New Year updates from Jem

Happy New Year from the Way2Community! We hope you’ve all had a wonderful Christmas time and wish all good things for the start of 2020. For us in the house, 2020 brings a change to the community as one of our community members, Scott, who joined us in September, has now moved back home. This felt like the right choice for him as he continues to discern God’s guidance, but we were sad to say goodbye to him. That means it’s now myself (Jem) and Sam in the house, readjusting to patterns in the house as we’ve dropped from three to two. We’ve also recently lost from the community our deputy warden, Melissa. Again, this felt like the right decision for her at this time, and we are grateful for all she has added to the community over the many years she has been part of it.

Life in the community has been carrying on amidst these changes. From settling in to new parish placements, to experiencing new contextual placements, and from new areas of study, to already looking towards plans after leaving the community in August. I am placed in Mawnan parish this year, and we, along with the rest of the deanery, are in the middle of exploring how we can change and grow to be sustainable for the future. This has already proven to be a really interesting way of reflecting on strengths and weaknesses in our parish, why things are the way they are, and how the people of the congregation and the wider parish shape the way we minister in our particular context. It’s also felt a particularly welcoming and friendly place, and I have been able to get involved in a variety of ways. We alternate services between organ music and guitar music, so I have been playing my violin along with our guitarist on weeks he’s playing, and also a few services over Christmas. I’ve also preached at Mawnan twice so far – once in October, and more recently at midnight mass. I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to preach at midnight mass – it felt like quite a privilege, particularly as we get a lot of visitors to church for the midnight mass service, but it seemed to go really well, even with my bright green hair!

Another great opportunity I had last month was playing violin down at Falmouth docks. A statue of Joseph Emidy, slave turned classical violinist, was being dedicated at the mission to seafarers’ cabin, and I was asked to play a few pieces during it. It was fascinating getting to know a little bit about the work the mission to seafarers does, and to see a bit of the docks, which is usually restricted access.

Across the end of November and beginning of December, I was absent from Mawnan, as I was instead doing my cathedral placement. Unlike most of our other contextual placements which we go to on a Monday, for the cathedral placement we go in as many days a week as we can across a shorter length of time. So about 3 to 4 days a week, I got to know the cathedral, how it works, how they minister, and the whole myriad of things that they do. Having come from an open evangelical home church, I’ve never been very familiar with cathedral worship, so one of the main things I took from my placement was simply getting familiar with cathedral worship, and getting involved in ways such as doing readings or being part of the procession – from main Sunday services, to morning and evening prayer, and from evensong to special services. My time at the cathedral was over Remembrance Sunday and the first couple of Sundays of advent, which gave me a sense of the variety of liturgy across the seasons. A couple of times, I gave a short reflection during morning prayer, and a few times I led evening prayer – an experience which though in a new context and space, felt nicely familiar, as we take turns leading morning and evening prayer in our house every day. Another highlight of my time there was getting involved with the school visits that the cathedral does. I was involved with a primary school group visit, who were learning about the cathedral and the history of Truro diocese (I learnt a lot that day too!), and a home school group visit, who did a Christmas themed trip, making various crafts as they heard the Christmas story. Lastly, I also got the opportunity to join in the cathedral’s Windows course – a theological course on various topics they run for anyone interested – and a variety of meetings, where I got a bit of the background on how the cathedral runs, what different roles there are involved in keeping everything running smoothly, and some of the day to day problems that arise and need dealing with. Overall, I came at this cathedral placement knowing almost nothing of how cathedrals function, and it has been fascinating learning more about both the up-at-the-front and the behind-the-scenes of cathedral life.

The cathedral Windows course (Windows into St Matthew) is just one aspect of the study I have been involved with over the last few months. Our main mode of study is through our local ministry training course, SWMTC. Unlike last year where we had weekly evening classes, this year, there have been residential weekends, roughly every month, where people across the south west study together, instead of just those from Truro diocese. As independent students, we just attend the Saturdays, and apart from the early start required to get to Plymouth for 9am, we have been enjoying the challenge of these weekends. The very first lecture we had (having missed the first weekend as we had not begun the community year yet) was I think my favourite so far, as we explored God as I AM, and the symbolism of the burning bush. This was the first time I was studying theology since I decided to apply to study theology at university in September, and it was an excellent reminder of how excited I am to start studying theology full time. Somewhat in preparation for studying theology full time, I have begun independently learning New Testament Greek. Originally, this was because I know I can choose to study New Testament Greek or other biblical languages at university, but have no idea if I would be interested, so wanted to try it out. Now it is safe to say I will be interested, and am carrying on learning it just for fun!

