Sunday, 31 May 2015

Sandcastles of Mission

"Let us build a castle at the edge of the sea,
the tide is going out, 
it SHOULD be a doddle...
what can go wrong with such an excellent scheme?"

I stood in the sea, scooping up spadefuls of coarse sand.
The KHT sat on the beach, 
shovelling steadily

Waves came
and in a moment 
everything we had accomplished was gone.
Wiped off the map.
It was as if we had never bothered.
To add insult to injury
the cold sea threatened to soak my rolled up trousers!

I retreated from the water
and began again.

Time after time a wave would come
and wash away our efforts.
We kept going.
persistantly shovelling.
Slowly a mound of shingly sand appeared, 
that the retreating tide did not wash away.

As I sat on the beach,
and looked at the myriad of small particles.
I looked at out our 'castle'.
I was reminded of the work that we do,
the projects we undertake as churches.
The meetings we have,
the plans we make,
the events we hold.
We pray,
discern God's will
and commit ourselves to the task,
but we often do not get the response we hoped for.
Sometimes we wonder why we bother.
Wouldn't it be simpler just to give up on mission and concentrate on the folks who are interested,
and make the churches safer, cosier places?
Churches should be safe, cosy, welcoming places for all,
not just the faithful.
We are not called to form a social club,
we are called to keep on working,
reaching out to those beyond the church walls,
even if it feels as if our efforts are worthless.
Our task is to keep on with the tasks we are called to do.
It is not our job to measure success,
for often we will influence others
and we may not hear about the effect we have,
until years later, if ever.
Keep on serving faithfully,
keep working diligently,
before the tide turns,
and the sea comes rushing back...

Monday, 25 May 2015

Taking Risks

As we travel
we glimpse different communities.
We consider
"How wonderful it must be to live here..."
but we look through the romantic tinted sunglasses of a summer tourist.
We gain no real picture of the needs and concerns of the community,
instead we see the brave face they paint for the world to see,
the flags above the shops,
the tourist attractions,
planted flower beds
and interesting shop displays.

Sometimes as we travel we get a glimpse of of something that catches our interest.
Like a spire.
We follow,
but what we discover is just a burnt out shell,
a damaged remnant of its former glory,
yet possessing a peace and tranquility that even violence and aggression cannot destroy.
I grieve for the community that was deprived of this place of worship,
yet I give thanks that this sanctuary survived such a shocking attack.
I remembered that there had been a fire, but I did not realise that the church was not rebuilt.
Slowly nature is reclaiming this building,
and in the process there is beauty.

Next Sunday is the patronal festival and they will have a service and picnic within the ruins, weather permitting.

They could have cordoned off the church. Instead you are welcome to wander around the ruins of the building, and imagine how it used to be.

Within the porch, one plaque tells of the fate that befell this church
while another declares "You are welcome in the church but at your own risk"

As I pondered on this I reflected
Should we expect to enter a church,
and leave unchanged?
Shouldn't going to church always be a risky business?

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Unseen Ministry

Insignificant, but moulded in such a way,
to maintain unity.

Small and frankly unremarkable.
There are a multitude of them.
All appear to be identical
and indistinguishable from each other.

Their financial value is infinitesimal,
yet the value of what they hold together,
can be quite significant,
but this satisfaction cannot be guaranteed!

They remain meekly and obediently in rows,
awaiting the call.

If successful in their mission they will be responsible for holding a group together
for as long as required.
No fixed term of office,
contract of employment,
or even renumeration.
They are basically slaves to their master.
Unthanked and unappreciated.

Duty done,
they will be disposed of
without any consideration for their thoughts or feelings.

In order to be used, they must be put under pressure,
and shaped.

Some will not survive this process,
for if they do not get moulded in the 'right ' way,
their life will be cut short,
and they will be ruthlessly disposed of.
Second chances do not happen.

If they fail to perform, they will be replaced
without a second thought.

If they survive,
they can go on to lead a long and distinguished career,
sometimes spanning decades.

However, no-one will notice them,
unless they fail.

The most unjust part
is that the failure will often not be their fault.
It will either be down to the process itself,
or how efficiently it has been executed.

Unfortunately these friends can be sure,
that the only time they will be noticed,
is when things go wrong,
and this is especially harsh,
as it will rarely be their fault.

Yes, it is a thankless task being a staple.

Friday, 15 May 2015


After months of sorting, sifting and 'magnolia'ing, the house is finally on the market!

It has been an interesting journey so far.  There have been times when I have found myself really enjoying the process, but for the most time it has just been a case of putting  my head down, gritting my teeth and getting on with it.  For months it has felt as if my life has been on hold.   Looking at my house devoid of clutter, and looking really empty, I remember how much I loved the house when we first saw it, and it came as a surprise to me to discover that I still love it.

A detached outside would say, "If you love the house so much, why move?"
This is a question that I have asked myself, and although my heart is heavy at the thought of leaving my home, my head knows that this is the right time to move.

