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

THANK YOU!

So this weekend as I sat at home with a horrible cold, coupled with the joy of celebrating my son’s 13th birthday I was also watching the tweets roll in from #PremDAC16 and was absolutely to delighted to see that I was chosen as Runner Up for ‘Most Inspiring Leadership Blog’, woop! (I was also shortlisted for ‘Blogger of the year’ and as with last year when I was runner up in that category I am just so chuffed and surprised!).

You can see all the winners listed in the Premier Digital website here, and huge congrats to all the winners, it was an amazing line up, I feel honoured just to be among them. Especially check out Youth Work Hacks who won this category – a really brilliant blog and resource and not just for those doing Youth work I would say.

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Thank to Bex Lewis for this pic, shamelessly stolen from her Twitter feed :)

So, I also want to say a huge thank you to anyone who nominated me and to all of you who read this blog. Over the last 7 years or so it has changed, grown, had various guest posters, looked at different themes, had many a rant, and also a lot of love. But more than that, it has been an outlet for me to work out what is going in in my head, and to my surprise I have found that has often been helpful to others doing the same. It’s quite humbling when someone sends you a message or an email saying how they have found something you have written, really helpful or encouraging or inspiring. And, so, basically I want to say, ‘right backatcha!’ I love writing but it makes is so much more enjoyable and special when I know it reaches other people and touches them. So thank you all :)

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Last year at the awards dinner above! This year, in PJs and socks at home ;)

Joy Guest post from Ros Clarke // ‘The Enemies of Joy’

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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 Ros Clarke, who I have chatted to in the online sphere for a while, and was delighted to finally meet her at last year’s Premier Digital Conference. I am also slightly jealous of her job ;)

 

 

Joy.

It comes, if we are lucky, in the moments. We find it in snapshots of smiling faces. We grab at it in snatched seconds of pure happiness.

It’s overwhelming, all-encompassing, saturating every part of our being. It fills us and overflows from us.

And then it’s gone, as the worries of the world press in on us again.

Because we are surrounded by the enemies of joy:

FEAR

FAILURE

WORRY

STRESS

COMPARISON

It’s a wonder that we ever feel joy at all. And yet it is only when we can forget all these and be free that we ever experience pure, all-consuming, childlike joy.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4-7

Paul considers joy to be something attainable for all Christians. Rejoice, he says! Rejoice in the Lord, always! Set aside your fears and failures, your anxiety and stress. Stop those destructive comparisons, and focus on the Lord.

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The Lord is near and we may present him with all our concerns, our worries, our problems. In return, his transcendent peace will guard our hearts and minds.

In that peace, we can rejoice. We can find the joy that lasts longer than a moment. The joy which can outlast our troubles. The joy which transforms our lives.

Rejoice in the Lord. Always.

Again I say, rejoice!

 

 

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Dr. Ros Clarke is the Online Pastor in the Diocese of Lichfield. She can usually be found hanging out on Twitter or Facebook, if she isn’t Instagramming her life or filming for Youtube…

 

 

Joy // Guest Post from Dave Lucas

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This is the next instalment in a year of guest posts on Joy as part of my year of focussing on joy (my word for the year). This month we have Dave Lucas from organisation ‘Disability and Jesus’ guest posting. To find out more about the organisation, see their website here.

 

 

Five in the morning is not a time that most people associate with joy but in our household that is the time my guide dog Jarvis bounds in to our bedroom with whatever happens to be his favourite toy of the moment. It’s a real joy for me because being a guide dog owner is the single most transformative experience of my life. When I got the news of my sight loss back in 1987 I was full of rage, I had to stop driving which meant the end of my career, my life was turned upside down over night.

My chosen way of handling the news was to put my fingers in my ears and tell the whole world to “F Off”! This became my default position for more than ten years, simply refusing to face the issue and running away. During this period I developed lots of techniques to hide the severity of my sight loss. I would listen to the news on the radio but buy a newspaper and pretend to read it, I would memorise phone numbers so I didn’t have to look them up – at one time I sat down with a friend who didn’t think this was possible and wrote a list of over 300 phone numbers!

By the year 2000 things were so bad I could no longer hide it, I was crashing in to things and people, I could not walk in a straight line, I knew the game was up and something had to be done. When someone suggested a guide dog I was furious, a guide dog would be a big badge that told the whole world I had a problem, this was not cool, not cool at all.