Since that first study weekend, I have received offers back from the universities I applied to and am planning to accept my offer from Durham once I have visited on the offer holders’ day. Unlike Natalie, one of our previous interns who is studying as an ordinand at Cranmer Hall, which is part of Durham university, I will be at Durham as an independent (or ‘normal’) student. However, while I am there, I am planning to follow my own personal rule of life, which I am in the process of putting together. I want to ensure that while I am at university, I have the space and intent to carry on discerning my vocation and to carry on exploring the monastic life, alongside my study of theology, which will, no doubt, both encourage and challenge my discernment. One aspect I want to put into my rule of life to help this is following some pattern of daily prayer – which is simultaneously manageable alongside my study, and enriching. Another aspect is simply ordering my life well – keeping on top of the things I need to keep on top of, and thereby ensuring I have the time and space to carry on discerning.

So, this new year is bringing lots of new changes in the community and for me personally as I carry on exploring my vocation and experiencing a whole range of ministry and study in the process. Whether your year ahead brings many changes, or none at all, I hope that it will be for all of us a year of growth and happiness.

Jem playing violin at Falmouth docks

Old and new

Melissa, Jem, and Natalie at the Greenbelt festival communion

Our commissioning service! L-R: Angela, Sam, Bishop Phillip, Scott, Jem, Melissa

The new year for the Way2Community is well underway, with all its rhythms to adjust to, names to learn, and community dynamics to discover. After a summer break, the new community members and I were commissioned as this year’s Way2 interns just a few days after moving back into the community house, at the start of September. Sam and Scott will introduce themselves on the blog soon, so watch this space!

For my new fellow community members, the start of this year has been predominantly a time of new experiences. They’ve been getting used to a new house, new housemates, the extensive rotas that keep us organised, new parish placements, new out-of-parish placements, scores of new people to meet, our community’s rule of life, new styles of worship and prayer… the list goes on. For me, however, returning to the community for my second year, it has been a time of both old and new experiences, a contrast which really began over summer.

I spent four weeks at home in York over August, and was busy seeing family and friends every day – both a familiar experience of catching up with people I’ve known a long time, and also a new experience: I’ve never been so densely sociable in my life! Being back at home, where I grew up, visiting my home church, day trips to places I know well – all familiar experiences. Undoubtedly the most weirdly familiar experience was going back to college, where I finished my A levels last year, to meet with my old progression tutor and go through my university application with her.

Summer also brought some familiar and brand new experiences with it in the form of Greenbelt, a faith, arts, and justice festival which I went to along with Melissa, the deputy warden of the Way2Community, and Natalie, whose time with the community came to an end in summer and is now just starting as an ordinand at Cranmer Hall. I had been to Greenbelt a couple of times before and so it was wonderfully familiar, but it was a first time for Natalie and Melissa, after I had persuaded them that they would love it. They did! I introduced them to some of the key events (in my opinion) like the LGBT+ Eucharist, the Iona community Big Sing, and the Old Plough folk club, where anyone of any level of ability can get up and perform a folk/acoustic song.

On a semi spur of the moment decision, I got up at the Old Plough folk club and sang a folk song, which, having never sung solo in front of an audience before, I forgot half the words to! I survived, and as they were low on people willing to get up and perform, when they picked on people to take a second turn, I got up again and sang another song which I knew the words to much better. Just as I sat back down, Melissa leaned over to me and asked if I’d be willing to get up with her for us to sing Skye Boat song together. We were much better together than I was on my own! Unfortunately, I had told Natalie not to bother coming to the Old Plough folk club, as there was another event at the same time that she wanted to go to and there was no way I was going to get up and sing. When we met up with her afterwards, she was torn between being proud of both of us for getting up, and being mad that she’d missed it. It took a whole bag of candy floss between us for us to calm down after singing, and it was definitely the most brand new experience of summer, but we are already suggesting songs that we could do next year!

The rest of the summer passed quickly and I was soon on the familiar 8 hour train journey back down to Cornwall. The start of the new community year has brought plenty of familiar experiences for me, as well as plenty of new ones. I’m used to the house, the rule of life, the structure of our days/week, the many rotas we have, the local area, and I’m continuing the placement with the university chaplaincy which I started before summer. However, the start of the new year always brings change, and so I’m getting used to having new housemates, and being in a new parish placement – I’ve moved from the parish of Mabe to Mawnan, the parish which Natalie was placed in last year. There’s also more new experiences on the horizon, with November bringing my cathedral placement, and January bringing my hospital chaplaincy placement, for which I have been preparing this week with my hospital induction and safeguarding training.

Alongside all that the new year of the community brings, I’ve been particularly valuing the rhythm of saying morning and evening prayer together as a community. After the strangeness of not having that rhythm of communal prayer over summer, the liturgy feels familiar and gentle, holding all the busyness and newness of community life. As I look back to this time last year, where I was only just getting used to morning and evening prayer, having not experienced it before, I can see both how it has shaped and supported me, and how it has guided my ongoing process discernment across the year that has passed and the year that is to come.

Little By Little

It’s been a busy month for the Way2Community. On top of the usual busyness of parish life, placements, and the rhythm of community life, we’ve been enjoying spending time as a community while supporting events going on in the local area – from Falmouth’s Sea Shanty Festival, to Stithians barn dance (with resulting sore legs), to the pride on tour event Come Out For Cornwall Pride (with resulting sunburn). It’s also been a month of making steps forward in discernment as we look ahead to our futures.

