Dog Collar Dilemma: women’s clericals – what on earth to wear?!

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#DogCollarSelfie

As a #NewRev and as a woman, I have been experimenting with how to wear the collar. Before ordination it was, to be honest, a bit of a blur, I mean anyone else try on their first collar and totally freak out?

Of course there were rounds of tatfests and clerical fairs, but they really weren’t really much help because you just don’t know until you do it what you’re going to need, and anyway it’s all so blinking expensive. Then to top it all off, you google ‘dog collar’ in a fit of frustration and find you can get any collar or style, diamante encrusted, rainbow themed… for your pet.

So this is the first in a series of posts, a sort of round-up, based on what I’ve discovered so far and including advice from others, around how to wear your collar, what to wear and how to rock it with style ;) and big thanks to the Clergy Mummies crew for sharing their thoughts on this, some of whom are quoted!

(just to clarify I’m not talking about vestments, simply what to wear with, or how to wear the collar).

So this first post is some starting advice on what you might need to look at, then following posts will be on suppliers, finding your own Vicar-chic style and then a couple of guest posts too. I really hope these are useful especially for those #NewRevs like me who are wrestling with all of this, but feel free to comment or ask questions that you might like to know more about.

Choices choices

Ok so the first thing is, what kind of clerical collar do you want? Officially these are the terms, though of course they get called all sorts and actually everyone uses the term ‘dog collar’ but as a guide:


Anglican collar
(as above in my pic) – slip in tab (the tab collar is usually a white bit of plastic that can be removed easily. And yes any old bit of cardboard will do, or ala Vicar of Dibley, a bit of fairy liquid bottle, though the inserts only cost about £1 each, you might need to know that in an emergency!)

collar1Roman Collar – full collar, slightly set above the shirt, still shows the tab but with white round top (also called tonsure). I couldn’t find a woman in one of these so second best, something from ‘Rev’ ;)

Dog Collar, outer white ring, goes all the way round, so no tab just a white ring, As seen here worn by the fabulous Nadia Bolz-Weber.nadia-bolz-weber

Most of these you can either get as part of the shirt, or as a separate ‘collarette’ which attaches with sort of cufflinks (and frankly looks far too much like hard work for me).

Of course you may like to choose according to your theology or style of churchmanship, although these days it’s far less obvious. I saw a post the other day talking about what coloured clerical shirts represent, well call me shallow but I wear black for fashion reasons not because I’m declaring my doctrinal views. And this could be a reason why… yellow??? (ok, ok if you really like yellow that’s fine…)

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However it is worth just bearing in mind (not yellow of course, just what you might be portraying in your collar choice).

Anyway, I go for the tab collar insert, which is very popular, as it just seems the easiest and most comfortable, but you need to find out what works for you – if you can go somewhere to try things on, do give it a go. I’ll be doing another post on clerical outfitters later on.

 

Shirts, bibs and cropped tops…

Of course the collar needs to be attached to something (Though I did see this from Rev Jo Jepson, so maybe not…)

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So the options are:

Standard clerical shirts, made with the relevant hole for the tab. These days you can get these made in the right shape for a woman, thank goodness, although I have heard they can still be rather hit and miss, so try to get a recommendation from someone you know.

Cropped tops or bib stocks which can be worn under other items of clothing. The cropped tops are usually made of cotton jersey to sit well underneath other clothing, and therefore tend to fit a bit better with a bit of stretch. There is a lot of love for these from clergy women. Though as someone pointed out, the down side can be in the winter when you end up with a cold tummy, so another alternative is to get a sleeveless cotton jersey top with collar insert.

Original design/ made to measure of which there is a vast array, from polo shirts to dresses, from jersey tops to jumpers. Some companies also have the option of sending in your own material which is great if you want something really original.

Do it Yourself

Of course the other option if you are handy with a needle or know someone who is, is to buy high street clothing and adapt it. Anything with a roll neck collar, and some with a high collar, or standard shirt collars can be adapted to take a tab collar insert.

I’ve seen this done with dresses, jumpers and other items too, and in fact current fashion means there are a lot of options out there. Body’s are really in – a kind of a cross between a T-shirt and a swim suit – HM have these with roll necks so could be adapted to go under outer clothing, and apparently the latest Matalan catalogue has some good things with high necks that could be adapted also.

Susie noted on adapting that ‘it’s much cheaper, the fit is ideal for me, and I get to wear the designs and colours, that and pattern that suits me’ and Sarah said ‘I’d much prefer to spend the money on a nice dress that I can wear with or without bib.’ Good points because clerical wear does tend to be quite pricey.

Really what you choose is down to personal choice. My favourite is a cropped top because I choose to wear my regular clothes as much as possible. It means less buying of new clothing as you can use what you have. However they can be pricey, only marginally cheaper that a clerical shirt in fact.

 

What else to watch out for?

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I’m not really sure what to say about this, but it was referred to as ‘sexy’. We may differ on our definitions…

Sizing for women 

One thing to bear in mind is sizing. Some of the clerical outfitter companies have been around for donkeys years and are still in the mindset of menswear, so even when you buy something shaped for a woman, it doesn’t quite work. One outfitter was named for their only concession to womenswear being the way the buttons do up!

You can order things to be made to measure which can be equally problematic but usually gives a better cut/fit. On this I’ve heard various things on sizing. So firstly, check exactly what the company means when they ask for specific measurements, even with their sometimes lengthy instructions there can be room for error, so just call them and clarify. Secondly, if you know someone who knows about dressmaking ask them to measure you – or failing that someone who knows you well. It’s almost impossible to measure yourself well but just think about who you might want to do your bust measurements… #JustSaying

 Paulette also noted, check your collar size too – nothing worse than a tight fitting neck, oxygen is kind of important… ;)

 

Microphones

On this, make sure you think about where to put your microphone if you are in a church (or might visit one) that uses radio mikes with battery packs. The mike needs to clip on to your clothing, either down the centre of the shirt where it buttons up, or on the collar, and the battery pack can go in a pocket or on your waistband. I have already fallen foul of this, turning up in a dress with no waist band and having to clip the battery pack onto my collar, under my hair at the back. I felt like the hunchback of notredame… If you wear vestments this is less of an issue of course – something to be said for not being a raving charismatic I guess.

