Tag Archives: spirituality

Oops to the lack of blogging

As the regular(!) reader will notice, there isn’t so much to read on my blog these days. I so rarely log in, let alone think of anything to write about but as I log in today I discover something in my ‘draft posts’ folder from March. Being so efficient, and with that as such recent news I’ll have a go at finishing that post before starting the one I’ve actually logged in to write.

So… Local Preacher Training (originally dated 9 March 2010!)

I’ve been chronicling my journey throughout my Local Preacher Training and it wouldn’t seem appropriate to let Sunday go unmarked. It was my service of recognition so I’ve officially finished (even if I do have to present my project still)! (Come September, strangely it has now been completed and was accepted – I’ll stick a note on about that too).

A group of friends gathered to share in the special evening – someone from university who has journeyed with me throughout; friends from SCM who have challenged, critiqued, encouraged and supported; local friends as well as a good collection of people from the local church, and the circuit. It was a really special occasion. The sermon was something to be beheld, by virtue of the length and the enthusiasm and exuberance of the preacher.

It was a really lovely way to celebrate the end of, at times, a gruelling course. It felt like a fair end to the journey through my time in Birmingham – I started the course within 6 months of starting my permanent job in Brum and was accredited during my period of notice as I prepared to move out of the area.

After the service, we gathered back at the Community Flat (and finished the feast we started before heading to church). A few celebratory drinks were shared before people headed homewards – all except one good friend and the Mrs. It led to the most fun conversations, and entirely unrelated to local preaching. This friend wins the award for most laid back bride to be: “Well, it took a while for me to work out why there aren’t more 11am wedding ceremonies. The other brides faff on with things like hair and make up… well, I *might* brush my hair!”

(Well, come September it’s hard to keep much more of a focus on the event than has now been reflected on. Eh, well…)

Since the service of recognition in March, a couple of noteworthy things have happened. My presentation on my project went well, even though I was 45 minutes late (horray for buses). I reflected on the things we, as preachers, can learn from artists who use words to make and form their art. Whether poets, creative writers, sculptors or painters, artists use words to form things beyond what is immediately expected. My sister’s artwork inspired me to consider this, and her work can be seen on her website. I reflected that, as wordsmiths, we should be encouraged to practise, to seek new and unexpected inspiration, to seek to improve skills and undertake training. I can’t remember what else I reflected upon, but I got some good feedback and provoked some interesting responses. The Local Preachers Meeting formed the final of my preaching duties in Brum and it seemed a nice exit. My final services were led jointly with a good friend and colleague, at work. Again, it was a nice place to share the goodbyes.

As my job changed (in July/August) I started exploring getting my local preaching fully recognised within my new home denomination. That led to a fascinating series of reading and essays but I now (still, in September) am awaiting a(nother) assessed service. Hopefully once that is done, all the assessed services will be done for the time being. So preaching is very much a ticked box for now and it’s nice to have all the written work out of the way.

So now those studies are done, what shall I do next?

Notes on my Spiritual Journey 6 – Current Job

After leaving SCM, I found myself increasingly drawn to community-focussed lay ministry. After applying to run a residential community which subsequently didn’t feel right enough (and I withdrew), I was delighted to discover a community being created on my own doorstep. Drawing from the experiences of growing the sense of community within SCM, I came to my current role and have had a very special opportunity to set up a residential Christian community. With a shared ethos, commitment to sharing in worship and a desire to serve Birmingham through volunteering, four of us now live together. In engaging with this community I continue to share in the corporate development of faith I valued from SCM and the convent. In the leadership of the group, I find myself being constantly challenged, and rewarded, in the way I am called to serve as well as manage the residents.

Some of my work time was left free to pursue projects of interest to me. This gave me the opportunity to think big and outside the box. While the initial dreams stood aside for the more functional and necessary, I found work as one of a team of volunteer chaplains to a local University. The projects which have been of particular interest in this role are in producing a prayer resource to be shared with all the churches in the city centre, regardless of doctrine or denomination. This required a partner project mapping all the relevant contacts, and in this way I have been able to get to know the central Birmingham communities in a unique and highly invaluable way. The understanding and observance of the changing life within this area affects the whole city, regardless of where each resident lives.

The nature of a community orientated project like the one I lead focuses on living out the faith we all proclaim. It balances elements of worship (as I also preach in addition to running the prayer ministry for the centre and organising community prayers), action, service and fellowship.

