Category Archives: Faith

Guest post: Thank God for my trans Friends

Recently Mark Russ, a Quaker theologian who is also a tutor at Woodbrooke, Europe’s only Quaker study centre, posted his thoughts on transgenderism on his blog Jolly Quaker. Transgender people continue to be among the most vulnerable and marginalised in society and many of us in the church, even in an inclusive parish such as Badshot Lea and Hale, have not had the opportunity to consider how being transgender might fit with theology. Obviously, Mark writes from the perspective of being a ‘Quaker-shaped Christian’ as he describes himself, but his thoughts are relevant far beyond the Quakers. Here then, with Mark’s permission, is his post.

Within the British Quaker community, a painful conversation/debate/conflict (depending on your viewpoint) centred on the inclusion of trans and non-binary people is increasingly rising to the surface. As I see it, a big part of the disagreement is where we start from. I have recently heard some Quakers speak from a starting point of the safety of cis women, the safety of children, and the safety of lesbians. I want everyone to be safe – this is something all Quakers can agree on – but I think this is an extremely problematic starting point, as it treats trans and non-binary people (particularly trans women) as an inherent threat to the safety of others.

The Quaker tradition as practised in Britain is built on the valuing of individual religious experience. It has always valued the inner life at least as much as the outward life. It involves trusting that when Friends share their inward lives, they are speaking the truth. The starting point for any discussion referring to trans Friends should be an affirmation and celebration of their identity, saying ‘we believe you, you are who you say you are, and we love you’. I am open to then discussing ‘so what implications does this have for x y z’, but a starting point that involves implicitly saying to trans Friends ‘you are lying/deluded/wrong about who you are’ and ‘you are a threat’ undermines the theological bedrock of liberal Quakerism.

Sadly, this conversation/conflict is not going to go away any time soon. For me, this means it’s important to start thinking theologically about trans inclusion. As I see it, the future of Quakerism involves the full, affirming and loving inclusion of trans and non-binary people, or it doesn’t have much of a future at all.

(I should add two things: 1) it’s not as if trans and non-binary Friends have yet to experience being included and loved by others in the Quaker community. Trans and non-binary Friends have been around for a long time (such as the Public Universal Friend). This conflict appears to be a recent phenomenon. As such, I don’t think it compares to previous conflicts within the Quaker community, or that such comparisons are helpful; 2) that the inclusion of trans Friends needs to be defended in the first place must be very painful for trans Friends. No one’s identity should be up for debate.)

Towards a Quaker theology of trans inclusion

So I’ve already noted two things that go towards a Quaker theology of trans inclusion: 1) the valuing of that which is inwards at least as much as that which is outward; 2) and the trusting of Friends to speak of their inward experiences truthfully.

I’d like to add a third: in faithfully expressing who they know themselves to be, trans Friends enflesh the truth that a Spirit-led life leads to a reorientation, renewal or discovery of identity.

I was struck by the words of poet Jamie Hale in The Friend (27 September 2019):

The trans body is explicitly queer. It’s visually different. It becomes a statement. It challenges the simplicity of sex categorisation. You look at my body and there isn’t really anywhere to put it.

I recently wrote about how our whole lives testify to something. Jamie’s comment made me think about the powerful testimony of simply being who you are, and how this testimony may be particularly visible in the lives of trans people. Trans Friends let their lives preach simply by being themselves. In the changing of names and the changing of bodies, they incarnate an important perspective on identity that can be found in both the Bible and the Quaker tradition, that who we are born as is not necessarily who we are or who we will be.

(Of course it is not incumbent upon trans people to be ‘explicitly queer’. I wouldn’t want to suggest that trans people who choose to keep their gender history private should do otherwise, or have a less valuable testimony for doing so.)

We are not who we were, or who we will be

Changing names is not so unusual. Many people change their surname after marriage, and I’ve known several couples who’ve chosen an entirely new surname to mark their partnership. I known both cis and trans people who have changed their forename/s. In each case, a change of name says ‘this new name better reflects who I am’. This is something we see in the Bible too. In the Bible, a name is rarely arbitrarily given. A name describes who a person is. If a person’s life changes significantly, their name might change too. After the death of her husband and sons, Naomi (whose name means ‘pleasant’) chooses a new name – Mara (meaning ‘bitter’) (Ruth 1:20). After Jacob wrestles with an angel, he is given the name Israel, meaning ‘the one who strives with God’ (Gen 32:28). Sarai and Abram, upon receiving God’s promise to be the God of their offspring, are renamed Sarah and Abraham, Abraham meaning ‘ancestor of a multitude’ (Gen 17:5).