Candles

My Godfather once set his cassock alight on a candle on the altar – whilst he was wearing it. Not the kind of Holy Fire you want in any service – thankfully he was ok and I got the insurance replacement cassock so that worked out rather well ;) But, if not in vestments, watch out for long sleeves or anything drapey.

Heels

I know I said I wasn’t talking about vestments but this kind of fits – lots of us love to wear heels, and don’t stop – I was so tempted to turn up to my ordination in bright red stilettos – was only the threat that I might not be able to take part that stopped me – I went more subtle, rebellious bright red underwear. Anyway enough about that – steps and heels don’t always mix, especially in a cassock, especially if you have to kneel and then stand again – watch the hem!

So that’s some practical thoughts, and I’m sure that’s more than enough to give an ordinand or a New Rev a headache. More in the next post on how to keep your own style…

 

JOY guest post // Naomi McBain

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This is the next instalment in a year of guest posts on Joy as part of my year of focussing on joy (my word for the year). This month we have a post from Naomi McBain. Naomi is a friend of mine who has nurtured my faith in amazing ways, over the years. She also runs ‘Hope’, a non-profit organisation building confidence, creating a future for families and communities, find out more here.

 

It’s taken a while to get down to writing this blog as joy has been a concept I have had tussles with on and off for many a year. Don’t get me wrong… it isn’t that I have had a bad life making it hard to understand joy, or even the absence of a deep joy in worship and growth in faith. I got the concept that joy is a deeper thing than happiness; indeed there have been many occasions when I have felt I am soaring in the strength of Jesus and His deep peace, my hunger for Him, a driving force as I sought to know Him more, to plunge to deeper depths in His abundant kingdom of blessings. My faith led me to go places that challenged me and took me out of my comfort zone. This was equalled by the presence of God showing up, to light my path and provide my needs. There has never been any doubt in the Lordship of Jesus since I gave my life to Him 28 years ago, nor a let up that there is always more to find.

So what was it you were tussling with then Naomi I hear you asking… sounds like you were rocking and rolling? My issue… the consistency of joy; passages like “the joy of the Lord is my strength” or “I’m content no matter what my circumstances” challenged me as I faced times where others seemed so much more together, when I struggled to worship or make sense of what the day was bringing me. Where despair, comparison, unanswered prayer, and hopelessness in the promises I felt for things to come drove me down. I was coping on the outside but inside doubts and low confidence, lack of self worth and inferiority were speaking loud. Joy was far from me. Faith and belief in Jesus took me to his feet in prayer but joy gave no light or hope of comfort or strength.


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So what changed?

Circumstances I was in meant I saw the true power of the bible at work, certainty came in the sufficiency of Christ in me and I saw, for the first time, what it was to wear the white robes of righteousness. The certainty that comes through His grace and the joy he takes in having me surrendered to Him in loving others for the enrichment of His kingdom in their lives.

Now passages such as Habakkuk 3v 18… “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will take joy in the God of my salvation” ring out from the page and cause a flood of worship and praise and delight in the goodness and passion Jesus has for me. I have a clearer awareness of how loved I am. Even though circumstances haven’t changed, and there are still challenges and mountains to climb, there is a joy in my core that wasn’t there before. I am able to enjoy the spacious expanses of the green pastures as I still myself and truly know He is God, taking joy in just being with Him for no other reason than hanging out with the most amazing person ever. The conquering king, my saviour, for whom nothing of my life goes unseen and nothing is bigger or beyond Him. The vibrancy and colour of His kingdoms ways are a sight to be seen, full of light, beauty, love and abundant life in the river of His delights.

I thank Him for His goodness, grace and mercy and pray that these words inspire hunger and hope to others needing a fresh insight into a deeper joy in Jesus. There is always more!

Top Tips for starting #VicarSchool

So it’s that time of year, new ordinands are heading off to college to begin theological & ministerial training. I remember heading off to my first evening at college with a huge about of trepidation and a large chip on my shoulder; then just a few months ago I cried at our last service together, knowing I would actually miss everyone. A huge journey in just a few years.

So for anyone about to head off to theological college, here’s some top tips to help you survive your first few weeks. Now I know some of you will be off to residential college, other regional or mixed mode, but take what works for you. And feel free to add suggestions in the comments below! thanks too to those who offered advice via Twitter :)

 

1) Be You

First off, be you. It was you that got you to this point, don’t try to be all ‘vicary’ now you are training, the church needs diversity! Smokers, swearers, ripped jeans and piercings? come on in! You are not supposed to be perfect. And on that, please please please please, and again, please, do not start with the whole ‘Vicar-Voice’ thing. You know exactly what I mean, the monotone drone of reciting liturgy or scripture without a shred of joy or meaning. What is that about? Shoot me if I ever do that. Just be you!

@gerrardus tweeted ‘people at Vicar school are posher than average. Don’t judge them’. Good advice, but works both ways, so posh people don’t judge the less posh ones! and on that…

2) Be open minded and loving

Vicar School should be a place where we can learn on many levels, but also learn to challenge ourselves and each other. We may have differing theological views, but healthy debate is good, when done with grace. In fact I encourage you, to encourage each other, to allow college to be a safe space to discuss tricky issues openly and honestly. This can be difficult, emotional and personal but it might be the only place where you can do this. Make the most of it.

Be kind to and patient with each other, it’s new for everyone, if you are regionally training/mixed mode then you may well have paid work to balance too, let alone kids/family/friends coming to terms with the newness of it all.

