Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Worshipping in Canterbury Cathedral #VicarSchool

A large part of Vicar School is about worshipping together. At Easter School this meant (for me at least) getting up at just after 6 each day and not having time for a morning run, which was a struggle! 
Canterbury Cathedral in the sunshine

We all trundled over to the Cathedral each day for worship at 7.30 in the crypt - which isn't as chilling as it sounds! I've got to say there was something rather special about being one of the first few into the cathedral each morning, as we crossed the Cathedral precincts, having only been allowed in by flashing our passes (only to keep out the tourists not some awful security measure!) then on into the cloisters and entering the crypt by an almost hidden door. Walking in there at dawn, the crypt mostly lit just by candle light, entering in silence as we arrived to worship was very moving. Even for a modern charismatic like me, there is much to be said for worshipping in such a space where pilgrims, monks and Christians have entered and worshipped for centuries, it's like the walls breathe out the joy and sorrow they have heard over the years from the countless prayers that have been uttered in there.

Throughout the week different groups of students led worship, in different styles. I was part of a group leading worship in the style of 'Taize', one morning. In advance, like much of the week, I wasn't exactly looking forward to this. I was well out of my comfort zone and Taize is largely about repeated singing of chants and phrases, however due to cathedral restrictions we were not allowed to have any music at that time of the morning, so no challenge there then! Anyway, I found that actually it felt a real privilege to lead worship in that space. We chose silence and quiet reponses instead of the music. People were able to leave pebbles as a sign of leaving their burdens by the cross. There were some pebbles left which we then left out during the day and when we returned in the evening we found that visitors to the cathedral had continued to use the pebbles, which was really encouraging. 

The Crypt with evening worship in Taize style
I have to say that I did struggle with some of the worship. I knew it would be in varying styles and I prayed each day that God would meet me in each act of worship and He did, which was amazing. I've said before and I will say again, that is the beauty of the Church of England, that we can all meet God in different ways and the church caters for many different people. However there is something to be said for worshipping in your own preferred style and by the end of the week I was just desperate to sing and worship with abandon!

It has made me think more about what worship is and how people meet with God in different ways. And about the space one is in, as we meet in a soulless assembly hall each week, I really noticed the difference being in a building that has been used for worship for hundreds of years. As I said above, it's like you can feel the prayers and praises of those who have gone before just oozing out of the walls. An amazing place to worship...

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! 

Hebrews 12: 1-3 The Message Version

Saturday, 19 April 2014

A week in Canterbury, Vicar School Update...

The stunning St Augustine's - Kings School at dawn (aka: 'Godwarts')
So just before Easter I spent a week in Canterbury as part of my course. We stayed in the beautiful Kings School and worshipped each day in the Cathedral crypt (not as chilling as it sounds!).

It's fair to say I had not been looking forward to this week away, after all it's an entire week away from the family and I had never been away from the kids that long before. I had a lot of work to do in advance, plus prepping everything at home so that all would run smoothly while I was away and to cap it all off, it was the school hols so I'd be missing out on fun with the kids. However I tried to go with an open mind rather that just dreading the whole thing and actually I was pleasantly surprised and would probably even say that I think I enjoyed the week. It was tough, long hours of study, not much time to oneself and up at the crack of dawn for worship each day, but there were positives too! People keep asking me if I had a good week away and it's hard to know what to say, I think I'm still processing it to be honest. There were lows and highs that's for sure. 

A definite high was being able to spend more time with others on my course. As the course has so many different aspects to it we are rarely all gathered, but here we were all stuck in together for a week. You can't help but get to know people when you are with them 24/7! Nothing like bumping into someone in your PJ's with crazy bed hair, for breaking down barriers… Before I went I had just read the 'Moment Maker' book (see previous post!) and so I thought what an opportunity to take the moment and get to know people better and it was amazing to hear other peoples stories of how Jesus has impacted their lives. Made me realise how similar we all are, despite obvious differences and different styles of churchmanship.

Definite low point was mid week, missing everyone at home, feeling exhausted and supping wine from this mug, by myself in my room! #classy (by the way it says Pugs - as in pug dogs - my husband thought it implied something else..)

I'm not sure if this is a low point or a high point, but in one afternoon bible study towards the end of the week a friend played a Matt Redman song (a modern Christian worship leader) at which two of us burst into tears, realising we had really missed being able to worship freely. I went back to my room plugged in my iPod and blasted myself with modern worship songs, singing away to my hearts content, not caring if anyone heard (if they did they were to polite to comment!) 