The name we are given at first, may not be the right name for us in the long run. New experiences and new discoveries may prompt a change of name. There’s a significant passage about names in the book of Revelation:

Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it. (Rev 2:17)

This white stone is an invitation to the marriage supper of the Lamb, the great feast of all those who faithfully persevere through persecution for the sake of Jesus. This is saying that only when we are in intimate communion with God can we know ourselves fully. As we journey deeper with and into God, we continue to learn more about ourselves:

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Cor 13:12)

As well as a change of name, the Jesus-story also points towards a change in our bodies, specifically at the resurrection of the dead. This is a mysterious and weird (and perhaps embarrassing or absurd to Liberal Quakers) aspect of the Jesus story, and should be handled with care. I see it as an affirmation of the body. The body isn’t something to be escaped. But it also points to some kind of future change – we are not what we will be:

Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (1 Cor. 15:51-53)

This isn’t about replacing one body with a different one. There is some kind of continuity. The resurrected Jesus is still recognised by his friends (although not initially). He still bears the wounds of the crucifixion. And yet he is also changed. The mystery of the resurrection says that the future involves our bodies, and perhaps in a way we may not expect.

A taste of what’s to come

You may find this talk of a future resurrection hard to swallow. Thankfully, the first Quakers emphasised that such ideas about the future weren’t to remain abstract. They believed that this hoped-for future was to be anticipated in the present. The way they were living, the intimacy with God they were experiencing, would one day be experienced by all. The marriage supper of the lamb, the rebirth to new life in Christ, were things that could be tasted now. For example, Early Quaker leader James Nayler referred to himself in his writings as ‘whose Name in the Flesh is “James Nayler”‘ or ‘Written by one whom the world knows by the name of JAMES NAYLER’. He had inwardly received the white stone, and new that the name ‘James Nayler’ did not capture who he now was.

In their journey of discovering who they really are, in faithfully living who they are on the inside and out, in being ‘explicitly queer’, in their changing of names and bodies, trans Friends could be seen as enfleshing the journey we are all on. In incarnating the hoped-for future, they are inhabiting the important Quaker tradition of living the future now. So I want to go beyond saying to my trans Friends ‘I believe you, you are who you say you are, and I love you’, and add ‘I thank God for your testimony. By simply being who you are, God’s glory is revealed and the Religious Society of Friends is blessed.’

Few of us are who our parents expected us to be. All of us have much to learn about who we are. One day we will all see one another face to face, and I expect many of us will be surprised.

In keeping with this being a positive, celebratory post, the comments sections will be a trans-positive space. No comments expressing anti-trans or trans-exclusionary sentiments will be permitted. There are plenty of spaces elsewhere to do that.

Read more from Mark Russ here: https://jollyquaker.com/

 

Picture: Trans flag. Picture by Kat Love from Pixabay.

Prayer… but not what you might expect

Join us this weekend as we focus on prayer in many, varied and perhaps unexpected ways.

On Saturday, February 29th and Sunday, March 1st, the three churches in the parish of Badshot Lea and Hale will be offering opportunities to join in different sorts of prayer, ranging from eating pastries to going for a walk, from Welsh prayer, music and cakes to creativity in God’s presence.

The focus is on simply being with God and listening to God, trying to discern what God wants for our churches and community and what our part is in this.

There will be a labyrinth at St Mark’s, Alma Lane, GU9 0LT, and prayer stations in all three churches (St Mark’s; St George’s in Badshot Lea, GU9 9LD; and St John’s, Hale Road, GU9 9RP) and you are invited to call in and pray during the weekend*.

Then join in any or all of the following:

Saturday

9.30am: Pastries and Prayer – Join us for a prayer breakfast at St Mark’s and walk the labyrinth.
10.30am: Guided Mindfulness at St Mark’s.
3-5pm: Welsh prayer, Welsh harp music and Welsh cakes and tea at St John’s.
7pm: Candlelit service of prayer and a vigil at St John’s. Stay for as long as you want.

