Retreat Reflection

There is definitely something about going on retreat and just stopping, that gives you space. Space to be with God of course, but space to process too, space to think. Space for the thoughts that have been at the back of your mind to come, perhaps unwelcomed, to the fore. That’s always been my experience anyway and having just come back from a silent retreat this one was no different. I usually find there is a ‘break through moment’. Here’s some of what I wrote on this one…

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Walking along I find myself weeping. I’m not really sure why. It started when someone walked into the room where I was sat, she just looked across and gave me a small smile.

Then going to lunch someone gave me an ‘are you ok’ mime. I felt I had to fight back tears, but why?

What were those thoughts fighting for freedom saying now? I really wasn’t sure but I knew I had to get out and give them some space.

Walking…

The moment I left the building I could feel them coming. Stinging the eyes and burning the throat. As much as I tried to hold them in, they increased their threat.

They won, this time… perhaps they needed to.

I walked somewhat blindly down the lane, past houses and people, wishing for peace, space, freedom and finally the path turned past fields and woodland with not a soul in sight. Then they really made their presence known, gulping sobs, and heartfelt probing.

Lord what is this, why am I crying?
Then…

Then the reality of pain and love and desire and passion and anxiety all rolled into one.
I need you Lord. Where are you?
Here I am needing you, pleading for you.

Questioning myself.

I need this. I need you. I need more of you…

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I stumble into the old chapel. Dark and musty, the light switch makes little impact on the murk. But here is a place dedicated to you, rebuilt after brokenness and disaster from love of you and a loved one.
I breathe in the atmosphere, and breathe you in. Years of church dust invades my nostrils, familiar, like home.

I fall to my knees before the altar, thoughts tumbling, not knowing what you are doing or saying. I see my breath before me in the cold January air that infects this place.

And then they come again, I feel the heat of my own pain stinging my cold face.

Facedown, Lord I ask, what is this?

 

I look up and there you are, above my head in carved wooden form. I am literally under your feet…

 

 

 

 

 

You are my refuge.

You are the reason I live.

 

Psalm 63

O God you are my God.
Earnestly I seek you.
My soul thirsts for you…
My body longs for you in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

I sing in the shadow of your wings.

My soul clings to you, your right hand upholds me.

Fred

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Let me introduce you to Fred (not his real name of course and this picture is not him!). Fred lives alone, in the same village as us. He is elderly and has some of the health issues that age brings, partly being that he is losing his eyesight.

Fred lived with his sister, in their family home in the village where they were both born, as virtual recluses for many years. In fact he only really came out for essential things like going to get food or to go to the Doctors.

Sadly Fred’s sister died last year, in the same week as their dog was put down, leaving him alone with their slightly straggly cat. He is the last surviving member of their family.

In the weeks following her death neighbours discovered that for years Fred and his sister had been living in conditions that we would baulk at. They have been living in one room, with no central heating, limited water and electricity, and no cooker. Although I’d like to keep this as anonymous as possible some people will know Fred so I’m not going to go into all the details but let’s just say the situation is as bad as you could imagine, if not worse.

Having spoken little to Fred in the years we have lived here (although we have looked out for them) all of a sudden we find out he has a personality, quirky yes, and with some odd opinions, but with a sense of humour and a generous heart. In fact I have enjoyed sitting down to a cuppa with him and hearing about his past life.

Now, as neighbours some of us have pulled together to help, to support, to put him in touch with the relevant people (and yes social services are involved). But some months on and things are changing only at a snails pace, despite the fact that he does want help.

…o0O0o…

So why am I telling you all this?

Well, the things is, we are all a bit exhausted. There is so much to do, so much help required and Fred it turns out, is actually quite needy. And more than that, he’s lonely. 

I am continually reminded of Matthew 25 and in particular verse 40:

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me

My days are torn right now, between wanting to do as much as I can for Fred, and finding myself annoyed at yet more to do. I wonder, with that verse, what would I be doing if it was Jesus? Well, he’d be in our spare room I’m sure, I’d cook for him every night, I’d be hanging on his every word, I wouldn’t dream of letting him stay in that house. But yet I’m torn. How much can I do for Fred? How much can I share? Where are the boundaries? Because in ministry they tell you: you must have boundaries, you must be careful, and I understand this. Of course I have to protect my family, but then I think of poor Fred, sat alone in his filthy house, eating beans from a can and imagine Jesus sat there with him. 

