Catching Up


It’s been a whole month since I last updated you with what’s what, so here’s where we are up to on the Mushy Cloud.

As you might know, I have just finished a four-week placement at another church prior to my BAP (Bishop’s Advisory Panel – selection panel to be a candidate for ordination training) and I am back at my own church this week. The placement itself was a fantastic experience and I met lots of lovely people, as well as learning more about my vocation and what God is calling me to do. I also had a very different experience of how to “do” church and that’s something that I will be reflecting on between now and my BAP.

I was straight back into my own parish ministry on Monday morning at our annual Teddy Bear’s Picnic with the little ones at Stay and Play. We said goodbye to 8 children as they move on up to “big school” in September and we are looking forward to seeing some new families in September when we get back.

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Last Thursday (a slight overlap with my placement and today’s ministry) I met a lovely family who were preparing for the funeral of their beloved Gran and Mum, Jean. We talked a lot about what family meant to her and I was moved to hear their stories of her life and how she treated people with love. It was Jean’s funeral today and I contributed the prayers during the service, as well as accompanying the vicar at the graveside. I had one of those lovely moments where my online life met my “real” life, and I met one of my blog friends at the funeral. He introduced himself at the end of the service, and it was absolutely fantastic to meet him in person – hello Andy!!

We are heading off in the wobbly box next week for a few days away in the Lake District. It has been a long twelve months since we were last on holiday and we can’t quite manage the full two weeks this year, but the few days we are going to be away are going to be a very welcome tonic after the hectic (and sometimes frantic) things we have been working through as a family recently. No doubt there will be photographs and updates while we are there, including – I hope – a series of sunset and sunrise shots from the top of Hardknott Pass. Please pray for good weather for that overnight expedition for us. I’m not bothered about having good weather for the rest of it – tea tastes as good under canvas as it does in the open air when it is drunk out of a tin mug – but for the night we decide to do the photography on top of the world it would be nice to have some clear skies so we can see the sun come up properly.

A couple of weeks ago I received a delightful postcard from my blog friend Mary in the USA. It showed a photograph of Niagara Falls and it reminded me of the trip I went on with North Music Centre in September 1987 to the same place. We played an afternoon concert on a bandstand in the park at the top of the falls and I remember the spray from the water managed to wet our music even from that distance away. We also had a trip on the Maid of the Mist boat to the foot of the Horseshoe Falls, which is also depicted on Mary’s postcard. Thank you for the card Mary and thank you for the fabulous reminder of what a wonderful, natural world we live in.

In other news, I am trying to write a computer program that will help with crochet design so am on a crash course of learning coding (my head hurts) and how to apply maths and logarithms to what is essentially a textile art form. Not easy and anyone with any experience who can do this thing for me I will gladly talk to and get help from. I have also been trying to hone my writing discipline because since my degree I have gotten out of the habit of writing every day. I have started to keep “morning pages” and even in the short while I have been doing it I have seen an improvement in my word-craft.

That’s about it for now as I can hear my crochet hook calling me. Here is a picture of a bee I have designed. He doesn’t have a face yet as I’m not sure I like him to have a black or a yellow face. What do you think? The wings are still in the prototype stages too and so haven’t been attached yet. Sigh. A work in progress indeed.

My faceless bees – which is better? The one with the black end or the yellow end? The wings are still a bit dodgy too…

That’s all for now. Until next time, cheerio.

 

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On Placement – Part One


It has been a while since I updated you all about what’s happening with my spiritual journey so I thought today was a good day to share with you where I am up to.

You may know that I am currently in the stage of discerning God’s call and what it means for me and my life, and having gone through several stages of inspection and indeed introspection, I am now moving on to another stage of my journey.

I have been given a date to attend a Bishop’s Advisory Panel (BAP for short) in September, where I will go through a three-day “interview” process where I may – or may not – be recommended to go for further training in the church. As part of the process so far I have seen two vocational advisors and an examining chaplain as well as having several conversations with the Diocesan Director of Ordinands (DDO) about what God’s call sounds like to me. During that process, it has been highlighted that I have little experience of church outside my own circle, and so I have arranged to do a short placement with a neighbouring parish to see how they do things there.

I started my placement today at St Michael’s in Alkrington, and I am going to be there for the next three Sundays with a view to learning as much as I can from a different priest-in-charge and from the congregation there.

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It has been a long day – my first service was at 8am this morning – but I have met lots of new people and seen three different styles of worship with three different congregations. First was a said Eucharist, which means that we shared holy communion but there were no hymns and all of the prayers and responses were spoken not sung. Next was a service at 9.30am which was a sung Eucharist, which you can probably work out is where we share communion but sing hymns and responses. Both services were very different from that which I am used to, but it helped me focus on the reasons why we “do” worship in church, and how we relate to each other as fellow worshippers.

