Book Review // Songs for Suffering by Simon Stocks


It’s great to be asked to review this book as Simon was my biblical studies tutor at college during my ministerial training. I am a big fan of the Psalms, but I also recognise that they are a bit like marmite, with some people choosing to read them as infrequently as possible. But I would say, don’t let that put you off, this might just be the book that helps you combat that!

Songs for Suffering is a wonderful guide for those in a season of struggling or as Stocks notes ‘for anyone who is going through tough times, whatever form that takes’. And it really is for anyone, written simply and not full of theological jargon, making it hugely accessible, but with a depth of knowledge evident from Stocks’ own academic experience.

Focussing on psalms of lament, the book takes us on a journey. Using personal reflections and stories from peoples lives, the author encourages the reader to deal with questions in their own lives, from personal failure, to issues of identity, and deeper still to despair, grief and personal suffering.

Each chapter guides us though a particular theme, asking questions for the reader to consider and pointing us to specific psalms for individual needs or circumstances. It is written in a very practical way, addressing how we can personally use the words of the psalms to deepen our own prayer life and each chapter finishes with some suggestions for what to do next.

However this is not just a practical guide, but a book filled with the authors own experience of life and pastoral ministry, written with compassion and a deep understanding of what it is to encounter personally, and come alongside those who suffer.

Stocks doesn’t shy away from difficult themes like shame, doubt and anger, but on the contrary embraces them with confidence, bringing a sense of assurance for the reader, encouraging them to engage with the themes for themselves.

Although my sense is that this is a book to work through from start to finish, it could also be something to dip into in particular times of trouble, or in supporting others facing difficult times, and in fact a helpful index at the end points to specific psalms for different circumstances.

Stocks reminds us afresh that The Psalms are a wonderful resource, passed down through the ages and used as the bedrock of Christian prayer for centuries, that are just as useful today, giving us the tools to pray in ‘just about any situation imaginable’ keeping us in touch with God even when pressures threaten to stop us.

The author notes: ‘may you find deeper connection to God, as you do so, even in the toughest of times…’ and this truly is a book that will help you do that.

Songs for Suffering will be published by Hendrickson Publishers Inc in April 2017. and can be pre-ordered at most good book stores online including Eden (priced £12.99) and Amazon (priced £11.99). There is also a website that goes alongside the book and will host other resources linked to lament at: www.cryhard.org

 

Simon Stocks

The Rev’d Dr Simon Stocks teaches Biblical Studies at St Augustine’s College of Theology, England (formerly known as SEITE). He is Chair of the Theological Educators’ Network and also ministers in the Anglican parish of Christ Church, Purley. After a career in civil engineering, he trained for ministry and worked in parish ministry in the Diocese of Southwark, before undertaking doctoral studies. His research interests include the interactions between poetic form and interpretation in Hebrew poetry, and the theology of lament.

Challenging clergy work-life balance


The eagle eyed amongst you may have noticed via the medium of social media that I’ve been asking a lot of questions about working hours recently. It started off as part of my own journey to discover what was the right balance for us as a family as we get used to my new role. I am of course writing from the perspective of a ‘Clergy Mum’ but I am sure that much of this applies equally to single parents, those without children, men and indeed to those working in other areas.

We seem to live in a time where many professions have such a huge ‘work culture’, with people expected to work long hours, often under immense pressure, and seemingly with less and less understanding, or support for, family life.

Perhaps you could say that we are trying to have our cake and eat it. We want or need to work and then expect our employers to fit around our own life choices? There is an argument for that, indeed why should businesses potentially loose out when their employee is making life difficult for them or not doing what they have been asked? 

But I would argue two things – firstly, that if we want the best employees, or if we want to get the best out of people, there still needs to be far more flexibility than there is now, and a greater level of understanding.

Secondly, that there is evidence that shows those who work more than 55 hours a week are at far greater risk of medical conditions including stroke & heart disease. Not only that but after 50 hours productivity dips massively.

I wonder, is this current model of work actually doing more harm than good?

…o0O0oo…

So, what’s my point?

Well, since I was ordained I have come across (at many turns) the idea that clergy work 50-60 hours a week. It’s a figure bandied around with little question – apparently that’s just what needs to happen to get the job done. And yes I’ve only been ordained for 5 minutes so you’d be forgiven for telling me to get some more experience before I criticise. Perhaps so, but as I enter this new phase of life I am frankly not prepared to spend the next 3 or 4 years figuring out that 50-60 hours a week will wreck my family life and/or my health. I want to start as I mean to go on, with a healthy balance. The church is very good at talking about the sacrifice of being in ordained ministry and I’m not averse to that in some respects, but it also seems a cover-all excuse for anything that is expected of us.

