Tag Archives: preaching

Our first Christmas

Several times over the last couple of weeks I’ve said to myself, ‘I must blog that’ but somehow never quite got around to it. Apparently life is quite busy at the moment. So, even if this isn’t a full on update on everything from the last month(s) that I’ve been away, I thought I had to start somewhere.

A lot of the business the last few weeks seems to have been Christmas related. When you have two families to buy for, who are further away and not so prompt with their requests, you have to start planning early. And then there’s the problem of trying to find something for each other (easier said than done!) and manage to shop separately so there’s some element of surprise. We ended up going our separate ways around department stores, and Chris doing some secretive shopping after work. And thats before we even get around to wrapping or writing Christmas cards!

Christmas this year is feeling very different than it has done before, for many reasons, but due mainly, I think, to the fact of us living together now. Last year was the first year we were together at Christmas, but we were also many hundreds of miles away in the African sun, so it was anything but a ‘normal’ Christmas. This year, we’re going to my parents, then to Chris’, with all the usual Christmas stuff, but together. And there’s the little things, like putting up our joint Christmas cards in our flat, rather than having to divide them between us like we did last year! Yesterday we bought our first Christmas tree! Not a big deal in some ways (Chris helpfully pointed out that in commitment terms it’s not really that permanent..) but in others, it feels like a milestone, that this place we live, while not being what we would like, is home, and more importantly, its ours. One slight issue is that we might have got a wee bit carried away with the size of tree, and it currently appears to be swallowing a bookcase, part of the coffee table and obscuring the TV.. hoorah for Christmas!

The other change to Christmas this year has been thinking about Advent from the point of view of a preacher, and challenging myself to see it differently. There are many aspects of Advent I find particularly meaningful and inspirational, but I can’t preach about these every year! Making myself think about new perspectives on familiar themes is one of the interesting and enjoyable aspects of Local Preaching, and Advent is a season so rich with potential that the whole process is quite exciting. The service I’m working on is this Sunday coming, Advent 3. I might share some thoughts with you once I’ve got them in place.

Wilderness times

Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days and nights. He was tempted by satan, and depending which account you read he was fasting also. He was in this desert, a vast, featureless landscape, with no one and nothing nearby. Utterly alone, abandoned, apparently, by God.

With nothing to distract him, his thoughts come tumbling over each other, unable to keep track or to hold them, he is overwhelmed, his mind circling out of control. Questions with no answers, people too far away, worries he cannot ease, and the time dragging on with no hope of relief. And deep down the knowledge that soon, he still has a job to do.

This is not the wilderness we like to think of during lent. This isn’t an emptiness borne of giving up chocolate, or tea, or swearing. This isn’t the making time to pray a bit, or spend 10 minutes reading the bible each day. This isn’t a wilderness we can create,  which is neat and tidy and restricted to these 40 days. An experience which is slightly uncomfortable, but not too much, bearable because it is quantifiable.

This isn’t an experience which we choose for 6 weeks each year, and lets face it, if we could, we wouldn’t. But that’s not to say we’ve not been into this wilderness. Whether only for an hour or two, or for months or years at a time. Either way, we have been there, and because we have, we can understand.

It is in this place, in the grip of these feelings which we would like to forget, that Jesus spends these next 40 days and nights. He has been there too. We are not alone.

Watch and wait

This Sunday marks the beginning of advent, in the church calendar even if not according to my advent calendar (I have to wait till tomorrow for the first chocolate :()

Its a time of preparation, of waiting for the coming of Jesus and making ready for his arrival. The gospel writers tell us to keep watch so that he ‘will not find you sleeping’. And at the end of his life, Jesus himself repeats the message, talking then not about his birth but about his coming in glory at the end of the age. What some refer to as the second coming. But what does this really mean for us?

Jesus tells us to prepare for the time when ‘heaven and earth will pass away’ and a new world will be born- the kingdom of God, in which he will rule in glory. Looking at it this way, are we really to sit back and simply wait and watch? Or will we be, as Jesus calls us to be, the founders of his kingdom on earth, here, today?

If we take on this responsibility, we begin to be able to approach the waiting of advent very differently. We are able to see the preparations as not just getting ready for Christmas and the birth of Christ, but being ready for the coming of his kingdom. And more than that, the kingdom becomes not something which is far off and yet to arrive, but something which is here in the present, which we ourselves are involved in bringing about.

Doubts

Not me, not now. Look, I’ve had a difficult day today, it looks like its turning into a difficult week to be quite honest. I can’t do it right now, I’m sorry.

I said at the time (well, thought it) that you’d picked the wrong person. I didn’t think I had it in me, that I’d be able to find anything to say, cope with the pressure. But you would insist wouldn’t you? My objections just didn’t seem to register. Well, will you accept now that maybe I was right?

