Advent

Advent begins today.

There was a time when this meant almost nothing to me: much of my formative Christian experience was in the evangelical wing of church and we didn’t really ‘do’ Advent.

Over time it has meant more: a holy rage against the facile nature of much of contemporary Christmas (I am not entirely ‘bah humbug’- I do like parties and presents. Single malt whisky since you ask) and the discipline of waiting.

I have a soft spot for the old advent hymns that we don’t sing very much any more. Although the language takes some translating, it is rich in imagery. I particularly like this hymn and struggle to sing it all the way through without gulping:-

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times did’st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

I very much like how Sufjan Stevens took hold of this song as well:-

[youtube]_Zz53Rwp3ME[/youtube]

Found/lost

I began to scrawl poems this year when faced with things that I did not feel I could overcome: I could not see a way through. Much was therapy: I would never share it here (it was very bleak). Some I do share- I like bits, other parts I wince at.

I have found the beginning of a way through- in a few months I will be out of the Methodist system of moving which nearly finished me off. Although the way is still unclear, I feel free.

I used to be suspicious of ministers that became chaplains. Now, to paraphrase James (the band, not the epistle: silly) : ‘after 20 years I’ve become my fears, I’ve become the man I always hated’ .

I wrote part of this during summer holidays when I had space to think and was told- in no uncertain terms by my wife- that I had to come out of this state. I tinkered with it: it is still not there.

Sure,

I may have

lost

my way.

But,

at least

I am 

Still

moving.

 

Sometimes

that may be

round in circles

or

Backwards.

 

But

I feel

Life

And colour

amid the 

contradictions.

 

And I 

have found

fellow

travellers

who

share

their

journeys

(if only for a while).

 

Sometimes,

I wish,

You would not

Hide

Aggressively

Behind

A role set for you

Or 

Other people’s certainties

In case

You are

‘found out’.

 

See,

I think

you have

more chance

of

being found

When you have lost your way.

 

Than if you

were scared to say

‘I wonder what’s over there?’

Friday Music

The gig last week was amazing and Martyn Joseph practically invited himself back to our humble village hall.

For me, the simple adjective ‘amazing’ does not say enough. It was a key time for me anyway: I knew that 2 days later I would be able to say publicly that I was moving into Mental Health Chaplaincy & that the shape of my life was to change dramatically. I have said- ad nauseum- that out of the many, many albums I own, Martyn Joseph’s music has often been the music that has soundtracked those times of transition and questioning.

To be in the presence of so many people amongst a huge audience that have marked my life over the past 30 years or so was lovely: a combination of old friends and new friends- a reminder that I don’t take this step alone.

Then to have Martyn play a song for me- I had to host him (dreams do come true...) so I told him that this was a weekend of transition for me, was incredible. This was the song (Brothers in Exile) which is almost autobiographical for me at the moment:-

[vimeo]22483264[/vimeo]

And in case that does not work, here is another song he played which also speaks to me right now:

[youtube]x9HM6wrsKrE[/youtube]

Great memories… But yes, as was said from the stage, one reviewer years back said that his songs make Leonard Cohen sound like Julie Andrews….

 

Strange Days Indeed (4)

I love what I do. Soon it will be ‘I loved what I did’. Mostly ministry in a parish/church/circuit etc is lovely. It can be knackering, it can take you lower than you have ever been and it can be emotionally draining, but the rewards are greater; you get to see people at their most vulnerable, you get paid for talking about Jesus and you become more aware of ‘thin’ places.

In the end it got too much. It wasn’t so much the late nights, frequent meetings and a feeling      (however much time I took off/protected time off) of never being off duty, but a growing and deep sensation that the Church nationally had not ‘got my back’. Also I felt it  was unable or unwilling to protect me or my family when it could so easily have done so. I could not live with it any more or the trite assurance from a church leader that ‘you will just have to get used to it’: I could not see that as a sustainable or safe way to live for the next 18 years or so.

These things that got to me so much that my emmotional health began to suffer. It became harder as I got a group of friends from outside the church and began to know more people ecumenically. In the end, I gave up trying to explain our system as it seemed to inhabit a parallel reality:-

(1) The idea of ‘stationing’ (the way the church moves its ministers) seemed like a lottery to me. Whilst I do not doubt the caring motivation of those involved, however caring someone is, having a bad system will not make it any better. In my case, it was the inflexible way that it was prepared to treat my family at a key stage of my children’s education.