…o0O0o…

So here we are. And I know Fred is not an isolated incident. There are older people up and down the country, still wanting to live in their own homes (and why shouldn’t they) and yet with so much they find hard if not impossible to do, or with situations they find themselves in, far too huge to handle. Of course Fred is an extreme case but he would never be able to access some of the help he is getting without help in the first place, what a vicious circle! Today I needed to book something for him and the council recommended company don’t take cheques and can’t receive cash. No two ways about it, even when I explained the situation they would not budge. Yet Fred only uses cash. Surely that’s a form of discrimination? What will probably happen is that one of us will pay and he will then give us the cash but what if it was someone who had no one to do that? Any anyway why should that have to happen?! 

And on loneliness, Age Concern stats show that loneliness is one of the key things facing older people today. Much of the time Fred just wants someone to talk to. He says how lonely it is with just him and the straggly cat 24/7. So many other older people are going through this, as Fred says, he has spent his whole life with someone, his parents or his sister and now there is no one.

I’m torn.

…o0O0o…

Officially we (the neighbours) are doing all we can, relevant agencies are involved. I have no actual responsibilty to him and yet… Whatever I do for the least of these, I do for Jesus…

I am torn.

Do you know I have actually prayed for him for years, for an opportunity, for a way to help, to get to know him. Now I have it and yet it’s huge. What can I do? I ask myself, am I being the Light in his life? Am I being an example to neighbours of the love and compassion of Christ? What am I teaching my kids if I am annoyed or lacking compassion? I want them to love people, to learn to serve the poor, to be the light that we should be.

Lord, help me.

…o0O0o…

So you see I don’t think this post is really about Fred at all, it’s about my own struggle to find what it really means to be Jesus’ hands and feet. To get stuck in where it matters. To what lengths I am prepared to go to do that. It’s about the way I demonstrate the love of God to those around me. Oh I can make up reason and excuse not to do things, or to shy away from what needs to be done, and I probably still will, but truly I know what I should be doing.

I do wonder, when we think of falling church numbers and all that, if we were truly acting as Jesus did, being a very obvious and present example of him, how much that might change peoples perception of the church…?

 

Just so you know, there is very little chance of Fred ever reading this, but I have changed a few details and of course his name to give some anonymity.

The Curate’s Journey begins…

a good one to remember at this point!

Well to be fair it actually started about 6 years ago when God called me into this crazy nonsense that is Ministry in the Church of England. Some may baulk at the word nonsense and of course there is a tongue firmly stuck in my cheek when I say that, but if you’ve read my Guide to the Discernment Process you will know that sometimes it’s all just a bit bonkers. But for me, I’m approaching the end of that crazy process as in just 6 months time I will be ordained. The ‘O’ word has been looming and I can’t quite believe I’ve got to this stage, but as with discernment I wanted to blog about it all, because I know from experience there are others going through it all and feeling a bit like ‘what is this?’ so a new part of the blog is starting here: The Curate’s Journey. Now it might be a little thin on the ground post-wise in the next few months as I don’t start my curacy until the end of June but there is plenty of build up to write about so it starts here!

And of course I haven’t even written about how you find a curacy. It was so hush hush I wasn’t allowed to say anything for ages! So, how does the whole process of finding a curacy work? Well I don’t know about all the dioceses but down here in Chichester, it works a bit like this…

In spring of the year preceding ordination – so if training part time this will probably be the 2nd year of study, or, if full time (unless mixed mode) the first year – now that is scary! (means you’ve only been in training for about 6 months before you have to think about your first post), then your diocese will be in touch with you and ask you to fill in form Appendix B. Yes, yes imaginatively titled I know, but I’m not sure we can’t expect much more from the CofE. Appendix B is about as exciting as it sounds, one might hope for a list of deep and searching questions aiming to get a clear picture of you and what you might offer any potential church, but sadly not. No, there are very few options to express a personality, those that do are tick boxes asking you to clarify what kind of ministry you are training for, which style of churchmanship you might best minister in, what type of area you might want to go to (e.g: urban, rural etc) although even these are rather vague, I mean what even is ‘semi-rural’ or a ‘country town’ – I’m not sure we’d all agree on those so how do you know what to tick?! So as you can see not much chance to express an opinion. Then you are pretty much at the hands of the diocese, trying to match you up with a church where you might both be able to work together in beautiful harmony and friendship, (ahem) or more likely just to able to get on for 3 (or 4) years and not to do any lasting damage.

