Reflecting on my sense of calling

When I first made contact with the Way2 Community (on the 3rd April last year) I described my sense of calling as such: “I am at a stage in my life where I feel strongly that I am called to ordained ministry, and wish to do something proactive about this calling!  As I finish off my degree and prepare to graduate this July, I feel that the doors are open for me to seize any opportunity I can to explore what I believe God is calling me to.” Now, 9 months on, I reflect on this sense of calling and how it has developed.

So, am I still “at a stage in my life where I feel strongly that I am called to ordained ministry, and wish to do something proactive about this calling?” In short, yes! Nine months ago my sense of calling was to ordained ministry as a general concept, having felt for a number of years that I was called to be a priest but not having considered what this might look like after I was (potentially, and God-willing) ordained. However, this sense of calling has developed as I – during the course of my internship so far – have had a great number of experiences, learnt more about myself and innumerable other things, and reflected on how my calling fits in to what I have done and learnt. In my regular chats with Tess, our Warden, I am asked “how is your sense of vocation?” At first, this seemed a very strange question to me because my answer was “the same as it was before!” But in being asked this question, I have found myself thinking about it on occasion, asking myself “is my sense of vocation the same as it was last week/last month/yesterday/6 months ago?” and have – to my surprise, at first – found that the answer is no longer “the same as it was before” but “it has developed from what I thought it was last week/last month/yesterday/6 months ago.” One way in which it has developed has been in regards to the area of ministry I feel called to. When I first contacted the Way2 Community, I felt called to the role of priest and had a particular interest in rural ministry, so naturally thought that I must be called to be a vicar in a rural parish. Now, my sense of calling is not just to some vague notion of one day being ‘The Priest’ or ‘A Vicar’, instead I have been able to pinpoint certain elements of my calling and feel confident in saying that my calling is to ordained parish ministry, and to identify areas of priestly ministry that I both feel particularly called to and others that I do not. I have realised the need to look beyond ordination as an ‘end goal’, viewing it instead as a step along the path of my future ministry. As for the doing something proactive about this calling, that I have taken up this internship and continue to throw myself into every available opportunity is answer enough!

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I believe…

It would appear that blog posts are like busses: you don’t get any for weeks, and then two turn up at once! This is a copy of my most recent blog post on my personal blog, so if you have read that one then you won’t find anything new to read here I’m afraid!

I decided that it would be good to reflect upon my day today, which has been particularly thought-provoking. You might remember from my earlier blogs that I am currently on a placement with the Coordinating Chaplain of the Multifaith Chaplaincy Team at Exeter/Falmouth Universities. This week the team are leading a campaign/exhibit to celebrate Interfaith Week, which celebrates the diverse range of faiths and beliefs on campus, as well as the ways in which people of differing beliefs can – and do – work together and alongside one another. The campaign that the Chaplaincy team are running is a simple but, I think, highly effective one: students and staff alike are asked to have their photograph taken with a Polaroid (who knew they were still around?!) and then write below it one sentence to complete the opening statement “I believe…”

Day one was a great success – there were 33 images on the board after just four hours, and it appeared that once a few images went up others were intrigued to find out more and join in themselves. The statements ranged from deep, philosophical statements about the nature of humanity through to statements of faith, to more lighthearted statements such as “I believe in guacamole/sharks/superheroes/myself”! But the greatest measure of ‘success’ (I’m reluctant to use such a loaded word) came in the form of the first person to make their ‘statement of faith’ coming back a few hours later to add more to her statement; to me it seemed to show that the question of “what is it that I believe?” had been stewing in her mind as much as it had in my own, and I hope that it had the same impact on many more. My prayer is that many of the people who took part today, those who will take part in the coming days, and those who just stop to read the statements, will go away asking themselves that same question, and that they will either come to an answer which reflects the very core of their being, or will be motivated to go in search of that answer.

