Sunday, 16 November 2014

The Vicar's Tea Party has landed!

Well, after that anvil sized hint in the last blog post you may have guessed that I am in the process of launching a new blog. You will probably also realize that this post is going to be one great big plea for all you lovely lot to come join me over on my new platform....ah go on!

Should you need further persuasion here is the blurb for the new blog....Vicar's Tea Party.



'Life eh? Sometimes it can be so darn crazy that we don't get a chance or the space to think about the big things in life, or sometimes the little things either!
 
Enter Vicar's Tea Party. A place to relax. A place to think. A place to get ideas for revamping that old bedside table your Granny left you – because that is important too. At the Vicar's Tea Party you can mull over life's little eccentricities from how to grow your spiritual life to easy ethical life style swaps to how to bake a cake that makes Monday worth getting up for again.
 
Vicar's Tea Party is a place you can grab a brew, put your feet up and feel a bit more human again.
 
On the blog you will find four categories for whatever takes your fancy today: 
   
Vicar's Sofa – a place to curl up with a brew and ponder some of life's big questions

Vicar's Kitchen – a veritable feast of seasonal recipes sure to give your week a little extra something something.

Vicar's Study - a place to stretch your mind and spirit with book recommendations, news and reviews.

Vicar's Craft Corner – posts stuffed to the rafters with crafting ideas, tips for green living and second hand and vintage finds galore!'

See you there?

Sunday, 19 October 2014

New Blogging Shores

Confession time - I've run a ground a bit on this blog. It makes me a little sad because this blog has accompanied me through some of the best times in my life. From starting out writing for the first time, to writing my first short stories and seeing them in print, to being selected to train for ordained ministry and all the ups and downs of that journey so far.

I have met wonderful people, been inspired by the blogging community and given much needed space to reflect on all the adventures that have been part of my life over the last few years. It's pretty amazing to be able to look back on where I've been and how much things have changed in that time. But what I have loved the most is sharing that with you lovely people and hearing how these simple stories have been an encouragement to some of you. That is the best part by far.

In this blog I've also discovered a love of writing that has run and run and allowed me to branch out into other platforms in this magical world of the interweb and partly it is this love of writing that is spurring me on to something new. I've had an idea for a while now about a new blog I might launch and I have this annoying nagging feeling that I ought to just be getting on with it.

The problem is that the idea is just so much more successful and brilliant in my head than it might be in real life. Annoying that, eh? I feel a bit like I am standing on the safe shores of this blog looking out to some distant, possibly awesome/possible snake infested island of the new blog and thinking 'Well, its no so bad here, really. Perhaps I'll just stay a while longer'. But the thing is I am starting to drag my heels here. Ideas aren't coming so easy for this platform but are coming thick and fast for another.

My greatest concern is that the new blog turns out to be a total snore fest and really is better off in my head where it currently lives majestic in all its glorious unreality. For that reason I'm going to be enlisting a few of you to comment on this new hair brained scheme of mine. In the meantime, watch this space, I still love you and I will be back!

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Diverse World

I've been here on Uni Campus for the last three days now and it has been quite the education. It feels both nostalgic and like brand new territory. In many ways it feels like just yesterday that I was arriving at University and facing that horrible moment when your parents drive away and you are sat on your bed thinking 'What on earth do I do now?!' A few hours later and I was happily ensconced in the bar but, still, it is a life changing moment, the feelings of which are still etched on my memory, probably for all time.

But there are also so many new things I am discovering here. Though I have been interested in multi-faith work for a while this is the first time that I have been in a truly multi-faith setting where different religions work together under one roof to serve a single population of people. It's quite wonderful really. There is so much that is shared between the major faiths that it isn't really so hard to find common ground and a shared purpose of serving the student body, of all faiths and none. This seems to bond people in a special way as they go for a shared vision.

The chaplaincy here is like a little hub of life with everyone popping in. I've chatted over a cuppa with atheists, Muslims and Catholics in the space of a few days - to name but a few. As well as just hanging out a huge range of people use the space to pray and it strikes me that there is something wonderfully ideal about a room where people of all the major faiths, and of no faith at all, come to pray or meditate. It feels to me like something we should be aspiring towards more in society. Not an abandoning of our differences but an understanding of our shared humanity. Seeing that difference, rather than being a hindrance to relationship, can be creative and inspiring.

It also reminds me of how important a space is to reconnect with what it means to be a human being rather than an employee or a role or a grade. Having just emerged from the higher education bubble I know how easy it can be to get sucked into evaluating your worth on the basis of your last essay grade. Likewise whatever stage of life we are in it can be so easy to equate our value with our latest appraisal. We're just worth so much more than that though, right? And all these things are temporary and nothing compared to the real value we have as people. It's great to be part of a place, even for a little while, that seeks to remind people of that.

Another great placement, another great adventure of Summer (can I still say that now its gotten so grey!?) This really is the vacation that keeps on giving!

Monday, 8 September 2014

The Countryside...Continued!

Still here! Still alive! You know how I discovered last week that I really am a townie? Yeah, well, now I REALLY know I'm a townie. Don't get me wrong, the countryside is beautiful, especially with this revival of summer we are experiencing here in Blighty but nonetheless I really miss coffee shops and people watching and ready availability of supermarkets.

Its is rather nice!

Things have been going well here though. In the nicest possible way I have learned what I am not made for but that is valuable in and of itself, right? I think it is safe to say that I am not destined to be a country Vicar cycling from parish to parish and waving hello to all the tiny hamlets I pass on my way. I miss the hustle and bustle and, well, shops and stuff.

Nonetheless there is much that is transferable to my preferred habitat of suburbia. People, after all, are much the same wherever you go. Same questions, same worries, same ups and downs. I've done heaps here from leading a whole load of services, giving a whole load of sermons and even had the chance to entertain the local primary school with the first story I have penned in an absolute age. It reminded me of how wonderful it is to have a chance to be creative and even better when it is part of the day job.
 
Summer makes a welcome return!

There have also been challenges too. I am on a journey and a half when it comes to preaching. I've mentioned before that I have been nervy, genuinely knee knockingly nervy, when speaking in front of people until very recently. I've overcome that now, such that people actually think I am confident when I speak in front of them (that's called acting, dahhhling!).
 