For two weeks at the start of June, I went and stayed at Mucknell Abbey, an Anglican, Benedictine monastery in Worcestershire. The intention of my stay was to experience Benedictine life, meet members of the community, and get answers to many of my questions as I began to test out my vocation to the monastic life. After a slightly chaotic journey at the end of which I realised I’d managed to get to Worcester using a ticket booked for the wrong day, I arrived at Mucknell Abbey in time for Vespers, the 5:30pm prayer which is one of the 6 daily offices (plus Eucharist) that Mucknell observes.

I spent the first few days mostly adjusting to the monastic rhythm – sung offices, silent meals, and early nights! The first office in the morning is Readings, at 6am. I have to admit, I only made it to Readings three times across the two weeks I was there! But I still got a good experience of the pattern of the daily offices, ranging from the second morning service, Lauds, at 7am, through to Compline at 8:30pm. In between the offices, I spent my time out walking, doing my cross stitch, journaling, and doing lots of thinking, praying, and reflecting! I also was able to meet with a number of the community one on one, to hear about each of their journeys of vocation, how they came to be at Mucknell, and how they experience monastic life in all of its joys and challenges. I went armed with a pretty thorough list of questions to ask while I was there – I did try not to load all my questions on one person at one time!

I also was able to spend time with the community as a whole, seeing a bit of the community dynamics (and hearing a few of the running jokes!). On two mornings a week, they invite guests to help with some of the garden work, so I went out and worked in the kitchen garden – once I had been shown what was a weed and what was a plant – and had the chance to chat with some of the community then. I also was privileged to be let into a number of the community’s activities, which guests are not usually invited to. ‘Lectio and tea’ – I am told that the corporate Lectio Divina cannot happen without being followed by tea; Sunday evening talking supper followed by community recreation; and joining a couple of the community members in their daily work.

My time at Mucknell was full of new things, new experiences, new thoughts, but as I commented during a meeting with Abbot Thomas just a few days into my stay, ‘It feels very ordinary here.’ Once I got used to singing the offices, I really enjoyed the simplicity and rhythm that they hold – and I think it is because they are so central to the life of the community, that the whole of the days likewise feel gentle, meaningful, and ordinary. Spending time informally with the community showed me the sincerity of the more formal times that the community comes together, and having a taster of monastic life at Mucknell made me sure that I want to carry on exploring and testing my sense of calling to monasticism.

I say that I want to carry on exploring this calling, and not that I am 100% sure of this calling, because my time at Mucknell highlighted the ongoing nature of discernment in the monastic life – growth and discernment happen gently, little by little. For a start, the multiple stages someone seeking to enter monastic life goes through before taking solemn vows for life show that this process is not to be rushed through or undervalued. Each stage, from alongsider, to novice, to simple vows (3 years), to solemn vows (life), is important in testing a monastic vocation and so it is a gradual process of discernment, rather than a one time decision. Furthermore, as I am only 19, I was advised that taking a few years doing something else, before committing to joining the community full time, would be wise, as so after some thought and weighing up my options, I have decided I am going to apply to university.

I am planning to apply to study theology starting in September 2020, so I’m currently in the process of comparing courses and universities and deciding where I want to apply. An important aspect for me in looking ahead to three years at uni is that I don’t want to spend three years feeling like I’m delaying following this calling to monasticism. I want to carry on intentionally exploring this call while studying, living the Benedictine life ‘out in the world’ almost like an oblate. I am aware this is going to be challenging, so I am hoping to hear how other people have followed a personal rule of life or lived an intentionally monastic lifestyle by themselves, and so gather advice, guidance, and suggestions that will help when I come to attempt it for myself. Before then though, I’ve got to go through the process of comparing courses, filling out my application, writing my personal statement, working out where I’ll live… lots to think about!

In the meantime, the months are rushing on and my first year down here in Falmouth will be over before I know it. We still have over a month left before we each leave for summer, after which will mean the new year for the Way2Community and new members starting. I’m looking forward to being back in York for a few weeks in summer and catching up with people – but I don’t want this last month to go by too quickly either! While I look to the future with thoughts and ideas buzzing around my mind, I also look to the present, with all its times of busyness and calm being held in the rhythm of our community life now.

Community and Calling

For me, community and calling are very much tied up with each other. Over the last month or so, as my journey of discernment has taken a step forwards, community seems to be both the means and the end to which I discern my calling. In the years since I first felt a calling – though I was unsure what this was to – there was always an interest in intentional community running alongside my journey of discernment. From exploring new monastic expressions of community with a small group and my developing interest in traditional monasticism, right through to my involvement with the LGBT+ community of which I am part, community is something which I have kept returning to, something which I have felt drawn to.