Note: this was written several months ago and some of the reflections have changed but I need to do a final reflection prior to my last interview as part of my training.

Bibles

Next week should, subject to results, be my final local preachers meeting on Trial. As part of it I will be completing an interview on 2 of John Wesley’s Sermons (The Almost Christian and The Use of Money) as well as doing a follow up interview about progress throughout my training and since I was interviewed last (when I prepared some reflections on the journey so far).

It also means the time has come for me to choose the Bible to request as an accreditation gift. For me this is far more exciting than having a service to mark the occasion or finishing the course etc. It’s been a while since I was given a Bible and I wouldn’t necessary want to use my Adventure Bible or my rainbow covered Good News Bible for preaching from. As such this is a nice opportunity to get something quite good and much more appropriate to a) adulthood and b) my current approach to the Bible.

What would you pick if you could ask for anything, well anything to an upper price limit? For those who have already been at this stage, what did you choose when you were given the opportunity? I quite fancied this one but can’t seem to find it close enough to the upper price limit.

Any thoughts would be appreciated.

Notes on my Spiritual Journey 4 – The Convent

My decision to leave university was both last minute and unexpected. As such, when I came to look for something to do a large aim was to find something which would give me the opportunity to reflect on my experiences and reassess my future plans. After an initial light hearted suggestion to my chaplain that I go off and become I nun, I approached an order in Birmingham to see if they’d let me live alongside them for 6 months. As it would have it, after an appropriate time of discernment for all concerned, I moved in about 6 months after leaving university.

The space provided me with great love and acceptance as well as encouragement to be myself. I truly began to understand that in serving the needs and requirements of those around me, especially those who were very humble and unassuming, I could not only find myself but also find great joy in that action. The regularity of routine, particularly meals and prayers, helped me to develop beyond my university experience and grow into an adult.

As part of my stay, I was encouraged to combine activity with action to deepen my understanding of my faith. I undertook an introductory course in Biblical Studies which helped my understanding, and my volunteering both inside and outside the community gave me many ways to see the ways in which the action was as important as the prayer and bible study.

The final part of my stay which continues to be of relevance to me is my spiritual director. During my residency, I was encouraged to find someone with whom I could share my thoughts and feelings about faith. I was perfectly matched on my first attempt to find a director, and continue to see him regularly. He has shared with me different facets of my spiritual experiences over the last 5 years. The sessions frequently provide a useful reminder of things which may have happened some time ago, or of changes I have made. My visits to see him also enable me to continue to visit the sisters and, no matter how formative each strand is, I find them permanently linked.

The sisters were truly welcoming and encouraging and it remains a great honour to have had them welcome me into their lives. They continue to be like family to me and hold a very special place in my heart.

Back in Time

The weekend was spent in a long planned and much anticipated break with some friends. We availed ourselves of a company perk of v cheap accommodation which turned out to be fantastically welcoming and well equipped but somewhat behind the times.

The weekend presented a great opportunity to catch up and enjoy company and scenery alike. We shared cheese and stories, cheese and wine, cheese and mead (yay) and cheese and cheese. Spot a theme? On Sunday we, like the good Christian children we aren’t, went to the local church service. Never have I wanted to wretch the poor limp, lifeless body of the service out of the preacher’s hands so soon into a service! Technically I don’t even think it had started!

It’s probably worth clarifying before going any further that this was a guest preacher who’d never been invited before and I strongly doubt will get a return invite.

On appearing at the pulpit she had the normal time for notices to sort her papers but she evidently didn’t as when she arose she then explained she needed to find the right pages so we’d start with ‘a half minute of silence… Amen’. I can’t honestly say it was any the more obvious she’d found them when she carried on but I guess she must have!

A time of praise would also have given her the opportunity to get sorted and for us it presented what in hindsight was the best of the time. During it, however, our concern and disapproval was clear amongst the five of us. A very formidable school marm-esque lady (of uncertain name) led the singing. At one point she informed us our singing wasn’t good enough so we’d have to do it again better. On another she apparently told off the choir and the computer in the same breathe for apparently not using the right words to a hymn (the computer had spelling errors apparently… It didn’t. It had the wrong words spelled correctly). The finest moment, however, was suggesting all cold callers should be met with bible in one hand and tea in the other to be invited in for discussion. It turned out she only meant religious door salespeople e.g. Jehovah’s Witnesses. She made it perfectly clear that she wanted them to be banned from proselytising but that opportunities for us to convert the heathens were important for us. Kinda worrying for these 5 hellbound liberals when that’s the lightness.

