got on the bus in the centre of town and had come out of the other side of Heaton, but that was no help at all towards me finding my way home.

None of this to say that our past dictates our future but that it definitely shapes and guides it. Even if all that amounts to is us having the wisdom to say, “I’m never going through that again.”

In both the Old Testament and Gospel readings today, we see childhood snap-shots of saviours, sent by God to rescue huge numbers of people – the nation of Israel, in Moses’ case & the whole of creation in Jesus’s. But, for once, the emphasis isn’t on the children so much as on their mothers and carers – people without whom the stories would have abrupt and premature endings.

In the Exodus reading, the Israelites were being systematically oppressed and persecuted – the king had said that all Hebrew baby boys had to be thrown into the river, Moses’ mother eventually obeyed the letter of the law and put him in the river (but in a still bit of the water and in a floating basket, watched over by his sister – this baby was going nowhere). The rest, although it sets up the story of the rescue of an entire nation from slavery, seems a little bit like a fairy tale – a chance discovery by a princess, the quick, heroic bit of thinking by the sister, and the unexpected joy of his mother being able to bring him up – and be paid for doing so, ending with the bitter-sweet handing over of the grown boy to go and live in the palace. Taken as a whole, the story seems a bit like the news as read by Morecambe and Wise:

  • The Good News is: you’ve just given birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy.
  • The Bad News is: the law says you’ve got to throw him in the river.
  • The Good News is: you’ve managed to keep him hidden for three months without the authorities finding out.
  • The Bad News is: he’s grown too big to stay hidden, into the river he goes!
  • The Good News is: you have a cunning plan! Seems to be working, he’s not drowning!
  • The Bad News is: he’s been discovered by an Egyptian!
  • The Good News is: she’s not nasty and is going to pay you to look after your own child.
  • The Bad News is: now that he’s grown up, she wants him back.
  • The Good News is: he gets to live in a palace.
  • The Bad News is: it’s the palace of the ruling family who told you to throw him in the river in the first place…

What a lot of ups and downs! But it could have ended on bad news at any point if Moses’ mother hadn’t taken swift and decisive action to keep him alive.

In the gospel reading, Jesus has just been dedicated at the Temple, and Simeon (an old man who has been waiting for years to see the saviour God promised to Israel) has just claimed that Jesus will be a glory for the people of Israel and light to guide everybody else. He expands on these ideas and makes a horrifying prophecy to Mary. At the young age of forty days, that’s quite a lot of expectation to be placed on a child and a similar amount of pressure on the mother. How frightened do you think Mary would have been? A sword piercing your soul (in this case, with hindsight, it seems fairly obvious that it refers to the trauma of losing her child through a violent death) must be a horrible thing to have hanging over you; all the more so as you would have go through life, raising your child in the light of the exciting light and glory parts, the challenging falling and rising parts and the alarming final words.

Let me tell you about my friend E. – he’s six years old, clever as they come, has a cheeky smile and a sense of humour to match. He’s doing well at school and enjoys reading, watching TV and horse riding.

He almost didn’t make it to a week old.

Seven years ago, his parents discovered that their soon-to-be-born first child was going to be born with spina bifida. This is an illness that usually causes paralysis of the legs, incontinence, and can cause learning difficulties. There were complications with the birth and it was touch and go whether E. would survive – and, if he did, what kind of a life he could expect in the future. Life was tough but, after lots of surgery, things settled down and my friends had to prepare for a life unlike anything they’d expected or planned for.

E. is all of those things I mentioned but needs a wheelchair or walker to move around and will need more-or-less constant medical care for the rest of his life. The world is a richer and better place for him being in it and he adds so much to the lives of his friends and family – we are blessed to have him with us. But living with his condition has been, and continues to be a huge challenge to his parents.

The way they have dealt with E.’s spina bifida has inspired me. On a day to day level, there’s not much to notice out of the ordinary – besides a slightly bigger-than-usual car to cope with the wheel chair. But they have had to constantly apply for grants to fund all the changes they’ve had to make, including rebuilding the ground floor of their house to make it more accessible for E. Of course, none of this compares to a sword piercing their souls, or even having to hide their child in a basket from imperial troops, but their continuing care and love for their son is setting him up in the best way possible to lead a positive and productive life.

