Found while tidying up

I‘m supposed to be tidying up but I found this poem from a previous Christmas. It seemed to chime in with something I saw yesterday when shopping: ‘Special offer, £10 off stables!’

You can never have too many stables,
Marys, innkeeper’s, Kings,
Townsfolk, shepherds and angels
Each one with tinsel and wings.
You can never have too many teatowels,
Curtains, mangers and stuff,
Straw, donkeys and camels:
Of this we just can’t get enough.
Every year about now we remember,
A story as old as the hills,
That were covered with sheep and with shepherds
A story packed that’s full of thrills.
There was Romans all roamin’ about,
Making life for the people quite hard:
Remember that next time
You choose a cute Christmas card.
There was a tough journey by donkey,
A road that seemed endlessly long,
At the end not much to sing of:
A shed full of sheep and a pong
A long night of labour was followed
By a bloke who came in with some gold
And two who had myrrh and frank-insense:
What good was all that in the cold?
But each year we stop to remember
This story of stables and such,
Of people with not much to give
Who end up giving so much.
A mum, a dad and a baby
Who will grow up into a man,
Who’s story we’ve promised to follow
As we try to live to God’s plan

In our life and our believing

The love of God

What’s in a word?

Last week there was a notice on my seat at the Nativity service. It said ‘reserved’. Not a very good description of me.
Yesterday I was ‘retiring’. Also not a good description, but I did it anyway and now it’s done.
It was amazing and also the right decision. I was surprised by how calm I felt. It was mostly the children who disarmed me when I stood on the path saying goodbye to them as they walked to the school gate.
After that there were photos and speeches from my friends and colleagues on the staff. I didn’t remember half the stories that were told. What I did realise, seeing the whole thing through other people’s eyes, was just how bonkers it all was! The dressing up, the whirlwind makes, the badly spelt messages, the songs, poems and stories, the bouncing and bowling down corridors and into classrooms, the words and the silences. And just how important to the children and young people.
It’s been amazing, both in sorrow and in joy.
I’m glad I was Chaplain of Silcoates. It truly was an honour and a privilege.
In the story of the Not Last Supper at Emmaus, it says ‘Jesus went to go on’. I’m following him: Road Walker, bread sharer, life giver.
In our life and our believing
The love of God

From the chapel door (above) and a gift from the school (below)



Here are a few thoughts about ‘Abiding’ from our Carol service yesterday.

In those days a Chaplain was abiding at Silcoates keeping watch over a flock by day and sometimes by night….
I’ve often been charged with making the Bible up.
That’s because remembering the bible (RB) is different to using a printed Bible and it is interpreted differently.
We look inside ourselves, and around us, in family, community and the world for help in the task of interpreting.
This is the most basic of contextual theologies.
How does this story apply to me?
A 4 year old boy told me the story of the man who couldn’t walk whose friends helped him to see Jesus. Maybe you remember it too. They made a hole in the roof and lowered him down to see Jesus face to face. In his version the man shared a slice of watermelon with Jesus. Why not? Jesus gave the man back his dignity. The man gave Jesus some of his watermelon.
One of our problems with printed Scripture is we think the version on the page contains all the details of an actual event.
The boy made it the encounter into a real relationship through the sharing of the watermelon.

We are all children to some extent. We tell stories differently and we tell different stories.
When I first came to be the Chaplain I heard many adults say: ‘I stopped going to church when I was….’ It was often during teenage years. My finding is that didn’t mean ‘I left faith behind’ but rather faith changed, as indeed it should. It changed in meaning, importance or practice for example.
At school that’s what we expect. We all continue to change and grown but we also all continue to abide with each other in this space by God’s grace.
What stories do you tell?
Where are you abiding?

In our life and our believing

The love of God

God of surprises

This was the prayer we used at our Junior Carol service this week

God of surprises,
As we wait for Christmas to come,
We ask that you continue to surprise us all.
Surprise us with kindness from strangers,
And with generosity from the poor,
So that we too may surprise others;
By helping the homeless to find a home,
The lonely to find Friends
And hungry people to be fed.
May we always act in the way of Jesus,
As we try to follow him.
And when Christmas comes
We look forward to sharing the good news of his birth with everyone we can.

For Silcoates Juniors

What to do instead

I’m sitting in the Leeds art library looking at books about quilting. Outside it is drizzling and getting darker. I can hear the sounds of the Leeds Christmas market. In here I am thinking about quilting.
When I was about 10 years old I helped my mum use my grandmother’s old hand sewing machine to sew up the side of an old quilt to make my first sleeping bag. It was our first shared sewing project. It’s a skill I later passed onto my own daughter. Sew if you can.
It’s a slow business and beautiful. Fabric is fascinating and full of possibilities.
Quilts are a mirror of memory. The fabric itself, the colours, the techniques, the time spent, each evokes a memory or more. To look, to handle, to hold is to bring those memories back to life and make more.
A quilt should be used, either flat or hung, on a bed, a sofa or a wall, a table or chair, a tent or anywhere. Don’t fold up a quilt and hide it away.
Most of all make more quilts. Take small or large scraps and bits of memory and layer them together. Behold, it will make a new thing. Enjoy the feelings. Just sew.
The Silcoates WW1 quilt will be auctioned at the service in Silcoates Chapel on 9th December in aid of St George’s crypt, Leeds. As someone said to me about it on Friday: ‘There’s so much in it’.
In our life and our believing
The love of God

