Leaders and leading

This week I’ve completed a leadership course which got me thinking about what kind of leaders are needed nowadays. I know as soon as I say “nowadays” I betray the fact I am officially middle aged. However it’s disappointing how simplistic our expectations seem to be of our political leaders in particular. I am not suggesting all our political leaders are one dimensional but more how little we seem to care about the 3D side of them.

It seems the most obvious explanation for how we have hung out to dry a morally courageous man like Tim Farron. who explicitly shared both his discomfort at having to pronounce his views about “sin” on news programmes but also his passion for equality for the LGBT community.

To me he’s been a great leader in trying to live out his faith in politics and quite human in not wanting to denounce the doctrine of the church who support and pray for him.

There are so many people who dodge issues of faith altogether when it doesn’t fit their political ones, and I think this is actually the wider path to take. I admire particularly gay christians who struggle daily with the contradictions and hypocrisy of the church and continue to form part of our church communities because god comes first for them above cultural norms which might say “ditch it.”

Gay marriage is a hot topic and I respect everyone’s choice to hold alternative views to myself. It also seems to act as a lightning rod for other differences.

I heard Rev Richard Coles speak this week powerfully into a non Christian academic, liberal audience this week about his journey into faith and was amazed at how referently people listened to his stories which were of course beautifully crafted. It was clear to me that God had been at work in his life and that Gods love is not just restricted to those of us who are “straight”.

 

 

 

How should we vote as Christians?

So it’s general election time again, and in less than a month we will have a prime minister who has been democratically appointed by the United Kingdom, along with MP’s representing each constituency. As a christian sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start, when you begin thinking about all the different policies and impacts of your decision. The bbc has a helpful overview here of what the parties are pledging in their manifesto, but you can also visit individual party websites to find out more. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2017-39844115

I’m a Lib Dem supporter but I think if I lived in the centre of York I’d vote for Labour as the current MP Rachael Maskell came to a local event recently and I was really impressed with her humility, and gentle approach to talking to people with dementia from Minds and Voices, a local charity. She has also campaigned to try and keep a mental health hospital on the political agenda for York and has been widely respected for her views.

In my area, York Outer, the MP Julian Sturdy voted to leave the EU and I would fundamentally disagree with this, and the way the Conservatives will lead us in this process. If you want to find out how your MP voted head to Theyworkforyou at https://www.mysociety.org/wehelpyou/find-out-how-your-mp-voted/

Ultimately the EU question is the defining one in this election, but there will be many others to consider. Only the Lib Dems and Green party are keen to see a second referendum on the final outcome of the negotiations, so we can see if the UK is still fully behind us leaving the EU when the final deal is on the table.

So this passage from the bible I think is helpful in trying to determine our decision about who will be the most “fruitful” in their work for our communities and our country. Whether someone claims to be a christian or not, is actually not that helpful I don’t think. There are many people like Donald Trump who say they are a christian, but their actions may not support this, such as him bragging about sexually assaulting women.  It’s better to look at who they are, what kind of politician they are, and what they stand for, both at a local and a national level.

Matthew 7:15-27 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

A Tree and Its Fruit

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will know them by their fruits.

Concerning Self-Deception

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’

Hearers and Doers

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”

“The fruit of the spirit is PATIENCE”

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Rev Peter Dodson explores the theology and practice of Christian patience- a regular columnist in the Ripon Gazette http://www.ripongazette.co.uk/news/opinion/the-holy-living-column-with-rev-peter-dodson-1-8478337

A long time ago I discovered, through the spiritual and poetic genius of the Holy Bible, that God is represented as saying to his people and, therefore, to me, “I am patient with you” (Jeremiah 3.14 GNB). I thought to myself then, and today, “Thank God for that!” I knew in my bones that I endlessly frustrate the threefold God who loves me to death. I also live with another Divine Saying that explodes with the words, “How long do I have to put up with you?” The relationship between God and me is like that of a loving father and his wayward child.