The difficulty of completing this simple task took me by surprise – it took me over an hour to settle on my one-line statement of belief! Given that my housemates/fellow interns have just finished (or are in the process of finishing) writing 2500 word essays in response to the question “What is the Gospel?” – an essay which is intended to get the writer thinking about what it is that they believe and is the core message that they wish to share in their ministry – I found myself wondering how on earth I could condense the various elements of my own gospel/core belief into one simple sentence. But I found it a very rewarding challenge, and asked myself “What is one thing that I want to tell others about my faith/beliefs? What is my belief when it is stripped back without any extra padding to ‘bulk it out’, a statement of faith that says “forget all of the theological reasoning and explanations”, the statement at the very core of my being and my relationship with God and others?” There were a good handful of photos/statements from Christians stating their faith in God and Christ, none of which were the same as another, but I realised that for me there could only be one statement that summarises my gospel, my ‘good news’ that I want to share with others. I believe…

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Living in community: expectations vs. reality

Not too long ago, I was sat in my home in Somerset looking through this website and reading this blog, wondering what life in the Way2 Community was like. Do the interns really (I mean, really) say Morning Prayer at 8am every day? Do they rush around from one meeting to another? Do they get thrown in to preaching in their churches straight away? Do they ever get any time to themselves away from their housemates? I thought that it would be good to use this blog post to reflect on what my expectations were prior to starting the internship in comparison to what life in community is actually like.

Question 1: Do the interns really (I mean, really) say Morning Prayer at 8am every day?

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Candlelit Evening Prayer in our community chapel.

Answer: yes… and no!  We do say Morning Prayer at 8am five days a week, and at 8:30am on the days when we are joined by Tess, Melissa and others. When I first heard that this was a part of the internship, I wondered how I would cope with waking up before 8am every day, but in reality I have found myself adjusting to this quite easily (with the help of a mug of coffee beside me in the chapel…!) We each cope in different ways – the early birds amongst us like to be in bed by 10:30pm, whereas our night owls go to bed later and nap during the day! We all feel that maintaining a regular schedule of communal prayer is a vital part of community life, and so we make the effort to be in the chapel for 8 o’clock each morning (even if our minds are still asleep in our beds upstairs!)

Question 2: Do they rush around from one meeting to another?

Answer: When reading the community blog, I got the impression of the then-current interns rushing around from one meeting to another – meetings with clergy, DDOs, wardens, parishioners and so on. But in reality, there aren’t as many meetings as I thought! We have individual meetings with Tess once a fortnight, and I personally meet with my supervising incumbent (the priest whose parish I am placed in) once a fortnight, sit in on team meetings with the clergy team of my placement parishes once a week, and have only met with the DDO once so far! It varies week by week, but I feel that I spend much more of my time ‘doing stuff’ then sitting in meetings.

Question 3: Do they get thrown in to preaching in their churches straight away?

Answer: No! I have been with my placement churches for 8 weeks now and, after discussion with my supervising incumbent, have agreed that preaching is something to focus on in the future, but not a priority for now.

Question 4: Do they ever get any time to themselves away from their housemates?

Answer: This was the question that was most on my mind until the day that I moved in to the community house. I am an introvert, which means that I need time alone in order to regain my energy and be able to enjoy spending time with others. I was worried that living in community might mean that the only time I get to myself is when I go to bed, a thought that horrified my highly-introverted self (how on earth would I cope with constant socialising?!) But I have found that I have plenty of time to myself, enough for me to relax and re-energise ready for the next event/day. After dinner we often head straight for our own rooms (especially after we’ve had a long and tiring day) which is when I like to catch up on TV shows, and during the day if we are not on a placement we have time to spend preparing for/writing essays for the discernment process or taking some free time to relax (I like to spend free moments during the day reading novels). I also find time to myself between my commitments during the day – whether in the house or out and about. But time alone is always balanced with time spent together as a community – whether that be in Morning and Evening Prayer, at mealtimes, or in time set aside to socialise together. And despite the fact that I definitely need ‘me time’, I also find the time spent together as a community vital for both my own well-being and for our ability to live together effectively. I am learning to appreciate board games (even if I don’t love them yet!), found great value in the day we spent arranging our bookshelves together, and really enjoyed our trip to Chapel Porth a few weeks ago. So for an introvert such as myself, community life is not as terrifying a thought as it might seem!

