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  • Christmas and beyond...

    It's been a bit quiet on here - partly because I succumbed to the 'Clergy Christmas Cold'.  Thankfully it was a 'short sharp' one, with the first stirrings in the evening of Christmas Day, and now, apart from some post viral fatigue, it's behind me. Anyway, enough self indulgent waffle.

    Christmas Day itself was wonderful... the service attracted around fifty folk, who participated in a low key, easy access service.  After that it was on to dinner - and, in the words of the African American spiritual, 'the people keep a-comin...' as we served fifty meals.  For sure, most people were there at the appointed time, but there were new arrivals with each course, and the last person came in from the cold just as we started to clear the tables - and was so grateful for a warm place and hot meal. I always love the miracle of this gathering, not that people come (that takes a fair bit of work, though the 'jungle drums' and Holy Spirit reach where advertising cannot) but that people 'of all stripes' sit down together... international students, homeless people, lonely people, elderly people, people desperate to volunteer, Christian people, Muslim people, agnostic and atheist people.  It's hard work, tiring work (and the photo was me when I got home, and the Christmas jammies and fluffy slippers went on).  It is also 'what Christmas is about' and so often isn't.  I am proud to have been a small part of it.

    After that it was hibernating for a couple of days as the lurgy took told... but that was a good call, it cleared up quickly.

    This morning, as has become recent custom, we joined with Church of Scotland friends for a 'Turn of the Year' service during which we looked back and forwards, reflected on some hopeful words of Scripture and sung some lovely hymns/songs.

    People we gracious and joined in creating the verses for 'Thank you God for this past year...' with some super, and significant, choices...

    Thank you God for:

    (Great) Grandchildren

    Special friends

    Ready meals

    Mountain rescue

    This past year!

    We also sang Bonhoeffer's New Year Hymn, 'By gracious powers' and prayed together Wesley's Covenant Prayer - these are powerful and poignant, and it was more than a little self-indulgent to chose them.  We listened to some great words of Scripture, infused with hope and encouragement. And it felt pretty darned good!

    So that's it, then, all services for 2019 completed.  If we count the new millennium from 2000, we are are now a fifth of the way through its first century (eek!).  If we say the old one ended in 2000, well, OK, we are about to enter the 20th one of the new century (equally eek!).  Had anyone said to me, as a first year ministerial student working alongside an Anglican parish in 1999 that in 2019 I would be co-leading a service with a Church of Scotland minister in Glasgow, I would probably have thought they were slightly mad (only slightly, because after all God had so clearly called me to abandon my career to train).  Those twenty years have seen a lot of changes and challenges, as well as lots of joy and delight.  And so it is that I can sing Bonhoeffer's hymn and pray Wesley's prayer with honest intent and commitment...

    I am no longer my own but yours.
    Put me to what you will,
    rank me with whom you will;
    put me to doing,
    put me to suffering;
    let me be employed for you,
    or laid aside for you,
    exalted for you,
    or brought low for you;
    let me be full,
    let me be empty,
    let me have all things,
    let me have nothing:
    I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
    to your pleasure and disposal.
    And now, glorious and blessed God,
    Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
    you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
    And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.'

    Alas, I seem unable to find a version of 'By Gracious Powers' to 'Finlandia' (the set tune in Baptist Praise and Worship, ergo, the 'right tune') so you will have to imagine it, but it is truly awesome!

    I have just stumped the cost of another year's blogging, on the basis that £3 a week isn't exactly big bucks...  Thanks to everyone who continues to read this stuff, and may God bless you with a peaceful and hopeful 2020 when it comes.



  • Christmas Eve...

    The last card to come by post this year, and it'd be hard to find one more pertinent, I think. It was sent by friends who live in Whaley Bridge, a town that came within a hair's breadth of being swept away as a dam started to crumble under the pressure of water above it.  A scary, close to home, reminder of the fragility of our planet, and the impact of climate change.

    I have online friends in Australia who live in fear that this will be the day that they have to abandon their homes.

    I also have online friends thoughout ther UK who fear they will lose their homes because of austerity or government policy, a different kind of climate change.