Jeremiah’s loving but frustrated God, calls his rebellious people back to him: “Come back to me, for I am patient with you.” Similar language is found through the prophet Hosea: God says to his wayward people, “I will make for you a covenant … I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and justice, in steadfast love and mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness.” (Hosea 2.18-20)

In spite of the rebellious behaviour of the people of Israel, in spite of my own persistent failure to love God as he loves me, the heart of God never gives up on me or any other human being. God eternally expresses desire and longing “for us and for our salvation” (Nicene Creed).

I have a personal way of testing Old Testament Sayings. Am I able to imagine those Sayings as spoken from the lips of Jesus. In my experience, authentic Divine Sayings inevitably speak from the lips and heart of Jesus, as well as from the Cross: “Come back to me, for I am patient with you.” “Patience is [sacrificial] love enduring.”

I am convinced that the power of such language needs to be received in deep silence, kept in mind and taken to heart. Then, like the well-known Parable of the Sower, the “seed” of this language will germinate, root, burst into flower and bear abundant fruit. The spirit of “I am patient with you” can profoundly affect and govern all attitudes and relationships.

This wise spiritual discipline can transform those who know themselves to be impatient. In spite of all the work God has done in and for me, I continue to resist and even rebel against God. Because of my own past history, I suffer from a muddled mind, hard heart and weak will.

The holiest of saints never saw themselves as perfect. They may display a high level of Christian love, joy, peace and, the subject of this Gazette column, patience. Patience is never easy. Christians are obliged to work at it so that they become more patient in the way they think and behave, to the way they relate to family, friends, acquaintances, as well as the wider world.

“Patience is love enduring” and that endurance includes suffering. A willingness to suffer, and even to die, is central to Jesus’ own witness and mission. It is also central to wise, loving and powerful theology, as well as to practical Christian life and living. A truly patient Christian is able to wait without becoming annoyed or anxious.

The whole notion of “waiting patiently” is vital to any kind of Christian discipline. Like a well-trained restaurant waiter, our threefold God waits on us, offering every human being a bountiful and nourishing “menu.” We are free to receive and digest what is on offer; we are also free to ignore or reject it. The prophet Ezekiel tells us that he “ate it; and in [his] mouth it tasted sweet as honey” (3.3 NRSV).

Christians are called to live their lives by the divine spirit of “I am patient with you.” I have been very blessed, for the past several years, to have a wonderful spiritual confessor and director. I thank God for his endless holy patience with me. You, the reader, may also be fortunate to have truly patient people in your life. I think immediately of teachers, medical practitioners and home carers whose patience is often very strongly tested.

But what about those people, including far too many baptised Christians, who behave as though patience is a weakness; who act impatiently, intolerantly and even with crushing abuse and brutality, simply to achieve their own ends or to satisfy their own selfish cravings? What about those who choose to ignore, reject, spit upon, or even actively attempt to destroy the Christian faith?

That is why patient prayer for oneself and others, even enemies, is said to be “the greatest work of love of which human beings are capable.” Authentic Christian prayer for others becomes a sharing in the endlessly patient, self-giving love of God, as revealed in Jesus the Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace [and] patience.

First they came for the #christianwomen

It’s been a tough time for Canadian Christian Blogger Sarah Bessey after she started a post on Twitter called #thingsonlychristianwomenhear. For more information go to her website at http://sarahbessey.com Some of the responses have been pretty shocking. A second more positive hashtag has started #thingschristianwomenshouldhear- which I think has had slightly less impact!

I feel very blessed at the moment to be working with a largely female leadership team in a church which at one point would not have welcomed women at all in these roles. Times change and our attitudes sometimes take a bit longer to move along than we’d like. While it’s easy to point the finger at men, we ladies can be just as resistant to change.