It was for this reason that I joined the Way2Community, a ministry experience scheme where I have been exploring my vocation in more depth and from more experience, but also, importantly, a community of people on a similar journey to my own, committed to each other and supporting each other as we live, work, and pray together. The support and care of community is visibly lived out as we discern side by side, each our own path for the future, but for now, our paths converge. I am reminded of a verse from the song Alone Together, by Paul Brain, on Northumbria Community’s CD of the same name:

Though I cannot live out what God’s planned for you

As our lives converge let us take the same path

Encouragement be in our hearts, on our lips

As we seek to serve the King

I have been particularly aware of this communality over the last month as my vocation has begun to unfold more. This was particularly as a result of the essay I wrote as part of the discernment process, which I decided to title, ‘What would monasticism be for me?’. This was following on from my previous essay, ‘What is a priest?’, as I felt that since I have been discerning between priesthood and monasticism, doing a roughly equivalent essay on monasticism would be valuable – and it was! I decided to make it a more personal reflection than my priesthood essay had been, focusing on Benedictine monasticism and exploring the aspects of it which particularly draw me, the things which I have questions about, and the reasons that I came to believe that monasticism may be what I am called to.

As I was writing the essay, I noticed that I was much more excited about the possibility of monasticism than priesthood, and as I learnt more about a monastic community which I will be doing a two week placement with soon, I realised that many of the things I had questions about were being answered – pretty much leaving me just with all the things that attract me to Benedictine monasticism, and very little that doesn’t. I also reflected that monasticism fits more comfortably and authentically into my experiences of calling across the years than priesthood. And so as I made the terrifying yet exhilarating admission that, ‘I think I am called to be a monk, and I think I want to be a monk’, I was surrounded by the community, encouraging me, helping me articulate my discernment, and trying to assure me that wanting to be a monk isn’t *that* ridiculous. I still have lots of discernment to do, lots of things to experience and test out, but I feel (a little bit) confident in saying that my vocation is to monasticism.

Throughout all this, community life continues, in all its times of busyness and its times of quietness. Easter came and went complete with new experiences as well as familiar ones. We went to the Chrism Mass at Truro Cathedral (a first for me), and joined in with Falmouth and Penryn Churches Together’s walk of witness on Good Friday before going to services in our respective parishes. On Easter Sunday, we went to Truro Cathedral’s Easter Vigil (also a first for me and rather higher, and earlier, than I am used to, though I did sincerely enjoy it!), again before going to services in our respective parishes.

More recently, we had a busy few days with various opportunities. Last Saturday, the Way2Community was invited to lead opening worship for diocesan synod, though we couldn’t stick around for long after the opening worship as we had various other commitments. The next day, I was preaching again, this being the third time I have preached. It was Vocations Sunday, so I enjoyed the challenge of relating my experience of vocation and discernment to the very different context of the congregation’s experiences of vocation and discernment. Then on the Monday, we were leading a service in one of the local care homes with a couple of others from Falmouth and Penryn Churches Together. Only one resident came along, since it was such lovely weather and most of the regulars had gone out for the day, but the service felt very peaceful and worthwhile. After that, in the afternoon, I headed up to the university campus where I have just begun my placement with the chaplaincy team.

And so we as a community continue to walk our paths as they converge and as we discern and experience and pray. There’s a painting which I found some weeks ago, called Forest Path by Val Spayne, which I used to pray with one night, which particularly reflects to me this journeying. It shows the two paths converging into one, which as it gets further and further away, becomes less clear as to where it goes, which way it will turn, but the path for now is marked out clearly.

Forest Path, Val Spayne

April Sermons

One of the experiences we are able to have as ministry experience scheme participants is preaching in our placement churches. On the 7th April (5th Sunday of Lent), both Natalie and I were down to preach at our respective services. It’s something that’s still quite new to both of us, but especially for me – this was only the second time I have preached, following on from about a month ago. So for anyone who’s interested to see what we preach about when they let us loose on the congregations, here you go!

Natalie’s sermon was for the BCP Eucharist at her placement church, and her reading was John 8:46-end.

Our gospel reading today comes at the end of a chapter in John’s gospel throughout which Jesus has been teaching in the temple, and has been repeatedly questioned and tested. He continually responds in ways the accusers don’t expect: by questioning their sins when they bring to him a woman caught in adultery; using their own laws of testimony to witness to his identity and message; and causing them to think about their parentage, and whether Abraham is more important a father figure to them than God. Throughout it all, Jesus is trying to figure out how deep their faith runs.The part we’ve just heard reads almost like a comedy sketch, where two parties are arguing, but the only ‘counterargument’ is one person aimlessly contradicting everything the other says; everything Jesus says, there is a “yes, but…” waiting in response.

Jesus says: “I’m telling you the truth, why don’t you believe me?!”
The others respond: “Yes, but you have a demon.”
“Believe what I say and you won’t die, but you’ll be with God forever.”
“Yes, but Abraham died, so you must be lying.”
“My Father told Abraham that I would come, and Abraham rejoiced! Before Abraham was, I am.”
“Yes, but how can you know what Abraham thought? You’re committing blasphemy.”