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Love this, as purchased in Paperchase :)

3) Secret drinking dens

Ok perhaps not exactly secret but I’d love to hear about any Vicar School dens, anyone?! But there does seem to be a strange quirk of celebrated drinks at theological colleges. At some it’s sherry, others the Malt Club, or perhaps the gin swiggers. No idea how this started but my suggestion is give them all a go, you will almost certainly need a tipple at some points. Me? I’m a Prosecco girl – not sure where that sits in the posh stakes? and court be known to sneak a bottle into my room occasionally. Kim notes on Twitter: ‘…the bar is your friend – even if you’re a teetotal introvert. It’s the place where theology takes place.’ True that.

 

4) Books Mortgage

Yes, so you are actually there to study, not just have deep and meaningful chats whilst supping whisky, there is some work involved. And that means reading. A lot of reading. So on the whole books thing, think very carefully about which ones to buy. If you pick all the ones you like off the reading list you will need to remortgage your house (that’s if you will ever afford a house on a Vicar’s stipend of course…). Best advice given to me was only buy the ones you will use again and again – commentaries for example or those in an area that you want to specialise in. That said, you will still need a trip to ikea for suitable accommodation to house them all when you leave college. Haven’t seen a clergy study yet without it’s own dedicated book wall.

There are lots of places to get free books too including google books – which may not have the whole book but might just have the chapter you need. Amazon often has the ‘look inside’ feature which can be used for the odd page too and Kindle often have books for free or at very low prices – keep your eyes open and share with each other.

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My first book wall, such a pleasing sight!

5) The dreaded ‘Formation’

This is a word you will get to hear a lot. To start with it seems huge, you will feel like you are expected to literally re-form like some Doctor Who style shape-shifter into the ‘Vicar Mould’ – see no.1 on this – being churned out the end like some production line (some people even call it Vicar Factory). By the end it will undoubtedly be a huge joke and anything slightly odd or tough will be deemed ‘formational’. Like the dodgy retreat houses, ancient loos and oh so interesting food you shall be forced to eat (grey soup and salmon bolognaise featured highly in my training) – it’s all formational darling…

It is though a good thing really, of course I can say that now I am out of Vicar School. As Kim says ‘It just means being open to being led & shaped by the Spirit & growing’.

6) Marks Smarks

You may go into this intending to get a 1st in every essay, or you may be paranoid about failing. Just remember you only have to pass. No one is going to care if you finish this course with 45% or 99%, you will be ordained and that’s that. Unless of course you plan to be the next Rowan Williams, in which case, you may need to spend a teensy bit more time in the library.

I, and several of my college friends had an ongoing challenge to see who could pass an essay by just one mark. I’m not sure any of us ever achieved it (we passed by more, not failed thankfully!) but there were times when we all thought this essay was going to be the one. So don’t try to be no.1 all the time, there are other things on your life too. Just get done what needs to be done as best you can, sometimes that will be better than others and that’s fine. Also do talk to tutors if you are struggling, they won’t eat you (well that’s debatable) and usually extensions can be offered. 

7) Just keep on bloody going…

There will probably be times when you want to jack it all in, can’t face the next lecture, or swear that if you ever see another copy of he Book of Common Prayer you will barf… (ok, that one might just be me). It’s all perfectly normal. You can do this, and don’t forget who called you into it all, he isn’t going to abandon you now. 

And anyway if you need to skip a lecture or a worship time because you are knackered, brain dead (or hungover, see no.3) then I really don’t think God will mind. Be kind to yourself. 

8) The Learning circle

Yes lectures, classes and tutorials will fill you with knowledge, but don’t forget your cohort who will all be different and have their own journeys, stories and skills to share. I think I learned as much from my fellow ordinands as I did from the course itself. Talk to each other, share ideas, debate and challenge, ask questions, engage in community life and as noted above, go to the bar! 

Also, don’t revert to school pupil mode, your tutors will recognise that you might actually have some knowledge of your own and in fact on my course several of us did some teaching to our cohort from our own area of expertise, which was really great.

9) Out of the house

Whether residential or regional, at some point you will be in accommodation not chosen by you – might be for a few years or just for a study weekend or two. Enjoy the er, interesting, decor; be refreshed by the often strange food (see no.5); and remember if you want a hot shower to be up by 6am – this rule seems to work anywhere and everywhere (except at Aylesford Priory where there is never ever any hot water).

One of my fave places we went to stay was an ex-NAAFI hotel in Kent. All yellow pine with polystyrene ceilings and plastic plants. But, we were mixing with ‘normal’ folk staying there – potential for great chats in the bar, it was warm, had plenty of plug sockets and wifi that worked. Look for the good stuff and you will find it! If you ever have to stay anywhere old – like a priory or monastery, take a hot water bottle – even in summer, and a 4 way adapter if you want to plug in anything.

10) Bluff

And the last word goes to Margaret who shared on Twitter:

Write somewhere (or tattoo): ‘everyone’s bluffing’. Remind yourself of this every day.

good advice!

 

If you have anything to add to the list, please do let me know and I’ll add it on! Thanks to those who shared via twitter too: Gerrarrdus, Kim, Chris, Margaret, Boris the Bold

Preach // John 17:6-19 // Standing in the Gap

Preach // John 17:6-19 // Standing in the Gap 

Now available to listen to here: Just click under the speakers tab and choose my name and you can see it.

TRINITY: 9.30 4/9/16; 10am & 11.15am, 18/9/16

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Anyone know who this is?

Have you heard of a man called D L Moody? D L Moody is known as one of the world’s greatest evangelists. He lived in the 19th Century and travelled mostly around America and England sharing the gospel. In a period of just 40 years he saw 1 million people become Christians as a result of his teaching and preaching. 1 million people. That’s staggering isn’t it? Even in today’s era of mass communication.

But more than that he also planted churches, founded Christian schools, launched a Christian publishing business, established a world-renowned Christian conference centre, supported the poor, and inspired literally thousands of preachers to win souls and conduct revivals.

And one story I love about Moody is that in his lifetime he wrote a list of 100 friends who he decided he would pray for to come to know Jesus. And he prayed for them regularly. By the time he died, 96 of them had become Christians. Pretty cool, right? But there’s more – the final 4 of the 100 – converted at his funeral!

