Over the last couple of months, I have been thinking about human dignity. I recently went to visit my friend with whom, a few years ago, I went out to Tanzania (do come and hear more about my trip on 21st October when I shall be sharing stories and photos in the Amberley Parish Room as we enjoy a curry together). She had just returned from a six-month stay, and was discussing with me how it was so important that second-hand clothes which are shipped out are of really good quality, and of the issue of choice. We have so much choice, and can try things on in different sizes until we get the exact fit, she said, but there was a temptation to think 'anything goes' when it comes to charity. Sometimes things are so desperate, that yes, it can feel that way. But one of the joys in the work we did in Tanzania - and it was the poorest part of Tanzania with dreadful poverty - was that we helped to clothe some of the children in bright newly-made clothes that made them laugh with delight. It's a message that says, you are not second rate, but deserve the best - as the advert used to say, 'because I'm worth it'! For me, human dignity is very important and part of what every human being should have - the right to be treated with dignity, no less than anyone else. This is the Gospel - good news that supports the flourishing of all human beings and all of creation. God's love which wants each of us to know in God's eyes 'we are worth it'. We are worth the very best.
A VACANCY IN THE TEAM
As you know, in July we said goodbye to the Revd Brian Atkinson, and so now I hope to keep you updated with the vacancy process and what is happening. The first thing of which to remind ourselves is that it is not a vacancy at Amberley; it is a vacancy within the team. We will be advertising the House-for-Duty post as a vacancy within the team to support the mission and ministry of The Rector and the team within the benefice, with special responsibilities at Amberley. In practice, this means the person appointed will spend much - but not all - of their time at Amberley, living in the house available at Amberley, and working for three days within the week (which includes Sunday). Whilst there will inevitably need to be flexibility on occasions as to how these hours are worked across the week, it seems important that we look at moving to fixed days of work, by and large, to make it clear for everyone in the parish who it is they need to contact. It may be that there are three set days in which the House-for-Duty will be contacted and the remaining four days the first port of call for contact will be myself as Rector. The person appointed will also preach and preside on occasions at Minch and Box, just as myself and the rest of the team will preach and preside at Amberley.
Both in ministry and in life, saying our goodbyes and letting go of one season before we can be ready to embrace the new, are two of the hardest demands. Yet if we can do it well, we will find it is those difficult aspects that liberate us to be open to fresh possibilities. I think it is the key to living well. Change is often painful at the time, or at least unsettling, and needs time given to it, before the new clearly emerges.
I hope you had a glorious Easter - and of course, the Easter season continues until Pentecost Sunday on 15th May. We go on celebrating all that the resurrection holds out to us as hope and promise. Even beyond May, we go on being the Easter people, for we never stop walking in the light of the re-creation and renewal.
One of my bugbears when I was an English teacher was that in the National Curriculum orders for that subject (what we had to teach, nurture and foster in children - and the list was extensive and ran to many pages) the word 'imagination' did not appear once. Does our world not desperately need people of imagination?
The name for our month of January comes from the Roman god Janus, who was the god of beginnings and transitions. Because of this, images of him were to be found on gates, doors, passageways and endings. He is often depicted as having two heads, because he looks to both the past and to the future.
The month of January is the time we usually do the same. We think about the year that has gone - and sometimes it has been a difficult one and we are glad to close the door on it. And other years we look back with great joy at the events of the past twelve months.
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!
As usual, our three churches will be celebrating Harvest with their own morning Harvest Festivals. In the late afternoon, we will come together for joint benefice Harvest Evensong at Amberley at the earlier time of 4.30pm. This will be followed by a Bring and Share Harvest Supper. This is always a wonderful occasion, and has seen the relationships across our churches grow with the fun, fellowship and food! Do come and join us for a wonderful celebration - put the date in your diary now!
In addition, that Sunday is also the culmination of our Stewardship Appeal - which has run for several years at Minch and Box, and which was re-introduced last year at Amberley. It is very appropriate that, as we think of the Harvest being gathered in and give thanks for God's provision to us, we in turn think about our own giving, and how we give back out of all that we receive.
It is honestly true to say that each day when I wake, I have the sense of what privilege it is to serve as a priest within our communities. Part of that, is recognising there is a joy and trust in being able to walk alongside others, hearing others' stories - hearing your stories. Within that sharing of fellowship, it is so important we are able to encourage one another in our general day-to-day life, but also in our spiritual lives - fanning the flame of faith alive, and holding it out as light for one another when our own flame perhaps flickers. That deep connection with one another, within our shared deep connection with God, is what brings me the greatest joy. It is why I love our worship together, our regular quiet offices of morning prayer at Amberley and evening prayer at Minch, our shared planning and laughter, as well as tears and pain, as we 'walk the walk' together. I will share with you that one of the most special moments for me is that moment when you come and stand or kneel at the altar, and we may both know something of what has gone on for you that past week - and I offer out to you the bread and wine in a shared moment of Holy Communion, praying and knowing and wishing that it might be for you such an encounter of nurture and feeding, as, in faith, you receive Christ. It is a moment of almost tangible love. It's there, in the bread. It's there, in the wine.
I have recently been writing and talking a lot about vision, mission and ministry - what these are and how we are seeking a fresh vision for the churches in our benefice, as we consider where we want to go from here. I hope by now you have the date, Saturday 2nd July, well and truly in your diary, for our Vision Day, to be held for all the benefice in the Amberley Parish Rooms, with coffee and tea available from 9.30am, and the day's first session beginning at 10am.
Vocation! Vocation! Vocation! (And yes, I think we do each possibly have three...)
Let me explain... Through work that I do with the Diocese in the role of Assistant DDO (Diocesan Director of Ordinands) I have the privilege of walking alongside some who are exploring a vocation in relation to the Church. Vocation is, however, not always about the Church! Believing as I do in a God who gently helps us discover ourselves and who longs to see us liberated into all that we might become, who cares deeply about our flourishing, I think our journey into our own wholeness is probably our first vocation.
A book which really impressed me, which I read a few years ago and immediately loved, was one called If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, written by Jon McGregor. You may well know it. In an ordinary day of ordinary events, lives are drawn together in one single event, a terrible event, which marks the day out forever. But surrounding the telling of this event, the novel is a celebration of the little things that make up our lives, told with a quiet and understated beauty.
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.