Back and forth this goes throughout the whole chapter. Jesus is questioned and accused, but his concern is not with what the Pharisees say about him, but with what they say about his Father. Here, his concern is not that they think that he has a demon, but that they think he is dishonouring God.

It’s sad to say, but I’m sure that many of us have experienced times in our lives when we’ve been bullied, whether as children or as adults. It can be difficult to ignore hurtful comments about our appearance, or something we’ve done or said, but most of us are able to hold our tongues and ignore or brush I off what is being said. But when those comments are directed at a loved one, I imagine that most of us would find it much more difficult not to speak out against it. Jesus doesn’t respond to the comments about his having a demon with further insults, instead he seeks to defend the honour of his Father. “I honour my Father, and you dishonour me” he tells them.

So often in the gospels, conversations with Jesus centre on those asking the questions never quite being able to comprehend the answers, and our reading today is no different. The group who are questioning him take everything that Jesus says at face-value, often missing the deeper meaning of his words. What Jesus is trying to tell them is that through him they already have the key to eternal life: believing his teachings and following him is all they need to do. Yet they remain fixated on their ancestry and connection to Abraham. And when Jesus tells them that Abraham rejoiced when he saw what Jesus – his descendant – would do, the Jews become fixated on the physical limits of this statement. “You can’t have seen Abraham, you’re not even 50!” they tell him.

I think the responses of this group can speak to us today about the ways in which we can allow ourselves to be distracted from the personal and spiritual sides of our faith. We may now be 5 weeks into Lent, but we still have time yet before we reach Easter weekend with all its sorrow and celebration. Lent is a time of prayer and penitence, as we seek to draw closer to God. Often, we give or take up things for Lent – in the past I’ve given up chocolate, crisps, or biscuits, or taken up doing a good deed every day. But reading this passage in John’s gospel made me wonder whether we too can get fixated on the material and overlook the spiritual?

Jesus’ age is a real moment of distraction for the Pharisees. They can’t comprehend what he is telling them because they are too concerned with how a thirty year old man knew what Abraham said 2000 years before. When Jesus tells them “before Abraham was, I am”, he is identifying himself with God. “I am” is what God says to identify himself to his people – for example, when God appears to Moses in the burning bush, Moses asks “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you’, and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”, God replies “I am who I am.” By using it himself, Jesus is signifying his divinity – that he is both fully God and fully human; but they are too distracted by Jesus’ physicality to grasp his divinity. I wonder in what ways we – today – can be distracted from what God is trying to tell us?

For Lent this year, I wondered about giving up the things that I’ve given up in the past, but then realised that I had a selfish motivation behind this – I wasn’t thinking about giving them up to improve my Lenten discipline, but so that I could eat healthier and maybe lose some weight! There are other areas too where I worry that I am like the people in our reading – being distracted by concerns about whether certain biblical events really happened, spending time on social media when I’ve woken up early to pray, or worrying too much about what I’m saying when leading intercessions instead of actually praying them myself. These things have the potential to distract me from my relationship with God. I need to become more aware of the times when I do things in the name of my faith – like giving things up for Lent – which are actually for my own self-interest, rather than for building up my relationship with God. I believe that there is a risk that when we focus on the material things, on the things that can distract us from our relationship with God, we can overlook the deeper, more spiritual, things.

And so, my challenge to myself – and to all of us – is to not let the outward actions of our faith distract from our relationship with God. Let’s use the remainder of Lent to seek to draw closer to God in prayer, using this time to deepen that relationship, remind ourselves of God’s love for us, and build up the foundations on which the outward workings of our faith are built.

I did my sermon at both churches in my placement parish – Morning Worship at one followed by Holy Communion at the other. My reading was John 12:1-11.

So today’s gospel reading – the anointing of Jesus. I’ve always had the sense with this passage, that there’s something beautiful going on here, but I’ve never quite understood what. Whenever I’ve tried to picture it, tried to understand what it is about it that’s beautiful, I just get caught on the fact that to me, pouring perfumed oil on someone’s feet and wiping them with your hair is a bit weird. It’s not something that happens in our culture. Maybe you’re the same – after all, none of us are familiar with the culture of Jesus’ time. So what is going on here?Well, we’re told that Jesus is at a dinner party – that’s a familiar enough setting for us! It’s held at the house of someone called Simon the Leper – who, given his description as a leper, is probably a bit of an outcast, this isn’t high society we’re talking about. Jesus is surrounded by his friends and disciples, most of whom were people who society looked down on and shunned. Probably none of them were very rich themselves, certainly some of them were quite poor. And Mary comes along, with this jar of expensive perfume, worth about a year’s wages. And she opens it and she pours the perfume on Jesus’ feet, then wipes them with her own hair. If we put aside what might be our first reaction of thinking that this sounds odd or awkward, I think we can recognise it as wonderfully outrageous – Mary is breaking so many social rules and conventions, and in a society where women were expected to be meek and mild, unassuming, and generally keep out of the way, Mary bursts in to centre stage with reckless abandon and extravagance. Why?

