A year on…

Haven’t touched this blog for an entire year, been a wee bit busy with keeping a transition blog instead (eeeep!) but here are 15 things that happened in 2015:

1) I came out on Facebook, and changed my name legally

2) Put together and held a naming ceremony, and spoke about it on Radio 4

3) Spent my first Christmas away from home

4) Met, dated, fell in love with Lauren

5) Got the job as Assistant Virger

6) Had first GIC appointment

7) Went to Lambeth Palace as part of DC, joined the welcoming team

8) Volunteered with two awesome projects working with homeless and mental health issues

9) Ran for a position on the HSU Exec (quite glad I didn’t get it in hindsight!)

10) Sat in the Vestry with Alison Balsom and fanboyed a lot

11) Discovered I’m not scared of heights

12) Led the Offices, licensed as Euch Minister, read a lesson

13) Got through the second year and did happily well this term

14) Survived, and loved, working the festive period, exhaustion aside

15) Continue to live with damn awesome people

2016 is going to be full of good things, today has already held a few, so long may this continue

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Obligatory New Year posting :)

Got tagged in a Tumblr thing so figured I might as well blog it as well, hopefully with the intention of sticking to some vague resolutions!

14 things that happened in 2014 —

1) Moved into a flat
2) Played outside St Paul’s for the 20th anniversary of women’s ordination celebrations
3) Had my family come stay when Wakefield sang at St Paul’s, also Southwark for Michaels installation
4) Started serving at SMA, served for Lesley’s ordination with Desmond Tutu
5) Went to Whitby Folk Festival with flatmates
6) Went to Two:23 and then joined Diverse Church
7) Started volunteering at St Andrews
8) Got an actual job
9) Survived year one of uni
10) Tried to dance Morris
11) Played the Last Post on Remembrance Sunday
12) Met Andi for dinner in London
13) Volunteering at London Pride, Anniversary Games
14) Slowly coming out and being Nick in reality rather than just my head

15 hopes/things for 2015 —

1) Do more reading for uni work
2) Try and panic less about things
3) Worry a little less about the perceptions of others
4) Get round to learning to knit
5) Drink more water and try to eat better
6) Meet up with more friends when I’m at home
7) Get some sort of career plan
8) Be more involved at SMA as I was in first year
9) Be more involved in college stuff through student rep etc
10) Be more honest with the people I love about who I am
11) Come out on Facebook maybe hopefully
12) Spend less time on the Internet wasting time
13) Be more kind and less bitchy about people
14) Keep a jar of happy things
15) Have an awesome year 🙂

Volunteer space

I didn’t go to Church yesterday morning. I can’t remember a time I’ve voluntarily stayed at home rather than gone, expect for the brief time cricket occupied my Sunday mornings. But last week I finally out my foot down and said ‘no’ to the Church. Or more specifically, I said no to my role as an altar server at my beloved church in Kensington. And I didn’t have to be there yesterday (we have a shortage of servers so if you go to church, you are serving).

The call to serve, the call to aid the worship and ministry of others, is a big one. And it’s one I can’t fill at the moment. My faith is very very shaky and no longer do I feel comfortable standing in view of others mouthing my way through the creeds and the canticles and receiving communion. So I stepped back. But it took me about three months to work up to saying ‘no’. Because I’d forgotten that it is a voluntary role, had forgotten that I have that right to step back without having to apologise profusely and feel guilty.

How do we as a church, as any social institution, relate to our volunteers? For some churches, day to day life would be impossible, projects wouldn’t happen, welcomes wouldn’t be given, mission would be nonexistent. But how often do we make sure that volunteers are still happy in the role that they are doing? How often do we thank them for giving their time, but remind them that it isn’t an obligation? That pattern of thought is a dangerous one, that panicked ‘if I don’t go it’ll all fall apart’ mentality which sets in in regular volunteers needs to be addressed. We need to allow people that space, and let them know that it is okay for them to take it, because volunteers are remarkable and valuable people for our church and society. I’m grateful for the chance to step back, to know that I can choose to return and be welcomed back, but that it’s going to be my call. I still struggle to shake the guilt of landing the clergy team with a lack of a serving team, but if I can’t give my best, if I can t be comfortable in that place and that role, how am I of any use?

