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  • Gathering

    For the last few weeks I have been at Westminster College participating in the life of this community whilst continuing to read and reflect upon sabbatical. This blog will largely serve as the written report - but in trying to summarise my thoughts I have returned to the poetry that has often been my core way of expressing myself - I find the challenge of writing in a tight tercet's forces me to say only what I want to say - yet the loose metre (governed by the punctuation and line endings) and the internal irregular rhymes give freedom for some creativity.

    This may well be my last comment on this adventure, but if there is enough interest when I return to Rochdale next week I will look to host an evening or Sunday afternoon sharing some of this and opening up the conversation.

     

    Gathering:

    A reflection upon sabbatical

     

     

    A gathering of friends, of strangers, performers. Bright coloured bands determine

    access and orders. A village created with traders and stages; in vans under tents,

    much drink and more rainfall; we listen and sing, some clapping, some dance. Celebrating

     

    music, the beauty of life, melodious text, a life story sung; a bubble paused. Holding

    in tension graceful harmony on tongue. Rare political comment is despair fueled

    apathy; seeking release, from fields we depart, nourished, fulfilled..... We gather

     

    in schoolroom and chapels, bright cafe’s, old halls. Seeking a glimpse of God’s

    story with other hope-filled fools. In tentative hymns, quiet prayer, gentle homily;

    over coffee and cakes, fresh expression waits faithfully. In paint and clay

     

    figures and creative conversing. Rumours of warmth, whispers on love, grace-filled

    cascading. The church is alive, if unsure of the future. Vulnerable and verbing, God

    is still calling.................... listen, listen, listen............. A collegiate reforms from near

     

    and afar. Eager to learn, to teach, and be called. Engaging, conversing; scribbling

    laughing;  dying and living. Yet modeling a ministry that is one frantic work flow.

    Where is the space to be renewed and to grow? Where is the pattern that celebrates

     

    sabbath? And in the midst dwells a poet, a preacher, researcher with time to enjoy

    this polymath crowd; a moment, a glimpse of God’s spoken endeavour - in essays

    or sermons; lyric with music; deep black sculpture; whisky and beer, quick phrases,

     

    loved symbols; buildings on rivers; digits and numerals; gravy then custard; hard

    gestures, touched signals; smiles with soft words; in hallelujah - amen. Amen,

    Amen: So be it, my friends, leave the tent fold open; let a new future begin.

     

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    Commentary

     

    This sabbatical has had three main sections and these are reflected in the structure of the poem with almost two stanzas reflecting upon each stage.

     

    I began in tandem with Chris, camping and campervaning at 5 different festivals taking place around southern England during July/August. We regularly attend Greenbelt at the end of August but we have often wanted to attend elsewhere as well, but had been restricted by their weekend timing! At the same time as having fun the sabbatical purpose was to look at the way in which performance space is used and see what lessons can be learnt for worship. In reality, what was more interesting was the way the audience used space, the way each festival is a community in itself and the way in which that sense of community came across as each festival. So the first two stanzas of “Gathering” look to reflect upon the elements that create belonging within such a community - the shared love of music, the commercial aspect and a shared worldview - in this case at all the festivals with the exception of Greenbelt an apathy towards any political consciousness; the few performers that tried anything were met by bored disinterest. Greenbelt was also a different experience from other years as I volunteered and worked as a Venue Manager - something I will look to do again in future years.

    In September, I sent Chris back to work (one of us has to) and used the time to catch up on lots of reading and to visit churches that are using a different pattern for their main Sunday morning service and places where midweek worship is happening. Stanzas three and four reflect upon those experiences. the time was good, I didn’t see anyone attempting anything sparklingly different, but faithful people looking to express themselves and learn about God in their own context. Much that I saw was hopeful - the church plant where most people were younger than me, the new ways of working with young people before or during the main worship time; the midweek times giving space for those free during the day time, tied in with other activities such as coffee mornings. I have sometimes been baffled by my visits to “successful” churches outside our tradition - I don’t really get what they are doing - it seems simplistic and undemanding yet the space is full of young families. I’ve seen enough to see that we need to offer consistent good quality worship, but I’m not sure where to pitch it or how to present it. But I know that God is speaking and we must all listen and act.

    Fresh expressions is the term being used by Anglicans and Methodists to talk about news ways of worshipping - I’ve seen things calling themselves fresh expressions, but I’m not sure that they are.

    Cascades of grace is an idea borrowed from Ann Morisy, Journeying Out,

    Verbing is a term I have used from time to time to express words (conversations) that create action. It is similar to, but different in emphasis from the dictionary definition of turning nouns into verbs.

    Conversation and Engagement have become key words as I have reflected upon worship and community and the way the Church interacts with itself and its neighbours and most of all with God. Hence these words and their synonyms bounce around the poem.

