Stained Glass

Since 1984, when I was first an undergraduate student at St John’s College in Durham, I have sat in the chapel looking at the stained glass window which depicts the crucifixion.  I guess it is Victorian, and the top panel shows Jesus on the cross, his mother Mary to one side, his friend John to the other.  Below are, among others, pictures of the women going to the tomb, the angels with the stone rolled aside, and the resurrection.

What makes the picture so fascinating to me, aside from the great depiction of women serving Jesus, is the fragmented nature of the story.  Because I like to bring order to chaos, I would start with at the beginning of the Holy Week story, and move on through the story to the end.  But this depiction is haphazard, jumbled, and not at all linear.  The stories appear out of time, almost as though the glaziers were learning their job (which of course they were, since St Mary the Less was the parish church of the Cathedral workers).

Some of me is irritated by this disorder, and some of me refreshed!  I can’t decide… There should be order, but perhaps it is simply good for me to see the story in a different way, without the interpretation that my ordered mind expects.  Like seeing a story I know too well, from a different place, and being surprised by it again.  Like being an ordinand too, looking up at the story played out, morning and evening in the chapel.

Why I won’t be going back to Greenbelt

One long summer as a student, lots of lovely holiday, and two Christian camps. I worked at both New Wine and Greenbelt (in radically different roles) and I was surprised by how different they are. I guess in comparing the two I need to add the caveat that we go to New Wine annually with wonderful friends, and it is 20 years since I went to Greenbelt. It is always easier to appreciate the merits of a system one knows and understands. None the less, I find myself quite down on Greenbelt, and this is why…

There is a strong pro-Palestinian emphasis at Greenbelt, which was not interpreted. I think it has been in the past, but this year at Greenbelt, it was not. I cannot comment on the Greenbelt leadership’s support or otherwise of Israel, but without interpretation, the publicity gave leave for anti-Israeli sentiments to flourish. I heard them vocalised often. The situation there is simply too complex to offer only one side of the war.

I missed collective prayer and worship. Sunday morning’s service felt musically pedestrian and was made ‘creative’ by an abundance of unrelated symbolism. There was little in the way of prayer ministry, and an emphasis on maintaining Greenbelt, rather than a proactive challenge to a group of rich, educated Christians to get out there and change the world.

I’ll leave the little grips (queuing, prices, consumerism, commercialism!). And I’m glad there are people who benefit from Greenbelt, and have their faith enlarged by it. But I won’t be going back.

Loving the lectionary

There are times when sad geeks like me look at the lectionary with awe and wonder. It takes a very special person to put together the right balance of readings and without repetition, hesitation or deviation. It’s a bit like being a slightly interesting combination of train spotter and signals engineer.

Last Sunday, the compilers of the Revised Common Lectionary (used by us Anglicans, but also by the Methodists and the Roman Catholics) put together the lectionary readings which fulfil a liturgist’s dreams. Isaiah 58:9-14 speaks of the importance of keeping the Sabbath day for worship; Hebrews 12:18-29 suggests that worship should be offered in reverence and awe; and Luke 13:10-17 shows how Jesus honoured the Sabbath by offering an act of worship which included a healing. Not everyone was impressed – the healing certainly disturbed the awesomeness of worship, but it did inspire the worshippers to turn to God.

Worship needs to balance awe with relevance. There is no point in creating beautiful worship if God is not allowed to meet the needs of the worshippers. There is no point in relevant worship that fails to honour God. How exciting to envision worship that encompassed both Sunday by Sunday.

This is democracy

In the 2005 election, George Galloway stood for Respect in Bow.  Allegedly, his campaign was marred by his frequent suggestion to the Muslim men of the area that they should vote for him, a man, rather than re-electing the standing Labour woman MP.  The men concurred, and George was returned, though he rarely attended the Commons, as I understand.

This year, George tried to move on to fresh pastures (Poplar and Limehouse), where he came a poor third to labour.  And the good people of Bow have returned another woman to parliament:

Rushanara Ali is the first ever Bangladeshi born MP and the first Muslim woman MP.


More questions than answers

I’m spending time at a church in the middle of the east end of London, with a heart for social inclusion and reintegration.  The congregation has grown from about 15 to 80 over 5 years.  The church is also home to an education centre for kids who might, with enough encouragement, go to university, a GP referral gym, several community groups and forums, and a cafe which attracts local families, working people on lunch break, veiled mums waiting for the education project to open, people needing a drink after a gym session, etc etc.  They are taking on a full time youth worker from June.

At the moment, the vicar knows the names of the whole congregation (what a gift, to remember names so effectively) but if the church continues to grow that will inevitably change.  Will that irreversibly change the dynamic of the church, and will that change be positive or negative?  Or should the church remain at about this size, and continue to assess and change its focus, adapting to the needs of the community around it.

There is an assumption in church leadership that bigger is better, but is that right?  In a place without congregational members who are educated and honed in leadership, would it be more appropriate to espouse the ‘small is beautiful’ model?  Answers on a postcard, please….

