Sunday, 23 June 2013

Full Circle

This morning I was awoken at 5.30am by a cat vigorously plucking away at the loose bit of landing carpet which has come away from the bar underneath our bedroom door. The landing carpet in Barton Place was laid in a similarly shambolic manner (because I laid it) so they used to do that back there too. Fortunately, I was reasonably well rested, having fallen asleep rather early on the living room rug after half-a-bottle of wine (thank you, Andrew), a nice Chinese (thank you, Canton takeaway) and half a large bar of Galaxy (thank you, alcohol-induced lowered self-will), with Paul watching all the episodes of 'Airport Live' he missed during the week we've had no TV (thank you Rev'd Training Incumbent, for drawing husband's attention to this).

At 7am, or thereabouts, a tiny voice will appear over the baby monitor, and earnestly say something like "ro-ro-ro", "da-da-da", "ayyy" or "geh-geh", any of which may be loosely interpreted as "oy, I'm awake you know, bring me my milk!" But I'll use the hour or so before this happens to write what will probably be my last post, at least on this blog.

So, I'm getting ordained in precisely 1 week.

For the last little while I've been thinking a lot about deservedness. As I reflect on these last couple of years the only thing I can think is that I haven't deserved any of it. Going right back to the process of discernment and the BAP, there was no way I deserved to get that letter from the Bishop saying that - yes - the BAP were recommending me for training. Looking around me at St David's, I was always aware that the vast majority of people were older than me, had been Christians for longer, and had more experience in a whole host of the skills and qualities which you're asked to evidence during the discernment process - so why on earth should I be the one with the cheek to say I think God is calling me to a role of leadership and service in the church, to break bread and minister to his people as Priest?

Reflecting on my experience at college, again, I've not deserved any of what I've received in material terms. Mr A and I rocked up at Cuddesdon just shy of two years ago. We were given a lovely flat with no bills to pay, plus a student grant enough to live on, and invited in gracious hospitality to three meals a day. I was enrolled on a Masters at one of the top Universities in the world and given the priviledge of learning from, and alongside, some very fine people. Why invest so much in me? Not because I'd done anything to deserve it, but because the Church believed that God was calling me to serve as Priest. In the secular world, you'd have to had done a lot of climbing the ladder before a company invested so much in your continued training. Either that or signed a contract saying you'd pay it all back if you changed your mind or didn't complete the course. I was asked to sign no such contract.

And here I am in a large house with nice furniture (resettlement grant), with no rent or mortgage to pay. Materially speaking, I have been given all I need. A stipend is not a huge amount of money, but it's supposed to be enough to take away financial worry and allow you to concentrate on ministry. So I'll never own a sports car, but if all I want in life is food on the table (and probably to be able to visit the Canton Chinese takeaway on a weekly basis) and occasionally go on holiday somewhere reasonably nice, that will be ok. But I haven't deserved it.

We didn't really deserve Arthur. People say that children are a gift and that really is the case. I don't want to get all soppy and go on for paragraphs about his lovely little face, but I could. In a few minutes I'll go upstairs and open the curtains and he'll greet me with a big smile and an excited wave of the arms. As parents, babies put their trust in us to look after them. It's a huge responsibility, and as they grow up there's any number of things we can do to break that trust. But their initial, primal instinct is to trust Mum and Dad to give them all they need. They haven't seen our CVs, haven't asked whether we have any prior experience in bottle-making-up or nappy-changing or making decisions about administration of Calpol. So we haven't deserved their trust. But from the first day they put themselves fully into our care.

I won't deserve to wear clericals or to be called 'Reverend' or any of that stuff. And I won't deserve occupation of the place of trust that any of that brings. This non-deservedness is a hard thing to accept, but one which I feel is important to maintain. The moment anyone, clergy or not, decides that the gifts God has given them are a result of their own deservedness, something is lost. 'Grace' is the greatest term in the Christian vocabulary, it is what everything in the Christian faith comes down to. A gift freely given, and undeserved.

Anyway, I've written this Blog post having been unsure of how it will end. But standing in awe of God's Grace would seem to be the ultimate place. So I will sign off with that thought, and ordination looming, into a future which will be marked by as-yet-unknown things, to go to places I do not deserve to go, to meet people I do not deserve to meet, and do things I do not deserve to do, but to embrace it all because of God's grace.

