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Sabbatical, Day 71, Easter Sunday: Jesus Returns To Life

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Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! In this final Damaris Trust video for Holy Week, Krish Kandiah and Peter May talk about how Jesus’ resurrection from the dead gives us hope when considering what happens when we die.

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A great service for Easter Day at St Andrew’s this morning. ‘In a packed programme tonight’, as the Two Ronnies used to say, we had the Easter liturgy, renewal of baptismal vows, Holy Communion (of course) and people invited from the community to remember deceased loved ones.

In the middle of all that, there were two highlights for me. Firstly, the worship band shrank at one point to the younger members only. So Emily on vocals , Dan on guitar, Bradley on keys  and the drummer whose name I don’t know – they’re all round about thirteen years old – led us in Tim Hughes‘ ‘Happy Day‘. Here’s a version by the original artist:

Emily is a great singer, Dan a quiet and efficient bandleader, Bradley filled in subtly and the drummer guy is top drawer.

The other highlight was Lee’s sermon. Taking Mark 16:1-8, he made a virtue of the strange and sudden ending to Mark’s Gospel. He said we have to write our own ending to the Easter story in our lives. I thought that was great. 

For all that, it’s been quite a mixed day emotionally. On the one hand, I have entered Easter with a renewed confidence in the truth and importance of the Resurrection. Not that I ever lost my belief in the bodily Resurrection of Christ for one moment, but sometimes when life or circumstances aren’t the most encouraging, it can feel far away. Reading Tim Keller (sorry to mention him again!) and Tom Wright (see this excellent article from The Times yesterday) has done much to fortify my faith.

But other things have been weighing me down. My friend Will says today, in talking about his service this morning, 

Before the prayers of intercession, I reminded our congregation that for many the joys of Easter are still crowded out by their own personal Good Fridays. I know I have friends who will this week spend more time agonising in the Garden of Gethsemane (Jen and Mike, we are praying for you and Luke). For some, Easter is more like the women in Mark who hid when afraid.

And as he mentions his friends Jen, Mike and Luke, so I have been thinking about the three couples I mentioned last Sunday who have separated. Some events today have reminded me of them. Debbie and I feel such pain for them. And if that is how we feel, how do they?

More trivially, our eighteen-year-old cat is suddenly looking old, frail and weak. We are beginning to think the end might be near. The children realise, and on top of the fact that they have been asking questions about death as we’ve come through Holy Week, Good Friday and today. Mark in particular keeps asking whether he will die on a cross like Jesus.

I’m also starting to get more regular questions about how much longer the sabbatical has to go. The answer is that – with having tacked a week’s leave onto the end – I shall be back on duty four weeks today. The official Methodist literature on sabbaticals talks about planning your ‘re-entry’, which rather makes ministers feel like Apollo astronauts. The idea is that there should be a managed, phased re-introduction to active ministry.

Which makes me think of two words: ‘fat’ and ‘chance’. At least I hope it won’t be like my last sabbatical, when the superintendent asked me to come back early due to a crisis with the circuit treasurer. However, a sabbatical grants you new vision in all sorts of ways. It is then a huge challenge to share that vision with churches that are used to things being a long way different from such visions. I’ve always been a restless traveller on the outer fringes of Methodism: right now I feel somewhere out beyond Pluto.

Of course, it may just be a version of what anyone feels when a good holiday is coming to an end and they have to return to work. (Not that I’m suggesting the sabbatical is a holiday!) Time will tell.

Sabbatical, Day 36: Getting Old And Wet In Lent

St Andrew’s has become our default church for the sabbatical. The children are happier visiting a church where they know some people, rather than every face being strange or forgotten.

Today, Lee, the curate (our next door neighbour) preached. He took the classic Lenten passage from Mark 8 featuring Jesus’ call to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow him. He said that for someone who enjoys preaching about God’s love, such a stern passage seemed difficult, but this was about the love of God, too. For love is a two-way street, and taking up the cross is a way we respond in love to God’s love.

He passed round a cross he keeps at home. He had asked a blacksmith to make it for him before he began training for the ministry. The blacksmith made three nails, and then made the cross from those nails. I couldn’t pass it on quickly when it came to me. I had to examine it and feel it. What a powerful piece of art it was. It reminded me of when I once had nails given out to worshippers at a Good Friday service, and another when I let people know in advance that someone would hammer nails into a cross during the service. Some church members objected. It made me wonder about their faith. I am glad nothing like that happened to Lee today.

