The Cloak

cloakIn church this morning the Gospel reading was the meeting of Bartimaeus and Jesus.

After asking ‘Why did Jesus ask, what seems to me an obvious question’ we considered what Bartimaeus had to do before he could even hear the invitation of Jesus.

He ‘sprang’ up and threw off his cloak we learn from the gospel reading.
A little insignificant action maybe?
But … wait …

This cloak was the cloak that kept him safe
This cloak was the cloak that he would spread out for people to place money or food
This cloak was the cloak that would be wrapped around him in the depth of the night
This cloak was the cloak that sheltered him from the wind and the rain
This cloak was the cloak that said ‘I am Bartimaeus the beggar’
This was the cloak that gave him everything; his identity, his security, his whole life.

And yet he threw it off!

Why?
He knows the cloak will keep him safe; but he hopes Jesus can give him so much more
He knows he can exist and stay safe under the cloak; but he hopes taking it off will give him a fresh start.
He understands the risk (it may not be there when he returns); but he hopes there is more to life than this!

So we considered this morning …. what is it that we need to throw off so we can hear the invitation of Jesus?
What might we be hiding under that keeps us safe … complacency, wealth, health, fear … maybe even church activity?
This was a challenge to us this morning and we focussed in on the fact that Jesus invites us all on what we hope is an amazing journey … I guess the question is can we spring up to hear it?

street wisdom …

5b1b93306e454When you move to a new area you need to meet people.
The only way I know how to do this is to be out and about … cafes. pubs, music venues, the street at key times of the day.
Sometimes, though, I don’t feel up to the vulnerability level that getting out there on my own places me in and so I need to collect ‘tools’ to help me.
People sometimes say I’m brave to minister the way I do … I’m not sure that’s the case but it is true that I often go out scared, wondering what I might come across, how I may be reacted to and what will happen. But … that is part of the role so if you can be brave while terrified then … well … that’s ok I guess.

A precursor to all these is to wander around the streets in a prayer walk. I have already lost count of how many times I have prayer walked around the new parish … that sounds pious … it’s not but just merely be focussing in on the fact that I believe nothing happens without prayer and, in these early weeks, part from meeting people all there is to do IS pray!

At my tutorial at CMS with Cathy Ross on Monday we were talking about this and she suggested I try Street Wisdom as some kind of tool to work with. Essentially the concept is tying some exercises to heighten your observation skills on the street before gong on a ‘quest’ (taking a question out and looking for answers on the street).

My description does it no justice so what I suggest is look at the website, download the free audio guide and give it a go. I wanders and saw my patch is a new way, even after just a few weeks of being here. Slowing down and listening, looking, smelling and just noticing was quite an amazing experience. I was surprised by what hit me, and the message I received.

IMG_1140I was walking down one street asking my question (which was ‘what is this community yearning for?’) when I stumbled across this great big sign saying ‘one way’. I don’t really do ‘one way’ things and kind of found is amusing that I had planned, and went, in the opposite direction. I felt an answer developing that was saying there is more than one way, and part of the issue is that, in the past, one way has prevented the right way.

As I continued to wander I came across some garages attached to flats. These garages had

been gated off (I’m guessing by the council) and had been boarded up. They spoke of desolation. I felt they had been ripped away from those that had cared for them. As I looked, I saw a real beauty and potential in them. I was nervous, at first, wandering their on my own (that vulnerability thing again) but as I disappeared from sight of the community i felt the space to be one of great peace and welcome rather than threat and fearsome. I guess that could be different on any other time than 3pm on a sunny day!

As I continued with my quest i got a growing sense that the answer was something along the lines of ‘being cared for’ or simply ‘being loved’. Maybe that seems an obvious answer and maybe we could argue every community is looking for that But … this came from listening to and watching my streets; so its not just about being loved but about being loved in a way that means something … and that will be the next quest …. ‘what does loving look like here?’

surprised with time

fullsizeoutput_b36I’m finding that I’m still loving the change that this new role is brining …. the change of people, the change of location, the change in culture, the change in outlook, the change in who to go to with questions, the change in how to deal with change.

A large part of the answer to that question comes from prayer. So, after saying I would not change things too much for a while, on my first Monday I re-started Morning Prayer from Monday to Friday in the church. It has been a real encouragement and blessing to say that I have never been on my own and that anything between 2 and 4 of us pray each morning at 8am for around 20 minutes. I feel that this commitment to pray together is the first of many stages for us as St Barnabas as we try to understand more of what God is doing in the area that God wishes us to join in with.

