Is Pain from God?

Sometimes when we experience pain it is in fact God nudging us to make some change in our life.

Pray As You Go 29/30 July (only there for a couple more days).

When I initially listened to this I wanted to scream no – because what I heard was that God causes pain to nudge us to make a change in our life – and although I now realise that isn’t what it says, I still think that there is a hint of it about.

For me, pain can be a sign that we are doing something which is bad for us, perhaps even something that God has warned us against, or perhaps of God using something that is happening to us to convey a message.  But as soon as there is any hint of God causing it I get worried.  I worry because if God chooses to do that then there are so many other events that God does or doesn’t choose to intervene in which are so much more important in the life of the world, and if he chooses to intervene in the minor ones, but not the major ones, what kind of a monster does that make him?

Conflict in Church

For clarity this post is not driven by events in this parish!

Within the church, large or small, from a denomination (or even between denominations) to the local parish there is often conflict.  Yet this often comes as a surprise because the image of the church can be a place that is all sweetness and light.

However, at General Synod there were threats not to attend and bad behaviour, and I have become aware of a parish where there are big differences of opinion – and that is often at the root of it; people hold beliefs strongly, and there is nothing wrong with that, but they hold them so strongly that they believe that people holding any other opinion must be wrong, and must be shown to be wrong.

Justin Welby has talked about the need for “good disagreement”, that is the ability to hold different opinions, and yet to still live in love and harmony with those holding those opposing views.

One of the reasons that there are so many protestant denominations is because each time there was a difference like this a split occurred – to the extent there is even a joke about it!

The Roman Catholics resolved this by determining that what is right would be determined by the Pope; the Church of England took a different approach.  We said that if you could, with integrity, say the prayers in the prayer book then that was enough.  The fact that you might interpret them in a different way didn’t (and doesn’t) matter.  When it comes to contentious issues the CofE takes the Gamaliel position (if it is of God it will survive, if not it won’t) and allows people to hold different beliefs and waits to see what happens.

This isn’t an easy approach, but it does mean that people can remain in the CofE holding very different beliefs.  It also means that sometimes these differences are expressed badly.

Let us all search for ways to hold “good disagreement”.

As Voltaire might have said if he had thought of it:

I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.

Collaboration

We had a great PCC last night (for any clergy reading, really!).  Everybody joined in and contributed, and solutions arose out of the meeting.

Collaborative ministry is all the rage – Archdeacons are thought to insist that it goes in every parish profile (even if that isn’t what the parish want) and much of my recent training has been around it – and I think that is absolutely right.  But… where is it in the Bible?  When Peter suggested that Jesus should not suffer there was no discussion or exploration, poor Peter got the full blast “Get behind me, Satan!“.

So where does collaborative ministry come from?

Well, of course, we are not Jesus; perhaps a better model for church leaders would be Peter himself, or Paul.  And the debate about circumcision shows an openness to debate about issues, as he does when Cornelius approaches him.

Now I will admit that I feel on thin ice with these arguments, and perhaps there are better Biblical arguments out there I haven’t thought of.

Or… perhaps it is a case of preaching the gospel afresh to this generation.  Collaboration is more and more accepted, expected even, in the world of work – insisting on Father knows best in the church might just act as a stumbling block.  And after all, the clergy don’t have a hot line to God, and indeed God can work through non Christians – so why not listen to what people are saying, and adapt it.

However, this is not new.  The Rule of Benedict says:

As often as anything important is to be done in the monastery, the prioress or abbot shall call the whole community together and explain what the business is; and after hearing the advice of the members, let them ponder it and follow what they judge the wiser course. The reason why we have said all should be called for counsel is that the Spirit often reveals what is better to the younger. The community members, for their part, are to express their opinions with all humility, and not presume to defend their own views obstinately. The decision is rather the prioress’ or the abbot’s to make, so that when the abbot or prioress of the community has determined what is more prudent, all must obey. Nevertheless, just as it is proper for disciples to obey their teacher, so it is becoming for the teacher to settle everything with foresight and fairness.

It’s a metaphor!

This Sunday the set reading is this:

He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’

He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’

‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes.’ And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’

So Jesus describes the Kingdom of Heaven in 5 different ways – can you spot the similarity between them all?

Sorry – its a trick question.  Why should there be a similarity?  When we are looking at parables we are looking at stories to spark the imagination.  Rather than narrowing God down to what all these things have in common, why not see them as descriptions of different facets of God?  Indeed – why not see how many different images of God you can get from each one?

Over 40 years ago I recall seeing James Burke on the telly asking a number of people how many uses they could think of for a brick.  The number of different answers they came up with varied enormously – one of those with a large number thought it could be something for a mouse to hide behind!

So get thinking – and don’t limit your mind – expand it.

Young Preacher of the Year competition launched

The Diocese of Guildford has launched its first ever preaching competition for young people. Open to any young preachers with a connection to the diocese, the competition aims to encourage young people to give preaching a try, and to find creative ways in which we can hear the voices of young people.

The sponsor of the project, Bishop Jo Wells, the Bishop of Dorking, said: “I am delighted to launch ‘Young Preacher of the Year’ across the Diocese. It provides an opportunity for any young person aged 14 to 18 to have a go at preaching, and for others to discover budding preachers in their midst.