He also made a simple, telling point about what it might mean to carry one’s cross. Taking up the cross, he said, can happen when we have to choose between the easy way to do something and the right way. On a day when a pastor has been shot dead in Illinois, I find this poignant. It is of course only too common in many other countries. 

St Andrew’s service begins at 10 am, so even with communion and an after-service coffee it’s possible to arrive home early enough to do something worthwhile as a family for the rest of the day. We headed for the Great Notley Discovery Centre. Sunshine and blue skies beckoned us to take a picnic.

Arriving around 1 pm, we settled straight down for the picnic. It didn’t surprise us to eat in blustery conditions: the adventure park is open and exposed. The children got to swing and climb on all sorts of outdoor activities, not worrying that grey clouds were infiltrating the blue. 

Except that they got cold, and so we headed back to the café, where we ordered hot chocolates and despite the much reduced temperatures, they insisted on ice creams. Finding the last spare table inside, we sat down. And noticed the arrival outside of horizontal rain. We supped slowly before heading back to the car during a break in the meteorological assault. 

I’ll close tonight with some music. In view of various scurrilous comments on Facebook about my age since my birthday last Wednesday, I thought I’d post this clip of the mighty Little Feat performing Old Folks’ Boogie. Sing with me:

Don’t you know
That you’re over the hill
When your mind makes a promise
That your body can’t fill

Sabbatical, Day 22: Good News And Packing

Two pieces of good news today: first of all, Mark will probably be fit enough for school tomorrow. He wasn’t quite up to church this morning, but he is surprisingly self-aware for a four-year-old, so when he said he wasn’t up to it we were sure he was being truthful.

I took Rebekah back to St Andrew’s, where she enjoyed the Sunday School. I had the pleasure of hearing Linda the Reader (and a staff member at the pre-school our children attended) preach, even quoting a book I had recommended to her. It was also a delight to be in a communion service where Lee our curate neighbour presided. The congregation read the liturgy too fast for five-year-old Rebekah to follow, and perhaps that’s something many churches need to bear in mind if children are to be at the sacrament. They also didn’t have anyone giving directions as to when you should go to the rail for communion – again, how easily we think we all know the drill.

This afternoon Rebekah returned there for their monthly Activ8 for primary school children, which she loves. We took Mark for a short walk around the estate. He is big into cameras at present. It began with speed cameras and has now spread to CCTV. He’ll never struggle to see them in this country. Today, Debbie spread his interest to looking out for burglar alarms on houses. 

The second item of good news in addition to Mark’s health is that the broadband speed problem is solved. The speed tests with BT ultimately showed the capacity was present on our line for a normal speed (well, normal in our ‘up to 8Mb’ contract is ‘up to 2 Mb’), but the bottleneck was local. I traced it to the router. By the simple device of turning it off for thirty seconds and on again, regular service was resumed.

I’m glad that is fixed before I go away. Tomorrow I head off to Trinity College, Bristol for a week on ‘Management, Leadership and the Practice of Ministry’. I’m not entirely comfortable with associating the word ‘management’ with ministry for a number of reasons, unless by management we mean ‘stewardship’. However, my reason for attending the course is this is the one I’ve been building up to in the blog posts lately – it has elements about ministry and the minister’s personality type.

So right now, I’m throwing a few things into a bag ready for the getaway, and I’m burning some CDs to iTunes on the laptop in the hope they might transfer to the MP3 player on my phone. Then there will be all the last-minute stuff in the morning – all to pack while helping get the children ready for school – and then I hit the road as soon as I’m back from the school run.

For some reason today I’ve been quite nervous about this trip. I get quite anxious about getting through the first twenty-four hours in a strange place (and Trinity will be strange, twenty years after leaving), getting to know where things are and the nature of the routine. Maybe God has something good in store, though. I shouldn’t be surprised if he has.

Next post should be via wifi from Trinity!

Sabbatical, Day 15

Change of plan today. We were all set to visit Holy Trinity church, Springfield, but little Mark woke up vomiting. Debbie said she’d stay at home with him while I took Rebekah to church. However, she was nervous about going into a Sunday School on her own where she didn’t know anyone. However, she had a Plan B. She said she’d prefer to go to a church where she knew some people.

One church fitted the description: our local parish church, St Andrew’s, where the vicar is my prayer partner, the curate is our next-door neighbour, the reader was one of the children’s pre-school teachers … and tens of other people, too. Checking their website, I learned that the third Sunday morning of the month was all-age worship. I explained to Rebekah that she wouldn’t be going out to Sunday School but would be staying in the service with me, where we would all do things together. She was happy, and off we went. 