(2) The realisation that if one wanted to stay in an area, it was only after a lengthy series of life sapping meetings where people you worked alongside got to vote on you. I struggle to equate that notion with ‘care’. Also I saw how an angry voice or voices could effectively determine my future.

(3) The effects of (1) & (2) placing the minister in a ‘supplicant’ or ‘powerless’ position that I did not find to be healthy or life giving. I think if you employ someone and ‘tie’ their accommodation, you owe a higher duty of care to them; latterly I did not find this to be the case.

(4) We are not employees and consequently have no rights to appeal to any outside body if anything goes wrong. In the last few years I met so many ‘casualties’ who had either been ‘pastored’ (You poor thing: it must be so hard for you being so weak), ignored (‘you should be grateful for a house and a secure job…after all: football managers have to move’ this was a real comment) or eased out. That is a shame as I felt so many of those voices could have been listened to. When you see your paradigm is right and you are in charge, sometimes you don’t tend to really listen to anyone who is different.

I have often wondered how so many good people could contribute this state of affairs. My only working model is the American psychological experiment where people were ordered to give electric shocks to someone (in reality there were no shocks, but an actor pretended that there were). Most people did as they trusted the person giving orders. I think that this happens in my church with good, caring people and the systems we have,

I think that (1)- (4) will break down soon’; I hope so-I won’t be around to see it. But I will rejoice when it happens.

Strange Days Indeed (3)

I think I have always viewed myself as a kind of Bez: no one quite knows what he does or why he is in the Happy Mondays, but the Happy Mondays wouldn’t be quite the same without a gurning goon.

I feel very uneasy about ministers who refer to ‘my gifts’ or ‘my ministry’. It sounds like someone saying ‘Look at me! Notice me!’ For me: it is enough that you are you- I don’t need any advertising, but your story would be lovely. Once we get past the façade or image projection, you are invariably beautiful.

I was asked that at my interview: ‘what are your gifts/strengths’? I managed to cough out a few- mainly what others had said to me- but I felt profoundly uncomfortable; like I had just sold my soul. It must have been good enough to convince them, but I feel slightly anxious that they will find out what I am really like soon.

So it took me by suprise that some people seemed moved that I was leaving: you still have your singers (Ok: the Shaun Ryder metaphor breaks down here), your bass player, your drummer etc. Bez was amusing, but you can manage. I got paid for doing (mostly) what I enjoyed: the great memories I have are of stories, lives and shared moments. Mostly, I was just Bez: having a good time, doing my own thing and dancing around.

It was people being moved that affected me the most: I could feel their sense of loss (whilst at the same time being slightly bemused: you don’t know what I am really like, with my tumble & tangle of confusions, neuroses & strange opinions & when you discover my bad admin and record keeping….).

I am to have a leaving service: probably Feb 8th in the evening. I agreed to it, due to needing an ending. I am hoping that I will be in charge of it; I really don’t want it to be a tribute fest- I am just happy that I got to be Bez for over 10 years..

Strange Days indeed:2

On one level, the position that I (we) find ourselves in is exciting: nearly 49, being able to ‘reinvent’ ourselves & try something new. After years of being ‘tied’ to the Methodist Church, I get a chance to breathe fresh air & find God in new places. I am looking forward to this, at a time in my life when creeping conservatism threatens to take roots such that it cannot be weeded out. I feel more relaxed and enervated than I have done for some time.

On another level, it feels scary.

There was a time a few years ago when it really used to bother me: everyone I knew with whom I had graduated with the first time had a home to call their own and I didn’t & I was working so many hours….. I went through a long period of wondering what I had done ‘wrong’ with no home of our own, no assets & an overdraft. It doesn’t bother me so much now, although I occasionally  get pangs of regret.

However, at times like this, the scare factor is ramped up: nowhere to call ‘home’ and needing one in the next few months is mostly liberating…sometimes it is frightening.

