Category Archives: Faith

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

Start A4 Poster.jpg

 

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

The Orthodox Heretic

I have just started rereading this book for our book group, and whilst I remembered many of the “parables”, I had forgotten the introduction.

In it Peter Rollins explains that the purpose of the book is not to provide answers, but to pose questions (I paraphrase).  And that the point of these questions is to change our behaviour, not to gain our assent to some ideas.  He goes on to point out that so often people will assent to an idea, but then behave as though they don’t believe it; for example saying how terrible materialism is, but then living in a materialistic way.

Amen!

More thoughts on Remembrance

I recently posted some thoughts on Remembrance Sunday, and yesterday I had some more that I thought worth sharing.

In the previous article I commented on an article by Simon Jenkins, and he suggested that we should make next year the last Remembrance Sunday because too many use remembering as a means to keep past hurts alive.  However, it struck me that the problem is not keeping the memory alive, it is keeping the animosity alive.

Desmond Tutu has written a book on Forgiveness with his daughter Mpho.  This puts forward a four step approach to forgiveness, summarised here:

Telling the Story
Naming The Hurt
Granting Forgiveness
Renewing/releasing the relationship

It strikes me that at Remembrance the difficulties come because we are good at the first two, but don’t always move on to the third or fourth.

I would suggest that until we have mastered those two steps as well the nursed grievances will remain whether or not we abolish Remembrance Day.

Reading the Bible

Today’s post was inspired by Pray as You Go (not there for long), and by last Wednesdays  group discussion on the Bible.  The reading was Luke 16:9-15, and began:

And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

This surprised me as it was a memorable phrase, which I did not remember!

Looking it up I discovered that it follows on from the Parable of the Unjust Steward, so when I usually read/hear it it is in a particular context.  The words are the same, but the context is different (not that the unjust steward is an easy parable to interpret).

It isn’t in the same league as theatre bill boards (see here), but reading something out of context can give a misleading perception.

The question then comes – how do we use the Bible without taking it out of context?

Remembrance Sunday

This coming Sunday is Remembrance Sunday, and this morning I read this by Simon Jenkins.

For many clergy Remembrance Sunday is a struggle – how to remember the fallen with dignity, whilst remembering what has happened and wanting to say “never again”, often in the context of military parades.  The last thing that many of us would want to do is to preside over “a validation of war by embracing its horrors in religiosity”.

However, my experience in church is that when we struggle to achieve that balance it is welcomed.  Whether that is a generational thing, as in many churches, including ours, there are still people who can remember the war, I don’t know.  And of course, although Remembrance focuses on the two world wars, there have been many conflicts since, and many killed or injured.

If I were to be provocative I might ask whether the problem is that we don’t remember the more recent conflicts enough!  People under 70, which includes most politicians, have no experience of a “big” war.  Perhaps if our politicians had, or we Remembered better the smaller wars, there would be less inclination to solve our problems by military means.

What is a priest?

Over the years I have heard a number of priests complaining about the increasing amount of management coming into the role of incumbent.  Until now I have thought it only sensible that the good bits of modern organisational management theory should be used by the church.  However…

Recently the Church of England has adopted new safeguarding procedures, and we have recently been made aware of the GDPR that are coming into force in May 2018.  Both of these have added significantly to the administrative overhead of running a parish (and that is before the impact of implementing them is considered).  If you are in a parish with several retired managers then this may be dealt with by them, although there is a level of knowledge required that the incumbent probably has in their head that anyone else will spend time finding out.  But if you are in a parish without those kind of people the burden falls on the incumbent – and in some of those parishes the incumbent is already doing more administration than in others, perhaps no administrator, and I have heard of some with no treasurer.

This is not a plea for the church to be exempt from either of these – there is good reason why they are needed.  However, it is a plea for the national church or dioceses to look at ways to reduce the burden of them on parishes.  I will admit that this is a hobby horse of mine, but in the era of the internet providing systems centrally for use across the country is not rocket science, and could just help!

And for those parishes who do have people who can do these things – wouldn’t their time be better spent on ministry rather than administration?