So, for me having filled in this form it was some months (from memory I think about 4) before I heard anything at all from the diocese. At this point I received an email from my DDO in which the training incumbent of my potential curacy (aka: title post) was copied in and we were asked to meet each other to discuss the possibility further.

KVM_trustThis was relatively straight forward. I met him and another member of staff, we chatted in detail, we got on, both agreed to think and pray about it and talk a week later. We both agreed we wanted to go ahead and then passed that on to the diocese to formalise it. Easy peasy. However this is not the case for everyone and I know of several ordinands who have not yet been placed. This happens for various reasons: not enough curacies available, they can’t match you up with a suitable place, or some agreed curacies then change last minute if the incumbent (i.e. person in charge of where you are going : The Vicar) is ill or gets a job elsewhere, or just changes their mind – has been known. The thing is whilst we are of course at the mercy of God in this whole process, and the word: TRUST looms like a beacon over your life for some years, we are also at the mercy of the powers that be: The Church of England (and it’s not unheard of to wonder sometimes if they are more powerful than God…). They literally hold your life in their hands and it can feel very disconcerting, especially if the process of finding a ‘title post’ does not go smoothly, and whilst I shall not go into it all here I have heard of more than one case where frankly you wonder whether they actually care at all or have any touch with the reality of family life. But enough on that. Look it can be tough, really tough, and let’s face it if you haven’t got a thick skin yet you are going to need one.

Of course, I did talk to my husband too and whilst the job looked perfect we also weighed up what it meant for him and for our kids. They usually send you a parish profile with plenty of info about the church and area, including what housing you can expect so there is a bit of info to help you decide. We were fortunate that we knew the town we are going to, but if you don’t, do some homework before jumping right in! Google is your friend…

Now then, if for whatever reason you do not get ‘placed’ then you will probably be released from your diocese – which means they give up on finding you a job (sort of) and then you can look elsewhere. This can actually work very well as the constraints put on you by having been in the same diocese for years are then gone, you get a chance to actually look around, speak to other dioceses and see what is available. So it’s definitely not the end of the world. In fact some people I know have actively sought to do this for personal reasons, e.g: family, work etc and have then gone on to find postings elsewhere successfully.  Life’s circumstances do change and the church is aware of that and can make provision for it.

So for me then, the curacy was all finalised in September last year and announced in October, although it was frustrating having to wait to tell people! The usual form is that you don’t publicise it until it is formally announced. Frustrating as that may be, it is not without reason, and allows both the sending parish and the receiving parish to let people know at the same time, avoiding any of those awkward conversations, which may sound silly but my own Mum attends craft fairs at one of the churches in the parish I am going to, so you can just imagine her saying to someone ‘oh did you know my daughter is coming to work here’ before anyone had officially heard. However it is usual for people do tell those closest to them rather than wait months and my mother was sworn to secrecy! 

Then basically nothing much happens for months on end. It seems very strange to have it all worked out, to know exactly where you are going and everyone knows that and then you just carry on with life for the next, in some cases, if you have it sorted early, year! I have lost count of the number of times people have said to me ‘so, when are you moving?’ in an almost bored tone, and to be fair to them, I think in some senses we prepare ourselves for change and then stop. So it is a bit of a strange time really. For me I have chosen to try not to think about where I am going at all, I know what I’m like and I would get all excited and want to plan and do things, when actually I have a job I love, a home I love and we are settled here, for the time being. For others you may need that time to prepare, to plan etc so it can be useful.

Now I find suddenly in January of the year of my ordination things are starting to happen and that will be the next post as this one is long enough as it is. 