Sunday

2pm: Prayer walk, starting at St George’s. Walk between all three churches or join in at St John’s from around 2.30pm and St Mark’s from about 3pm.
3-4pm: Prayer and Art and Craft at St Mark’s. Create in the presence of God. Art and craft materials will be available but you are welcome to bring your own – eg knitting, crochet, clay etc
4.30pm: Come to St George’s and join a Benedictine Office of Readings with psalms, prayers, readings and meditation.
6pm: The weekend will finish with Taizé at St John’s.

 

*St John’s will be open from 9am on Saturday until the end of the Vigil and from 9.15am until after Taizé on Sunday. St George’s will be open on Saturday 9am-4pm and until after the Office of Readings on Sunday. St Mark’s will be open on Saturday 9.15am until noon and Sunday afternoon until 4pm.

 

labyrinth

Walk a labyrinth at St Mark’s.
Top picture by Chirag k, Unsplash

It’s Christmas!

Have you exceeded the speed limit?

Have you cycled on the pavement?

Have you ever knocked on someones door and run away?

Have you activated your burglar alarm without nominating a key holder who can turn it off in your absence?

Have you sung happy birthday to a friend in public without a copyright license?

All of the above are against the law.  Congratulations if you have answered no to all of them!  But…

Have you driven a car before 1976 without a bale of hay?

Are you a man born before 1943?  Did you keep up your longbow practice?

That is the problem with the law – there are so many, including the ones you don’t know about that it is impossible to keep them all.

So what has this got to do with Christmas?  What we are celebrating is the coming of God to earth, but more than that, we are celebrating a whole new way of being right with God.

Lots of religions, and I only haven’t said all except Christianity because I don’t know about all of them, believe that you get right with God by doing the right things, by keeping the “law”.  This was certainly the case with 1st Century Jews who not only had the 10 commandments, but the 613 laws of Moses and others that the pharisees had created to ensure that none of the others were broken – except it wasn’t possible to keep all the laws.

Jesus was born to bring Good News to the world – the good news being that it wasn’t keeping the law that made us right with God.  Instead God loves all of us – whatever we have done – being right with God depends on God – not us.  If you look at the Bible – the only people that Jesus has no time for are those who tell everyone that you have to behave – having created laws which people find impossible to keep, and which they cannot keep themselves, despite perhaps appearing to do so.

Now at this point you might well point me towards a lot of those Christians you hear on the radio telling you about the all the “laws” that you have to keep.  All I can say is that I fundamentally disagree with them.  Unfortunately the press like conflict and the extremes of the Church of England get more press time than the centre.  This parish and the three churches in it are members of Inclusive Church, an organisation whose vision is, in part:

We believe in inclusive Church – a church which celebrates and affirms every person and does not discriminate. We will continue to challenge the church where it continues to discriminate against people on grounds of disability, economic power, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, learning disability, mental health, neurodiversity, or sexuality.

God is not a God who is watching over you, trying to catch you doing something you shouldn’t – adding up the pluses and minuses like some Santa figure trying to figure out if you are “naughty or nice”.  God is a God who wants us all to have life in all its fullness – to live this life in a way that is fulfilling and life giving.  That is the Good News that Jesus was born to bring to us – isn’t that something worth celebrating?

However, this isn’t some excuse for us all to do whatever we want.  If God wants us all to have life in all its fullness then we cannot enjoy our life in such a way that others ability to enjoy theirs is impacted.  If we insist on overheating the planet because we want our creature comforts, then others homes get flooded; if we want to pay less in taxes then those without the ability to earn sufficient to live will suffer; if we refuse to look after refugees, and others less well off than ourselves, then what for their life in all its fullness?  The Jewish scriptures, based on law, defend the rights of the widow the alien and the orphan – how can we basking in God’s love do less?

Of course, if you believe in a God who is trying to catch you out then you will find that a different set of priorities are necessary and you might start telling people how they should behave to be right with God.

No wonder Jesus birth is seen as Good News – now we can all live the lives that he calls us to – lives that allow us and everyone else to enjoy life in all its fullness.  No wonder we are celebrating the incarnation – God with us.  If you aren’t already part of it I invite you to join this journey of faith and to share in the Good News.

Where is God in the storm?

The Gospel reading on February 24 was from Luke 8, 22-25. At St Mark’s that day, Lesley Shatwell preached.