Moody was a man who knew the power of prayer.

Why am I telling you this? because the passage today is Jesus’ prayer. And we are going to be looking at prayer this morning.

So a quick recap – we are continuing in our series from John’s Gospel, and we are looking at this passage which we should remember takes place at the last supper, in that upper room, the last time Jesus and the disciples are gathered together before he is arrested. And this passage is part of a prayer and also right at the end of what is called Jesus’ ‘Farewell discourse’ which runs from Ch. 13-17.

It was actually a fairly common practice in the ancient world, to give a parting speech or ‘farewell discourse’. When someone knew their end was approaching, they might share with those close to them, some thoughts, possibly some words of comfort and sometimes a prayer. So what Jesus is doing, or what John tells us of what Jesus does is not that uncommon and would certainly make sense to the Greek reader at the time.

 

So we are looking at Jesus’ praying…

And it’s actually interesting that very few of Jesus prayers are actually recorded. We know he prayed alone, at night, often by himself, withdrawn from others, he prayed for children as they came to him, he prayed outside in nature, on the mountainside or in lonely places, he prayed for his persecutors… In fact he prayed in lots of ways or situations but we don’t often see what he prayed in any detail. We have the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ of course, but this in fact is, I believe, the one time in the bible where we see the words Jesus prayed, recorded at length.

So Jesus’ prayer here has 3 strands to it, first he prays for himself, then as we have heard today, for his disciples, and then later for all believers.

This prayer is an intercessory prayer – it is Jesus interceding for the disciples, he is lifting them up to the Father – as we sometimes say, standing in the gap for them. He is the go between, the connector, the wifi router if you like. The one that connects them with the source.

So that is what I want to focus on today, for us to look at what it means to intercede for others in prayer, what we can learn from how Jesus prays and our role to intercede for others.

We are of course starting with this passage but we are going to look at a few other scriptures, so we will have them on the screen but if you have your bibles and want to look them up please do…

 

What does it mean that Jesus is an intercessor for us? 

We sometimes have the ‘intercessions’ in church – prayers in the service that specifically lift up others before the Lord.

And to intercede means: to act or interpose on behalf of someone in difficulty or trouble, by pleading or petition…

So Jesus is the one who stands before the Father on behalf of us, he stands in that gap between us and the Father and brings the two together. He mediates on our behalf.

And in fact this isn’t the only passage in the bible on this theme of intercession.

In our Romans passage earlier (Romans 8: 28-39) we heard that ‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’ and that’s it, Jesus, as God, is soooo for us. He’s our biggest fan! And that passage goes on to say that God doesn’t condemn us, no, he is the one who intercedes for us and that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus. Nothing!

Because he will always be there, as our cheerleader, our encourager and mediator…

Hebrews 7 talks about what it means to be a Priest and notes that Jesus as our great high priest : ‘is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them’.

He is ALWAYS interceding before God, for us.

Isn’t that pretty amazing? It’s like having someone continually beating your drum, saying how amazing you are, but also defending you when you need it, being the one when you make a mistake who stands up for you, who fights your corner.

Who does that for you? Anyone? … Always?

Well Jesus does it for you, before the one who matters most, before the Father…

 

 

Other biblical examples of intercessors

There are other examples of great intercessors in the bible too – there are many people in the OT who were like forerunners of Jesus, from whom we can learn so much about Jesus. Moses is a great example and an amazing intercessor. He was interceding for the nation of Israel. So many times they messed up and he went before the Lord and pleaded for them, on behalf of them.

There was also Abraham prayed on behalf of the people of Sodom, Daniel prayed for the people of Israel, and then there’s this in Job:

 

Job endured great suffering, pouring out his heart to God and to his friends, says this (from the message version) Job 16:18-21

 

‘O Earth, don’t cover up the wrong done to me! Don’t muffle my cry!

There must be Someone in heaven who knows the truth about me,

 in highest heaven, some Attorney who can clear my name—

My Champion, my Friend, while I’m weeping my eyes out before God.

I appeal to the One who represents mortals before God

as a neighbor stands up for a neighbor.’

 

Who does that sound like if not an intercessor? If not THE intercessor.

 

So that’s just a few examples of bible heroes, if you like, who were great intercessors too.

 

But here in our passage, we have THE greatest intercessor, Jesus, interceding for his disciples,

So. What can we learn from how Jesus prays here? He is praying specifically for his disciples, he is not at this moment praying for all believers (see v. 9), that is to come.

As we know, this is the last supper. The last time Jesus will be with them before he is arrested and then killed. He has shared some thoughts with them, his final words or discourse and now he prays, in their presence it seems.

He knows what trials they will continue to face. To suffer persecution and pain and for all bar one of them (John interestingly) to die horribly, martyred for their faith.

What could he possibly pray for them?

I wonder how many times you have prayed for someone and just thought, what can I possibly pray? Their situation may seem so hopeless or impossible that we might find ourselves with so little faith.

But of course Jesus also knows here what great things the disciples will achieve in his name, and I think much of intercessory prayer is about stating some truths, biblical promises, declaring them over people, over situations, the truth of God.

Jesus does this too. So let’s just look at a few of the things he prays for and the things he declares:

 

He starts by declaring who he is, who the Father is and who the disciples are.

He says that disciples were the chosen ones of God in v 6: … ‘They were yours; you gave them to me’. Declaring that they belong to God, putting a spiritual seal on them if you like – like I’ve just been naming my kids uniform this week as they have just gone back to school – putting a label on which basically says: ‘this belongs to Joe Smith’. It’s a bit like Jesus is putting a label on them saying, these guys here, they are mine, they belong to God.

 

He goes on in verse 7-8

‘…they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me’

he is saying, declaring, this group of people, they are believers, they are followers of me, it’s a declaration of salvation. They have chosen to be part of the Kingdom of God.

Then in verse 10 he says they are bringers of God’s glory:

‘And glory has come to me through them.’

Again he is declaring what they have done, their work for the kingdom, and this is how God sees them.

