Aldersgate/Wesley Day 2012

As Methodists we don’t have a huge pile of important days outside of the main liturgical feasts; the really big ones like Easter and Christmas but a day that does tend to be marked in one way or another is Aldersgate day (24th May).  Here is why:

“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while the leader was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death” – From John Wesley’s Journal, 24th May, 1738

a Body of Christ comes together to give a welcoming hug*

Not actually a hug.  Physical contact with strangers who are trying to welcome me can be awkward.

This is essentially an anecdote of a few conversations I’ve had recently which I kind of liked and then probably with some reflection tagged on the end.

In the Methodist Church the majority of our acts of worship are lead by authorised (volunteer) lay people who move around the churches in their area taking services.  These people are called  Local Preachers.  They go through a training programme and then are “accredited”.  They then hold that office for life, even if they are no longer actively working.  At major milestones we recongnise the valuable work that these people do in the church with Long Service Certificates which are usually presented during a service.

2 Local Preachers in Bangor are up for Long Service Certificates and their service is on this Thursday, which is also Aldersgate Day (Aldersgate deserves a separate post. Watch this space). I was undecided whether or not to go to the service; invariably it will be a fabulous service; a good mix of recognising these individuals hardwork and also that we all have different gifts and are called to use them at different times, and it being on Aldersgate would just add something very nice to it, but I am also cooking tea for a friend so we can hang out before we leave for the Summer!  So I was in two minds whether or not to go until Sunday morning.

One of the Local Preachers is a senior academic at my uni, and a lovely woman with whom I get on very well.  Her husband often helps out with the recording of services and the audio and was down to do so for the service coming up.  They occasionally invite one of her research students along to Chapel events (she last came to our beetle drive!) and this student is coming to the service, so the husband asked if I could cover the AV stuff so he could sit with the guest, because it would be utterly unfair to just abandon her in a strange situation!

I said yes.  Of course I said yes.  This is what team work is about (and yes, in part I see Chapels functioning as teams).  By someone else taking on his responsibilities in that service it freed up the husband to get on with the vitally important role of being welcoming and hospitable to someone coming into a strange setting; what a fabulous expression of what church should (in part) be like.  We talk so much about churches needing to be welcoming, and heck they really do need to be. It is a tough thing to achieve and requires a lot of hard work and some tricky balancing acts, but I see this as a clear example of when we got it right, because he recongised what it would mean for the guest to be coming, and because the chapel worked sufficiently as a team to be able to accommodate that.

Now all we need is for something similar to happen about the catering, which is still a bit dubious!!

In other news: I am doing a guest blog for The Spectacled Bear who is just utterly fabulous, I’ll post a link to it on here when it happens, but go check out her stuff before then, it’s pretty fab!

In other other news: Even better than me guest blogging for her, she is doing me a guest blog!  That will be far better than any post I ever publish, so keep your eyes out for that one as well!

silence is broken

The long silence over here has been mainly down to a lack of things to say, and in part a lack of time even if there were things to be said.  But now, fortuitously I have both time and news!

The circuit has secured enough funding to fund a part-time lay worker for next year.  This is exciting, and if my application is successful gives me a bit of financial security for staying in Bangor next year, and also could be the resolution of the sense of call to stick around and do studenty, participatory stuff here.

More details as and when I have them!

Holy Saturday: My Favourite day in Easter

Today is Holy Saturday (reliable sources tell me.  Apparently there is a kerfuffle as to when Holy Saturday and when Easter Saturday are) the day in between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

The day after Jesus was killed, but before he was resurrected.

The day after (some) altars are stripped and before churches ring with alleluias.

I really like this in between time.  Usually I get very angry when people talk about the cross without the resurrection.  A view of God’s purposes that is so narrow it can only work by considering what happened specifically at the time of Jesus’ death is surely missing the point.  It is his incarnation. life, death and resurrection which holds the answers.  But Easter is the one time I don’t get angry about this.  At Easter I enjoy it being slow, and working it through.  I enjoy this time between the two points I usually fight to hold together.

