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  • A Daffodil in the Snow

    Today we said our last farewell to Rachel in what was the most beautiful funeral I have attended.  The simple wicker coffin lovingly adorned with garlands of ivy and daffodils reflected the beauty of the women whose life we celebrated.

    Traditional elements mingled seamlessly with the symbolic act of each person adding a daffodil to a giant cross as a sign of ressurection hope.   Old hymns and specially composed words flowed in perfect harmony as we gave thanks for the privilege of having known her.

    The tribute spoke of a life lived to overflowing and of an endless outpouring of humble love - the choice of Bible reading of the Beattitudes could not have been more appropriate.  Rachel would have been embarrassed to think that I might 'post' about her twice but her passing has, in its own quiet way, been almost as influential as her life.

    Each person who attended the funeral received a little memory card with these words printed on it: -

    Love, like a yellow daffodil, is coming through the snow

    Go well, Rachel, to your place of rest and reward.  You were a beautiful daffodil sent to bloom for a season bringing delight to our lives.  When we see daffodils will remember you, and all you inspired within us.  Well done good and faithful servant.

    (Photo from Google images)

  • Crowd mentality: Good, bad or inauthentic?

    I am beginning to think about my Palm Sunday service (only because I don't have to do Passion Sunday as it's a 'Cluster' service with the BUGB president preaching).

    Last year we had a sermonless service with loads of reading from the Bible and a central visual focus and lots of interactive bits as we went from Palm Sunday to Gethsemane in an hour!  We had Communion as we read of the Last Supper - it was all quite powerful and meaningful really.

    This year, given that few will be at Maundy Thursday or Good Friday services, I intend to cover similar ground but in a more traditional preaching form.  I plan on using a Palm Sunday account counterpointed with a Good Friday trial account - two crowds and two very different responses.  It got me thinking about crowd behaviour and wondering which, if either, crowd was an authentic representation of people's views.  We like to think the Palm Sunday crowd was good because people acknowledged Jesus as 'he who comes in the name of the Lord' and the Good Friday crowd as bad (even as we think we Jesus had to die to fulfil his mission) because they shouted 'crucify him!'

    This seems too simplistic and I started hunting around the web to find more educated views than my own.  For example, we tend to see massive 'responses' at evangelistic campaigns as 'good' while football pitch invasions are 'bad.'  Why?  At one level the behaviour is the same: people fired up by some sort of crowd fervour act in ways they might not do otherwise.  Yes, people are converted at evangelistic campaigns - but not the numbers who apparently respond.  Likewise decent law-abiding citizens can get drawn into violence once they are part of a big crowd (although here it seems to be called a mob!).

    I suppose I'm left wondering if the crowd is ultimately just inauthentic in some way.  It is perhaps authentically 'of the moment' but with time to reflect guilt, regret, a sense of foolishness or artifice can set in.  I'm not entirely sure how this helps with my sermon but maybe we do well to be aware of crowd behaviour and a little less swift to judge individuals as  'good' or bad' because they are part of it.  It also makes me take stock of what I think of as 'good' events which may, to others, be bad (e.g. I think Palm Sunday is good; presumably for some Jews it remains part of a terrible and regretable  heresy). It also makes me think about the internal tensions inherent in a faith that is centred on a 'bad' crowd deciding to execute an innocent man so that 'good' may come out of it, and all the muddled theology that surrounds it - but that's a topic for another day!

  • Joys and Sorrows

    Rejoice!  Norman Kember, James Loney and Harmeet Singh have been freed.  Checkout BBC website at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/4836218.stm

    Checks and balances - the next BBC headline is that 15 were killed by a suicide bomb in Baghdad.

    For the joys and for the sorrows, for the best and worst of times, for this we have Jesus. (Kendrick)

    We rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.  We remember the family of Tom Fox and the former captors of the men now freed: all God's children needing our prayers.


  • Didn't we have a loverly time, the day we went to Denby!

    OK, so you may be too young, or too cultured, to remember the awful song (by Fiddler's Dram?) I plagiarised for the title, but it seemed fitting for reflecting on the first outing we organised for our PLUS+ Club (senior citizens' mobile lunch club with a plus, referred to by Social Serivces as 'the wrinkly pub crawl club').