One of the biggest changes I think I am enjoying is that people here have time for people not just in our parish but across the whole of Newham. No one seems to rush off to do other things, preferring to ‘catch up’ or ‘share something’ or ‘simply listen’. Im loving that people seem to value people in this crazy new setting I find myself in. (and to be clear, and to avoid offending, I am not saying people were not interested in people in other locations that I have been.. I am just saying that in Newham it is far more noticeable).

Yesterday I attended my first chapter meeting. The food was great, the conversations were helpful and the information shared from the diocese via the Area Dean were meaningful and will help me in my ongoing ministry. It was great to join chapter as one of 5 new people in the area. There is a great mix of people with some being here a short while to those who have been ministering here for well over 20 years. I love that there is such a great and diverse group of people for us to share with, support and learn from. I was even asked for advice which helped me to feel part of things right from the start.

Ministry is always full of surprises and the most exciting time yesterday came from a  ring on the doorbell. I opened the door to find a young woman with her 10 month old daughter wanting to ask about baptism. It was such an amazing chat that we had as I was pretty aware how difficult it must have been for this person to ring the bell on the outside of this quite large, maybe intimidating, building with a monster of a front door! I am so looking forward to working with this family and welcoming them in what I hope will be a powerful and life changing experience of God for them. And the great thing to remember … is that there is no pressure there at all …. I/we just need to turn up …  the rest is up to God and no one else.

 

Direction and Hope

fullsizeoutput_b2b.jpegYesterday was a day when I felt some things had been accomplished.

I have been seeking a new Spiritual Director for far too long and yesterday Brother Sam from the Franciscan House in Plaistow agreed to be that person for me. We had a great conversation and gelled almost immediately. I hope as we meet over whatever the next period of time is that I will be challenged and able to think differently and experience  more of God and of contemplation and how it relates to who I am and the mission I am involved in.

After our chat I joined the other Brothers for Eucharist and then for lunch. The atmosphere was incredibly warm and welcoming and I was excited to see 2 young men who have joined and are novices in their first and second years with the order. We chatted lots about the world, the religious life, Fresh Expressions and New Monasticism. Essentially we told out stories and listened to the stories of other.

It was a really special time to be able to hang out with these guys and just ‘be’ together. I plan not to be a stranger at this wonderful place of life and peace and reality.

Later in the day I was able to meet with some of the groups which use the church space and chat about what doing on into the future might look like. From these 2 meetings I have good hope that we can move in the same direction with some things being done differently but our joint mission(s) being more accessible because of it.

During the evening I met with another gifted person who I hope may be able to support me and St. Barnabas more in the Sunday stuff. We discussed things over a beer or two, so now we will do a bit of ‘wait and see’.

It’s interesting that after my last post of wandering without direction, that the very next day I see some inklings  of a possible direction …. maybe, and receive some little ray of hope. Still … it’s not a very discernible or strong ray of hope at the moment. But … it is there …. piercing the darkness  … in its own fragile, sleek, but determined way. But piercing the darkness nevertheless.

I’m wandering … not lost …

life_s_journey_by_annakoutsidou-d6f3c0zI don’t know what to do.
I’m not sure where to go.
I have no idea where to start.
But I feel comfortable with all of that as I wander around this new place of mine searching for signs … of something … i”m not even sure what I am looking for!

My thinking has been challenged as I have tried to communicate in some of the shops. I was quite shocked to find myself thinking ‘why don’t people understand me?‘ …. after all it is me that has moved in to a new area … the correct question to ask myself is ‘why don’t I understand people here?‘; surely I have some responsibility to work out how to communicate in a meaningful way.

So … I seek to undertand.
The only way I know how to do that is by rubbing shoulders with people in the locations around me. I don’t quite know where these places are yet. To find them I wonder, purposefully but aimlessly, not sure of where my journey will take me, but going nonetheless. So I wonder, in no particular pattern, looking, listening, waiting, watching and responding when it’s right to do so.

I always find this stage of ‘starting anew’ exciting and terrifying. Some days I can be out easily doing that watching and waiting stuff. Today I hid in front of the computer. I was doing necessary work … well not necessary but work for Sunday … but it has not helped the wandering and discovering. Sometimes, it is just too hard to go out again … to put myself in that place of vulnerabilty … waiting to see what happens …. but tomorrow will be another day … with more opportunities … and more chances to wander.

So I may look lost.
I may seem Idea-less.
(maybe I am!)
But I wander intentionally, with purpose, while I search.