Sometimes it’s hard for women who’ve been denied opportunities themselves to see your role positively and sometimes women who’ve spent a lifetime serving others, cannot see a way forward to putting themselves in the spotlight and can’t understand others stepping forward. Others just like hearing a male voice, or can’t imagine it being any different.

Since I’ve been working in the church recently though it’s been those women who’ve had leadership experience and success in other walks of life that have been the ones to step out and meet me on my journey. One of my informal life-coaches at the moment, herself in her 70’s and battling cancer, Mrs Marj has been a senior lecturer and run her own business and is now in charge of the church hall. She’s constantly telling me off for not believing in myself!

I think that we all have a responsibility to be good sisters to one another and be kind if someone in authority is reacting angrily, or allowing their buttons to be pressed, because really that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Changing attitudes and prejudices takes generations to achieve. We can have confidence that God himself is a feminist, as he created men and women in his image:

“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1 v27

That’s why I think when Donald Trump’s travel ban came into force, people united across religions, and ethnicities, sexual orientation and gender waving banners that quoted Niemoller, a Lutheran pastor in the second world war. They united in fear that decades of progress in building a tolerant equal society would be rolled back if Trump is allowed to play the race card against his own citizens.

Niemoller himself anti-Communist, was grudgingly in support of the Nazis when they first took office, however he quickly became a vocal opponent and survived incarceration in a concentration camp to carry on as a prominent member of the church in the 1950’s. His words were part of a speech challenging the church into political resistance, but are now used as a poem more generally. Let’s hope the parallel with the church and Donald Trump is not the same..

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

So let’s take this learning from the atrocities of the 1940’s and apply it today- how can we support and enable women to lead in our churches? Well one way might be to start praying- we know as Christians this can move mountains. Certainly blaming women themselves for being angry is not particularly constructive, more of a “calm down dear” sort of reaction!

So here’s my prayer for working women everywhere

God Our father help us as a church to support women who have responsibilities outside the home

When we care for others, we ask you make it known that you care for us deeply

Whey we can’t juggle everything to the high standards we’d like to achieve, we ask you would gently confirm that you know us better than we know ourselves

When we need to rely on others for help and support, we ask for your protection on relationships that hold everything together.

We thank you for all the people who champion our families.

Help us realise we are not alone, and can accept help gracefully. 

Show us how important the work is you’ve asked us to do, especially when it seems to get in the way of family life

When we get it wrong, help us to remain in your love, to acknowledge our sin, and to seek your forgiveness.

When others oppose or persecute us, help us to rest in your love and gain your peace and not to bear grudges or keep secrets.

When things go well, help us to celebrate and live life abundantly

We ask this in your name, for us and all our sisters 

AMEN

 

Lurking

So I’ve given up Facebook for Lent, but have actually given up posting on Facebook rather than checking it out. This is technically known as lurking. I’ve failed on a few occasions to resist the urge to press “share”, but overall I’ve found it a good discipline to self-edit my online presence a bit more than normal. I’ve never tried this before, normally I give up chocolate or biscuits and fail completely!

I’ve also just been on a silent retreat with college, where I was unable to “share” with the group my insights and thoughts and had to restrict myself to my own company. I got through it with lots of walks, reading, painting and sleep, but again it was helpful to notice how compulsive I am as an Extrovert in just sharing whatever is currently in my head on any given day!

Lurking it seems to me has some benefits. Rather than responding and sharing immediately I can think it over and reflect on what is happening. Is this me and my friends freaking out, or are we actually in the middle of something bigger that is going on. Does everyone want or need to know my political views? Maybe I should save that for Twitter?

It’s human to want to share and be part of the conversation, and in my work in the church I’ve set up a weekly drop-in so anyone who needs some company can come and have a coffee. We’ve also arranged for someone to come in and do some crafts with us after Easter, so I’m really looking forward to doing some of the stuff normally reserved for the kids!