I would love to hear from others who’ve been through this recently, if anyone wants to share their experiences? I know it can differ across the country, and if this is going to be a helpful resource like the discernment guide, then I could do with some more input, so do get in touch.

 

PS: if you didn’t know, I shall be off to ‘Trinity’ in Lewes, which comprises 3 churches in the town, and we are really looking forward to it :)

 

 

Blogolution

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So. It’s 2016. How did that happen? I honestly think I’m still 19 sometimes.

*sighs*

2016 is going to be a whopper of a year for us. In May I finish my job – that’s the best job I’ve ever had, seriously LOVE IT.

In June I  finish my course and then…

I GET ORDAINED.

Still have no idea how this has really happened to be honest. I’m still expecting God to appear and say ‘wait, no, sorry I’ve changed my mind’ or ‘actually it wasn’t you I wanted it was that other woman’… except so far he hasn’t, so *gulp* in 6 months time I will become Revd. Jules Middleton which is kind of terrifying.

Then, (if not before) we move house and church

and of course, I will start my curacy.

So, yeah I’m not really 19 any more, heck even 39 would be nice. And this year I feel well, I guess I feel it’s like some kind of rite of passage, or milestone, like turning 18 or leaving home, it’s definitely a  pivotal point in, not just my life, but that of my family. So cue lots of reflection (my tutors would love that, we get to reflect a lot in training). So here’s a little (well not very little) blog about what’s going to happen on the blog this year…

 

 

One Word for 2016: JOY

So, lots of people have been raving about this whole ‘One Word’ thing. The idea being that you ditch New Years Resolutions (which I’m all in favour of anyway, if you want to make change, do it whenever, don’t wait for the new year!) and just choose one word for your year to focus on. Last year by default, although I didn’t really choose it, my word was ‘Selah’, taking rest, pausing, reflecting, I’ve written about it lots so if you want to know more on that do take a look.

But this year I have consciously decided to do it, to actually choose a word to focus on. It’s taken a while but the word I’ve finally chosen is ‘JOY’. 

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Why joy? indeed, good question. There were lots of words that might have been more original, or more meaningful, less vague, perhaps more in line with what will be happening this year for me. But the thing that I really don’t like about myself (well one of them…) is that when I’m tired or bit under par or just busy, I get grumpy. And not just that I’m grumpy, but grumpy and cross with people around me, the people I love, usually my family. I hate that the joy I have from Jesus gets robbed away from me at those times. And of course I’m not ignoring the reason why this happens, if you’ve read my blog in the last year you’ll know I’ve been addressing time management, rest and more. But some things just won’t change and realistically I will get tired and busy sometimes, so my aim is to not lose the joy I have but to loose it! I hope that in focussing on this one word it will help me to do so.

God’s word tells us in James 1:2-3 to consider it joy when we face trials, not that my trials are particularly big, but when I read of those who are persecuted and attacked and yet are still so obviously filled with the joy of the Lord, it gives me huge encouragement and perhaps a little shame that I am bogged down in the tiny detail.

In Nehemiah 8:10 the prophet tells the people ‘…for the joy of the Lord is your strength’. Yes! it is, I just need to continually remind myself of this. Joy is also one of the fruit of the spirit Paul talks of in his letter to the Galatians, 5:22; and finally one of my fave passages, Hebrews 12:1-3 – if you haven’t then do read The Message version, it really brings it alive, love the line ‘that will shoot adrenaline into your souls!’ But for now in the NRSV version:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.

 

Be inspired by Jesus and all that He did! He was filled with joy even knowing what he had to face. So JOY will be an ongoing theme this year as I endeavour to be focussed on the joy of the Lord and not on my tiredness, illness or busyness!

 

Psalm 1 // All Age Service // resource

We ran an all-age service today based on Psalm 1, here is the plan below if anyone wants to use it.

“Rooted” based on Psalm 1 vs 1-3

Opening Song

 

Intro 

Clues to theme – What’s brown and sticky? A stick

What’s brown wet and sticky? A stick in the rain

When does a tree branch become a stick? When it’s disconnected from the tree/roots.

What are roots? Why are they important to trees?

