So authors are gathering in Cheltenham for the Literary Festival, hoping to entice us into buying their new books. Last night I heard Vince Cable and Stanley Johnson talking about their Brexit novels, and as we left we began to wonder if there is still a place for the political novel in a social media-driven world.

Twittindexer, Facebook and other social media sites are sources of immediate news, whether personal, local, national and global. They share immediate impressions, un-nuanced emotions and initial responses. Time is needed before news can be weighed and assessed, and most of us don’t use social media in that way.

Blogs and editorials allow more scope to reflect on the bigger picture and the better question, but even they do not often have the distance in time and vision to allow for a considered view to develop. It takes time to take in a vista, to look for patterns and themes, to sort the fake news from the actions and trends which are going to affect our lives in the longer term.

In fact, I believe it takes novels to bring that task to fruition. Only when we can transport the immediate into a more creative distance, and sort many truthes into THE truth, is it possible to reflect on where we have been, and where we are going. Stories help us to grasp that there are more possibilities beyond what our eyes can see.  And in all of that, to find out where God has gone before us, and beckons us to follow.

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Peter, with his hands the size of dinner plates, hands that had pulled in the nets of fish on the Lake of Galilee; Peter who didn’t make the grade, whose education was curtailed at 12 – he flunked out of synagogue school; Peter, foolish, headstrong, stubborn, a flaky friend who Jesus called by a name into which he would have to grow.

Peter who looked up into the sky on the hill of Ascension, hoping for another glimpse, a clue as to what to do next. With heavy heart and slow mind, he turned for Jerusalem, unable to comprehend what and how the future could unfold. Who. filled with the Spirit at Pentecost, stood and preached the sermon of his life, adding 3000 to the followers of the Way of Jesus. Peter who followed the Way all the way to martyrdom, leading what was to become a movement, then a cult, and finally a religion.

I visited Rome a few years ago as vice-chair of a Church of England Commission. A red clad cardinal took us to the top of the Pontiff’s palace, and we looked down on the square and the tourists and the pigeons. A student guide took us below the huge monolith that is St Peters Basilica, to the ancient cemetery below, where the great and the good of Nero’s Rome are buried alongside Christian gladiators. In a hidden crypt below the altar of the church above, bones were found wrapped in gold and purple cloth during the hopeless, helpless atrocities of the Second World War.

The location, the manner of preservation, the carbon dating, the date of nearby catacombs, suggest these bones may have been Peter’s. In a Perspex box, made by NASA, I looked upon the hand bones of the saint who grasped for the hand of Jesus as he walked on water, as he began to sink through the waves. This man, this hand, had met Jesus, had touched him. It was surprisingly, strangely moving. I brought Peter back from Rome with me as a friend to whom I sometimes talk.

Paul, educated, passionate, young, who joined the Way after a blinding encounter with Jesus, and had to re-frame his faith over the making of tents. Paul, courageous, passionate, inarticulate, rushing around the empire getting into Boy’s Own scrapes and scraps, who spoke in letters to each little benefice of congregations, and from whom we glean universal truths.

The common thread though each story, journey, testimony is the guiding of the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit and the ability of Peter and Paul to hear, digest, learn, embody and act on the Spirit’s guidance, we might not ever be here, in this place.

Peter learnt of hospitality and inclusion from a sheet of prohibited animals in Joppa, Tel Aviv, and saw beyond that vision to God’s welcome of gentiles, heathen, outsides. He welcomed us, the unclean, to eat as the table of the Lord and king. And Paul, though intent on building up his little churches of artisans in the Middle East, was led by the Holy Spirit into Europe, to our door.

Without these fathers of our faith, we would not have heard the Gospel when we did, and as we have. Thanks be to God for them, and all the people of faith who have walked the Way before us. We take up the cross they carried further, deeper, higher into the Kingdom of God and our own calling by the Holy Spirit to live and work and act and serve in this, our generation.

At this time of year, the Diocese of Gloucester remembers Blockley Church doorOswald, Bishop of Worcester from 963. Oswald was a reformer who wanted more than anything to see monastic communities growing closer to God through prayer, study and discipline, and serving their communities. The desire of his heart is therefore similar to mine, as the current Vicar of Blockley.

