Endings, Beginnings, Time Between…

In the spring, after being signed off as a curate and given permission to discern where God was calling me to next, my partner and I found ourselves driving round the villages of Yardley Hastings, Denton, Castle Ashby, Whiston and Grendon. This was surprising on a number of levels, not least because I had not expected to be embarking on rural ministry within a multi-parish benefice…I’m not sure what I had expected, and I definitely should have learned, by now, to expect the unexpected!

St Andrew’s, Yardley Hastings

A few weeks later I walked around three of the villages, and I became a little more confident that this may well be where God was calling me to be.

Walking towards Castle Ashby

In order to invite others from the diocese and local area into the process, I applied for the post, and some time later was interviewed for, and offered the post of, Rector of the Benefice of Yardley Hastings. It was such an affirming experience and I was, and still am, ecstatic to be embarking on serving these communities.

St Mary the Virgin, Whiston

As we look to the future, and indeed begin to move towards it, the need to shed – or move away from – something in order to make room for the next step becomes more and more apparent. As I prepared for my last services in the Holy Spirit parish in Leicester, it felt pertinent that the leaves were beginning to fall.

Castle Hill Country Park, Leicester

Just as leaves fall gradually, so were these endings gradual. I felt the celebration with me of the many wonderful people who I have had the very great privilege of walking alongside, as well as the lament of loss. Parting is painful, even when we know it is right. I was truly humbled by the kind words of so many who have shared a part of their journeys with me.

St Andrew’s, Jarrom Street, Leicester

The pain of parting gave way to a flurry of activity related to moving house – packing and unpacking. This Sunday, after getting settled in the Benefice of Yardley Hastings, I was licensed as Rector via Zoom. In these strange times much of this discernment process has been conducted on line, and being physically present at various stages has affirmed God’s call on my life now. Clarity of God’s voice has been so important, yet I have wondered how patient life allows us to be to wait on God, to listen for God’s still small voice…? As I look to these parishes, in these strange times, I hope and pray that we can wait on God, notice where God guides us, in order that we can best be God with skin on in our small corner of the world.

Wait for the Lord, whose day is near; wait for the Lord, keep watch and pray…

Sometimes seeing through God’s lens means that we need to take time to discern where the focus needs to be…I guess it’s about being comfortable with seeing things a little out of focus, and yet still looking again to see what lies beyond the blur!

Missiological Reflection

This seems like so long ago that I spent a little over a month with a church in Tokyo, but my missiological reflection on the experience has been published, and is now available here.

Signs of Hope

I blogged about arid land back in April, which I had found on a walk near my house and been somewhat captivated by.

Aridity

I have walked through this field on countless occasions during lockdown, and semi lockdown, and been surprised when I saw something beginning to grow…this field has reminded me of hope in times of real struggle and pain through pandemic life….

Signs of hope

I am reminded of God’s presence, provision and abundance….

Abundance

I am also aware that sometimes God works through us in order to provide for those in need. How is God calling you to be God’s agent of hope this week?

Glimmer of God

Scent of God

I haven’t felt so inspired to go out with my camera recently, I think continued lockdown life has sapped something of my creativity. As measures were eased in Leicester a little, I was working with a colleague to gather a variety of photographs. I love this one as a small glimmer of God…a reminder of the hope that is constant, perhaps especially in the midst of struggle. For me it expresses all that I want to say in prayer, but cannot find the words…. Amen.

A weary spirit…

Willing but weak…

I took a long weekend off last weekend, just to spend at home as we remain in local lockdown. I had not realised how weary I have become…a weariness which does not seem to be cured by sleep, or even with a change of activity or (brief) change of scene. It seems little wonder that this is the case though: we have been living through a pandemic! Of course we are all experiencing this in different ways, but there is so much that we used to take for granted. Whilst masks, hand-washing, and limiting our travel have become common-place, they are not normalised.

The emotional energy it takes to get ready to go out, especially still in lockdown, is huge. COVID-19 had dealt each of us a significant shock to the system. I have spoken to a number of people who feel weary of this new normal – which is quite far from ‘normal normal!’ Navigating life within it, whilst also being aware of what can be gained from living more simply, and indeed the great costs that have come hand in hand with it, is exhausting. I have become aware over the last months that much of what I seem to do, or think about, relates to the future. At present, I feel quite immobilised; it seems impossible to think too far ahead! Just as we began to, we found ourselves plunged into local lockdown, in a way which hit harder because we dared to begin to move forward.