The Gospel passage:

‘One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they put out, and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A windstorm swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. They went to him and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”’

Lesley’s sermon:

Jesus said to them: “Where is your faith?”

That’s a good question. And what is faith anyway?

It’s easy to believe something if you can see it to be true. The disciples witnessed how Jesus was able to calm the storm, so they came to believe.

But is that the same as faith? I don’t think it is.

Faith is about knowing. But it’s about truly knowing something even though you can’t explain it to anyone else. It’s not something we can measure. “I wish I had your faith … etc”

It’s not something we can force in ourselves and it is something which we can lose just at that very moment when it could be useful.

Just at that moment when you are all at sea in a storm.

Loss of faith doesn’t have to be so dramatic though.

The theologian Thomas Merton talks eloquently about how people can lose faith very easily. In summary he says: ‘People seem to lose their faith as they grow more mature. To start with, it’s easy, believe this and you do. But then the comfortable reassurance you get stops working. And then, well well, God’s not looking after me, why should I have faith in him? What’s God ever done for me? I don’t believe he exists, he’s never around when I need him.’

Merton goes on to say: ‘Don’t put faith in “sunshine” Christians, who promise a quick fix. You may have to find God alone. Faith is personal, nobody else can do it for you.’

I think a lot of us are looking for a quick fix. Something which will make us feel safe and secure, loved and well cared for.

And perhaps it seems that God offers this. All will be well, if I just had a bit more faith in God … and perhaps it would, I’m certainly not going to dismiss people’s faith, but at the risk of being less than a “sunshine” Christian, I can’t offer it to you that today. That’s a quick fix.

It doesn’t take into account that plain fact that none of us can force ourselves to believe in God.

I can look with wonder and a fair dollop of jealousy at people whose faith can move mountains, and yes, I probably envy them, but it is not my experience of being Christian. There are some days when I wake up and I know, without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus is my saviour. That wonderful aria from Messiah, “I know that my redeemer liveth …” is playing like a constant companion in my mind and the joy of the Holy Spirit runs right through me.

Then I catch a glimpse of the outrider clouds of a massive storm and all those wretched doubts creep in.

Life is tough. Lots of people have things far more tough in life than I do, but, dear Lord, this is me and there are times it feels as though I am totally alone and lost in a storm at sea. I long for Jesus to wake up and make everything better for me. But it hasn’t happened yet.

But before I wallow too much in the awfulness of everything, I must be honest: there are good times along with the bad times.

There are times when I love my life, I’m full of delight with everything and everyone around me. Times when life can get no better. And then it is tempting to think, “Oh, this is all down to me, to my careful planning, everything is working out well and I’m in charge.”

Wrong! God’s in charge.

It’s God’s doing, even though it may seem as though God is asleep and letting me get on with my life, I have to acknowledge that my joy is not entirely down to me.

God has given me a wonderful day and it is at times like that when I sometimes remember to give thanks and show my gratitude.

Often I don’t, because I’m human and I accept the good times which come to me as though I have a right to them.

It’s different though when things go wrong. Have you ever had days when you wake up with a feeling of dread as to what is going to happen now you have come out of the dreamland? Have you ever had days when everything hurts, everyone you meet seems to rub you up the wrong way so it would have been better if you had avoided people?

Yes, people, they are the problem; no, it’s my tummy, I shouldn’t have eaten that great big dinner last night; oh my back aches; no, it’s that awful meeting I’m going to have with my boss – yes, I knew it, everybody else is the problem. Always someone else’s fault.

Probably God’s fault. Everybody else is happy and well and I’m not.

God this isn’t fair, why have you forsaken me?

What have I done wrong? Wake up God!

It’s true, isn’t it?

We call on God a great deal more to sort out our problems than we do to give thanks and praise. It’s when disasters happen that we wonder where God is and why he has abandoned us.

Where was God during the tsunami? Where was God when evil people get into power? Why didn’t God stop that child from being hurt? Yes, God – where are you? Why are you asleep in the back of our boat as we are sailing head-on into a storm?

Wake up Jesus! We need you here now.

In our reading today, we hear about experienced fishermen who made their living going out in boats.

And they were terrified, they thought they were going to die. They were out of their depth as the gale swept down on them and the waters poured into their boat. All their own effort and skill couldn’t save them.

