A funny thing happened…….

It wasn’t on the way to the forum, but a funny thing happened on the way to the surgery.  I was going to collect a prescription when my eye caught sight of a thing looking a bit like a lobster on the pavement.  I thought it unusual, but took no notice.  In fact I wondered if it was a plastic toy!

A few minutes later, as I returned from the surgery with my medicine in my pocket, I spied another of these creatures. This one stood out more, and seemed to be upside down. I decided that these were crayfish.  I thought that to see one was odd, to see two even more so.

There had been a thunderstorm and lots of heavy rain.  It was almost as if they had fallen from the sky in the rain. Could it be, I thought?  I was sure I could remember reading something about crayfish falling from the sky.  Later on I ‘googled’ “crayfish fall from sky”. It’s not unheard of, apparently.

I found this  article on a site called creationmoments.com, “Cloudy with a chance of crayfish” http://www.creationmoments.com/radio/transcripts/cloudy-chance-crayfish

So maybe they had just dropped out of the sky.


When dark clouds are o’er us….

“Lord thy Word abideth,” wrote Henry Baker, in the hymn. One of the verses says

“When the storms are o’er us, and dark clouds before us, then its light directeth, and our way protecteth.”

We’ve had some stormy weather recently and our share of dark clouds before us, literally and metaphorically.

At our midweek communion we often think about the people who are commemorated that week in the Church’s calendar.  Today we thought about the Curé d’Ars Jean Baptiste Vianney.  I read something from his work, and one phrase stood out as I read it.  He wrote “When we pray truly, difficulties melt like snow in the sunshine”.

I thought too about Psalm 27.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked advance against me to devour me,
it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the Lord.”

It was in last Sunday’s Epistle reading that we read from Saint Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome:

“Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.”

The book of intercessions we use includes a prayer for this week’s services

“Make us conquerors through Christ of all that would harm our living together with others.”

Amen to that!

Looking back, but moving forward….

It is said of the Reverend Gustavus Frederick Hopton-Scott that he used to watch from the study window of his rectory as his parishioners arrived for church in his north Nottinghamshire parish, and once they had all arrived, he would follow them in, and lock the door, putting the key in his cassock pocket.  They were not going home until he was through! “Captive audience,” for him, was no mere expression.  He was the last person to be buried inside that church, and, as if to stop him going anywhere, it was decided that his coffin be encased in concrete!

The end of June marks the thirtieth anniversary of my ordination to the Priesthood. On Saint Peter’s day I shall have been a priest for thirty years.  Priestly orders are conferred for life, so even when I retire from employment I shall still be a priest.  Over the years I have served in two suburban parishes, and three groups of rural parishes, as well as being the Bishop’s Adviser on Rural Affairs.  I served in Hopton-Scott’s parish, many years after him.  I followed a priest who had been Vicar there for thirty-two years, and whose predecessor had also served there for thirty-two years. In sixty-four years the place had only known two vicars.  In another parish my immediate predecessor had been rector for twenty-seven years.  “I’ve known twelve vicars here,” said one elderly lady there, “you’re the thirteenth.”  Unlucky for some!

Such long-serving predecessors become legends in the parishes, loved and respected, and talked about long after they’ve moved on or died.  In fact people delight in talking to us as clergy about our predecessors and what they “used to do”.  Whenever I’ve been involved in making new appointments to parishes I have discouraged people from talking about the previous incumbent.  It gets a little tiresome after a while for the newcomer.  Clergy are all different, with different skills and interests, and different kinds of spirituality.  “Beware the legacy of the predecessor,” said a bishop to me one day. Sometimes it’s “Beware the cult of the predecessor” too!  A priest I trained with in Leicester reckoned after he’d been there for five years that the parish was running about fifty per cent how he wanted it to run, and fifty per cent how his predecessor had run it.  This picture here shows William E Hallam, Rector of Barnardiston, one of the parishes I currently serve, between 1898 and 1915.

“The past is a foreign country: they do things different there,” wrote the novelist L P Hartley, born at Whittlesey in Cambridgeshire at the beginning of ‘The Go-Between’. Some people harbour nostalgic images of what life used to be like and seem to long to want to inhabit past ages. I’ve sometimes had people talk to me about the “good old days” and asked them if they want to go back to having a dolly tub instead of an automatic washing machine. Of course they don’t!

Things were done differently in the past. The picture is from Felbrigg Hall, a National Trust property in Norfolk. We wouldn’t put much trust nowadays in the old fire engine we see in the picture. We rely on the modern fire fighter to use the most up to date equipment in fighting our fires. We wouldn’t expect our doctors and surgeons to go about their work in the same way that their predecessors did: we wouldn’t want them to! Nor would we want to have our dental problems looked after in the way they were previously. We expect professionals in all the various walks of life to use modern approaches, tools and techniques in their work.

It’s interesting to see how the clergy of previous ages and generations lived and worked. The Revd Francis Kilvert was one clergyman who in the late nineteenth century wrote in his diaries about rural life. Had he lived today he would probably have written a blog. Some clergymen in the past took a keen interest, as I do, in the world of nature, and some were recognised and respected naturalists. We have to remember though that what was possible for clergy hundreds of years ago, or even a few decades ago, is no longer possible for the clergy of our modern multi-parish benefices. Life and work in the twenty-first century makes different demands upon us and we must endeavour to make sure that our methods and our ministry are appropriate to the age in which we live.