Volunteers are precious and needed, but we need to check that they don’t feel obligated to turn in if they don’t want to, if they feel tied to it. Let’s work to ensure that volunteers continue to grow and flourish, and learn to appreciate their ministry, whilst giving the space for stepping back if needed. Burnout is not a pretty thing, and something that can be avoided by just checking in with volunteers to see where they are.

‘Faith enough for you’

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently as Lent approached about my relationship with, and understanding of faith, and of the role of religion. We’ve been studying the secularisation thesis in regard to modernity across all Abrahamic traditions as well which has given me pause for thought to ask ‘Why is there still religion? Why is it still important?’. I’m aware that these are very deep and personal questions to which we all must find our own answers, and what follows are just a few of my thoughts about why I find Christianity to still be a relevant force in my life, even when I’m not sure I can assent or connect to its beliefs.

  • Religion has an important element of self-examination, of self-reflection. Every morning saying Matins Christians pray for a day that is to be holy and good, and every evening at Vespers we reflect upon the day, seeing the places where we could have said more, done more, thought more. These times help us to be more conscious of how we act, how we treat other people, in a world that can sometimes feel to be utterly self-absorbed, where people live for the moment not for the consequence, we take time out to think, and to aspire for better.
  • There is room (indeed even expectation) for failure. We set the standards so impossibly high through our aspiration to live as Christ did. We cannot ever hope to attain the Christlike nature in its entirety, we cannot all be living saints all of the time. We are bound to be caught up in the world, to not always be the seed that fell on good ground, to sometimes be that which is on the path, or on the rock, or amongst the weeds. But that’s okay. The exhortation to ‘go from here and sin no more’ is a hope, not a certainty. We acknowledge our sins, whether large or small, and then resolve to start afresh, aware that we will in all likeliness fail again, and again, and again. But God’s grace can lift us back up.
  • Even when you can’t find God, when He is so far away that the words of the Creed, the receiving of the Sacrament, the Absolution feels hollow and meaningless, we are upheld by the community around us. I once felt like I was the only one in a Church congregation feeling doubt, feeling unworthy, because everyone else seemed so pious, saying the words, doing the actions. But then I realised that really, most people have doubts, most people would want to cross their fingers at points in the service, to whisper into what feels like an empty void. And that’s okay, because (as I was once memorably told), those in the congregation and the clergy who do sense something of the divine presence can say ‘we have faith enough for you’
  • Sure religion can seem dogmatic, formulaic, institutionalised. But having the constant and unerring rhythm, the daily cycle of prayer can also be immensely freeing, a chance to escape a hectic world and focus your mind only upon the words you are reading, singing or hearing, even if you don’t fully agree with or find comfort in them. A frantic soul is calmed, we are given the chance to breathe and live with gratitude for what we have, not seeking blindly and ruthlessly what we do not have. Deo Gratias!

Mentality

There’s a door in my mind,

edged with yellow and black warning tape, holding it shut.

That’s where the questions and problems live.

Mostly it stays shut, but

Some days the spidery black void that lurks within pokes a feeler out,

Whispers questions, opinions, fears.

If the door stays shut things are fine.

At least, that’s what I tell myself…

whilst I scrabble to cover the cracks and patch the scars,

and pretend the spider isn’t there.

Until he comes seeping out from under the door again.

Sometimes it’s more impatient, the little beast in my mind

And he senses the weaknesses, the hesitations, the stresses

and blows the door off its hinges, like a punch to the stomach, floors you.

