A Short Essay on Friendship

Apr 16

Well hopefully no one will read this. And if you do, don’t tell them. But…

As I grow older I have discovered what friendship means. I thought I knew but apparently I didn’t. I can pinpoint a few key moments but in the last 36 hours things have crystallised:

Friendship is spending a couple of hours talking about the hardships you face via Skype and listening to the hardships your friend faces. And hearing. And listening. And laughing. And joking. And saying “maybe next time we Skype we could do it at 10pm with a glass of whisky?”

Friendship is sitting around a table with a takeaway and saying out loud “this is just us picking up the conversation we were having six months ago, now we’re 200 miles apart, without missing a beat”. Didn’t even skip. 

Friendship is answering the question “where do you want to go in this sprawling metropolis where all things are possible?” with “I don’t mind. I’m here to see you”. So we’re off to Mecca Bingo. My choice. Didn’t expect that did you‽ 

Friendship is a constant messenger ping coming from your pocket letting you know that “I want to go to this gig with you” or “I think that you will love this song” or “you need to say this to your bishop*” or “come and play this song on Thursday night at jam night, it’ll be a right laugh!!” Ping. Ping per per ping ping. 

Friendship is that… We are fond of the silliness. We are. Sometimes words can’t express the love that you have for a friend but “we are fond of the silliness” will let that loony know how much he means to me. Yeah. I said loony. That’s what mates do. 

Friendship is being held up to be the best person that I can be. And I fail all the time, but I have the best friends in the universe. And friendship is also seeing people you love becoming the best that they can be. Friendship is holding people up when they feel like falling down – heck, my guys hold me up to be more than I can be all of the time. 

Friendship is forming community with people whether they are in the here right now… or constrained by family commitments and the bounds of space and time. Friends are there for you. 

Geography is annoying. 

Friends are intimate connections that transcend the bounds of Google maps estimated arrival time. 

*trust me it really was nice stuff. 

Especially Prayer Dice

Apr 11

As we have journeyed together through lent as a community at Holy Nativity, people have been asking how we can grow as disciples.  One thing I keep being asked about is prayer.  There is a universal truth about all people who believe;  every single one of us thinks we’re rubbish at praying.  By listening to what people are asking I have been developing different ways of helping people to pray.  So during the parade service yesterday morning, we made giant prayer dice.  And this is how we did it.

Last week I went to eBay and bought 50mm wooden craft blocks.  You can buy as many or as few as you need and as we’re a small community I bought enough for everyone in the congregation.

The scouts handed them out to everyone.  As we passed them around we talked as a congregation about what prayer is.  I led the conversations and asked what we would like to pray about.  As the conversation progressed we wrote them onto the dice.
We came up with:

Friends, Family, Ourselves, Thanksgiving, Saying Sorry, The World

Then I asked about how to begin a prayer.  As a congregation we discussed names for God.
And then we talked about the word “especially”.  We talked about how if we rolled our dice and prayed “Father I pray for the world.  Especially I pray for…” it opens up into a whole conversation.  And then we discussed the importance of listening to the other side of the conversation during prayer.  What is God saying to us about those places in the world we’re praying for?  What is God saying to us about the homeless people in Halifax?  What is God saying back to us in the conversation we started with a little block of wood about our family and friends?

And that’s how we do sermons together at Holy Nativity.

Why I am a Priest and Why People are Important, Even Me

Mar 11

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On Monday a colleague posted an article on Facebook entitled “Why pastors shouldn’t work more than 40 hours a week – and why most do”. It was a good article in and of itself but the thing that interested me more was the visceral reaction people had to it on Facebook; most especially, the priests.

I will put this into my context so that you understand where I am coming from. I am a priest. I work in a parish. I pastor people. I go to people’s homes, the church, the hospital, the school, the council offices, the crematorium and the pub. I do many things including leading both public worship and private prayer. I also sit in my office with this laptop. I update the website. I write reports for the Annual General Meeting. I write letters to the bishop and fill in forms for the local council. I go to governors meetings at school and I sit with the local housing association and discuss issues we’re facing as a community. I attend training sessions on safeguarding. I clerk. I am after all a “clerk in holy orders”. Being a clerk in holy orders involves a certain amount of “clerking”. And all of this is stuff I have done in the last four days. On top of this I am a workaholic. And that makes me a bit of a hypocrite but hey ho, I’m half way through writing this now. I will often work 13-15 hour days and I will often work on my day off. Heck, I’m working right now on my day off. And I’m about to visit my best mate where we will talk all day about church and dream dreams and have visions. This is my life. A vocation. A calling. For me with the current retirement arrangements, a 38 year marathon rather than a four year sprint.

