Connection is Contagious

How are you doing with the lock down?  It may be that with restrictions being eased a little, life may become easier for you.  On the other hand it may not.  Recently there has been lots of speculation as to what will and will not happen.  But circumstances have not been speculative for these last weeks.  They have been real.  For some, that has meant a tough and stressful time.  For others it has been an opportunity to connect with those they live with, to sort things that have been long neglected, or to pursue a new activity.

My wife and I have largely been able to treat this time as a time of opportunity.  Quietly getting on with our life, our rhythm and our routine, however, has led me to forget that others are having a very different experience.  The radio has given me some timely reminders.  I’d forgotten that the streets had been cleared of homeless people, that they had been re-housed in the empty hotels.

Patrick was being housed in the Holiday Inn in Bristol.  He had been homeless after leaving care at 16.  His parents had died when he was 11.  When he was asked what being housed in the Holiday Inn was like, without hesitation he said, ‘prison!’.  He then explained that he was on his own, confined in one small room for 23 hours a day.  The only people who had been in contact were the Big Issue team to ask how he was.  On the street, selling the Big Issue, he had a chance to encounter people, to be connected.

As human beings we are programmed to connect, to seek and celebrate connection.

Separation is alien to us and that is what we have been asked to do over these past weeks, to separate.  In avoiding a contagious virus, we have been deprived of togetherness and all that this brings.  Like Jesus, at times it is good for us to separate and to reflect, to ‘go into the wilderness to pray’, but, as he showed us, it is also important to connect with those around us.

Chris Dawson

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Masks Galore

As lockdown continues, I’m continuing to stay busy and yes the house has actually been spring cleaned throughout now although with us being here all the time, it gets messy again very quickly. The garden continues to thrive and has needed a lot of watering in the recent hot weather. I’ve learnt more new skills such as doing morning prayers live, albeit on the third attempt last Tuesday. I can summon people to a zoom meeting and I am able to do an online shop. It’s definitely a measure of the current times that the greatest excitement of the day is having reserved a delivery slot with Morrisons or Asda.

I’ve listened carefully to all of the advice coming from official sources and like much of the population, got very confused by some of it. The evidence on mask wearing seems conflicting and somewhat vague, and I do understand that wearing one in public is often of more benefit to everyone else rather than myself, but that’s fine. My husband has a chronic chest condition and so would seem to be more at risk than many and although he hasn’t been in a shop in weeks and I have only been in one or two local shops, I decided to make some masks.

The first prototype would have been a delight to any airborne virus. There were gaping holes on either side of the nose, but then having this pointed protuberance in the middle of your face does make life awkward. Also they could have got in around the chin and the whole thing was generally useless. So off to Google and YouTube and there I found a more effective looking pattern and having found the correct sized dinner plate to draw round I made one and I have to say it’s much more effective, so more have followed.

Then comes the crunch of using them. I’m carrying hand sanitizer, plastic gloves, wipes and the mask in my bag at all times. Well I am a GirlGuide and our motto is Be Prepared, so I am. I’ve just been to the Post Office to post two birthday parcels, one to a small girl who will be 8 this week and the other to a good friend who lives on her own and lost her Mother last week and will be having a very significant birthday on Friday, so needs cheering up. I donned the mask as I entered the shop, but what I hadn’t anticipated is that the combination of mask, hearing aids and glasses is lethal. The aids flipped out as put the loops behind my ears and once everything was in place, my breath through the mask caused my glasses to steam up! Oh well, plenty of time yet to practise!

Hazel Jenkins

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Living with clergy: behind the scenes.

It’s been seven weeks now since the lockdown started and this is what it’s like living in a clergy home.

My mum is at home all the time! Her clergy robes hang in the hallway and also on the washing line after a funeral. Our dog, Holly has got so used to us both being at home that she won’t be away from us for more than a few minutes. I’m not sure how she will cope when the church opens again and my mum goes back to work.

People knock on our door to say hello and leave presents on our door step. Then they move to the bottom of the path and my mum talks to them from the door step. It’s nice to see people. 

We go through so much food because my mum is always home. I wonder how often she ate in the Funky Monkey before the lockdown?

We have a stack of craft equipment in the cellar and every Saturday morning my mum wanders around the house looking for tape or ribbon or some other craft stuff that is probably still boxed up from the house move – or Holly has stolen it!