Existential angst usually follows, the questions have escaped, philosophy the enemy here

and then the stillness, the nothingness, the apathy.

BUT, I carry on fighting the beast, pushing him back behind his door, telling him to stay there or else,

because somehow I know that this isn’t all there is.

Today I have my vorpal sword, blade forged through a smile, a laugh, a friendship,

and that’s worth fighting for.

There’s a door in my mind, but today, today is a day for brightness, not black, and so the door stays shut, for now.

Epiphany! (not that one)

It’s odd how things suddenly fit into place when you least expect them to. I’ve been thinking about children’s and youth ministry a lot recently, it’s not something I know a lot (by which I mean nothing) about. I never went to youth groups or Sunday school per se, before I became a server at 9 me and mum did spend the service in ‘junior church’ which basically equated to two or three kids colouring in and looking at the more interesting Bible stores (Jonah and the Whale anyone?), but it was never really a prominent feature of my church, because my family attended the later service, not the ‘family service’.

I have, I have to admit, largely ignored children’s ministry and outreach, it’s something other people do, not us. I’ve never been a leader, or a helper, in anything involving children, partly I think because of this upbringing, children just grow into the Church by sitting through services and saying the words, not by building things out of Lego or plasticine a la Messy Church….don’t they?

The church I am now involved with however has several childrens groups, mainly from the school, and Sunday mornings are full of small children tearing around and making the Vicars attempts to give the notices all but inaudible. It’s brilliant! It’s something I’ve never before experienced, children I used to think should be very much seen and not heard, if a child was dropping pencils in the middle of the anthem then it was pretty much guaranteed that they’d get disapproving looks from the congregation, and be the subject of a discussion by the layclerks over a post-mass pint. I often wonder what my response and experience would have been had we attended the earlier Sunday service, would I see things differenty?

Today at the weekly lunchtime recital by RCM students there was a mother with a baby and a lad of about 4 who was running up and down the pew, crawling over the back onto the next one, and the sight made me smile so much, and got me thinking. I’m very much reminded of this brilliant post – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jamie-bruesehoff/parents-kids-church_b_3909085.html which sums up I think why I love 9.30 services at my church. A large part of me is associated with the sort of BCP services attended by grey haired conservative types (small ‘c’), and I wouldn’t change that, I still love the formality and gravity and ritual, and think it’s a very very important part of church. But it can easily become very soulless, very much just a matter of routine, of saying the right words in the right way, of making the right motions, but not of feeling, not of the life which should be central to a service. We after all are there to give glory to a living, Incarnated God.

I’ve been that person who turns round to glance in irritation at the parent of a disruptive child many times, and only now I think do I realise how unhelpful an attitude that is. Children are enquiring, energetic, curious, playful, in short everything which a stale service is missing, watching children explore their faith and clamber around the base of the font, or light a candle with their siblings, is an important reminder to me that we worship a God who entreats us to look after and become childlike in our response to him.

So now the question for me becomes not who the hell will tell that parent to take that child out, but how can we encourage them to feel part of the church life, to bring the important ministry of parenthood into the heart of what we do? I don’t know, but I finally today realised exactly how important childrens ministry is, and how much the church benefits from embracing children and youth.

I’ll never be creative enough to work with children the way I see leaders doing, but I’m now looking for ways I can at least be involved, because children show us our faith, their wonder at the world and their energy is infused with, immersed in, the divine joy we should all feel as part of the Christian body, confessing a laughing, loving, living God.

The transience of life

You know when it just occurs to you that at some point in your life you’ll watch your elders age and die? Well somehow that’s expected in a way, your parents die before you and all their friends as well, and life goes on, albeit in an abstract way. But try and contextualise it, your best friend, your sibling, your partner, might die and then you really realise the finitude of life. Life always ends, but sometimes it feels like a distant reality…but we have it easy in so many ways, we don’t have to worry about people dying so early, we won’t face these questions head on until people are in their 70’s or 80’s and we are too. But we will have to face it, one way or another. Not to sound morbid, but we should appreciate each and every day, because we have so much stability in our lives, and death and sorrow are so abstracted from us, but let us remember those who are no so well off, for whom every day is a constant reminder of a loved one lost, a potential never fulfilled. It is surely our duty as a common humanity to help those in distress, to reduce mortality rates and encourage people to appreciate the amount that they have.

