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  • What Metaphor Shall I Borrow?

    This morning we concluded our short series of services based on Psalms attributed to David with one very loosely based on Psalms 23 and 131, with images of God as shepherd and as mother.  Drawing on insights from, among others, Sally McFague and Brian Wren, we focused more on the concept of metaphors (and analogies and similes) as the way that we are able to imagine and so relate to God.

    As we do now and then, this was a service in which people were offered options inclduing colouring, writing, pondering questions and sitting with paintings/images inspired by the psalms.

    The one at the top of this blog is borrowed from here and is, of the six I chose to use this morning, my favourite.  Wonderful colours, lots of hints of other scriptures and lots of symbols (such as peacocks and owls).  At its heart, two figures of equal size travel together through the darkness (though the sky is a wonderful starscape) each carrying lanterns and one of them a shepherd's crook.

    Among others things, I also shared this by Brian Wren from his book, 'What Language Shall I Borrow' (page 139)

    “Are you the friendly God, shimmering, swirling, formless,

    Nameless and ominous, Spirit of brooding might,

    Presence beyond our senses, all-embracing night,

    The hovering wings or warm and loving darkness:

    If hope will listen, love will show and tell,

    And all shall be well, all manner of things be well.”


    Written as a response from a workshop on language in worship, it was pretty impressive.  Our own necessarily brief excercise in sharing metaphors and images generated some interesting words - and I may yet have a go at making something of them!  So watch this space - but not too hard!!


  • A Hymn

    One of the hymns we used on Sunday - it seemed to scratch where people were itching...


    Lord Jesus, think of me

    and take away my fear;

    in my depression, may I be

    assured that you are near.


    Lord Jesus, think of me

    by many cares oppressed;

    in times of great anxiety

    give me your promised rest.


    Lord Jesus, think of me

    when darker grows the day;

    and in my sad perplexity

    show me the heavenly way.


    Lord Jesus, think of me

    when night's dark shadows spread;

    restore my lost serenity,

    and show me light ahead.


    Lord Jesus, think of me,

    that when the night is past

    I may the glorious morning see

    and share your joy at last!


    Jubilate Hymns version of Moneo Christe Synesius of Cyrene (c.375-430) adapted by Allen W Chatfield (1808-1896) © Jubilate Hymns Ltd


  • Rev Keith Hobbs, RIP

    Most people won't have heard of Keith, a Baptist minister who retired just about the same time as I was ordained.

    Keith was Superintendent in the North Western Association (NWBA) of BUGB at the time I was exploring my call to ordained ministry.  I have three stand out memories of him.

    The first was when he came to visit me at my home in Burtonwood (just down the road from the brewery) as a precursor to formally beginning the discernment process.  I baked a chocolate cake - the standard NWBA bribe in those days - and we discussed my sense of call. In the way that only a minister seasoned by many long years of the joy and sorrow, disappointment and celebration that is pastoral ministry can do, he tried gently to discourage me and to consider alternatives.  Because I was an engineer he suggested overseas mission - I don't think he realised that I was a desk bound engineer not a spanner monkey!

    Over the following months, Keith was hugely supportive as I worked through the process of being comended by a church that was, at best, ambivalent about women in ministry, going so far as to say that a simple majority of one vote would suffice (unusual) and that if they said no, I should transfer to his church, wait two years and go again.  They said 'yes' by a bit more than a simple majority, but I was very glad of Keith's support and encouragement.

    The second was one of those dates that sticks forever in my mind, 5th November 1998, at Hillcliffe Baptist Church, just outside Warrington, when I faced the Minsiterial Recognition Committee (MRC) of the NWBA.  After a long and challenging day, each candidate was called in to be told the outcome.  The layout of the premises was such that you had to go out of the church, along the path to the former manse, and enter an office.  It was a lovely sunny day, but I recall vividly walking along thinking, 'they could say no'.  As I walked into the room, a huge grin spread across Keith's face, and even before he spoke, I knew the answer was 'yes.'  He told me I had been unanimously commended for training and could now progress to interview at a college of my choice.

    The third time was at my ordination.  Keith had by now retired, and his successor, Rev Chris Haig, who had overseen my settlement process with equally strong support, was leading the service.  When it got to the bit where someone from the Association was invited to speak, Keith stood up, recalled the first meeting  'just down the road from the brewery' and affirmed their joyful commendation.

    This morning I received news that Keith died yesterday.  I know that my life is richer for having known him, and that without his steadfast support I might not have become a Baptist minister, there were so many obstacles along the way.

