Advent

I’m not sure how one should greet another in Advent.  I can’t say ‘Happy Advent’ when I am simultaneously hoping for the immediate return of Jesus.  I mean, that event will not necessarily be happy, certainly not for goats.  ‘Blessing at Advent’ sounds naff and pretentious – I know I often do, but I do try not to…  So, some sort of greeting, of a pleasant and benign sort, be with you and yours for the purple season!

Almighty God,
give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
and to put on the armour of light,
now in the time of this mortal life,
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
that on the last day,
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

I’ve been impressed this week by the liturgical dexterity of the Dean and my prison boss Fran, who both managed to say the Advent collect with grace and aplomb, and as though they understood every word.  Some liturgy is very difficult, and this is a piece of Cranmer’s finest.  Very magnificent, and very theologically and grammatically complex.  Not like the collect for Holy Innocents though, which is just crass and theologically up the creek (without a paddle, or any other form of implement to save it…).  I don’t know about you, but my life is far from innocent.

Heavenly Father,
whose children suffered at the hands of Herod,
though they had done no wrong:
by the suffering of your Son
and by the innocence of our lives
frustrate all evil designs
and establish your reign of justice and peace;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

No-one understands…

There is an unhealthy arrogance to the statement ‘no-one understands what I’m going through’!  Rarely can it truly be said.  And yet, there are occasions when it is true.  And perhaps it is true of a Chorister.  Miles began boarding when he was 7, and at 12 is now in his final year.  His day starts at 7am with music practice, because he can’t fit it in later.  He (and up to 20 other boys, some as young as 6) go to song school in the Cathedral from 8-9am.  Then they start school.

Usually they have the same commitments to extra curricular activities as other kids in the lunch hour, and the same homework.  Except on Friday when they have to go to song school in the lunch hour.  They finish school at 4pm and go straight over to the Cathedral for song school and Evensong, 3 days a week.  Many have extra commitments after school on the two week days they have off, including music theory and confirmation classes.  Tea is at 6.30 followed by prep, music practice for second instruments, and showers.

Are you feeling tired yet?  I haven’t even begun to describe the weekends – song school, at least 4 services, and the deep need for some fun, and some recuperation.  So why does no-one understand?  Because no-one lives in their shoes.  Who follows them from the boarding house to the Cathedral?  Who follows them from the Cathedral straight into school?  Every community they are part of, school, boarding house and Cathedral, cares deeply for their welfare, and does a great job protecting their time from unfair demands.  But no-one actually follows them from one place to another, putting energy and commitment into learning new music, leading worship, doing school work, and growing up.

No-one understands, because I don’t think many grown ups could stand the pace.  It is simply too demanding. No wonder the Choristers stick together and have such loyalty to one another.  They do something amazing, and probably will never do anything like it again.  Teachers, Cathedral clergy and musicians, house-carers in the boarding house, even parents, don’t understand.  But we do stand in awe and admiration for what the Choristers do.

Choristers - Christmas Day 2007
Choristers - Christmas Day 2007

Rest and be Thankful

The vocational journey of Dana Delap has been a saga of epic proportions, spanning decades (really, honestly!).  Now the end inches into sight, at least in epic terms, and I’m struck by the number of clergy who are keen to put me off.  I spoke to one of the collared ones this week – I had left an answer phone message for her on Monday.  She was getting back to me on Friday.  This was, she said, the first time she had had a moment to ring in a frantic week.  Did I really want to take on this job?

My first answer to that is ‘no’.  All of us have the occasional work crisis, when there is no choice but to pull a late, if not all, night shift.  But the implication from many clergy is that this is something they live every week.  Is that commendable?  I would say that it is a very poor example to those around them, who have to manage their time better or collapse.  Sadly many clergy do!

My other immediate thought – if Adrian were asked by a would-be fundraiser whether fund-raising is a good job, Adrian would beam, jump up and down, and cry, ‘Yes!’.  He loves what he does and loves others to discover what a fantastic job it can be.  I know because I’ve seen him in full ‘jumping up and down’ enthusiasm.  Ask a priest, and they will ask if you really, really want to be ordained, because you’d be mad to want to… Obviously, not all clergy, but enough to make me very sad.

Call me naive and unrealistic, but I have always found serving God and God’s people to be the best job in the world.  And taking enough time off to remember that is obviously something only lay chaplains are allowed to do!

