Thursday, September 27, 2007

A sense of identity

As a minister i have noticed an increase in the number of people who contact me about Parish records, burials, marriages and baptisms as they research their family tree - genealogy is obviously big business! It can be frustrating as many of these folk can be quite demanding, and trying to minister to six villages takes up quite enough time without having to travel around looking in the safes where these registers are held and search out obscure references from a hundred or two or three hundred years ago. Fortunately most of the registers over a hundred years old are held now at the local County Archive, and we have a statutory duty to send off any document over 125 years old to them anyway - that way preservation is assured, as in previous generations some rather crackers clergy or Churchwardens have had the occasional bonfire with parish records when they felt the Church or their study was getting cluttered with paper!

Many of the folk who contact me are quite intense about the whole process and have invested themselves heavily in finding out 'where they come from' - I get enquiries from all over the world, including recently the USA and New Zealand - all from 'Western civilisations'.

I think that tracing one's ancestry has become a way for people to find themselves. We are people without roots, many of us having moved all around the country and often no longer living with family. I'm not sure its a peculiarly English situation, but in the past 40 years or so in the UK we have lost the extended family and in most situations live some distance away from our families. When I was at school 30 years ago most of my friends and their families came from the same area where their parents and grandparents etc had lived for generations, movement was usually restricted from village to village rather than county to county or country to country. There were plenty of folk who had come into the area and settled down, but often that was grandparents and great-grandparents. It was only in the 1960s that the make up of our little market town in Devon really started changing. Now the norm seems to be that families move around and sometimes loose touch completely with other generations of their kinsfolk.

So people seem to want to know where they came from, in order to find out something of who they are.

We have in many ways lost a sense of local identity. We travel to the shops, to school, to work and return to our villages and suburbs for the evenings and (sometimes but not always) weekends. Very few small communities have local amenities in the way they did even one or two generations ago, fewer people work where they live, farming isn't so labour intensive so fewer 'land workers' stay where they are, schools are centralised in one community to which everyone travels rather than a tiny (often under-resourced) village school.

It's all change. And people have lost a sense of belonging.

I don't want to be seen to be spreading doom and gloom, though - people are finding other ways to build up their social and support networks and things do change, often through necessity. This isn't a rant about 'it's not as good as the old days in blighty where we all gathered around the piano on a Saturday night and every could leave their doors unlocked day and night' - though my slide into middle age does seem to make me prone to more moments like that! Really it's just an observation. In many ways life has become better, we have a pretty good healthcare system, there are lots of ways in which people are supported who wouldn't have been in 'days of yore', people often have a deeper commitment to the social networks they have chosen to belong to rather than ones they were a part of by default through geography and family.

Into all of this, certainly in my life and in the life of many I talk to, comes the Church. For me Church is (or should be) a place of belonging, welcome, of finding value, of encountering God and other people in such a way that we realise our common life. Even our most valued 'sacrament', of sharing bread and wine in Holy Communion is grounded in the understanding of being sustained by God and by one another, and in meeting God in worship, sacrament and neighbour.
Perhaps I will share a bit more of my own roots and identity in another post. But this is just to start a thought process. In 21st century England many people are asking questions like 'who am I?' and 'Where do I belong'. We are all of us engaged in finding that out, I believe it's better to find that out together.

This is my entry to Naomi's blog carnival on blogging and Britain over at 'Diary from England' Go on over there from October first for the carnival...

Monday, September 17, 2007

Blog talking again

I have missed weeks and weeks due to various absences etc, not sure if I will catch up, but we're back to the blog talkers discussion!

Blog Talkers number 38
If you could select any person, dead or alive, famous or obscure, historic or common, to write a blog that you would visit regularly, who would it be and why?
The easy answer to that would be Jesus

Though i have to ask myself, would I really want to read his blog, it would be pretty challenging stuff, the record of what we have in the Bible is tough enough to live by! Or would I, like so many people of his day, think he was another looney with radical religious ideas, too much against the authorities or too opposed to the religious structures that I am so much a part of!

And reading a blog would be sooooo much easier than this prayer business in trying to keep 'plugged in' to what he wants to say to me! And perhaps he would explain some of the stuff I really struggle with.

As Jesus is possibly a bit too much of an obvious choice, perhaps I should think of someone else? I don't want to come across as obsessed with this Christianity business...

...even though I am

So, who else?

I think I'd like to read the blog of Margaret Thatcher - not now, she's a mad old woman, but when she was in power in the 80s, I would like to know what she was really thinking - my memories of the 80s are high unemployment, misery amongst the 'working classes', the crushing of trade unions and lives destroyed. I would like to have known if she was truly aware, or at all affected, by the pain she caused. I have never loathed anyone, except Prime Minister Thatcher. I recognise that saying that makes me sound very unchristian, but I still feel a strong sense of anger at the fact that she used Christianity to justify what she did - quoting the prayer of St Francis to the press, or saying that the Good Samaritan could only have done what he did if he had money, which of course is the most important thing in life. I have no doubt she was a formidable person, and maybe very admirable in her aims, many would argue that she was good for our country - but for the whole of my teenage years I was very aware of the desperate situation she put so many people in - and being from a none too affluent background myself saw much of this first hand. I don't know if I would find her to be more human, even perhaps likable, in the flesh or through blogging, and I know that she is a totem for all the political ills of our country, but I am intolerant of intolerance, I hate injustice, and I despise bigotry - it seems to me in many ways Thatcher embodies it all, certainly the Thatcher-era did.

Wow, that was more of a rant than i expected, twenty five years of stewing I guess.