 

He talks of the power of his name slide

v. 11-12

 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me

 

He is declaring over them, the power of Jesus name – that his prayer, carries great authority.

don’t forget they are there whilst he is praying – And he’s actually using words they would recognise, from their Jewish scriptures, our OT – praying for them but by declaring amazing truth through God’s word.

 

Proverbs 18:10:

The name of the Lord is a fortified tower, the righteous run to it and are safe.

 

Jeremiah 10:6

No one is like you, Lord, you are great, and your name is mighty in power.

 

We pray: in Jesus name, it is the authority he has given us, through his name. Hugely powerful, and often I don’t think we grasp how powerful.

 

He prays for unity for them too

 

‘So that they may be one as we are one’. Again he is declaring the truth of who God is, here God as the Trinity – 3 in 1 and that the disciples will be united in the same way.

You know there is something so powerful about being united in God. Our Christian faith brings us together, unites us with people we might never have met or known otherwise.

 

Part of my old job involved me gathering churches in our area to work together for social justice and community projects. It was not easy work for sure! But it was so worthwhile. Spiritually I think it is powerful, I think the devil has only a few strategies to tear us from God and he uses the same ones over and over again! And this is one of them, to try and pit us against each other and so often even within the church, we fall for it.

Unity is powerful … and more than that it is also a great witness to those round us too, that we are a people of love and we love each other just as much as those who don’t know the Lord yet.

 

Unity is a weapon against the enemy and that’s what Jesus wants for the disciples – protection – he says it in verses 11,12, 15

 

15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one

 

Round up –

When we intercede for others we are not pleading with God – we are declaring the truth even when it is not visible, even when it seems impossible. We might say of someone:

 

You ARE a child of God

You are a follower of Jesus Christ

You are loved by God

God is a healer

God is our guide

He is our comfort, our shield, our strong tower

These are all biblical truths of who God is.

 

 

And lastly here,

He prays for sanctification – the disciples are set apart. That’s what sanctification is, to be set apart, to be holy

And he says, verse 17:

‘Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.’

It’s a round up of what he has just been praying – he has declared the truth over them, God’s word, God’s truths – and so the conclusion of that is that they can be set apart for the kingdom. He is enabling them to be dedicated to their cause – Jesus’ cause.

 

 

So what does all this mean for us?

 

Jesus continues to intercede for us, we have seen the scriptures that tell us that, in Romans: Jesus is: is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

In Hebrews: ‘He he always lives to intercede for them

And we’ve seen examples of other great intercessors, pointing the way to Jesus: Moses, Abraham, Daniel, Job

 

But for us?

 

Well, just as the disciples had a mission to continue the work of Jesus, we have work to do, and part of that is to pray. And there are many ways of praying, and intercession is just one of them but it is a very important role.

 

I started by looking at DL Moody who saw millions of people won for Christ and for those closest to him he prayed them into the kingdom, with his list of 100 people. He was clearly an extraordinary man with an extraordinary faith but you know one thing he said was :

 

‘If this world is going to be reached, I am convinced that it must be done by men and women of average talent’

 

Men and women of average talent! Not super spiritual people, not extraordinary people, just normal people, like any of us. And you know earlier this year the Church of England ran a campaign around prayer called ‘Thy Kingdom Come’, they used the story of Moody’s list to help encourage people to pray for others and they suggested just choosing 5 people to pray for and to commit to praying for them, to intercede for them, to stand in the gap for them….

 

Who are you interceding for? Who are you standing in the gap for?

 

Some people have a real calling for this kind of prayer and will spend hours interceding for others. I have a friend who has been seriously ill for years and is often housebound and can’t get out. So she spends her time praying and she feels that is her calling. If I ever send out a prayer request via email I can guarantee she will be the first to answer.

But whether you have a particular calling for this, or not, we can all pray for others and I am sure we all know those who need prayer. Those who are sick or suffering. Those in need, those known to us and those not – persecuted Christians across the world for example.

Unanswered prayer;
And I just want to say here, I am sure there are many of you who are praying for others, or who have done, and yet you don’t see prayers answered, or you feel downhearted if people aren’t healed or their situations improved. And I’m afraid I’m not going to focus on that today, on why prayers don’t seem to be answered, on the disappointment that brings, except to say 2 things. 1 – I know that pain, I have been there, praying for others who haven’t been healed and also for myself, many people have prayed for me as I have a long term back condition which is not healed. So I know what it’s like. BUT, secondly, I think we have a choice. I have a made a choice – to trust in Jesus and all we know about him. And in the bible we see him healing everyone who came to him, we see miracles and prayers answered. That is my God. And whilst I may not understand why prayers don’t seem to be answered how we would like them, I refuse to get bogged down in that, so I choose, we can choose to focus on who God is and what he can do.

 

 

SO… let’s be great intercessors. I really feel that God is stirring up a hunger in people to pray more in this way and for our own communities, towns and countries too. I mean let’s just look around us, at this town of Lewes. I would love us as a church to really commit to praying for Lewes. And not because the church is doing it because as a family we feel stirred up as individuals to do that.

 

I mean there is so much to pray for here, in our town: The people, schools, how many schools are there here for example?! there is a hospital, a prison. In fact I love to go prayer walking – I just walk and pray, I go up on the downs so I can look over the town and pray and I come down by the back of the prison and I often wonder about the people in there.

 

Then when I was preparing for this preach I came across this story and I want to finish with this:

 

Jackie Pullinger is a missionary who has spent much of her life in Hong Kong ministering to drug addicts and criminals. At one time she went to visit the brother of a local drug Lord, in prison every week. She told him about Jesus, sharing the gospel every week for 9 months but he was completely unmoved. (Recommend book: The Lost Art of Intercession – by James W Goll)

She then asked others to pray, to intercede for him and to fast for him every Wednesday when she visited. Then a strange thing happened…

One day the governor of the jail was passing his cell and could smell something strange, like a perfume. Ali himself, the prisoner himself could not smell anything so they searched his cell. When they found nothing they searched him. Still they found nothing but they could still smell it. Ali asked himself what is that smell?! And as he did he felt something inside of him reminding him it was Wednesday and he realised he was smelling the aroma of prayer, like a holy incense of hundreds of prayers prayed just for him and pointed at his cell.