    Part of the message of Christmas is that God enters this mess to transform it from within. Not be magic (oops, miracle) because that would absolve humanity of all responsibility.  No, God enters it as a human, to be part of it and to show us how we can love God's creation as God does.  We can't just cling blithely or blindly to the Revelation 21/22 promises.  We can't just pray harder.  We have to incarnate, to live out, day by day, a best we possibly can, our anticipation of that hope.

    That's not easy, in fact it's extremely difficult.  But it's what Christmas is about...

    God loved the world so much that God entered the world so that all creation - all creation, including the Trump administration, including Westminster (and Holyrood and Brussels), including ISIS/ISIL, including whoever I may see as 'battered' or 'beleagured', 'broken' or 'bad', or 'them', all of it - might be saved.

    And if that doesn't give me pause for thought, then, Houston, I have a problem!

    I can't fix it all, but I can be light in my small corner...

    card back.jpg


  • More Frivolity

    (With thanks to some of my minister friends south of Hadrian's Wall)

    Tunes to which 'While Shepherd's Watched' has been sung in church settings... a) Winchester Old (usual tune)

    b) Ilkley Moor bar t'hat (Ilkla Moor baht 'at)

    c) Lyngham (Oh, for a thousand tongues)

    d) Sweet shining Christmas bells


    So far, so good, huh?  Keep going... yes, really...


    e) The house of the rising sun

    f) Ghost riders in the sky


    And if not sung, at least been aware of...


    g) The laughing policeman

    h) Supercalifragilistic...


    So, of anyone wants to spice up their carol service, or maybe ruin someone else's, feel free to experiement with any of these

  • Light Relief

    Know this so well!  To be fair, less as an adult than as a child. Obviously in good company!!

  • Thought Provoking... (Not Festive, Not Fun)


    I saw this advertisement on a train a couple of weeks ago, and was so insensed by it that I took a photo. Since then I've been meaning to post something in response, but have been too busy.

    To be clear, I totally respect the right of people to have whatever form of funeral they choose, but I do feel that the premise of this advert is misguided - it misses the key question of 'who' a funeral is for.  Not, I would deign to argue, the deceased, but rather those who mourn their loss.

    The reality is, whatever we believe (or don't), we aren't the ones whose needs are met - or not met - by a funeral.  It is those who remember us who need a framework within which to say 'farewell' and achieve a measure of, if not 'closure', at least 'completion'.

    Funerals can be faith-based, can be humanist or can totally non-religious.  Whatever form they take, they name the reality - that so-and-so has died.  Whatever people thinks happens after death, they offer a framework to recall some highlights of the person's life, some things that mattered to them, some things that we don't want to be lost.

    Personally, I think it is good to see the coffin, and the move to 'private committal followed by thanksgiving' loses something important (others, increasingly it seems, disagree).  The approach being advertised above could mean that a person dies in hospital and is taken directly to the crematorium where, with absolutely no ceremony, their body is cremated.  What do the family do?  Or the neighbours and friends? I fear that this approach - undoubtedly well intentioned - could lead to regrets later on.  Whilst we have all heard horror stories of terrible funerals, few people seem to regret that there was one.

    On Friday just gone, I conducted a funeral.   We arrived at the crematorium just as the daylight faded into night, and the drizzle turned to rain.  It's probably the least popular slot - Friday afternoon, last slot of the day, mid December.  Around fifty to sixty folk were there to say farewell to a woman in her mid-nineties.  A few stories were told, and there was laugther amidst the tears.  Words of comfort and hope were spoken, and the reality of death and separation named for what it is. And on the way out, as the recording of Glen Miller's 'In the Mood' filled the air, broad smiles spread across faces the faces of those who made their way into the blackness of the night either to return home or to continue to share memories over tea and cake... A life had not just been acknowldeged, it had been celebrated.  A family had not only grieved, they had been surrounded by the love of neighbours and friends.  A formal farewell was expressed, and unspoken permission given to begin the work of moving forward - not 'on', not 'beyond', forward.

    As I said, those who want no fuss, no funeral, that's of course their prerogative.  But if anyone asks my opinion, then I'd say funeral every time.  Yes it costs more to have a funeral (direct cremations are cheaper because the FD has less to do and they take less time) but it is, in my opinion, money well spent.

    For the record, one day hopefully far off, my choices are - church service followed by cremation, all prepaid by me.  I wonder what will you choose, and why?