 

22549754_824944851018384_4696094607150104995_nAnd a final thought that I would say is critically important for anyone wondering what life in the Way2 Community is like: we drink a lot of tea (and coffee!) Despite having a proportion of mugs to community members and wardens of at least 3:1, we have been known to run a dishwasher cycle early because we have used up all of our mugs! Life in community is challenging but hugely beneficial, structured but with lots of flexibility, and centred around three communal activities: prayer, meals, and hot drinks!

A welcome, some waffle and… a wedding?!

To all reading this blog for the first time: welcome!  To all who have read it before: welcome back!

My name is Natalie, and I’m the newest recruit of the Way2 Community.  Having attended a lecture given by David Horrell (professor of New Testament studies at the University of Exeter) less than 48 hours ago, about how we might understand the identity of the early Jews and Christians – in which he suggested that what you choose to share about your identity is often ideologically charged – here are the aspects of my identity which I would like to share with you (ideology and all!)  I am proud to hail from the county whose name means ‘Land of Summer’ and is home to the best cheese and ciders around (Somerset), am an avid dog lover, a Harry Potter nerd, a fan of baking (and eating) cakes, and have recently graduated from the University of Exeter with a degree in Theology.  So, how did I end up relocating deeper into the West Country than I ever thought I would?  Upon nearing my graduation, having begun to explore my calling with a Vocations Advisor in my Diocese, I realised that a great decision lay before me: do I continue to discern my calling ‘on the side’ of my other commitments, or do I take the opportunity to give it my all and throw myself into a completely new way of life which seeks to serve and listen to God?  That I am writing for this blog is answer enough!

Since moving to Falmouth 12 days ago, I have begun settling into community life.  I am developing new routines, meeting lots of people (trying desperately to remember their names!), figuring out how to negotiate the quirky Cornish road junctions, and doing all of the other things that go with moving to a new place.  Our first week in Falmouth was very relaxed, as we set up our house and settled in.  I learnt that my non-parish placement will be with the Chaplaincy team at Penryn campus, which is shared by Falmouth University and the University of Exeter, and after meeting some of the staff and seeing the chaplaincy building I’m very excited for this placement to begin.  I have also met the incumbent who I will be working with for my parish placements, have been to one of the two churches that I will be based in and attended my first evening class with the SWMTC third year ordinands.  While no two days will be the same, there are important parts of each day that are consistent: our coming together as a community to share Morning and Evening Prayer, and eating meals together.  We feel that it is important for us to share fellowship, and to sustain a steady rhythm of prayer that brings us together as a community.

My time in Cornwall has also been used to undertake some self-reflection.  A few events have instigated this, such as my first evening class.  Thus far, my experience of theological studies has been from a purely academic perspective, in which my personal faith has played little part.  It was, therefore, a surprise to me when in my first lecture we were asked to choose a few verses from the chapter we were studying which we might base a sermon on and to identify the key points that we would wish to convey in that sermon.  I found this task extremely difficult (which is not particularly surprising, given that I have never written a sermon before!) and felt rather foolish when I fumbled my way through an explanation of the verses which I had chosen.  Upon later reflection, it occurred to me that my approach to reading the Bible has always been to see what I, personally, can learn from the passage that I am reading – rarely has it occurred to me to consider questions such as “what might someone who is [in a particular situation] think of this text?” or “how might this passage be misinterpreted?”  My approach to the Bible must – and shall – change, as I am now aware of my tendency to read and study it for my own interest and growth rather than for others’.