As we returned to the main ‘preacher’ she continued in her dithery way through a kids address which would have been effective in anyone else’s hands. Well, almost anyone. Praise lady had a go in a way which only managed to further condemn this failing activity. Afterwards the kids were removed to a safe distance for junior church. The mrs wanted to know if she could be a child on this occasion.

On their departure we were introduced to the hymn with the immortal imagery that our walk with Jesus is like walking a dog (for him or us, we wondered? I also wanted to know whether if I clicked my heels together three times Jesus and I could go home). The Mrs finally gave in at this point and cracked up in tears and laughter. We weren’t sure whether the looks from the woman in the row in front were of sympathy or solidarity, or both.

The prayers, all of them in one go, were shared in appropriate style: wittery, incoherent and unpc. They included little direction but many uncertain uses of the words please and ‘Jesus I just erm’. Highlights included ‘the dark parts of Africa’ and only prayers for the Christians. Even the lords prayer was introduced with something like ‘i wonder if we could now say the lords prayer, erm, please?’

Our one reading was shared, despite two being listed (and the second being more interesting) and the sermon began. Well, you could say it was a sermon, or you could say it was the incoherent, disorganised, inappropriate ramblings of an ill-informed, ungifted and otherwise hopeless person trapped in 1930’s levels of political correctness and who represented not only an affront to my denomination or faith but to all even nominally religious everywhere. On this occasion perhaps I should call it the ‘sermon’!

After declaring her position as one who was pleased that the church followed the lectionary because it challenged her and others to look for something from the readings rather than just decide what to say and find scripture to back it up. If she’d managed to do this we’d have all found it more palatable. She didn’t. She didn’t even seem to have a theme through what she’d said, despite having proposed one at the beginning. What we did learn from her was that she couldn’t work from the lectionary and the whole of Mark was appropriately bastardised and yet she still failed to make a credible point. The only memorable point, however, was that Jesus is a voyeur but only of Christians. Apparently he doesn’t watch other peoples lives. If that’s not an advert for defection nothing is! She also clarified that Jesus hears everything we say and sometimes we should hold onto that and be quiet. We all wanted to suggest that this was one such occasion. She didn’t, however, say anything about the reading we’d heard.

As the ‘service’ drew to an end we had to sing the wrong hymn, thus confirming we were not singing from the same hymn (book) sheet. As we joined hands with those around us for the grace out eyes were met by pleading apologetic eyes who also were uncertain about which of our many sins had led to such punishment.

As we turned to leave the sympathy continued with an invite to the next service with the very obvious subtext that it could in no way be that bad, and should we be brave enough to return on that occasion we could even get an apple for our troubles. Bribery is always the way forward. 😉 More covert apologies were offered and we made the swiftest exit we could get away with. On our return to our own space all 5 of us cracked up in equal measure of tears and laughter. Never have any of us been to a service which has led to such levels of disbelief, anger, frustration and entertainment. The people seemed lovely and welcoming but the service really was an experience to be beheld but certainly not one to ever be repeated!

(aside: is it inappropriate to tag this in the ‘worship’ category?!)

Notes on My Spiritual Journey 3 – Student Christian Stuff

The Student Christian Society was discovered at a similar time to the chaplaincy. A group of about 10 – 20 of us met weekly to drink tea and natter. Sometimes we’d do some theological discussion, and other times we’d go bowling. Once a term we’d do the evening service at the chaplaincy, and we’d go on an annual retreat. The group was made up of a quirky group of people but all of us found fellowship with one another. We had no expectations about each other’s beliefs, chosen worship styles, passions or university (for there were 4 to choose from). The group was a tight knit bunch but deeply committed to living out faith fully, and exploring together.

In my second year, things moved up a notch as I also discovered the Student Christian Movement, and in that a thriving group across the country doing what we were doing. I attended their annual conference and found myself encouraged to write prayers and interactive activities (alt worship) for the corporate worship one evening. In co-ordinating the worship from SCS I had benefited from a lot of advice from a good friend training as local preacher. On conclusion of the worship session, I felt greatly honoured and encouraged that several people from the conference asked for the resources to use within their own communities.