And in a weird way I am becoming more confident, fake it till you make it and all that. But I still have a long way to go and the temptation to settle at 'just ok' is so much stronger than I anticipated it would be. Turns out it safer to hide behind a lectern clutching notes than to boldly emerge, look people and the eye and tell them what you've got to say.

Still, now that I'm here blogging about it I suppose I am committing myself to the harder path, striving not for perfection but to being really bloomin' good and that, I know, involves boldness, bravery and a whole lot of practice. I have one last sermon here to give before I head off for my next placement at a Uni in London for Freshers (ahhh, its like returning to the mother ship!) so I suppose I had best make it a good 'un. Be brave....be brave!!!

Much love from the country....!

Saturday, 30 August 2014

A little bit Country

If I ever needed any confirmation that I am an urbanite then I certainly got it today. Navigating my way around rural Oxfordshire for the second half of my church placement this summer was considerably more difficult than navigating my way around super urban Barcelona. Hopping on and off a metro - fine. Wandering up and down country lanes where houses are named not numbered – not so much.

I was even dressed like a daft urbanite in high heeled boots dragging my supplies of Dolmio stir in sauces and a bag of pasta behind me for my two week sojourn here. It really is beautiful here though and we have been given the sweetest little bolt hole to stay in by some kind people at the church who took pity on us and so have saved us from traipsing across Oxford every day. Its making me feel all autumnal and like I want to hunker down for the season with a packed of digestives and a box set. Shame I'm here to work....

Speaking of work, I kicked off my placement here with a quintessentially English event of a country wedding. I love a wedding, even, as it turns out, when I am working at one. I sat to watch the service in the choir stalls grinning like a Cheshire cat as I thought about the fact that, all being well, I will be doing weddings myself this time next year! Tremendously exciting! As at every wedding I have ever attended I got a bit weepy at the magic of the whole thing. All those promises, all that hope. I'm such a marriage fanatic!
 
I then went for a walk with my beloved (he gets a great deal eh, being dragged around with me?!) to explore rumours of a pub only to discover that it didn't open until six. That being the only public building other than the church we made our way back to our little country abode where we are currently watching a David Attenborough documentary on frogs (ah married bliss.....?!) and making in roads into the tea stash we brought with us.

Country life eh?

Saturday, 23 August 2014

The Mind Makeover

As I mentioned in my last post this summer has given me a great opportunity to get into some new books. Most of these have been gloriously unproductive but there have been a couple of books on my reading list this summer which have made a real impact on me. The first of these was 'The Mind Makeover' by Sharron Lowe which I wrote about a bit in a previous post - The Feisty Fly!



The book explores in some depth how our thoughts can either limit or empower us. In particular I found her mantra 'Expect massive change' a revolutionary idea. I don't know about you but I often think about change as laborious, hard going, a mountain climb. I've certainly experienced that with learning to drive and the ongoing slog can make you feel like you will never really change and this problem will always be with you.

After reading the Mind Makeover I felt a firm nudge of challenge to this idea. I knew what my goals were with driving, why couldn't I make a massive leap forward that week? Why couldn't I experience massive change in one day? I knew that most of my issues with driving were all in my head anyway. Lowe challenges the phrase 'I can't' suggesting that when we say this we usually mean 'I don't want to' or 'I don't know how to'.

I live in a very hilly area and I realised that part of my 'I can't' with driving was 'I don't know how to'. I booked a lesson with my instructor and asked him to spent two hours making me drive up hills, explaining the mechanics of how the car responds in various scenarios. The next day I drove up to my college on my own for the first time up a massive hill. This was a goal I had set to be completed by Christmas and I had achieved it six months early, in a single day. Massive change indeed.

Lowe also puts an emphasis on the importance of hard work, not luck, for success. I put this into practice in Barcelona when I was asked to lead a full service and give the sermon. I have previously been nervy about public speaking and I really didn't want this to show as I have experienced myself that nerves are contagious. I didn't want to put the congregation on edge.

I desperately wanted to succeed and so I went downstairs into the empty church everyday and practiced. Even down to how I would get up from my chair, how I would smile, how I would stand during hymns. I crafted everything to give off an air of confidence and ease. The result? The Vicar told me it seemed like I had done this a hundred times not just once. In reality, with all my practicing, I nearly had! Though I stil lhave much further to go, hard work brought me success that day.

And lastly Lowe talks convincingly about getting out of your comfort zone. It seems to be an unfortunate truth that much of what is worthwhile in life rarely comes easy. While I was packing my bags for Spain, desperately trying to make my baggage adhere to the Easy Jet hand luggage restrictions, my husband found me slumped on the floor tearily clutching a euro plug adapted wailing 'Why am I doing this to myself?!'

I knew full well I could have gone up the road for placement and it would have been much less scary. But it was so much more satisfying to do something I wasn't quite convinced I could do. It was a time in my life I will never forget and one that just thinking of it gives me confidence for the future.

So I very much recommend this brilliant book to you and will be back in a few days with another of my fave summer reads - 'The Happiness Project;.


Thursday, 21 August 2014

Summer of Fun!

There I was in my last post signing off for a week to 'dip my toes in the Med' and here I am a month later sheepishly popping my head back up wondering (again!) where the time has gone. In all honesty I've just been having such a brilliant summer that all thoughts of recording my thoughts have gone well and truly out of the window. Not a great trait for a blogger, I grant you, but a lovely luxury nonetheless.

It's all been rather nice really and like any self respecting blogger I've drawn a bit of a lesson from it. That the chance to say nothing, to put planning, striving and being in any way productive to one side and instead indulge in completely frivolous activities is hugely restorative and very well advised. This, in my case, has involved eating out with friends, celebrating my 30th (again!) in Greece, buying a waffle maker and taking long walks along the river with my parent's spaniel. The later is quite well needed given that most of my other activities involve vast quantities of food. Ho hum....