In the meantime I was involved in the world of Celtic Christianity as part of the music team with the Northumbria Community. After many tantrums and a few tears ‘Guide Dogs’ managed to persuade me to be matched with a dog. Now here comes the good bit, they brought this eighteen month old black lab retriever, “this is Abbot” they said. I remember looking up and saying to myself “OK God, I get it”. The idea of me, a Celtic Christian, a new monastic being led by an abbot tickled me greatly! Abbot and I qualified on December the eighteenth 2001, and that was the Christmas filled with the most joy I’d had since as a kid I came downstairs to find a shiny new train set. Abbot gave me my life back, I found a new career, did an MA, moved house, started a business, all this in the eight years Abbot and I worked together – as one friend put it “he gave me my life back”.

In 2010 Abbot retired and along came Jarvis, Abbot lived on in a happy retirement with us until August 2015 but I feel his presence with me always. Jarvis is a totally different dog but equally fab and this is a great new chapter…

 

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David Lucas is proud owner of guide dog Jarvis, he is an access auditor and low vision awareness trainer and co-founder of Disability and Jesus. Here he is with Jarvis.

Big Brekkie Banter…

A few weeks ago I was invited to my very first bloggers event. I can’t tell you how excited I was about this, a chance to hang out and chat with other christian bloggers = great, plus with free breakfast thrown in, and all at the lovely Southwark Cathedral (which just happens to be the place I go to study each week so was very nice to be there on other matters!). Which all just about made up for the ridiculously early start to be in London for breakfast!

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‘Spires’ at Dawn

So why was I there? For Christian Aid’s new ‘Big Brekkie’ campaign, which is all part of this year’s Christian Aid week (15-21 May 2016), and frankly what’s not to love about a campaign with the strapline:

“Fight Poverty with Porridge” !

So, 30 or so bloggers, Tweeters and movie makers came together to share breakfast and hear about Christian Aid’s work and I can’t tell you how inspiring it was.

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I’ve been a supporter of Christian Aid over the years but to hear first-hand about their work was great. Challenging too, as I realised the scale of disasters, war zones and crisies they are responding to. We heard about just one of those places with the story of Morsheeda (story here) whose family are battling with the devastating floods in Bangladesh. We saw her in her home, a foot deep in water, trying to look after her family, her children, and it broke my heart. We have moaned here in the UK about the floods that have hit here, and I am in no way dismissing peoples pain and loss in the UK, but there in Bangladesh, there is no one to pay insurance pay outs, no one to help clear up and it’s not like the water subsides after a few days either. But, Christian Aid is there, helping to pick up the pieces and aiming to build flood proof houses that mean people can rebuild their lives, and safeguard their families.

What is £250? For me that’s 2 weeks of food shopping or a few new outfits, and yet for Morsheeda it means life, it means safety, it means a future. £250 could buy: flood-proofing, a goat, seeds and a wormery – which will give her a long term income and a foundation for her future.

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So where does the breakfast come in? Well for Christian Aid week this year, the charity is encouraging everyone to host their own ‘Big Brekkie’ breakfast to raise funds and awareness of their work. How easy is that? and if you’ve ever ploughed the streets delivering and picking up envelopes with 48 1/2p in them, then hosting a breakfast seems so much more attractive right?! (Not that there is anything wrong with the envelope thing, I’ve done it, counted pennies and loved it, it’s all part of serving Jesus. But this seems a whole lot more fun, yes?!)

Every community shares food to some extent, whether at a gathered family meal, wedding party, evening meal, or maybe by sharing bread and wine. When Jesus ate with people things happened. So how about modelling that ourselves?

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So, do you want to know more? Why not sign up to host a breakfast here and get your free sign up pack (above) with all kinds of goodies to help you host your breakfast. As they told us:

“Where 2 or 3 are gathered… You can have a big brekkie”

 

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some of the lovely bloggers chatting over coffee in Borough market

‘Prayers on The Move’ App Review

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So thanks to the lovely peeps at SPCK I’m taking a look at the new ‘Prayers on the Move‘ app which officially launches next week but is out now. If you’ve not come across it yet it’s a free app, available on Android and the App store, helping people to get started praying each day.

The blurb says this:

‘SPCK’s Prayers on the Move app is designed to enable you to get into the habit of praying. Habits are formed by repetition, and it has been said that it takes 30 days to build a new one’.

Which is perfect as there’s prayer for each day of the month!