Them, every Saturday afternoon our dining room gets turned into a Messy Church film studio and sometimes I’m asked to do strange things, like being blindfolded for a game or sticking my face in a plate full of cream! It’s actually quite fun!

Every Sunday evening at 9.00pm we stop what we’re doing and our lounge becomes another makeshift film studio for Compline live streamed.

I’ve become an expert at moving furniture around, balancing an iphone on a music stand and checking lighting! I also have to give feedback after live streamed services. “Was the sound ok?” or “Could you see what I was doing?”

I’ve become the dog sitter. Every Saturday afternoon and every Sunday evening at 9.00pm I take the dog upstairs and make sure she doesn’t escape or make any noise. I’m not sure those watching Compline would appreciate Holly jumping around during prayers. So I watch my mum online from a different room, just like everyone else. As soon as the live stream has finished, I know I can let Holly out.

It has been fun having my mum at home and seeing what goes on to get ready for services. The best thing has been cooking and baking. Having my mum at home all the time means we have time to cook and bake together much more and we do that every day. I also like the cakes that Elaine keeps delivering to our doorstep.

When this is over and my mum goes back out to work I hope we carry on baking and cooking.

Alex (Curates son)

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It’s a dogs’ life

Something has changed over the last couple of months and I’m loving it!

My human mum used to go out of the house and leave me with Alex for an eternity. I’ve been begging my mum to stay at home with me and it’s worked! She has now learnt that her job is to be at home with me all the time so she can feed me, play with me, and rub my tummy.

Sometimes she forgets what her new job is so I have to remind her. She has this square thing called a laptop. I’m not sure what it does but she spends far too much time looking at it instead of playing with me. I’ve found that if I lie across it, she stops looking at it and rubs my tummy instead – so that is what I do.

Every day she disappears into this room at the back of the house. I think she calls it a study. Sometimes I’m allowed in there too but only if I’m good. I was very good the other day and I helped my human mum shred some paper. I know she was pleased!

Every Saturday my human mum gets ready for something called Messy Church and we play a game where we search the house for things like tape or ribbon. I love this game! I find craft things and hide them around the house so we can play together! My human mum spends lots of time looking for the things I’ve hidden – I’m so good at this game!

I’m also really good at clearing up. Yesterday I helped by carrying two cups full of paint into the house from the garden. My human mum’s been teaching me ‘fetch’ so I knew she would be pleased! I only spilt a little bit.

I’m not always allowed to help. Yesterday my human mum and Alex were playing a game and they had squirty cream and it got everywhere. I really wanted to help clear that up but they wouldn’t let me. They wouldn’t let me help clear up the cake either, but I am so good at that!

On Sunday evenings I go for a walk and then at 9.00pm I have to hide upstairs with Alex. I’m not sure what my human mum does but me and Alex watch her talking on this little square screen. When Alex stops watching I’m allowed to go and find my human mum and I run downstairs as fast as possible and jump as high as I can to show her how much I have missed her.

I’m so pleased my human mum has learnt that her job is to be at home with me. If I can just teach her to leave the bag of dog treats where I can reach them life will be perfect!

Holly x

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Living life in Lycra Leggings

Every Church of England preacher loves a bit of alliteration; the gospel message using three headings all of the same letter.

However, this is how life in lockdown can be. Living life in Lycra Leggings

Having been used to wearing a uniform as a nurse and then a uniform of sorts as a priest, it becomes second nature to dress for the occasion

Many companies have Dress Down Friday where formal suits are set aside for an open necked shirt and chinos and women in casual trousers and top.

What I am finding is that it is easy to have a dress down Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday …. through to the whole week.

Leggings have become my best friend. Easy to wear and easy to wash. I have a whole wardrobe of suitable attire but I reach for my go to gear which would make Gok Wan keel over in horror.

Am I at the stage and age when cumfy is the watchword or is it just the convenience of not having to think about what to wear?

Is it just me bringing out the old faithfuls which no one will see and no one much cares?

Are we locked down in our closet where the oldest and most threadbare of clothing lives? Clothes that would be more suitable for digging or painting, but never to see the light of day in normal circumstances, are worn with brazen confidence in the sure knowledge that nobody knows…??

You may be reassured that clerical attire is worn when live streaming services and for funerals but the leggings still lurk in the wardrobe and as soon as I am invisible again they are back on. Old friends.