So I did a little (very scientific, not) survey asking fellow clergy how many hours they worked each week, via social media. Two things stood out:

1) That it’s not just hearsay – over 65% of full time clergy actually work on average more than 50 hours a week, and over 25% of them doing more than 60 hours.

 

Did you know that The European Working Time Directive requires requires, (amongst other things) that EU countries guarantee the following rights for all workers:

a limit to weekly working hours, which must not exceed 48 hours on average, including any overtime

As I understand it this was brought in as it was recognised that working longer than this contributed to stress, mental health problems and other illnesses.

2) Secondly, there are not that many women in my situation – which is working in Full Time (6 days a week) stipendary ministry with a husband who works full time and school age kids at home.

There are of course a good number of female clergy with families working in the Church of England now, but many seem to either have older children who have left home, or husbands who work part time in order to support them or help at home, or they themselves don’t work full time. In fact in my diocese I think I am one of two women doing this.

All of which makes me think that we, as the church, need to encourage different and healthy models of working, both within ministry and of working life in general. For a start, how will we encourage younger women into ordained ministry with the kind of hours faced by clergy now?

My training incumbent has been really supportive on this and is not expecting me to work all the hours God sends. However I have found it tough being in an environment – in the wider church not just my own church – where the work ethic is so huge and expectations so high.

We could say that it is the responsbility of individual clergy to manage their own hours sensibly and they are quite within their rights to work way more than is recommended in the EU Working Time Directive, but how easy that when there is a ‘norm’ expected and worked out by many? Guilt I am sure, is a huge factor here (see previous post on this).

And actually, after all the church values both marriage and family life enormously, and yet often a healthy balance to family and work life is not modelled by the church leadership or by clergy. As one person noted during my surveys on Social Media: we are called to be counter-cultural within the church, and that being as committed to our families as much as to the church, is a witness in itself. We are called to both.
Which is why I am writing about this now. I, we, haven’t yet got the balance right yet in our family, but I am here saying that I am not going to feel guilty about stopping work at 4pm to pick up the children from school, or not going to an evening meeting because I have booked in a date night with my husband, or protecting my day off fiercely so that I get some time out. As leaders we need to model a healthy balanced way of working, and that might mean saying no sometimes or upsetting people, but I think if we can be honest and open about why, then we are being both true to ourselves and what God has called us to, as well as helping others to see that too…

 

Coming up tomorrow is a post of top tips of how to balance work/life based on advice from other clergy and clergy Mums, which has been invaluable in helping me feel ok about all of this!

Seeking the truth in love

Famously, we are living in the era of ‘post-truth’ a phrase that ought to be enough to send fear into even the most courageous of hearts. Post-truth – makes it sound like ‘the truth’ doesn’t exist anymore and it some sense it doesn’t. The technological era has enabled people, groups and organisations to share whatever opinion they like and brand it as ‘news’ or ‘truth’ and share it with millions of people, who gobble it up and regurgitate it at their will. And we then take that ‘truth’ and brand ourselves with it like some flag of allegiance.

Yesterday evening, about the time Donald Trump was being sworn in as President of the USA, I was preaching to 800 or so teenagers at a local school. The theme was ‘Come Follow Me’ which struck me as particularly ironic, and in that talk I said: 

“For example, my truth is that Donald Trump is a mysoginistic, racist liar.

And yet…

women and people of colour voted for him, their truth is very different to mine…

And excuse me for getting political but we are living in a time where it is becoming more and more important for us to distinguish between the voices who are shouting out to us. The loudest or most retweeted or most viewed is not necessarily the right one. Often the quietest ones are: the most important, and the most vulnerable, and perhaps the ones telling the most truth.

Choose carefully people.”

 

A well used quote notes:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

(It is popularly attributed to Edmund Burke although no one seems to be able to prove it was actually him)

and it is a good sentiment for a time like now, where something or someone, causes such divide and has the potential to grow into what we might call evil.

But the danger in that, in feeling fuelled to do something, is in how we respond. Right now, anyone in a position of leadership, with authority and influence, has a responsibility to stand up and be a voice of truth. Not just their own brand of truth, but in a desperate seeking to see through the opinion, the spin and rhetoric and seek the actual truth. We need to model a way of living that does not spread more hate and anger but seeks to love in difference, to bring grace where there is judgment and humility where there is arrogance. And equally as important, we need to help others find their way through this mist of words.

Trump is a dangerous man – completely aside from what you think of him or his politics – just look at the way he has been able to gather the support of millions of Americans who on paper should despise him, to be where he is now. He has gone from a potential laughing stock to arguably the most powerful man in the world.