I’ve also noticed recently how lucky I am to have the company of my family. Not always in conversation with them, (often this is really exhausting!) but like now as I write this, they are all off somewhere doing their own thing, so we are together but not really having to chat.  I think when you live alone this is the hardest part is not being quiet with anyone else. On my retreat I found the presence of my colleagues on the course really reassuring, even though we couldn’t speak to each other.

This morning at church I gave a card to lady I’m supporting who literally has noone. Her husband died at the end of last year and she has no parents, children, brothers, sisters or anyone living near her at all. It’s quite rare to meet someone in that situation, but it does happen. I have never felt so happy to give someone a mother’s day card! I can’t be with her as much as she’d like as she really would like someone as a companion 24/7 as she’s not used to being alone, but I am trying to find other people to support her, so that’s not always the case.

As a vicar, there will be a large amount of being around, rather than saying or doing much, and purposefully lurking in places where people may want a chat. In my faith journey, there’s always been times when  I’ve had to take a step back to hear from God, and part of my challenge now is to create quiet times in and amongst the madness of work, study and family life. I’m following another blogger who has just recently posted on this here.. http://lifebynaomi.com/faith/how-to-find-time-for-a-quiet-time

Right when he knew he was about to be betrayed, we hear in Matthew’s gospel that Jesus took himself to a garden and prayed through the night, so late that the disciples all fell asleep. That fervent desire to be in conversation with God, is often easier when we have an urgent request, but God really desires us to speak to him alone all the time, not just when we are after something. Jesus regularly speaks from God because he is in constant dialogue with the father.

So it’s worth doing a bit of lurking around with God, he won’t pass up the opportunity to hang out with you, and any prayer you speak will not be wasted, regardless of how daft you feel doing it. The presence of God, like that of my family and friends is often something I sense but can’t quite describe why it’s important or helpful. When I get chance to really acknowledge it, and praise him for his love, it becomes more of a conversation to treasure and remember.

This Easter I’m going to be away again at college and will miss putting up all the decorations in Holy Week and being part of my church family at that time, but I am looking forward to being free to worship God with other Christians that week, when normally I’d be with the family or at work. The more time I spend lurking with other people the more opportunity there is to give and receive God’s love, which ultimately what it’s all about.

1 John 4 v 7-8

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

Facetime

I’ve just watched a youtube clip at the end of this blog and realised that alot of it could apply to me. Since quitting my job last year and starting college I’ve been working from home alot and spending time chatting on Facebook has been a lifeline. However I’ve also got a bit too reliant on my phone for everything. So I end up constantly checking it for messages, not just texts but emails, What’s App, voicemail, Facebook alerts, Twitter, I can literally lose hours without really knowing what I’ve done with my time. When my phone was out of action I was like some kind of addict, waiting for my next fix!

I know alot of my friends feel the same but are too embarressed to admit it! Also I know friends who hate how their lives don’t measure up to the Facebook status of someone they went to school with, their ex-colleague who has won an award, their mum’s fantastic holiday, all these things can wear down your self-esteem if they coincide with a really boring day at work or the kids having a big bust-up. That’s why it’s good to take a holiday from social media every so often, sadly most of us can’t switch off entirely but it’s about how much you rely on an alert popping up to distract you from the housework, the homework the kids need to do, the conversation you should have with your spouse, the prayers you could be committed to doing every day.

So for Lent I’m not sharing on Facebook, I’ve deleted Candy Crush (Again!) and I’m trying to remember what it’s like to sit in a room waiting for someone and just stare at the walls, without looking to my phone to keep me company. I’m going to switch off my phone before a lecture starts, and I’m looking forward to a retreat in a few weeks when on my course we get to be silent for 48 hours ( never thought I’d say that!)

I’m also going to try and get in touch with as many people as possible to have real conversations. I know it’s hard to fit in, but a chat on the phone, or a cup of coffee, or just remembering to ask about someone’s family member are really important in life, and it’s so easy to neglect all this, if an important deadline looms, or a great photo selfie opportunity arrives they can easily get put off !

