secrets heard?

I change the blogs and sites I look at from time to time. I don’t know how, but I managed to stop following Post Secret and forget all about this amazing site until recently. If you have been following SHP for a few years you will remember I have blogged about this before and even bought the (well one of the) book(s) which is a beautiful book to leaf through.

For those of you who have not come across Post Secret, the site came out of a community arts project where Frank Warren invited people to mail their secrets, anonymously, on a postcard. The project ended but the postcards kept coming and so Warren developed a website which now publishes some of the postcard secrets each Sunday.

I guess my attention has been drawn back to Post Secret as I think more about confession and forgiveness. Some of the postcards certainly seem to have a confessional element to them. Others are celebrations and some are pleas (a bit like the one I have shown in the pic which makes me feel a bit sad). People go to great lengths to be creative in expressing their secret some of which must take great courage to even put into writing. There is also, I think, something about the vulnerability of the artists in this as there is at least some risk that they will be recognised by a reader.

I guess a big question I ask is ‘why?’

Why do people send in their secrets?
Why are these people exposing themselves to risk of exposure?
Why do people take such great care to be part of this online community of secret sharers?
What are these people hoping to achieve?
Is it, as Warren suggests, part of a coping or a healing process?
What is it about writing a secret on a postcard and sending it to someone you do not know that has become so ‘popular’ and helpful to some people.
Some of the secrets are confession like, others are celebrations … all are shared openly, I assume, because
the person wants to express them and wishes for them to be seen and heard.

There are no doubt more questions that I should be asking, and quite a myriad of possible answers.
As I think on this whole area, and chat with people, I am coming to think that part of the answer is a combination of sharing something with another human being and simply being heard. But … is there a spiritual element to this too …. that’s the question I need to dwell on more!

finding forgiveness in the footnotes

Today is Wednesday. Wednesday is a study day. Usually I do not like Wednesdays. Today I have enjoyed the day because I guess, for the first time in ages, I am starting to look at something that really interests me because this investigation, for sake of a better term, has arisen out of my normal everyday stuff that I do as the pioneer curate from Rochester Cathedral.

I have become very aware of confession and forgiveness. A good number of encounters I have had with people has involved people ‘confessing’ and, I think, wanting to hear from another human being that they are ‘ok’. That’s pretty basically outlined although in reality I think what I have an am experiencing is much more complex that that.

As a spin off this whole area actually excites and interests me because I don’t think the church is seen as a place of forgiveness. In my conversations with various characters it is seen very much as the place of condemnation with people feeling unable to walk inside through fear of being judged. Jesus is, however, all about forgiveness and acceptance. If some people are seeking forgiveness and acceptance then interest in the character of Jesus, away from the church, may well help those people in their personal quests.

I have lots of questions around this issue, such as ‘what are people looking for with ‘forgiveness’?’, ‘why do people feel a need to confess?’, ‘what is a priest or anyone doing in absolution and with what right?’, ‘is forgiveness/confession more beneficial to the person being forgiven or to the forgiver?’. Those are just a few of the many I have in my growing list.

One surprising thing I learned recently was that there is precious little research on this and no one really started to investigate forgiveness until the 1980’s. Today I discovered a gem from the John Templeton Foundation (its amazing what you can find if you browse the footnotes). Between 1999 and 2005 they funded 46 scientific research projects that were primarily looking at forgiveness. You can see these projects here. I have not looked in any massive depth yet, but it looks to be some quite interesting and unique stuff here.

I’m off to read some more …. but if you have any reflections or know of any research that may be useful for me I’d love to hear from you – thanks!

just another monday

Today has been another varied and interesting day which started with Staff Forum. This happens a few times a year when all the departments from the cathedral update the rest of us on what is happening. It’s interesting to know what everyone is doing and how your part fits into the bigger pattern.

Soon after that I met up with Sharon in Deaf Cat to look at the Jesus Deck as I thought Sharon would be good at being involved with this over the Dickens Festival. WE looked at the cards and others in the coffee shop became interested in what we were talking about as well … which is a good sign that they could be useful during Dickens.

This afternoon I met up with Justine, vice principal of SEITE, who has kindly agreed to be the supervisor for my masters. I have been thinking and mulling things over for a few weeks and until recenty it has been hard to pin down a topic I have been interested in. This is not for lack of topics … the exact opposite actually. I have been thinking more about the
significance of my waiting, as well as how to support and ensure pioneers survive, as well as the role of imagination in pioneer ministry, as well as wondering on the whole idea of communities, rather than individuals, coming to Christ. All of those would be interesting to look into, but the one thing that has really grabbed me has been this whole thing to do with confession which I blogged about earlier.

So … for the next few days I am looking out for sources and research along the theme of confession and how it may be linked to mission. If you know of anything … give me a shout!

let me confess …

As many of you will know by now, Wednesday is a (enforced?) study day and my main task over the last few weeks has been to pull together stuff from my blog, journal reflections and various networks to put together a portfolio of my first 2 years as a pioneer curate which will be used to assess me in my ongoing training (CME? potty training … whatever you wish to call it!)

A real value of blogging and journalling is that it shows me where I have come from. I look at some posts and wonder if somebody else has hacked my blogger account and written a few posts while I wasn’t looking! Other posts I remember and think, ‘wow … did I really think that?’

The beauty of reading through a few years posts as part of my portfolio reflection is that it gives an opportunity to see what I have missed while I have been living in the experience. It can cause a reaction of ‘how on earth did I miss that?’ My recent experience has been just that.

As I have read over various accounts of encounters I have had with various people it has become clear to me now that I have been receiving peoples confessions in an informal way.

The first and most obvious was my encounter with a man nearly 20 months ago now who I have not seen since who knelt and wept at me feet for 5 minutes before sharing with me stuff he felt guilty about. Others have been less obvious at the time, but clearly been times when people have felt the need to share stuff that they have been holding onto but stuff, as well, that they wish to share with others and ‘get off their chest’.

Over the last 2 years the number of these encounters is well in to double figures and seemingly takes up a large part of my time when I am out in the community. It seems there is a need for people to be able to share stuff that they are holding onto and want to get rid off. It seems to me that a ‘priest’ is a person that people feel able to share their stuff with in a public place. I wonder if churches advertised confessionals as a service to the community if people would make us of them? I suspect not.

This whole area gives me a lot of stuff for thought. Clearly my regular presence has caused some sort of trust to develop. Interestingly, though, it is not the people I meet with every day, in the main, that these encounters have happened with. They have tended to be irregular visitors who have seen me in conversation with ‘the regulars’ who then wish to share with me.

I say regularly that part of my role is digging within the wells of our tradition and finding fresh water for this culture at this time. As we dig, I have said, we find things in our tradition that we have forgotten about and stopped doing – or, of course, we find reasons why we are doing things and realise the need for that disappeared 50 years ago!

When my portfolio is submitted (the deadline is about 2 weeks away) then I am going to spend time digging into the tradition of confession. There is something here, I think, that is needed by the wider community and my experiences in the pub and coffee shops make me think we need to consider how this practice may be reframed for the people of today.

Any thought … please get in touch.