"For the Mighty One has done great things for me,
   and holy is his name."

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Journeys End, Journeys Begin #2

This time last week I was at my last ever Cuddesdon Bright Hour, somewhat intoxicated on the house white, having been at the very reflective Leavers' retreat all day. Kate and I did a sketch about surviving college with a baby and good fun was had by all.

Tonight I am sitting in a large and eerily quiet house (no TV aerial!) in the centre of Bridgwater, having just eaten my own bodyweight of beef with green pepper and egg fried rice from the local Chinese (which I must say, was excellent).

What's happened in the last week?

Well, Friday was the Leavers' service. I donned my brand new cassock, my brand new stole (with sheep and hills and a river on it!) was blessed, and all of a sudden, through the West Door of All Saints, as so many have before, I left college! Hugs and handshakes and "good lucks" were had by all. We pottered home.

Having set aside Saturday to do 'practical things' we discovered there was nothing still to do, so generally faffed about. Sunday was good. We went to a barbecue with my lovely cell group, the Prayer Bears (yep, I know...) and in the evening Kate and I polished off a bottle of bubbly.

On Monday, at 9.30am, as they had promised, a MASSIVE lorry backed up to Runcie. Seriously, you have never seen a lorry so big. Within 3-and-a-half hours our flat was empty and the lorry was 1/4 full (honestly... the lorry was far too big!) Craig and Steve from Pickfords had picked and packed and carried everything we own down 4 flights of stairs, and off they went. We took a turn around the empty flat with Arthur waving "bye bye kitchen", "bye bye bedroom" etc. etc., dropped the keys back and headed that old familiar route down the M4 and M5 for the last time in a while. We picked up the keys to our Curate's House from a secret location where they had been left by Rev Will. 8 years after leaving, we were residents of the TA postcode again!

We stayed overnight at Mum and Dad's, and on Tuesday Craig and Steve rocked up at the Curate's House. It took them an impressive hour to move everything in, and they even offered to unpack for us (I declined... they'd already seen my underwear once!)

Tuesday was mainly spent wandering around in a daze. The Curate's House really is huge. Everything about it feels big. When people build houses nowadays, they usually build them quite economically, but not the Victorians! The ceilings are around 10ft high! I'm exhausted just climbing the stairs! It took all the brain power I had to contemplate how to unpack the contents of the 1 kitchen drawer we had in our Runcie kitchen into the 16 drawers of our new kitchen, and our two small two-seater sofas look pretty sad in the living room.

Wednesday was a far more productive day. Mum and Dad came over to help. Mum entertained Arthur so we could get the boxes unpacked quicker, and Dad strimmed the jungle of a garden, revealing a rather neat lawn beneath!

Today, we've mainly been hanging curtains, and now that they're up we're intending to spend our first night sleeping here tonight.

Bridgwater's a pretty nice place. I've no idea where it gets its sometimes dubious reputation - everyone we've met has been so friendly, especially our new neighbours who have all popped past to say welcome. I think we're going to get on very well.

I'll miss Cuddesdon a lot. But having got here I'm sure this is where I need to be. The right time and the right place.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Baby Boomers

This morning was Joseph's baptism. It was a very moving service, and the first baptism to be held in the new Edward King chapel. Joseph's Dad, Andrew, spoke beautifully about God's love as being a bit like a boat. Tim, who performed the baptism, linked this image to a baby cradled in arms.

Looking around the chapel, I reflected on how the community has grown in the last 2 years. Specifically, the number of babies we've had since I started. If my memory serves me right, in the time I have been here there have been 10 babies born. And there are plenty more on the way!

Why are so many babies born at Cuddesdon?

On the face of it, it is, for many, not an inconvenient time to have a baby. Many people entering college fit into that demographic of 20 or 30-somethings married in the last few years and ready to start a family, or with one or two young children and wanting more. Spouses have often had to leave employment to move to Cuddesdon, so it can form a natural career break. For female ordinands, training can be tailored around pregnancy a little easier than can the first couple of years of a Curacy.

But is there more to it than that?