Writer’s Retreat

I treated myself to a Writer’s Retreat for my birthday. It’s a sign of things to come. After retirement I promise myself more time for writing. Today is by way of down payment on that promise.
I’ve been writing for a long time. My English teacher, Mr Layfield, encouraged me to ‘just write’ so I did. Over the last 40 years I’ve written a lot more and many people have encouraged me. First, speech therapy and later other things about women in the church and remembering the bible for example. But it seems fiction may be different.
On the retreat other participants spoke about writing groups and writing courses. I’ve not tried those. Some spoke about the distraction of housework, not something I’d ever experienced. I still ‘just write’. Even so I was encouraged. I wrote some more and I reviewed some earlier writing. I made a list of things to write next. All told a good day, looking out over the rooftops of Newcastle from a comfortable community space. Now for some fish and chips.
In our life and our believing

The love of God

But is it Church?

The church seems to have become obsessed with itself instead of with the love of God.
There’s a continuum of commitment and involvement of course and the further ‘in’ you are the harder it might be to see the view of those of us on the way ‘out’. I met a chap who told me he thought everyone should leave the URC. His reason was that if everyone left that would be one denomination fewer.
For most people ours is a post denominational society. The divisions between denominations mean nothing to the majority who can’t tell an Anglican from a Baptist from a Congregationalist and gave no idea why they exist anyway.
So is school Chaplaincy church or not and does it matter?
Sometimes it looks more like traditional church than at others. When we hold a service on a Sunday morning, like we did on Remembrance Sunday, most church goers would recognise it: hymns, prayers, Bible readings. Then the congregation is older than during the week but even so it has it’s experimental edge: the Remembered Bible and the majority of the participants being under 18.
During the centenary of WW1 I have been reading about the experiences of Chaplains to the British forces. Let’s be clear, although the former Headmaster called me Padre, I was not one in that sense. But the stories of those that have been often show how faith can be active in the most challenging of contexts.

In small strips of woodland around the Dark Peak I wander, wondering if this could be a space for Forest Church. Of course it already is as I stand or sit here praying, the boughs uniting above my head instead of stone vaulting. If the roof leaks here at least it is supposed to. A carpet of leaves to sink into, small creatures that share the welcoming space.
In four weeks time I will exchange the Chaplaincy for an even more unknown route. I am not obsessed with the ‘is it Church?’ question and have already decided to leave denomination behind at that point. Over the last 8 years ecumenism has come to mean a whole lot more than a shared bowl of soup once a year. I thank my fellow members of the Lay Community of St Benedict for welcoming me into something quite different, much more alive.

When the URC Yorkshire Synod decided not to continue its involvement in the school Chaplaincy it used many churchy arguments. But I have seen no evidence that God has taken the Holy Spirit from us. We are the church. We don’t need a denominational stamp, or permission to use the name, anymore than we need a lot of paraphernalia that currently bogs down so much of the rest. What we need we have: the story of the love of the Creator, the example of the Son and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

In our life and our believing

The love of God

What is school Chaplaincy?

It’s a place, a space, even a face.

School Chaplaincy is an opportunity; a chance to be there, to be alongside and to be with.

School Chaplaincy is time given, time to build relationships, to listen, to share, to care.

School Chaplaincy is being part of a community, for the rough, the smooth, the sorrow and the joy.

School Chaplaincy is a gift given and received in every direction.

It’s a call, a prayer, a word, a silence.

It’s regularly meeting God in random places, treading in the footsteps of the follow-me Jesus, knowing the blessing of the life affirming Spirt.

It’s what I’ve been doing for eight and a half years, always challenging, I wouldn’t have missed it. Now just 4 weeks more to enjoy.

In our life and our believing

The love of God

Silcoates does Remembrance

The week after Autumn half term is designated for Remembrance.  Here are some thoughts on that aspect of our lives together. 

As the autumn leaves fall down,
Red and yellow, green and brown,
We believe God loves us all,
As the autumn leaves do fall.

I wrote that for younger children. I remember it each year around this time, particularly when we take the older students to visit the Battlefields of the Western Front WW1. We always make this journey in October half term and I’ve done it at least half a dozen times. Although our route covers some similar ground it is always also different in some way. There are always falling leaves, particularly at Vimy and Lissenthoek. It is always very moving.
The young people know how to remember. They look up there relatives on the helpful CWGC website and we visit those cemeteries along with other key places like the Menin Gate and Thiepval. The opportunity to take part in this journey has been one of the most memorable aspects of being Chaplain.