I enjoy it from a position of hindsight.  I enjoy it from a position of certainty that the resurrection comes tomorrow, unlike the original disciples for whom the experience must have been a very different experience.

I enjoy the waiting, acknowledging the trauma of what has been left behind and waiting for the hope and new life to come, being reminded that sometimes life doesn’t have easy answers and sometimes arduous waits are necessary.

I like that we don’t rush from one to another, but allow time for reflection.  What did yesterday mean, why do I look forward to tomorrow.

I will enjoy tomorrow too, Alleluias will abound, the Risen Christ will be proclaimed, but I will be glad of today as well

Maundy Thursday Parker-style

The point of blogging feast days was to mark days which in “the real world” we commemorate.  This morning I started a post about feet-washing (a common, and I think beautiful practice on Maundy Thursday) but then I got a bit grumpy, and it would have been a bit long and I decided against it.  Instead it seems worthwhile to recount a way in which we marked Maundy Thursday in our house (i.e me, my sister, my mother and my father).

We like to sing hymns, and will miss out on the chance to sing some of the more mournful easter hymns, ones such as There is a Green Hill Far Away.  And mum thought this was a shame, so after tea, and before the holiday club meeting, we decided to have a bit of a sing.  The sister played piano, and the rest of us sang.  She sight-read the piano music very well and we enjoyed the words.  We than sang When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, which I enjoyed even more, because I was more confident of the part.

The four of us, singing together, sounding good together, retelling the story of our faith through song was a great experience and a lovely way of marking this special period in Holy Week.

Holy Week 2012: Monday

John 12:1-7  Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table.  Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the money bag he used to help himself to what was put into it.Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” [emphasis, in green, my own]

This was the reading we had at the Monday of Holy Week communion and compline in Bishopthorpe.  The Spectacled Bear has an excellent imaginative contemplation on the whole passage but it was the second half that struck me as it was being read.

Firstly this scene reminds me of a number of discussions me and my friends have.  “Why do churches need big buildings, and all that finery?  Let’s demolish all the cathedrals, sell the land and use the money to set up homeless shelters” is a good enough synopsis of them all.  My friends ask this because they have a genuine concern for the poor, and one that I share.  I genuinely think the church needs to be doing more to help those in most need.  I do, however, also think that selling our churches, or even the ornamentation, of those glorious buildings is not the answer.

For me this passage has two implications; one that serving the poor, the oppressed, the disadvantaged, the oppressed, challenging injustice, privilege and systematic abuse or neglect is vital to the Christian calling … but so is honouring God, and worship, and acts of adoration.  The first have that sentence make up part of our worship,but they are not all of it.  They should not push out other expressions of honouring God.  Some people, Quakers, puritans being the strongest examples, but most of non-conformist Christianity too have plain places of worship, in order to put emphasis on the relationship with God.  It is a way of removing distractions.  Other elements of the Christian tradition; many Anglicans, the Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, for example have very ornate building.  Here the buildings themselves express worship to God.  Mary used an expensive resource in excess to demonstrate adoration of God, so too do churches use expensive resources; stone, Gold, embroidered fabric, land they own etc to express their adoration of God.

and in the passage Jesus permits and defends Mary.  Obviously we can stretch this too far, I would struggle to assert so plainly “Jesus permits and defends glorious cathedrals”.  It is not my place to speak for him, but the message is clear.  Abundant worship is right and proper and should be celebrated, and that is what these rich buildings are.

The second thing I noticed during the service, and it was more of an aside, was that the evangelist really didn’t like Judas Iscariot!  I struggle to picture a Jesus who has such obvious concern for justice permitting him to take money himself from the (implied) communal money bag.  Yes, Jesus built a community of love and acceptance, but he also came to right injustice, abuse, and to say “sin no more”.  To me this sounds much more like one broken human (or group of humans) struggling to love another broken human who caused them so much pain, and taking that anger out in personal attacks against them when writing up an account of their time together.

For more thoughts on Monday, have a read of these thoughts on Jesus in the Temple

Application Update

I went to bed last night, having written about Palm Sunday with thoughts on a blog post about next year.  And then this morning I got a phone-call from my Minister with some big OPP news, so I shall now try and merge the two together.