But far more than that, and here’s where I worry most, it is in how he affects his opponents. His words and his behavior have incited people to fear and hatred. And not just those with a tendency to discriminate, but actually all of us, ordinary people, who might be trying to live in love, and yet we find ourselves equally fuelled with anger and vitriol, it’s just pointed in a different direction. So how are we any different?

I’ve spent months thinking about this, about how to take a stand against the injustice that has come through the rise of Trump and Brexit, but without adding to that increasing fire of anger and hate. I, with others, started the Movement of Love and yet I am still angry and frustrated.

But. At the end of the day all I can come back to is that Jesus died for Donald Trump as much as he did for me. I am no more special than Donald Trump and if I think I am then I have missed the whole point of The Gospel (and perhaps in the wrong job).

Let us not sink to the level of those who hate, we are better than that – you are better than that, I am better than that. We were made for more. I saw singer Martyn Joseph in concert last night and he noted that there are no less kind people in the world today than there were yesterday. And that’s the thing, we all have the potential to be lovers or haters, to do acts of kindness or acts of discrimination.

Let’s choose for ourselves to be loving and kind and to bring people with us on a journey of hope for a better future.

 

Preach // ‘Come Follow Me’ // 20th Jan 2017

This is a sermon given at Hurst College Chapel, for the Senior School service based on Matt 4:18-23

FOLLOWING //

 

Ok we are going to start by making some noise. So I want you to think of one thing that you follow,

maybe a band you like, a football team, a designer, apple products, someone on Twitter, anything, anyone. Just someone that you would say you follow.

Ok everyone got one? So After the count of 3, I want you to call that thing out,

for example: Seagulls, or Justin Bieber, Donald Trump (I hope not)

 

ok everyone ready? After 3 shout it out…

 

123 ….

 

Noise…

////

 

Right, now how many of those things that we shouted out, do you think you could actually hear? Maybe a couple of them? Maybe the person next to you shouted so loud you couldn’t hear, or maybe you were drowned out – did anyone even hear you?!

Because in life there is not just one voice calling us like Jesus did, clearly the fishermen. There are so many things calling our name, enticing us to go with them.

Like your teachers voices – Study hard and you will do well, get a good career, follow me and I will help you get a good job?

Advertising voices – you need the new iphone7, it’s so good, it’s only got one thing different to the iphone 6 but you really need it, you will be so on trend if you have it, people will be jealous of you….

Or magazines and celebs telling us, follow our fitness programme, you too can have abs like these (well actually you wouldn’t want these ones…), you can be uber sexy and attractive if you just do what we say….

Or your friends – hey come to this great party it’s going to be amazing, no adults, vodka, and guess who is going to be there….

Or perhaps a more obvious one maybe – social media – who do we follow on Twitter? Snapchat? Instagram? Whose voice do we listen to there?

And we have to find out way through all of that, all of those voices, trying to follow a path that is right for each of us, and that will be different for all of us.

 

Story of a young girl //

So, I want to tell you a story, it’s about a young woman, at age 19 she found she could not hack all of those voices calling out to her. She couldn’t take the pressures they put on her – study hard, be good, to be skinny and look amazing, do well, get to uni, have a career…

And so she gave up her uni place, earned a bit of cash working in a local pub and as soon as she could she legged it to the furthest place she could go, the other side of the world, Australia, and instead of listening to all those voices, she decided simply to ignore them all and follow her own desires.

She wanted her own way. And why wouldn’t she, at 19, the, world lay at her feet.

And it was great for a while and she had a lot of fun. No responsibilities, in an amazing country, in the sunshine, bars, surf, surfers… what’s not fun about that?!

But things didn’t quite turn out how she had planned. Very quickly she went from following her own way, to following the pull of others around her, of the bright city lights, and very soon of drugs, of alcohol and sex. And before she knew it, it wasn’t her path she was following, it wasn’t her own desires, her own dreams, but instead she just looked for the next fix, in whatever form that took.

So instead of listening to her own voice, she simply got sucked in by others that were louder and more destructive, did not have her best interests at heart.

 

/////

Simply, she was just looking for her own voice, or her own identity. I think most of us want something to follow, a path, a label. When we choose to follow things we are actually just looking for, or forming our own identity. What we follow reflects who we are, or who we choose to be or how we want to be seen.

So we could ask ourselves, like the fishermen in our passage, where do we throw our nets? What are we fishing for? Because you have so much more choice than those fishermen. The possibilities of what you can do, who you can be in the 21st century, are endless… aren’t they?