At school our opening responses in chapel include these words:
Today we can begin again:

A fresh start and a new opportunity.

We are here to make discoveries:

To learn and to share together.

To become peacemakers and builders of justice:

To serve God and each other

Our Remembrance activities are centred on this commitment. Perhaps it seems a massive thing to suggest that the children and young people might be leaders in these aims but I can think of none better.
At the same time as one group was visiting the Battlefields another was doing development work in rural Tanzania with the Livingstone Tanzania Trust. Encouraging young people to become involved in community development is a very important part of the peacemaking and justice building and are amongst some of the most relevant aspects of being Chaplain here.

This year we will also have some creative work to accompany our remembering. A quilt, some Silhouettes, many poppies; these are amongst the things that will aid us, all of them made ‘slow’ to aid thinking and reflections. Such creativity is another aspect of our peacemaking, justice building and God serving; using our gifts to help each other to understand, learn and grow.

At Tyne Cot

As we remember those named on our roll of honour this week we recommit ourselves to the hope that this will not happen again: no more names will be added here or elsewhere, no more loss, no more grief. Only peace and justice. Yes it is a big ask, but quite possibly it is only young people who, through serving God and each other, can bring it about.
In our life and our believing

The love of God

What happened in Yorkshire?

On the verge of my last two months as school Chaplain,  here’s a catch up of sorts:

It’s hard to say. It’s now 20 years since we came to Yorkshire and by then the so called honeymoon was surely over. Ten years after arriving in Huddersfield I’m writing this reflection to try to explain the tiredness and the mountains of stuff.

I found the visitors book. It stopped in 1997. It’s not that we stopped having visitors then but we stopped remembering to invite them to sign the book. I found the book we kept for the first five months we were in Huddersfield. A sort of second Yorkshire honeymoon. I found some photos mum had taken 1989 to 1990, around the time I went to Mansfield College, Oxford. I found a lot of books and bits of paper. In some ways I refound bits of myself that I’d tucked away in order to get on with things.

It was about being focused. I kept somethings at the top of my list of priorities. Mostly Hannah and the notion of team Lees-Warwicker. That more or less got us through.

In the meantime other stuff got stockpiled. Things I would do, stuff I’d need to do things with, books I’d need as resources. Some I kept for protection like being a speech therapist, which did in fact come in useful. Many are still here as are quite a lot of less useful things.

People kindly gave gifts to help lift me up. A candle can light the way: there are lots of those. Tissue paper can cushion something fragile: there’s a lot of that. A pen can write a story, glue can stick a scrapbook, all this and more can be resources to aid self care and coping.

They worked for quite a long time until I lost the energy even to stick much, post Synod. I just couldn’t and still can’t understand the Synods decision to abandon the chaplaincy at Silcoates. It had a profound affect on my sense of identity. Twitter came along at about this time. I could still use smartphone. I could still post something and if course, as Martin ensured, I was still a post holder.

Sometimes a small window opens and in that moment a few words or pictures congeal and another thought or idea gets its moment in the sun. And there is sun, and rain, and silence all of which make the Grace of God real to me. It is not yet finished.

But around the time of the Synod’s review of the post of Chaplain and their I decision not to continue it, things went quite a lot wrong. I am forever grateful to those who did try to hold on at this time. Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart. Yes it’s still painful. It still astonishes me that someone working on behalf of the church in a demanding situation could be undermined by the church and no one inside know what to do about it. It’s not the worst church story I know but it is a shame. Yes I’ve mostly shut it up somewhere (the upstairs office is one place I’ve not been in for years) and I’ve tried to leave it behind and move on. Still working on that one.

When I’m at Hadfield or out in Bambi then the scene is set for rest and refreshment and new directions. When I’m at school I can manage with worship and space and positive relationships. It is largely a good place to be and God surprises me there most days. When I’m invited by those on the margins to celebrate in new ways then I rejoice. But I am tired.

That’s one of the things that happened here in Yorkshire. The balance between tired and not tired swung more and more often to the tired end of the scale. Tired means rest is needed. Rest is good and there are good places to rest and good resting times. But there are also more things to do, to sort out, to throw away.

As I rest, my mind wanders. One day I think about grief which is a very hard thing to describe or explain. Another day I think about memory. I try to walk as that helps. I go from one place to another and that is a progress of sorts.

A frequent piece of advice is that we look after ourselves. In the language of mental wellbeing this is self care. But what is it? When are we doing it?

In 2000 I began to be more serious about it and the creative part of my life started to grow. As a visual artist I have no real training. It’s all experimental. Some of those experiments turned out well.
As a result quite a lot of the stuff is raw materials for creative projects that have not happened yet. Hadfield became the place to do these creative things which is why a lot of it is piled up there. There are probably sufficient resources there for creative projects for sometime yet.

So here I am in Hadfield on the verge of the last half term of my ministry as school Chaplain. I hope this has helped you to catch up and that over the next six weeks there will be some reflections here by way of celebration and moving on.

In our life and our believing

The love of God