Becoming a Revd…

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Selfie with my fellow trainees from SEITE as we head off to the cathedral

So. That’s it. No going back. I am now Revd. Jules Middleton… arghhh!!!!

Wow even typing that makes me start to well up!

How did this happen I ask myself? Why did this happen? What on earth was God thinking?! I am still having those moments of ‘why would he call someone like me?’

However, it is also completely amazing. I am so excited, proud, overjoyed and delighted to be doing what I am doing. A few days ago I was officially introduced at my new church at 4 different services and met so many lovely people (whose names I have probably forgotten already), and I just feel so ready for this and so excited for this new season.

…o0O0o…

So back up a bit, and a quick recap on last week.

So, last Wednesday we went off on silent retreat, 15 of us ordinands together, some of us had met before, not others. We were thrown in together at a wonderfully quirky retreat centre in West Sussex, run by four little old Indian nuns who were as lovely as you would imagine, with seemingly permanent serene smiles on their faces.

Our few days were mostly in silence, although in the end even the most serious of us were laughing out loud at the farting noises of the tea machine. Days were punctuated with the regularity of daily prayer and addresses from our lovely retreat leader, Jane Charman, encouraging us to reflect on what it means to be a deacon.

Got to admit I was a bit anxious in advance and feeling like, I just want to get on with the job, but it was exactly what I, if not all of us, needed. Right at the start we nearly all expressed a desire to rest, to be still, to read our bibles, pray and prepare as we had all come from manic schedules, house moves, assignment finishing and in my case last minute clerical wear fine tuning.

I am the kind of person who needs to have a purpose to things, so I set out with a list of things to ‘do’ on the retreat, like researching women of the bible or reading one of the 4 books I had brought with me, and initially I found it hard to settle, not wanting to waste the time I had. However God clearly had other ideas and in our first evening prayer our Psalm was 91 which some of you might remember was so important to me last summer when I was going through my back injury and surgery

 

And it was under his wing that I felt I was, I didn’t need to ‘do’ anything, just to be there, to rest and to focus on him. As you probably know by now, I’m not a formal liturgy person but at almost every session of daily prayer there was something that God highlighted to me, a line of scripture, a word, phrase or encouragement, so that I just knew he was with me every step of the way.

And as it turned out, it was exactly what we all needed as we hit the ground running on Saturday, arriving at the cathedral to be ushered from rehearsal, to meeting with the Bishop, to prayer, to saying our oaths, to finally the service itself.

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Photo from Diocese of Chichester, taken by Jim Holden

And the service was amazingly wonderful, with it’s endless formal liturgy, singing of prayers and massive amounts of clerical wear and I surprised myself that I flippin’ loved it all! Though I had to remember where to be and when to kneel and got lost during the peace and missed my queue to go up the the high altar and sobbed during administering communion and looked like a bright white tent and was so out of my comfort zone, I absolutely loved it. God is so good :)

So, the next chapter starts here…

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Photo from Diocese of Chichester, taken by Jim Holden

 

Pre-ordination blur and making a stole

So in just a few days time I will be ordained deacon at Chichester Cathedral. It’s fair to say the last few weeks have been pretty manic with moving house and leaving my job etc, so that I am absolutely delighted to be going off to the oasis that is the pre-ordination retreat on Wednesday. So by the time this posts, I will be on it, madly praying my way through panic, feeling overwhelmed and yet also pathetically grateful to an awesome God who I still just don’t understand (will I ever?!)

I start work the day after my ordination and I think I might be a wee bit busy for a few weeks and whilst I know there will be much to reflect on I’m not sure how much time I will have to write about it, so I’m hoping to schedule a few posts here ahead of time and will come back to fill in the blanks later. If you want to keep up with me day to day, try Twitter @redjules or Facebook.