The teaching was great, although we clearly all struggled with the long hours (including the tutors!) There was one afternoon when a sort of game started, seeing who was going to nod off first. Slightly awkward moment for me, when we were given a 2 minute break in one class, so I ran out to get some tea as I literally could not keep my eyes open and was telling my friend this just as the tutor walked past… Although we did then move the class outside (a la Dead Poets Society) for some fresh air!

And I am pretty sure God was having a joke at my expense when I discovered the name of  my room: 'Cranmer' (see previous post!)

The week ended with cocktails and singing on the Friday night (definite high!) and then the last talk was on Zombies (yes actually on Zombies, not a metaphor) #random 

To be honest it was great to get home, but I think overall it was a good week and I certainly won't be dreading it so much next year!

Monday, 14 April 2014

Book Review: Moment Maker

Sorry another book review, but there's some great books out there at the mo!

This one is 'Moment Maker' by Carlos Whittaker. Pastor, Musician, Worship Leader, Writer, Blogger, Tweeter, Carlos is almost unheard of in the UK and yet in the US he has made quite an impact. 'Moment Maker' on Amazon UK right now has no reviews, yet the American one has 53 - and the books been out just over a week! (although by the time you read this I'll have posted a review on the UK version…).

So, 'Moment Maker', what's it all about? Well, the clue is in the title, it's about making 'moments', allowing yourself time to make moments, listening for God's guidance in making moments, recognising moments. What's a moment? A moment is an opportunity, it's making a memory, it's a divine appointment, it's a life changing experience, and so much more.

Whittaker (or Los as he is known) is an expert moment maker, wanting to get the absolute most out of life. This book is essentially a collection of stories about 'moments' from him and his family's lives which he shares with raw honesty, self deprecating humour and a passion to show you how you can get more out of your life! I love the way Carlos writes, high paced; thoughts and experiences blurring into one; a riot of creativity and joy. I've never met the guy but I imagine he writes just like he lives his life.

Although this book is about Whittaker's own experiences, he gives some great advice on how to get more out of your life - how to experience 'moments' in your life too. That said, it's not one of those irritating self-help books by any stretch of the imagination, it's more a collection of inspiring stories, centred on the heart of Jesus, as he notes: 'the greatest moment maker of all time'. Most importantly it focuses on the why? of 'moments' - there's great stories of fantastic things he's done, but the important thing is the heart behind it - the why.

Reading this book, it's hard not to be encouraged by Whittaker's enthusiasm for life. Once I started it I couldn't put it down, being carried through it on a wave of joy. There were such laugh out loud moments that I totally embarrassed myself reading it in public, and yet his genuine honesty allows you to experience his willingness to be vulnerable too. I literally cringed reading about his plan to woo a girl back to him (not a moment that ended well!) and I have to admit to shedding a tear as he relates how his daughter gives her life to Jesus as he almost tries to talk her out of it!

A great read, an inspiring reflection on life and well worth buying… 

Moment Maker is available from Amazon and costs (in the UK) £9.99 although the dispatch time is quite slow so if you can't wait you can get it for kindle for £5.99.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Book Review: 'Francesco, Artist of Florence: The Man Who Gave Too Much' by Anita Mathias

The story of Francesco, artist of Florence is one that whilst written for children, will touch the hearts of adults too. Anita has a lovely way with words, that say just enough but at the same time invite one to imagine more. I love books like this, in the 21st century so much is laid out for us on a plate and yet one of my favourite things as a child was reading books that captured my imagination as well as my heart. Francisco's story does both.

Francesco himself is a craftsman, making boxes decorated deliciously in pietre dure, a decorative art that uses inlaid semi precious stones to make images and designs. It was a particularly popular art in 16th Century Florence. Like many artists Francesco struggles with the pricing of his work. He gives away his pieces at ridiculously low prices, being swayed by the covetous glances or persuasive words of his customers, and the desire for his work to go to those who love it as much as he does. (Having been an artist for some years and given away many paintings for nothing, I totally understand where he is coming from!).

I have to admit to feeling a certain affinity with this book having been one of those who proof read it for Anita before publication. Then, as now, as I read it again, I just love the amazing descriptions of semi precious stones, reminding me of biblical descriptions of the temple, so detailed that you can begin to picture them in your own mind. I'm a creative type and these kind of descriptions capture me, leading my imagination in a dance of colour and shape and pattern. But this book is not even really for me, it's for children who I am sure will be as captivated as I was.