Not all of us are parents, some of us never will be. We don’t live in such troubled times as Moses, Jesus and their families. Not many of us will be called to be movers and shakers, acting to bring about justice and salvation on a major scale. But that doesn’t mean that we have nothing to learn from today’s lessons.

Just as there was a varied group of people ensuring that Moses got a good start in life, we can all be part of such a group of our own – nurturing and caring for those around us. One important example from church life that springs to mind is the promise we all make at a baptismal service, to welcome and support children into the life of the church.

And just as Mary’s future of raising Jesus promised joy, wonder and heartbreak – taking responsibility for our friends, family and acquaintances will bring its very own mix of reward and hardship.

God does send saviours for his people but they’d get nowhere without their support and carers. It’s unlikely that we are sent to be those saviours in major, ground breaking ways. But we do have an ability and duty to provide care for those we meet in our day to day lives – who knows what God is doing through them and us?!


Progress Has Happened

The interviews last week seemed to go all right. In hindsight, there are bits I could have done better but overall I reckon they were as good as I could hope for.

The three interviews were all different in setting – one in an interview room at work, one in somebody’s study, and the last in a cosy living room – and the subject matter varied as the topics for each session were different but there was some, necessary overlap and the atmosphere throughout was one of friendly enquiry.

I have no idea what the panel are going to write in their reports and I’m now waiting to hear from the DDO when he contacts me to arrange a further meeting to discuss the reports.

We shall see…

Progress is Happening – Local Interview Dates Have Been Set

It’s taken a while for me to feel like I’ve had anything worth reporting about “The Process*” and all of a sudden things seem to be moving a little bit quickly.

I received an e-mail from the DDO1 asking how well I knew various members of a list of potential local interviewers – to keep the selection side of the process impartial, we can’t be interviewed by anybody that we know too well. I crossed a few names off and replied.

About a week later, after the DDO had worked his wonders, I got another e-mail containing the following “official bit”:

I have arranged for you to be interviewed by a Diocesan Panel, as the next stage in the discernment of your vocation. Please do remember that these interviews are part of the on-going process as you and the wider Church explore God’s will for your life. Each interview will major on certain criteria as defined in the Ministry Division procedures for interview, but may also touch upon wider issues.

Along with details of the three members of the panel, whom I was to contact individually to arrange a meeting.

After a phone call and a couple of e-mails dates had been set – all for this week. Each interview will look at three of the Criteria for Selection (a summary can be found here). The interviews will be happening on the following dates:

  1. Tuesday 10.30am: “Vocation, Ministry within the Church of England, Spirituality”
  2. Wednesday 7.30pm: “Personality & Character, Relationships, Leadership & Collaboration”
  3. Saturday 10.30am: “Faith, Mission and Evangelism, Quality of Mind”

I’ll be reporting back on how things go when I get a chance.

I’m not feeling particularly apprehensive but, as ever, prayers and general-supportiveness would be very much appreciated.

*By which, I mean “the process that I’m going through whilst exploring a sense of vocation to full time ministry within the Church of England.”
1 Diocesan Director of Ordinands – a role overseeing people within the diocese from the start of calling exploration to the point of finishing training.

One and a Bit Week Review – Lent 2014 – Day 9

This Lent (so far) I have been aiming to do the following things:

  • Drink no coffee
  • Say morning prayer (or some variant) every weekday morning
  • Refrain from non-social drinking (i.e. no having a beer to unwind when I get home from work)
  • Write something every evening

The first of these hasn’t presented much of a problem – except when there are meetings at work and the whole corridor is filled with the fresh-brewed coffee aroma, or evenings like tonight when I was asked to make Ros a coffee using our mate’s fancy-pants brew-from-beans machine – I felt a slight twinge then.

The saying of morning prayer has coincided with some decent weather – it always helps to have sunshine when you’re getting up unusually early (I’m using a room in a local church to help get a routine started – people are welcome to join me but don’t generally know about it). It seems to be going pretty well. I’m using the Northumbria Community’s Celtic Daily Prayer book and I’m still finding the shortness of it surprising – the readings are usually only a couple of verses long.