 

/////

 

But like our young girl so often the voices that call out to us are distorted, skewed, they don’t seek to encourage us, build us up or lead us down the right path.

Here’s an example, do you know what an algorithm is? I expect some of you do, basically it’s like a code or equation and there are thousands of them running the internet. So for example – Facebook has an algorithm that means it chooses what you see on your timeline, you won’t automatically see all the latest posts from your friends, you will only see the ones that the code thinks you want to see.

Or online advertising is another one – have you ever noticed how you buy something online or watch TV show online, then for weeks afterwards every website you go to has adverts for that shop or that show? It’s just another algorithm that ahs picked up you like that show or that shop so it keeps showing it to you.

Angela Merkel (the German chancellor ) said in an interview that “These algorithms – can lead to a distortion of our perception. They narrow our breadth of information”  because they actually distort the truth, because you only see what the algorithms think you want to see. So the more you look at something, the more they think you want to see it, and so gradually what you see gets narrowed down until actually, where we think we are choosing our path, we are actually only experiencing a very narrow sphere of life.

That’s online, but we do it in every part of our lives – for example we tend to hang out with people who like the same things as us, have the same opinions as us.

So we really need to recognise that the voices we listen to, the things we follow, what we might think is the truth isn’t always the truth. Truth becomes relative to each person. Who, or what we choose to follow shapes who we are, shapes our personal identity.

For example, because of my job I hang out with a lot of clergy, a lot of people who work for the church, which means sometimes my view on what people think of the church is wrong. So I have to intentionally choose to hang out with people outside the church who remind me what real life is!

For example, my truth is that Donald Trump is a mysoginistic, racist liar. And yet women and people of colour voted for him, their truth is different to mine…

And excuse me for getting political but we are living in a time where it is becoming more and more important for us to distinguish between the voices who are shouting out to us. The loudest or most retweeted or most viewed is not necessarily the right one. Often the quietest ones are the most important, or the most vulnerable, or the ones telling the most truth. Choose carefully people.

 

///////

So back to our girl in the story – what was her truth?

Well her truth was that she thought she was a misfit, that no one understood her, that she was the only one like her. She was a creative type, in a largely academic environment. Her parents had good careers and wanted that for her, when she just wanted to have the freedom to paint and to travel and discover and see.

She was seeking her own identity, who she was, but by following all the wrong paths.

But there is a happy ending to her story, because she eventually found one path that allowed her the freedom to just be who she was. To recognise her identity, and yes, it was in following Jesus. In hearing his call to ‘come, follow me’ and doing just that.

In the midst of her brokenness, pain and hurt, in amongst all those voices calling out to her, for one moment his voice was the clearest. And I suppose I should tell you, if you haven’t already guessed, that the reason I know about this young woman’s story is because it is my story.

From that moment of hearing his voice, my life was turned upside down (in a good way!) and of course I’ve only shared a small part of the story today, but what I can tell you is that following Jesus is better than any drink, any high, or any shag. It is like my whole life has been pointing to this (dog collar)

You know, if at 19 someone had said to me, in the midst of all that I was doing, that you are going to become a Vicar, well I would have laughed, a lot. In fact I still find it pretty bonkers that God would call someone like me to do this.

But you know that’s what he does, Jesus calls us as we are, just like the fishermen on the boat – he didn’t say go sort yourselves out then follow me, no, they followed him at once, as they were, probably filthy and to be honest, stinking of fish!

And hey, 19 year old me would think that the 40something me is very uncool and boring, and what the F happened to me, to become a Vicar! but I actually don’t care because when I heard his call, for the first time in my life I knew that it was right.

 

Because the real truth is, a truth that can’t be changed… is that God loves us. Every one of us. No matter who we are, what we’ve done or said, we are loved, just as we are. The bible tells us that he gives us the right to become children of God. That can be our true identity if we listen, if we follow him.

I think it’s much harder to hear his voice today because there are so many voices calling out ‘come follow me’ but it is there, for each of us if we want to hear it. and it won’t make you instantly perfect or stop you doing the things you enjoy (well some of them maybe!), but it might just take you places you never dreamed you’d go, and it might just help you to find the truth in a world that is full of lies.

So I want to encourage you today to just listen to the voices calling out to you. Think about what truth they are telling you? Think about what you are following. And if you can hear that voice of Jesus, saying ‘come follow me’, why not give it a listen? What have you got to lose? If God could take someone like me, broken, and walking a dangerous path to destruction, and turn my life around, then he is there for anyone….

