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  • Almost Advent

    When I was in the coffee shop opposite church this morning, one of the guys behind the counter asked me if I thought it was too early for them to have put up their Christmas decorations.  It should be noted that the decs consist of three bunches of baubles - looking a bit like overgrown bunches of grapes - in a fairly tasteful, muted colour scheme.

    Christmas decs before Remembrance is something I'm not keen on... let's be honest it took me about forty years to come to terms with them being up before my birthday!  With supermarkets and chain stores filled with Christmas stuff since late August, with Starbucks and Greggs flogging their festive products, the precedents are clearly there - I reckon my local independent coffee shop is entitled to join in!

    Anyway, when I get back from my lovely weekend away (now including the very, very exciting possibility of attending an ordination/induction for a genuine Scottish woman Baptist minister) we will be starting Advent a few days early, as this year the material I am adapting for our lunch time reflections has five parts.  "Mother Roots" by Helen Bruch Pearson is a book looking at the stories of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba before introducing us to Mary.  With a 'scarlet thread' running right through it, we will have a very different approach to the Christmas season.  I hope people enjoy and are inspired by it.  Some years back I preached a series based on this book at Dibley, and it was evidently memorable for the right reasons!

    Sundays will be based on David Adam's 'Candles in the Dark', a study guide for Advent which I used the first year I was at Dibley for lunch time reflections.  I ought to note my gratitude to that little congregation who actually asked me for the Advent reflections, so much had they appreciated the Lent ones I'd dared to innovate soon after arriving!  I am excited about this series of services because they are going to be a bit experimental, a bit multi-sensory, a bit interactive and a bit of a longer series, as the book carries us through to Epiphany (something I didn't achieve in Dibley where we used the first four studies only).  Rather than lots of long sermons, we will be doing stuff together that, I hope, allows us to be open to hear God afresh, to slow down, to be excited and mystified.

    So, a very busy Advent in prospect: I love these seasons so much, and long to make them special for others.  I'm excited - hope others will be too.

  • The Mystery of History!

    Yesterday I received an invitation to be part of a conference taking place next May in Glasgow to celebrate the centenary of the first woman minister to be ordained in Scotland.  She was in the Church of the Nazarene, and her name was Olive Winchester.  On May 12th 1912 she was ordained.  What is intriguing is that this was more than a decade earlier than the Baptists and Congregationalists in England (who squabble regularly about who was first!) altough of course Deaconesses and 'She Preachers' go back far further and it is a moot point whether or not they were 'real' ministers.

    Any road up, as the saying goes, once I have more information, I as hysterical historical object and "exhibit 'A'" will be preparing to partiicpate in something that I think is really important and rather wonderful.... a day for celebrating women ministers in Scotland.

  • Tired and Tetchy

    It has been a busy few weeks since I had a proper break back in August!  My weekend away in September feels like a distant memory, and I am glad that in just over a week I have a few days away from it all to relax, unwind, read books (nothing heavy, precious little theology), hopefully swim (if my scars/shoulder are up to it) and maybe walk a bit if the weather is half decent.

    I read somewhere recently that it takes as long to recover from cancer treatment as it takes to have the treatment - which means I still have a fair few months to go before I have a right to expect to feel properly recovered.  Most of the time I feel great, but I do get tired far more easily than I used to, and the last week or two it has begun to 'tell' as I get increasingly tetchy.

    Partly, I think, that's because I have expended a lot of emotional energy in recent weeks, not in relation to myself or to my anxieties, but in trying to support other people in plural contexts, trying to hear diverse voices, trying to to maintain my integrity even when that it would be far less demanding to capitulate.  Funerals, illness, debates, resolutions, requests for help... it's all good, but it's demanding.

    I have a suspicion that some of the tetchiness is mixed up with a sense of loss, a level of grieving for those parts of me - physical, emotional, intellectual - that have been taken away by the experiences of the past year or so.  I have a feeling that we aren't always so good at giving ourselves the spaces and places we need to mourn the 'little deaths' that occur along life's way.

    This Sunday is Remembrance Sunday, when we will be recalling those who died in armed conflict.  It will also include an opportunity to recall our own losses.  There will be an opportunity to remember those we have loved and lost - this year or many years ago.  There will also we acknowledgement that there are other losses we need permission to mourn... be that loss of a breast, loss of a partner through divorce, loss of dreams, loss of certainty....

    So, what energy I have this week is being poured into preparing for Sunday... and if I am snappy or snarly in the meantime, I'm sorry... I'm just 'bone tired' as they say in some parts of England.  Or 'tired and emotional' as Paul O'Grady would put it!

  • Winter is on its way when...

    ... instead of a latte, you opt for hot chocolate

    ... instead of a sandwich from M&S, you opt for a hot pasty from Greggs

    ... instead of shoes, you wear kneeboots

    ... you wear a hat and gloves

    ... you have to have the heat on at church just to keep yourself from shivering!


    ... oh yes, and it's dark in Scotland long before 5 p.m.


    (PS I tried a praline mocha today.... not my thing at all, way too sickly sweet and an odd after-taste)

  • What Language Shall I Borrow?

    These words from the hymn 'O Sacred Head Sore Wounded' formed the title of a book by Brian Wren exploring the use of language in Christian worship.  It's all a bit dated now, though much of what he said has still to find its way into public worship in general and hymnody in particular.  But every now and then it comes to mind as I find myself pondering what is the 'right', by which I mean 'appropriate', language for various contexts.

    Tomorrow I have been invited to speak at a 'Gospel Meeting'... the title says it all really.  I am really pleased to have been invited, and I know the cost to the person who has invited me, a woman, to speak in a context where patriarchy reigns in its often rather ungenerous extremes.  Just imagine being the coordinator of a meeting, and having invited speakers tell you that you may not even give the announcements because you are a woman...  If it were me, I wouldn't invite them back, I can only assume that in this, she is way more gracious than I.

    Anyway, language.  Hmm.  This is a meeting that centres on its weekly altar call, even though the same people are always present and have heard it every week for donkey's years.  I don't 'do' altar calls, I fear that they can be counterproductive, leading people to confuse emotion with spiritual awakening.  So I have had to find a way to say stuff that includes an invitation to respond to the hope we have in Christ (which is close to an altar call) and also to challenge them to consider what a grounded expression of discipleship might be.  A lot of language games and of style games (about half of what I'm saying is direct chunks of Bible!) to say what I feel I can with integrity say in a way that can be heard and received by those who are present.

    I think these words, from 1 Peter 3: 15b - 16a, which come near the end of my 'talk' offer me a helpful principle:

    Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you, but do it with gentleness and respect.

    God works in mysterious ways - the idea that I am speaking in a gospel meeting is quite bizarre, but I pray that gentleness and respect will characterise my speaking and doing.