All the while, there is one person, their friend who sleeps through it all. He is with them though. He’s not left them. He’s in the boat with them.

At the point in the gospel where this passage occurs, they are just learning who Jesus is. They need more reassurance before their faith is strong enough to realise that because Jesus is with them in the boat, whatever happens, they are safe in the loving care of God.

The winds and waters obey Jesus, for God created all things. By calming the storm and saving their physical lives, Jesus is not forcing them to have faith, he is showing them again that he is with them.

In our lives there are plenty of storms when it seems that God is asleep and not aware of our troubles. Despite what it feels like, that’s not so, for God is always with us – as the final words Jesus says according to the Gospel of Matthew: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age”.

Perhaps he is asleep but I don’t happen to think so. And anyway, what I do know is that Jesus is most definitely in the boat with us.

 

Picture: Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee by Rembrandt.

Keep on moving

If you want to grow in your Christian faith, discover more about following Jesus and find out more about being a committed member of the church, then maybe it’s time for ‘Moving On’.

We are running a series of sessions at the Rectory between now and Easter considering some of the aspects of faith and how we live it out. Each session lasts roughly 90 minutes and involves watching a ‘Moving On’ video, followed by time to talk, listen and ask questions. The sessions are all on Thursday evenings at the Rectory starting at 7.30pm.

The first one is on January 17 when we will consider ‘What does it mean to be a disciple?’, followed by ‘What is the point of church?’ on January 31, and ‘Why do we do the things we do at church?’ on February 7. In subsequent weeks we will look at prayer, the Creed, the Holy Spirit, why bad things happen, giving, and putting God at the centre of our lives.

To find out more, contact Lesley on 01252 820537 or email revd.lesley@badshotleaandhale.org

 

moving on poster

Top image by Gaelle Marcel, Unsplash.

Mary, faith and holding on

When I was nine years old, I remember having a discussion with my friend, Cherry, at school about how babies were made. She thought boys had something to do with it. I asked my mum and dad about it after school that day and they sat me down in our dining room and told me the biological facts of human reproduction. I burst into tears. It was all a bit too much for me that day, even though, to this day, I remain grateful to my late parents for their courage, honesty and clarity in telling me the Facts of Life.

My mum, Jean, was told nothing at all on this subject by her parents. When she was nine years old and her younger sister, Margaret, was born, my mum looked in the dustbin for the eggshells from the eggs which she thought her mum must have laid when the baby was born!

After my parents’ honest chat with me, they gave me a Ladybird Book called The Human Body which contained the details they had explained to me (plus colour drawings!) and which also explained digestion, respiration etc. That book gave me a lifelong interest in how the human body works in sickness and in health.

Mary, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ, was probably only 14 or 15 years old when Jesus was conceived within her by divine, not human, means. Initially fearful and confused as to how this promised baby could possibly be created without the help of a man, Mary then demonstrates an impressively open-minded, trusting and humble faith in the fulfilment of God’s promises to send a Saviour, Jesus Christ, whose kingdom will have no end.

So, what does such a young girl as Mary do in this highly irregular, not to say potentially shameful situation, of being pregnant but not being married? Remember also that a standard human baby would have been enough of a worry, but her baby was nothing less than the Son of God.  A pretty tall order for one so young.

As many women have done before and since, Mary seeks female support and travels from the one-camel town which is Nazareth – it possibly only had around 150 inhabitants – for four days into the hill country of Judea to her much older relative (probably her cousin) Elizabeth who is six months pregnant with John the Baptist. Some scholars believe that Joseph may have accompanied Mary on this potentially dangerous and arduous trip at the start of a pregnancy which will also end with an arduous trip but that time to Bethlehem. We can only imagine the conversations between Zechariah, Elizabeth’s elderly husband and Joseph, if Joseph did go along to Elizabeth and Zechariah’s home with Mary.

I wonder whether Mary was sure of the welcome she would receive from Elizabeth? Might Mary have feared criticism or rejection by Elizabeth? Perhaps, just perhaps, Mary was nervous about their meeting. I have no doubt that on her long journey, Mary would have prayed for a happy meeting. Her prayers are answered, if so, in spades.