This summer has, in many ways, felt like one of those long lost summers of my Uni days. Having such a long stretch off is such a luxury. You can stack up a pile of books to read with the happy realisation that you might even have time to read them. Then you can promptly spend your time staring into space comfortable in the knowledge that you can read anytime you want to. This is an especially wonderful luxury when every book I've picked up in the last two years, thanks to my degree, had to be speed read and dissected for the important bits.

Even though this summer has been well packed with placements even those have been invigorating because I chose them. How nice is that? To be able to choose a lovely little adventure for yourself with new people, new places and challenging new work. Since returning from Barcelona I've been struck over and again by just how brilliant it was. I'm not ashamed to say I wiped away a few stray tears when I left there and I'm still, several weeks on, marvelling at how well the situation worked out, how much I learnt and what a great bunch of people I found there.

Most importantly it set my enthusiasm level to bursting for this church ministry lark and left me with the happy assurance that, despite how seemingly mad this whole journey has been, I was right to follow my instincts and I am, after all, on the right path. This is all pretty good timing as the job offers for my first proper job as a minister are starting to come in. I know! I can't really believe it myself either!

But even as life starts to look more serious again and the temperatures start to plummet (sob!) I'm hoping to keep that summer feeling with me for a bit longer. To spend entire mornings, completely guilt free, in the quest for the perfect waffle topping, to learn something just because it is fun, to take on new challenges just because I can and, best of all, to take out some quality 'staring into space' time. Summer of fun, indeed!

Sunday, 20 July 2014

A very Spanish 30th

Well, it's official. I'm old! Reaching the grand old age of thirty was helped somewhat by spending the day in beautiful Barcelona. A place which has now well and truly won my heart.

We started the day with a trip to the Sagrada Familia, a church designed by Gaudi. It might sound a bit odd to come out of the mouth of a trainee Vicar but I'm generally not that keen on visiting churches. I tend to find them a bit oppressive and the architecture makes me feel squashed rather then liberating in the big Gothic buildings full of dominating statues. I wasn't expecting too much from the Sagrada Familia but had been told I absolutely must go inside of it, and man alive, was I in for a surprise.


I can confidently say that this is one of the only church buildings I have ever been into that has knocked me for six. I wonder if it is the combination of the passions in Gaudi's life which are somewhat replicated in mine – a love of nature, a love of the Bible and a desire to see the church re-magined for a new generation – but it connected with me deeply.

I loved the use of coloured light in the church in the stained glass. All the colours of the rainbow.

For the first time I felt that my faith had been replicated right there in a work of architecture and it was quite overwhelming. Gaudi was commissioned to build the Church when he was 32 so it all seemed to come together somehow. The thirties, a new decade, many new hopes and this extraordinary place testifying to the power of a vision and a good dose of tenacity!
 
 
Matthew's gospel carved into the doors
We then went on to slightly less holy pursuits of shopping along the Passieg de Gracia. As a long time devotee of Mango I was thrilled to go to the flagship store and even more thrilled to visit the place where Mango clothes go for one last hurrah before the end, the outlet store! Oh. My. Goodness. This place is wall to wall with loveliness, Mango's finest, in perfect condition but at a fraction of the price. Only the teeny tiny hand luggage restrictions of Easy Jet stopped me from going truly mental and I managed to emerge, a paragon of restraint, with just a neon yellow skirt and a red dress.

We finished the evening with dinner on top of the bullring followed by the amazing fountains and light show at Placa d'Espana. The light show was spectacular and the soundtrack was eerily like someone had broken into my Spotify playlist. It was amazing to jump about, get sprayed by water and have a good old sing along. Honestly, how cool is this city?!

 
 
And now, sob, my last night here is upon me. We're heading off to the beach for a few days know because, well, why wouldn't we? Then we are off to Madrid to feast ourselves silly and possibly do something cultural in between. I have loved it here. I felt comfortable from the moment I arrived and I have had some genuine milestones in my working and personal life. Who would have thought such a short trip planned somewhat on a speculative whim would turn out to be so special.

But now I'm signing off to dip my toes in the Med! See you in a week or so!

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Fear and Trembling


'I came to you in weakness, with much fear and trembling'

So says the Apostle Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians (in the New Testament for non Bible geeks...) and so say I! Today, as I mentioned in my last post, was my first time leading a full service with a sermon in church, and in a packed family service in Barcelona no less! As I got ready to step up to the lectern I looked out on the congregation and wondered, for what must be the hundredth time, what on earth I was doing to myself. I practised all week not wanting people to feel my nerves and so be put off from what they were there to do but there they were, those pesky nerves, always bubbling up when you least want them to!

The church in one my MANY practice sessions!

People say 'fake it till you make it' but I've never been much of an actor. I had one terrible attempt at secondary school where I forgot my lines about two scenes in and and just kept repeating the one I remembered over and over again. Not my finest hour! But today, as I started to speak and felt the now familiar words forming on my lips from all my practice, I realised that the one thing I had going for me, bad acting aside, was that I really meant these words. I really wanted to welcome everyone there 'In the name of Christ' and really wanted to talk about love and peace and joy and blessing. Speaking those opening words made me smile and then I knew I was going to be ok.

The fear and trembling seems all right this side of things. It's the evidence that, finally, I am doing something that really means something to me. After the service, and gathering some feedback from the congregation, I went upstairs to my room, and the spectacular view it gives me over Barcelona, and had a little cry. Not because people were critical (except for my preaching speed which, quite frankly, is comparable to the speed of light! I'm working on it!!) but because they seemed to understand. They seemed to see my heart and what this means to me and, most amazingly, seemed to think that I have something to say worth hearing. I had a little cry because it is amazing, and exhausting, to finally care so much about something. It's amazing when what you want so badly to communicate gets through and for it to help someone.

I already know that I am going to miss this place. Its not unusual for me to get very attached to churches. Whether its the ladies that I learned how to set up the church with in Barton or the group I chose a new Vicar with, there are all these memories, all these things that changed me. One of the ladies asked me today if I would come back here one day to work when I am all fully trained. I laughed and said I'd love to but lets see what God has planned for me first. Still, the future aside, its strange to be in a place where you can feel yourself changing, when you know, even as you live it, that these moments are going to be something you look back on as important, even life changing.