To understand Mary’s action, I want to challenge us all to put ourselves into her place. You’ve known this man, Jesus, for some time. You know there’s something significant about him. You’ve spent hours listening to him teach. When your brother died you couldn’t bear to see him and when he asked to see you, you spoke out of your pain, and you said to him ‘if you were here, my brother would not have died’. He didn’t argue, he didn’t reason with you, he didn’t even defend himself. He wept with you. He shared your grief. And then, a miracle! He visited your brother’s tomb, told him to come out, and there was your brother, alive again after four days. Utter joy at seeing your brother turned to utter awe at this man who raised him from the dead – do you dare believe that this man is the promised messiah? Whoever he is, there’s something about God in him, and you can barely believe he cares about you. Why would he? You’re just you, unremarkable, ordinary – he’s the Lord! How else can you respond to his extravagant, unbelievable love for you, than by giving all you have, placing yourself at his feet and blessing him in any way you possibly can? What do the judgemental stares and pious outrage around you matter when you’re worshipping, yes worshipping this man who you believe might just be God?

But then Judas breaks the moment of Mary’s worship, he’s angry about this apparent waste. He points out that the perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor – a whole year’s wages could have done a lot of good. John’s gospel accuses him of saying this because he was a thief, but the point remains. Jesus doesn’t require us to spend lots of money worshipping him – so why did he defend Mary’s extravagance over giving money to the poor?

Jesus’ line of reason might sound harsh – there’ll always be poor people, help them some other time. I’m not here for long, so worship me while you still have the chance. But I think if we look at it a bit more carefully, it makes sense. Jesus isn’t denying the good of helping the poor. In fact, the word worship comes from the word worth – to worship is to affirm worth in another, praising or glorifying them because you recognise their overwhelming worthiness. If we take this understanding of worship as affirming worth, then I think that selling the perfume and giving the money to the poor would equally be a valid way of worshipping Jesus – affirming his worth by showing his teachings as worthwhile enough to follow. What I think Jesus is affirming is the uniqueness of Mary’s action. He’s not saying that Mary anointing him is the only way she could ever worship him, or intrinsically better than another way. I think what he’s saying is that Mary is in a unique position, historically, socially, relationally, where she is drawn to worship him in this way, and this unique way she is able to worship could be understood as her personal vocation of worship – she is called to worship in this way because of who she is. Sure, someone else could equally anoint Jesus’ feet – in fact in Luke’s gospel there is an account of a similar event where a different woman anoints Jesus’ feet with perfume. But it is only Mary who can worship him in this way, at this moment in time, for this purpose – anointing him with perfume less than a week before the Passover, in order to prepare him for burial. This was the unique way Mary was called to worship Jesus.

And that is not to say that her act of worship was better than someone else’s act of worship. We, living in Cornwall in the 21st century, cannot anoint Jesus’ feet with perfume to prepare him for burial. That is not the way we are uniquely called to worship him. There are many ways we might worship God – perhaps by worshipping here together on a Sunday morning, or maybe by showing God’s commands to be worthwhile by striving to follow them – loving our neighbour, acting to defend the oppressed in society, fulfilling the needs of the world around us. We might worship God by caring for the world God created and thereby deeming it worthy. We might worship by demonstrating God’s love to a friend, by listening and by caring. We might worship by praying with God. All these things and more are things which affirm and uphold God’s worth, and so they are worship, and so they are good.

And I believe there is a way that each one of us can uniquely worship, as Mary did by anointing Jesus’ feet. Not necessarily some way of worshipping that no-one else has ever done before – it is not the action which is unique, but the fact that it is us who do it. Each of us, with our individual personalities, experiences, minds, hearts, using all those things which God loves, each of us, can worship in a particular way which is made unique by our doing it. So how do we find this unique way we are called to worship? Mary didn’t spend years listing all the ways she might worship Jesus and try to decide which best fitted her personality, her abilities, or her context. Worship was the only thing she could do in that moment. Perhaps it is by copying Mary, by worshipping simply as we can, worshipping in the way we have to as we experience God’s reckless love for us, that we discern the way that we are uniquely called to worship. Maybe it is by worshipping and watching for God’s love being visible that we find where we can affirm God’s worth, find where we can experience God’s worth. Maybe it is by worshipping as only we can, using everything about ourselves that God has created and that God loves, that we can most authentically give worth to God. And I believe it is in those moments that we can most truly know the worth that God so lovingly affirms in us.

Living Alive

It’s been a busy couple of months in the Way2Community, from out-of-parish placements and opportunities to new experiences within my parish, and from a variety of areas of study and reflection to a weird and wonderful mixture of time spent as a community and as rest time. It seems like a long time since I last sat down to write a blog post, and yet it seems like these past few weeks and months have been rushing by and will continue to do so – I’m expecting to wake up one day and find it’s July already! But thankfully there is still about 5 months of this year for the Way2Community left, even if it feels like I must have been down here in Cornwall for more than 6 months by now.