    Well done, good and faithful servant, may you rest in peace and rise in glory.

  • Sad isn't Bad - A Response to Psalm 22

    This morning our service centred around Psalms 22 and 137 and the question, "has God foresaken me?" (the answer is 'no' btw).

    The sermon began with a name check of people who had hard 'dark night of the soul' type experiences:

    Charles Haddon Spurgeon, John Wesley, Mother Theresa of Calcutta, John of the Cross, writer Jennifer Rees Larcombe, Rev Dr John Colwell, the prophets Elijah and Jeremiah, King Saul and possibly King David, Job and Jesus of Nazareth.

    And towards the end, I included this quotation from John Colwell' book, "Why Have You Forsaken Me" (Paternoster 2009, page 99)

    The cry of abandonment that Jesus cries is nothing less than our cry of abandonment: his cry is the cry of the child murdered by Herod’s soldiers; his cry is the cry of the abused slave; his cry is the cry of the woman being raped; his cry is the cry of terror from the gas chamber; his cry is the cry of despair from the one contemplating suicide; his cry is the cry of lament from the psalmist, his is the desolation of every man and woman.  Every human cry of despair is unique and particular – the particularity of individual suffering is not abolished at the Cross – but every human cry of despair is echoed in his cry, he enters fully into our desolation, our sin, our pain, our abuse, our dying, our death; he becomes what we are, that we, through his entering into this desolation, might become what he is, the true humanity that is our destiny and calling.

    The aim of the sermon was, essentially, to name the fact that so often we put on a 'happy Christian' mask when we are hurting or doubting or questioning or whatever, because we fear ridicule or rejection, to normalise such experiences and to offer a little bit of hope, a candle in the darkness.

    Challenging stuff to reflect on, but worthwhile.

    I ended with this prayer from John Colwell's book )p 75):

    Dear Lord,

    In a world characterised by so much pretence

    It is such a relief to pray to one who honours honesty.

    You know our hearts, in any case;

    You know the pain we carry, the fears that oppress, the despair that engulfs;

    You know the disillusionment that would mask your light and leave us in darkness.

    Forgive us, dear Lord, for every attempt to hide from you.

    Thank you that you are more than sufficient to handle our fears, our anger, our desolation.

    Without shame we turn to you again

    In the name of Jesus, the one who cried out in honest forsakenness


  • Another Taboo Topic...

    100% of women will experience menopause, some naturally, some surgically, some chemically and some (me!) all three.  Some will glide through it with few or no symptoms, others (me) will have a lot.  Yet, generally speaking, we don't talk about it.

    For women who are ministers, there is an additional, if unspoken factor, thankfully not present in my congregation, which is that, theological objections aside, menstruation, childbearing and menopause each render women unsuitable for the pastoral roll.  Afterall, a minister who gets moody or broody or whatever is (evidently) no use.  Unless you are a woman who happens to experience some of the same things, in which case it might be remarkable helpful.

    So I was pleased last night when BBC2 Scotland aired a programme called "The Insiders' Guide to the Menopause" available here until 16th March 2017.

    I was plunged into effective menopause in 2010 by chemotherapy, which was then maintained by Tamoxifen.  In 2016 surgical menopause was added and, as my GP observed, you are about the right age now.  So a quadrauple whammy really. Over the last year the menopausal symptoms have continued to get worse, so much so that I recently described myself to my breast consultant as 'a menopausal monster'.  He, being the amazingly supportive man he is, went to great lengths to normalise this even saying, "we did this to you", and talking about the importance of quality, as well as quantity, of life.

    For women who have had breast cancer, the options for treating menopausal symptoms are very limited, and GPs tend to opt for low doses of antipdepressants as these (allegedly) reduce flushing and help even out mood swings.  A week ago, my own GP prescribed a low dose of citalopram and I'm waiting to see if it is going to work for me... at the moment I have a lot of physical side effects and no obvious benefit (unless having almost no emotions is better than being irritable and snappy, not entirely convinced!) but we'll see.

    I suppose then, there's a double taboo going on here - menopause and antidepressants...

    So, true my open and honest, stubborn self, I've chosen to "out" myself as someone for whom menopause is difficult and long lasting (six and a half years an counting... at least another four to go) in the hope that, just maybe, someone who reads this will be reassured that she is not mad or bad, that it is quite normal and natural to feel like this, and that there is help out there.

    For anyone who is experiencing menopause, there's a good website called menopause matters

    For any brave men who have read this far - thank you, just by doing so you are helping your partners, colleagues and friends.