It’s always interesting to see how another church handles these things. I think all-age worship is notoriously difficult to carry off well. It’s hard enough pitching something for a group of adults at some times. And it isn’t without cause that children are split into year groups at school to focus the teaching. (Even then, the teacher has a challenge.) With breadth of ability, background and so on, I envy any church that can turn in a good act of worship that helps people across the generations to connect together with God. For my part, I don’t assume that all-age worship or ‘family service’ simply equals ‘children’s service’. I try to include several little elements, each mainly pitched at a different group within the congregation.

So what did I think? Well, naturally I’m not going to write something here on a public blog that constitutes a review of worship largely led by good friends of mine. However, one observation struck me in particular. As an Anglican church, they are largely constrained to use official liturgies in their services. What we had this morning looked like it must be a General Synod-sanctioned order of service for all-age worship. It was like a cut-down version of Morning Prayer. However, if some liturgist thought this was sufficiently simplified to include children in the worship, then I’m afraid someone at Church House needs to meet some kids. I wouldn’t expect everything in even an act of all-age worship to be accessible to a nearly six-year-old, but I was on a permanent translation exercise with Rebekah. Phrases like ‘source of all life’ are way too philosophical and abstract to work with children. If only the liturgists had rewritten things in a more narrative form rather than thinking they had to give them a taste of Chalcedonian or Nicene Councils, it would have been promising.

Haveing nevertheless been sold a pup by the hierarchy, I have to say that St Andrew’s did put two or three good things into the service where they had the liberty to do so. The Bible reading was dramatised effectively. I still needed to explain to Rebekah what leprosy was, but I would have had to have done that anyway.

Then there was the use of a DVD clip at the end of the talk. The theme was how we exclude people whom God wants to include. They used Hans Christian Andersen singing ‘The Ugly Duckling’. It resonated with older people who remembered the song and/or the film, and children were invited to the front to get a better view. It made sense to them, too. 

Finally, one song in particular that I didn’t know but probably millions have known for aeons. Jim Bailey wrote a version of the Lord’s Prayer in the mid-90s (yes, 1990s) and I found it very singable. Definitely one to note for trying out when I return from sabbatical.

Welll, there’s nothing very interesting in blog terms to report about the rest of the day, as it mainly consisted of me taking Rebekah out while Debbie continued to stay home with Mark. But hopefully what I’ve written on the all-age worship will stimulate a conversation. I look forward to any comments you’d like to make.

Sabbatical, Day 1

The sabbatical began today with a visit to Holy Trinity, Springfield, which will be our worship home for the next three months. I jotted down a few items from the service that could make the transition to worship in smaller, more elderly congregations than Holy Trinity’s. Not least among these was a version of the Creed rewritten as a hymn and sung to the tune of ‘I will sing the wondrous story‘. Tim, the vicar, kindly emailed me the words.

Mind you, I do recall hearing Professor Frances Young say in a lecture once that the creeds were originally acts of worship, so perhaps putting them in a hymn is entirely appropriate for those who sing their worship.

It’s not the first time it’s been done: in recent years, Graham Kendrick has, as have Stuart Townend and Keith Getty. So has Wayne Drain. And those are just the ones I that come to mind immediately. So there’s something to store away for when I return in May.

 This afternoon, it was another church trip. This afternoon, our friends at St Andrew’s held one of their ‘Activ8’ Sunday afternoons for primary school age children. This time, however, parents were allowed to stay. They had a Christingle, timed to coincide not with Christmas but with Candlemas, the festival that celebrates the presentation of the infant Jesus in the Jerusalem Temple. But coincide was all it did: everything was Christingle.

Besides, while we were in the church, we could see the snow starting to arrive in thick quantities. And while that is more characteristic of February than December, it made the afternoon feel more Christmassy for some, not least two excited children with whom I am acquainted.

We played a game with paper pieces of a Christingle, rather like playing Beetle or Hangman with a Christian twist. There was a picture of a Christingle on an A4 piece of paper turned landscape-wise, with the text of a grace to say at mealtimes. Once you had coloured it in, you could have it laminated, and hey presto, one place mat. That was another idea, along with the sung creed this morning, to ‘borrow’. Finally, before sharing tea together, we made our own Christingles, albeit using glow sticks rather than lit candles.

So twice in one day I have found something to take back after the sabbatical, and I wasn’t even looking intentionally. Sometimes I say I don’t have an original idea in my body. My best ideas have been duplicated from someone else. 

How about you? Are you original? Do you borrow? Or both? And if you have borrowed something good, do you feel like sharing it further in the comments below?