So what have I been up to since my last blog post? All kinds of opportunities have arisen on top of the regular week by week activities I am involved with. The end of January brought snow to Cornwall – and chaos right along with it. The day we saw the most snow (though still not that much by my northern standards) was the day of Truro College’s careers fair, which I attended as a Way2Community member. A group of us from different denominations and roles within the church formed a stall bringing awareness to church ‘careers’ in all their variety, difficulties, and joys. We answered questions about different types of ministry, what each of us have experienced through our roles in the church, and why we are involved in ministry and church to begin with. I had some brilliant conversations with the students and was able to use my own experience to (hopefully!) encourage some of them in their own relationships with the church and faith. And upon arriving back home after the hour and a half it took to drive back from Truro in the snow, I concluded that I must be less introverted than I used to be since I wasn’t at all tired after spending two hours talking to a multitude of students, which I know just a few years ago would have exhausted me!

On the other end of the age range, we had the opportunity towards the end of February to lead a service for the residents of one of the local care homes, as part of the ministry of the local Churches Together. It was the first time for me that I had been in a care home, but the relaxed atmosphere made it feel more than comfortable for us to lead the service between us, supported by a few others from the Churches Together team. It was a short service with a small ‘congregation’, alternating hymns between a bible reading, a short talk which I wrote and gave, and prayers, and we will be doing similar services a couple more times across the coming months.

My more regular out-of-parish placement at St Petroc’s homeless society which I did once a week for four months came to an end in mid February. Most of my time there was spent helping out with the daily drop in they run for clients, but in my last week there, I had the opportunity to visit one of the houses they own, in which they are able to offer clients stable accommodation and offer support to gradually help clients become ready to move into independent accommodation. The house I visited was their largest, and is for clients with the least support needs, and so it was a fascinating morning spent observing how that is run and meeting a couple of the residents there. Over my time at St Petroc’s, and as I got to know the clients who I saw regularly at the drop in, I noticed that I became more confident and comfortable and that I found it easier to chat casually to the clients, rather than just the necessary conversation for practical matters, like signing people in as they arrived for the drop in. While I hope that I was never prejudiced against people experiencing homelessness, actually being able to get to know those people and their everyday experiences grounds them as people who experience disappointment, anger, joy, unfairness, rather than just as objects of pity or even support and understanding. Its been lovely bumping into a couple of the clients out and about since finishing my placement, and I hope I will continue to do so.

In my parish placement, I’ve been getting involved in a few new things as well as experiencing the seasonal or occasional services that have been taking place. On the last Sunday in February, I deaconed at the Eucharist service at Mabe for the first time, which involves leading roughly the first half of the service. This in itself is something I have done before, though in a very different context and style, so the actual experience of deaconing at Mabe brought a few new things with it. As deacon, I processed at the start of the service along with the priest and the choir, something I had never done before, and I wore a cassock and surplice, also for the first time. Wearing a cassock and surplice has felt very strange for me – even after adjusting one of the community’s spare ones to fit me, I still felt like a kid dressing up! I managed not to trip up or catch my sleeves on fire though, which I feel is reasonably successful for a first time wearing a cassock, and I’m sure that I’ll get used to seeing myself in one once I’ve worn it more than once. Another first time doing something for me was preaching last Sunday at both churches I am placed at in my parish placement. It was the first Sunday of Lent, so the reading was Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. My main point, or what hopefully came across as my main point, was that it is by the love manifest in our relationship with God that we are enabled to resist temptation – or that we are picked up and dusted off when we don’t. Although I have never stood up at the front and spoken for so long in one block before, it was the process of writing the sermon that I found more new and challenging, rather than delivering it. I’m preaching again in a few weeks, so I’ll get some more practise at the process of writing a sermon and hopefully it will become easier and more familiar as I learn.

Before getting stuck into my next sermon however, I aim to be making a start on my next essay in the discernment process. I finished the ‘What is a priest’ essay a couple of weeks ago, and decided with the DDO that instead of going straight onto the next essay, ‘Why are you an Anglican?’, it would be helpful for me to do a second essay, similar to ‘What is a priest’, but with a focus on monasticism. I’m going to write it as a more personal reflection on what it would mean for me to be a monk, since I have researched and written about monasticism itself more in the past than I had about priesthood. I am also in the process of arranging a placement in a monastic community in early June, where I will spend two weeks living alongside the community and participating in their rhythm of life. I hope this will give me a chance to experience the day to day reality of monastic life, meet some of the community and ask them plenty of questions, and have time to reflect on my own process of discernment.