Join in the blog talkers conversation here.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Last Week's sermon

Well, I don't claim to be absolutely up to the minute! Only a week late, here's some of my thoughts from Trinity 14...

Year C Proper 18
Jeremiah 18.1-11
Psalm 139.1-5 & 12-18
Philemon verses 1-21
Luke 14.25-33

Tough Stuff

It’s very nice to be back here at Yelling after some time since I was last here. It is even more special because it was seven years ago this week that I was licensed in Yelling Parish Church to the Papworth Team to serve in these parishes, and as I hope to renew my license this week I have the opportunity to reflect on what this last seven years have meant both to myself and to these parishes…

Not that I plan to spend the next few minutes talking about all that has happened or sharing stories of those I’ve married or buried or baptised in these past seven years – though I have been privileged to share in some momentous events here and to be a part of some poignant and powerful pastoral events in my time.

But looking back over my time here I have to be honest and say it’s been hard. [more]

Another Sunday

It's been ages since I managed to sit down and write anything, in case you'd not noticed..

Just a quick 'hello' to all you out in blogland, before setting off to my first service of the day. What a busy couple of weeks it has been - good in lots of ways, but not a lot of time to sit and think. We've had lots of weddings or wedding blessings, baptisms, meetings, school visits and tax - the bane of my life. I've had to put together my figures for tax assessment, which always seems to take forever, and once all of my mechanisms for procrastination had been exhausted I had to just get down and do it as my deadline for submission loomed.

I still have my expenses for this tax year to sort out, and at about £400 a month ($800 odd dollars) it has mounted up since April... Better get on with that, might find myself absent from the blogosphere a bit more over the coming week or so...

Autumn has definitely come whilst I have been absent, the air has changed and the mornings are fresh and chilly. Not cold yet, but definitely nippy. I love this time of year, especially when, as we've had, the sun shines and everything looks clearer somehow. The leaves haven't started falling yet, but the trees are all starting to change colour. Another reminder of how life comes in cycles, and we prepare for the round of harvest, followed by the All Saints & Remembrance season, then the lead up and preparations for Christmas. It all seems to happen so quickly.

My service looms, off to celebrate the sacrament in my local Church before heading to another Parish for an All-age service. I'll try not to leave it so long next time, and will post my sermon for last week as well as some thoughts from this week soon. I'm looking forward to having some time to catch up on all my blog buddies soon.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Sermon for this week

As usual, this week's offering is on the New Kid Deep Stuff page, here's a taster, click on [more] for the rest!

Trinity 12 (2001) Year C RCL Principal

Practical Spirituality

If I had 5p for every time someone told me that ‘Christianity is boring’ – I’d be at least two pounds better off by now!! It’s a common misunderstanding. People confuse the trappings of the Christian Church – whether it’s smells and bells, or guitars and choruses, with the Christian Faith – and if they don’t like the way things are done, then obviously the Church is boring.

But the Christian Faith is certainly not boring. And in fact, if you ever get into a conversation with someone about faith then it will usually emerge that people find Jesus, the founder of our faith, fascinating. They just seem to be able to separate Jesus and Christianity – and the latter is given the label boring.

The Christian Faith, however, is (or perhaps we should say the Christian Faith should be) exciting, challenging and disturbing. Exciting because our faith comes from Jesus, the son of God and Son of Man, the holy one, the Messiah – who showed us how we are truly meant to live, challenging because this same Jesus never lets us rest on our laurels, but constantly calls us on to new and different things, and disturbing because Christian Faith can turn our world upside-down and make us think, even make us change so we become more like Jesus ourselves. [more]

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Hitting the ground running

So much for time to reflect on my time away, I don't seem to have stopped since I got back - though I did enjoy mentally revisiting my reading for holidays in the previous posting.

The main focus of the past three days has been the fact that today I've had two weddings and tomorrow I have four baptisms to prepare for. This may not seem like much, but for each event there is a certain amount of preparation - for Baptisms i visit the parents or candidates (depending on age, obviously) and go through the service talking about the meaning of baptism and why the C of E Baptises infants - a whole discussion there which I'm not going to go into! It's a very good pastoral opportunity, though, and the three visits I did took about five hours - up to 11pm as one family really wanted to talk about issues surrounding baptism and tell me something of their own experience. Then in preparing for the Baptism (which will take place in a normal Sunday service) I need to get hold of candles, cards, books and various bits, which took me into Cambridge to shop for some bits that I needed... As well as that there's a bit of co-ordinating with Churchwardens as to whose bringing water (most of our Churches don't have running water, due to them being medieval in origin and not having enough money to pay to be connected to mains now), whose reading and a long chat with the church musician as to what songs and hymns we'll have and whether I will inflict my guitar playing on people, or he will play the organ, or whatever... It all takes time.

Alongside that preparations for the Weddings include a rehearsal, which is meant to take an hour but can take a couple, registers (being v important legal documents they have to be retrieved from the Church safe and filled out with great care, it takes a couple of hours to do registers for a couple of weddings), preparing the Church, getting there early to make sure everyone's fine for the service etc etc. Of course I then have to write sermons for the weddings and try to put something together for each service individually - though I may use ideas and even whole sections from other sermons on the same readings - and all in all the time seems to disappear, when I thought I had lots of it.

I've just finished preparing a sermon for my 8.30am service tomorrow, and thinking about an All age talk for the 10.30am with all the baptisms, oh and I have to fill out the cards and stuff for the four candidates. time flies! I think I'll need another holiday after tomorrow ;-)