Our house was completed in 1920.  The previous owner informed us that work was begun in 1910, but due to World War 1 , it was not completed until 10 years later.  I have no way of verifying this story.  Maybe it was passed down from owner to owner, or just dreamt up to make the house sound more interesting...who knows!  We have been fortunate to have been custodians of this building, caretakers/tenants for a chapter of its life.  In time we will be just names on the title deed. No-one will remember us.  In a few years it will be as if we never lived here.

After months of frantic activity, I feel a mixture of relief that it is finally on the market, hope - that someone will want to buy it, regret that this chapter is drawing to a close and anticipation for what will happen next.

To be continued...

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Not so secret Ballot

I voted in my first General Election a few months after my 18th birthday.
A friend of mine who missed the cut off by about a year, took the whole event very seriously.
  He purchased, devoured and analysed the manifestos of the three major players and informed anyone who would listen on the policies and promises of each party.  He wan't going to let a small matter of not having a vote stop him from influencing the election.  He was probably the most well informed person in the country who didn't qualify for a vote, whereas I, who was nowhere near as knowledgeable, did.

Voting for the first time was a complete unknown.  I still remember feeling very self conscious as I walked down the road, and up the hill to the mysteries of the polling station. I could imagine all the net curtains twitching in a Mexican wave of whiter than white window dressings, as I walked that lonely walk and I imagined what they would say as they noticed me slink past.
"There's been a steady procession of folks going to vote.  I just saw Jean's daughter walking down the road."
"Don't tell me she's old enough to vote.  She's only a kid! What does she know about politics!"
"The nations future will be decided by those who are too young to know anything!  It was 21, when I was young. Why did they bother to change it?"

I wasn't totally uninformed about politics. I grew up in a household where topical issues were discussed around the meal table. Political discontent and action had formed the backdrop to my childhood. These years were punctuated by low points such as the winter of discontent, the three day week, miners strikes, postal strikes, refuse collection strikes, and of course the frequent troubles at the nearby car plant at Longbridge.  It always seemed that the motivation for strikes was looking after your rights and holding your employers to random to meet escalating wage demands. Very little consideration appeared to be given as to how the action would affect others.  I remember my Gran being very upset that she hadn't been able to send a wreath, to her brother-in-law's funeral, because by the time she knew he had died, the funeral was long over.

I knew the importance of voting. My Grandmother remembered the vote being given to women.  Quite early on in my voting days, a local man renown for his ability to play ' Beautiful Dreamer' on the saw, failed to get elected by just a few votes.  My Dad pointed out that had I and just a handful more voted for him, then this guy would have gained a seat and been a very good representative.  I remember the realisation that my vote really could make a difference, but only if I used it.  An election that I had considered unimportant, suddenly was not. Since then I have endeavoured to vote at each election.

In a few years my daughter will have a vote, and needs to understand what is required. So that the polling stations is not a complete mystery to her, I have always taken her with me when casting my vote.  She usually manages to brighten the day of the incarcerated staff in some way, and this year was no exception.  After I was handed my voting slip, she followed me across to the polling booth and observed me making my choice
'You have to put a cross by the party you are voting for." I explained quietly
In her crystal clear voice she then proceeded to announce to the room
"...and you have voted Labour."
She pondered.  "What if you had voted UKIP?"
This drew a loud snort of amused laughter from at least one person in the queue, who could not help but hear this conversation. We left the voters and officials to the task of voting.

As I wandered home, I noticed the fresh new leaves.  I so want this election too bring hope to this nation, to safeguard the NHS, to stop removing benefits from the vulnerable, and to make food banks redundant and I hoped that others would also cast their votes for candidates committed to bringing about this change.
Sadly the Exit Polls make this look very unlikely.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

And back to the beginning...

During term time, Wednesday often begins with a Facebook status hinting today's Open the Book story.  Sometimes my friends  can correctly identify it within seconds, on other occasions I am just too obscure and further clues are required.  Last week we completed the 3 year cycle of material, so today we started again, with Bob Hartman's wonderful account of creation.  As Year 4 were otherwise engaged, we managed to amass sufficient artificial flowers, masks, shapes and toys to give the remaining 150 or so  children a prop each, enabling them all to play a part in the story.

January 2012 was where it all began. Now, however, there are only 2 of us left from the original cast. During the 3 and a half years we have had some wonderful people join us, for different reasons and seasons, and then as work commitments or health has changed, they have moved on.  There was a point 15 months in where we did not know if we were going to be able to carry on, but an influx of fresh faces regenerated the group, enabling us to continue to go into school each week, with our weird and wacky selection of props.  One of the teachers looked at the vast array of artefacts we had assembled today, which in fairness was more than usual, and asked...
"Where do you keep them all? Do you have a huge store somewhere?"
"The large props are kept in a central store, the rest is improvised from what we have at home."