By the way, we spent the second night of our honeymoon near the ‘Rest and be Thankful’ pass in a cold, isolated and miserable inn.  We moved the next night to something much more luxurious.  Remember to choose carefully where you rest and are thankful!

Maths for Dunces

I’ve always been hopeless at maths.  I don’t know why – I think it is because my brain is wired that way.  Maths just doesn’t make sense to me.  When I passed my O level (yes, I really did), my teacher came to find me and tell me what a surprise this was to her (me too) and how it was not my hard work but a fluke.  Rude but accurate I’m afraid.

However, even the most incompetent sometimes have to rise to the challenge, and mine came in September, when I ran an event in Durham Cathedral.  What with speakers coming from the south coast, advertising, caterers and sound systems, there was quite a bit of money to find.  And the punters were charged a pittance for attending.  The organising agency is a charity which runs on a near zero account, so almost no float, and no cushion of its own if it all went horribly wrong.

Of course it didn’t go wrong – quite the reverse; it was very good.  However, even at £15 clergy and others complained about the charge.  I know my maths is bad, but even I can see that if there are out-goings, there need to be in-comings.  Three walked out (after coffee and biscuits) saying that this should be put on for free.  Bizarre!

You will be glad to know that we have covered our costs.  Even I can manage that much maths.  But there are obviously some whose maths is worse that mine, and haven’t figured out that if you put nothing in, nothing comes out.

Healing, Chickens and New Wine

My youngest son offered to pray for my oldest son in the swimming pool today – he prayed that he would no longer be a chicken but would become a boy!  Yup.  Very, very surreal.  However, he has grasped the nature of healing as something that God has fun with, that it can be blessed and therefore encouraged by us, and that it effects change.

There were some fantastic healings at New Wine this year (ask my daughter about it!).  I have no idea why some people are healed and and others are not, even after specific words of knowledge.  But I do know that God is active and works miracles in people’s lives.  Healing doesn’t seem to be related to faith, prayer of determination – God’s Spirit blows where it will…  We are called to bless what we see.

When I asked a woman detoxing at work if she would like me to pray she got down on her knees before her mouth even began to say yes.  I would love to say that she was healed, but she got up again still desperate for sugar and shaking with withdrawl.  It doesn’t stop either her or me praying though.

Jack Wills

Those of you without teenage daughters may not have come across Jack Wills.  With superb marketing, it sells casual clothing at non-casual prices to those who want to look cool.  Even the knickers are cool, and cost £16 this season.  I say no more.

After some considerable persuasion, and exemplary exam results, I bought my very own teenager a grey hoodie.  She promptly asked if she could take it on the school outward bound weekend.  A very expensive, very cool, and very casual hoodie in lakeland mud!  But it came home without a mark on it.  Very impressive.  So when she asked if it could come to New Wine, of course I said yes…

All went well until a child staying with us came off his bike, swallowed by the mud monster of Shepton Mallet.  My teenager was first on scene, knelt in the mud and prayed for him.  She then helped him up, and got him to the medical centre, all the time supporting him, while offering prayer and encouragement, wiping away the mud.  Well done BK.  EXCEPT, she was wering the Jack Wills hoodie.

Enter the mother with the dilemma.  “Good job with hurt child; how could you wear that very, very expensive hoodie; but good job; but how am I every going to clean it; but you did just the right thing; but I’ll never get it dry…”  Five days later it was still dripping, since at New Wine this year nothing dried.  And I had just about come down from the tent roof.

The experience of loosing my cool at New Wine is always salutary, since every tent on site can hear the row.  How some of those other parents of a teenager must have laughed.  Still, bouncing off tent walls is quite a soft experience compared to brick.  And the hoodie looks ok – just appropriately aged.

Unbelievably – statistics!

What do you do when you get bored?  I day dream, or fiddle with something.  If I’ve got a pen, I doodle.  One of the best meeting I ever went to happened over 3 days in Belfast, and the American animator provided clever magnet plastic shape things, which stuck together in fantastical and absurd patterns.  I concentrate better and work harder if I’ve got something to fiddle with!  Having only just passed my maths O level, I’ve never been drawn to a mathematical doodle, but Adrian does.

