The exultation of a mediocre cricketer.

Thursday night, a ‘friendly’ (as far as these things are between two villages) for the local club: a mix of first teamers and 2nd teamers. Those who have spare time and whose bodies can stand up to more than weekend cricket. A 16 overs a side ‘thrash’ on a pitch that is…well… rutted and wet.

The captain calls me up to bowl 1st change. I rarely bowl: a shoulder twinge means that until 6 weeks ago, I could not bowl with any degree of comfort.

First ball, a loosener, is practically a wide, but the opening batsman with hungry eyes and an eager bat, pounces on it and sends it to the long off boundary. Standing on the boundary is a first teamer who miraculously catches it.

The batsmen have crossed. The next ball is surprisingly on target, and almost more surprisingly elicits the ‘death rattle’ from the stumps.

Two wickets in two balls, and suddenly the field closes in with a cry of ‘hat trick ball’. It is too wide and is defended. Another ball in the same over just misses a grasping square leg as it whistles to the boundary. 1-0-5-2: not bad- I can hide in the field now, my work done.

However, a few overs from the end the captain indicates that I have the last over. I am mentally calculating the score and hoping that they will win before that, or better still that they only need a couple; that way I won’t let anyone down or wreck my analysis.

The last over comes; 12 needed and the captain says ‘Your over’. The best batsman (a professional for another club) is facing. A few runs are scored and then I work out if I give him a boundary, he has to retire. Unfortunately the intended 4 becomes a 6; 4 needed off three balls.

At this point, I realise we have a chance and the new batsman rarely hits 4s. I bowl at the stumps and he edges; a slip would have caught it but he gets a single. I pause at the end of my run up; suddenly the world becomes very still. I run in and bowl at the other batsman’s legs, he strides down the pitch to hit me over midwicket and the ball goes between bat and pad, into the wicket keeper’s hands; the bails come off and he is stumped. We win by two runs.

This is why mediocre cricketers play; they love the buzz of being part of a better team, but they hope that their day- minor by anyone else’s standards- will come. 1.5-0-14-3 is not sparkling, although in the context of the match it is, but it represents my best analysis.

You feel good: a job has been done and you played your part. Then you begin to dream; even at the age of 50…maybe you could still do even better.

Closing a Church:3

That was a long time ago…

The last service I went to, the preacher said what they needed to say, said it again, and kept saying it. The silences were filled and the prayers were like a monologue. I stopped worshipping and began to get angry: ‘When will he shut up?’

The service stopped. Someone from the congregation smiled and said, warmly ‘He can sometimes go on can’t he?’ In her voice there was no condemnation, just the recognition that whilst the preacher may have had a bad day, she was just grateful.

Two things:-

(1) You are closer to the Kingdom of Heaven than I am.

(2) Whilst the worship may be ‘outdated’ (and I am not sure that is ever the right word), the warm acceptance and gratitude of many ‘tiny’ churches is something that I miss. Places like this took my arrogant and ill formed thoughts, accepted me and helped me to grow.

Closing a Church:2

The last service of this chapel will be a week on Sunday. I won’t be there- I preferred to go on the last ‘normal’ afternoon service when the ‘regular’s were there. I don’t want to appear in a crowded room as the former minister. It is best that the current minister is there to lead with no distractions or someone appearing as Banquo’s ghost.

I know him- he will do a good job (he has a degree of maturity and depth of spirituality that is beyond me) and he will respect the desire that the carol service is ‘normal’ and neither a requiem or a loud celebration. When I heard that it was closing, I wrote this: it is not sparkling, but it was cathartic- if bleak.

I have bumped into a few people from the chapel recently and heard their sadness. I have heard been to too many things about closing/ending when the preacher could not lament or face up to this sadness.

 

When these walls cease to sing,

And we say goodbye,

There are those who

would caper and celebrate;

‘Rejoice at what has happened here’.

 

Yes; that.

But also be sad

Ad stay still in the numbness of grief,

Cry and

Be empty.

 

After all,

We don’t need comedians

At funerals.

 

Closing a church:1

When I was a minister ‘in pastoral charge’ (one of the quaint terms used in Methodism), I never closed a church. I am not sure if that was a strength, a weakness or somewhere in between.