No. I didn’t think so. Why can’t you realise that I’m not cut out for this? How do you expect me to see through all this stuff to be able to find anything worth saying, or more importantly, worth hearing? Another time, when I’m feeling better, but not now. Please?

But don’t you want someone who knows what they’re doing, who can give themselves to it properly without all this worry and anguish?

I was afraid you might say that.

Ok. Here I am.

Of preaching and red skirts

This morning I delivered my first service in my new circuit. And it went rather well, if I do say so myself. I wasn’t the only one to say so, I even managed to impress Mr Critical (otherwise known as my other half, who has a tendancy to be picky about preachers), who hadn’t seen me do any preaching before. And I had various other positive comments and reactions from the congregation. I may well blog about the service itself at some point, but needless to say I was rather pleased with it. Now its on to the next one, countdown two weeks..

The other item of news, in relation to my last two posts, is firstly, as you may have guessed, I didn’t get that job. I wasn’t overly disappointed at this, being quite surprised at having an interview at all, and given I really didn’t have a lot of experience of the computer programme that was a large part of the job I was told I still came a close second, which was pretty good. The other thing I was told, in a message they left to tell me I hadn’t got it, was that they had another job coming up that they were really keen for me to apply for. Well, as keen as you can sound when you’re not meant to ask someone to put in an application. Anyway, this was positive, so I applied, and surprise surprise, the next day I got a phone call asking me to come for an interview. Which is on Tuesday, at the same time as the last one. Interesting coincidences. Somehow I don’t think I’ll need directions to the office. I’m not too worried about getting it or not, I’m still impressed to have got interviews this early on. I’ll just do what I can, and when the right job comes up I’ll be ready.

Oh, and the other thing to mention about the quirks of preaching round here. I had a meeting with the lady who was meant to be preaching today earlier in the week, and among other pieces of ‘advice’ was told how when she started preaching the women had to wear black or grey, and ‘of course its not like that anymore’, but they were all a little shocked when one particular female preacher turned up to her first service with a ‘red swishy skirt and dangly earrings’. Horror of horrors! And a comment was also made about some people possibly being unsure about the fact I have my nose pierced. Terrible, what was I thinking?! I’m just sorry I didn’t have a red swishy skirt to wear this morning..

Farewell, farewell

So its nearly October already, with the usual talk of summer having gone too fast, nights drawing in, and “how many days till Christmas?” I saw crackers in a supermarket this weekend. Sigh.

But the end of September this year is another milestone- the end of the bat survey season! The big cheeses in the environmental world have to assign an arbitrary end point to the warmer summer months and the start of cooler weather and lower bat activity, and that end point is today. So with the beginning of October, the bats are out less and less, and, thankfully, so are we ecologists. As much as the bat watching is interesting, I won’t be sorry to not have to set my alarm for 3.30am any more!!

The other thing that this next month will bring will be the start of my local preaching in my new home town. At the beginning of September I went to my first preachers meeting here, and apart from lowering the average age by a good 20 or 30 years, it still felt good to be involved, and getting back into the things I used to do before I moved made me feel like I’m still me, even if I am somewhere else! So I now have 3 dates between now and Christmas, and even some ideas for them! Having spent a good while trying to get this sorted, it all seemed to fall into place in no time at all. The whole thing still makes me more than a little nervous, but also quite excited at the thought of being able to get stuck in again, which I’m taking to be a good combination.

Of preaching and needles

Wow, blogging two days in a row.. its almost like I’ve got free time or something. So, other things which happened this week, not course-related.

On Tuesday I went to my first Local Preachers meeting here. Scary or what? No idea what to expect, I’ve met the Super once (when he didn’t know I was me, if that makes sense!), and spoken the secretary on the phone. The minutes had a slot specifically devoted to discussing what to do with me (I paraphrase here). Interesting. The other thing which bugged me a little was the secretary insisting on using titles at all times in the agenda, therefore labelling me as Miss on at least 3 occasions. Those who know me know this isn’t smart. A little annoying, given a) he had no idea whether I was married or single, if in doubt surely even the most trad would stick with Ms? b) Miss always conjours up images of an 8 year old in a frilly dress. That or happy families. And needless to say I’m neither. Maybe thats just me. Hmm.

Anyway, the meeting went well in the end. A friendly, if not large group, of which I managed to lower the average age quite significantly! It was agreed that I could basically take on some dates planned for other preachers, and that they could then come along and observe/help out etc but basically get a day off. I think this idea went down well. There were suggestions of forming a queue. All in all, quite a positive result. Now I just have to remember this whole sermon-writing thing. Gulp.