Another, much stranger, cause of my self-reflection has been my dreams – or, rather, one dream in particular.  I am no stranger to peculiar dreams, but since moving to Falmouth I have had vividly eccentric dreams every night.  Some are so bonkers that they can only be the result of my imagination going into overdrive, with no subconscious meaning to them!  One dream, however, stuck in my mind for some time.  In this dream, I was engaged to marry someone who I knew and liked well enough but wasn’t convinced that I wanted to marry.  I was anxious and dreading the wedding, and as the day drew closer I felt increasingly uneasy.  By the day of the wedding, I had made up my mind that I would not marry this man and did not go.  Some days later (I’m guessing – the passing of time is extremely unrealistic in my dreams!) our families came together to persuade me that I had made a mistake, and their convincing arguments swayed me to agree to marry this man… again!  Although my feelings towards him had not changed, the urgings of the two families convinced me the marriage was in my best interests.  I’m afraid that those of you wanting to know how the story ended will never know, as I woke up before my dream-self ever got to the (second) wedding day!  This certainly wasn’t the weirdest dream that I have ever had, but that it lingered in my thoughts for so long afterwards bothered me.  It occurred to me one day that the reason I was so bothered by this dream was that I could see a lot of elements of my real self in the dream version of myself.  Whilst I would never go so far as to marry someone just because I was told that it was the right thing to do, I can recall many occasions in my life when I have been persuaded to do things that I was not comfortable doing because others have said that I should.  I know that I am a people-pleaser, and often give the answers that I think people want to hear rather than admitting the truth, but could this willingness to please others ever be detrimental to my wellbeing?  What could I allow myself to be talked into, just because someone else makes a strong argument for it? How far would I get myself into a difficult situation before I said no?  As I discern whether I am called to a life of ministry and service, I need to be aware that I will be asked to do many things, likely with compelling arguments as to why I should do so, and that it is alright to say no if the wellbeing of myself – or others – is at stake.  My willingness to please others is a part of my character which I will now be more aware of, and reflect upon, as I go forward in life.  Who knew that a dream about ‘the wedding that never was’ could lead to such deep revelations?!

Faithful Connection

P1030333.jpgAs a self-confessed gadget geek who left my software career to spend a couple of years in a monastery, I was once asked to help create a retreat workshop on the benefits of giving up technology. Who are we when we’re disconnected from Google, Twitter and the rest? Leave your smartphones behind and experience life first hand!

Sadly, I knew I was a fraud.

During my time as a novice nun, the internet had only reached as far as an antiquated PC in the bursar’s office, and a tentative proposal to permit the sisters to use the internet during a one hour window on a Sunday afternoon was soundly defeated.

But I had come prepared.

Knowing that I was supposed to live in poverty with no access to money, I prepaid for a year’s data on my phone and hid it in my luggage when I came to stay. Since the sisters’ rooms are private and sacrosanct, I could lie in bed checking the news after lights-out with no fear of discovery… that is, until the week the whole community went sick with a vicious stomach bug and the infirmarian came into my room to treat me and discovered the gadget I was too sick to hide.

Once I recovered I was summoned by Mother Abbess who told me with a wry smile that I had “committed a grievous sin, sister”. I dutifully handed over my phone, promising repentance and conversion of heart. Of course, as a true addict I had a backup plan – my old Kindle with the always-free 3G connection and basic internet browser. What aging nun would suspect my innocent book-reader was also a window onto the outside world?

What compelled this need to be connected? I went to the abbey seeking silence in which to pray and learn to be a better person, and I’d really begun to appreciate how mental knots unravel and relax when there’s nothing to be done except the job at hand. When you’re spending the next hour ironing veils in silence, and there’s no benefit at all to getting it done any sooner, your senses open up and simple things like the smooth texture of the fabric and the smell of the steam iron and the light slanting through the laundry window and the clanking of the ancient pipework, all become elements of perfect satisfaction in the moment.

But as soon as you start wanting your task to end so you can do something more entertaining or more important, time gets slower, frustration increases, people seem more irritating, and life is something that gets in the way, rather than a source of joy and wonder.

My own fear was being left behind by the zeitgeist. In the summer of 2012, hidden in the abbey, I completely missed the London Olympics, and I felt like I was losing my identity. Everyone else had this profound shared experience and I stepped out of the room and missed it. I came to understand why the sisters were only allowed to read newspapers a week old: we can really get addicted to being ‘up to date’.