The not having a beer unless it’s part of something a little more structured than ‘I fancy a pint’ has had so little impact as to be almost unnoticeable. The most that can be said for it that it’s probably saved me a little bit of money and there’s more space in the fridge.

As for the writing of something every night – although it’s presented in public – it’s more to get me into the discipline of writing something anything every day.

Filling-in Some of the Gaps
On Monday, I had my second post-Giant-Form-of-Doom-completion interview with the DDO*. This time we talked about the second of the nine criteria for a vocation to priesthood: prayer and spirituality. There’ll be another seven meetings (on a monthly basis) until October, then (if all goes as hoped) a set of three meetings with various people around the diocese with a recommendation to go to a national selection conference some time in February or March next year with training starting the following September.

Yesterday was just another very full day with an unexpected amount of caretaking to do at the end of it. There wouldn’t have been anything to write about in any case.

Tomorrow will probably hold more of The-Form-as-blog-entry…

*Diocesan Director of Ordinands – a priest in charge of seeing potential priests through the ‘selection’ process and beyond.

Tales from the Form: Employment – Lent 2014 – Day 4

The form will show no record of the paper-rounds I did between the ages of twelve and sixteen – no mention of getting up in time to be at the paper shop for six o’clock to sort the papers, having to break the ice off the letter boxes, break down Saturday papers into several postings to fit through said letter boxes, and then go out again to cover a round for a mate who’d not made it out of bed that morning, nor of having to go round the houses on the round knocking on and begging for Christmas tips (this only in the second town I worked in).

It will make mention of working on a shoe stall in the market but not of the nasty ‘instant’ tea (shame on you PG!) which was all we had to drink, nor of sleeping in the back of the van when I joined the stall on its summer trips to Wales. It was good fun but didn’t pay that well and involved being based in a town where people went to Stafford for something to do and as soon as I talked my way into a job in a pub back in Newcastle I was off like a shot.

Working in a pub lasted about a fortnight (well, six weeks or so) and I left with the recommendation that I spend more time in pubs to get a better feel for them. It’s not often that I take advice from an only-just-ex-boss so seriously in the long term…

Following that, I’ve done a variety of jobs: washing up (and other kitchen porterly duties) in an Italian restaurant, assembling postal trolleys for the Royal Mail, shop staff in a charity shop and a book shop, care-taking for a local church, and now in the office at the Resources Centre (where the counter staff give me problems, my boss gives me problems and I make everything work) – all with a wide variety of skills to develop and responsibilities to hold, some of which may end up being of help in a ministerial role…

…especially the washing up.

Tales from the Form: Introduction – Lent 2014 – Day 3

This weekend, I’m down in the deep south (near Huddersfield) visiting Mum and Dad.

After fish and chips for tea, one of the things we talked about was my progress through The Selection (or Discernment, depending on whom you’re talking to) Process. This is the fabled method by which the Anglican Church sorts the wheat from the chaff with regards to who might make a reasonable fist of being an eventual priest.

The first main hurdle I had to negotiate was what I have affectionately come to know as The Giant Form of Doom. Those of you who know me will testify that this has been an ongoing process for quite some time. I can proudly announce (a trifle late, I know) that, as of the eighteenth of January, The Form (all fourteen typed pages) is filled in and submitted. Now the fun part begins, starting with several interviews with a local priest whose job description is (in a slightly unwieldy fashion) Diocesan Director of Ordinands (henceforth, DDO). I’ve had the first of these and will be meeting up with him again on Monday afternoon – these chats will be written up in future posts so watch this space.

My parents and I discussed what I’d written on The Form in some detail and this got me thinking a little bit – an awful lot of what’s on it is kind of reflective and might be interesting (to me, at least) for me to rewrite into some sort of mini-biography/theological treatise/apologia.

So, over the next few days you can expect this blog to mostly feature rewritten extracts and reflections on some of the more exciting areas of The Form. Clearly the full list of my GCSEs and A-levels (something I won’t be writing up), impressive though it is, will be of no interest to most right-thinking people – it remains to be seen what you make of the rest of it.