Fear and trembling isn't really something any of us seek out but sometimes perhaps it is what is needed after all. Next week I'm preaching again and I'll be practising over and over again this summer if nothing else but to get that 'word per minute' quota down! I think I'll always remember this first time, though, and that happy little feeling bubbling up in me even if it was accompanied by much fear and trembling!
 
P.S if you'd like to read my sermon (second attempt at a sermon in my life time, mind you!) then you can find it here.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Spanish tales

There are certain things that are almost obligatory when spending some time in another country. The first of these, of course, is getting lost. I managed to do this pretty spectacularly on my second day here whilst heavy laden with shopping bags. I nearly reached the point where I thought I might just have to give it all up as bad job and accept that I was now homeless with nothing but a bag of macaroni and a bottle of Rioja to my name when I remembered someone mentioning that the road the Church is on is split in two as some bright spark decided to built a hospital smack bang in the middle of what was once one long street. Ten minutes late I found the right place, had a little chuckle to myself and promptly collapsed on the sofa.

I've also been treated to some of the curiosities of Catalan culture. On Sunday night on my way home from lunch (at nine pm, nine pm!!) I stumbled across a huge group of uniformed locals forming human pyramids in the town square topped, about five levels up, by a five year old in a crash helmet. Only in Spain! I'm slowly adjusting to the different timing of life. Lunch mid afternoon, dinner later evening and everything being done at a gentle pace. Being on the Metro is like being on the London Underground but running at a quarter of the speed. I haven't seen a single person run through a station since I arrived!
 
Relaxing on the rocks
 
By far the greatest part of this pace of life is the conversations you can have with people. Rather than a snatched half an hour where you barely cover the small talk topics of job and family long lunches and late warm nights give a chance to talk about things at a depth that is impossible when everything is on a schedule. I'm reminded that time where no one is looking at their watch is precious indeed. The only factor driving people to get moving seems to be that the metro, Cinderella like, stops at 12 or pumpkin hour!

So, getting lost and navigating meal times aside, I'm getting rather comfy indeed. Luckily the church is keep me on my toes with a big challenge of leading my first solo service in the church this weekend. Its both daunting and thrilling to be putting the first part of my training into action. Still, there's only one way to learn to lead services and give sermons and that's to give them. The great advantage of living above the church comes into play again giving me time to do an awful lot of play acting to empty pews before I 'go live' on Sunday. There will be a large glass of celebratory Rioja after that! See you on the other side!!

Thursday, 3 July 2014

A Room with a View

Tonight has been one of those evenings, quite unexpectedly, when a moment, a single view, makes me wonder how on earth I have found myself here. The view from my window in Barcelona is pretty spectacular. The sea on one side with the city unfolding before it. The mountains on the other topped by a church. I can see the lights streaming out from what I'm pretty sure is the football stadium, lighting up the whole sky like some sort of night time rainbow. And right below my window is another sight I hadn't anticipated I'd be looking out on, a simple one with plain black lettering reading - 'St George's Church'.

Oddly enough I have lived in the roof of a church before and I loved it. I loved the coming and going of people below, the sound of the band rehearsing, and a two minute walk down the stairs to church wasn't bad on a Sunday morning either. But I never really anticipated that I would be staying in a church in this capacity. That I would ever, in my lifetime, be standing up on a Sunday morning in front of a bunch of people I don't know and saying prayers or giving sermons. It still has somewhat of a surreal quality about it. How did the atheist biology graduate end up training to be a church leader and in Barcelona of all places?

I think these moments are good, though, and that they come all too infrequently. Or perhaps we only allow them to come all too infrequently. A change of scene helps. It somehow throws everything into the light, making the ordinary clear again for what it really is, pretty darn extraordinary really. Its nice to be reminded that taking risks is worth it. Every thing that has brought me here has been a series of risks. The risk of entertaining such a mad idea in my world as faith and God. The risk of going into an unknown and unfamiliar church (someone tell me when that is going to change?!). The risk of looking foolish, often. The risk of seeking after doing something that I really, really love. The risk of being told 'no' when I thought I had found that thing and a million other risks besides.

All I can hope for is that these risks will continue to be worth it as they have been so far. At the very least they have made life rather interesting and it strikes me that it is a wonderful thing to be surprised over and over again about where you end up. As I wrote in my last post it sets the future wide open and full of unnumbered possibilities. I just hope to be looking out of another window in ten years time and thinking 'How on earth did I get here?!' That seems like a very good thing to hope for indeed.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

The Feisty Fly

Well here we are, the eve of my big trip to Barcelona! I can't believe it is finally here, the chance to explore a new city, a new people and to test out some ideas and inklings for the future. In the run up to this next adventure I have been reading a great book called The Mind Makeover by Sharron Lowe. In particular I have been struck by her chapter on smashing out of your comfort zone. This is, of course, particularly relevant when you are about to hop on a plane with just an address on a slip of paper and hopes of a good time!

Lowe gives a great example about comfort zones that I hadn't heard before, that of flies in a jar. If you place flies in a jar with the lid of you can pretty much guarantee what will happen, they will fly away. If you then cover the top of the jar with clear plastic film then they can only try to escape, unsuccessfully. Interestingly when you take off the film, after one day of trying to escape, the flies no longer make a bid for freedom. They no longer believe that there is life outside the jar and so sit, comfortably, in the confines of the jar for the rest of their lives.
 
Source
 
For me that sounded worryingly familiar!! It is so easy to get caught up in the narrative of the world around you, even the one you have created for yourself. It happens at every age but turning 30 seems to be rife with this kind of thing. Suddenly life ought to look a certain way because 'that is just what people do.' The partner, the house, the kids, the good job, the nice car - the whole shebang. But what if that doesn't happen for you? And what if you are not sure if you even want it? Then you simply find yourself living 'unsuccessfully' under rules you never even made in the first place.

Being in Church ministry is wonderfully liberating in a way. It comes with its own 'glass jars' and you have to be a very feisty fly indeed to get beyond them sometimes. But it does also offer the opportunity, even the expectation, to fly free, live differently and chase after what is out of the ordinary. Its very exciting to be on the cusp of that again. To be looking out and thinking 'Well, this is wide open.' Now its just time to muster the courage, ready my wings and fly up to the top of that jar. Who knows what is on the other side?