Humility

The sacrifice of one’s own slight contentment for the sake of the comforting of another human being is something I will admit to not being used to. We are often exhorted through the moral codes and values of our cultures and societies to put others first, but for most it is an incredibly hard thing for us to actually enact. The empathetic part of our nature (which I happen to believe all human beings to be innately gifted with, with varying degrees) wants to reach out to those lower than ourselves, to put our change into someone’s outstretched hands, to buy some extra food to drop off at the food shelter, to help the mother to manoeuvre her pram up the flight of stairs.

But. There is a part in us, bigger in some than others, which just wants to be egotistical, which enjoys having money, power, time, a sense of purpose and order, a part which says BUT. I would give my change to the homeless woman but I might need it for a coffee later (and she’ll probably spend it on drugs anyhow). I could buy some extra food but the food I’m buying is for me, someone else will sort out the food bank (and they’re probably just scroungers anyway) I should help that mother but I’m wanting to get on with my own journey, maybe I’m late, maybe I just can’t be bothered. Would, could, should. Deep within us we know that connection to our empathy and humanity which is enriched by our good acts, by our setting aside of ourselves,but life seems to get in the way of the idealistic vision of the living saint who cares for all and pours themselves out for others. But it isn’t all disasterous, we are not bound by the need or compulsion to act as we do, to pretend we haven’t seen the man laid on the cardboard outside the door, to pass by the woman collecting for cancer charities. We can change our world in minute ways, things which to us seem insignificant and tiny, but make a huge impact.

Tonight I have had one of the most enjoyable days since I came to uni, I had an excellent lecture, I did some productive reading, I met with some friends for coffee, I caught the tube to Embankment and wandered across the bridge with the buskers tunes ringing in my ears as I looked at the city illuminated in the dark. I returned to the flat and made a cup of tea, contemplated what music to put on and got into my PJs. But then one of my closest friends I’ve made at uni got back looking utterly browbeaten. And the tea was put down and the arms were opened. Because at that moment there was no thought of oh I could be snuggled in bed getting an early night but the concern and the listening and the comfort that they needed overrode it entirely. And somehow it brought to life the idea of humility, the service of others in their times of need in a way it rarely had before. We can discover a new, more enriched way of living, a new humanity, though giving ourselves over to that innate impulse of empathy and generosity, through simple, small acts. We are not condemned to live a life of could, would, should, we can, and must shape our world how we would want to see it, the egotism of our society, the encouragement to be high achievers and fulfilment through personal goals is somehow a hollow promise. We must of course take care of ourselves, must not stretch ourselves too thin. But it is mutually enriching to stop, take the time to help, to give, to talk, because in those spaces we expand, and feel better not only about ourselves and those we help, but about our entire world.

University and transitions

Bright and early on Sunday morning I, and many other 18 year olds, will be moving out of home and carting all our crap (usually with the unwilling help of the parental removal firm!) into our university accommodation. I’m really looking forward to the change in surroundings and the challenges of academia, it’s been three months since I’ve done any sort of academic work having finished my A levels and whilst that fills me with trepidation of getting back into the routine of essay writing, meeting deadlines, doing research etc, I’m also looking forward to it. But first there’s the Freshers week to survive…not being a a great socialite I’m slightly apprehensive about this, but am pretty sure there will be many others in the same shoes and I don’t want to be something I’m not, much as my parents are determined I must get involved and be irresponsible and all the associated connotations of Freshers! If I manage to not make a prat of myself all week I’ll consider that an achievement 🙂

Leaving home is a weird thing, it’s ridiculously exciting, meeting new people, going to new places, getting lost, going to events etc is making me wish Sunday was here already. But I think I’ll miss the little things, like knowing my dad so well we make the same sarcastic comments in sync, and the Cathedral Layclerks who I’ve known all my life, with all their quirks and who are basically like extended family to me, and the way mum sings along to theme tunes or points out the randomest things on car journeys. We’ve sorted Skype so at least I can keep in contact aha.