Last week we were given an award by the children in recognition of our work, which was a great honour.  They had no idea that it was the last week of Year 3 - a God-incidence I reckon ;)  It has taken us more than 3 years to complete the cycle, because we sometimes miss a week or so towards the end of term - depending on the school diary - sports day,  school plays, and as we are in a Catholic school, we usually miss one week for Ash Wednesday Mass.

During the three years there have been stories that are well known, but also lesser known passages that have challenged us.  While we had no problem with Jesus turning water into wine, we found ourselves questioning "Did the sun really go backwards when King Hezekiah was ill?"
We have learned a lot about how to deliver - adding the 'Miranda' technique of talking to the audience was very helpful to us, and hopefully to the children and staff too!  We have laughed a lot, sang, danced, improvised, learned action songs, built relationships with the children and staf, stepped outside our comfort zones week after week - and loved every minute of it!  Today, as I watched a reception child absentmindedly nibbling the fins of his paper fish, I thought this is what it is all about - feeding on the Word of God, passing on the Good News to the next generation.  Long may it continue!

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Manifest in Mash

On Sunday morning we were looking at Christian Aid week, the fruit of the spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23

Those who follow my posts here or elsewhere on social media cannot fail to notice that I am a reluctant cook. Some people really enjoy, spending hours creating delightful dishes that get demolished in minutes and then spend ages clearing away of the carnage afterwards.  My view - what a waste of time!

Since my husband has retired, we have slowly made the transition from me doing 100% of the cooking, to him taking on about 40%. In fairness he also makes the bread.  During the last week the bulk of the cooking has once more fallen to me, as somehow my husband has managed to be in the middle of some urgent maintenance when it was time to cook our main meal. He thinks I don't notice... So I ended up cooking. Again.  In fairness to him, he did put the meat in the slow cooker this morning.  Reluctantly, but knowing it was the right thing to do, I started cooking, while to be honest, feeling rather irritated....
"Here I am again, Lord. cooking! Again!  Why does it always end up this way?  Cooking is so trivial, why do we bother?....I mean did Jesus ever cook?  He may have been involved in miracles concerning food, but usually others did the work.  The nearest thing I normally experience with a miracle is if the end result is vaguely edible...."

You will see from the picture that this was not the most exciting meal - and of you are snobby about food then this is not the place for you.  The meal consisted of what was in the fridge. If, upon reading this, you feel an overwhelming desire to criticise the presentation, or the selection of beef in red wine with cheesy mash and veg, then you have missed the point.  This is not about our menu, rather this is about  what I realised about myself from my cheesy mash.  Dear reader I have a confession to make. Recently mashed potato has been the innocent victim of my human weakness - mash too soon and you get lumps no self respecting potato masher can rectify. Mash too late and your mash becomes mush!  I have been guilty of both of these crimes. Today I thought I am NOT going to be impatient, or careless.  I will not rush, or get distracted, and I didn't.  The result was the best mash I have cooked in ages!  My patience was rewarded.  So I come back to the fruit of the spirit and to patience, and the realisation that the Holy Spirit is at work in the small and insignificant things that I did not value.  If your cooking is always wonderful, great - but don't feel superior. This is never about point scoring, it is about our eyes being opened, and our hearts being transformed - seeing the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, noticing, and feeling the quiet joy and peace when when do.  I wonder what fruit of the spirit I will observe in myself next, and how many years it will take for me to notice!

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Come Dine With Me...

Saturday lunchtime proved to be a bit embarrassing...
Nothing new there you are probably thinking!
As you may have gathered life is a bit chaotic at the moment and somehow we managed to mislay half a loaf of bread....
The exact same half a loaf of bread that we planned to eat!

We ended up having to do an emergency trip to the supermarket just so that we could have sandwiches.

We had nearly finished our repast,
when we noticed that we had a visitor,
who had just dropped in
and was casually tucking in.
Didn't stop to enquire about the dress code
Just snuck in
in a....

Our surprise diner glared at us,
from their chosen vantage point,
as if daring us to disrupt the banquet -
well you wouldn't would you,
it would be rather churlish to interrogate over a meal.
We discretely agreed to wait until afterwards...

No-one remembered issuing an invitation.
Fortunately, our guest didn't appear to notice any reticence on our part.
Mind you they weren't the liveliest of conversationists!
There may have been a few "tut tut's" under the breath, but that was all..
However, what our visitor lacked in conversation, was more than compensated by the acrobatics our visitor indulged in WHILE EATING!
I do hope the KHT doesn't get any ideas!

However we didn't get the chance to discover more about our connoisseur.
After dining, a there was a brief interval, presumably to aid digestion
while our guest sat surveying the scene,
as if trying to imprint every detail to memory,
Then, without a bye or leave, but with  a few swishes of a fine, if somewhat twitchy, tail
our guest disappeared.

Shortly afterwards we discovered the bread, so now we have 2 half loaves...but we do not hold our visitor responsible, it was all down to human error...