Living in the Grey

Passion is not something I’m short of – I’m been passionate about loads of things, usually the last one I have been talking about or putting energy into… chocolate, wine, holidays, my husband, my kids, friends, the dog, prison, General Synod, church, Jesus, work, play, stories, Godly Play… You name it, I’ve quite possibly been passionate about it. Until recently, I’ve rarely done half measures 🙂

Last week at college we were asked what we were passionate about. Obviously a God-question, requiring a God-answer rather than a relationship/culinary/work one. And I realised that a lot of the things I have been passionate about in the past have faded into the background.  I know that I may be passionate about them again, but while I’m at theological college there doesn’t seem much energy for the people that I would like to be sharing Jesus with, and haven’t recently.

I think I may be caught in an Easter Saturday experience.  The day before Easter Sunday is a grey day, a waiting day, when it seems wrong to laugh or play (the Lord is no longer with us), but it is only for a time. He will return, but at the moment I bide my time, and wait in hope and expectation for the new thing that he is doing. Roll away the stone, Lord; I look forward to the sunshine of a new dawn.

This isn’t a circle to be squared

An almost 7 year old asked me yesterday what discrimination meant. We talked about gender discrimination – nods followed. Then colour discrimination – again, nods. Then, just before we came to sexuality her parents whisked her off to shop for Polly Pockets.

A few friends around me are gay or lesbian, and I don’t envy them the awful sexuality double speak they have to do in order to survive in our Church of England. In true Anglican style, we don’t want to discriminate against people who are LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender), but we don’t want them to be sexually active, even within stable, monogamous partnerships. I welcome inclusively. The bible appears to teach many things that I would not. But I remain under authority as an ordinand and in time to come, as a paid up member of the clergy.

I fear that my nearly 7 year old friend will see discrimination still at work when she is old enough to understand sexuality. In the mean time, friends suffer exclusion and robbed of a voice. This isn’t just an intellectual argument: this is about people with whom we have relationships, friends, neighbours, colleagues. And as a church we must find ways to hear their voice, personally and institutionally.

General Synod: generosity and sacrifice

When we started this quinquenium – nearly 5 years ago, so our time is nearly up – ++Rowan asked us as a Synod to put energy into listening to one another.  In my cynicism, I thought this an impossibility.  We knew where each other stood on the two main issues (sexuality and gender) and to listen properly meant being open to change.  How could that be?

But at this group of sessions it happened.  The debate on ACNA should have been a conservative/liberal point scoring.  ACNA broke away from TEC, and someone on Synod wanted us to be in communion with them (whatever that means).  But the debate was marked by its honest listening.  A gracious debate and generous motion was finally passed, and we glowed warmly.

Then it happened again the next day.  In law civil partners do not receive the same backdated pension rights as married surviving partners of a priest, although government and several larger companies have shown compassion and give back dated pensions.  Synod was being asked to show the same generosity.  And they did.  Despite cynical laughter at the beginning of the debate when someone said this was not a debate on the morality of gay marriage, Synod started to listen, and then voted to be generous.

People on Synod made sacrifices this week in not give way to the forces that bind us into our theological cliques.  It bodes well for the summer when we look at women bishops.  So exciting to see how the quality of relationships with one another we have made over the last 5 years can transform how we listen.


Apologies to anyone out there who actually reads my musings, but today I am even more introspective than usual. A few weeks ago I did another Myers Briggs personality type day, and as usual my personality type came out as a predictable Extrovert, iNtuative, Thinking and Judging.  As an ENTJ I struggle to understand and “feel” my emotions. Except of course when they overwhelm me, and those of you who are in the vicinity.

Over the last few weeks I’ve tried to recognise and own the emotions that I’ve experienced. I didn’t know, for example, that there were so many colours to my anger; that I could be content but not happy; and that anxiety can lead to a form of pride.

I have usually dismissed my emotions as an inconvenience which distract me from the Vulcan way that I would like to live. However, I must acknowledge that by recognising and accepting the myriad emotions I experience in my shadow side, I am a more rounded human being.  Possibly I may even find that I am closer to the integrated heart/head/spirit/body that I believe God calls me to be!

Reflections after the ark

The door was definitely stuck. It took an act of God to push open the water-soaked gopher wood, and let the light of a new day into the darkness. As the people and animals streamed out like new-born, the bright and silvery newness of re-creation must have been overwhelming.

From the old world Noah has brought with him a zoo and a farm, not a lot of food but a lot of fertiliser, a family.  There may have been more of some animals leaving the ark than originally entered (though extras must have made healthy eating for the carnivores); there may have been an extra human or two, or certainly a bump (what else was there to do in the darkness and fear of the storm?).

Noah has also brought a new understanding of God’s faithfulness, a rewarded patience and a heavy heart. The world is new, but the remains of the old taint the landscape; the loneliness of abandoned corrals and caves, the emptiness of a landscape devoid of living things, but full of bones; Noah charged with breathing new life on behalf of God.

The echoes of creation and new creation, Ezekiel, Jonah and Jesus are loud – this is not necessarily a story for a child.