As Luke describes it, what happens when Mary does eventually arrive at Elizabeth’s home is a wonderful scene, quite rare in the Bible, of a very pure, intimate, domestic demonstration of female bonding, unshakeable faith and mutual empowerment.  Though Mary’s pregnancy probably does not yet show physically, Elizabeth, wife of the Jewish priest, Zechariah, knows with eyes of faith that the child Mary carries within her is indeed Our Lord Jesus Christ.  John the Baptist, as an unborn baby, moves within Elizabeth’s womb when Mary greets Elizabeth. The Bible states that the unborn John ‘leapt for joy’, possibly a little bit of literary exaggeration but entirely appropriate for such a significant encounter with the divine Son of God.

Elizabeth calls Mary blessed because, she says, the fruit of Mary’s womb is ‘my Lord’ and because Mary believed that she would conceive and bear a Son even though Mary had absolutely no idea how it would happen.

No idea how it would happen……. Do you currently have no idea how you are going to get through a particularly testing time in your life?   Do you have no idea where money is going to come from? Do you have no idea how a personal disagreement or problem is going to be solved?  Do you feel up against it, muddled, confused, with no idea about something you simply do not understand?

Try singing your prayers, as Mary did in her beautiful, praiseful, worshipful, well-known song called The Magnificat.  Singing may relax you enough so that you can start to see God opening a door you did not see before. Keep an open mind and stay humble, believing, as Mary did, that nothing is impossible with God but do also, as she did, seek support and advice from other trustworthy sources. Dig deep within yourself to find the child-like faith Mary had in God who puts to flight proud hearts and stubborn wills, who feeds the hungry with good things and lifts up the lowly. Believe with all your heart, that, as we sing in the hymn Tell Out My Soul, God’s promise to each and every one of us, is firm and his mercy from age to age is sure and unchanging. He will bring us through every time of testing. Tears will last for a night, but joy will come in the morning.

From a sermon by Wendy Edwards, preached at St John’s on Sunday, December 22.

 

Picture: Waiting For The Word, Madonna – Mary & Jesus – artist Warner Sallman. Creative Commons.

Shh! It could be a vocation…

In which a member of the parish fesses up…

There is something I have been keeping quiet about over the past couple of years – my vocation. Shh! Don’t say that too loud. Someone might hear.

It has always seemed like a big word, a big deal, something other people had. I was willing to accept that we all have the vocation to be the person we were born to be and to be that in the fullest possible way. Actually, that is a pretty big deal, especially as so much can get in the way of that vocation. But over the past few years I have had a growing sense that part of following that vocation, part of living my life to the fullest, could mean being ordained into the church.

No. Not me. That was something that vicars did and vicars knew the answers and could explain the Trinity and always believed in God, and never swore. I didn’t know the answers, wasn’t sure that it mattered that the Trinity is inexplicable (in my opinion – see, I don’t know), and had days when I wasn’t sure whether God was just something made up to make us feel better or, far too often, feel worse. Though obviously I never swore….(just ask my colleagues).

And yet… I kept wondering and I kept being encouraged in this wondering by Alan and Lesley who seemed to think that I might be suitable vicar material (and vicars obviously know the answers so they must have had a point…). And before I knew it, somehow I was being referred to the Diocesan Director or Ordinands for the Diocese of Guildford, a delightful and perceptive man called Rev’d Canon William Challis who shared my sort of sense of humour. So began a series of meetings in which we discussed faith, the church (not necessarily the same thing) and laughed a fair bit. Meanwhile we were both doing some discerning.

I assumed that William would discern that I was not suitable material and we’d agree that this was not part of my vocation and I’d say a sad farewell, glad I had kept quiet about it as how embarrassing would that be if people knew I didn’t fit the criteria, or that I had even assumed I might have done?!

But we kept on, looking at those criteria for selection and discussing subjects such as faith, mission, leadership, spirituality, vocation. It was challenging but fascinating. References were sought and given, William came to visit the family, and it seemed that he thought I was suitable after all. Suddenly I was faced with going on a Bishops’ Advisory Panel, or BAP, three days of intense scrutiny with other potential ordinands by a team of assessors who would make recommendations about us all.

As the months that this process took progressed, several things became a little clearer. The first was that I could be a vicar and still not know everything – still have days of doubt, still be human, still be me. After all this is an opening up to God and being led by God, I am not expected to do it on my own.

