Friday, October 22, 2010

The adventure continues

I realise that over the last few blog entries I have had a few polemical moments and thought it was about time for a more mellow and positive entry - particularly as this is the 'season of mists and mellow fruitfulness'! Even though its my day off (not really happening today as harvest festival for school, will try to take tomorrow instead) I want to say something about ministry and to get rid of the last less than cheerful heading for my blog :-)

A funeral, a wedding rehearsal, village eucharists, schools services and various visits and events in this last few days have served to remind me just what a privilege this ministry is! Likewise a conversation with a gentleman who is congregational member, deep thinker, and deeply committed to the life of both the parish Church and community in where I live has helped me to see again just how fortunate (or blessed if you prefer) I am to be in this place, with these people, doing what I do. And grateful for dedicated members of our congregations who simply want the best for their churches and village communities!

Because of the huge changes in the nature of Anglican ministry, because of the history that sometimes hangs around our necks like the Ancient Mariner's Albatross - particularly the perception that 'every village had a vicar' - because the church and our society are caught up in the middle of incredible changes, the move perhaps from the epoch of 'Modernity' to something else not yet formed (I won't get on to Post Modern philosophy and cultural shifts here, but things are changing) then its easy for Clergy, and particularly those of us who are 'thinking out loud' about some of these things, to get a little bit rattled, and sometimes strident, in the way we express the need to change.

Of course, I come from the background of a couple of degrees in theology and twenty or so years in pastoral ministry - Parish, Schools and Universities - the last fourteen of those as an ordained minister. I've had the benefit of time and experience that have allowed me to grapple with issues of ministry and mission in a way that few are able to. Not that I have the answers, but just had lots of experience of having that as my focus. Most 'normal' members of our congregations and villages haven't had time, or perhaps inclination, towards such navel gazing and my sometimes strongly expressed views are a complete surprise to many of them. Many these folk have expertise and experience in fields I can't even begin to imagine, some of them have been very prominent and/or successful in the field of education, commerce, finance, defence, health, business and much much more. If someone came up to me and tried to explain the exact causes of our current economic crisis using their experience in banking or finance I would be complete bamboozled by that - why should I expect my twenty years of musing on the life and witness of the Church to have any different effect?!

So my experience this week, and my conversation this morning, have served as a salutary reminder - choose one's words well, share appropriately, don't expect everyone to have the same experience - and certainly not the same opinion - as onesself, and enjoy the privilege and adventure that this calling to Mission and Ministry offers! Deo Gratias!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Feeling a bit sad

Don't worry, I'm not drowning in the depths of despair or anything like that. I am just a little bit less of my usually cheery self than usual (or as a newspaper recently described me - a bit less of a 'jolly Motorcycle-riding Vicar').

The news that has brought about this alteration to my disposition is that the friends with whom we share ownership of a property in France would like to 'buy us out' and in return for a share of our contributions over the past five years, less a few expenses. would have complete ownership of the property (which they pretty much have anyway).

An odd thing to feel upset about, but on reflection I realise this is because of a number of factors which I do think its worth mentioning here - partly because this is meant to be a place of reflection and meaning as well as home to my occasional rants!

Firstly this represents the end of a certain stage in our friendship with this other family. Not that we aren't friends still, but that since we moved away from Cambridgeshire it has been difficult to maintain the level of contact we would like with our old friends. Their family are growing up and their children would like to use the house in the summer time without their parents around and our part in the agreement prevents that freedom. It's change for them and for us - and though it has taken a while to catch up on this front, it has done now. I think they were very generous in letting us come in with them on the original purchase and should we have stayed in Cambridgeshire this particular 'ending' may or may not have happened, as we would perhaps have worked out different ways of using the house as we went along but being so far away from them makes communication less natural and more difficult. So reason number one for my sadness I think is mourning that loss of a certain level of relationship and realising that it is the breaking of a connection with friends. One of the hazards of ministry is that we move on, often some distance away, and keeping up with friendships that are 'easy' in situ is not always as easy some way away from each other...

Secondly I realise that I am a 'person of place'. Some people like exploring, some people sit lightly to where they live, some people do feel at home 'wherever they lay their hat'. I don't. I think I'm quite flexible in where I live and where I stay, and we have moved as a family three or four times in the past ten years and before the children arrived we moved six times in ten years (or was it seven?) but it doesn't take me long to invest in a place, to feel that I am at home there, and to make a place 'mine'. Even in someone else's house with someone else's furniture I've felt comfortable in rented accommodation over the years. And despite the fact that our share in this house is very small compared to the outlay of our friends there has been a sense of making a place home in 'our' French house. I enjoyed exploring from a base, feeling at home enough to branch out, and (in the past few years) meeting up with other good friends who visited the area too - as well as having the freedom to invite other folk to come and stay with us and not worry about how the logistics of that were going to work.

Lastly, I guess its just about memories - though I found our last holiday slightly difficult for various reasons, the past five years (every year since our son was born) have collected many good and happy memories in those three weeks we spent in the same place every year.