Francesco is a devout man, balancing the voice of his heart with that of his clearly long suffering wife, Elisabetta. This is not just his story but one of him learning to forgive himself. Is he simply a fool, as his customers rudely proclaim, or is he a man with the generous heart of an artist, delighted to see his work desired so much?

'And so I carve gardens of unfading flowers, in which I place a singing bird on a golden bough, to keep a drowsy emperor awake with his eternal songs'. 

This is a one of those books you'll want to keep forever! One for the grandchildren. If you're a parent you might know what I mean. Our bookshelves are full of hundreds of kids books, some less dull than others. There's some old favourites, a bit tattered around the edge, some losing the cover, one with a bit of juvenile srawl on a few pages. But then there are a few that get looked after. They are the ones the children ask for almost with a sense of awe. These are the ones with beautiful hand painted illustrations, or the ones with the quirky story, or the ones that Mummy had when she was 'little'. Francesco's story is one of those. Not only is it a lovely story but it's a book that you will want to keep. A book you will want to read not just to your kids, but to your grandchildren, or maybe, even to yourself.

Anita Mathias
Anita Mathias is the author of 'Wandering Between Two Worlds' (Benediction Classics, 2007) and blogs at Dreaming Beneath the Spires. You can also visit her at Facebook or on Twitter.

The book is available on Amazon for just £3.99

Friday, 28 March 2014

Minecraft Prayer Space

The 'God Building'
Inside on the Mezzanine Landing of the Chapel
I've been inspired by Miranda Threlfall-Holmes 'Teenage Prayer Experiment' which included her recent post, in which she encouraged her son to build a place of prayer on Minecraft (a digital game which enables kids to build worlds and creations using square blocks). Minecraft sounds basic but it actually has no end of possibilities! My youngest two are big fans of the game and so today (first day of the hols!) I set them to work creating their own Minecraft Prayer Spaces. 

They actually loved the idea and took it on with great enthusiasm. I've got to admit I wondered whether they would just end up playing on the game, but no, they both took it seriously, we prayed first and they spent about 2 hours building their spaces. I basically just left them to get on with it and it's been interesting to see the ideas they have come up with. They had a Prayer space in their school recently and I think they were inspired by that as they both chose to have different areas with different themes in their spaces. It's also interesting how they have used the dynamics of the game to come up with different ideas. My daughter just came in and showed me how she had Jesus both walking on water and ascending to heaven!

Space to pray for animals and living things
My son has really gone to town and the pictures here are from his space. I don't think the pics really do it justice, it's really an amazing building and I think it would be great as a real building (although the cross on top might be a tad oversized! see pic above). It has two levels, glass walls, a chapel inside it, mezzanine level, underground room to pray for friends and family, and lots more. In fact it reminded me of the early temples, with an inner space and lots of different areas, including animals!

Inside the chapel with space for hymn books!
Once they had built their spaces I encouraged them to actually pray and imagine themselves praying in the space. My son said he liked the idea of having different areas to pray for different things and that he found this helpful when praying. He also liked the idea of having a prayer space within Minecraft, which is his favourite game. He really enjoyed building it and said that it made him think about why and how he prays.

This is a great idea and I am very glad Miranda highlighted it. It's so important to get our kids thinking about prayer, what it is, and what it can mean for them and their relationship with God. I really love new and interesting ways of thinking about prayer especially for kids and this one is a definite hit in our house! I'm hoping we can use this again in our family prayer time.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

World Vision and 'that' decision

If you haven't seen this reported (and if you're not a Christian who supports 'World Vision' there is no reason you should have) child sponsorship charity World Vision this week basically announced a change in staffing policy indicating some level of support for gay relationships and then, 2 days later it retracted it. World Vision is a charity whose aim is to reach some of the worlds poorest children and raises most of its funds through child sponsorship. As a Christian charity it has prided itself on its Christian foundation and values. 

Earlier this week WV announced in a letter to staff that it was changing its policy on employee conduct in relationships, and would allow those in same sex marriages to be employed within the organisation. (Now your first reaction may be that it would have been illegal not to, but this happened in the US and I am not entirely sure what the law states there, but that is not what I want to focus on.)

WV states the following:
By way of background, our board of directors is recognized as one of the leaders among Christian organizations in the U.S. It includes deeply spiritual and wise believers, among them several pastors, a seminary president, and a professor of theology. Since this policy change involves the sensitive issue of human sexuality, the board spent several years praying about and discussing this issue.