I wonder whether living in this sort of community and having babies goes together so well because, when you're going through pregnancy and the first few months of parenthood, you really, really need community. You'll remember me saying that, when Arthur was born, lasagnes would spontaneously turn up on our doorstep every evening. That simply wouldn't happen anywhere else. Arthur's wardrobe also consists of about 80% borrowed clothes and hand-me-downs. Having other babies around me has been important for Arthur's development, and knowing there are other parents of young children around to ask for advice has been, quite literally, a Godsend.

I guess this is why other people go to parent and baby/toddler groups. I just happen to live in one!

Babies surely need community then. But I'm also convinced that community needs babies. There's something important about a community living in the reality of new life coming into the world. And not just the quaint, cute side of it, but the real side of it. My own pregnancy and Arthur's birth and what has happened since were made particularly difficult due to his medical problems, but since being at Cuddesdon I've learnt that no parent has an easy ride, and some people can go through an incredibly hard time in the process of conception, pregnancy, birth and caring for a baby for a number of reasons. Somehow, the extremes of life - suffering and joy - come together in babies, and it seems somehow right that this is a feature of this community.

Looking wider, since I've been at Cuddesdon we've also seen serious illness and more recently, sadly, the death of our dear Bursar, David. And the presence of the Sisters has brought people of an older age to our community. The Holy Hill isn't some University campus where 20-somethings sit exams and philosophise for the sake of it. It's a real, living breathing place which sees every aspect of life. Babies are just one element of that.

Well, there's my tuppance for the day. It's also come to my attention that today is 1st June and so for the first time I can say I'm going to be ordained this month. Now that's a bit terrifying. Still more terrifying, by this time next week I'll have technically left college (although we'll be staying in our flat until Monday 10th!)

And, even more pressingly, Arthur seems to have worked out, as of yesterday, that particular skill of walking his hands forward and stretching one leg out behind him in order to reach a far away object. Which means it's only a matter of days until he figures that by bringing the other leg round too he will be able to achieve the forward propulsion he's been desiring for so many weeks!

Better get some rest now. I'm going to need the energy!

Saturday, 18 May 2013

On Mission, Ministry and CBeebies

Mr A and I have recently discovered a new thing. It is called CBeebies.

Before you shake your heads in disapproval at our plopping poor young Arthur in front of the goggle-box which is sure to have turned his brain to mush before he reaches his first birthday, I mitigate this statement by saying we only put it on for a very set amount of time every day and it is really rather a useful thing in allowing Mr A and I to go about our morning routine while keeping Arthur suitably entertained. Arthur is still at the age where essentially any TV programme with movement, colour and familiar theme tunes will provoke an enthusiastic reaction (as is seen by his reaction to 'Pointless' - the only other TV programme he watches on a daily basis!) but somehow putting him in front of children's TV seems more wholesome parenting!

I must say, I'm finding the simple moral messages of pre-school TV quite refreshing. It's also amazingly weird how efficient it is at structuring our mornings.

I always know whether Morning Prayer has overrun or not by whether I catch the end-credits of train-based series Chuggington (7.50am-8am). The morning then proceeds as follows -

8am-8.05am - Woolly and Tig - Dull and a bit too sickly-sweet for my taste. Featuring a cuddly-toy spider and a little girl. Normally make a cup of tea for the 5 minutes while this is on.

8.05am-8.20am - Mike the Knight - Very much forms the heart of my daily CBeebies experience. More on this later.

8.20am-8.30am - Timmy Time - Aardman's offering to Pre-Schoolers. Smaller version of Shaun the Sheep. I'm often not entirely sure of the storyline because there isn't any dialogue but the characters are very cute and cuddly.

Very often we head out to College Breakfast at this point, but if we stay at home we move on to -

8.30am-8.40am - Pingu - A blast from the past. Doesn't seem to have changed much since I watched it. Again, because my attention isn't always fully on the TV I often miss the plot.

8.40am - 9am - Me Too - If I haven't headed into college by this point it's worth holding on for this rare treat. The endlessly enthusiastic Nanny Murray provides a childminding service while we follow the parents of children about their daily business.

If we reach The Koala Brothers we have gone too far and should really be doing something more productive.