In the meantime, here’s something about my ordination stole…

So, a stole is a sort of scarf worn round the neck and there are various different liturgical colours for different times of the year. The origins of the stole seem sketchy but one thought, which I rather like, is that it was a representation of the cloth Jesus used when he washed the disciples feet, so it is a symbol of service. In our diocese you don’t have to wear one for ordination if it isn’t your tradition. It isn’t mine but I still really liked the idea of wearing something special and so I decided if I was going to wear one then I wanted to make my own, then it would also be something to keep for the future and treasure. With this in mind I decided to use my wedding dress which has been in the wardrobe for the last 15 years, in fact it hasn’t even been dry cleaned since the wedding! Apart from the obvious fact that it is a special garment, I loved the idea of using the symbolism of the wedding, at my ordination. In Revelation 19 we see the wedding feast of the lamb, symbolically referring to Christ’s bride as the church. At the second coming, Christ will return for his bride, to take her home. I love this picture, especially for us working in the church, that we really do have a responsibility to prepare the church for Jesus. Do we want a bride looking shabby and in tatters on her wedding day? or do we (as most of us would) want her looking beautiful, radiant and in her best outfit? 

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So in using my wedding dress to make this, it reminds me of this passage, of the responsibility I shall bear, the beauty of what God is calling me in to, and the joining with both Christ and his church in a new way.

I designed a pattern that makes it more personal, so there are some key themes: Foundation: Love; Belief: Trinity; Encounter: Holy Spirit.

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Foundation – if you read this blog or have heard me preach you’ll know my main theme at the moment is love, it is such a fundamental foundation and I hope it will underpin all that I do in ordained ministry. So I’ve embroidered hearts on to the stole.  This is the root of all.

Belief – I believe in the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I wanted to reference this as a core belief (and funnily enough I am going to be at a church called ‘Trinity’). The three pearls put together in clusters represent the Trinity. This is what I believe.

Encounter – I long for more of the Holy Spirit – it is through the Holy Spirit that we encounter God for ourselves, and more and more I realise that people need an encounter rather than a history lesson. So the lines weaving up represent the Holy Spirit fire of Pentecost. This is my desire to see again.

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I also love that in making this I used things from my heritage: in this pic are my Mum’s dress making scissors and my Nan’s old pins. Plus some of the beads belonged to my Nan, my Mum and my oldest daughter.

It has been totally crazy trying to finish this in the last few days before going on retreat but I reckon it’s worth it!

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What Coldplay taught me about joy // guest post on JOY by Sam Hailes

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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 I am delighted that we have a post from Sam Hailes. Sam is a writer, deputy editor at Premier Christianity Magazine and an avid tweeter – follow him @samhailes or on his Facebook page.

 

 

Prior to 2009, you’d be forgiven for snorting at my decision to put the words ‘joy’ and ‘Coldplay’ in the same sentence. Up until fairly recently, the pop-rock band were known primarily for their ballads. Early in their career they penned ‘The Scientist’ which included the lyrics, ‘What if I got it wrong / And no poem or song / Could put right what I got wrong’. The somberness seemed to reach a peak with 2005’s ‘Fix You’ where lead singer Chris Martin croons ‘Tears stream down your face’.

Something seemed to change circa 2009. Off the back of their gloomily titled album Viva la Vida / Death and all his friends, the band released Mylo Xyloto and suddenly the 4 piece burst into life, dancing around stages singing about (para para para) Paradise. There was even a song on that album called ‘A Hopeful Transmission’. Things were looking up.

Earlier this week I found myself inside Wembley stadium with 75,000 other Coldplay fans. We sang, we danced and we celebrated. We belted out lyrics about ‘cathedrals in my heart’ and ‘oh thanks God, must have heard when I prayed cause now I always want to feel this way’. It was a party atmosphere. There were fireworks, balloons and lights. The latter shone everywhere – not just from the stage but also from our wrists.

lights_coldplayI believe that experiencing a Coldplay gig is in many ways a foretaste of the joys we will experience in heaven. Obviously there are differences (we won’t be worshipping Chris Martin, and there’ll be less drunk people). But when you’re standing in a stadium with thousands of other people, all singing the same songs, you do catch a glimpse of something beyond yourself. It’s almost a religious experience as you’re caught up in an atmosphere that’s bursting with joy and celebration.

All of this is to a large degree ineffable. But Chris Martin may well agree with some of my sentiment. He’s from a Christian background and once said, ‘I definitely believe in God. How can you look at anything and not be overwhelmed by the miraculousness of it’.

The miraculous of life is something most people don’t take time to consider. I was struck recently by a comment by American comedian Pete Holmes who said, ‘We live on a planet, and I’m sick of no one talking about it!’ It’s so easy to forget the miraculous nature of the world we live in.