It all comes down to our sense of identity. Where is our treasure? The rich young man couldn’t give up his wealth to follow Jesus, but it’s not just wealth that gets in the way. It’s anything that’s so central to who we are that to let it go would be like tearing off our own limb. Jesus is ruthless. Just cut it off, he says, pluck it out. I’ve seen from the monastery that he’s right. But…

(This post was written by Tess, warden of the Way2 Community,
for the All Saints Highertown blog, while she was on placement there.)

 

I am the gate for the sheep

As part of our engagement with our placement churches we are given the opportunity to preach (with some coaching from our very helpful and encouraging clergy). So here is Christine’s attempt to make sense of Luke 10:1-10.

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.  They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Well, I am a city girl. I grew up in an apartment block wedged in between the motorway and a busy high street, and the only little bit of green was the watercress and chives we grew in a flowerpot on the balcony. No sheep in sight – apart from the little cuddly toy I brought back from a holiday in the countryside, where at least I learned that real animals don’t have a lot in common with Shaun the Sheep.

But I have to admit that it wasn’t until I did a bit of research for this sermon that I learned that sheep stealing is a thing. And I am not talking about sheep stealing in the church here. Yes, there is that thing where the vicar of the newly founded church in the neighbourhood figures out that in order to boost their numbers it is much easier to invite your congregation over than to actually convert people to Christianity. But let’s not open that can of worms; let’s stick to four-legged animals for the moment.

Call me naïve – it never actually occurred to me that there is a lot of profit to be made by stealing actual life sheep from other people’s fields. It’s a big thing though. In the UK there are almost 90000 sheep stolen every year, at a cost of more than £6m to farmers. And apart from insurance, there is not a lot farmers can do about it. You mark your sheep and put a padlock on the gate, but that is not going to stop serious rustlers. So, it is an issue, and it seems it was just as much of an issue at Jesus’ time.

The circumstances were slightly different: Unlike in Cornwall, food and water were quite sparse in the arid climate in Israel, and therefore sheep needed to be moved much more frequently to avoid overgrazing. There were also a lot more predators around: Wolves, panthers, hyenas, jackals, possibly even bears and lions. So, leaving the sheep on their own in an enclosed field was not an option. Shepherds had to be in continuous attendance. During the day they moved the herd around, and to protect them at night they often penned them in in a stone wall enclosure. The only entrance to the enclosure was a simple gap in the wall, and rather than closing it with a gate, the shepherds would personally guard it by settling down for the night right in the gap. The shepherd himself quite literally was the gate – as if to say to any wolf or lion: If you want to get to my sheep, you have to go through me first!

This is the mental image that Jesus tries to evoke when he talks of himself as being the gate of the sheep. He is the sort of shepherd who in order to protect those in his care puts himself in the line of danger. He does not stand far off, but rather, when it comes to it, he leaps right into the breach. This is why he gave his life for us on the cross.

The other interesting thing about these sheepfolds is that they were often shared by several shepherds. The herds would freely mix and needed to be separated out again in the morning. This was possible because up to this day, in the middle east sheep are trained to recognise their shepherds voice. They are normally not herded by driving them from behind, but follow the calls of the shepherd who goes in front. Therefore, they are so used to walking towards their shepherd’s familiar voice, that they can easily be separated just by calling them. Mix-ups are unlikely because the sheep simply do not follow the call of a stranger.

It makes me wonder: Whose voices do we follow?

There is such a plethora of voices around, all of whom claim to lead us in the right direction. We hear of fake news, email scams, we are smothered in political campaigning and commercial advertising. There are differences of opinion on everything, even within the church. Whom can we trust and follow? How can we distinguish between a good shepherd and a thief? It is an age-old question: How do we recognise the voice of God and distinguish it from all the other voices?

Thankfully, wiser people than me have wrestled with this question, one of whom is Ignatius of Loyola. Apart from founding the Jesuit order, he developed an elaborate system of Spiritual Exercises that are designed for people to find their true purpose and calling. A lot of it boils down to the question: How do I know if my plans and desires are in line with God’s purpose, or whether I am being led astray? Ignatius says: you actually already know it. Deep down in your heart you can feel if your plans are good or not. Modern day Jesuits put it like this: “Ignatius realised that if you act in accord with God’s desires for you, you will feel a sense of rightness, tranquillity and peace, what Ignatius called consolation. The main feature of feelings of consolation is that their direction is toward growth, creativity and a genuine fullness of life and love in that they draw us to a fuller, effective, generous love of God and other people, and to a right love of ourselves.”