One of ‘my’ former churches (the ‘my’ is in italics- I worry for the soul of ministers’ who refer to churches as ‘my‘) is closing in a couple of months. It is understandable: things have been a struggle for some years- yet they have been faithful and tried new things (one of their last acts was a concert where they raised over £500 for a charity). Just as there is a time to be born, there is a time to die; churches are closing through a variety of reasons and sometimes from a sense that ‘the work is done’.

And yet, there is sadness from the people who go and from the local community. I feel sad as well- I went to a service a couple of weeks ago. I have fond memories of being there and I was the longest serving minister in the chapel’s history. I also feel a sense of responsibility- as the people there do- how far was this my ‘fault’? (Conversely- how far did it stay open as long as it did, just because of the faithfulness of those there who would not give up?).

Yes, the church of Christ will go on, but….alongside the gratitude and thankfulness, acknowledge the sadness and regret as well.

Christmas Eve

It is always difficult to know what to put on here on Christmas Eve. Chances are that no one will read it anyway.

By now, if you have hung around churches, schools, village halls etc for any length of time over the past few weeks, you will be all carolled out. I like carols, but confess that I struggle with many of the words: the 19th century ones that dominate tend to be mawkish & serve only to inoculate people from considering whether the Christmas story has any relation to life now.

Mind you, much worship music does the same (it’s my blog and I am allowed to make sweeping statements).

For my last school assembly, I went to a village school and they sang this as a Christmas song. I liked it immensely. Maybe that was because I/we face big changes in the new year and the way is not yet clear. However, I also think it was because it was ‘real’: it held together Hope/despair/longing and life as it is lived in a way that is rare.

I would love to sing it again…. it has that kind of wistful longing that is close to the longing that the Biblical Prophets had.

 

When the winter day is dying,

And the wind is blowing wild,

Listen for a lonely crying,

It may be a wand’ring child.

Light a candle in the darkness,

Let the night know that you care,

Light a candle in the window,

It may guide the Christ child there.

When at times you fear to follow,

On the track that you must tread,

Friendly promises are hollow,

For the tests that lie ahead.

Light a candle in the darkness,

When your final hope is gone,

Light a candle in the window,

And the child will lead you on.

When the world outside is waiting,

But you can’t give any more,

There’s no end to war and hating,

And you long to close the door.

Light a candle in the darkness,

Let it shine beyond your pain,

Light a candle in the darkness,

And the Child will come again

(A.E.Scholey)

A round of applause

She was old, but still with plenty of life in her. In the peculiar language that is ‘christianese’ she seemed the antithesis of a ‘dynamic, fulfilled and victorious Christian life’: ‘traditional village anglican’ would be closer to the truth. All labels are just that: labels. Labels might tell you the price of something but they don’t tell you anything about the substance or value.

Two years ago she had a stroke and her speech disappeared. It came back, but slowly and even now in moments of tirednesss or too many people or too much excitement it goes.

There was a village songs of praise: moved from the traditional anglican church that day to the village hall as there was an event there and that is where the people were. In that setting, away from the safety of her traditional church, she asked to speak about her favourite hymn.

‘I like this hymn. If it hadn’t have been for God I wouldn’t be here and this is what this hymn is all about’. At least that is the gist of what she said as her speech began to nreak and emotion took over. And that group of people in the village hall, unused to how to behave properly in a church applauded her.

Men who had hardly sang all night, leaving their wives to do the religious bit, sang ‘Great is thy faithfulness’ with gusto.

I have rarely heard ‘witness’ delivered with such force and eloquence and impact and all from someone who is ‘getting old’ and ‘can’t really do anything anymore’.

Never ever depise the day of small things…

In a shed

..Which is where I will be this morning with one of the small congregations that I work with….or we could be in a garden…or anywhere on a farm.

A combination of a village hall anniversary and a farm being set up for the same social event; the size of which the village has not seen for many years meant that this chapel would have been all ready to roll with everyone otherwise engaged…… so move the service to where people are at.

One isolated suggestion 5 days ago, a lot of phone calls and a decision made…… honestly it is not proper church- no thinking about it, reflecting it might not be the opportune time, reporting extensively etc (but not actually doing anything).