 

 

 

 

 

More on Marriage, Motherhood & Ministry // The guilt factor

Ok so this one isn’t just about being in ministry, I think it’s common for many Mums, and probably Dads too, but why do we, as working Mums, feel so damn guilty all the time? Guilty about not getting enough work done, guilty about not spending enough time with the kids, guilty about not fitting in a date night, guilty about not helping with the school PTA, guilty about not doing the housework, guilty about using Amazon and not going to the High Street, guilty about having to take time off when a child is ill, guilty about taking time off when we are ill, guilty about taking 5 mins for a cup of tea in a long day, guilty about wanting to have some time to ourself, guilty about not wanting to spend that time with our husband/wife/child, guilty about not going to child’s rugby match, guilty about paying for childcare, guilty that we aren’t f**ing perfect…?

I mean listen, this is not the 1950s, it’s ok that we, as women, go out to *whispers* work. As much as some of the older generation may at times question it, it really is not a big deal. We are not expected to swan around at home in a perfectly pressed, and home-made day dress, whilst scrubbing the floor, darning socks and making jam that will keep us going all year. This is the 21st century and society, largely but let’s not dwell on that here, has accepted, even embraced and welcomed women in the workplace…

But often I think it’s us that hasn’t quite embraced it. I mean many women work as many, if not more, hours in paid employment than their husbands. So for example in this house, everything around the house is shared, from housework to shopping, to kids school runs and playdates, Christmas planning, and my husband cooked Christmas lunch last week because, of course, I am working. We haven’t got the balance right, we’re transitioning from me working part time, where we still shared the home admin but I did more as I was at home more. Now it’s all shared and we are trying to get the right balance. However I still find myself feeling guilty when I haven’t got the time to do something I used to do, or that my kids would like me to do. I feel guilty when my husband does the ironing or goes to Tesco late at night because there is no food in the house. Why do I feel so frikin’ guilty? It’s no more my fault than his that we have no food, and 99% of the ironing is his shirts anyway!

My husband is a total love and said to me he loves that I work, and I quote ‘you have proper cojones‘ which is a total compliment but I’d like to point out he means metaphorically… ;) but still the guilt is there. I mean last year alone I have missed my Brother in Laws 40th birthday do, a family get together, had to organise my kids birthday parties around work weekends, finished the Christmas shopping with one day to spare and that’s just a few things.

But here’s the thing, we are our own worst enemies. I think guilt is about 2 things: fear and condemning ourselves which in itself about identity.

So, fear… what are we so afraid of? are we worried what people think of us if we don’t volunteer for the local community charity in our spare time? or whether our kids will turn out as delinquents because we didn’t make them home made organic humous? or that our marriage may fail because we’ve not cleaned the toilet for 3 weeks? Seriously what are we so afraid of? I’m not saying let’s ignore our kids but we survived eating additives and shed loads of sugar before humous was even an odour in the air of middle England didn’t we? We stayed out late playing in the road not giving our parents a spare thought before it was essential to spend “intentional family time together”; sometimes we just need a bit of perspective. And that is where identity comes in – we need to know, truly know, who we are. And that is we are all daughters of the king. THE king. We are adopted into his family, as we are, warts and all. And He just loves us…

1 John 4:16-18 says this:

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

So, we are loved and we need not fear because we are filled with God’s love. As this says, fear is to do with punishment – interesting – are we punishing ourselves? for not being perfect?

The bible also says that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). So if God does not condemn us, why do we condemn ourselves? For those of us in ministry, do we not feel called to this? Did we not feel an urge to do this, a calling we could not ignore? If God has called us to this then he is with us in it. He is the author of time (a fact I remind myself of daily!) we can trust him with all we have to do and know that he is in it.

So come on sisters! We are 21st Century women, let’s be strong, be confident, and let’s not fear, let’s not feel guilty. What the heck, spend intentional time with our family, eat organic humous, do the ironing if you want, and if not I dare you to put your feet up for at least half an hour, watch crap on the TV, eat cake and be ok with it! And in that let’s just recognise who we are and who God has made us to be…

 

The Blog Year in Review // 2016


Well another year draws to a close and I thought I’d look back at what’s appeared on the blog this year, so here’s a round up of the top ten posts of 2016 in terms of most viewed.