They have spent several years praying about and discussing this issue. That is not a hasty decision.

They also state:
...since World Vision is a multi-denominational organization that welcomes employees from more than 50 denominations, and since a number of these denominations in recent years have sanctioned same-sex marriage for Christians, the board—in keeping with our practice of deferring to church authority in the lives of our staff, and desiring to treat all of our employees equally—chose to adjust our policy. Thus, the board has modified our Employee Standards of Conduct to allow a Christian in a legal same-sex marriage to be employed at World Vision… We have chosen not to exclude someone from employment at World Vision U.S. on this issue alone.

This seems like a well balanced decision, well thought out and prayed through (regardless of what you feel about the decision). After announcing this decision the Christian internet went into overdrive, with people publicly slamming the organisation and withdrawing support for sponsored children. I read that they had lost sponsorship, in just a few days, for 2000 children. 2000 children? Obviously some people sponsor more than one child but by any estimation this means that at the very least hundreds of people have decided to take their unhappiness at this decision out on some of the worlds poorest children. Where does one even start on this? I am absolutely appalled. If you are reading this as a non Christian, then I am sorry. I apologise to you. I am sorry that people who profess to believe in the same God I do, would do this. I am sorry that yet again you have to read of Christians behaving in this way. If they really feel that strongly then by all means challenge the company, but withdrawing support from some of the poorest kids on the planet? how is that sending a Christian message? How is that showing the love of God…?

So then, it saddens me even more that today the organisation has reversed their decision, seemingly as a direct result of what seems to be emotional blackmail. Their original statement says that they have spent years praying about this. This is not a decision made lightly and yet within just two days they have gone back on it. I have said before and I will say again that I do not know where I stand on gay marriage doctrinally, so I don't want to focus on that,  but what I am sure of is that God loves everyone regardless of colour, race or sexual preference. God does not send people away or turn his back on people. I can't believe that an organisation like this would then bow to people who are effectively turning their back on a biblical principle: to support the poor. And no matter how much you read scripture, I don't believe you can make it say otherwise - God calls us to support and care for the poorest amongst us.

I want to shout at these people, 'how dare you. How dare you?' These people are blessed enough to be able to even consider sponsoring a child. They don't have to worry about having enough food for their children. They don't have to worry about whether their child might die from a treatable condition. They don't have to spare a thought for whether men might come in the night and attack their family. How can you even consider doing this? how can you explain to a child loving in abject poverty, 'oh hey, I'm sorry but I can't help you anymore, because you know those people who come and help you? well I disagree with something they said so I'm taking my money back.' I mean really? 

Christian Blogger Rachel Held Evans has posted on this and here on the reversal, and the comments section shows just how strongly people feel about this issue and I recognise their pain. All that seems to have come out of this situation is just an even bigger row about homosexuality in the church and a heap of poor kids are the ones who are going to suffer because of it. Where is the justice in that?

I love the church but it frustrates me how so often, all people see of it is the arguing, the hateful comments, the hurt and pain caused in the name of faith. It makes me so angry...

Where is the God of love in all this?

edit: 27/3/14
Some further thoughts here and also an interesting link to the Psephizo blog (although I don't agree with all he says) but does provoke some questions is here

The point has been made that withdrawing support doesn't mean withdrawing support from all poor kids, people might donate elsewhere…

Well, of course yes, that withdrawn support may be given to other charities and if someone were finding a charity to support for the first time then I would expect people to look for one with whom they supported the same values. We have done exactly this. 

However withdrawing support in this way I feel is morally wrong on 2 levels. 

1) because the way child sponsorship works is that you don't just send money, but you form a relationship with that child through letters and other communication. Withdrawing support means also withdrawing this relationship, which in some cases would have been built up over years. That affects the child directly, not just the organisation. 

