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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What do we pray for?

When we pray for people who are ill or bereaved it can be tempting to pray that God will be with them.  However, as Joan Chittister points out:

The Hasidim tell the story of the preacher who preached over and over, “Put God into your life; put God into your life.” But the holy rabbi of the village said, “Our task is not to put God into our lives. God is already there. Our task is simply to realize that.”

Instead I pray that people may know the presence of God in their lives.

Safeguarding

After a long wait the Church of England has published new safeguarding procedures, and as a Diocese and Parish we are adopting them.  They are going to make our processes considerably more onerous, and I know that there are those in the Parish who don’t see why we have to follow them, but if we look at the recent history of the church nationally it is imperative that we protect children and vulnerable adults in church

If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.

Yesterday I spoke about this at one of our churches, expecting some push back, and received very little.  However, it is the church with the largest proportion of people in work, and of course safeguarding as we now know it has only been with us for fewer than 20 years, so for many in our other congregations safeguarding (and Health & Safety) has not formed a significant part of their working lives as it has for those still in work.

It will take us a while to work through all of our own procedures (what is done when and by whom) and it will no doubt impact how quickly we can do things, and some of the regular hirers of our halls.  However, the choice we have is in how we implement the new procedures – not whether we do – and that is right and proper.  There have been too many problems in the wider church to say that things were OK before, or that we can trust people.

We are still working out how this will all work, but if you have any concerns about this please do not hesitate to contact me.

Alan

How do you know your vocation?

Most of the clergy I know (and I know quite a lot [puzzle – one day I became really close friends with over 20 clergy – how?]) ran away from their call to ordination for varying lengths of time.  There were some really bizarre stories – Lesley thinks mine was one of the best – I went to a vocations event to prove I didn’t have a vocation – and look where that got me!

Joan Chittister writes:

The question, of course, is how do we recognize the Will of God? How do we tell the will of God from our own? How do we know when to resist the tide and confront the opposition and when to embrace the pain and accept the bitterness because “God wills it for us.” The answer lies in the fact that the Jesus who said “I have come not to do my own will but the will of the One who sent me” is also the Jesus who prayed in Gethsemane, “Let this chalice pass from me:” The will of God for us is what remains of a situation after we try without stint and pray without ceasing to change it.

(Answer – I was really good friends with over 20 people who became clergy on the same day!).

At our ordination, once we had arrived at the Cathedral we were told that was it – they were locking the door, and we were going to be ordained whether we liked it or not, and I know one very good priest who says they would have run away without that.

Finding our vocation (whether it is to ordination or something else) is not easy, it is not certain; we have to step out in faith and listen to the wisdom of others along the way, and then, when we own it there are times when we are still not sure; but there are other times when we are absolutely certain that we are where God wants us to be doing what God wants us to do.

Am I my brothers keeper?

This article made me wonder about the theology behind caring for others.

There is a long strand through the Bible about care for the stranger the widow and the orphan, and dealing unfairly is condemned in Amos.  It is perhaps easy to see the need for regulation to protect those who cannot protect themselves.  Who would choose to live in a fire trap, unless they either did not know, or could not afford anything else?  In either case it is an abuse of the figurative stranger, widow or orphan to let them.

However, we also have a God who gives us “free will”.  Where does this fit into the equation?  Whenever “free will” is invoked by politicians it is usually used to mean you can always earn more money to have what you want – and if you don’t earn it then it is your own fault – perhaps I caricature, but I fear not :(.  This is not the free will that God wants for us, nor is it caring for the stranger, the widow and the orphan.

Serving the Villages North of Farnham: Badshot Lea, Hale, Heath End & Weybourne