Lent – Day 12: Revisiting the Old Firm

Today’s nothing was partaken of in the office of my ex-church. I’ve been re-employed as relief caretaker and, this evening, I was caretaking for a big (for an evening) service led by Youth For Christ. Once everybody was let in and everything, I retired to the office, plugged my laptop into the internet and messed around for a bit, then turned everything back off and sat doing nothing for fifteen minutes.

Or I would have, if I hadn’t been roused five minutes into my quietitude by a church member slightly panicking about what to do with a book stall that had been landed upon them with no notice. Once that was sorted out, the following ten minutes passed reasonably smoothly. One of the main thoughts that my mind kept returning to was about my employment and the non-desirability of continuing to work two and a bit part time jobs – I really need to get a move on with the Giant Form of Doom! I’ll have a crack at it tomorrow and then write a bit about it in Day 13’s blog entry.

Lent – Day Five: Bacon

So, today I woke up feeling like death. Nine times out of ten, if I’m feeling rotten, I’ll go to church anyway. This morning was not one of those nine. I went back to sleep.

I finally got out of bed mid morning and took the car-full of old post-move cardboard boxes to the tip.

I felt better but still fairly non-human.

Lunch improved things slightly and then we started getting things ready for a semi-regular get together of Church 18-40* for bacon sandwiches and general sitting around. Because Ros was baking a cake, the grill was out of action and I ended up on frying duty, providing bacon for about a dozen hungry people who turned up from half past seven onwards. There was a fair old mix of characters there this evening and lots of little conversations as the night went on – everybody seemed to be having a good time, which is always gratifying when you’re hosting.

For me, the most notable thing was the presence of our two new downstairs neighbours who we’d invited up when I went down to warn them about the evening’s activities – it felt good to be behaving in a neighbourly fashion after years of not really having had much chance to speak to any immediate neighbours for one reason or another.

This evening’s nothing didn’t feature any sleep but did involve a flicking through one of Adrian Plass’s books to find his poem, Jenny and reading it to myself.

Still tired and feeling rotten, but it’s been a day of getting-some-stuff-done that has included some very good bits.
*My only-just-made-up name for a group of students and other footloose and family-free people in their twenties and thirties.

Lent – Day 1: Ash Wednesday

Okay, I’m going to start with a refinement of a joke I posted over on Facebook:

and then move swiftly on.

Day one of doing nothing seems to have not been too much effort. I went straight from work to church and made my first ever confession and then sat for forty minutes or so until the Ash Wednesday Eucharist started. I didn’t fall asleep, I made a conscious effort to not think about things to write, and after about twenty minutes or so I checked my Twitter feed – then I put my phone away and sat for another ten minutes. During the sitting, my mind wandered and some brief prayers were said but, on the whole, I tried to cut off active streams of thought lest I found myself engaging in activity.

Anyway, I was not sure what to expect from the Sacrament of Reconciliation, offered this evening as a prelude to the Ash Wednesday service. I was [less than] half expecting a curtained box (despite knowing that my church housed no such thing) and for me to have to say

“Bless me father, for I have sinned. This is my first confession. I have dome much evil…”

and then to list all the bad things I’ve ever done, followed by The Priest (in my head it was The Priest, despite knowing Father Alan in person) telling me to say a thousand “Hail Mary”s and to drink the juice of three lemons (to wipe the smile off my face) and then pronouncing absolution.

It was nothing like that. To my untrained ears, if seemed like an expanded bit of the standard confessional bit of most communion liturgies with a chatty bit in the middle and a lot more emphasis on how much God had set things right between us. Kind of reassuring.

The Communion Service fit with the theme of repentance (how about that?!) and among the strangenesses [to my untrained and non-conformist mind] were the following:

  • a mid-week service being in the main church building, rather than the vicarage chapel – and the number of people attending
  • the singing gaining momentum as the evening went on, despite the lack of an organist
  • hearing the phrase “Remember you are ashes [or dust] and to ashes [or dust] you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ” repeated for each member of the congregation as they went forward to be marked with the ashes.
  • going forward a second time to receive communion – and being served at the low altar rather than having to go up to the rail in front of the high altar

I left feeling challenged and looking forward to the rest of Lent, and thinking about whether I was taking it seriously enough. We shall see.