    October was spent at Westminster College, Cambridge - with three purposes in mind, reflect and write up the previous two months; get along to some lectures around the Federation; and as a Governor of the College get to know the staff and students a bit better than has been possible so far. I have managed all three and it has been a good time. But most of all I’ve been struck by the workload of staff and students - with everything crammed into 8 week terms - academic, ministerial formation and social, the pace is frightening and I have expressed some of my concerns in the poem and in some conversations. I have dwelt in the midst of all this and greatly value the opportunities it has given me - which the final stanza seeks to portray.

    Finally, during this time I have been seeking God’s call on the next stage of ministry and have been called to be Minister to a pastorate in Coventry for whom the future is vulnerable and uncertain. Hence, “let a new future begin.”

  • A lifetimes wealth

    I have 12 sabbatical days left, so I'm reaching the point where I'm thinking Oh meant to do that ...

    Amongst those things was a hope I would find time to write some poems and hymn texts, but on the whole the creative block is still there. However, I've managed one (and some bits that might emerge into something). This is the first - and might be the only one - in a series of poems which will tell something of the diversity of 21st Century Rochdale life. It is my privilege to hear lots of stories and so if the series continues it will include stories that begin in Rochdale and Congo and Pakistan and Ukraine and Manchester and merge together in modern day Rochdale.

    This tells one story from the wartime generation. It is a story that I have heard on many occasions in pastoral visits, arranging funerals, from siblings born 8 years apart, from carers and from faded photographs.

    Tune: Deep Harmony

    A Lifetimes Wealth

    Edith fusses for husband James
    who smiles and booms “Hello, young man.”
    He’ll forget I’ve been, once I’ve gone
    We’ll enjoy a moment, share some fun.

    Married in the autumn of ’39
    Second child born late ’47
    Roomful of memories, keep smiling down
    A life well-lived, for earth and heaven.

    One week pass began married life.
    First child born as Singapore fell.
    Nursing their babe, James fate unknown
    He marches fearful into hell.

    Just once he told of Changi days
    tears streaming down, men left behind.
    She tells of a letter, long time wait
    for young Jimmy a father to find.

    They love to tell of children’s lifes
    grandchildren spread around the world.
    Success and peace in all they’ve done
    in much laughter, good life unfurled.

    Edith won’t let James go again
    watches o’er his failing health.
    Holds him close for final years,
    love providing lifetimes wealth.

     

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  • Belonging

    One of the themes that has been ever present as I've moved from festivals, to worship places, to Westminster College has been the sense of being part of a community. Each festival had its own ethos and its own rules (written and unwritten), each of the established festivals had people for whom this was their place/home/identity - artists who belonged, a sense of involvement in their place and time. In each place it was a coming together of people to create a temporary community in that location - yet each has a sense of permanence which has grown through their long term engagement with that place, and with the music and with the each other. In much the same way each church engages with its own community - attenders, fringe and to some extent or another those in whose midst they are set and each has at the same time been open to an occasional stranger.

    At the moment a new community is coming together at Westminster College, it has elements of the community that was here 3 months ago - place, people, traditions - but they are now engaging with new people, new experiences, a slightly changed building, new conversations and this old institution is being reformed. 

    One of the best bits of our Vision4Life conversations at both Hallfold and St. Andrew's was to hear people tell their faith journey's - we heard some wonderful stories there was much to draw from them, but one of the themes that came over time and time again was the importance of belonging to a community - and it was when we found ourselves in a community to which we belonged that our sense of God's presence with us grew and developed. My earliest memories were at St. Mark's, Wythenshawe - as a child I was encouraged to join in - stacking chairs, reading the bible, sorting jumble, following the band, calling a Minister and so much more that is lost in the mist of time. We moved on when I was 10, to a church at which I was always an outsider and it was only when we moved  to Bolton when I was 15 that I again became part of a church community to which I will always belong - I found people who encouraged me, people in conversation with one another and with God and with the place in which we gathered and who brought me into the conversation. It was these formative communities that have allowed me to grow and become part of other specific communities and part of the wider communion of those who stride, tiptoe, race, stagger, leap, limp, crawl, carry, ride along the way of Jesus.

    And as I ponder the nature of community and worship and mission I'm finding two words follow me - Engagement and Conversation - and I have a scribble page with comments and arrows that are saying something like this:-

    Worship = engagement with God

    Worship = engagement with God + context + praxis.

    Mission = conversation involving God's story

    Community and Worship and Mission engage with one another where we are in conversation with God, Scripture, context, community, 

    Engagement involves doing

    Conversation is with and about God

    Mission = conversation

    and I thought it all might sit neatly in a venn diagram or something - but it doesn't!

    as ever - I'm thinking out loud, so if anyone wants to engage in the conversation, please do.