We both go through debates about this sometimes: what will we pass onto the children? Financially, almost nothing. Perhaps better, we may pass on the idea of freedom, taking a leap of faith, being open to new things and trust (as opposed to reading them those stories from a book).

I think that will be our legacy. I say ‘think’, as I am distinctly ‘wobbly’ right now.

Strange days indeed….

This was read out in several local churches yesterday and was written for those audiences.

It is something that I did not expect even 2 months ago.

More in the next few days.

Strange (exciting, nerve racking, bittersweet, new direction) days indeed….

‘Yesterday I met with the Circuit Invitation committee and they agreed with me that my appointment as Superintendent Minister in the Stokesley Methodist Circuit could be curtailed (the Methodist Church nationally having already given permission).  It is anticipated that I will cease to be in post from 1st March 2015, although with outstanding leave, I will effectively finish in mid-February.

I have been offered and have accepted the post of Mental Health Chaplain in the Tees, Esk and Wear Valley Mental Health Trust, working across Northallerton, Harrogate and Scarborough.

This has been a very difficult decision for us as a family to take: we wanted to stay here until the end of my current post (August 2016). However, we had already realised that under the Methodist system there were no guarantees for us as a family as to our future location/children’s education/Victoria’s job. I could not place them under any more stress than the last few years have inadvertently resulted in.

I am looking forward to the challenges of my new role and trying something very different. However, there is so much that I will miss about the churches, communities and people with which I work.

All through my ministry I have been inspired by the words in Genesis chapter 12: ‘Go and I will show you’ and the idea that, with others, you sense a possible direction even when so much is still unclear: ‘Traveller there is no path. The path is made by walking’ (Antonio Machado). Please pray for Ingleby Arncliffe, Seamer, Hutton Rudby chapels, the Hutton Rudby LEP & this circuit  as we seek to face the challenges of the next few months and beyond.

Please also pray for Victoria, Matthew and Benjamin and myself.

Thank you for your support and prayers.

 

Graham’

Sunday Hymns

Two old hymns…. I’m a needing guidance.

I love the poetry of the old language and also how there is mystery. On top of that there is acknowledgement that things are not always clear or straightforward. I long ago grew tired of Christian hymns/songs that pretended otherwise.

Guide me, O thou great Redeemer,
pilgrim though this barren land;
I am weak, but thou art mighty;
hold me with thy powerful hand;
Bread of heaven,
feed me now and evermore.

Open now the crystal fountain,
whence the healing stream doth flow;
let the fiery cloudy pillar
lead me all my journey through;
strong Deliverer,
be thou still my Strength and Shield.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
bid my anxious fears subside;
bear me through the swelling current,
land me safe on Canaan’s side;
songs of praises,
I will ever give to thee.

————————————————-

  1. Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom;
    Lead thou me on!
    The night is dark, and I am far from home;
    Lead thou me on!
    Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
    The distant scene–one step enough for me.
  2. 2. I was not ever thus, nor pray’d that thou
    Shouldst lead me on.
    I loved to choose and see my path; but now,
    Lead thou me on!
    I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
    Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years.
  3. 3. So long thy pow’r hath blest me, sure it still
    Will lead me on
    O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
    The night is gone.
    And with the morn those angel faces smile,
    Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!


Friday Music

[youtube]YBvLsKAnjkU[/youtube]

Canterbury has a population that is comfortably 70 times bigger than the village I live in. It also has tourists, students and a wide catchment area for people who watch cultural events.

Last week Martyn Joseph’s tour was in Canterbury. The number of people who saw him there was about 50% less than will see him in this village tonight. Partly that is a phenomenon of smaller communities; the connections are greater and people are more likely to come and watch something as a friend has recommended it. A large part of that is because he was so good last year: our ticket sales have increased.

I still cannot believe my good fortune: you don’t get to meet your idols- I have, twice this year in this village. A chance dare by a friend 3 years ago came off and I am hosting the largest ever solo gig in this village. Someone who is played on national radio and who sometimes plays in front of 1000s.

The numbers don’t matter so much for me though. Out of the many albums I own, it has often been his songs that have been there for me in times of questioning and transition, giving me just enough grace to keep going. It helps that he is such a good performer.

I am beyond happy and content.

Some tickets still available!