Whilst our message is the same as it ever was, and the truth of the love of God for people is the unchanging message people need to hear, our methods and our media and our ministries need to continue to change and evolve in order to relate to the twenty-first century society in which we live.  It is a society which presents us with new opportunities but also with new challenges and problems. Clergy and lay ministers alike today face issues on a daily basis which were unknown to clergy and ministers a few decades ago.  We cannot continue to work as clergy as our predecessors in former decades and former centuries did – and – importantly – nor should we be expected to.

The Church is a living, moving and growing organism.  At school we used to have a school song, and the chorus (in English translation) was “It lives, it grows and in eternity it flourishes”.  The phrase loses something in translation, because in the Latin it rhymes, but what a lovely picture of what the church should be, living, growing and in eternity flourishing.  I was looking recently at sermon notes from nearly thirty years ago, and I came across words about growing, upwards towards God, together, towards each other in fellowship, outwards into the community and then growing numerically.  I remembered today that the parish where I served in Leicester thirty years ago had a “growth committee”.  Today the Church is still talking and thinking about growth.

The fact that the Church lives, and to live must adapt, means that it must change.  One writer, some years ago (and if I knew who it was I would gladly attribute it) suggested that the words which Church members sing and say may sound more splendid than the deeds and attitudes they actually show.  He wrote “they like singing lustily that no goblin nor foul fiend shall daunt their spirit, yet can get remarkably anxious when a new order of service or a new hymn tune is introduced.  Claims to be ‘Christian soldiers, marching as to war’ look a little lame when members of the Parochial Church Council reveal a greater interest in looking to the past than in marching to the future with courage and boldness.”

There’s a story about a Bishop who was visiting a country church and spoke to a man who had been church warden forty years “You must have seen some changes in the church during your forty years,” said the Bishop.  “Aye,” replied the church warden, “and I have opposed every single one of them!”

I don’t take the Tablet, but this is interesting

Many years ago, around the beginning of the nineties, I think, I was invited to go along to a conference of Roman Catholics in Louvain in Belgium.  I was a young clergyman then, and still quite new to ordained ministry.  Having studied languages at university and able to speak both French and German, I was also interested in ecumenical matters. That is to say I was interested in the dialogues between the various Christian churches.  I don’t recall quite how many people there were at the conference, but they were mainly lay people (not clergy types), from around western Europe, with a few even attending from the countries which were at that time still behind the so-called ‘iron curtain’.  There were only six of us from the UK, and we were all members of the Church of England.  There were, interestingly, no Roman Catholics present from the UK.  It was fascinating to hear some of the ideas which the Roman Catholic lay people were saying, particularly as they were putting forward ideas which in the UK would have been unheard of and, in all likelihood, unwelcome!

I remember that our small group from the good old C of E was invited at one point to make a contribution to the conference.  We had time to prepare and sat around writing something, which was then translated into French.  French was the main language for the conference, and there were simultaneous translators sitting at the back of the hall, providing translations into several other languages for people to listen to on headphones via state-of-the-art infra red technology.

As our small English group was invited to address the conference, it fell to me, as the linguist present, to deliver our prepared message.  I stood up and announced (for the benefit of the translators) that I would be speaking in French.  My first few words were greeted with a round of applause.  The delegates had obviously expected me, as an Englishman, address them in English!  I made reference in my address to the “Malines Conversations”, a series of five informal ecumenical conversations exploring possibilities of corporate reunion between the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England. These took place in Belgium in the 1920s, and so it was appropriate that we should be present at Louvain. My reference to Malines drew another enthusiastic round of applause!

An article in the Tablet came to my attention today via Facebook, in which a Roman Catholic lawyer has said that Anglican orders are not necessarily invalid. The article also mentions the Malines Conversations.


Remember you are dust….

One morning as I walked back through theological college after the early communion, I remember one of the students telling me I had a mucky mark on my face.  I knew that, as I had just come from the Ash Wednesday service.  The mucky mark was the remains of the sign of the cross which had been put on my head by the priest, as he reminded me that “you are dust, and to dust you shall return”.

I had first come across the ‘ashing’ ceremony at university some years before, as it wasn’t something which we did at the church in the community where I was brought up.  At university I remember the senior chaplain asking me on Ash Wednesday if we had any palm crosses. We didn’t, so he told me to burn the front page of the Church Times! Tradition says that the ashes used on Ash Wednesday are created from the palm crosses of the previous year.

20140718-221707-80227065.jpgOne of our church members brought me half a dozen palm crosses yesterday, so I burnt them this morning and replenished my supply of ash for the beginning of Lent which comes next week. Burning palm crosses isn’t easy.  They tend to smoulder rather than burn, and even when they do burn the resulting charred remains need to be ground down into a powder, suitable for the priest to dip his or her thumb in and make the sign of the cross on the foreheads of the people.