He established religious communities across the south of England, and then sent monks from those communities to revive and reform other monastic foundations which had grown lax and tired. Legend has it that every morning as part of his prayers, he washed the feet of 12 poor men, and then fed them.

Oswald became Bishop of York in 972, while remaining as Bishop of Worcester. He owned the religious community in Blockley, and visited regularly, especially in the summer. We still have a large pool in one of the the local fields known as the Bishop’s Fish Pond. It is a source of great joy to me to imagine Oswald resting, reading, dreaming and praying in the church in which I now preside. We too, over 1,000 years later, seek to grow closer to God and to serve those in our community.

img_2336“If you are going to be an extra, this is the episode to be in”, mused the director. Which is why, at 10:30am on my day off, a BBC person knocked on the door of the Presbytery and told me to hurry down to costume to get ready for filming the Father Brown Christmas Special.

I’ve got short, straight hair, so it was fun watching the poor hairdresser trying to get it to curl around the edges of a little brown 1950s cap. Make-up was thankfully kept to a minimum, though the red lippy was rather nice, and then down to costumimg_2332e to find something that would fit me.

I had no idea of the level of detail of the costumes that the actors wear. On the warmest day of May I was kitted out with a genuine 1950s bra and stockings, dress and coat, gloves and scarf, pretty little brooch and shoes. Then up to my church to talk silently to another extra as the main actors of the show led Mary and donkey endlessly up and down the graveyard.

The hig15665732_10154248848030765_1643799074662557060_nh point of the day was hearing Mrs McCarthy tell the director to “Get that SA (support actor) out of my way”, when I got confused about where I was supposed to be going. My parishioners and most of the cast didn’t recognise me in this new role! And the glorious paper snow which looked real and made the whole village turn out and smile.  The low point – too much waiting around with nothing to do.  And hands sweating inside leather gloves.

Come 23 December, I was glued to the screen wondering if I had even made the final cut. Those who were VERY sharp-sighted noticed my 3 seconds of fame. After 4 hours of filming, keeping those gloves and Mrs McC’s scarf on, and stocking seams straight – all for a glimpse of my hat. The lesson – it’s much more fun being a director than being a supporting actor. Never again…

About 15 years ago, I took part in a fascinating research project at the request of Church House Publishing. With a number of people from the USA, sponsored by Church Publishing Inc, we gathered to dream about the church of the future, and to project potential for growth.

We were supposed to be concentrating on all things liturgical (to do with the worship of the church), but as a group of people who were drawn together to dream, we soon broke out of the constraints of liturgy and began to speculate on how and why the church would grow over the next twenty years.

We came up with an axis. On the vertical, we put a scale of intimacy with God. On the horizontal, we put a scale of engagement with humanity.

It is possible to be close to God but distant from humanity. A church like that would be awesome and beautiful in its worship, but its social engagement would be scant. A church could be the reverse, very socially aware but not very engaged with their relationship with God.

In the worse case, a church could be distant from God and from their neighbours. Such a church would almost certainly be in decline, spiritually and actually, closed and inhospitable. But a church that is growing is a church that is highly engaged with its community, generously open, and deeply committed to worship and discipleship.

It’s a no-brainer. A church which is open to others and open to God is more likely to thrive than a church which is closed.

20160325_104430 copyOver Easter, our resident artist lent Jesus to our church. The presence of Jesus is with us all the time, but this was what one of my congregation described as “a Debenhams dummy” dressed in jeans and boots. Through Holy Week and on into Easter, his clothing changed as he stayed with us through this most Holy Week.

The reactions to our Jesus were nearly always intense. It was clearly difficult to be ambivalent around him. Some hated his lack of facial features, or his very presence. Others found him thought-provoking, a visual symbol of the presence of Christ, accompanying us as we accompanied him through Holy Week.

Most of the time, he was in the way, standing by the altar rail, ready to trip the unaware. He was a dark shadow in the church, especially first thing in the morning.

I loved having Jesus ‘in the way’ though Holy Week. He was just where and as he should be in our lives at this most precious time when we remember Jesus’ journey to the cross. He was inconveniently present in the temple, at the table, on the journey, until he was with us in the sunshine of Easter. Love him or hate him, Jesus was present to us in more ways than one this Easter.20160325_111854 copy

Dragging my Feet

Why so quiet, Dana Delap? No blog since December? Shame on you! Well, it isn’t only post-Christmas recovery that has caused me to embrace inertia. It is also fear.

