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.
Firstly can I wish you a very Happy New Year! It may feel like 'Christmas' is behind us for another 12 months, but of course the Church keeps the Christmas Season just a little longer, until 6th January, reminding us it is not just one day we celebrate, but the joy of the birth of God into our world as a baby, which has rather longer-lasting implications for us and our world.
With a birthday falling at the start of Advent, I've always considered myself something of an 'Advent baby'! It's the start of the church's year, and it's the start of mine also. It doesn't always happen of course that my birthday falls on the first Advent Sunday itself, but no matter. For years as a child I was given for my birthday various advent calendars by all sorts of aunts-who-are-friends-of-the-family, and I think a record year was being given four advent calendars. Of course today Advent calendars are often chocolate-filled ones, and delicious though that is, it sometimes seems the exact opposite of what Advent is supposed to be: a period of waiting in anticipation and hope as we await the celebration of Christ born on earth. These days, we can't even wait for Christmas for the chocolate!
You will know that at the beginning of October I returned from my travels, which took in Sicily, as well as various UK destinations to catch up with old friends and relations: St Albans, London, Harrogate and Middleborough. My final day away was a work day, albeit not in the parish, as I had been invited to the Archbishop's Lecture at Lambeth Palace in London. This is an annual event, usually for what are called the 'Young Theologians' amongst the clergy - those with an academic interest or pursuing further study who are also under 30 years' old. Clearly, I am fifteen years too old to be classed as a 'young theologian!' But I do have academic interest, and for the first time this year they opened the lecture up to those of us who took that route - and go on taking that route - in our studies. On that basis, I was invited to the lecture.
In my previous parish we used to have a baptism and wedding evening every week at church, because we would have roughly 60 baptisms and 30 weddings annually. It was the easiest way to offer a space for those initial encounters and questions. I caused rather more questions than I had intended, however, one evening, when in the rare lull there had been, I had brought out from my bag the book I was reading, and had left it on the table. It had the rather thought-provoking title, 'Why Go To Church?' 'Well if you don't know,' quipped one of my wedding couples, 'how are the rest of us supposed to know?!' Actually the book in question, written by Timothy Radcliffe, also has the subtitle 'The Drama of the Eucharist' and 'someday soon' I will do something with that book here, as it is the best engagement with what the Eucharist is all about that I have read.
It was quite ironic that the day before I headed off to a week of Silent Retreat with the Sisters of the Love of God in Fairacres, Oxford, I managed to lose my voice for all that day's Sunday services, due to a cold I'd picked up! Most managed to resist saying, perhaps it was the only way I would be able to keep quiet for the coming week! But it's true, that although I know I'm rather talkative, actually silence is a big part of my spiritual life these days - perhaps that is why!