2) Because most charities rely on regular donations to enable them to plan ahead and fund projects, knowing there is a certain level of income. Of course people do change their giving for other reasons but in child sponsorship it is usually seen as a long term commitment to that child. In this case two thousand have reputedly removed their sponsorship already. Even for quite a large organisation like World Vision, this is going to make a big dent. Sponsorship is $35/month, so in one month that would be a loss of $70,000, and over a year $840,000… That surely has to affect their work and I'm sure this is why they reversed the decision, thinking they could stem the flow of people dropping sponsorship quickly. 

and some more interesting thoughts here at David Fitch's blog

Further edit, this just seen on the band Casting Crowns Facebook page:

Dear Friends,
For the past ten years, Casting Crowns has been a voice for World Vision and we've seen over 70,000 children sponsored. We stand on the stage before thousands of people every night and speak on their behalf, but we had no idea their decision concerning same-sex marriage was being discussed or decided.
We've been in 21 countries and almost every state in the U.S. As Jesus-followers, we have purposed that we would never be the band that preached against behavior; but that we would be the band that pointed people to Jesus. We are all broken and we all need the love and grace that only God can give.
We've never agreed with same-sex marriage; but we've chosen rather than shouting out against life choices, that we would shout out that Jesus is better. Disagreeing with someone's lifestyle is not hate. We simply believe that God has a better way.
World Vision released a statement yesterday reversing the decision that was made earlier this week. After hearing their humble and sincere apology, we are walking through all of the information, seeking Godly council and praying for God's direction on our partnership in the future.
We will always be a voice for the poor and the powerless. Our families will continue to sponsor the World Vision children we've committed to and we encourage others to do the same.
We will always strive to invest our lives in involving families in giving and reaching out to hurting people in the name of Jesus.
Mark Hall
Casting Crowns

Saturday, 22 March 2014


These past few days my husband and I have been at a spa. It was a joint treat for our 40th birthdays. This is not the kind of thing either of us usually go in for. We manage to get away just the two of us about once a year but usually we do a city break or similar - something to do. This time however I felt it was important we both had some time out so we looked for somewhere we could go for country walks, hang out and read the paper. What we found was a spa hotel in Wiltshire.

Now we are not the kind of people to loll around in bathrobes being primped and preened for days, but that is basically what we have done and it has been fantastic!

When we left home on Thursday morning it is fair to say that I was asleep by the time we reached the M25 (having only been up for about 3 hours!) We arrived here and on a whim I booked a facial for the afternoon, well you know I am 40 now, better start thinking about those wrinkles… In order to have the facial I had to succumb to the aforementioned bathrobe, oh and don't forget the nice white towelling slippers. Mmmm, trendy….  Now I have never had a facial but man am I a convert. For an hour I lay cocooned in warmth, with the dulcet sounds of birdsong and gentle guitar riffs wafting over me, while some lovely young thing gently massaged my face and shoulders with creams and potions that smelled divine. Oh my gosh, why oh why have I never done this before? It was sheer bliss and had it not been for the small nap in the car earlier I would undoubtedly have slept through the whole thing.

I came out from this idyll to sit in the 'relaxation room' where my husband found me, practically drunk on the atmosphere of calm and serenity, half lying, half draped on a chaise long (I exaggerate only slightly). What is this world? I need more of it that's for sure!
Meanwhile my husband had discovered his white fluffy robe, the outdoor pool (yes outdoor in March but it was like a bath!) and the sauna.  We had arrived. Rest was upon us. And oh how needed it was.

As Christians we often talk of the importance of rest - after all God rested on the 7th day (Gen 2: 2-3) and set it aside to be holy ' And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating he had done' and yet, we rarely get it! The Seventh day for so many of us is not exactly a holy place of calm and rest. For some it means the round of football matches, rugby training and standing on the touchline in the rain for hours, and of course the early morning rise that goes along with it. Now I do go to church on Sunday of course, but even so it is often not about rest, it's a work day.  I worship God but I don't often see it as a restful or holy day.

That's how it is for so many of us, so when do we rest? It is biblical principal and even if it weren't I think we'd all agree we need regular breaks, rests or a holiday from all the 'creating' we do. Where do you get your rest? How do you get your rest? My husband said  he finds exercise restful, but there is a difference between things that energise us and actually having a rest (both of which we need).

These last few days I have spent hours just sitting. Doing nothing. Not even reading. It's the kind of thing I would think in advance, oh how dull. And it's the kind of ting I find hard to do - just sit and do nothing, I can't even watch the TV without checking my tweets or sorting out the post tray. But no. It's only when you stop, and I mean truly stop, that you realise exactly how much you needed to.

In this 21st century world, getting real rest is not easy is it? There is always something to do. Even for Christians, actually having a Sabbath, a day of rest, is almost impossible. I know I struggle with balance of work and rest but it has only really been these last few days when I have really stopped that I recognise what rest really is. So here's to more of it…

Now excuse me while I pop off for a last manicure, darling...