I have been truly inspired today by this article on Wild Church which seeks to encourage spirituality outdoors. Green, wild, spaces have been so sacred to me during lockdown…it has been much more difficult since those spaces have not been available, as they are outside the boundary. My heart has found God in the wild, wide open spaces over the last months, and I yearn to return!

In the meantime though, I recognise the need for each of us to be kind to ourselves as life fails to feel nearly normal, and navigation of the new normal continues to use too much of our reserves. I love that the photograph of this watering can shows both age and something of its failings as a watering can, whilst also showing that water continues to flow out of it – even in the face of challenge, it still has something to offer!

Sanctuary in Nature

“In those dark days I found some support in the steady progress unchanged of the beauty of the seasons. Every year, as spring came back unfailing and unfaltering, the leaves came out with the same tender green, the birds sang, the flowers came up and opened, and I felt that a great power of Nature for beauty was not affected by the war. It was like a great a great sanctuary into which we could go and find refuge.”

Sir Edward Grey, Foreign Secretary at the outbreak of the First World War, from ‘Recreation’, speech to Harvard University, 1919
The sanctuary of nature

I love the quote above, which is how I have come to appreciate the seasons – especially this year. The last few days have been dark and dreary indeed, unceasing rain and all of the emotional feelings around living in a city still in lockdown. Yet, there is still hope to be found; the beans are growing, the birds continue to sing, and regardless of the weather, the heather will soon break out! I commend Lucy Jone’s Losing Eden which demonstrates beautifully and in a timely way, how we need wild spaces to maintain our emotional wellbeing. Where do you find your hope?

How have we changed in lockdown?

I am very aware that as I write this, as a resident in the city of Leicester, I and the people of Leicester continue to be in a state of lockdown. I have been reflecting on how we have changed during lockdown – more specifically how have our lives and priorities changed.

I’ve been so moved by this photograph essay titled ‘Keeping the Faith’ which has beautifully captured how people of faith have adapted in the face of the pandemic. Whilst it is clear that this has been at great cost, there is something beautiful threading through this around a deepening of belief, a strengthening of relationships, and a realisation of the importance of faith for many people.

So, what have we learned about ourselves? What have we learned about community? Priorities? What have we learned about faith? How can we ensure that some of these revelations continue to be with us as we begin to emerge from lockdown?

The body of Christ broken for you…that you might have life.

Under the Branches

I found myself visualising something the other day, around trees bearing witness to the absences caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. I tried to put it to words, but am probably still playing with it. Still, it remains a piece which acknowledges the huge loss which has resulted from the pandemic….

“…yet we see we know we ache”

Spreading our wings

Patterns of nature

I have been really struck by the simplicity of the natural world as I have watched ducklings, goslings and now cygnets venture out on the water not long after hatching. They soon follow the lead of their parents in feeding and cleaning themselves. It is truly lovely to watch. I have been struck by the resonances between young birds venturing out and us venturing out as aspects of lockdown have been lifted. The latest announcements have led to much planning and preparation as people seek to bring more familiar aspects of our society out of hibernation; it can be really reassuring to see more signs of ‘normality’ returning to our communities.

On the other hand, in Leicester, we seem to be seeing an increase in cases; this has led to talks of a local ‘lockdown’. I have not found significant media speculation very helpful over the last number of months, but this comes as a stark reminder of the threat that continues to loom. One thing which seems ever apparent is that it is difficult to have any sense of certainty about anything in these times…I have found certainty however, in nature.

I’ve recently read Losing Eden by Lucy Jones which I highly recommend. The core thread running through it is that our minds need connection with wild, natural, world to be well – this connection brings clarity and a sense of something bigger – perspective. I have really noticed that when I have been able to walk or to sit in the garden, to listen to the birdsong, to feel the sun on my face, I have found comfort and refreshment, even amidst uncertainty and unfamiliar circumstances. This is one revelation from being in lockdown that I do not want to lose – what are your signs of hope during lockdown that you wish to hold on to?

Holy Ground

This is Holy Ground

I came across this sign whilst walking near a memorial in a local park…it made me wonder, what is more holy about the ground where we memorialise compared with the ground which we tread each day…? Last summer I went to a conference for people from a more catholic tradition who wanted to craft worship opportunities in a more creative way. Over the days that we were there the worship space had a sandpit in the middle of it. The sand was used in a variety of ways to illustrate or provoke thought. On one occasion we were invited to take a small jar of the sand away with us, as our little bit of ‘holy ground’. The jar lid did not stay firmly in place and in no time I had bits of holy ground everywhere…but that was the joy of it! All ground is holy, or space where God dwells, surely? How often do we notice it though? How often do we act like it is?