The news, drum roll …

The central pot of money we’d hoped would fund the project won’t be.  They had 24 applications and enough funding for 10 projects; I really don’t envy the people making the decision, and if I am honest, think I would have decided not the fund Bangor either, given Cardiff has had a project before.  Obviously this is a blow for the wider church recognising how different North and South Walian life can be, but I do see where they are coming from.

I am not actually too disappointed, this is very much a period of exploring and figuring out.  The next step is to see if the District fancy finding some money to run the project, so the dream isn’t totally dead yet.  A bit more wait and see!

Even if District can’t find the money then I am still looking forward to next year (this is what I was thinking about last night).

I am looking forward to having my own place, to myself, where I can have my rules.  I can have a fruit bowl, my washing up might slide a bit, I can be ueber-spontaneous!

I am looking forward to still having friends; relationships which I have grown to cherish over the last year I can continue.

I am looking forward to scary grown up things like council tax, because that is all part of moving forward in life.

I am currently enjoy knocking around ideas on community, and safe space, and refuge and hospitality and things, and having accomodation which is solely my own features predominantly in this.

So even if I spend all my time working in McDonalds I am very much looking forward to the post-graduation life!

Palm Sunday 2012 – an inspired friend

One of the hard bits of training to be a Local Preacher is the sinking, swallowing all-consuming panic when on a Saturday night you still have no idea how your sermon ends.  All inspiration is lacking, you feel incapable of delivering sound exegesis let alone a prophetic word.  You just have no idea what to say.

One of the best bits of training to be a local preacher (especially a young one, with friends on the other end of MSN/facebook chat/skype etc) is that even when you feel overwhelmed and cut off you have friends out therefore you.  Twice now good friends, best friends, walking the same path as me, have lifted me out of an abyss and given me inspiration, a seed of an idea, more often than not whole paragraphs that then form my sermon.  It really is amazing to know such fabulous people and utterly wonderful to be loved by them.

Now I can add another privilege to this list.  Being there for a friend when they are struggling.  A few helpful words, a bit of encouragement, a teasing of an already existent thought; there was no need to provide extensive ideas or wording, just a simple “try this, and develop that” and whhoooosh there it was.  A genuinely good sermon, which – so I hear – was well received by the congregation.  It was nice that I could help be a part of a creative process that I sometimes struggle with.

But it was also nice that I knew what this friend was going to deliver in their act of worship this morning, and I was conscious of it during the service I was part of.  There were some great points to the sermon I heard; a good reminder of where the road to Jerusalem ultimately took Jesus, how it was an unexpected road to his followers, how he could have taken other roads; been a zealot, raised an army, come in glory not humility, but instead too the road to the cross, for such is the way of God.  There was a fantastic nugget about the Suffering Servant buried away and barely detectable, and I appreciated both of those.  Yet at the same time, my mind drifted to the sermon being preached elsewhere; a reflection on the knots that need untying, on the nots we put before Jesus (not me, not now, not this way etc etc) and on the cost of laying down our coats at the feet of the King who comes on a donkey.

I know which sermon will stick with me longer, which one I will be meditating on over this Holy Week; not the one I heard, but the one that I was allowed to be privy too by my friend. In that was inspiration and prophecy, the still small voice of God delivered by a human servant.

I would have expected that this post be about the donkey, or the palms, or the hosannas.  Maybe I should be spending more time on whether the “Hosanna” crowd were the same lot as the “crucify” crowd (personally I side with Barclay; they could well not be).  That would make sense for this important date in the liturgical calendar.  No doubt that will be the case next year.

But as I go into Holy Week my thoughts are with the colt or the cloaks but with those whom I travel through this time; those who are far from me but whom are in the same pilgrim group as me and I give thanks for the bond we have.

A Trip to Llandaff

A few weeks ago now (sorry, other things got in the way of blogging about this) I went on a day trip down to St. Michael’s Theological College run by the Anglican Chaplain here.  The idea being to give people considering ordained ministry, a flavour of what “vicar school” is like.  Given that this blog will still function to be a public forum for my thoughts as I consider vocation, and what mine might be it seems appropriate to share some key snapshots.  This won’t be an extensive narrative of the time.  If you desperately want to know about the teashop on the way down or what the lasagne was like, get in touch!