The second was that ordained local ministry would be a better fit than having my own parish. This would mean I could stay in the parish here (hooray!) as part of the team. I would be part-time and self-supporting (ie. non-paid) so I’ll have to keep working elsewhere to bring in the money. That will be OK though as I am rubbish at boundaries I will need help here.

The boundaries issue was one of the points made in the report which came back from those BAP assessors who were really quite nice and not the Harry Potter dementors that I had envisaged. They also came back with a resounding yes! I start training next September on the Guildford Local Ministry Programme with a view to ordination in 2022.

The other thing that has dawned on me is that I am responding to a loving God. A separate, though intertwined, process has been going on over the past few years. With the help of those actually very wise and knowledgeable vicars here in the parish I have gradually been losing my perception of God as an angry taskmaster whom I could never please, and finding that God is a gracious outpouring of love for us all, a God who can help us step into our vocations and allow all of us to live our fullest lives.

Stella Wiseman

 

Humility

Joan Chittister has written a commentary on the Rule of Benedict, and this is serialised on the web with a daily reading from it http://www.eriebenedictines.org/daily-rule.  Today (22nd September) the chapters on Obedience and Humility start.  I find these a most inspiring set of chapters and would suggest that they are a good place to start with this.  If you don’t see this post in time, it is possible to see the previous days reading by clicking on the date above the image.

Come to a Start! course

In October we are starting a Start! course… The course introduces Christianity through six DVD based interactive, small-group sessions. The Start! course makes no assumptions about participants’ background or experience or knowledge of Christianity or the church. It really does start from scratch.

Each session lasts about 90 minutes and is based around short, DVD programmes – two per session. There’s time to chat, interactive exercises and space for reflection – in a style that aims to be honest and enjoyable.

Come along and bring your friends. To find out more contact Lesley – 01252 820537, revd.lesley@badshotleaandhale.org

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Reflections on a rainbow

 

Last Wednesday (July 18) I and several others from the parish, had the privilege of being part of a ‘Rainbow Service’ at St Mary’s Church in Guildford, a communion service which celebrated diversity and in particular welcomed people from the LGBTI+ community, along with family, friends and allies.

The word ‘privilege’ is often used to describe people’s feelings when they have attended an event, so often used that it has become a cliché and I thought carefully before using it, but it really did feel a privilege to be part of a warm, joyful, colourful service which not only celebrated diversity but was also ground-breaking. There have been other such services in other places but this was, I believe, the first in this part of the Diocese of Guildford. It was also packed, and not just with Anglicans, for it was an ecumenical service. I don’t know who came from which church but among those I was particularly pleased to welcome were three from the Godalming Unitarian Chapel including the minister Sheena.

The word privilege is important here for another reason too. Those who identify as straight and cisgendered have been privileged in society, and LGBTI+ people have been at best marginalised and discriminated against. More than that they have often been persecuted, attacked, forced to hide themselves. In some places they are imprisoned, killed. Though in many countries society is much more welcoming now – we have equal marriage after all, though ceremonies cannot be conducted in the Anglican Church – discrimination remains and the church is in large part responsible. There were those I knew there who had experienced direct discrimination and humiliation from both church and society, and I knew just a few of the congregation.

During the service there were references to the wounds that have been and continue to be inflicted, but there was no sense of bitterness, simply an offering of ourselves to God and a joy that God welcomes us all here, now, as we are, and loves and celebrates us. The Confession included the words: ‘Forgive us when we don’t believe such love is true or possible, when we wonder how you could love us just as we are, when we forget our intricate construction, fearfully, wonderfully made, in your image! You know our hearts – and you love us still.’

There was joy, there was wonderful music, and there was colour, not least in the ribbons that we all wore and then tied to a huge circle of wool which we all held, before placing it on the altar, in the rainbow cloth in front of the altar, in the rainbow banner which until the night before had adorned St Mark’s in Hale, in the amazing rainbow cupcakes which a lady called Liz had made, in the installation celebrating and challenging us on inclusion which Lesley Shatwell had prepared, in the rainbow collages which Dave and Helena Walker encouraged us to make.

There was also talk, lots of it, with people lingering over nibbles, wine and those cupcakes, making friends, just feeling welcome. It was, as I said, a privilege and the first, I am certain, of many such occasions.

Stella Wiseman