    A lifetime of organising camps and outings for Girls' Brigade made this an absolute breeze!  We loaded up our 32 seniors from three pick up points and took a slightly scenic route to Denby.  After an hour and half's browsing in the shops, we enjoyed a two-course lunch and then a tour of the craftroom before another three quarters of an hour to spend more money in the shops!  The sun shone (pleasing those whose dodgy theology had allowed them to request it!) and a good time was had by all.

    Thinking back over the day, it was a good mission initiative.  We had failed miserably to fill the coach from our club members (more on that in a minute) and had opened the invitation to friends at 'Dibley + 1 mile' Baptist Church, Age Concern and the WI!  This was great as it brought us into to contact with new people and we were able to share with them something of the ethos of PLUS+.  I also had the opportunity to chat to one of the guides in a similar vein.  Nothing heavy, just mentioned that as a church group we wanted to serve our local community and alleviate issues of social isolation among elderly folk.  All good stuff, and maybe a bit of 'seed sowing', who knows?

    It was interesting reflecting on which of our members did and did not come on the trip.  We know that in each sheltered complex there is a good programme of social events, outing and holidays and that many of our folk are part of those networks.  But not those who came on the outing to Denby - we had picked up the waifs and strays, those with mild dementia, the gruff, the awkward and the unlovely who aren't part of the 'in crowd' who enjoy a good social life.  They came along, did their own thing and were embraced by the wider group.  This, too, is mission.

    We ran at a loss, we came home exhausted but happy.  People were asking when the next trip would be and where to (Dobbies World in June!) and I do believe that a smile was discernible on the face of God.

    Didn't we have a loverly time, the day we went to Denby?  A beautiful day, we met God on the way, and all for £15 you know!  On the way back we shared a good chat, and talked about the next trip, finding the Lord in our senior friends as the wheels went round!



  • Rachel - "Everyone Loved Her"

    Today I had one of those messages on my answer phone where you are asked to call someone back and you know it can only be for one reason.  Rachel had died after struggling with cancer for three years.

    I wrestled long and hard about posting - was it too crass, too insensitive, too soon?  Should I use her photo - even though I got it from the web, publicly accessible, available for anyone who typed her name into a Google search? 

    Eventually I decided to, and I apologise for any who are offended or affonted by this decision.  While at college, a conversation about tutors evoked the comment from a Methodist student "Everyone loves Rachel."  Perhaps now the world should be told?

    Rachel was my personal tutor in my first year of training for ministry.  A vital role, supporting people through the bizzare process of adapting to college and church life after holding responsible positions in secular professions.  Meeting with Rachel was always pleasurable, usually fun, and at times a much needed refuge from college or church life.  Rachel never made you feel small or silly, she never contradicted your views, yet enabled you to see others too.  The one-to-one support and encouragement of students was Rachel's forte, and many benefited from her gentle, loving tutoring.

    But Rachel was no plaster saint, she had a mischievous sense of fun and an enviable ability to take off accents.  With a passion for justice and equality, Rachel  inspired similar qualities in many of her students - at the same time as making some of us feel far better about our own housekeeping skills!  A lover of cats and gardens, deeply in love with Africa, a competent pianist, Rachel was a woman of many parts.

    The last three years have seen twists and turns in Rachel's health - yet, publicly anyway, she remained cheerful and positive always wanting to hear our news, to encourage us in our ministries, to support us in our doubts and fears.

    The only thing Rachel ever nagged me about - and even at that, nagging is far too strong a word - was doing a research degree.  My protests that I already had over 20 letters after my name and really didn't need another set would not shift her sense that it wasn't just for me that I should do this, but for other women.  Always the gentle feminist, Rachel was not going to allow me the selfishness of saying I had done enough.  There is a small sadness that I never got to tell her she'd finally won, and that I did intend, finally, to enrol on a research programme, but maybe, in her way, she knew.

    Rachel will be sadly missed by those of us who knew her.  Our lives have been enriched by her.  Some college tutors were known as great teachers, some as fearsome minds, some even as a bit odd, but everbody loved Rachel.  That, I think is as good an epitaph as anyone might hope for. 

    And so we let her go to the embrace of God, in quiet gratitude and certain hope.