“Giving young people a voice and a very public platform is vital if we are to be ‘transforming church, and transform lives’ as we proclaim in our vision. If you are aged 14 to 18 and think this might be for you, we’d love you to enter. All are welcome to enter regardless of experience or qualification.”

The prize for the competition includes both a trophy and the opportunity to preach from the highest pulpit in the area (well above sea level anyway) – the one in Guildford Cathedral.

Entrants must be in school years 10-13 in September 2017 (aged 14-18). Entry is simple – just record yourself preaching for 3-4 minutes on your mobile phone and complete the short entry form on the competition website. More information here www.youngpreacheroftheyear.co.uk

Closing date for entries is 5th November 2017.

To find out more about the Young Preacher of the Year competition, contact organiser David Welch, Diocesan Youth Adviser, by email to david.welch@cofeguildford.org.uk

Vacation leads to Vocation

I heard the title of this blog recently, but can’t remember who said it :(.  However, having just returned from two weeks holiday and had time and space to unwind I found myself thinking about my calling.  There is something about being away from the treadmill that allows us (me?) to put our heads up and look at the bigger picture. (3 stone cutters)

Last year Lesley and I cam back from holiday, having put our heads up, having bought a house!

When you go away, will you have the opportunity to lift your head and dream?

Looking forward to Priesting – My Story

Some thoughts from our curate, Hannah Moore, as she approached her priesting.

I had my call to ordained ministry twenty years ago. I had been recently married and was pursuing my teaching career. One Sunday as a knelt at the communion rail to receive communion I had a real sense of God saying, “Hannah one day you will do this.” My response was “oh okay” and then I put it to the back of my mind. I got on with starting a family, moving back to the UK from South Africa and setting up my own business.

Some fifteen years later, now with two children, I was approached by my local vicar and asked whether I had considered discerning a vocation to ordained ministry.

As he said it, I got butterflies in my tummy and felt electrified. The long forgotten memory from the altar rail came flooding back.

My circumstances twenty-three years ago were so different from today. Pursuing a calling to ordained ministry at that time would probably been easier as I only had myself and my husband to consider. I certainly would not have had to learn juggle as much as I have over the last few years – being a wife, a mother, my theological studies, closing a business, working in a church placement and starting my curacy.

However, I have to trust in God’s timing. He knew the right time for me to answer the call he had placed on my life, he understands the impact it has had on my family.
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Not long after my ordination as a deacon last year, I was assisting at a funeral. I was walking in front of the coffin, leading the family to the graveyard when I had that “aha moment”. A sense of confirmation that I am doing what God wants me to do with my life. I was so excited in that moment that I wanted to do a Charlie Chaplin leap into the air but that would have been inappropriate, so I calmly lead the procession across the road.

The past year since my ordination as a deacon in the Church of England has been a time of learning and growing. I have been able to conduct funerals, baptisms and be involved in various other ministries in the Parish.

By being ordained a priest it will also give me the opportunity to journey with couples towards their wedding day. I am looking forward to performing my first wedding in August which should be a joyful occasion for everyone involved. As I continue my curacy as a priest I am looking forward to finding opportunities to engage with my local community on Sandy Hill and explore plans for extending the community engagement in St John’s Church in Hale.

I am excited and a bit nervous as I will be able to preside at communion. During a communion service the church remembers Jesus’ actions during the Last Supper. Jesus took bread and wine and shared it with his disciples, and he encourages us to continue to do this as we remember his death on the cross and his resurrection. I am looking forward to fulfilling a priestly role at the altar table which draws people closer to God as they remember Jesus actions at the Last Supper, his death and resurrection. In performing this role I believe I am fulfilling what was said to me all those years ago – “Hannah one day you will do this.”

I wanted to finish with a short reflection I have written since my ordination it is called:

‘Just About’

I don’t know about you but I live in a world of “just about.”
I am “just about” on top of my housework.
I am “just about” at the bottom of the ironing pile.
I am “just about” doing all the mum things I need to do.
I am “just about” spending enough time with my husband to keep our relationship safe.
I “just about” manage a weekly catch up with my family.
I “just about” manage to see my pre-ordination friends.
I “just about” play golf weekly to do a bit of exercise.
I have “just about” enough time and energy I need to fulfil my role as a curate.
And then, there are those moments that are “just about” GOD.
Without these valuable “just about” moments…… all the other “just abouts” would be impossible.
Maybe you are “just about” doing what God wants you to do but maybe you are not. Maybe he is calling to something completely different – you will never know unless you push at the door.

Celebrating Priesting

At this time of year lots of people are made deacon or priested, and there is much celebration.  Our curate Hannah has just been priested, and this caused me to think about this celebration.

For me, we are not celebrating priesthood per se, instead we are celebrating the fulfilment of someones vocation; just as we would, and have done, for those fulfilling other callings.  The reason that I feel this way is because I believe in the priesthood of all believers, and that we should all be working together collaboratively on God’s mission in the world.

My first training incumbent told me that he was selected, trained, and carried out most of his ministry in an era of “Father knows best” (and it was Father in those days), and found it difficult to move to the more recent idea of collaborative ministry (although he worked hard to do so).  However, I trained in industry in Total Quality, with its emphasis on empowerment, and trained for ministry in a later time when collaborative ministry was more embedded.

So last Saturday and Sunday we celebrated, and welcomed Hannah into the next stage of her ministry.

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