 

  1. Top Tips for Starting Vicar School – as quite a niche post I was rather surprised to see this at the top, with some advice for these entering ministerial training.
  2. Discernment Guide – less surprisingly though still quite niche, the guide was first published last year and in various chapters. It has advice for those going through the discernment process for selection to train for ministry in the Church of England (long winded sentence that one, rather like the process…).
  3. Dog Collar Dilemma – written in several parts, this was the first of them, looking at what it’s like wearing a dog collar as a woman.
  4. Chocolate Nativity Story – telling the nativity in Chocolate actually first appeared last Christmas but has obviously continued to be popular!
  5. Curate’s Journey  – a new part of the blog this year, with various posts on life as a new Curate.
  6. Inked – Are tattoos ok? why the heck not?!
  7. Becoming a Revd – It actually happened!
  8. Marriage Motherhood and Ministry – probably the first of many posts on a similar theme, balancing being a Mum in ministry.
  9. What’s your Vocation? – this was actually a round up of posts looking at vocation as part of the C of E’s month long focus on the theme in Feb.
  10. Being different and being relevant – ‘in the world, not of the world’ how can we play this out

Christmas as a Curate

I posted this on my Facebook page at the weekend after a long day…

and not because I wanted to be all martyr-ish but because despite it being a long day, I just genuinely love my job, it was an amazing day and I feel so privileged to be doing it. But a tweet from a friend:

‘Faceache is turning into a competition between clergy on how busy/tired/many carols sung…’

has made me think. What kind of vibe was I giving off in my status? because I wonder now if it wasn’t the opposite to what I wanted! (though Samantha has noted she thought I wasn’t moaning thankfully!)

And here’s the thing, the clergy life is fairly full, especially at this time of year, but that’s what we expect right? I mean, hello, Christmas is kinda important for the church, so I think we all knew that when we signed up (or were dragged into it by God…). It’s definitely not a ‘I only work on Sunday’ job – and note, please, I know it might seem funny but a little tip, please don’t make that joke to clergy, especially at this time of year, thank you muchly :)

Plus, of course as a new Curate I have no idea what I am doing most of the time which means, if I’m honest, a large degree of what is known professionally as ‘winging it’… I have found a big smile and a Christmas jumper can go a long way, and when all that fails the answer is always Prosecco…

And on top of that I am a wife and a Mum, as well as working a full time job, so the last minute requests for a costume 30 mins before the nativity, or a sudden desperate need to see a friend who lives an hour away, or an explosion of orange juice in the kitchen all have to be dealt with, so frankly us Clergy Mummies deserve a medal ;)

So yes it is busy (and I don’t like to use that word and there is a blog post coming on that…) with long days and a lot to get done. But it’s also absolutely wonderful. This morning I got to tell a room full of Mums and Dads, most of whom wouldn’t normally come to church, about Jesus at a school celebration. Last Sunday our church buildings were packed out all day for a series of nativities and carol services, again with loads of people who wouldn’t normally come to church. They were there because they wanted to be, because they wanted to experience something of what the church offers, plus I met so many people both from church and the wider community who I haven’t yet met. Tomorrow I get to visit a lady in her home with communion and I know I will come away feeling so blessed even though I am there to support her. And on Christmas morning I get to gather with hundreds of people who love Jesus too and we get to worship him together before I go home to a delicious roast cooked by my husband, and a lot of Prosecco…

And of course as much as there is to do, I am not the only working Mum in the world, nor the only Mum who will be working on Christmas Day, and I am so glad that I am able to say that I love what I do.

I really don’t think clergy work any harder than others that work at Christmas or with unsociable hours; for example the emergency services, NHS staff, carers and many more. In fact for many of those, it is just as much a vocation, a calling, something we just know we were made to do, to serve people. It can be tough and draining, and sometimes a sacrifice that takes us away from our loved ones, but it is also life giving and hugely rewarding. 

So… how about we all share some love around, it is the season of goodwill after all… (which is totally theological, not)…

Punters :

  1. Love your clergy! they are probably quite tired but they do love you, just tell them the sermon was lovely and don’t hang around after the Christmas morning service ;) 
  2. If you need a wee during midnight mass, please find the loo not a grave stone.
  3. Look out for those who you know are working Christmas Day. Send them a text on the day, take them a mince pie at work, drop round a plate of food, or just give them a hug!
  4. Know a single parent or a family who are both working full time? Offer to help – getting a Tesco order? you could add a few bits for them to save them going to the shops. Go round and help them wrap up pres (with Prosecco obvs…)

Clergy :

  1. Try not to moan about your job and how busy you are. Do what you can, leave what you can’t (and really there is a lot we can leave, we are not God and some things can truly wait) and enjoy the ride! Oh, and have Prosecco on ice…
  2. New Curate? get stuck in and don’t worry about making mistakes, people are (on the whole!) forgiving. Also you need to be able to smile for hours at a time and shake 6 hands simultaneously – get practising.

and have a wonderful Christmas wherever you are!

 

JOY // Guest post from Ben Hollebon

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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 one word for the year). This month we have a post from a friend of mine – Ben Hollebon.