Alongside all this busyness in the last couple of months, we’ve had plenty of fun as a community. We’ve had plenty of walks along the beaches nearby and along bits of the coastal path; we’ve played a handful of board games (in case my fellow community members hadn’t picked up on my competitiveness already, they certainly have now, after a particularly loud game of Carcassonne!); and between us we’ve nearly finished knitting a hat for the pillar at the end of our drive – on our walk to the care home back in February we walked along a street where every other house had been yarn bombed, and after discovering it was a project organised by a local artist who lived on that street, we decided we wanted to join in and yarn bomb our own house. Over the past week, my parents have been down from York to visit, and so we’ve had a couple of trips out all together. One evening, we went up to St Agnes Head in an attempt to stargaze, but as the weather wasn’t in our favour for that, we instead just enjoyed walking along the cliff top in the dark and wind. The next day, we got the train to St Ives and spent the day there, enjoying the views and remarkably blue sea, as well as the strong winds which nearly blew some of us away.

I think a fitting song to summarise these past couple of months is Live Alive, by (no surprises) Rend Collective:

I wanna live alive

Don’t wanna live a lie

I wanna live alive

And you make me alive

Don’t want to just survive

Be safe but half alive

This little light of mine

This little spark divine

I’m gonna let it shine

I am letting go of every fear

I am letting go of every lie

I am taking hold of every dream

You place inside

Into the wide open spaces

“You break us out of our cages

Into the wide open spaces

We are free

Free as a bird on the wind

Take us beyond our horizons

Leading us into your wildness

We are free

Free as a bird on the wind”

– Free as a Bird, Rend Collective

I have always loved big expanses of land and sky, the ground stretching out before me towards the hazy, distant horizon and the sun touching every inch. From the hill of the churchyard in my home church in York overlooking the houses and trees for miles around, to the gently swaying grasses and perpetual rising hills of Northumberland; from the streams weaving through the open valleys of the Yorkshire Dales to the sweeping views of the North York Moors where cloud-shadows dance across the heather.

Those wide open spaces give me a thrill, as if something wonderful is about to happen. The wildness and freedom brings God close, he becomes every breath of the wind rushing through the trees, the grasses, the valleys, and the clouds. And like a bird gliding on the invisible force of the wind, I have sensed God calling me here to Falmouth, where the wide open spaces of the north are joined by the endless waves of the sea, rising and falling and reaching out further than I can see.

For just over two years now, I have been considering a calling to serve in the church, though in what way, I am still unsure: ministry or monastery, or somewhere in between? And so, at 18, having finished A levels just a couple of months ago, I have moved 8 hours away from home in York to live with two others on similar journeys in Falmouth. To take time to discern where the wind of God’s spirit is calling me, to experience different forms of ministry in the church, and to practise the art of community, of vulnerability in sharing, of discipline in prayer, and of learning to fly in the direction of God’s voice.

So who am I? My name is Jem, and I’m one of this year’s new interns with the Way2Community. I enjoy reading, writing, playing violin, sewing and other crafts, wrapping myself up in lots of jumpers and blankets, and listening to music. My favourite book series is Anne of Green Gables, although I do also love Harry Potter (and in case the excessive jumpers and blankets didn’t give it away, I am a proud Hufflepuff), as well as so many other books. My favourite band is Rend Collective, which may be unsurprising given the quote at the beginning of this post. My favourite colour is teal, and I’m running out of favourites to list. I am non-binary transgender, meaning that I am not a man or a woman, but somewhere in between – and because of this, I use they/them pronouns (they tied their shoelaces). I just finished my A levels in York, having studied psychology, textiles, and English language. I also completed an EPQ, an independent dissertation worth half of an A Level, which I wrote on ‘Could the different traditions of Anglican Monasticism be unified?’

I have been here in Falmouth for two months now, and so am well settled in to the community’s rhythm: morning and evening prayer together everyday, shared household responsibilities, and Thursday mornings with communion and varying prayer activities – as well as my own weekly schedule. I’m getting to know the congregations of the two local churches I am placed at, and am starting to explore what I can get involved with in the parish during the week.  I have attended enough of my Introduction to Christian Doctrine lectures to be starting to feel familiar with theology – these lectures are my first taste of theological study, but I am beginning to feel able to work with the theories and arguments rather than only just managing to understand them. I’m over halfway through the Local Worship Leaders’ course which I am taking part in to build on my previous experience of leading church services at my home church, and have really been enjoying thinking more carefully about leading worship and what factors I should consider when planning worship in different contexts. I have started my placement at St Petroc’s homeless society in Truro, and though this has been a fairly new experience for me, the fact that St Petroc’s functions in a really straightforward way to meet the needs of the clients, has really helped.

I am also getting to know the area better and have been cycling around a bit – despite the wind and rain, the other day I cycled down to Swanpool beach to watch the massive waves crashing and the seagulls soaring in the gale (according to the rest of the community, my lack of hatred for seagulls proves I’m not Cornish!).

Everything has gone really well so far, giving me confidence that this is where God has called me. After all, God does more than we could imagine, more than we could dream or ask. As Mr Beaver puts it in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, “Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”