Anyway, back to Mike. Perhaps I identify with him because he's "a trainee Knight" (as I am a trainee priest) and "every day is an adventure" (as I imagine Curacy will be). For those of you unfamiliar with his work (most of you) here's a summary...

Essentially, Mike, who lives in some form of olden-days settlement complete with a King, Queen, Dragons, Wizards, Vikings, Trolls etc. comes up with a 'mission' every episode. This mission is always very well-intentioned and is normally related to helping people (link to Community-based mission?) Once he has identified his mission, normally about 1/3 way through the episode he declares "I'm Mike the Knight and my mission is to..." in such an enthusiastic voice that you're already anticipating it going wrong. The thing is, Mike, while naturally well-intentioned, has numerous character-flaws He's quite arrogant and tends to take on tasks that are simply too big for him. He's also, let's face it, very often simply a bit dim. His mission, therefore, very quickly goes wrong. By 2/3 through the episode, poor Mike is usually left standing there in his armour with a very downturned mouth lamenting that everything has gone wrong. He will then talk things through with one of his friends (theological reflection?) and identify where things have gone wrong, which necessarily leads to Mike punching the air and declaring "it's time to be a Knight and do it right!" After which, of course, all things are made well. The whole episode is then summarised by a Minstrel and we the viewer are left singing along with the dangerously funky closing theme "be a Knight, do it right, you can be a hero too..."

So, I'm less than 3 weeks from leaving Ripon College Cuddesdon. There's been times when I've been desperate for this time to hurry up and come, but I'm now feeling really quite sad it's almost time to say goodbye, while also excited about what happens next. Ordination is still an event I can only sum up with a non-cheesy understanding of the word 'awesome' (i.e. sort of terrifying and amazing!) I can't quite believe it's all going to happen, but it is, and soon. I'm keen to 'end well' here and enjoy every moment of the next 20 days. And then it's out into the big wide world of ministry, knowing, much like Mike, that I have set myself up to fail miserably but have wonderful moments too. Nothing will go quite to plan, but it's time to trust in God and hopefully things will be just about alright.

It's time to be a Curate and do it right!

Monday, 22 April 2013

Back to School

When I was a youngster I was an avid Enid Blyton fan. My favourite series of all was, I think, Malory Towers. There was something very exciting about the idea of boarding school and all the hijinx that could be got up to. Not that I was the sort of child who would have actually got up to much hijinx, but it was certainly fun to read about.

As we drove to past the village sign to Cuddesdon the July before last and caught the first glimpse of college, I remember trying to summon a quote from the first chapter of the first book of Malory Towers. It goes something like - "Darrell craned her neck to catch a glimpse of the school she would call home for the next five years..." Anyone who has driven into Cuddesdon will know the view I mean - looking across the field towards the back of the Runcie buildings and the college beyond. The roofs and chimneys and bell. The view has altered a bit in the last few years, but the principal is still the same. Did I say principal? - I mean, principle. I mean, the view is still very nice.

Cuddesdon has that sort of boarding school feel about it, and that first term had the feel of starting school. All those worries around making friends and keeping up with the work and figuring out how on earth you manage to be in the correct place at the correct time. Soon they gave way to familiarity and routine - why, of course evening prayer is at 5.15pm on some nights and 5.45pm on others! And of course we enter dinner through a different door on a Wednesday night! And of course you get kippers for breakfast on a Tuesday!

And now it's back to school for the last time. As I walked into chapel this morning and looked around the familiar faces in the slightly less-familiar building it felt like the-beginning-of-the-end-of-the-beginning. And as we had our annual 'school photograph' taken this afternoon, I realised it would not be long before this photo - Leavers, 2013 - hanging somewhere in a corridor in College House would be all that would be left of me at Cuddesdon. Removals are booked for precisely 7 weeks time. We're nearly there.

But it's not time to be sentimental. 2 years isn't actually a huge amount of time and, in a sense, it's only ever felt 'transitional'. There have been times this year when Arthur's situation has forced me to detach myself from college almost entirely, and it's a great pity that I feel I still don't know some of the first year as well as I should.

But I need to move on from any regrets now and look to the future. For the next 7 weeks I will be mainly getting as much of my dissertation done as is possible, eating as much free food as is possible and swotting up on all those things I think I really ought to know pre-ordination.