 

 

I love making films. It’s one of those things I just enjoy in every part of the process. Capturing that clip that you know is going to solidify your story when it comes to the edit is so satisfying.

I love God. Spending time with Him gives me peace. I can’t describe in words the reassurance His everlasting faithfulness brings to my life.

I ask God for stuff in prayers. I know it’s a bit cheeky and they’re not always things that I necessarily need, but I ask anyway. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think it works that you ask God for something in a quick prayer, He snaps His fingers and suddenly there’s a fanfare outside as the National Lottery pitch up at your front door with a nice big cheque for a few million. I think God is cleverer than that. He is interested in our hearts desires and giving us gifts; but these gifts are not meant to be held tightly and relished by ourselves alone. Instead, they’re meant to be used to glorify His name, His grace, His mercy and His love.

God gave me a gift last year. It was pretty amazing and I can tell you now – it made me rather joyful. He gave me the gift of a brand new job; one that I didn’t know existed, one that I wasn’t looking for, and in fact one that wasn’t even advertised. My wife saw a job advertised on Twitter (she’s never on Twitter and what are the chances she was on just as this was tweeted?). I went for the interview and didn’t get the job; but they told me there was another job, that wasn’t being advertised yet that they thought I’d be perfect for. So I came back a month later and interviewed successfully for it.

What do I do now? I make films for The Church of England. I work up in Westminster and get to communicate stories of the God I love through the medium that I love. God wants us to be fulfilled through His provision.

This Remembrance video, used in many churches and across Social Media is one of those Ben made.
Pretty cool right? God knows my hearts desires and wants me to be fulfilled in life; but He also challenges me to use the good things He provides to make a difference in this world. This isn’t just a “nice gig” nor is it God giving me a break and moving on. I feel called to work here and with that comes the responsibility that what I am doing is for God’s Kingdom. 

My joy this Christmas is knowing that I have a God who not just knows my every need, but finds ways to meet those needs in ways I could never have imagined. My God can literally find the perfect job for me, where I can use the skills He has blessed me with to communicate His Gospel each and every day.

And my God is your God; is our God; is THE God who loves us all immeasurably more than we could ever imagine.

I wonder what gift He has waiting for you to unwrap…

 

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Ben Hollebon works for The Church of England Communications Team at Church House in Westminster. He makes films and loves all things digital. He even got shortlisted at the Jerusalem Awards this year. He is married to Pollyanna and together, they have a cat called Herbie.

 

Preach / / Service of Remembrance / / 4th Dec 2016

Talk from our annual ‘Service of Remembrance’, for those who have lost loved ones, at TRINITY Southover, 4th Dec, based on Psalm 46:1-7

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I expect many of you have read or seen the movie of ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’, by CS Lewis?

In it, Narnia is in permanent winter, with no sign of Christmas or Spring. The cold is ever present, snow all around, lakes frozen, and with it much joy has been sucked from their world.

I sometimes wonder if winter isn’t a good analogy for pain and grief…

I mean I wonder if you have noticed the trees lately? it was just a few weeks ago I wrote a talk whilst gazing out my window and admiring the glorious autumn colours on the large Sycamore tree outside. Now it stands rather stark and bare with all that wonderful colour blown away.

Winter can be very stark. The trees are bare, looking like a shell of what they can be.

The air is often cold and crisp – on really cold mornings even breathing in can make us wince. The nights are longer, our afternoons fading into early darkness and we tend to find ourselves more often at home, wrapped up, shut in away from the cold.

 

There is something in the pain of losing a loved one that I think provokes those sort of feelings and reactions in us. We are stripped bare, we are not what we once were. Things can change so dramatically in such a short space of time. There may be mornings when we wake and find that drawing breath is such an effort.

We may want to hibernate, to shut ourselves away, as if we can hide from the awful reality that has hit us.

 

…o0O0o…

 

Grief brings with it such great uncertainty. The world as we knew it, will never be quite the same and how can we face the world with our new darker view of it?

At times like these finding some truth that we can hold on to, can be really helpful, a foundation for us to stand on when we need.

Perhaps that might be in a particular memory of our loved ones that we can cherish – nothing can take that away.

Or in something we do regularly just to have a moment of control, of certainty.

And for many of us, we find certainty by looking to the truth of God.

The Psalm we heard, Psalm 46, starts with these words:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

3 truths for us to hold on to:

 

God is a refuge.

God is a strength.

God is an ever-present help. Words of comfort and certainty and – because of those – our Psalm goes on:

 

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way

and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam

and the mountains quake with their surging

 

We may well feel that the earth is giving way under the weight of our grief.

We may feel surrounded by the swirling of roaring waters as our emotions rage out of control. BUT there is still that point of truth around which we can turn and perhaps sometimes it is all we can do to cling on to it.