  1. Anchor – stop trees falling over, keep it stable
  2. Source of life – take water and nutrients form the soil to help trees grows, devleope and repair.

So today we’re going to look at 4 roots that keep us focussed on Jesus.

Play video of Psalm 1 as above, available via Youtube to download

 

Root 1: Trust – Jeremiah 17:7-8

What does trust mean to you? Ask for responses – what does it mean to trust someone? interact with responses.

For me when I think about trusting in God it is remembering that God knows what is best for me. He loves me and has good plans for me so I know that what he asks of me is good. It means not being scared. Because sometime we have to do things that make us scared don’t we? what makes you scared?

For me as an adult. One way I know I have to trust God is in knowing that I have enough of what I need. Enough food, enough clothes, enough money.


Each of our roots we are going to have an action or response and for this one we are going to take up and offering, because when we give away from what we have, we have to trust that God will give us all that we need. So as we take our offering, think about how much you trust God and perhaps ask him to help you increase your trust in him…

 

OFFERING & 2 songs

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Root 2: Prayer – 1 Timothy 1:17 

“Prayer is like a telephone where we can talk to God”

What is praying? Talking and listening to God.

What can we talk to God about? Anything and everything!

Jeremiah 33:3 Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things that you do not know!

Key Verse – 1 Timothy 1:17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Prayer and Praise Alphabet- what reasons have we got to praise God for? (Go through each letter of the alphabet asking congregation to name things for each letter we can be grateful for)

roots1Response – Leaves Praise & Thanks leaves – have leaf shapes cut out and pens that people can write short prayers on then come and stick/hang onto tree. we used a tree branch but you could use a fake Christmas tree or collection of twigs in a large pot. Play a song while people write them and then come up and stick them on.

 

Root 3: God’s love – Ephesians 3:17-19

 

God’s love is incredible – it is different to peoples love because..

It can’t be measured – its too big (use a tape measure as a prop)

It can not be stopped/broken – it is too powerful (hammer as prop)

It will not run out – its everlasting 

It is not conditional – God will never love you anymore or any less than he does right now (spirit level)

We can not be separated from it – Romans 8 – Nothing in the whole of creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We need to let our roots go down deep into God’s love – to have his love living and moving in us each and every day! To be aware of his love – to remember that we are his treasured possessions dearly loved by our Heavenly Father.

 

Stop for a moment and reflect on God’s love – possibly read a couple of verses about God’s love.

 

Root 4: God’s word – Hebrews 4:12 

(hidden scripture game)

Right for root number 4 we are looking at God’s word. In years gone by they used to tie Gods scripture onto their heads and hands (could do an example of this with a volunteer) but that doesn’t really work today does it?! So we’ve hidden some lines of scripture in the hall – send people off to find pre hidden scripture.

Get them to put into right order and read out. 

 

 

What does this mean for us? It means Gods word is for us, for now and it is powerful, full of truth!

For every situation we are in, every thing in our lives, Gods word is there for us

If we read the bible regularly that root will be so strong that we can face anything!

 

 

Response & Pray – Seeds & Pots or bulbs

2016-01-02 12.39.22So we’ve been looking at roots today, roots that feed us, keep us strong and healthy. quick recap on the 4.

And we wanted to find a way to help you remember this, so today we are giving you a little gift to take away, a bulb to plant. These bulbs, if you look after them will grow roots and then a plant with grown from them will grow. But you have to look after those roots, they need soil to be planted in, they need to be watered and looked after. Then that plant will grow and thrive, will grow flowers (or fruit) and will not wither.

So take these home, plant them and let them be a reminder of the roots you need in your life to help you to grow more and more like Jesus…

: Final Song

: Blessing & Goodbye

 

 

Equipment needed:

We had images for the screen for each root and scrolls to unroll (see below)

Leaf shapes/ pens and pencils

Tree 

Video or reading of Psalm 1

Props

Printed out scriptures (root 4)

 

Tree_roots_3rdJanROOTS Trre_roots_3rdJan_TRUST copy Trre_roots_3rdJanLOVE copy Trre_roots_3rdJanPRAYER copy Trre_roots_3rdJanWORD copy