Of course he then talked to Jackie about it and finally a few weeks later he became a Christian devoting his life to the Lord. A hardened criminal, facing charges for murder and yet the power of prayer was so strong he could not resist.

And if you want to know, by the time he went before the judge, the judge just released him without even hearing the case! How’s that for the power of prayer!

 

 

Well, if you don’t know what to pray for – why not start with the inmates of the prison? Because whatever they have done wrong, you can bet that God’s heart is breaking for them as much as for their victims. Many prisoners have their own stories of heartbreak and how they came to be inside.

 

 

But lets ask ourselves.

Who you can pray for perhaps? Who can you stand in the gap for? Who is God asking us to stand in the gap for? Because there are millions of people around the world, millions of situations who need our prayers, let alone those on our own doorstep.

 

Let’s be the ones that stand in the gap….

 

 

Calling, Vocation and Discernment

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A few times recently people have asked me about why I wanted to become a Vicar. Thing is I didn’t want to, it was just I felt God calling me to it. And to be honest I was in denial about the whole thing for quite some time. I wrote about it at various points on the blog so this is just a bit of a round up of those posts that were written when I was wrestling with it all. If you are interested in my journey to ordination, perhaps are seeking your own, or maybe just thinking about vocation and purpose, then these may or may not be interesting!

Purpose – This was written the first time I started to voice something around that sense of calling that was going on inside me. 
A Calling – Actually starting to think about ministry.
The O Word – Finally giving in and thinking about ordination
10 reasons not to be a Vicar – wrestling with it all
Life Changes – admitting defeat and seeing my Parish Priest
Meeting the DDO – approaching seeing the DDO 
Rebelling – being a rebel in the church
DDO Update –  last visit to DDO
Approaching BAP and plenty of doubt
General later post on Vocation/Calling
Lastly this is my free Guide to the Discernment Process in the CofE if you are looking into what it means to be ordained in the CofE, this looks in depth at what you might experience. Useful for other denominations or situations too but it is focussed on the CofE process.

 

 

 

The Fragment // Book Review

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‘The Fragment’ by Davis Bunn is the perfect holiday read for someone like me. An easy read, with a gripping storyline, and with spiritual truth woven through it. More than that, Muriel, the main character is a young woman, refusing to fit into the social and cultural norms of her day, post war 1920s in Alexandria, Virginia. In a way her desire to escape and not conform reminds me of my own journey – refusing to settle for what was expected of me – except she does it with much more grace and humility than I ever will.
 
Then very quickly her life changes as she heads off to Paris to work for an old friend of the family, an American Senator on a quest to find a fragment of the true cross on which Christ died.
(It is worth noting that whether you are someone with a passion for relics or one who finds the whole idea of them questionable, it doesn’t take away from a good storyline, so just shelve that, ok?!)
 
‘The Fragment’ reads like a more charming and less frantic Dan Brown novel, except here the input of Christianity is more obvious and certainly woven in as spiritual truth and not just for dramatic effect. Muriel’s initial desire to leave the mundane comfort of her home town develops as she realises that this is her calling, something she feels God has prepared her for for life. Seeking a calling that is so clear is something that will resonate with many readers I am sure.
 
The faith of Muriel and her boss and family friend, the Senator, is evident throughout, woven into the storyline with ease. It’s refreshing to read a novel like this which has such spiritual truth at the heart of it. And indeed, the story of the search for the cross is made on several levels. Their quest to find the fragment, the true cross, is echoed in the journey of Charles, a young man haunted by his war experiences who Muriel attempts to bring on a journey of his own towards the cross. She sees that his life can only be transformed by Christ but he continues to fight it, in a battle of inner turmoil.
 
Set in 1923, when woman had not long gained the right to vote in the UK and US, in France it would be another 20 years, and the author conveys some of the discrimination that abounded, the childish ways women were ignored, mistrusted or put down simply because of their gender. Muriel reacts to this with grace and patience and in this story she comes out on top, partly thanks to the generous and supportive senator who believes in her.
A cleverly written novel, perfect for the beach, sitting by the pool, or just for lounging around on an autumn evening in front of the fire (which it feels like as I write now in August) ‘The Fragment’ is available now from Marylebone House, priced £8.99.
 

Surfing Curacy

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This post started out as ‘surviving curacy’ and yet autocorrect made it ‘surfing’, which seemed apt as whilst writing I had just come from an afternoon on the beach with the family, surfing and body boarding in the Atlantic Ocean.

Surfing, even as terrible as we are at it, requires balance and poise. Life long surfers have a second sense of when the weather is turning, when waves might appear and then once in the water, an instinct that kicks in before the brain has registered the right wave approaching. The highs are great: overcoming nature, riding through the surf, staying up on the board for the first time; the lows immense: wipe outs, swallowing gallons of sea water (and occasionally vomiting it up again), injuries or broken boards. But the ocean is majestic, powerful, beautiful, vast, I’ve heard it referred to as the green cathedral. There is something spiritual about it, an energy that goes where it will. Strange analogy for curacy maybe? Well I’ve discovered after just 5 weeks in the role that curacy is all of those things…

For a start, ministry always requires balance, usually work-life being the hardest one to master. And I’ve not mastered it, especially in the midst of school holidays. Why so many curacies start right at the beginning of summer I don’t know. We’ve all just finished assignments and essays, brain dead and exhausted. Then for those of us with kids, which is quite a high number, a few weeks after we start and the kids break up from school for weeks on end. This has been the biggest challenge for us – starting a new full time job a week before the summer hols starts and 3 weeks after moving house. There’s been an almost unsaid and gentle battle over whose work is more important between my husband and I. This is the first time we’ve both worked full time for years, and now suddenly we both have important things on the same day that cannot be changed. Who gets to go to work? Who gets to try and ‘work from home’? Childcare has been balanced out between paid things, and grannies and grandad to the rescue – for us it seemed wrong to book our kids in for 7 weeks of summer camp and activities when we have never done that before. To be honest they have had enough upheaval recently and need to know that they come first. But whilst that was right for us as a family, it has brought its challenges. That said, God has been faithful, told us not to worry and with just a few weeks to go we are managing ok. Although whilst the house largely looks tidy, the hunt for the endangered species of cleaner is not going well. Lewes is the place where cleaners can command a huge salary and a waiting list. We’re not even on a list yet. This does not bode well. I’m not sure when I’ll next have time to actually sort and plan, my home making desires and skills sidelined for sermon writing and pastoral visits. For now don’t look at the fridge too closely, or under the sofa… I know some dioceses do ordinations in September which seems eminently more suitable for all concerned!