So note, this is not as simple as “Oh I just do what makes me feel good.” It is not about any sort of selfish short-term gratification. But neither should we make the mistake of thinking that following God has to be onerous and joyless. Because our God is a God of life and resurrection. In his parable, Jesus makes this distinction between himself as the good shepherd and the thieves: The thief comes only to kill and steal and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

There is just one gate, Jesus Christ, but a variety of shepherd’s voices that might be calling us in Christ’s name but also thief’s voices that lead us astray for their own gain. So here is my challenge to you: When you are faced with a decision, when you are unsure what to do, whom to follow, which voice to trust, ask yourself: Does this make me listless and numb or does it fill me with joy and peace? Is it life-giving and life-enhancing, not only for me but also for others?

And actively look for this shepherd’s voice. When you have a moment of quiet, why not look back over your day or your week, and ask yourself: What have I done or experienced that has strangely warmed my heart, that just felt like the right thing to do, that has made me and others come to life? This is when you know that you are following the voice of the good shepherd who wants all his people to have life, and have it abundantly. Amen.

Hello

Hello everyone – things have picked up pace now and it’s been a busy couple of months here in Stithians. Time seems to have flown by, it really doesn’t feel like we are already three months into the year. the last couple of months have been busy with finishing our placement at Saint Petroc’s and arranging our current placements, becoming more involved in the cluster, helping to lead a lent course and attending a local worship leaders course on top of what we were doing previously.

I am currently on placement with the chaplaincy at Treliske hospital in Truro, shadowing some of the chaplaincy staff mainly as they visit people around the hospital. There are two main styles of visiting that the chaplains do, the first is by referrals, were family, friends, hospital staff or the patients themselves contact the chaplaincy and request a visit. The other style is less formal and involves visiting a ward, clinic, or other area of the hospital without a specific person in mind and being open to talking with those who are free. I find this like my experience street pastoring, as it is about being a visible presence in these places, listening to people, offering some company for those who are feeling lost and/or alone and providing care for the person rather than their ailment. Some of the chaplains are more comfortable with one style or the other and it has been interesting shadowing them and seeing their different styles. It has also been good talking with them about their experiences of chaplaincy and ministry.

We have been attending a local worship leaders course called Sunday Plus with some of the other members of the all age planning teams. The sessions have been interesting, discussing the different areas of ministry lay people are allowed to take part in and lead and focusing on how to lead other people into worship.  Each session begins and ends with a time of prayer or worship. Christine and I created and led the opening worship for the session entitled ‘signs, symbols and sacred space’. We created a central focus point that we invited those attending to add objects of special meaning to. We then lead a meditative reflection on the ‘I am’ verses found in Johns gospel. It worked well in providing a time for people to focus on god and leaving behind the stresses of the day.

In the cluster I am working with the churches in Stithians and Devoran.

In Stithians I have been helping plan the all age services with their team and have been added to their reading and intercessions rota. At the beginning of the month I help to lead their all age service with our deputy community warden Melissa. It went well splitting the service between the two of us, giving the congregation another voice to listen to, especially as we were both also involved in a dramatized version of the reading.  I have also continued to attend their community choir which will be singing at different events throughout the year. Hopefully I’m not too out of tune and don’t breathe too noticeably in the wrong place- there are just some lines that I can’t get out in one breath.

I am also working with the all age team at Devoran and have been deaconing at their normal Eucharist services. Last month I lead their Book of Common Prayer Evensong service, which is a new type of service to me. I’m still trying to get use to the wording of the liturgy and the tunes of the different parts of the service but am slowing picking it up. At the beginning of April I wrote the homily for the evensong service. While I was nervous to begin with, I think I settled into the delivery quickly and was able to find a good pace. I focused on the “I am the resurrection and the life” verse in John 11 and how I find this passage about Lazarus to be a call for us to live now. Finding examples of how to live our lives in the five people named in this passage. It was a really good experience writing the homily, discerning what I felt I was being told in the readings and how to convey that to other people.