A prayer that I hold on to at this stage is that of Thomas Merton:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that
I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am
actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for You are ever with me,
and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.

 

cramped space

IMG_0995It’s easy to do … and I think already, now 14 days in, I fell into a bit of a cramped / space / busy situation trap. As I kinda said in my last post without actually saying it; there is a mass of stuff to learn here. The juxtaposition of a rich array of different cultures, values, interests, concerns, lifestyles is pretty mind-blowing.

In that desire to learn, to gather info, to meet people, to make friends, to start to put roots, to seek to understand, to find people and places of peace, to watch God, to ask more, to think ‘what is God doing here?’, ‘What is church in this setting?’ and also ‘what does ‘mission’ look like here?’ ….. it’s easy to pack a diary and leave little room for thinking or for processing what is being said.

Yesterday was set to be a busy day.
I had a sermon to think on, reading to do and appointments to make.
A BT person came to sort out the faulty phone line in the church.
I was waiting for Virgin Media to give me a phone line and internet connection.
At about 8:45 am, after Morning Prayer in the chapel, I left the vicarage with the church keys.
I closed the vicarage door. As my arm was pulling closed the door my brain was shouting ‘Noooo!’ My arm ignored my brain.
No keys
Well … wrong keys … church keys … not vicarage keys
No phone
No wallet
and really rather dire …. I was outside with NO HAT!

I stayed relatively calm, after a little panic and angry with myself moment,  and felt God say …. ‘I need you … just you!’
As I pondered what that meant I started to chat with people who stand outside the vicarage waiting for the bus. I chatted in the vestry with the BT engineer. I chatted with some of the congregation who were passing. As I sat in the vestry I suddenly realised I had unexpected space to think about what I was hearing.
The space allowed ‘stuff’ to settle, to work it’s way into my thinking.
i chatted with more people and was more ‘available’ …. which is something I may have been fooling myself into thinking I was being.

On the situation … my amazing church warden had an old key to one of the locks on my front door which worked. And I have learned a valuable lesson … In this new space it is vital and important and imperative that I meet people, watch things, see what is going on and learn as much as I can … but all of that is lost if I allow myself to be cramped by meetings and the urgency of the task without having space to think, to reflect, and come up with more questions and maybe some ideas.

I think it’s not so much a new lesson learned … but an old secret remembered … for the next few days at least!

12 days

IMG_0947

The parish of St Barnabas Little Ilford 

This is my 12th day as the priest here at St Barnabas.

Everything is still new … life here is soooo different than anywhere else I have experienced life up to now.

One difference that I like is that the High Street wakes up later and rests later … so much later …. I could even get a haircut here at midnight if I wanted to! (no unkind jokes now!)

The streets are still pretty vibrant at 10pm at night and the variety and quality of food is pretty stunning. There are plenty of other differences too …. all which seems to feed, or breed, a certain personal vibrancy that I can feel is retuning.

So … these 12 days have been mainly full of listening. I have met people in the church and we have chatted about things we think St Barnabas is good at and may be called to be involved in. Poverty is a major ‘in your face’ reality here. In my last post it was obviously present but hidden … there is no hiding here and I am close to tears when I see so many people clearly sleeping in doorways, under trees, in churchyards …. wherever there is shelter. I don’t want to get political … but a government I voted for a while back virtually eliminated homelessness …..  it’s back and looks worse than it did under the Thatcher regime.

So maybe we will discover from God that our mission is to be involved in poverty in some way …. or maybe we will discover something else as we continue this journey of listening and hearing and trying to discern what God is doing.

I am merely focusing us and asking,

‘What is it that God doing here … whatever it is, lets join in!’

That’s a Rob translation of (ex) Archbishop Rowan’s gem of a quote!

In these 12 days I have also met a few people from the community and some of my fellow vicar colleagues. Today it was amazing to visit the Trinity Centre and have a chat with Paul, the Operations Director,  about all the amazing stuff that is going on there and the incredible heritage that it comes from. As I left Paul very kindly gave me a gift of New Londoners, an amazing photo story book written and photographed by young refugees. It is a beautiful book which is an indication of the beauty and love that may be found in this area.

As I look ahead, after 12 days, I am often daunted at the tease, sometimes scared, usually excited … but always aware that I am one small cog in this story that was being travelled and will continue long after  have gone ….. and in reality, for now, for me …. that leaves me with a lot more prayer walking (if anyone fancies joining me …. we can have a great lunch after!) and listening to people.

This could take a while.