 

So, poise. Chances are the church any potential Curate heads off to will go into summer mode, which means nothing runs as it usually does, clergy will be away on hols, as will church wardens, key leaders and the verger. So, just as you learn where you need to be, then you find out actually that’s not on this week, that’s all off until September… Oh and Jo who gave you the keys last week, she’s away until mid August so make sure you have someone else to let you in to church next Sunday morning… This is where poise comes in. You need to act like you know what you are doing, even when you really haven’t a clue, which will probably be for some time.

Like the instinct of the faithful surfer, ministers need to be able to react on the spot. Like, in the first service I led, when the video wouldn’t work last minute, there were unexpected additions to the service, an offering being brought to the front I didn’t know about and I was the one out the front… I’ve discovered that most churches are filled with people who know far better than the Curate what needs to happen and when. They have likely been worshiping there for years and you are the young whipper snapper (or not that young actually in my case) arriving to lead them all into worship. Humility goes a long way.

Of course for us it’s more than instinct though, it’s being led by the Holy Spirit and being able to listen and of course to actually hear what God might be saying is vital. I’ve now led a handful of services and most of them were founded on a prayers like ‘Lord I don’t know what I am doing, it’s all up to you, just get me in the right place at the right time, please!’. Largely, thankfully, he has. I’ve only once been to the wrong building – we have 3 churches, 2 church halls, an office and a chapter house, plenty of room for mistakes there then…

So to the highs and lows. For me, there have been plenty of highs, I am really loving my curacy, the church is fab, the Rector incredibly encouraging – after my first preach his response was ‘the girl can preach’! This cheers me and it was not my best preach (& there is plenty or room for improvement!). The staff team are also brilliant and the people have been so welcoming and lovely. My first pastoral visit, taking home communion (with my new home communion set, an ordination gift from my parents) to a lovely lady who had been ill was such a privilege and I felt so blessed by going to see her. Wearing my dog collar with pride, has also been a surprise to me as I thought I’d wear it as infrequently as possible but I actually love it and love the visibly it brings, in terms of conversations with people I meet. Another plus being, the first night in our new local, not in collar, but ending up in a conversation with some young lads about faith, God, the church. I just knew we were supposed to be here.

I’m not sure there have been too many lows yet for me, probably just the sheer volume of information I need to take in and the whole balancing act thing which is proving tricky. From others I’ve heard though, it’s not always that way. The best I have heard of was where the church had filled the new curate’s fridge with food, left flowers, took meals and popped in with freshly made cake and to make sure they had all they needed. In others not so much as a welcome, visit from the Vicar or in fact anyone from the church and an expectation to take every service & preach on their first Sunday. Yikes…

And that great green cathedral? Well for me it’s the people. I love meeting new people, hearing their stories, finding out what makes them tick, who has God made them to be. That is the brilliant part. Seeing God at work in people. The metaphor of the energy of the ocean is not lost, people moving together as one in worship, but also free to move, to do as they will, ocean spray reaching out and touching others around them. Beautiful and majestic and with a very definite energy of its own!

This is God at work, in the church, in his people, sometimes unpredictable, but then our reliance on him is only increased. And where else to be on the ocean but in the safety of a divine lifeboat?

 

‘Still Emily’ book review

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I’ve just read ‘Still Emily’ in one sitting, on holiday surrounded by people, and have had to stem the tears pricking my eyes on more than one occasion. Emily’s story touched my heart, not with tears of sympathy but of love, of admiration, and in some sense, of understanding.

Emily began life healthily and despite what could now be seen as warnings, the shock of an NF2 diagnosis at the age of 17 was huge. This condition would go on to rob Emily of her hearing, her balance, ability to walk and more, yet she has refused to give in to the condition, not willing to be defined by it, and continued in her walk with God, perhaps closer than ever might have been.

(Neurofibromatosis Type 2 (NF2) is a disorder that causes tumours to grow on the body and throughout the nervous system. Depending on where they grow they can cause conditions like deafness, severe balance problems, facial nerve paralysis, spinal cord compression and swallowing difficulties.)

‘Still Emily’ is a movingly honest memoir of Emily’s journey with NF2. Of the highs and lows – of which there are many, including the moment at age 17 when Emily’s family said goodbye to her as she lay in a coma, not expected to wake up. Like the times when she has been robbed of her sight for a period as well as hearing, in order to allow her eyes to rest and recover as they work harder than ever. I’m not sure I can begin to image the isolation and fear that must induce.

It is also a story of a family thrown into turmoil, but choosing to respond in love. Choosing to support, choosing to demonstrate the love of God in the face of adversity, united in their faith. Christian faith is of course a theme than runs through the book, not in an ‘in your face’ way, but in a gentle undercurrent, God’s presence and faithfulness the foundation in this inspiring story.

