Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Christmas

It's been quite a time here in the Five Alive Mission Community.  We've had some important and quite significant funerals, a wedding, all of the usual end of term and Christmas events and in this past couple of days an almost solid thirty six hours of services - with an eight hour break between 1am and 9am... so I and my colleagues did get some sleep! 

It's a funny thing this Church business, we see people who we never normally see at the services over the Christmas period and some of our regulars make themselves scarce!  And in any year we never know whether there will be more or less than the previous year at any of our services... which so easily leads into the spiral of either self congratualtion or self mortification depending on which way the figures have gone in any year.  Of course we know that the important part of what we do at Christmas is to preach and share the Gospel, and our self worth as a Christian community should never be based on how many 'bums on seats' we have, but it's hard to have any kind of objective measure as to our success in sharing the life of Christ and we so often fall back on figures for attendance!  It is reassuring that in my time here I've not managed to empty the Churches, though, I hope that means I've not upset too many people...

But in terms of the quality of the services, the worship and the sense of community and celebration, this year's selection of services has been wonderful - at least the ones I was a part of (and the others taken by colleagues, according to the effusive feedback I have received).  We have marked the Nativity of our Lord and Saviour with joy!

There's something else that made my Christmas day positive and uplifting and that was (and here are words I never expected to find myself using) The Queen's Speech!  It was encouraging, thought provoking and moving.  There's a very good reflection on it here and below is Her Majesty herself and the 2011 Queen's Speech.

Happy Christmas everyone!  God bless you all and may the love of Christ dwell in you richly.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Had to say "no"

I was asked to cover another funeral today, one which I had already had notice of and knew that it may be slightly contentious for me to turn down because there was an expectation that 'the Vicar' should be the one to take this service.  So I wrestled with whether or not to do it and then handed it one of my exceptionally able and hard working colleagues to do, and she was very willing to do so.

This comes hot on the heels of a request to make sure that a 'Clergyperson' was present at another service because the minister taking the service wasn't ordained.  It wasn't that this minister is unqualified, unlicensed, untrained or unknown to the community where the service was taking place, but simply that this other minister doesn't have a clerical collar.  Perhaps obvious from the title above, I had to say no to that too.

Don't get me wrong, it is a huge privilege and an honour to be asked to take part in these events.  I know that some of the requests I get are because people actually like me doing services, some are because of the perceived 'kudos' of having 'the Vicar', some are because I am a man (they get instant refusal) and some are because people are struggling with a changing culture - both within the Church and these rural communities - that has always believed that a Vicar is somehow 'theirs' and will do their 'religion' for them... a theme oft touched on these hallowed pages... if pages they be.  Whatever the motivation, as a Vicar, Priest, Pastor, Minister, Clerk in Holy Orders, Minister (choose your preferred nomenclature) it is nice to feel wanted, and to be affirmed by filling a need in others, in communities, in the Church.

But me feeling wanted, and others feeling that things are somehow more 'kosher' with a bloke in a dog collar, isn't enough!  I can't wear myself out trying to live up to expectations which are unrealistic and which I don't theologically subscribe to even though I sometimes buy into them unconsciously.  Or perhaps more accurately I shouldn't wear myself out, or I mustn't....

The problem we continue to struggle with in the Church of England is that we are still set up for Clerically centric ministry rather than every member ministry.  Both in the structures of the Church and the perceptions of people at large there is still the expectation that Clergy will run things.  That we will be the 'religious experts' who 'do religion' so that others don't have to!  Yet the Churches which are growing are those where everyone has a part, where the gifts of the people are offered, supported, used and celebrated.... yet in so many places this understanding of 'every member ministry' seems beyond all comprehension by the vast majority of those both within and without the Church community.

This wasn't a problem in my youth - I grew up in Churches (of different traditions and denominations to the one I inhabit now) which saw (and see) the ministry of "the church" as the ministry of the whole church, not something to be left to some people who dress up a bit and titled 'ministers'.  In the Church of England we have the weight of tradition which sometimes buries us with all its expectations and perceptions filtered through generations of history.

So I am learning to say no to things which can be done by others.  I have colleagues who are actively engaging in training and resourcing various ministries and I am enjoying the thrill of seeing people set free to serve God free of the weight of history, called to serve here and now in this time and place, not trying to work with the misconceptions of a bygone age.  Long may it continue.

Friday, December 02, 2011

To blog or not to blog, that is the question, well it's A question....

Getting fed up with myself!  I like blogging, when I've got time to do it, it has proved a helpful way of getting ideas 'out there' and has been somewhat therapeutic - though sporadic blogging, I have realised, doesn't get the kind of conversation going that I have really appreciated and my fave responders all seem to have fallen off or quit commenting...

So I've been wondering whether just to leave New Kid to gently fade, or whether to delete it from the blogosphere, or whether to find an alternative way of blogging, or even whether to commit myself to a little bit of blogging most days... though such a commitment may well find itself bringing more guilt if and when I don't end up doing it.