There are some mumbles that it is not ‘proper church’ since we are not in a building, but overall people have been very gracious (it is hard to tell in a small village- people can nod and say ‘yes’ for years, but all the time thinking ‘no’, but never saying anything as ‘you should know).

Besides, I think God likes it when we have a go and try something….

 

It was Sunday

size matters

A light one- only one service. When that happens that is good (and rare!). I can really focus on what I am leading plus slow down and spend time with family etc.

I was at a chapel in a small village which sometimes feels it has no heart and no future (and it is fragile and it’s future is uncertain) and it was a monthly all-age service.

In the small congregation; 1 11 year old, 2 teenage girls, 2 women aged 18 &19 , 3 people in their 40s and then 5 people in their early 70s.

I don’t do the numbers game (and it is just that; a ‘game’), but it struck me as I wrote that down:-

-only half the congregation were older than me.

– in terms of percentages it is the most youthful congregation I speak to regularly (even compared to the biggest church in our Methodist Circuit).

– If everyone was there who normally is there, over half the congregation would be younger than me.

Those points could prove anything and give no indication of ‘strength’ as conventionally measured, but they made me think about not despising the day of small things…..

Suprising possibilities:1

Let me be clear on one thing: I think photoshop is a place that sells photos. That is why I lift images from elsewhere and rarely post my own. If you want good photos and insights, go to  http://davesdistrictblog.blogspot.com/ and you won’t go far wrong.

IMG_1599

 

Someone gave me these on Sunday: ‘for your wife’. One of the chapels I am minister of is small- well the village is small. We meet twice a month and sometimes hope and a future seem hard to come by.

The person who gave them to me said ‘sunflowers’ (I confess- I know nothing about flowers and I thought sunflowers were only yellow. If I had a favourite flower it would be a yellow sunflower). She reminded me that several weeks back I had given out sunflower seeds during a service.

This person, had listened, planted and tended.

Just as I was given them my mind exploded with possibility…. new life….. the kingdom as a seed, growing unseen….. what was little and insignificant bringing forth colour…. grains of wheat dying and then bringing life….

Nothing practical there: ‘Do x, y, z and this chapel will grow’. I don’t know whether it will- on many indicators it has a short life. But just for a moment to sense possibility, life and hope…. I do not think I can see that place in the same way again.

Strikes me that all the time God is showing possibility and hope if we/I could only see….

This is a local village; nothing for you to see around here…

A tragedy happened in one of the villages where I have a chapel. What do you do when you feel powerless? Feeling powerless when in ministry is a good thing: you can’t control anything or use ‘assumed competence’.

This chapel is tiny; there is a feeling that it may not have a long term future. But it responded and acted rapidly: opening it’s doors to the community at a time when the school (next door to the chapel) closed for the day and inviting people to a quiet space in the name of the school and the 2 village churches. Background music played, people came and went and lit candles and wrote prayers.

Many people, whose connection with church/chapel/formal expressions of faith is tenuous came in and felt grateful and ‘connected’- if only for a moment. If all they remember was the hospitality then that would be enough.

Me? I’m grateful that they had the confidence to do this and I’m wondering on the 2 Sundays a month when they do not have formal worship that this might be a way forward. Full story here:- http://www.gazettelive.co.uk/news/teesside-news/2009/06/23/ingleby-arncliffe-villagers-in-prayer-vigil-for-margaret-84229-23949402/(although I’m not sure how long the link will last).

the-rev-graham-peacock-99544853

(The most handsome face ever to appear on this blog….he looks good….a little careworn and unshaven maybe and what’s with that earrring?  I would have him as my minister anyday)

I spent a couple of hours the next day ‘hanging around’ the school…being in lessons, playing and talking at break (and once bowling a mean medium paced off cutter- ok it was against an 11 year old, but I can still dream...) and sitting and waiting. A teacher said…. could you do this more often. I’m talking to the local vicar in a few weeks and seeing if we can do this between us once a week…..

I want to quote Revelation ‘listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches’ and also a definition that I picked up from the Fresh Expressions website: ‘Mission is about finding out what God is doing and joining in’…… but mostly I want to take off my shoes as I sense I am walking on Holy ground……