When I visited Tanzania a few years ago, the first Swahili I learnt was 'pole pole' pronounced 'po-lay') - which means 'slowly, slowly.' I discovered a very different pace of life from the one I had been living as a curate in Harrogate, one that was absolutely and utterly engaged in ministry and mission, but willing to let space and time with friends and family enter into the day. I was teaching at a theological college out there, and staff would regularly drop in to take a tea-break - which might last a couple of hours. I might be chomping at the bit inside to mark some students' papers, prepare the next lesson, or rewrite the sermon I was preparing for the village church that Sunday, but gradually, I learnt something of what it was to slow down, and enter into a pattern that had a very different rhythm from my own life in Yorkshire. One that valued 'just being' with those in the community.
This month, on 15th November at 10am, we are holding a joint benefice confirmation service at Holy Trinity Church, Minchinhampton, and we will be delighted to welcome our new Bishop Rachel, who will preside and preach. Amberley Church will not have a 10am service that day, to enable us all to gather at Minchinhampton to celebrate and worship together. The 9am service at Box will take place as usual, but we hope parishioners there will also feel able to join us for this special service. We have five young people currently preparing for confirmation, and we will be joined by five other young people wishing to be confirmed from another parish. It will be an exciting day!
I am writing this at the beginning of September, a week after having returned from a retreat with the Sisters of the Love of God based at Fairacres in Oxford. As well as prayer and study I like to walk and pray, and did so along the River Thames - the section of it called the River Isis.
Of course, that word has come to mean something rather different now. I thought the River was named after the goddess Isis - the ancient Egyptian goddess, later worshipped throughout the Roman Empire as an ideal mother, and the friend of the downtrodden - of slaves, sinners and artisans (!). She was the goddess of rebirth, of medicine, of wisdom. But I'm wrong about it being the etymology of the River, which is more simple: Tamesas is the Roman Celtic name for the Thames, which in Latin became Thamesis. This split into two, with a section of the river keeping the name Isis, and the rest losing the ending and becoming The Thames.
We are approaching a very full and eventful late summer / early autumn, with much to celebrate and be involved in across the benefice! As you leaf through the magazine, you will see various adverts for these, but let me flag a few up for you here, and say a bit more about them.
The joy of living in a new part of the world is discovering the secret delights of the area. I am still fathoming just where I am (!), and surprised myself the other day by realising I had driven into Wales quite by accident (a very happy accident, I hasten to add!). I also discovered, what you all will already know, that if you drive over the Bridge to get into Wales, you have to pay, but they let you out for free...Thankfully I did the trip the right way: around Gloucester, through the Forest of Dean, and back via the Severn Bridge.
This month, on Saturday 20th at 3pm, the ordination service takes place at Gloucester Cathedral. We have, in this diocese, 12 candidates for priesthood this year. I, for one, will be there, as it is both exciting and important to support those going forward into the ordained life. The journey through that process of discernment, responding to call, entering into the demands of ministerial life, are a long process which usually turns a candidate's life upside down and inside out - ultimately in a good way, she says confidently! I speak as one who has been through 'the mill' and come out the other side, hopefully with a little more wheat and a little less chaff, relishing serving in this particular role, loving serving among the congregations and communities here. Quite simply, in discovering and responding to this call, which has been with me since the age of 16, I have discovered who I am called to be. And I delight and rejoice when others discover this is something that they too need to explore. I will always welcome and celebrate new vocations to the ordained life.
It was said at both Amberley AGM and Minchinhampton and Box APCM, but worth saying again: there is great richness in the partnership of parishes within our benefice. Our three churches all make their own unique contribution to benefice life, and we would be the poorer without one another. I truly believe that.
I've quoted it many times: 'Whoever said religion and politics do not mix has not read my Bible.' The words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whose book, In God's Hands, we are reading in our Lent Groups this year.
On that same premise, last month was published 'Who is My Neighbour? A Letter from the House of Bishops to the People and Parishes of the Church of England for the General Election 2015.' This is a document which urges us to prayerfully consider issues relating to the kind of society we wish for, and to engage with politics, not to distance ourselves from them, as we approach 7th May General Election.
Lent is such an important time in the Christian calendar, and there are many different ways we can mark this time. It is so often associated with 'giving things up' - and I do think there is a place for that. Somehow in a culture which encourages us to have what we want when we want it, there is something about going without for a period that is good for us. But many have quite rightly wanted to also recognise it might be a time for taking new things on. Perhaps our giving up chocolate or alcohol, as people sometimes do, for the 40 days of Lent, might also mean the money we save can be given to a good cause, for those who go without each and every day, not just for a season.
I'm someone who loves the seasons - both the natural turn of the year with its contrasting dark and light, but also the liturgical turn of the seasons, by which I mean those cyclical events, memories, stories, we live through each year to tell afresh the story of Christ and our own lives in relation to it. Now in February we stand looking towards Ash Wednesday, which falls on 18th February, when we recognise the lowliness of our state, and come face to face with how far we fall short of all we were intended to be. That can be a dark journey for some, and a season that along with being penitential, can quite rightly often feel a rather sombre time. It leads us into the start of Lent as we ponder these things, but we do so held in the knowledge, love and grace of a God who leads us steadily into light, and loves us regardless. We know that at the end of Lent, as we prepare for the Easter journey, we will journey once again through the story of the cross, but beyond that, into resurrection light. Darkness will turn to light, and despair will turn to hope.