 

…o0O0o…

 

Do you need that refuge – somewhere to hide?

 

Let him be that refuge.

Seek solace in him.

Psalm 91 is another that talks of God as our refuge, and verse 4 says:

 

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge…

 

What a wonderful picture – like a mother bird, drawing her young to her, protecting them, bringing them to the warmth of her own body, shielding them in their vulnerability from the outside world.

Perhaps that is where you need to be right now – just being, just being protected, being shielded form the world outside. Perhaps it is helpful to imagine yourself in that picture, under his wings…?

God is our refuge…

…o0O0o…

 

God is our strength too…

Or do you find yourself lacking strength to get though each day?

Pain, suffering, sorrow and loss are exhausting. Even the simplest of tasks can seem like mountains to be climbed.

Philippians 4:13 tells us

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

 

We need his help…

In our times of pain and weakness, God can be our strength. He longs to help us. In the Old Testament we can read of Moses, where he is facing a battle and at one point Joshua and Aaron come and hold up his arms when his strength is failing. All the while they are holding up his arms, they are winning the battle. And God can hold your arms up too.

I imagine for some of you, just coming here today might have been a huge step. If you are facing something that seems too huge, that you just don’t have the strength for, ask God for his strength – ask him to hold your arms up for you.

 

Jesus can be your strength.

 

 

…o0O0o…

And our third truth – Do you find yourself searching for that ever present God?

 

God is ever present? Sometimes that might seem laughable.

We may find ourselves questioning… wondering… not understanding

‘How could he let this happen?’

‘Why Lord?’

‘I don’t understand God…?’

And there may be no answers to those questions, there may never be, but he is always present – within what we are facing and what we are living with, of that we can be sure.

In Narnia, in the perpetual winter, there were rumours of Aslan’s return – Aslan, the lion, the king, who promised a hope for the future. ‘Aslan is on the move’ people would say. Fleeting glances were seen, snatched conversations were had amongst those who dared to hope even when they couldn’t be sure, when they couldn’t see him.

 

This is from the book after Aslan is mentioned…

And now a very curious thing happened… the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different…. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music has just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.

Just as the children experienced in the story, they didn’t see Aslan nor could they be sure that he would return, and sometimes God is like that for us. Sometimes we can feel that we just don’t know where God is, we are in that roaring water the Psalm talked of, or a stark swirling snowstorm, stuck in that perpetual winter with no Spring in sight. But perhaps, just perhaps we might see a fleeting glimpse, we might sense him with us, we might just feel a glimmer of Hope, or recognise a truth we can cling to within that.

Perhaps in a passing sense of him truly being our refuge, a feeing of safety. Or maybe an unfathomable strength in a moment we thought we couldn’t face.

 

Psalm 56:8 notes:

 

You keep track of all my sorrows

You have collected all my tears in your bottle.

You have recorded each one in your book.

 

I know for myself, there is nothing God is afraid of, nothing he can’t face with us. He has been with me through illness, through pain and suffering, through dark times and sometimes his presence, fleeting as it might have been, has been the one thing that gave me the strength to keep going.

He is there in our joy and celebration, and he is there in our grief too. He knows our pain and walks with us in it.

God is an ever-present help in trouble

And my prayer is that you will recognize his presence with you as you walk through your own journey.

 

Book Review // ‘Cross the Line’

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‘Cross the Line’ by Ollie Baines and Liam Flint

Another fab book from SPCK and this is the first one I requested to review as I knew it was the perfect book for my son. So this time the review is from him… 

 

 

What is the book about?

Professional footballers talking about their faith

 

Did any of them stand out to you?

Kaka! Kaka was the best player in the world. In 2007 he won the Balon d’Or which is the award for best player in the world.

In the Champions League Final with Liverpool, when he scored he revealed a top underneath his kit which said ‘I belong to Jesus’. That’s pretty cool. It’s bold because not many people would that do and he’s really putting his faith out there, at such a big event. I wonder if anyone saw that and thought I am going to find out about Jesus?

 

Would you recommend the book?

Yes! It’s easy to read – I read it pretty quickly and isn’t too long. I think it’s really encouraging knowing that people from my favourite sport have the same beliefs as me, so it would be especially for people who like football and are Christians.

It’s also good for people who aren’t Christians too, there’s lots about football in it and some really interesting questions.

 

elz2Bio // Elliott

I am 13 and into many sports, including football! I also love music. I am an avid Brighton & Hove fan and also a Christian. I feel like Jesus supports me when I am playing sport.

 

The book is available now from SPCK here priced £9.99