The press is full of depressing stats about the church dying but if you take a different tack and ask people about spirituality or prayer their answers are very different. For example in a recent YouGov poll 42% of people answered ‘yes’ to the question: ‘do you ever pray?’. That’s quite staggering really and as an evangelist I think we need to build on these kind of results. ‘Church’ ‘Christianity’ ‘Religion’ are all terms that people tend to roll their eyes at but yet ‘prayer’ and ‘spirituality’ seems to provide us with an opportunity, an opening to reach out to people. Clearly this app is Christian in focus but actually a lot of the prayers are open enough to encourage those who might be put off with an overly religious or specifically Christian message.

The app has a decent intro, with info on prayer itself, a section on why pray? and how to begin to pray – another fab feature for those who might be new to anything of faith. And it’s so simple to use. Each day of the month just has a very simply quote or prayer to pray, like these which you can either listen to or read.

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Their suggestion is, why not give just 1 minute a day to prayer. So, it’s not exactly aimed at your seasoned prayer warrior, but it’s perfect for a friend who expresses an interest in prayer, or an attendee at your Alpha course or just to suggest to people via your Facebook page maybe. As the app says:

‘praying may help you to develop your spirituality and to connect with something bigger than yourself’

There’s also an intro video (below) from the rather fab Justin Welby who notes that if we encourage people to open themselves to God, who knows what might happen…  So often I think when we want to share our faith we worry about things like what people might think, or ‘when to Jesus‘, or whether we are going into full on bible bashing mode, but this is actually a great tool to share with people that is non-threatening, relevant and might just start people on a journey that you can help them with. 

Although all that said, I’m actually loving some of the prayers like the one pictured above from Lord Astley: 

‘O Lord, you know how busy I must be this day; If I forget you, do not forget me’

To be honest I should be praying this every day! and actually if you are a well-worn pray-er then maybe you could use the app to just kick start your prayer each morning, or to give you a prompt, there’s some really beautiful stuff in there. So first off, give it a go, then why not share it with people around you, as the good Archbishop says, you never know what might happen…

 

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…

 

 

#Write31Days Round Up

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#Write31Days Round Up // Day 31

Phew! made it to the last day, so I hope you’ve enjoyed this series or found it useful. To finish I’m just posting a list of all the posts so they are all in one place. 

1. Intro – 31 days of out there, loving one another with purpose.

2. Why be ‘Out There’?

3.Being Incarnational

4. Bless Where you are

5. Foundations: Prayer

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7. Foundations: Relationships

8. Foundations: Team

9. Clearing our rubbish

10. Radical Transformation of life?

11. Sabbath

12. Church Live – reaching the nations with Social Media

13. A transforming presence

14. Being transformed

15. What’s your vision?

16. Really getting ‘Out There

17. Loving People

18. Sabbath

19. What is Mission Not?

20.‘Out There’

21. Church in a Pub

22. Working Ecumenically – a necessary challenge!

23. Resources for Mission & Outreach

24. Dave Walker cartoon ‘ Where is the church’?

25. Sabbath

26. Out There Video

27. Moving from Prayer to Something

28. Funding for Mission

29. To Jesus or not to

30. Social Media & Mission

31. this one!

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Social Media & Mission

Social Media & Mission // #Write31Days // Day 30

Ok So I’m a blogger, of course I’m going to rave about Social media. It is a passion of mine. I’ve written about it before here and here and here, here on a Christian Practice of Internet use and here on a short guide to soc med in the church, and plenty of other places too! But listen up people, the church needs to embrace social media – it was referred to as new media but it’s not new anymore! the world has embraced it and we need to as well if we want to reach people.

So whatever you are doing, whether you are a church, starting a new initiative, planning an event, get a Facebook page, post some tweets, it will get the word out there and feed into that all important communication which I mentioned a few days ago. It’s not difficult and if you don’t know where to start ask someone who does.

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One of my fave people right now is Pope Francis (@pontifex). On the World Day of Communications last year, he said felt the internet was a gift from God, when referring to its benefits and possibilities! He asked also:

How, then, can communication be at the service of an authentic culture of encounter? What does it mean for us, as disciples of the Lord, to encounter others in the light of the Gospel? 

So then there’s a challenge to us, and in my essay that I wrote about here I asked myself how does a christian use Social Media any different to anyone else? How can we enable others to meet with Jesus through our online use? Of course being authentic, not hiding our faith, being open to talking (or writing!) about it is key but more than that, I think need to be intentional about it.

So in mission, are we using soc med to share what we are doing? are we being overt about our faith? I mean it’s not just getting out into the community, what about our own friends and family too? Are they seeing us giving glory to God online and with boldness?