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Back to the visceral reaction the Facebook iPriests had to the concept of “working hours”. When people were confronted with the idea of “working hours”, most reacted with the concept of “vocation vs job”. People said things like “if you want a job, go work at ASDA”. “This isn’t a job, it is a life”. “This isn’t a job, it’s about being there”. “When something happens I will be there”. “It is pastoral”. The trump card was always “pastoral work”.

“I have a duty and a joy to visit people in hospital and if it is my day off then I will lose my day off”.

Yes. I totally agree. But I have a question. Why is pastoral work always at the end of the list?  Why is this a skewed priority? People are important. Pastoral work isn’t something that should be an add on. God cares about people. People are important. It’s something we believe as a church. And forgive my Yorkshirism as I use it for emphasis:

People are importanter than paper and pixels.

If this is what we believe as a church, why have so many placed priority on the clerking and website editing? How has pastoral work been consigned to time off? How has pastoral work been prioritised over and above family? How has pastoral work become the poor relative who is demanding that we never see a spouse or parents? If you ask the people I pastor, they will tell you that I will move heaven and earth to be there. I will be there on my “day off”. I will be there when I have to drive two hours to get there from visiting my brother. I will cancel the Christmas Eve service to get there (actually happened this year). People are importanter than paper and pixels. People are importanter than my day off. People are importanter than a church service. And I am a person. I am people with my wife and parents and grandparents and friends.

I have wonderful church wardens. If I could bottle them and send them to you I would. And they make sure I don’t break. I am a person. I may be a shepherd in this field but I am also a sheep, and they pastor me. They make sure I am eating properly. They make sure that I get time to play my guitar – not necessarily on the day an emergency happens but on a random Tuesday afternoon instead. And they make sure that this guy in his thirties makes it to retirement without burning out. Thank God for them. I do each and every day.

We believe in Sabbath. God commanded it no less. The Egyptians had made the Israelites into slaves and whipped them until they got the straw to build their pyramids. But God is different. God is holy. God is set apart. “Have a Sabbath”. Time for God, time for family, time for friends, time to put the straw and bricks down and look after yourself. Time for me to play silly scales and make squealy noises on the guitar. Time to eat dinner with my wife. Time to visit my mum and dad. Time to sit and do nothing. And I call that Sabbath “Friday”. Not a day that is so legalistic that if the phone goes I won’t arrive at the hospital if I am needed. Not a day that can’t become “Tuesday afternoon instead” if it needs to be. A state of mind where my wife, the church wardens and God make sure that this priest, pastor and minister makes it to the end of the marathon.

Rocky Icon

Jan 17

I’ve used this clip a lot as an introduction to Sacramental Alt:Worship in lectures.  I’m always asked where it can be found and I can’t for the life of me find it again.  @frsimon suggested I bung it back up on YouTube so here it is in all of it’s glory.  Whoever created this deserves some king of medal.

Paper Chain Prayers

Dec 24

At the Christmas Rock Mass we prayed for Jesus to bring light into the dark situations around the world and in our lives.  I bought a couple of paper chain making kits from eBay.  With suitable music playing, people wrote their prayers on the back of their links and added them to the chain.  It was really powerful as our prayers joined together and we all gathered around the altar together.  We all took a glow stick (or many as some of our kids saw fit) and made bracelets to symbolise the light of Christ entering into the world.  Then the president brought all of the prayers together at the end and offered them before God as they were placed around the crib scene.

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Yes, that’s Richie Sambora on the telly.

Mary’s Lullaby (Away in a Manger) – Lyrics Adapted by Ruth and Robb

Dec 24

Since the late 19th century, The Church has been held hostage to one of the most theologically facile songs that has ever been sung during a service. All of the accusations of “pie in the sky when you die” and a “bearded man in the sky” can be found in this universal favourite.  When combined in a service filled with “baby” Jesus and the Christmas “Story” references, The Church has been inoculating people to the revolutionary faith we have in Christ.

Away in a Manger has become such a large part of our wider cultural memory that planning a service without it can cause disagreements both inside the church community and outside of it. Ruth and I have talked about this problem for many years.  A couple of years ago we wondered what it would be like if Away in a Manger was as revolutionary as the Magnificat. Using those words as our inspiration we decided to rewrite Away in a Manger from the perspective of Mary looking at her newborn child.

We have used it for the last couple of years in a variety of different contexts and it goes down really well.  We reworked it for Metanoia and the Rock Mass but we’re only half way through recording it so here is a simple arrangement to show how it could be used on organ or guitar.

Let’s take back Christmas!

Mary’s Lullaby (Away in a Manger)

“Away in a manger, asleep on the hay,
I will watch over you at the end of the day,
The stars in the bright sky shine down where you lie,
As angels sing ‘Glory be to God on high’.”

“My spirit rejoices, for news of your birth
Like wildfire will spread over all of the earth;
A light in our darkness, a hope for the poor,
God’s gift to all people of life evermore.”