So we will be taking our good friends up on their offer of buying out our share - particularly as they obviously want to invest more in the place, continue to make it their own and make improvements to it, have the flexibility to call it theirs and go when suits their family and its needs. They are great friends and I'll miss that connection, but don't feel any resentment - particularly as with their usual care they have made a generous and thought out offer for our share. I guess its time to make some more memories somewhere else...

Still sad though...

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

I really should update my links

I haven't got around to putting up a number of good bloggers on my sidebar - or weeding out a few out of date ones... For now I would like to encourage you to visit good folk such as the Church Mouse, Revd Lesley, Charlie Peer and Phil Ritchie. I think Mouse might already be on my feed on the right but need to go into the list on the left!

I can't bring myself to remove link to the late Dr John's blog though. Still missed....

We plough the fields and scatter...again....and again

Thanks to a bit of prompting from three excellent posts The Church Mouse, Charlie Peer and Red I have been inspired to add my bit about harvest festivals and their relevance in today's world.. I would recommend reading the above posts in the order I've put them, and look through the comments too, it's an interesting read.

Harvest Festivals could be considered the bane of some Clergy lives! I have done around a hundred or so (by my rough guesstimate) in the past fourteen or so years since I was Ordained. We had a school one and a Church one in my first Suburban London parish, nice and simple. In my second parish in Central London we had a Church Harvest Festival, and I was chaplain to four schools who liked a good Harvest Celebration. Then I moved to a Thirteen Parish Team with four schools who all celebrated Harvest in our 'soft rural' setting in South Cambridgeshire and after eight years there I lost track of how many I covered... I usually did two of the schools and up to eight of the parishes in any one year. Now I'm in another, slightly 'harder' rural area (though not as isolated and very rural as Dartmoor or Exmoor which are both in our Diocese) with Five Churches, or six including a daughter Church in a tiny village which always wants a harvest and Four Schools, all of whom enjoy their harvest celebrations.

Long winded background, but all because I want to say that not one of those Harvests felt 'Irrelevant' or outdated or out of touch with the contemporary world. Urban and Rural settings both appreciated the need to remember where our food comes from, both in terms of the producers and the God who we believe provides for us in a wonderful, though perhaps not quite so mechanistic as some seem to envisage, way.

The Church Mouse points out that Harvest as we know it in the Church of England is a Victorian invention from a rather eccentric Cornish Priest. And says that we are disconnected from the cycle of food production, particularly in urban areas, that the Harvest Thanksgiving marks. These can be seen as reasons for dropping 'Harvest' as we know it I can see that argument, but we are also disconnected from the community ties we used to have, and we live in a very self-serving culture, and there are many other social mores that as a Church we are critical of - do we drop anything that people don't 'get' straightaway or do we take on the role of apologists and evangelists for a gospel that is 'foolishness to the Greeks'?

I do think there are plenty of 'Victorian Values' that the Church needs to drop and move on from, particularly with regards to the idea that somehow Christianity is tied up with holding to a particular set of moral standards. We could also do with leaving behind a few of the awful Victorian Dirges that the Church seems to cling on to in the misbegotten belief that they somehow represent the pinnacle of worship. There's a few buildings that might benefit from the ministrations of a Diocesan Arsonist too. But I'm rambling. Just because something was started by a slightly-not-quite-right-in-the-head Vicar in the Victorian Era doesn't mean we have to stop doing it. If we stopped doing things inspired by odd clerics, the Church of England would have very little to keep itself occupied with....

But the disconnect between Food production and the cycle of the Agricultural year and people bringing what they have produced to offer in Church is something that does need addressing. I'm not sure the best reaction to something that doesn't quite fit is to drop it - and if we need (as is claimed) to explain the meaning behind something then the Church is fulfilling both an educative and prophetic role it should be fulfilling!

It also strikes me that the recent interest for seasonal foods, slow foods, local produced goods, farmers markets, farm shops and fair trade as well as the popularity of local munchies guru Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall and other celeb chefs and cooks have also tapped into a desire on the part of many people to go beyond the cheap food culture and connect again with food that we both need and enjoy. The Church should surely be building on such interest and addressing the desire for connection with these things - which serve to build awareness of our interconnectivity and draw people into community.

Lastly, I think that Harvest being at Harvest is quite important. I grew up in Church traditions which barely acknowledged the seasons of the year and it sometimes felt marked only those parts of the 'Church Year' which they couldn't avoid - Christmas and Easter. I can see why they did this, as the focus was on celebrating the resurrection of Jesus every week, but we human beings are time-bound, we mark the cycles of the year and we are a part of the change of the seasons. I think the Church is enriched by marking the seasons and even if they aren't very visible (eg in City centres) they should still be observed and enjoyed and used as reasons for people to get together, give thanks and enjoy being with one another. We may not have people out in our city streets gathering in the fruit of the field, but that doesn't mean we don't mark it happening as part of our world and highlight it - helping people be more aware of our world and all that God has given us.

Hmmm, not quite as coherent and significantly more long winded than planned. But I enjoyed the process :-) Well done Mouse - once again got the blogosphere and twitterverse moving :-)