I had a cup of tea after the service with some of the congregation members and I think I have found a new set of friends in the needlework group who meet on a Monday afternoon! The ladies there promised me a noisy afternoon of knitting and nattering so I’m going to take my crochet hooks with me and head off tomorrow for some fun and chats with them. I also spoke to a gentleman who at the grand age of 93 still plays euphonium in the church brass band, and with whom I have a “date” on Thursday evening at band practice.

Later on, I went to a Family Service which was a totally different service in terms of style for families who are looking to have their children in faith schools. There was over 70 children there and wow, what an experience!

I was introduced to all three congregations and prayers were offered for me and my vocational call. I was touched and humbled by the response of the church today because I don’t remember ever being the focus of attention quite so much before, and to know that there are about 200 people who prayed for me today was an amazing feeling.

I have learned a lot of things today – not least that 93 year old gentlemen can use a smartphone better than some children can! – and I am looking forward to spending the next couple of weeks with this group of lovely people and sharing ministry and mission with them for a short while.

So. My pre-BAP placement has begun and so too has the next stage of my discernment journey. I hope to keep you up to date with how things progress, and I’ll perhaps blog about what is involved with BAP too as things progress there.

 

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Manchester 


In the wake of the atrocious attack in Manchester last night, I feel have to say something. But like so many people today there are simply not enough words to express just how sad,  shocked, upset, fearful, determined, defiant and united we feel as a city.

Mancunians are renowned for our understated attitude to getting on with things and coming together as a community to stand in the face of adversity. This isn’t the first time Manchester has experienced violence like this and I don’t suppose it will be the last. While that saddens and angers me, I am reassured by the resilience of my fellow Mancs in that we will carry on.

For those who are pointing the finger and trying to divide us, my message is that we are all children of the same God and we would do well to remember that. Darkness will never overcome darkness, only light can do that. Hatred can never overcome hatred, only love can do that.

For the people of Manchester my message is, stay strong our kid.

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Daybook Entry 22nd May 2017


For Today… 22nd May 2017

Outside my window… the evening is cooling down a little. Some clouds in the sky but some bright sunshine too. A great metaphor for life!

I am thinking… about a painting I’m working on for a friend

I am thankful… for the space to think today

I am praying for… the country’s young people as they are in the midst of exams

I am wearing… my hair up and my smile down

I am creating… I am between crochet projects at the moment, having finished this last night.

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I am going… to be involved with two hospital funerals tomorrow, where people have died with no next of kin. The first person has some friends and extended family who will be in attendance, but the second has nobody but us laity and clergy to pray for her.

I am wondering… whether we can afford to go on holiday this summer. The car is not fit to tow the caravan and we don’t have the money to fix it, and we won’t have the money for site fees and food while we’re away so it’s unlikely we’ll be able to go. I’m wondering if something will turn up really.

I am reading… “Monk’s Hood” by Ellis Peters. It’s the third book in the Cadfael series and was a free download from Amazon.

I am hoping… to have my poorly ankle manipulated this evening.

I am learning… to be patient.

In my garden… the grass needs cutting but the lawn mower is broken. This post is starting to feel a bit like a moan-fest now!

In my kitchen… we are having a surprise for tea. Emma is here with her best friend and they are cooking something for us all. It smells nice and they have a great track record, so I’m quite looking forward to it.

A favourite quote for today…

A peek into one of my days…

This is my daughter, and I am very proud of her. She is extremely fit and healthy, and she loves running and doing all sorts of physical challenges. This weekend she ran “Tough Mudder” in Grantham, and volunteered to be a marshal for the other racers on Saturday. She has completed four now and has already got the next two planned. Go Em!!

One of my favourite things… is seeing my children flourish and thrive.

 

 

 

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Funeral Ministry


I experienced two contrasting funerals today, and they have made me think about the things that unite us as well as the things that divide us.

You might know already that I am a lay minister in my church and I am in the process of discernment as to whether I am a suitable candidate to be trained further, with a view to being ordained in the future. My ministry takes in lots of different things, including children’s work, leading worship and prayers, leading study groups and so on, and recently I have been increasingly involved with the funeral ministry that the church offers. I started off by shadowing the priest who conducted funerals, visiting the family and offering some pastoral support at the event itself. That quickly evolved into me saying prayers at funerals while the priest led the rest of the service, and then I began to deliver the eulogy and address too. More recently I have had the privilege to conduct the service from the beginning right up to the point of the committal, which for Church of England funerals can only be conducted by a priest. I have found funeral ministry fulfilling as well as challenging, and I am gaining experience every time I do one.