The other thing that happened this week is I went to my GP yesterday to ask about vaccinations. I’ve not mentioned this here yet, but for Christmas this year we’re going to Africa! Chris’ parents are off on what can best be described as a gap year, travelling and volunteering in various African countries for 8 or 9 months, and are having us all (him and brothers, and me!) over to Kenya for Christmas. Like you do. So, my first Christmas away from home, not just another city, a whole different continent. Never do things by halves eh? But its all very exiting, so many new experiences all at once, but we’re doing it together, so whatever happens it’ll be good. So anyway, I thought I should get some idea of how many times they’ll want to stab me with needles before I go. It turns out not much, 3 in fact, two of which were free and could be given straight away. So in less than half an hour I was in, punctured in each arm, and out again. One more but thats lots closer to when we go, and thats it. The last time I had injections was probably school. I’d forgotten how much the upper arm hurts afterwards, the muscles just don’t like being used right now! Or lay on.

So there, it feels like its been a rather full week. And today I’m off to sunny south Wales for the proms in the park, so if you’re around there I might see you. Just don’t be offended if you hug me and I yelp!

One small step

On that whole looking to the positives thing.. I think I just had one of my first actual contacts in Shrewsbury, aside from work (and chatting to confused old ladies in church who think I’m getting married ;)).

Thanks to Richard being helpful and passing on my details, I just had a nice chat with the superintendant of my new circuit here. It still feels odd to think of this place as home, and one thing that I’ve definately felt the lack of is a church that feels like *mine*. As a methodist, but also as preacher (ooh scary), belonging to a church and to a circuit is hugely important. I always knew it was going to be tough to build that up after leaving Swansea, which was not only was home for so long, but also was where I developed my sense of calling, learnt to hear it and respond to it. It was there, surrounded by support and encouragement from so many, that I started on this rather scary path I find myself on now. And incidentally, I had a letter through from methodist HQ the other day, congratulating me on passing from ‘on note’ to ‘on trial’. Which was rather good 😀

So anyway, I digress.. I had a nice chat with the super, and it might be a very small baby step, and there’s still a lot to sort out and get used to, but its a really big step for me towards feeling like I belong to something here. Which in itself will help towards feeling like I actually live here, rather than just working and sleeping. And that can only be a good thing.

The Emmaus road: a reflection

Walking home, its been a long week. You talk about everything that’s happened, its the only thing you can do, how else can you even try to understand it all? Even so, nothing makes sense any more. All the things you’ve believed in, given your time for, fought for, for the last three years. Gone, just like that. Nothing for it now but to go back to life as it was before, try to rebuild the life you had before he came along. Before you heard him speak those words.

Such amazing words, such wonderful things he said. You had to listen, you couldn’t help yourself, he had a way with people. And when he said he was from God, and had come to save his people, you believed him. Why wouldn’t you? The miracles he performed, the conviction with which he spoke in the temple. He had to be something special. Well perhaps you were wrong, along with the rest.

Walking home all these things run through your mind, again, for the hundredth time. And then this stranger appears as if from nowhere, seems to be the only person for miles who doesn’t know about these events. How could you not have heard?

There’s something comforting about his words though. He seems to know what he’s talking about, as he responds to your worries with words from the prophets. You’re still not sure, but something about the way he speaks soothes your mind a little. And when he tries to walk on from your home, you beg him to stay and eat.

You sit down at your table, and this man, this stranger who you barely know, takes up the bread. Ordinarily you’d feel a bit put out, after all, it’s the role of the man of the house, not the invited guest, to give thanks for the food. But before you can think, before you speak, you see the way he holds it, and you begin to see something that wasn’t there before. When he lifts it up and gives thanks to God, you know. He breaks it and gives it to you, and before you can respond, before you can take it, he’s gone.

An attempt

Things still aren’t great, it might be my state of mind right now but it feels like most things are just really not working. But the point of me doing this is precisely for the times when I feel like this (though its not usually this bad, so therefore not usually this hard). So I’m trying.

Yesterday I took a bus out to Clydach, a part of Swansea I’ve never visited properly before, just heard of it, been aware of its existance on the map and so on. I went to meet my mentor to discuss preaching stuff, but its more like sitting down and talking to a friend than a heavy discussion. We had tea, chatted about how its going (general feeling; pretty well, no problems), worked out the next dates we’re doing (not for a while yet, so thats one less thing to worry about after this Sunday) and then went for a walk. The weather was sunny and… *warm*, in February, in Wales. It’ll probably be grey and rainy again soon, but while it lasts.. It was nice, just for a short time, to be up above the world a little, to look down at it, and brought back the withdrawl symptoms of not having been up a decent hill in a while.

Everything isn’t fixed, buy a long stretch. I’m still here with job applications and everything else to do. But still, I spose finding the positives is all about those little moments which come in the middle of everything else.