Have a happy Easter.

God bless

Sophie

 

 

 

Slowing down to Godspeed

There’s a beautiful new short film online that’s all about how a fired-up American pastor came to live and work in Scotland, and discovered that sometimes ministry is a lot slower and filled with far more pauses than he imagined.

It’s thirty minutes long and you can watch it now.

https://www.livegodspeed.org/

There are a lot of similarities I think with rural ministry in Cornwall. Life can become so busy and frantic even here, but actually, if we pause and take in what’s actually going on around us…

There’s a quote from Jeremiah used in the film, from Jeremiah 6:16. It’s not a verse I was familiar with – perhaps because it’s surrounded by terrible prophecies of doom.

Thus says the Lord: “Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls”. – Jer 6:16

So Good! As someone hoping to be ordained in a couple of years, this verse and this film both speak loudly and wonderfully about the sort of priest I hope to be, and the sort of ministry I feel called to offer.

It’s so easy to get caught up in rushing around doing a hundred jobs and writing dozens of emails and checking Facebook and Doing All the Things, but actually contentment I think comes from stability and peacefulness and allowing yourself to become vulnerable so that you can really love others and be fully known. And these things take a lot of space and quiet to sink into and realise. When I spent two years in an abbey as a novice nun I reckoned it was at least three months before I managed to stop worrying every day about the life I had left behind. Even after you disconnect the motor, it can still be quite a while before the wheels stop spinning and you look up in amazement and wonder at where you are.

Here at the Stithians Community we try to offer some of that space to allow our interns to find out who they are and what God is calling them to. If you watch the film and it inspires you, and you’re youngish (18-35) and are wondering if you might be called to listen and be with people in this way of ministry, do consider applying to live in community with us.

Over the last month or so…

Sorry for the delay, it seems that none of us have gotten into the schedule of writing about what’s been happening and it’s taken me too long to finish writing this. Hopefully you won’t have to wait so long in the future.  We are posting more regularly on Facebook so remember to look at what’s happening on there. I won’t bore you by giving another post about what we do normally during the week, Christine gave a great review last month so go and read her post if you haven’t already. Instead this is more of an update on some of the opportunities I have had recently over the last month or so.

I helped Rev. Dom Jones welcome the children from Stithians pre-school into Stithians church for their harvest service.  It was great to see so many of their members of family there and to hear about the children’s favourite fruit and vegetables, although it took weeks to get the ‘cauliflowers fluffy’ song out of my head. I really enjoy being able to welcome people who don’t normally attend the church into the church and hopefully encourage them to come again. I recently joined one of the Open The Book teams in Stithians and went in to help lead an assembly. It was great seeing the welcome from the whole school and how much they engaged with the story, especially the student involved.  

Christine and I have helped Rev. Simon Bone lead the Book of Common Prayer communion at Feock. I think it went well for two people how had only been to one BCP communion service before, we only got confused once and missed the collect before the readings. We promise we won’t forget next time. Since then we have expanded our experience of BCP by tending BCP Matins at Stithians. I think I’m still starting to get my head (and mouth) around some of the wording. As you can probably guess it is not the style of service that I am used to but I can appreciate the style of worship and enjoyed evensong at Truro Cathedral.

We have had our second tutorial session in New Testament Greek learning the different word endings for present tense words, masculine, feminine and neuter nouns, and different forms of the definite article – the word ‘The’ appears 19867 times in the New Testament. The key phrase for me is “the context will make it clear” as most of the time it is the answer to my questions. After finishing the third chapter we translated our first bible verse Mark 1:1 ‘The beginning of the good news of Jesus the Messiah the Son of God’ seemed like an appropriate first passage to translate, reminding us that we are only at the beginning of this experience.  Our third session is this week and I still have lots to go over beforehand. It’s taking me a long time to go over the chapter on prepositions and remembering the different cases.  