Funeral ministry might sound morbid and depressing but it is such a rewarding experience for me because not only do we get to share good news with people at a time when they are at their lowest, but when there are no words with which to frame that good news, we can stand alongside people and show them that they are not alone.

Which is why I wanted to talk to you about today’s funerals and the way that they are sitting with me and in my prayers today.

The first funeral was of a 41 year old man and the second was of a premature baby who died after living for an hour and 16 minutes. There are further contrasts between the two funerals, in that the first was filled with extended family and friends, with six pall bearers drawn from that circle, and the second was just the two parents who had come to mourn their loss, carrying a tiny white coffin themselves.

I visited the man’s family (I’ll refer to him as A for ease now) the day before yesterday with the priest who was to conduct the service (“E”) and was struck by just how close the brothers were, especially after hearing how the family had worked together to earn money and how they had informally adopted a lifelong friend into their midst when he found himself in difficulties. The visit was a noisy one, with everyone talking over each other to tell A’s story, and their memories came tumbling out with very little prompting from either E or myself. They were all keen to share their grief as well as some of the happier times they had shared with A before he died. Visits like this one are easier for me to deal with emotionally, because their keenness to talk and to share shows me signs that they are processing the death of their loved one and are prepared for the difficult time at the funeral ahead. It also means that the conversation flows easily and there is little prompting or nudging needed for them to tell their story.

E and I also visited the baby’s parents yesterday, and for me, that is where the deeper contrasts began to show themselves.

Baby C was the third child to this couple, and the visit took place with one of their other children in the room with us. It was very quiet, despite a toddler being there, and conversation was not quite as forthcoming as it was for the big family the day before. But how could it have been otherwise? Baby C didn’t have a story to tell, no escapades at school, no achievements or disappointments with exams or boyfriends and girlfriends and so on. But the parents were just as upset over their loss as A’s family were the day before.

The purpose of a funeral (for me) is a three-fold thing: it is to give thanks for the life of the deceased, for the bereaved to comfort each other, and to commit our brother or sister to the eternal care of God, and because we do those things at every funeral, they serve to unite us despite our differences and contrasts.

So how do we give thanks for the life of a baby whose heartbeat only lasted an hour and 16 minutes? How do we offer comfort to the parents who are grieving not only the physical loss of their child but also the loss of a life not even lived? How do we comfort a family whose brother has found life so difficult that he could only find solace and strength in alcohol? What can we say to ease the pain and disappointment, the anger and distress at the loss of a loved one no matter what their age is, or how many heartbeats they have had.

It is so, so hard, but for me, the answer to those questions lies in the one thing that united the two funerals today, and that is the promise of new life when we go from here. It is the promise that was made real by Jesus Christ, and it is what we celebrate every Easter when we remember his death and resurrection.

I can’t imagine that the bubble of grief in which the two parents have existed after the birth of their baby was ready to be punctured by the gospel message today, but I do hope and pray that the ministry they received from E and I this morning will stay with them and that they could draw some comfort from the prayers we offered. I doubt that many words will have been heard today, but I hope and pray that our being there, standing alongside both families in their grief made some difference to them.

There was a time at A’s funeral, when one of his brothers was overcome with grief, that the only thing to do was to stand and hold his hand and simply be there for him while he clutched at the coffin and cried out in anguish. It was a privilege to hold Baby C’s mother’s hand as the end of the service came, at the moment when she had to say her final goodbyes. I could feel the pain rolling off her, and there were simply no words I could have said to have eased it but to just hold her hand seemed to have made a difference to her.

So, yes, lots of contrasts in the two funerals, but lots of similarities too. Most important is the unifying message that this life is not the end, and God has his hands and eyes and ears all over us, from the moment we are knitted together in our mother’s wombs right through to the moment we see him face to face and beyond.

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A Day Out in Yorkshire


Today was Easter Monday, a bank holiday here in the UK, and Kevin and I decided we were going to Do Something today. We are forever telling ourselves that we will Go Somewhere, or See Something but don’t usually get round to it, but today was different and we enjoyed a fantastic trip out over the hill to Yorkshire.

The weather hasn’t been great for the past few days but – as the seasoned campers that we are always know – there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong coat and shoes. So we prepared for a typical British bank holiday day out and packed butties, crisps, a flask of tea, some waterproofs, hiking boots, sun lotion and money for an ice-cream and set off up the M62.