It was in this setting that I had found myself increasingly involved in preparing and leading worship for the student group, and within the chaplaincy. As the time came for SCS to lead their termly evening service, the group met to prepare it. As all of us had concerns and fears about ‘preaching’ or doing the ‘talky bit’ we opted for preparing a slide show enabling people to reflect personally on the word of God. As the Sunday of the service approached, I became increasingly unsettled that we had no exploration of the readings and, by about midnight the night before a feeling had boiled up inside me where I felt I had to respond to the readings by preparing and delivering a ‘talky bit’. The same friend who had assisted me with the prayers earlier, encouraged me and made time to guide me through some basics to consider as I prepared the reflection. The reflection was duly written and presented, giving more structure and definition to the service. I was encouraged to consider exploring preaching further, but on that initial occasion said I’d done more than enough of it.

I was encouraged to lead a similar section of the service on one subsequent occasion and found it rewarding.

On leaving university I continued by links with SCM nationally by getting involved in their board of trustees. This gave me unique opportunities to work alongside chaplains and to commit to this organisation which was increasingly meaning more to me. The space, at a national level through events and publications, informed me about ideas and influential thinkers I’d not had the opportunity to experience until then. In this environment I was not only challenged but equipped to respond to the questions which were emerging. It was the opportunity for me to grow faster, confidently and competently within the theological setting while being allowed to critique as many ideas as I embraced.

My time at SCS, and SCM, led to me seeking to ensure that such provision as I had benefited remained available for other students, and many of the people I met through the organisations remain good friends.

Notes on My Spiritual Journey 2 – University Church

After taking up the offer to be put in contact with the chaplain, the Free Church Chaplain got in touch with me as soon as I arrived, and we met in the first week or so of University. He was a marked difference from the ministers I had known at church for he was someone I would describe as ‘normal’ and ‘human’ rather than pious. For me it was still something of a revelation that these things could be mixed, and the requirement to be Christian was not to be completely alienated from the world. This realisation started a huge change within my understanding of what it meant to be a Christian. In the chaplaincy church, an LEP and the place I first discovered Methodism, I found a very questioning approach to faith and a commitment to do something as well as just be something.
During my time in the church, I found myself going through various personal challenges associated with leaving behind the familiar. Many university students will have had similar experiences, but the people in the church made me welcome and helped me work through my challenges. It was during this time that I felt I wanted to make the commitment of being baptised, something subsequently conducted by the chaplain. It is an experience I still remember and am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to do as an adult.

It was also during my time in this church I became more interested in leading worship. Unlike in my home church, members were encouraged to lead the intercessions and the student group was asked to lead an evening service once a quarter. In this environment I found myself reluctantly willing to engage in these acts, and subsequently became comfortable in doing them. There was great encouragement from the fellow congregation to explore these feelings further but the minister suggested that I wait. He pointed out that I had a time of uncertainty ahead, and more than enough to worry about with a degree to do, so to consider it in the future but wait until life was more stable. His advice proved to be very helpful, as it is in a time of stability that I have felt myself responding best to the call to preach and being most enriched by the experience.

Notes on My Spiritual Journey 1 – Home Church

Since the beginning of lent, I have enjoyed and valued reading Chris(toph)’s reflections on his spiritual journey.   As I recently was challenged to review mine as part of my local preacher training, I thought I’d share some of them for posterity over the next few weeks (given how frequently I blog).

Home Church

I was one of those children, like many, for whom questions were great but never easy for the suffering adult to respond to, and it is down to my ‘what’s that *for*?’ question that mum ventured into the local URC. At the time there were a group of other people around my age (preschool) and so a firm bond was established. The minister, during these formative years, was a great orator who could command his congregation, and thus was highly respected. His passion and commitment was clear and so I found myself willingly swept up in this family like environment. It also meant that after he’d moved on, and I hit my teenage years, I felt able to take the break I needed from the church.