But Coldplay seem to have grasped this. The miraculous comes through in their songs. At one point in the show, Martin sang, ‘I think I landed where there are miracles at work’. It reminded me of Martin Luther’s comment ‘The world is full of everyday miracles’. The world is a miraculous place to live. As human beings we need opportunities to marvel at the beauty of the world we live in.

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There were without doubt moments of joy in Wembley stadium this week. But whatever feel-good-feelings I may have encountered there are only a taste of something much greater. I’ve often heard it said that happiness is momentary and is dependent on (good) circumstances. Joy, on the other hand is everlasting and will run regardless of circumstances. I think there’s a lot of truth to this.

At one point in the evening, we sang, ‘under this pressure under this weight / we are diamonds taking shape’. As a Christian, I take great joy in knowing that when the brief moment of happiness contained in a 2 hour gig finishes and the pressures and weights of life come, God is shaping me. And he’s not shaping me despite these pressures and weights. He’s shaping me through them and because of them.

In the words of Coldplay’s ‘Kaleidoscope’…

This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival

A joy, a depression, a meanness
Some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor

Welcome and entertain them all!
Be grateful for whoever comes
Because each has been sent as a guide

 

 

 

#MovementOfLove

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In the last 12 hours I’ve gone through a range of emotions. Shock, horror, joy, deep sadness, frustration and anger, and now simply a passion to stir up love.

In those last 12 hours (I was up late…) I have read countless reactionary tweets, comment pieces, Facebook statuses and more, declaring the need to love not hate. Largely I think, because of what Brendan Cox wrote about his wife in his beautiful statement about her death. This is part of it:

‘I and Jo’s friends and family are going to work every moment of our lives to love and nurture our kids and to fight against the hate that killed Jo.’

‘She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her.

Hate doesn’t have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous’

 

I can’t read that statement without shedding a tear:

For Jo, though I never knew her.

For her family.

For the strength of her husband in that statement,

And of course tears of anger for what prompted it.

For the world – where in a week at least 100 people were killed or injured in Orlando, and the EU referendum campaign continues to spew vitriol and incite fear and hate (on both sides), refugees fleeing war and terror have died in their hundreds, and those are just the ones I have seen reported.

I find myself so deeply sad at the state of not just our nation, but our world.

…o0O0o…

Last night as I sat reading those tweets and news reports I found myself agreeing with every word they were saying and furiously tapping into my ipad as I sat in an hour long traffic jam, unable to do little else. I sat and listened to the furious hooting and shouting of other car owners and chanelled the apparent anger into my own piece on hate and love.

And then I stopped.

Along with 80,000 others I had just spent several hours in the company of Coldplay whose entire set (and much of their career too) was founded on a message of love, of unity, of tolerance and acceptance. We had all sung along at the top of our voices, chanted the lyrics, worn their badges with the simple logo ‘love’, we had been united in dance and song, were gathered in cheering the rousing words of Chris Martin as he talked of love and unity, and even sending out heartfelt words to Jo Cox’s family. And then here we were less than an hour later, with that message of love forgotten, charged with anger and taking it out on each other.

I stopped, realising that the words I was typing were not filled with love at all, I was writing about it yes, but I was angry and frustrated too just like everyone else in that car park and online.

…o0O0o…

Two weeks ago I preached my last sermon in a church that has loved us and nurtured us. It was on 1 Corinthians 13, perhaps the most well known passage on love in the bible. Part of that chapter says this on love:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres          (or above in the picture in The Message version)

It seems so simple right? And of course we might say love is never simple, because people are complicated. But actually I think what we need right now is a simple message. We can point fingers and blame and not take responsibility, but here is something we can do. We can each of us, try to be patient, and kind, be more humble, less selfish, more peaceful, not listing the wrongs of others and so on…

And in some sense I wonder if we actually are delighting in evil too. The terrible acts that have happened this week give us a very reason to. We jolly well should be angry, we are almost expected to comment or post or wrote or complain, or shout at the terrible evil that has occurred, shouldn’t we? I mean what else can we do?