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

I'm back!

Forgive me for very much sounding my age but, where has the time gone?! One minute I was hot footing it to Florence for Easter celebrations and the next I am in my garden basking in a gorgeous English summer. It seems like the last few months have been swallowed up into some time bending parallel universe of books and essays and trying to write an awful lot of words in a very short space of time.

But now exam season is over and a whole new season is beginning. This week, perhaps at this very moment, the powers that be are meeting to decide my fate with regards to my first Vicar-ing job which I will start in a years time (assuming they don't kick me out before then!!). They are actually quite a good bunch and I'm pretty sure they have the measure of me so I'm confident if they offer me a job in this area then it will be one that fits. But at the same time we are still looking out into the big wide world beyond Oxfordshire and wondering if that is where we are heading.

In the short term that is definitely where I'm going as in just nine days I'll be arriving in Barcelona to spend three weeks at the Anglican church there and, like all good self respecting students, spending ten days after travelling around Catalunia. I can't wait to see church in action is such a different context to my own and in a place where so many nationalities and traditions are represented. It seems deeply right that church should be a place where you have to get over yourself and get along with those who are on a different page from you and even better where it is a necessary part of being a diverse bunch. How interesting is that for starters? And what a great lesson for making community work in each and every setting.

As I've been sending last minute emails to my hosts I feel a bit like one of the apostles of biblical times (ok, except for the email bit....!) eagerly anticipating to meet the 'saints in Barcelona'! Ready to spread my wings, get a bit lost and learn something brand new. So who knows what is in store over the next few months. I know I'm going to be giving A LOT of sermons. I know I'm going to meet some great people. I know I'm going to get an insight into areas of church life that I've only ever imagined before. I know I'm going to turn the big three zero! And I know I'm going to be taking you along for the ride. Ahhh it feels good to be back!

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Back to Life in Italy

I spent the Easter weekend in Florence, officially the best city in the world as voted for by....well...me! Life has been rather hectic of late. It's all piles of notes and exam timetables, MOT tests and driving practice. I was very much in need of a rest, yes, but more than that of being shaken out of what was feeling like a stifling routine. I wanted to be surprised, a bit uncomfortable. To see something new.

And what better time to embark on that kind of thing but Easter, a time of new beginnings, certainly a time of surprise. In England I have always found Easter celebrations to be pleasant, if a little bland. For me I've been waiting to experience something that really captures the occasion, that celebrates in a way that is as outlandish as the Easter story itself. Something extravagant and colourful and brand new.
 
Florence did not disappoint. The day began with a parade of about a hundred people all dressed in national costume in every colour of the rainbow, some waving the Florentine flag, others throwing flowers into the crowd, one of the Priests up front with a cross. Everyone was beaming. The bells rang out over the city as four white bulls were led the crowd each wearing a head dress of flowers pulling behind them a dark red 17th century cart over nine metres high.
 

The service, played out to us in the crowds, was in a language I didn't know (Italian, Latin?!) but I recognized some parts through the responses of the congregation as the same parts we have in our services at home. There was something beautifully familiar about it, something joyful about people in another language, a whole other world really, speaking the same words I do week in week out. Pressed up together in the crowd I grinned at the people around me who spoke to me in Italian to which I nodded and laughed, completely non the wiser but not too worried about it really.


Finally, the service over, we heard the wizz of the (wooden!) dove running down a wire that ran the length of the cathedral out to the cart. All of a sudden the cart was alight, firing off fireworks into the sky. It was like nothing I had seen before. Not like English fireworks that are all colour and spectacle, but just banging and bright light and sparklers flying everywhere. It fitted the moment somehow, it was loud, in your face. There was nothing to do but laugh and clap and whistle.
 
So Italy, well, it didn't let me down. It fed me very well indeed, it blew my cobwebs away by its sheer exuberance and it made my Easter great. Now its back to the books but with a little something extra in my tank.
Happy Easter to you and yours! x

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Little Girl in Barcelona

Last year about this time I went to a conference called 'Talitha Koum'. Translated this means 'Little Girl, get up!' and is from a gospel story where Jesus restores a little girl to health and draws her back onto her feet again. It's a powerful story and it was a powerful conference with the aim of saying to a generation of young women: wake up, step up and go into the future that is waiting for you. Lead, be bold, have confidence in yourself.

For me that event was a big deal. I was a couple of terms into college and still feeling shy about being there. I'd arrived fresh from six months of running a church, alongside the church wardens, after beginning an admin job and being promptly told two weeks in that I was on my own as the Vicar was retiring! Suddenly I was the one filling out the marriage registers and booking in the Baptisms. I planned the services, fought with the printer each week over the news sheets, assisted at funerals and even had the great joy of swinging open the church doors for the entrance of the bride on a good friend's wedding day.

But despite all this the feeling of finally stepping into a role as daunting as offering leadership to a church congregation, many of whom are infinitely wiser and more experienced than I am, still left me decidedly wobbly. Who am I to stand up and give a sermon each week? Who am I to help shape the future of a community, to develop and to train people? I felt decidedly like a little girl in some oversized robes. And yet I had been selected for this role and in many ways prepared for it. I really needed to be told, 'Little Girl, get up!'

Now I look at the role I am going into a little differently. A place of leadership in the any organisation is one role among many and no more valuable than any other. Leadership is about encouraging and enabling. If you have felt like that scared little girl (or boy!) then you are in many ways even better equipped to lead. You understand what holds people back, you know what it is like to have obstacles and you know how to overcome them and how to help others do the same. I have been invested in and theologically trained to a level where, quite frankly, my brain is swimming. But I know I am enriched, that I am always pushing on to be better at what I do, and that what I have been given is a gift to be taken out into the places I go next.

So the next adventure for this little girl is another spell in a church without a Vicar but this time in Barcelona. I'm very excited, with just a little bit of wobble, and busy reminding myself of the things that I've been given in these last few years that I can take with me into this new challenge. My tutor reliably informs me that by the end of my exams in June, when I will be heading off to Spain for those few weeks, I will be at be my intellectual peak so if nothing else they will hopefully get some good sermons out of me!
 