We didn’t encounter any rain at all, but it was a bit cold even when the sun did break out. We were heading for Rievaulx Abbey and Terrace which is about 16 miles out of Thirsk, near a little town called Helmsley. Now then, Kevin and I have already encountered Helmsley and it brought back some rather mixed emotions and memories being there again today. It was the place on our Coast to Coast bike ride 8 years ago where we found our morale at rock bottom and where we simply couldn’t go on with our ride, until we had a cup of tea and some meat and potato pie (I swear there were magic herbs in that cup of tea) and it restored us to the extent we were able to carry on and finish the ride to Scarborough.

I’m glad to say that today’s visit was infinitely more comfortable and happy for us, and it was a lovely drive from there up to Rievaulx Terrace.

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Our visit was very nearly spoiled by another family – why do parents these days seem to think that their little darlings have the right to shout and carry on disturbing the peace of others?? – but a muttered exclamation from me (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) and they soon realised that not everyone appreciates a 3 year old and a 6 year old “expressing themselves” at top volume in a peaceful garden. Isn’t it funny how the “look” I perfected with my own two children 20+ years ago works perfectly well on other people’s children now too?

Anyway. Rievaulx Terrace is a lovely place and well worth a visit. It is looked after by the National Trust and the staff there were very helpful and cheerfully welcoming.

We moved on from the terrace down to the abbey ruins at the bottom of the steep slope. You might not be able to see from the photos, but there is more or less a cliff edge separating the terrace from the abbey grounds. Too dangerous to walk down so we drove round instead.

Rievaulx Abbey was founded by Cistercian monks in the 12th Century, and over the next 400 years or so saw its fortunes rise, fall, rise and then completely fall again when Henry VIII got fed up with Rome. It is a beautiful place, and even though its many buildings are now in ruins, there is still a feeling of spirituality and peace there.

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And so to the journey home. Back through Helmsley and off towards Thirsk.

On the way up, we had driven up Sutton Bank, a notoriously steep part of the A170 where the road climbs at a rate of 25%. Caravans are banned from that that stretch – up AND down! – and I have to admit that our little car did struggle a little bit going up. We thought we would stop on the way back to check out the view from the top, which we did. The sheer drop of Sutton Bank was formed with the retreat of the last ice age, and you can see the flat bottom of the valley that was formed between the bank and what is now Thirsk on the horizon. Further in the distance there is a line of (black) hills, where the mighty Whernside and Ingleborough were also formed by the forces on the earth by the advancing then retreating glacier.

The view was magnificent, and no photograph of mine could ever do it justice, but here’s a couple of pictures I took from the top of Sutton Bank.

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You will notice that the sky was changeable to say the least. It’s one of the things I love about Yorkshire in general, the fact that the skies are so big and wide, and so changeable all the time. Beautiful and a fantastic reminder just how small we all are.

So, that was our day. A lovely day out in Yorkshire with a bit of history and geography thrown in for good measure. Well worth a visit and I would love to go back again. And again, to be honest. It’s a lovely place and it’s no wonder people refer to Yorkshire as “God’s own county”.

 

 

 

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Tiger, tiger


I had a very rare day yesterday. So rare that I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a day like it, which is saying something. I actually had nowhere to be, nothing urgent to do, nobody relying on me to do anything and no reason not to take a day to indulge myself in the things I wanted to do rather than the things I was obligated to do.

And boy did I enjoy myself!

It took a while for me to get into the swing of it but I spent some time creating a picture of a tiger’s face, which I quickly did in oil pastels in my A4 sketchbook (and which has already been claimed by my son’s girlfriend!). I absolutely loved that feeling of applying colour to paper, and it prompted me to recreate it in oil paints on an A2 sized canvas, taking my time over it and taking care to build it up in layers rather than doing a “colouring in” exercise that I have tended to do in the past.

I copied them from a photograph online, and for the first time, I didn’t trace it onto the canvas beforehand. I sketched out the outlines in pencil for the pastel sketch, but…and I’m so glad I could do this…the painting was done entirely freehand with no backing sketch laid down first. It is totally painted and it represents a big step in my confidence as well as my developing technique. Who knows, I might even feel brave enough to take my materials out into the open air and paint something “live” sometime soon!

Here is the pastel sketch:

Tiger sketch in oil pastels

And here is the painting in its various stages of completion:

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I usually find that doing something creative helps if I am feeling a bit out of focus within myself, and yesterday’s and today’s activities have helped me feel better. Not that there has been anything drastically wrong, but you know what I mean? There doesn’t have to be something wrong for something to make you feel better.

Having a totally free day yesterday was the key to it and I’m really glad I haven’t squandered the time to myself. I’m really pleased with the results and I’m looking forward to attempting a landscape or something next time.

 

 

 

 

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