Some background
St. Michael’s College (St. Mike’s) is the Church In Wales’ training college, with Methodist Ecumenical links and a good relationship with the Baptists.  It is based in Llandaff, Cardiff.  It has a mix of residential and non-residential students who hail from a range of Christian backgrounds; welsh-language, English-language, Charismatic, Anglo-Catholic, Low Church, Reformed, not-so-reformed, Conservative, Liberal etc.  It offers training at a number of academic levels depending on an ordinand’s ability and background. So on to the realisations …

Their approach to “formation” 
We arrived for lunch (very nice) and then after that the first port of call was an introductory talk by the vice-principle (a very lovely man who was very gracious and seemed to take a genuine interest us as people).  One of the main thrusts was their view on “formation” which made a lot of sense.  Like other similar institutions there is an emphasis not on imparting knowledge, or training in skills (although both are integral) but about developing people.   Stephen Roberts gave such a better explanation of this.  You’ll have to settle with, “I was very impressed with the approach they took for their students”.

On small communities
When I was choosing where to study my undergrad degree the size of the student body was a key factor; I wanted somewhere not overwhelmingly big, but not so small that it felt invasive.  I would hold that the size of the student body will be a factor in the order that I rank my preferences for training institutions (assuming I candidate and am accepted and that the single “Hub” Methodism is planning doesn’t exist by then).  If you’d asked me the day before going down to St. Mike’s I’d have said that I accept none of our colleges are huge, but the bigger the better because I’d find a small community to claustrophobic.  The community of students at St. Mike’s felt tiny (maybe 20?) but it didn’t feel claustrophobic or invasive.  Admittedly all we got was a snap-shot but it felt far better than I was expecting.  I had an overwhelming sense that I could actually fit into a group like that.
In no small way that was because everyone I met was so lovely.  I’m sure not every community that size has that feel, and praise is owed to the students we met, but I am no revising how important I think the size is.

Worship
This was so so lovely.  Partly I was shattered after a manic week and so a time to sit down in some quiet was delightful, but also it was a wonderful service, well conducted, by the students.  One of those beautifully refreshing services where I was certain I’d met with God, not because of how I’d felt, but because of the way I left in some way different.  Also the chapel was really beautiful.  It was probably an acquired taste, but I could have spent half a day there.  I also liked the idea that the style of worship changed with the students leading to reflect the diversity of the college; what a lovely idea and what a great way to foster understanding.

The next two points are a little bit more of gut-feelings that any real response.

A Call to Ordination and Further Theological Training
Whilst it is extremely unlikely I’d ever train at St. Mike’s it felt right being there, in the sense that it felt right I get a better feel of what a training college is like.  It confirmed the sense that this would be part of my future.  That I have been called to ordained ministry and to further training.  Whilst the two come together they can also be separated, and it was in different ways that I felt called to both, but at the same time that they’d come together.  Discussions on practical things like how one would deal with certain situations confirmed a sense of calling to be a Minister and theological discussion and the talk of Masters excited me that this would come with part of that.

A Call to be Ordained a Presbyter
Within British Methodism there are two orders of Ordained Ministry; Presbyters and Deacons.  So with a sense of call to ordained ministry one must discern which form of ministry one is called to.  The students lead worship, including communion with the exception of the special bit that only ministers can do (the days of lay presidency can’t get here soon enough for my liking) and because I was so tired I even missed the subtle swap between the that bit, so it looked to me as if the students had lead communion.  This bit gets very wishy washy, but when I saw them I felt a sense of empathy and that *that* was what I was supposed to do.  So it felt like a definitive confirmation that if I am called to ordained ministry it is to presbyteral ministry; a ministry of Word and Sacrament.  This is something I’ve always felt, but could never justify, which might have proven tricky come candidating.  But now I have a small experience which might support this “assumption” although it’d be lovely if God could send some more.

All in all the trip was a really lovely one, fascinating, informative and affirming.  I am very glad I went.