 

I'm also reminded that this is just the beginning and soon I will be going to interviews for my curacy (an assistant vicar type to you and me!).The challenge is set, then, and I'm getting ready to go. It looks like this little girl just got up!!

Thursday, 6 March 2014

A life that's good


It seems rather surreal to say it but I am now fast approaching the end of my fifth term at college and I am more than half way through my Vicar training. In some ways it feels like I have been there for ever. So many long, dark nights out yonder in the countryside! So many, many essays! And yet in other ways it is as if I have just arrived. The whole thing can still be mightily mysterious even on my best days.

I find that I am changing so rapidly here that it's hard to keep up with myself and my own thoughts and feelings. One of the great blessings of my time at college so far has been the chance to study theology to a depth where my whole world view has been shaken up and reordered again. I feel more uncertain and yet oddly more sure. Best of all I feel so much more in awe of this world and of God. I feel like I'm setting out on a new journey and a lifetime of learning.

My experience of training has been given a major boost this year by the church I have been going to and helping out at a bit. There I am reminded of all the things I love about Church. It is down to earth, passionate, brilliant fun, a force for good in the community and a place where I feel happy and rested. When the going gets tough it is good to have a place like that to remind me of where I am heading and that working in church really is a place where I feel fulfilled and at home.

This is a great comfort when, like me, you wander round church practically wearing a sandwich board with the word 'Why?' plastered across it. I really believe that we have to get happy asking 'why' and happy answering it if we are going to make faith and church in any way understandable to a new generation. This is the blessing (and sometimes the difficulty!) of being an interloper into the church as one raised outside of it. I have little attachment to anything but God and his goodness.

No, my heart is tugged more often by very ordinary things and I'm learning to love that. This is what our lives are made up of after all. We need to understand that the holy place is right where we stand. And so last week my heart was tugged by this song on Nashville. It struck me that through all this time with fancy theories and ways of doing things, for all the 'oughts' and 'shoulds', I find myself, deep down, only wanting to return to the simple. To live a life that's good. Nice one, Nashville! 




Sunday, 2 March 2014

Sunshine! Quick, get gardening!


Growing stuff, ah it's great isn't it? As the sun decided to make a brief appearance this weekend I took full advantage to do a bit of pruning and feeding of my little babies. I find it significantly easier to give a monkeys about my plants when they are doing something in return for me, namely feeding me and, ideally, looking pretty at the same time. Even then life on the Hulks plot can be tough what with our fondness for swanning off round Europe for weeks on end and our definite lack of fondness for watering.
 
Tried some peas last year!
 
I'm generally pretty challenged in the gardening department but I don't see that as any reason not to have a go. It is amazing how many plants will survive, and even thrive, with completely inept caretakers. Like pretty much everything in life I take a 'try and see' approach to gardening and three years in my fruit plants are all still alive (pretty much...don't mention the gooseberries!) and as they are in tubs they can come with us from house to house which makes a lot of sense given our slightly nomadic lifestyle!
 
If you fancy a go then these are my top five, seeming unkillable plants to try!
1. Mint

Stick it in a tub. It will grow. And grow. And grow. And grow! It needs a bit of watering in the summer but I often forget and it always springs back. My mint plant once entirely proved its worth by saving a Church garden party when someone forgot the mint for the Pimms. I also enjoy it all summer for mint tea.

2. Rosemary and Thyme

I planted these into tubs about five years ago and they survive very well indeed under the arid and unpredictable conditions of my gardening regime! Plus they flower, so look pretty, and smell great.


3. Blueberries

I love my blueberry plants. They need ericaceous compost (you can get little bags of this at the garden centre) and apparently prefer rain water to tap water but mine aren't that lucky! I put my plants near the house so I can grab a handful of blueberries when I want and so the birds keep off them. They like company too so buy a pair.

4. Lavender

Lavender is a bit 'treat it mean keep it keen'. It doesn't like too much water and so far has grown happily on my patio. Lavender bags and lavender biscuits are my go to uses for the plant and I have dried lavender all over my house! It likes a good trim so go for it.

5. Lettuces

This is the easiest thing to grow EVER. Just sprinkle a load of seeds on some compost, stick it on a window sill and watch them sprout up! When they are a few centimetres tall then 'thin' out the seedlings (i.e. remove a few so that each one has a good few centimetres around it to grow). Sew them a few weeks apart in any containers you have hanging about and you will have a constant supply of lettuce for the £1 price tag of a bag of seeds. You will never buy a bag of limp lettuce again!
 
Rosemary in bloom

This year I have actual real flower beds to grow in. I know, get me! Going up in the world eh? This involves a whole new level of gardening know how and, I'm sure, comedy mishaps. Still, I do love getting out and tending to the plants. There is something very therapeutic about it. Fresh air and the excitement of Spring just around the corner again. Seeing the bees buzzing around in the summer. Dashing out like a mad woman to scare birds away from the blueberries. Good times!

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Love the life you live

Do you ever have those moments when you flick on Facebook, spot yet another new job/engagement/baby/new house/great holiday announcement, and have that sudden sinking feeling, 'What am I doing? What is happening in my life? Why am I so 'behind'?' This is the curse of social media. Suddenly we know the ins and outs of people lives we've long since stopped hanging about with. Lovely to catch up perhaps but so often it becomes a game of comparisons and don't you always come up short?

In many ways I think we would all be a lot better off if we took more of an honest approach to our interactions online. When a friends comes over for a cup of tea I don't list them my achievements of the week. No, I tell them how it is, the highs and the lows. The boring bits, the bits where I made an idiot of myself (what me? Never!) as well as the bits I'm pleased with and want to celebrate. Wouldn't life online would be so much richer if we poked fun of ourselves a little bit? Told the truth about the fact that, as we type, we are wearing old jogging bottoms, circa 1998, with an indiscreet hole that we STILL can't be bothered to sew up (Just me? Ah.....)