And here’s another question, how many people have you ‘friended’ or ‘followed’ online who you’ve met through a missional outreach? Are you actually forming friendships as you would with others?Actually soc med is a great way to interact with new friends in mission as it’s pretty non threatening. They don’t have to give you a phone number and also have the option to unfollow/block you if they are worried! That can actually be a real concern for some people, especially the most vulnerable.

dannyQuote3JPGAnd more than that how about a soc med campaign? For 2 years we have run ‘Share the Hope’ through Advent, an evangelistic campaign run solely online to encourage people to think about hope in a very busy time of year. This (left) was a quote from last year. Jesus is for everyone, exactly that! and if we want our social media use to be missional we must remember that and meet people where they are at. And for many where they are at is online! 

A few weeks ago I wrote this:

One of the biggest reasons to reach ‘out there’ – to outside our church walls – is that so many people just wouldn’t step foot over the threshold of a church. So how will we share the Gospel if we don’t get ‘out there’? And of course for some, coming to church is more than a mental barrier it’s a physical one.

and this:

 Isn’t our mission to reach ‘all nations’ with the message of Jesus? Well here’s a very 21st century way of doing just that…

Do we need any other reason to use social media now?

Moving from Prayer to Something

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Moving from Prayer to Something // #Write31Days // Day 27

So at the beginning of this series I talked about building a foundation of prayer before anything else. And the challenge then is how you move from that into something practical, and then how you move from that to something more spiritual, (assuming you aren’t just planting a church that is) and of course the key is to be guided by God in that.

A few things I’ve learned along the way are:

  1. Listen to God  – If you are on a mission from God you have to be guided by him! simple :) I had a bit of an eye opener on this, as I’m a planner and organiser, I’m often thinking of the practical things. In one particular prayer meeting I was feeling stressed that we were taking up all the planning time. One member of the group just said to me, listen to God, and all of a sudden it was like a download, answers to questions, lists of things to do. I just started scribbling it all down and that was all I needed in that moment. That isn’t to say you can’t plan at all, we need both of course, but never forget that God is the manager in whatever you are planning, not you!
  2. Listen to the peopleThe Mission Shaped church report  (which although a bit dated now is well worth a read) had a section on ‘double listening’ – listen to God, but also listen to context. And it’s so true, we need to also focus on the area God has put us in, what is needed, what is missing, what do people actually want. The idea for our community cafe came from locals, Church in a Pub came when the Landlord suggested doing just that, our skip day began as a result of seeing what was needed in the area. Look around, ask around and move forward from that.
  3. Working with others – I’ve found it key to work with other churches and other agencies. It doesn’t always work and sometimes people don’t want to, but at least trying this is a good start. It also means you are keeping people in the loop on what you are planning. You don’t want to start something to find there is already a local group doing the same, or planning to do something similar. It can save a lot of time and energy to do a bit of homework first! And it may just work out well, as it did with our cafe, which has volunteers from 4 local churches.  Also, as I’ve written before, it’s so important to at least consult with other churches, we are all in the same game, worshiping the same God and there is nothing worse than churches being annoyed at each other. You might find working together won’t work but still talk to each other!
  4. Which brings me on to communication – important on so many levels!! As I’ve said, with other churches and agencies but also with the context – keeping people informed on what you’re doing, and not least with your church. People want to know where there money is going, where time is being spent and what’s more, what God is doing! So tell them. We’re starting a new thing where each outreach project gets a slot on a Sunday morning once a year to tell the church how it is going which also means people get to see the leaders and to know who they are. Not only that but we have regular updates on our Facebook page too so people can see how things are developing. And one thing that I repeat time and again is – ‘you can put on the most amazing event, but if no one knows about it no one will come’! Whatever you are planning, make sure people know. Leaflet drops, posters, word of mouth, school assemblies, Social media – use it all. I don’t think you can ever over-communicate so go for it!
  5. Finances – a tricky one and again depends on your context, but you might just have a fab idea and no money. God often provides and opens up avenues of funding you may never have thought of, incurring the miraculous! But it’s worth looking into funding bodies of which there are many. Try those linked to the church or those are Christian but also if you’re doing something specific look at those that cover that area, for example we’re looking at running a homework club, so we could look to educational charities for computers or other equipment.  If you are in the CofE your diocese may have a mission fund you can apply to and if not still ask them, if they think it’s worthwhile they might just find you the money anyway. And talk to people in the know, or in relevant positions of authority who might give support to your project, with the church/ diocese but also try your local council. You may find your church has funds to put behind your project too, but make sure you think about set up costs and ongoing costs, you don’t want to get a few months in and find there is no money.

So there’s just a few things to consider, feel free to get in touch if you have questions or would like to know more…