A twitter friend of mine suggested joining a blog community - so even when not actually blogging myself I can be a part of a group that keeps up this whole thinking out loud idea and get some feedback when I do actually blog.  Then I was followed by a blog community on Twitter called '@graceground' which offered an opportunity to blog and to enjoy the company of other Christian bloggers.  So I have signed up.  Not only have I signed up but I've even managed my first blog entry - which can be found here

As for New Kid, I am still unresolved - I would hope I can keep something going here, particularly if I feel like adding a number of posts in a flurry (don't want to swamp the Graceground community with my waffle) and you never know, a part in a different kind of blog set-up may prove to be the catalyst by which I return to this blog refreshed and renewed. 

Keep walking the path, folks, enjoy the journey and be well :-)  Catch you later, perhaps...?

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Sermon - The End Is Nigh!!!!

A colleague, who is also a great friend, found herself all of a tiz over other things happening in her ministry and asked if I had a sermon for the 4th Before Advent Year A on file anywhere - well, it seems that I have never preached on this particular Sunday before, so I set about writing a sermon that may well never be preached by me!  I may use this as inspiration for the same week in three years time when the same readings come up again, but don't know if I will want to say exactly the same thing!!!  This is a taster, the whole of the sermon can be found at New Kid Deep Stuff by clicking on /more/

4 Before Advent (2011) Year A RCL Principal

The End Is Nigh!

You have to feel sorry for Harold Campion.  Perhaps you heard his name on the news back in May when on the 21st of May this chap predicted with absolute certainty that the end of the world was coming and that the world would be destroyed, the dead would rise from their graves and the faithful would be raised to heaven by way of the Rapture.  When it didn’t happen he quickly revised his calculations, said his Biblical Mathematics had been wrong and proclaimed with the same absolute certainty that the end of the world would come on the 21st of October.  Did you notice it?  Nor did I?.....  /more/

The Highs and the Lows

Today was one of those days that had a bit of the 'duty and the joy' about it...

For those who don't recognise the reference it comes from the Eucharist Prayers of the Alternative Service Book 1980 - when the priest begins the prayer at Communion with these words (traditionally called the 'Sursum Corda') the congregation's responses are in bold type:

The Lord be with you
And also with you 

Lift up your hearts
We lift them up unto the Lord

Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God 
It is right to give thanks and praise 

It is indeed right, it is our duty and our joy, at all times and in all places to give you thanks and praise.... etc

Sometimes having that role of priest and pastor to the people of God feels like a joy, other times it feels much more like a duty.  Today saw a lot of the joy - after an oversleep start to the day I made it to my 9am service with minutes to spare, and it was lovely - sparsely attended, but that happens sometimes, yet filled with a sense of expectation, of life, of fellowship and of friendship.  That hour or so we spent together was a reminder of why a Church can be such a positive part of the life of a community- a place of faith, hope and love.

Then at 11am we had a wonderful, slightly chaotic but still filled with light and life, Baptism.  We welcomed a new life into the family of God.  It was a joyful service, which started a little late due to technical issues (couldn't get the backing track for a song to work) but altogether most enjoyable.  It was a double pleasure because this little boy was the first child of a couple it had been my great and joyful privilege to marry a year ago!  It was a lovely baptism, and they were kind enough to invite me to the party that followed - which I planned to do straight after the service, but was waylaid by a very friendly and altogether top notch bunch of people when I popped into the local pub to drop off a Metallica CD on the way. 

I did, after a quick half in the pub, make my way to the Baptism party - it's one of the great joys that Clergy experience to be invited to a gathering of family and friends and to be a part of the celebrations.  I was glad that I knew a number of folk there and enjoyed the opportunity to chat to some folk and to have a very belated breakfast!

On the way back to my car, though, I found myself engaged in conversation by someone at the Church gate - we talked of their project to put together a history of the village and I was impressed by all the hard work they had done and it sounded like an exciting venture.  I then found myself chatting to someone else about what was, in all honesty, a ridiculously trivial issue over which they had got themselves into something of a state.  It wasn't a life or death matter, in fact it was as far from such as it is possible to get - however this person went on an on about their disappointment in a decision which had been made by the Church Council (PCC) about one aspect of the Church grounds and told me that they had submitted a complaint to 'the relevant authorities' and were trying to get the PCC to apply for retrospective permission to do something which didn't need retrospective permission until this person made a complaint!

I foresee this being a huge timewaster in the weeks to come, and at some expense to the Church too, thanks to one person who is unable to see past what they like and what they want!  I tried to say that the consultation we needed to do had been done within the Church, but this person who has no connection with the Church community was quite clear that they didn't need to be involved in the life of the Christian Community to have a say in what it does and that it was their right to cause as much difficulty as possible over work that had already been done and, potentially, cause great anxiety and expense in order to end up at exactly the same place as we are now - with the work done, permission which we didn't need granted, and a few extra bits of paper at great cost to the Church and the village which would show that this one person's opinion was the opinion of one person who simply wanted to make a point because things weren't as they wanted!

It is at moments like this that I do feel that ministry is a duty rather than a joy.  On the scale of things that are relevant to what is really important in the life of the Christian Church this comes as a 1 out of 10.  Unfortunately these are things which absorb time and energy when what I would rather being doing is living the good news of Christ in such a way that draws others into fullness of life.  It is the cleft stick that ministers find themselves in - being nice to all, whilst recognising that this kind of irrelevancy leeches away time and energy which should really be put into the important parts of what we do.