By continuing your visit to this site, you accept the use of cookies. These ensure the smooth running of our services. Learn more.

- Page 5

  • An Advent Calendar of Sorts - 8th December

    In many churches, the evening service on Advent 4 takes the form of 'lessons and carols' or 'carols by candlelight' and it is a warm, upbeat, nostalgic, sometimes evangelistic, hopefully missional and community welcoming, experience.

    The model here has been ecumenical and choral - combined choirs from local churches and a children's choir from the school where our choir-leader teaches and a 'lessons and carols' format of traditional and contemporary readings.  For all sorts of reasons, that isn't feasible this year, and yesterday I met with A to think about what we might offer instead this year.

    From the muddle of books in my still-being-sorted study, I took along 'Doing December Differently', a book I bought many moons ago (it sat on my bookcase in Dibley) and from this emerged the germ of an idea which we have developed into "A Quiet Christmas - Reading and Songs for those who will find Christmas difficult this year"

    So many people we know and love are approaching Christmas recently bereaved or having faced significant personal or familial challenges and life events.  The physical work of packing up and clearing out our building has taken its toll.  Whilst we need, and will offer, promises of hope, what we don't need, and won't offer is glib sentimentality or gaudy jollity.

    Here's one of the poems we aren't using on the service, which shows how honesty and authenticity and hope and joy and tears and laughter can co-exist...


    Let the bells jingle but make time for tears to fall.

    Eat, drink and be merry but do not go hungry in that inner place.

    Rest, reflect and remember, Be true to yourself.

    Many of us can't play happy families at this time of year.


    December is for a difficult diagnosis as well as dreaming of a white Christmas

    December is for divorce as well as decorations.

    December is for death and dying as well as discos and dancing.

    December is for distances that separate us from people,

    even those in the same room.


    Disappointment in December is especially hard to bear.

    Sometimes the light no longer shines in the darkness.

    The desolation swallows us up and we die a little.


    Yet a kindly word, a bird in flight, a tree alive with hips and hoars

    can drown out despair and kindle determination to move on.

    Dig down deeper than the tinsel to the place where hope is found.

    Maybe, just maybe, the flickering flame will be fanned gentle into fire.


    Helen Jesty Doing December Differently pub. Wildgoose Publications, 2006, page 32

  • An Advent Calendar of Sorts - 7th December

    Thanks to H for this photo, taken in Sunday morning at the end of the service just before we went into super-fast pack up mode to allow the room to be re-set for a Wedding!

    Everything on the table holds significance for the Gatherers.  The objects we had packed up last week were carefully unpacked within the serivce, and the table re-set.

    It was all a bit cluttered, the table the hotel supplied was much smaller than the one we left behind, but somehow that expresses something of the messyness (messiness?) of this community of all ages and stages, assorted views and understandings, backgrounds, nationalities etc. etc.

    Something about the messyness seems to be very Advent appropriate - life is messy, untidy, doesn't always go to plan yet this is precisely where the promise of Emmanuel, God with us, is experienced.

  • An Advent Calendar of Sorts - 6th December

    Self-indulgent today, because 6th December is my anniversary of ordination, and today I become a teenage minister, as it was thirteen years ago that I made my ordination vows.  The photo is the ring I bought for myself to commemorate the moment, to serve as a visible reminder of the vows I had made.  Whilst I no onger wear the ring (due to lymphoedema) the symbolsim remains.

    It was a cold, dank December day, and people had travelled up specially from Dibley to Warrington to participate in the service.  My former boss (who had travelled down from East Kilbride with a former colleague from Stirling) read the lessons.  Children from each of the churches I worked with during my training led the intercessions. Guests included Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, URC, Baptists and 'nothings'.  One of my tutors preached.  I met my Mum from a train and put her back on another later that evening.  A South African exchange student attended as part of his experience of Britsh Baptist life.  A pianist from a placement church accompanied the hymns, and the music group from Warrington played for the songs. Maybe it was prophetic that the minister of WBC at the time was a Scot, who knew!  Sincere vows were made.  Sandwiches were eaten (by everyone else anyway!). Tea was drunk.  Gifts and cards were given.