We seem to be settling in now and have started attending the different churches we will be working with during our time here on a more regular basis. Hopefully we will be able to work out transport so that we can still attend the other churches in the cluster. Being someone who is used to running around to get things done, it’s been a learning experience to just sit and partake in the service with the rest of the congregation. It feels good now that we have had the opportunity to start becoming more involved. We have all joined the choir that has been set up in Stithians in preparation for the carol service in a couple of weeks. The plan is to have the choir perform two songs and to help lead the others. I have trouble getting through the whole line in one breath and but I’m trying, with varying degrees of success. It nice being able to be a part of the wider community in Stithians and to meet people that aren’t regular members of the churches congregation. I think that we are all having fun regardless of our abilities and enjoying time together getting ready for advent and Christmas.

We have now entered advent. It is one of my favourite times of the year. The season of waiting and preparing for the year to come and to reflect on what has already happened. For me the beginning of the year didn’t start in the best of places (not physically, I still love Torpoint). I wasn’t sure what I was meant to be doing. I can honestly say that the year is going to end in a much better place (again I’m not talking about location). I feel that I’m on the right path again.

Love and prayers

Sophie

A week in the life…

So now that we have had four weeks to settle in, what are we actually doing all week?

As we are still quite new here, a lot of our time so far has been spent getting to know people. There are eight churches in the Cluster, five potential placements, various mentors, tutors and other wonderful people who will guide us in making sense of our new experiences, there are neighbours, local shopkeepers and a good few of these people who you just bump into everywhere. We have only met a fraction of them so far and I am already desperately failing to remember all their names.

So until we get assigned one or two churches each to permanently work with, we travel around the different churches in the cluster for Sunday services, to get to know the different characteristics of each church and congregation. That typically involves fitting in two services each Sunday morning, catching a lift from the clergy who dash out of one church halfway through coffee to make it to the next one just in time. And now the poor folks also have to get up earlier to pick us up and postpone lunch to drive us back as we don’t have a car. At other times we also tag along with members of the clergy team for midweek communion services, funerals, weddings, charity AGMs, harvest lunches and where ever else it is acceptable for them to show up with three interns. And if there is a Messy Church going on anywhere in the Cluster, you can be quite sure to find us there, moving tables, writing name tags and running crafts activities.

On Mondays we travel into Truro to volunteer with St Petroc’s Society, a homeless charity who run a resource centre where clients can get clothes, showers, GP treatment and housing and benefit advice. St Petroc’s also do outreach work and run supported accommodation and cold weather provision. So far we have mostly observed the reception staff at the resource centre and sorted massive piles of harvest donations, but once we are properly inducted and our DBS checks have gone through we will also be able to work with clients more directly. On Wednesday afternoons we invite Josh, who is an intern in a similar project in Penzance, and our deputy warden Melissa over for games or movies and dinner, before Melissa drives us to Truro for our SWMTC evening theology classes. This term we are doing doctrine and next term will be church history and ethics. On Thursday mornings we take part in the ministry team meeting, on Thursday afternoons we learn New Testament Greek, Friday is our day off and Saturdays we are given time to study and research.

Then there is the daily community life, of course: We hold morning and evening prayer together in the Community House Chapel every day at 8 am and 6 pm (except Wednesday evening and Thursday morning when the timings are different) and we make an effort to cook and eat together whenever possible and have a great house-clean once a week. There are lots of people who provide mentoring and advice: Tess, our community warden holds weekly reflection talks with us. Jane, the DDO, comes in regularly and leaves homework in the form of reflection pieces and essays to write. Lucy, our theology tutor comes to chat, Simon, our very own Priest in Charge, comes to chat, David Stevens tutors us in Greek once a month, and, oh yeah, Bishop Chris is coming for dinner in December. And then, there is the social life of the village: Stithians seems to have about two or three charity events a week, so we go to eat some excellent cake on Friday mornings and our diaries are rapidly filling up with Charity Candlelight Dinners and Charity Burns Night Dinners and … we are certainly not going to get bored anytime soon.