What makes the church all the more significant is that it encouraged me to grow beyond, and subsequently leave, its walls behind. As I was preparing to head off to university, in the final year of my work placement and A Level, I got inexplicably buried in a very complex and difficult situation with a friend and her mother. The experience pushed me to the limits of my pastoral experience and willingness to offer unconditional love and support to those around me. In this feeling of being out of my depth I turned, for the first time in years, to the church which had supported me as a child. I had ample respect for the minister at the time (with whom mum had continued to worship), and especially in pastoral situations, that I turned to him for a listening ear. He provided the support I needed and encouraged me to persevere with the situation, but he also offered me an unexpectedly marvelous opportunity. He offered to pass my details to the chaplain at my university. While this rather unused resource was new to me, this offered me the hope and opportunity to find communities I could explore at university. Having worked, rather than studied, before university, I felt more like the mature students than those of similar age. His great gift enabled me to make that contact, and thus move onto the next stage of my spiritual life.

The other specific incident from this church occurred a couple of years later, and was equally as transformative but is based in a very different interpretation than the one intended. After my time at university, I found I had moved away from the teachings of the URC at home, but didn’t have the courage to look for an alternative place to worship while there. On this occasion, the visiting preacher was using an analogy of Christians being magnets, and I found this imagery very, very helpful. While he was emphasising the links and continuing path back to Christ as we all stick together, I took a rather tangential approach. If Christians are like magnets, as he says, then eventually those at the end of any one chain will be repelled by those on another. As such, I understood, it was important to find those fellow Christians with whom you can find that unity, fellowship and companionship. If that is not in the congregation you’re currently in that is not the end of the world, it is encouragement to keep looking until you find somewhere you can make your home. So I left, and went to a local Methodist church where I continue to choose to worship when at Mum’s.

Un/Gendered God

Chris recently wrote a comment about the gender of God, in his post about his parents, which led to Jack remarking that she was going to go away and think about the gender of God. 

I’m fortunate that I had good discussions about similar as part of my baptism classes a few years back.  Since then I’ve also found myself on the periphery of various discussion on gender.  It even ties in with two unrelated strands of my job(s) this year!  

In trying to formulate my thoughts, it has been something of a challenge to think of the most appropriate ways of phrasing what I think, so I hope this makes some sort of sense.

For me the balance of gender across the Trinity is important but each element has, I believe, a predominant gender.  The Spirit is most strongly associated with feminine traits (i.e. old testament Wisdom in Proverbs and the Spirit brooding like a mother at creation).  Jesus, partly through incarnational gender, is as masculine as the Spirit feminine.  The Godhead/father, therefore, is not gendered.  This, for me, is neither a statement of too much nor not enough gender, but represents a balance whereby gender is not of key significance to the being that is God.  Lots of the biblical descriptions of God offer imagery which is prominently masculine, then on other occasions feminine.  I believe that, each part of the Trinity can transcend the human associations of gender attributed to each, and that is why, for me, the presence of this perceived balance is essential to my understanding of God.  I think this language of gender sometimes is a distraction from a God for whom gender is not essential.

Is Christianity Fascist?

Professor Daphne Hampson came to talk at the first of the Lectures in Radical Christian Faith tonight as part of the series, ‘Theologies of the Excluded’.

Her focus, one of gender, was introduced from the point of view of someone who views themselves as post Christian. She has rejected the Christian faith and views it to be untrue. She does, however, retain a belief in a presence that is God (to which she rejects any form of image, especially an anthropomorphic one). She talked about the way in which the patriarchal history of the religion cannot be reconciled and thus needs to be rejected. She shared her opinion on the potential damage to both male and female children of teaching them of the intrinsic misogyny found within all the historic faiths.

The punch line to her talk was, apparently, that Christianity is fascist. At the moment she was expressing this, I’d stepped out of the room so by sheer accident I missed it. Upon my return I noticed less people than there had previously been but I was also grateful for the explanation I was given of what had happened.

During the questions she was asked to expand further on several of her points but the most anger shared was in response to the suggestion of the links between Christianity and fascism. I’m reliably informed that her deeper exploration within the questions (which I did hear) clarified what had been said before. My interpretation of which goes something like this:
Christianity has been instrumental in deciding on the identity of ‘the other’, excluding them and militantly enforcing what is deemed to be acceptable. It has embraced many of the ‘isms’ and used them widely. While the ideals of Christianity most certainly do not have the evils of the totalitarian, Nazi or other political regimes given the same title (fascist), the failings of the organised structures and practices of the church have been evil and sinister.

I found the talk to be challenging, and I look forward to hearing it back again. If this is week one, I wonder what Mukti Barton, Lisa Isherwood and Kathy Galloway will add to the mixture of theologies of the excluded. I look forward to hearing them and wonder what thoughts and explorations they will lead to.