One of my favourite sayings from the book of Proverbs, that I often repeat it to myself, is this: 'Trust in God with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.' Because who knows why I have one lot and someone else has another? All I know is that I don't want to live my life in negative, in constant awareness of all the things I don't have. Rather I want to be where I am, feet firmly on the ground and looking about me for the possibilities and opportunities that MY life is offering ME.

All of this is neatly encapsulated for me in a single image I have from being in Greece, age 18. There my favourite early evening past time was to leap off the rocks into the sea. I'd just swim out in that clear, perfect blue water and feel totally alive, totally free and so deeply, unwaveringly bold. It's so easy to lose that exuberance under all the pressures of life, the shoulds, the oughts, the 'by nows', but who wins then? The life you could have had, your very own, remains unlived. Those straight paths are untraveled.
 
No, I'm reminded again to celebrate my one weird and wonderful little life. My chances, my opportunities, where I am right now. So bring it on Monday, I'm ready for you! Let's see what this week brings!

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Home made....car!

Ok, so I'm not exactly making my own car but I am making my car super snazzy with some home spun crafts. Partly this is in a effort to make friends with my new car which, despite now being the proud owner of a full drivers licence, still fills me with a degree of horror particularly as I am now driving solo for the first time.There was a time I couldn't wait to see the back of my driving instructor now I wonder how much it was cost to have him live permanently in my passenger seat. In fact, scrap that, how much do drivers cost these days?!

But anyhow, I digress, my jazzing up of the car is not only to get a bit more friendly with it but also to introduce a little humour to this whole driving thing and some 70s pop colours  to a boring grey interior because, well, when can you not use some 70s pop colours? Never, I hear you cry! So here is a cross stitch I knocked up which I am attaching to some bright flower power fabric to make a cushion for my back seat.



I'm also mid knit to created a patchwork blanket to accompany it. Chuck on my white rimmed aviators, some Donna Summer on the decks and I'm good to go!

All this crafting has been greatly enhanced by the publication of my first 'home made home' article today. As well as contributing the hints and tips I took the photos which was not only brilliant fun but was the first time my snaps have been used alongside my writing outside of this blog. Double whoop! Here's a shot of the spread (I love the design and layout) and a couple of the snaps featuring in the article.

 
 
 
 
You really can do anything with a tin of old paint, some fabric scraps and a tiny, weeny bit of crafting know how. Pick up Woman Alive to find out more!

Thanks for reading, now go retro up your ride! :)

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Why I've abandoned femininity for humanity

A good while ago I wrote a rather angst ridden post for International Women's Day particularly focused, in the wake of the failed women bishops measure, on women's lot in the Church. I signed off saying I was off to do a little exploration on this subject and a couple of months later I started a dissertation on the ideas about gender underlying arguments against women's ordination. It has been an enlightening time!

I recently submitted my first draft to my supervisors so now, though I am far from an expert in the subject and my views are still, of course, developing, it seems like a good time to talk about some of the things I have discovered. In particular the reading I have done about gender has prompted new thoughts on that question of what, if anything, does it mean to be a woman today?

Gender is fluid

The first, and probably most startling, discovery I made was how fluid a thing gender really is. Without even going into the 4% of live births in the UK which cannot be categorized as male or female on the level of anatomy and genetics, sociologists widely agree that our concept of what it means to be male or female is largely shaped by our culture.

This was first shown by anthropological research studying different cultures around the world. What it means to be a man, or what is considered to be masculine, in one culture is vastly different in other cultures. This can be seen in typical behaviours, work patterns and child rearing practices. In some cultures child rearing is a male dominated occupation. In some manual labour is women's work. These expressions of manhood and womanhood are often deeply held but also extremely varied.

There are many 'kinds' of masculinity and femininity

It has been argued that there is a dominant expression of femininity and masculinity in Western cultures and if you live in this culture the characteristics of these will be immediately obvious to you. Yep, in a nutshell, the macho, assertive man and the pretty, co-operative woman.
 
These types are favoured, and society exerts pressure on various levels for people to conform to these stereotypes, but within society there are actually multiple expressions of masculinity and femininity. One size really does not fit all and no one masculinity or femininity can be seen as natural or more ideal than another.

Men and Women are as alike as they are different

Within this idea of multiple masculinities and femininities it has also been found that in many qualities and abilities there is more variation within the genders than between them. Of course, as gender is largely created our culture, we can also create differences between genders by how we are socialized but this does not make men or women biologically better at one thing or another. Such differences are remarkably rare and the similarities between the sexes emerges much more starkly in research of this kind.

All this has made me reflect on my original question, way back then, what does it mean to be a woman today? My explorations have in some ways pulled the rug out from under me as many of the differences I consider there to be between men and women can be shown to be variable across cultures and not fixed at all. In many ways I think this is a positive thing. Rather than seeing individuals as something you can stick a label on saying 'Man' or 'Woman' and then expect a certain set of behaviours through this research the diversity and variety of humanity can be recognized and, one day I hope, treasured.

Women don't have to be more sensitive or less assertive. Men don't have to love power tools or be some great rescuer for the women in their lives. The door is opened to greater responsibility on the part of both genders, for themselves and for each other. I have so much more to say on this subject and so much more reflection to do, particularly on the place of femininity in faith and how this has both advanced and hindered women, but my thoughts from the last year have arrived in a place of stressing our mutual calling as men and women to good human, rather than gender specific, values.

In the Bible these are described in one passage as the 'fruit of the spirit'. Galatians 5 reads, 'the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control'. These values are gender neutral. Rather than seeking what it means to be a good woman or a good man I feel confident in saying that if you seek these human values, you won't go far wrong. By bringing kindness and generosity into our encounters with each others difference perhaps we will indeed find more joy and peace. By bring gentleness and patience into our relationships, regardless our gender, better things will surely come.

So that is where I am right now and your thoughts are always appreciated. I will continue to think and debate and be back on this again, I am sure!

Sunday, 2 February 2014

We are full of Wonder

I'm having a jolly good time in my studies at the moment. The first few weeks of term were, as always, fairly stressful as I started a new section of my course and learned to navigate a new set of requirement that came along with my latest unit in Modern Theology. My tutor put a new spin on my struggles, however, which has really affected my outlook on it.