I’m going to Africa for the first time, and I’m scared. I’m scared of the poverty that I will see there; I’m scared of the history of colonialism and of slavery which will be all around me; most of all, I’m scared about how being there will affect me and challenge the comfortable world I live in. I wonder what will have to change because of what I see and hear and feel.

And I’m scared of bugs that crawl under skin and lay eggs, snakes, mosquitoes … And how to behave, and not upsetting anyone, and so on, and on… Pray for me, and I promise to blog all about it when I come back. “Do not be afraid, little flock…”

God of the Shadows

IMG_1933In 2011, a young friend of mine sat with me in Durham Cathedral. Anna Grace was about 6 or 7, and we had been walking around the city, amazed by the lights and the glitter which brought Lumière to parts of Durham normally hidden. Now we sat quietly enjoying the space of that ancient Norman building, watching giant pendulums swing light back and forward, out into the farthest corners and back again, across the marbled floor.

I asked Anna Grace what she had liked most about Lumière. “The shadows”, she replied. She found the shadowed spaces at the edges of the light creative and restful. And I had to agree – the shadows were what made the night-time illuminations beautiful.

I was reminded of Anna Grace’s wisdom at Westonbirt this weekend. The light thrown about the arboretum, lit up for Christmas, was sometimes strange, sometimes pretty. But it was in the shadows that I found creativity and there was peace. The crowds didn’t linger there, preferring to ooh and aah around the glitter and glitz. But in the shadows the beauty of the trees was thrown into relief.

This is Christmas – the spaces and the shadows, the oblique angles and people on the edges where we meet God.

IMG_1935This bowl is one of my symbols of leadership. Jackie Mahoney, who teaches me to work with clay, crafted it. Jackie makes the perfect teacher for me – she lets me try things out and make mistakes, and then when I need help she gives it. Jesus did that too – he allowed freedom so that his disciples could learn to be independent. He said to Mary, “Don’t hold onto me”.

During this bowl’s first firing it cracked. It shows a scar. Something in its being was vulnerable to the heat of the fire and it couldn’t maintain its structure. Jackie mended it with glass, in the tradition of Japanese kintsugi, embracing the flaw, the imperfection, and choosing to accept change. I am cracked, but my prayer is that Jesus mends me with glass and gold, a cracked pot through which his light can shine, and be reflected though me into the world.

What sort of a leader is Jesus? One who meets us on the journey and accepts us as we are, because he too bears scars. Jesus encourages us to live life abundantly and love one another fully. This is our faith – this is the Spirit bubbling up within every Christian. This is our journey to become more like Jesus.

When I came on interview to be vicar of Blockley and Bourton on the Hill 18 months ago, I was completely stymied by one question that a member of the panel posed. “What is your leadership style?” I simply did not know.

What the archdeacon told me that I was offered the job, I asked about that question. Should I be worried that I don’t know? He assured me that, because this was my first incumbency, it was something the diocese expected me to learn ‘on the job’ and as I went along.

So that question has been significant to me over the last year, niggling at the back of my mind off and on, occasionally coming to the fore when things are going well or badly. And now they are beginning to distil.

I know myself to be passionate and enthusiastic; I like to play; I like to find a middle way, but if I can’t carry everyone with me, I make a decision based on the opinions of those I trust. I am not afraid of conflict. I love to start projects and then hand them over to someone else. When I am leading, life is never boring, because I make things happen. And I am deeply fallible and vulnerable. I make mistakes, and I’m sorry. I am proud to be a human being made in the image of God.

One of my role models of leadership is Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy. Even though she is stuck in Oz, disorientated and alone, it isn’t long before she finds companions for the journey, friends who are in need, in this case of courage, intelligence and emotion. Dorothy can’t protect them from the dangers of the journey, but she maintains her passion, her hope, her faith that the end is attainable. (Brian McLaren, Dorothy on Leadership).

So I am not the Wizard of Oz. I am interested in sharing your company on the journey. I want to laugh and play. I want to acknowledge my weakness, my vulnerability and my joy in finding myself forgiven and transformed by Jesus. I want to be like the man who promised, “I no longer call you servants, but friends.”

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