So I’ll be updating on here how I get on, but in the meantime I wish you all a happy Lent…. picture courtesy of http://nataliewarnert.com

 

Sweet-talking daughter of a Preacher woman

I always sing this version when I hear the lyrics to Preacher Man, originally by Dusty Springfield and brought to fame by Aretha Franklin…it doesn’t scan as well to the music but it always brings to being a teenager, and the sheer joy and naughtiness possible if your mum is a  religious leader, from getting away with something you weren’t supposed to be up to, without anyone in the wider community hearing about it! I don’t think I was a particularly rebellious child but when I left home I lost my way a bit, through the sheer freedom available in comparison to living with christian parents in a visible way in a village community.

It was really weird for me to see mum going through the changes that happened to her as she became a preacher when I was in my teens, and at that stage of life I guess I wasn’t really all that interested in religion. I did find it embaressing at times that mum was up the front talking, but if I’m honest  I was also secretly really proud. Certainly my friends mums didn’t seem to have so many opportunities to share their point of view in public!

I did what my children do now which is sort of get jealous if i felt that mum’s work was taking over time when she’d normally have been around, but at that stage of my life I was much more interested in my friends than my family anyway!

Since I’ve started ordination training myself, me and mum have become really close as it’s been amazing to be able to swap notes, and she’s been able to tell me – this is normal- you are doing great- don’t worry it won’t be like this forever- with some confidence!

It’s also made us reflect on how things have changed. Some of the barriers mum faced just aren’t there anymore, but some really are the same!

I’m still not quite sure how listening to mum preach or seeing her wearing robes in church affected me, I don’t think I remember alot to be honest. Of course becoming a vicar didn’t happen overnight and before she was ordained church had become a big part of our lives. I definitely remember when I was still at primary school spending alot of time playing in the graveyard with other church children, whilst mum did lots of boring chatting!

Anyway… if you are the daughter of a preacher-woman, sweet-talking or otherwise, we would really love to hear from you. We are thinking about gathering together some of these experiences to help us reflect on women’s ministry in the church today.

Following a letter in the church times, mum a retired non-stipendary priest in the York Diocese, has had around 15 people get in touch, so we are off to a good start. Please do pass on her contact details if you know someone else who may be interested suenightingale3@gmail.com

2 Timothy 1 v5 “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.”

Guest blogger Naomi shares about belonging to church small groups

When I look back on my journey as a Christian, something that really strikes me is how essential being part of a church small group has been for my own development. Yes, of course, there’s the growing I did in my own individual prayer life, my Bible study and my faith. There’s the teaching I received and the activities I was part of as part of a big church. But central to both of those aspects, and critical for me, was the part I played in a small group.

 

A small group usually meets midweek. It is usually has 5-15 members, who commit to studying the Bible and praying together. Almost all churches have them, and I highly recommend getting involved in one.

 

My first small group was a mixed group of us in our early twenties. We were all in a similar position: starting out in our careers, navigating that difficult path of working out who our ‘adult’ selves were. Most of us were looking for ‘the one’ (although no marriages actually resulted from that group!), and all of us were looking to grow in our faith.

 

For many of us – myself included – it was the first time that we’d led a Bible study session, or actually gone out to serve others. Having very few commitments, our attendance was good. We had our highs and our lows, but there were some really strong friendships formed.

 

After a few years, our small groups in our big church were shuffled around. I found myself co-leading an all-girls group. Again, this was an amazing time of growth and deepening for me in my faith. We explored the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and I was amazed by the wisdom and maturity of women my own age. Once again, really close friendships were formed, and some of these women are my closest friends today.

 

When Tim and I got engaged, we started attending a small group together. This was a different group altogether – several couples and some single people, ranging in age from early twenties to early eighties. This group was really lovely, and supported us hugely as we stepped into married life together.