Rather than seeing these big questions (y'know simple things like the nature of God and what not!) as things to be anxious over or pin down instead I can see it as play. I can enjoy feeling small and exploring something so much bigger than me. Instead of worry, I can wonder. Since taking this approach I've really started to enjoy myself and my work has improved because of it.

This mini-academic breakthrough made me wonder how much more fun things might be if I took this approach more often in the rest of my life. We take ourselves very seriously don't we? Always stressing and dashing about as if our lives depended on the next task on our To Do list. And yet these things rarely matter as much as we make out that they do. The ironing will wait for tomorrow, the essay will get done at some point, dinner from the freezer will be fine again.
 
The garden. Always seems like a very sensible place to wonder!
And yet while we are dashing about, trying to force an answer out of the mysterious or structure into the chaotic, I wonder if we are missing the things that we can know right here and now in the ambiguity and messiness of our lives. As I've tried to wonder more and stress less this week I have found that the answers actually flow a little faster. When I stop trying to pin God down he pops up all over the place, taking me by surprise all over again.

To me it seems that it is often the most human of things that we deny ourselves. So what do you think? Time to wonder this week? I'll be the one with my head in a bunch of flowers and my mind on the mysteries of the Incarnation! Life, eh?!

Monday, 27 January 2014

I am Afraid

In my life I've been afraid of quite a few different things. I'm trying to overcome a number of fears right now and it is HARD. But the thing with fears is they don't go away if you avoid them. Like a kid with a monster under the bed they just get bigger and hairier and grow horns. No, these things are better out in the open when they can be seen for what they are, away from the shadows and the distortions of the imagination.

I've been doing a bit of reading around phobias and intense fears and have discovered that they normally arise due to a trauma or when a, perhaps seemingly insignificant, event occurs around the same time as you are experiencing a period of high stress. This was particularly the case for me with public speaking. I used to love it. I spent a summer just out of University working at a zoo where I gave the Giant Tortoise keeper talk every lunch time. I can still picture myself clearly leaping about around the outside of the pen with my 'Britney mic' on feeling totally at ease speaking to whoever I could cajole into staying to learn about the global plight of the tortoise.

A couple of years later I was interning for a church and going through a particularly hard time. Some negative comments were made about a presentation I gave and I fell apart. I didn't speak publicly again for three years. It seems excessive and in a way I have always blamed myself, considered myself weak, for giving up in the face of criticism which I could have, should have, just taken it on the chin.

But I now understand that I reacted as anyone would under the circumstances. I was weighed down by a whole world of sadness and this was the straw that broke the camels back. In these situations an intense fear can centre around an object or activity that, especially if that object or activity is avoided, can intensify with time. Its like all your pain and fear from that sad time gets trapped up in one neat package labelled 'public speaking' and your lip quivers even at the thought. I'm still overcoming that fear fully. I don't enjoy public speaking right now but I know that one day I will again.

I've also been reminded this week that being courageous is not an absence of fear or never letting anything get to you. Sometimes life throws you a whole load of rubbish at once and you respond in the only way you can. You get the hell out of there until you can cope with it all again. But it takes real courage, in the face of that fear, to not allow that fear to define you in the long term. To take steps to reclaim what you lost, to reclaim your future for yourself again free from fears that paralyse you and hold you back. To do what is knee-knockingly, jaw clenchingly hard for you.

When I was in Zambia I discovered a fear of heights. Half way up a mountain. After breathing into a paper bag for ten minutes and being roused with a glucose syrup I was faced with the option of climbing on or staying alone on the mountainside until the group scaled the mountain and came back down. I was leading that group and so I decided I had to go on, if nothing else to show them that you can do things that you don't even believe yourself are possible. That afternoon I abseiled 60 metres off the edge of that mountain, blubbing the whole way down like a baby, but I still did it. One of the instructors who was lowering me down said the kindest words anyone has ever said of a snotty nosed thirty year old weeping on an abseiling rope – 'that is true courage'.
 
Me, hanging off a rope. Crying, shaking but braving it out!
So if you, like me, have moments when it seems like everything is bigger, scarier and harder than you can ever handle, then take heart. You are the courageous one and conquering that fear you have is just around the corner.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Adventures on the interweb

'Ello 'ello! This week I've been all over the internet talking politics on Threads


 ....and doing a bit of story telling over at Tearfund Rhythms. So, dear blog readers, I send you in their general direction.


Read, comment, see you soon! x



Sunday, 12 January 2014

Sewing Box Restoration

For Christmas I was given a very lovely gift of an old vintage sewing box that I came across while on a trip to the in laws in Kent. The lady from the second hand shop there is well aware of my weakness for all things old and sewing related and, spotting me on the street, lured me to her car where this lovely little specimen was in the boot. A bit unloved. A tad forlorn. I had to have it. Manfully, however, I resisted but luckily my mother in law didn't and so, hurrah, on Christmas day it arrived at my house and a brand new project was born.


The inside of the box was very ragged and needed stripping so I first of all ripped out all the lining and then sanded it all down to get rid of the glue marks.

 
After stripping it out and giving it a sand all over I painted it using an eggshell in light blue. I got the paint from a junk shop so it cost me 50p! And here are the results!


I lined the draw with some oil cloth I had hanging about. Always worth picking this up when you see it. I got his from Cath Kidston for £6 in the sale a couple if years ago and it has been used for many, many projects.


I painted the inside, the handles and the bottom shelf area in a more aqua blue using a little paint tester I thieved from my Pa. Oh the joys of having a decorator for a Dad!


Then came the joy of organising. I don't know about you but this cold weather is making me inclined to nesting and organising. A happy afternoon was spent ordering all my bits and pieces into my new box.

 
The drawer now houses all my threads.
 


 My books look lovely all stacked up.


My fabrics are all 'filed', a genius idea I saw on Pinterest for clothes but works well for fabrics to and means you can see what you've got going on in there.


 
And my buttons in a tiny, weeny jar. Too. Cute.


I've said it once (ok, a hundred times!) and I'll say it again. Why buy anything new when you can get such fantabulous stuff second hand?