Time to polish those shoes and sharpen those pencils for one final time. Term 6 of 6 is upon us. Over and out!

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Two Years of Blogging

It's two years since I started this Blog. Well, two years and four days, but I was probably a bit busy on Tuesday so let's for the sake of things say it's two years since I started this Blog.

I've checked, and apparently I started it because, and I quote, "I find there's something satisfying about writing down thoughts and feelings during transitional stages of life and this is one of them."

Who was I writing down thoughts and feelings for? Myself mainly, I think. So why put them online when paper and pen would do just as well? I'm not sure, it just seems like the thing to do, and it's been lovely when people have told me they read this Blog, especially people going through the discernment process and those who have shown an interest in Arthur and his story.

The post about the BAP has now had almost 1,000 views. If I'd known that I'd probably have done a spell check.

It's certainly been a "transitional stage." Paul and I have done lots of things for the first time: sold a house, lived out of the Westcountry, had a baby. My personal firsts: I've been to a BAP, bought a cassock, attended a youth group!

It's certainly been a transitional time.

In the last few weeks I've had quite a sense of ending. College ending, of course. There are now less than 9 weeks to go until college is over, and little more than 12 until I'm ordained.

But things are changing with Arthur too. At 8 months old he's developing his own personality. He responds to things more readily. He shows likes and dislikes. Now, more than ever, he's showing that spina bifida doesn't define him. Spina bifida really dominated the pregnancy and Arthur's first few weeks of life, but over the last couple of months I've felt less need to go on about it. When we meet new people, I tend to try not to tell them about his disability unless it's really relevant. Partly, it's about moving on myself. And it's partly becoming aware that I don't want him growing up believing that disability defines him. It's important he acknowledges it, and that it's a right pain, but the fact is it's there, and he needs to have dreams and ambitions that go beyond it. The last thing I'd want is for him to think about himself, as a child, "I'm Arthur, and I've got spina bifida."

And, of course, my life will be changing as I move into Curacy. For starters, I'll need to be less public about the things that are on my mind, which make Blogging after June less doable. The last thing I'd want would be to write in a way which wasn't able to be entirely honest about how I'm feeling.

So I'll probably draw the Blog to a close at ordination. It's better to do that then just let it fizzle out, that's my thinking. The fact that my posts have got less and less frequent suggest that I need it less these days. And, let's face it, from June I'll have less time for meandering reflections on my own life. Time to look upwards, and outwards, and onwards.

Sunday, 17 March 2013


Right, as promised in Thursday's post, here is a post about my Title Post. Also known as my Curacy. Or 'the mad Parish who wanted to take on me as an Apprentice Vicar - the fools!'

It is the Benefice of Holy Trinity, Bridgwater with St Hugh's, Durleigh. More info here...

The conversations started in November when Paul and I realised that moving to the Diocese of Bath and Wells would be a practical, sensible and grown-up thing to do both in terms of being near family and being slightly nearer to Bristol Children's Hospital than we would have been in South Devon (at 10 weeks old Arthur made it clear he was in charge, so this move is all his fault!)

We visited in November and were immediately impressed by the potential Training Incumbant and his ministry.

We visited a service in metaphorical hat-and-dark-glasses, which was actually slightly easier than previous 'covert' visits to potential curacies. When people asked where I lived I just told them where I grew up, which is a mere 8 miles away! So it involved almost no lying at all!

It seems ideal. There's a sense of being outward looking and prioritising the wider community, which is absolutely essential to me. The actual liturgy is just about what I'm used to (what 'A Church Near You' calls 'Low End of Catholic') which is great.

We'll be living in central Bridgwater, outside the Parish but within easy walking distance. It'll feel very different to Cuddesdon. One fellow ordinand said to me last week "the thing about Cuddesdon is you can't even go and buy a pen without using your car." My pen buying opportunities will now be abundant. In fact, I'll have Morrisons, Wilkinson, the Works and WHSmith all within a 10 minute walk of the house, which stock a range of pens of all textures, colours and qualities. Also within the specified radius, a terrifying number of restaurants, cafes and takeaways which may pose a problem.

Anyhow, I just cannot wait. In the spirit of prayerful reverence -  "bring it on!!!"