There’s bags and boxes everywhere, there’s been the inevitable Saturday trip to IKEA (which was also full of students with parents pushing carts of plates, bedding and other essentials!), most of my clothes are packed, good luck cards keep arriving, I’ve said goodbye to my Cathedral and Parish Church families and it all feels a bit real! So, onwards to the next big adventure, I’ll no doubt post a follow up once I’ve got my bearings a bit and stopped wandering round London being lost!

On social media and complex issues (Tumblr transfer – written 05/07)

Prompted by musings on my Twitter feed from some about how 140 characters is not enough for reasoned, intelligent debate and explanation of complex issues I figured I’d reflect on how we use social media and whether or not it is beneficial to how we engage with complex issues and debates.

I’ve grown up into this social media age, I mean hell even I, young as I am, remember videotaping TV shows and being upset if we were out and it failed to record (and the wrath of my mother when I taped Scooby Doo over her episode of Casualty), and now I can watch iPlayer on my iPad with episodes of shows from weeks ago. Similarly I can remember going to our ageing, dinosaur, second hand PC and waiting 10 minutes for it to boot up, and another 10 for the dial up connection to decide to work, and now I just switch the wifi to ‘on’ and I’m connected. Social media is a platform where all can interact, and the many benefits of it have already been widely noted. The ability to get in touch with those miles away whose existence you did not know of before you saw them talking to someone you follow on Twitter, the keeping in touch with old friends through Facebook, the vast array of blogs and comments, all these are part of our living, breathing everyday life.

Twitter is fascinating because of its character restriction, it forces a distillation of thought in order to avoid misinterpretation or offence. Writing anything online is dangerous since the written word cannot convey the sense of the word, of irony or sarcasm, and the risk of misinterpretation is great. Those who use Twitter will know of people who do try to answer complex questions in single tweets, and often fail. And they will also know of those who tweet with abandon, not taking care over what they write or how they phrase it, and in the tension of misinterpretation often add fuel to the fire. Debate and controversy on Twitter is not hard to find, and the blurring of professional and personal lines which occurs of course causes issues, libellous and unwise tweets being equally easy to find and give examples of.

The instant nature of Twitter allows news to travel fast, a blessing in finding out what’s going on in the world around us, – so many people from so many countries use the platform to inform others of their situations, it comes in handy for taking part in or following conferences and discussions, saving us from having to watch hours of debate by summarising the key speeches and issues for us, immensely useful in busy modern life where we might wish to have the time to sit watching a debate in the House of Commons/Lords but simply cannot find the time, Twitter enables us to keep up and to gauge the instant reactions of thousands to what is said. The risk with this is of course taking the headlines and summaries at face value (see http://tmblr.co/ZFhAcxo54iPi) within the confines of 140 characters.

Personally I do not think that complex issues and problems will ever be able to be solved over Twitter and we probably shouldn’t attempt to do so. The value of Twitter lies in succinct posts, which may give more information and create opportunities for discussion and debate, but which must be handled with care, to ensure we minimise the risk of creating a firestorm of quick, thoughtless words which lead us nowhere. If Twitter posts get people energised and interested in an issue, and lead them to places they can learn more then that is its most brilliant role, engaging with a wide audience, encouraging them to take an interest in complex issues and perhaps offering them an easier, shortened way into those issues, not descending into debates which must require the shortening of long arguments and the omission of important concepts by the nature of the 140.