 

Again, after a few years, we were shuffled around. We joined – and eventually came to lead – another small group. This was another mixed group, some single, some married, some dating, and again, these people became some of our closest friends. They supported us through Ben’s birth and the transition into parenthood – and didn’t complain too much when he threw up all over them.

 

When we moved away from our city, I felt the loss of our small group keenly. Even more so than the wider church – perhaps because our church was so big – they were my community. As a Southerner up North, they were my family. They were the ones I could pray with, laugh with, hang out with and learn with. That’s where I grew the most.

 

We have a brilliant small group now. It’s taken a while to settle in. It always does. You have to be vulnerable and open with people, and that’s hard. We’re learning and growing together. That’s the way it should be.

 

If you’re looking to get the most out of a small group, here are my recommendations:

 

Commit. Be consistent with your attendance. Reply to emails. Show up.

 

Offer to lead. Even if it’s scary, have a go. You will get so much out of it.

 

Offer to host. People feel they know you better once they’ve seen you in your home.

 

If you can, ‘shop’ around. Try a few different groups and find out what works for you.

 

Be open and honest as soon as you feel able.

 

Connect in between group meetings – a group What’sApp is great for this.

 

Remember, you get out what you put in. If you put the effort in, God will show up.

To find out more about Christian Blogger Naomi visit http://lifebynaomi.com

 

Vomitorium in the Sanctuary

Thanks to Guest blogger Mayowa Adebiyi

for more go to https://mayowaadebiyi.wordpress.com/
– we are blog-swapping this week!
As annoying as Stephen Fry is to me as an average religious person, not as a person in terms of personality, though his know-it-all demeanour when presenting QI sure could grate on anyone in real life. I speak instead of his disdain for God albeit a non-existent god. However, this post isn’t about Fry but one of Fry’s many corrections on commonly held historical facts, you know, the type that Alan Davies mentions and Fry’s buzzer goes off to tell Davies he’s wrong (again).

It is commonly (wrongfully) held that the Vomitorium can be found in the average Roman Banquet Hall. After guests have sufficiently gorged themselves and could no more, they had the opportunity to purge their stomach contents, in order to create space for more. This is in fact pure fiction ! The Vomitorium was actually an exit to a Stadium or Amphitheatre.

The myth continues because most are aware of Roman decadence. The idea that they gathered at a particular time and place to feast to their hearts content, eating so much that they need to purge in order to return to their binging not hard to at all imagine. Removing the image of excess from this picture, I’d like to argue that our Sunday mornings should feel like a Banquet, a feast for the senses.

Depending on your personality or church background, your Sunday experience could either be categorised as feeling like a Concert or Lecture. Though these are broad brush strokes and these categorisations by Isaac Wardell isn’t meant to capture which part of the service plays a bigger part, the singing or preaching. Although it could be this, it is but much more.

Identity being such a huge modern day issue and with most modern day issues, the instinct is right, the direction horribly muddled. The orientation of identity formation in the modern day is radically inwards, the world is currently about the self.

The Church is about something and she knows she is, the Sunday gathering points her as a body towards Jesus rather than apart when aimed individually inwards.

One of the themes in the book Eccelesiastes, is the disjointedness of time in a fallen world, the incoherence of past, present and future is acutely felt in a life of hardship bound for eventual demise. Nothing in this post-everything world makes any sense, the past is past, the present is precarious and the future is uncertain. It is in this very time that Jesus enters to offer what he calls eternal life, not as a length of existence but as an infinite improvement of the quality of time in all of its experiential form. The past is redeemed, the present is pregnant with possibilities and the future is sure to burst forth in all kinds of hope.

It is this kind of coherence that a Sunday service should aim for and should do it richly by telling a coherent story in present time. Not just in music, not merely intellectually but richly and decadently. In song, reflection, eating, noise, silence, reading, drinking, we binge on the saviour till we can’t no more.