The alternative priestly post

So after the heartfelt post on Monday, I thought an alternative view of my Priesting might be good too, definitely a sign that God has a sense of humour..

I think it all began a few weeks ago when I randomly met the Bishop’s Chaplain and we bonded in the wine aisle of the local village shop, and then moving swiftly to the rehearsal last week, which involved a lot of humour, and regular interjections of ‘oh bugger’ when things weren’t going quite as planned, and then of course finally on to the retreat itself.

And I have to say that after the busyness of the last few weeks it was actually rather lovely to go to evensong in the cathedral, which is not my usual style as I’m sure you know, but there is something about just sitting and listening and letting the music flow over you. So there I was, just sat with my eyes shut, a thousand voices (maybe a slight exaggeration) singing melodiously and in harmony, when I could have sworn I heard those melodious words singing about a trump…

My eyes snaped open, torn form the stupor of beautiful music as I busily scan the pages to check, and there I read the lines:

“God is gone up with a merry noise and the Lord with the sound of the trump”

focus, focus, do not make eye contact with anyone else, stifle those smirks…

Is it just me but when I go into a super formal environment (like the cathedral) I have to suppress the urge to be silly or irreverent, so you can imagine, then the strength it took to suppress my giggles at the word ‘trump’ on top of anything else. You know what they say, if you can’t laugh at farts then you are too old…

almost liturgical nail varnish…

There followed discussing the merits of nail varnish and diamonds with the Bishop over drinks – as you do – and sometime later, with all of us either in cassocks or collar, sent off in silence to the best prepared and holiest of places for a silent retreat: Chichester Travelodge. As we traipse along at 9.30 in the evening, all in a line, not talking, we pass the nightlife of Chichester, and watch their comedy responses to our appearance like some kind of cross between Father Ted and Harry Potter.

Of course the merits of a silent retreat (which I would say I was honouring and not even watching the news the day after the election – so much was my commitment to silence) were only slightly marred by the stag party residing in the travelodge that were up until 3am and requiring a police presence. It is rather amusing that both our pre ordination silent retreats have been less than silent, with last years before deaconing regularly interspersed with grunts and shouts from the women’s group sharing our accommodation and seemingly having some kind of releasing workshop.

This positive experience was only added to by waking up to the enormous joy that I had my period (getting my period on the day of my Priesting – gee thanks Lord, I mean aren’t you in charge of the universe couldn’t you have rigged that one?) (yes ok perhaps slightly TMI but it’s funny. Well it wasn’t at the time I can tell you…). My kids will tell you I cry at anything, I don’t think that’s quite fair but you can imagine though that my propensity for tears was not exactly helped by the appearance of such hormones in my life. I may or may not have gone through a large amount of mascara.

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attempting to stay cool…

Finally it was time for the service and we all prepared in the sweltering heat of a British summer that for once is living up to it’s name, as we all don several layers of thick fabric covering us from neck to toe.

As we approached the door of the church someone, (ok it may have been me) instigated a bet on the length of time of the service, which was actually won to the minute at 1 hour 50mins by one of our number.

The service itself was went well, apart from the reappearance of tears, no trump lines this time, but one of the funniest moments was as we turned to process out when I find myself facing the other charmismatic among us and we are both unsure whether to bow before we leave. What followed was a comedy chuckle brothers moment where we half bow, half turn, turn back and end up in hysterics as we finally walk out. Oh how reverent…

So there we are, and perhaps the thing that makes me recognise God’s sense of humour more than anything is that I am a Priest! I keep having sudden moments of clarity and being like ‘flippin heck I am a Priest. Now how on earth did that happen…?!’

 

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

 

Retreat Reflection

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

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

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

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

Walking…

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

They won, this time… perhaps they needed to.

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

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

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

Questioning myself.

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

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

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

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

Facedown, Lord I ask, what is this?

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

You are my refuge.

You are the reason I live.

 

Psalm 63

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

I sing in the shadow of your wings.

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