    Thirteen years on, and a lot has changed.  Dibley has left the building.  The Gatherers have (temporarily) left the building.  Warrington will soon leave the building.  My theology continues to evolve and change.  Ministry is still definitely an experiment and I still don't know what proper ministers actually do.  As I said at my end of probation/NAM interview, the good bits have been so much better, and the bad bits so much worse, than I could ever have imagined.

    Perhaps it's fitting that today is a training day for the BUS Board of Ministry, and will be looking at the whole process of exploring call with candidates. 

    For me, there is the mischievous thought that as a teenager minister, I am allowed to be even more stroppy and angsty, and the sober one that God has entrusted to me the "cure of souls" (as our Anglican friends would put it), than which there there is no greater privilege or responsibility.


  • An Advent Calendar of Sorts - 5th December

    I was delighted to discover that our Sunday School have chosen Refuwegee as their Christmas project this year.  I am looking forward to choosing the contents of the bag I will prepare.

    But one line got me thinking... "something that makes you think of home" with the suggestion that this (obviously) be something Scottish or Glaswegian.  Trouble is, for me, 'home' is not defined by place.  When I lived in Northampton, that was home.  When I lived in Warrington, that was home.  Now, living in Glasgow, this is home.  But it's not the food or the architectural icons or even the culture that makes a place 'home' for me; it's not even the place that makes it home, it's something much less tangible.

    In Dibley, the Baptist chapel had four sandstone foundation stones, each engraved with the names of one of the main benefactors and a faith statement: God our Father, Christ our Saviour, the Sprirt our Helper (I think) and, notably, "heaven our home". 

    That always resonated with me.  For me, my identity, whether that is "nationality" or "citizenship" is not defined geographically or politically but, I guess, "ontologically".  Ultimately my identity is in Christ and my home is wherever Christ is... and that has no geo-political definition other than "the cosmos".

    Tunnocks teacakes and IRNBRU don't cut it for me - and neither do Eccles cakes or decent Stilton or Melton Mowbray pork pies or any of the other wonderful regional delicacies that I have encountered along life's journey this far.  Home, for me, is where my cats are... and I can hardly put a cat in a gift bag for someone newly arrived in Glasgow!

    Among the gifts I was given when I arrived in Glasgow was a lovely Saltire mug, sadly it got broken somewhere along the way  but it was hugely symbolic coming from a family of English and Irish parentage who had made their home here.  I think I might look for something similar to put into my gift... maybe along with a box of English breakfast tea!! ;-)

    Part of the story we recall in Advent is about leaving home, about having to choose very carefully what from home we may carry with us and what new things we have yet to discover that will allow us to find a sense of "home" wherever we may be. 

    I think my prayer has to be that people would discover a sense of "home" whatever that means for them, wherever they may be.

  • An Advent Calendar of Sorts - 4th December

    That's a seriously old photo, chosen not for its age, but because it's probably the only one I have in which my role as a preacher is symbolised.

    Advent 2 is a significant Sunday on my personal calendar (irrespective of the date upon which it falls) because it is the liturgical date upon which I heard God speak the words to me, "you, preach the word..." albeit mediated via the apostle writing to a young man named Timothy.

    Since that day - at which point I had never in my life preached a sermon, though I had led weekly devotions at Girls' Brigade for almost two decades - I have written and delivered hundreds and hundreds of sermons, addresses, reflections etc..  Some have come easily, some have been wrestled; some have evidently been meaningful and helpful to specific individuals, some have been eminently forgettable.  A bit like 'Sunday dinner' (as one book on the craft of preaching describes it) sermons are consumed, usually in company, their goodness/nutritional worth absorbed and then, for the most part, forgotten.

    So I'll let you into an Advent secret... today's sermon is probably one of the most ill-prepared ever, being more akin to beans on toast than a Sunday roast.  It has been a pretty manic and full on week, in which I have repeatedly chosen people over preparation, and along the way there has been a fair deal of practical stuff to fit in too.  The ideas I intend to share are fine, reflecting the readings from which they emerge, and hopefully speaking into the context, it'll just be a bit shorter than usual and maybe not everso profound.

    Perhaps it's a good thing for me to take a moment this morning, and remind myself of the intensity and certainty of that call, late in the evening of the second Sunday of Advent back in 1997...