“Your name shall be Jesus, for this holy night
Is fulfilment of promise through God’s saving might;
But now sleep in peace, as I sing lullaby,
I will stay by your side til your dawning is nigh.”

– Lyrics adapted by Ruth and Robb Sutherland

Nursery Rhyme Christingle

Dec 23

The Nursery Rhyme Mass is one of the most interesting developments in sacramental ministry with children that I’ve come across.  Fr Simon and other contributors like Mtr Leah have been using familiar tunes to engage the young and old with the sacraments.

I haven’t yet had time to be able to incorporate a regular worship event like this myself.  However, our annual Christingle service is the perfect occasion for something like it. I discovered a book called Nursery Rhyme Nativities on Amazon and looked through it.  It’s great if you are putting on a Nativity Play but we build the crib during the service.  We had to pick and choose bits from different parts of the book.  We rewrote a few bits of it here and there to improve the scan of the lyrics.

I combine a knitted nativity set and a last supper set to give a big gang of Magi in one part of the church and shepherds in another.  Mary and the angel Gabriel start in one corner and Joseph in another.  Children run around the church finding the characters as we place them under the altar and recount the history of our faith.

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Our service was also Star Wars Themed but that came through the use of videos, building a life sized Sith Lord, playing with lightsabers and the sermon.

Christingle 2015

Welcome

Carol – Come and Join the Celebration

Find Mary and Angel – Tell our story

Mary’s Song – To The Tune of London Bridge
The angel came to Mary’s home,
Mary’s home, Mary’s home.
The angel came to Mary’s home,
In the morning.

Mary wondered why he came,
Why he came, why he came.
Mary wondered why he came,
In the morning

The Lord our God has chosen you,
Chosen you, chosen you.
The Lord our God has chosen you,
This fine morning

You’ll be mother to his son,
To his son, to his son.
You’ll be mother to his son,
Precious baby.

He will lead us back to God,
Back to God, back to God.
He will lead us back to God,
Precious baby.

Let it happen as you say,
As you say, as you say.
Let it happen as you say,
Mary whispers.

Find Joseph – Tell our story

Hymn – O Little Town of Bethlehem

Lullaby – To The Tune of Frere Jaque
Baby’s sleeping, baby’s sleeping,
In the straw, in the straw.
Angel’s promise keeping,
Angel’s promise keeping,
Son of God,
Son of God.

Baby’s sleeping, baby’s sleeping,
In the straw, in the straw.
Joseph now is peeping,
Joseph now is peeping,
Full of joy, full of joy.

Baby’s sleeping, baby’s sleeping,
In the straw, in the straw.
Mary now is weeping,
Mary now is weeping,
Tears of Joy,
Tears of Joy.

Carol – See Him Lying in a Bed of Straw

Reading – Luke 2

Find Shepherds – Tell our story

The Shepherds’ Song Part 1 – To The Tune of Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush
Shepherds go down to Bethlehem,
Bethlehem, Bethlehem,
Shepherds go down to Bethlehem,
On Christmas day in the morning.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem,
Bethlehem, Bethlehem,
Jesus was born in Bethlehem,
On Christmas day in the morning.

The shepherds found Jesus in Bethlehem,
Bethlehem, Bethlehem,
The shepherds found Jesus in Bethlehem,
On Christmas day in the morning.

They worshipped the baby in Bethlehem,
Bethlehem, Bethlehem,
They worshipped the baby in Bethlehem,
On Christmas day in the morning.

Carol – Silent Night

Take Shepherds back to the hillside – Tell our story

The Shepherds’ Song Part 2
Back to the hills near Bethlehem,
Bethlehem, Bethlehem,
Back to the hills near Bethlehem,
On Christmas day in the morning.

Find The Magi – Tell our story

The Magi’s Song – To The Tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
Lead the wise men from afar,
Up above the sky so bright,
Letting in the heavenly light.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
Now we know just where you are.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
Stable door is now ajar.
Up above the sky so bright,
Letting in the heavenly light.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
Now we know just where you are.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
Magi bring gifts from afar,
Up above the sky so bright,
Letting in the heavenly light.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
Now we know just where you are.

Silent Night Video

Sermon – The Light of the World vs The Dark Side

Take the Magi away to the east end.  Tell of Mary, Joseph and Jesus fleeing to Egypt as refugees – Tell our story

Prayers

The Lord’s Prayer

Song – Sing Christingle
Give Out Christingles
Song – Mary’s Lullaby (Away in a Manger)

I’ll blog this tomorrow as it’s a post in itself.

Glow Sticks to Take Into the World

Blessing
May the joy of the angels,
The eagerness of the shepherds,
The perseverance of the Magi,
The obedience of Mary and Joseph
And the peace of the Christ Child
Be yours this Christmas,
And the blessing…

Carol – Come and Join the Celebration

After coffee during which the kids were playing, this had happened!

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