As anyone with a long term condition will know, it can be hard to remain always positive, even with God at your side, and Emily is honest about this, but also reminding herself, and us the readers, to focus on the bit that can be done, not the bit that can’t, as she recalls learning to sit again, able to do 20 mins at first but not the half hour she hoped for. The subtitle to ‘Still Emily’ is ‘seeing rainbows in the silence’ a choice that Emily has made – to always seek the moments of joy: ‘I choose rainbows. Every time. Even when they are invisible, I carry on looking…’

One of the things I love about this book is the truth that we are all worthy, no matter what we can or can’t do. A simple reminder that came to Emily when all she could do to help a fellow patient in hospital was press the ‘call nurse’ button, but in that moment, that was what was needed. This was something I too learned when recovering from back surgery last year, even in the tough times, in suffering and in the moments when we feel useless, helpless and alone, that to God we are perfect and he can use us all, whatever the circumstance.

This is a book about endurance, the faithfulness of God and above all, hope. In endless operations, physio and appointments, in pain, in disappointment, there is still hope.

 

‘Still Emily’ is available now from Malcolm Down Publishing, priced £7.99.

 

JOY // Guest Post from Katie Stock

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This is the next instalment in a year of guest posts on Joy as part of my year of focussing on joy (my word for the year). This month we have a post from Katie Stock. 

 

 

 

In my experience joy is an elusive state, something I observe in others, catch glimpses of in myself but can never quite grab a hold of.

Joy is mentioned 179 times in the Bible. Trees declare it. Men shout for it. Widow’s hearts sing for it. Joy permeates throughout Scripture.

The thing that all of the peoples, individuals and trees (!) experiencing joy have in common is that their joy comes from an experience of the presence of God.

Wherever God is there follows joy.

Then why do I not experience this? Do I not experience God’s presence? Do I not pray enough?

I certainly don’t pray enough. I experience God’s presence but not in a complete sense.

Joy is still elusive.

It is elusive because I am broken. I was broken at birth because of my fallen nature. I continued to be increasingly broken as I grew due to the sin of others around me. I continue to be broken due to my own sin now.

I struggle to experience joy. I know I’m not alone in that. But, rest assured, one day I will experience God’s presence in its unbridled entirety. Then we will all experience joy like never before. Then our broken bones will rejoice and we will be made glad with the joy of God’s presence.

 

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
 Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

Psalm 51: 1-8

KatieStock

Katie Stock

Katie is a fundraising copywriter at an international NGO, theology postgraduate, Mama to the delightful Miss F & Miss T and wife to the inexplicably handsome Boy (her words!). Katie also won ‘Young Blogger of the Year’ in last years Premier Digital Awards for her rather fantastic Theology Bee blog – do check it out.

One Year On // Post Op

This was me post-op, listening to an 8 hour long worship playlist which got me through!

It’s now just over one year since I suffered a ruptured disk in my back and had surgery to correct it.

Recovery is ongoing.

They told me it would be at least a year and they were right. It has been so up and down throughout the entire year and yet hitting the 12 month mark did seem to bring a realisation that actually it is basically ok. The ups and downs are less violent and the swinging fear of it happening again, and euphoria over new things I can now do again are less pronounced.

I still carry a cocktail of painkillers with me wherever I go, along with my trusty back chair or roll cushion. I have to plan long journeys carefully and take time out from sitting for long periods, often choosing to work at home from the floor of my study, propped up by cushions laying in front of the laptop.

As I write a lone runner zooms past, red, sweaty and clearly enjoying herself. A momentary pang of despair hits me. We are on holiday at Spring Harvest in France. Last time I was here I was doing the same, taking time out of each day to run along the river soaking up the sun and enjoying a new route that hasn’t bored me yet. Last time we were supposed to be here I was actually at home in the post surgery phase. Hard to believe that that was now over a year ago.

There are still things I can’t do, or more perhaps, won’t risk doing. There’s talk of going canoeing this week and whilst I am desperate to go the truth is I just don’t think it’s worth the risk. To get to where I am now, I’ve seen physios regularly, faithfully done my exercises twice, if not three times a day, attended Pilates classes, sat correctly and not done anything stupid, and it still seems any kind of full recovery is a way off. Why would I risk it now? And yet I also don’t want to live in fear, don’t want to be defined by my health. Don’t want to be the boring mum who can’t play football in the garden with the kids, can’t actually change the beds for fear of tweaking something, can’t push a trolley full of food round the supermarket (thank goodness for online ordering). It’s all so boring.  People still ask me regularly how is your back? I’d love to say yes it’s fantastic, never better, but the truth is and my stock answer is ‘it’s ok, bit up and down but I’m fine’. It’s actually nice, having moved churches for curacy to be somewhere where many people don’t know I had the op, so I can escape the questions.

But as this is an update, for those that want to know… I am still doing physio twice a day (at home, I have a set of exercises to do), I walk every day, 3 miles if I can, to keep my back mobile and from seizing up, it’s also the only exercise I get. I am allowed to cycle too but I’m not a cycling fan to be honest so walking it is. Clinical pilates is once a week and boy do I notice it if I miss one. The pain is up and down, I still get nerve pain in both legs and numbness in one foot occasionally. It’s varied and changes from day to day. Sitting for long periods produces latent pain (ie: it appears after the event -usually the next morning), and I know when I’ve pushed it too much like lifting something I shouldn’t, or twisting awkwardly and usually the results last for a few days or longer. Paracetamol and Nurofen are my best friends and I don’t go anywhere without them, but I am thankful that the super strength pain killers, which I also carry with me in case of a relapse, have not been used for months now.

However. It’s all ok. Yes it can be frustrating at times and I hate carrying my back chair or cushion with me like some old lady, but it’s all manageable and I still say I wouldn’t change it for the world. Earlier this year I found myself focussing on the pain too much and I made a choice to remember the blessing of it all every time I felt weighed down by the pain. After all the pain is a reminder of a time which I doubt will be repeated. A time with God that was a gift. Such a special time, unable to do much at all except rest in his presence, read his word, pray. It was like being soaked in him for weeks on end. Oh how I miss that.

So now every time I feel the pain I remind myself of the blessing. And a blessing it was. Is even. It has changed my life, my faith, altered my view on so many things, given me more empathy and understanding and I hope helped me to be a better minister.

So for now I focus on that gift, that blessing and move forward…