…o0O0o…

In this age, the power of the individual and the power of social media, of how one person’s actions can grow and be shared and have a huge impact is at our finger tips. So if you are angry about the state of our nation, of our world, of the terrible acts of hate committed in it, here’s what you can do – you can choose to love and you can tell people about it. You can choose to be kinder, to be more patient, more peaceful, hold less grudges, not point out other people’s wrongs…

We can point fingers at leaders, at the media, the church, organisations and more, but are we really any different? If we want to see a society more filled with love, WE are the ones that need to bring it. As individuals we can be united in this, we can make a difference. I’ve said several times recently, we need a #MovementOfLove – well I feel that more that ever today. Come on, let’s DO SOMETHING about it, stop complaining and commenting and pointing fingers, and get loving wherever you are. Let’s truly be a Movement Of Love…

 

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Reflecting over boxes…


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So, I’m just emerging from the cocoon of life that has been no wifi for over a week. I know, total #FirstWorldProblem but I think we’d all agree that life without the internet is actually quite difficult…

So hence, the blog has been quiet for a few weeks which has frustrated me as so much has gone on that I want to write about, but actually I’ve really needed that time to just focus on family and home, as we have moved house, I’ve finished my training and left my job and as a family left the church we have been part of for the last 6 years.

As part of the series of posts for ‘The Curate’s Journey’ I wanted to write about the emotions of this time and how you might expect to feel but that’s actually really hard as I’m not really sure what I’m feeling. It’s fair to say there have been a lot of tears in the past few weeks but there have also been highs and joys, moments of just sheer exhaustion, and now, well now all the endings are done and it’s just a period of waiting in which I feel a bit numb really, not sure what to feel.

The hardest part is what you’d probably expect – leaving behind close friends. At home this has meant friends we have made over 10 years living in the village we loved, some very good friends in our neighbours who we shall miss dearly, and for the younger kids, leaving behind friends they have known since they were babies and on whose door they could knock for a quick kick about, chat or play without pre-organisation. That village home had a lot of freedom for them as it was a safe bubble in which they knew themselves and were known. For the oldest of course she is at uni, but I think she was yearning for the stability of a home to return to that she knew would be there for her wherever she went, and now that has all changed.

There is much learning to do for all of us.

And at church? well I don’t know where to start really. It is a place that has become home, a family to us, that has embraced us and loved us (as I spoke about in my preach last week) nurtured us, tended to us and prepared us to be sent out. It has been a truly wonderful place to be part of and of course the friends there too are those that I think we’ve found a new level of friendship with, as we have learned to pray and support one another spiritually. Again we are all leaving behind dear friends with whom we have shared huge amounts of our lives.

At college too, I find myself realising that I have grown to love those I’ve spent the last 3 years with. An eclectic bunch as we are, we have bonded over mutual learning, community forming and of course in the bar. I love to learn but I will really miss the company and conversations of fellow learners, as we debate and bounce thoughts and ideas off each other.

But in all that it has been a wonderful season of reflection too as we recognise the amazing things God has done in and through us in the last 6 years, the true friendship we have known and the journey we have been on. The blessings God has given us in that time are too numerous to list and it is with those ringing in our hearts that we step into a new future.

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St John’s Sub Castro, part of Trinity Church where I will shortly be working…

And as we reflect (currently over unpacking boxes – I am sure this could be a spiritual exercise as memories are unearthed, treasures found and in some cases rejected!) we look to the next step. Here too are blessings as we have a gorgeous new home, and an exciting town to explore. The South Downs within 10 mins walk one way and the shops 10 mins the other. The joy of finding a corner shop open all hours within 3 mins walk is an immediate and simple pleasure of town living, and even better a lovely local just down the road (with a menu of 50 craft beers, husband is well pleased with that one). And what’s more whilst new friends are being made the ones we know, and love, and rely on are actually only 20 minutes away.

I know we are meant to be here and whilst the differences remain and the heartache is still there, the boxes stacked up, huge amounts of house admin yet to be done, no gas or wifi, there is a wonderful peace upon us. God has brought us here and he will sustain us. For a short while it feels like we need to huddle as a family, share in the pains and sadness that only we know, and find our new ways together.

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View from one of my daily prayer walks around the area. Love the colour of the garages against the downs!

 

A Movement of Love | Preach 5th June 2016

Finally back online after moving house and the horror of no wi-fi for over a week, argh!! Busy few weeks moving, leaving our church and finishing college, and I have so much to write about but for now, here’s my preach from last weekend, our last one at The Point. It’s focussed on 1 Corinthians 13 and love with a bit of my testimony thrown in…