While he is listening to the sermon (yes, even mine!) Adrian creates statistics about our church.  Apparently, a few weeks ago, 18% of the congregation in the nave were men, average age 48, and 82% were women, average age 62.  In the sanctuary 41% of the leadership (including choir) were men, averaging 61, and 59% women, average age 69.  Therefore, apparently, the average age of the congregation was 63.  Not sure what all that means, except I was in Junior Church.  I guess I could have radically altered the statistical shape of the church, if I had been there!

Heaven fore-fend that I should suggest that church is ever boring, especially when I have a vested interest in the splendour of Church of England liturgy.  But I am allowing myself to acknowledge that there can be meeting-boredom, even when I am chairing.  So I have a very useful tool in my dairy that I bring out at ‘those’ moments.  It gets me through…

THINK EVIL THOUGHTS!

Getting out of bed

Just back from a wonderful week at New Wine in muddy Somerset!  It rained every day, but at least our tent didn’t flood.  We went as Grange Park church – the irony being that there were no members of Grange Park church in attendance this year…

One of the questions I was asked in a seminar was what gets me out of bed in the morning.  I struggled to answer that for a while, torn between the alarm clock and breakfast!  But actually the answer is from John 5.  Jesus said he did what he saw the Father doing – I get out of bed to watch what God is doing.  I hate missing out on a party or an adventure, so I get out of bed to watch and see what God is doing in/to/around the people I will meet today!

In the prison, watching what God is doing is the best bit of the day.  On Monday I knew I needed to talk to a member of staff – she looked most emused when I told her I had been praying for her, and was anything wrong.  But it turned out that her husband was about to have an operation and she was concerned that they would find he had cancer. 

I don’t know why Jesus tells us to talk to some people and not others, but I know that if I don’t follow His lead, and bless what he is doing, I miss out on the heavenly party somewhere in heaven.  That’s probably worth getting out of bed for.

Snobs

The church is full of snobs.  I don’t know why or even how we encourage it, but we clearly do.  The worst of the snobbishness presents itself in hymn choices.  In the place I work as a chaplain, I am always being asked for ‘All things bright and beautiful’, Morning has broken’, ‘Shine Jesus Shine’, ‘He’s got the whole world in his hands’.  I can’t say I enjoy any of these very much, certainly not week after week.  But music has such an important place in worship that I believe it is vital that we include music that people know, and warm to, whether thay come to church regularly or not.

This morning in church I was asked what we should sing – there had been a bit of a breakdown in communication and no-one chose the hymns until 5 minutes before the service.  Luckily, we had a musically literate vicar who covered on the organ!  When I was asked what we might sing (as Junior Church leader today) I suggested ‘All things Bright and Beautiful’, only to be asked if I was serious. One of the clergy told me how much they hated it.

The fact that the children know it, it links with their school worship, it is often known by strangers in our midst, and it makes ecological sense was irrelevant to musical snobbery. Very frustrating! The same snobbery prevails in prison, diocesan services, everywhere I seem to go. No wonder our church is so often empty of strangers in our midst.

Must stop being so cynical…  It’s summer holidays – perhaps that’s why no children other than mine were in church.  And we did sing ‘All things’; Hugh said, ‘We sing this at school’…

Irrelevance

The Times suggested this week that bishops “represent a pre-modern for of Christianity, rooted in nostalgia for a powerful, authoritarian Church” (Theo Hobson).  They have doubled in number over the last 100 years, while Church attendance has shrunk by 50%.  For any Episcopalian, they are a sign and symbol of unity.  I wish!

Three weeks on, and I’m still angry about the aftermath of the debate on women bishops at General Synod.  As I see it, the House of Bishops brought a motion to Synod that they had voted for by a majority of more than 2/3s.  I have always understood that when something is debated and voted upon in committee, it is a matter of honour that those present keep some integrity about supporting the decision made in that meeting.

Not so for the bishops.  They seemed to be having a dog fight on the floor of Synod during the debate, quite unable to support each other (or trust one another).  And when Synod voted for the motion supported by the majority of the House of Bishops, one bishop told us we should be ashamed of ourselves, and another told us that he thought Synodical government was inappropriate for the church, and we should be led by the Bishops!

This week they meet at Lambeth, and most people, church going or not consider that to be irrelevant. What a mess; no visible unity (though there may be behind closed doors).  And while the Church eats with the Queen, avoiding at all cost talking about sex and gender (though the press still thinks that’s all we, the Church, talk about), millions around the world are suffering.  Relevance?