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Taizé / Rogation / Compline

It seems quite a while ago since being in discussion about Taizé Services for 2020. The first, held on 16th February, was much enjoyed, but little did we realise then how much our worship was about to be affected. The remaining Taizé services were to be on Monday in Holy Week, Sunday 17th May and Sunday 11th October (Harvest). My diary, rather unusually in these more secular times, identifies each Sunday with its correct place in the liturgical calendar (and all other important feasts and Saints, days). From this I noticed that 17th May is Rogation Sunday, and thus related to the Harvest service we’d scheduled for later in the year, though it hadn’t been particularly planned that way.

Rogation Sunday has always seemed to me to be at the beginning the process that ends with Harvest; a time of prayer and intercession for a satisfactory yield from the crops being, or about to be sown. I had begun to investigate how this theme could be incorporated in our 17th May Taizé Service. But then came the lockdown! Our plans for the Taizé-style Communion service on the evening of Monday in Holy week, had to be radically altered. For a start, it was now going to be streamed live, and the inclusion of any music in such a service would require the permission of the copyright holder. Though it has been possible to obtain the kind permission of David Thorne, the composer of the Mass for St. Thomas for its use in subsequent streamed Communion services, there was little prospect of similar permission for the use of the Taizé chants it had been planned to include.

There are elements within a Taizé type service that provide its essential atmosphere and character: the chants, certainly, but also the meditative nature of the prayers, the inclusion of some none-Biblical texts, especially poetry, the specific period of silence, and to an extent the lighting of candles. Fortunately, the elements we were able to include within the now familiar office for the Distribution of Holy Communion at Home or in Hospital worked satisfactorily when streamed on Monday in Holy Week, but it was clear that a typical Taizé Service was less likely to do so; a live streamed ten-minute silence would certainly present problems! My plans for the 17th May service needed revising.

Then I remembered some thoughts I’d had about the possibility of a Taizé – style Compline service; a meditative, reflective service in which some Taizé elements could be comfortably accommodated. The usual chants couldn’t be sung, but perhaps the Compline Hymn could, and lighting a candle and including a shorter silence might also be practical. I began to work on something along such lines.

In addition, I thought it worth exploring a little more about Rogation itself. The word comes from the Latin “rogare” – “to ask”. Rogation days date back to the 5th century, replacing the Roman “Robigalia”, a sacrificial rite to propitiate the deity Robigus, requesting the protection of crops. Rogation originally involved fasting and abstinence on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday immediately before the celebration of Ascension Day. In addition, farmers had crops blessed by a priest, asking for God’s blessing for a bountiful harvest. Rogation reached the British Isles in the 7th century and began to involve a more elaborate ceremony on the Sunday before Ascension Day. In addition to the blessing of crops, this included a “Beating the Bounds” procession around a parish boundary, often involving banners representing Biblical characters – a dragon (Pontius Pilate) and a lion (Jesus Christ); all very different from the original penitential beginnings.

Our celebrations of harvest have evolved beyond thanksgiving for the successful gathering of crops, important as this may be, and the entire subject of climate change, and our stewardship of the earth and its resources, have become an increasingly important part. Rogation too, as I noted earlier, at the opposite end of the growth cycle, will inevitably also embrace these aspects. The streamed Compline Service on the evening of Sunday 17th May will have a Rogation theme and Taizé elements too. By Harvest time it would be good to think that the present restrictions that prevent us holding services in church will have been mostly lifted, and a more familiar Taizé type service will be possible. We must continue to pray that this will be the case!

Andrew Mayes

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You are the beloved

Fortunately, for those of us hoping to become ordinands and train for the priesthood—and I do know that we’re pretty rare birds!– the selection process is not a competition—not a zero-sum game where there is a limited number of places.  Each of us is to be evaluated on the basis of our own merits—our own unique gifts. But that is not to say that everyone gets a place! Nonetheless, I think that this is a very beautiful and God-centred way of assessing people.

Some months ago I gave two sermons regarding the spoken words of God on two important occasions—the baptism of Christ and the Transfiguration.  In these two encounters God says, “This is my Son, the beloved.  With him I am well-pleased.”  The New Testament makes it clear that in Christ we can all have access to this status and identity as adopted children of God.

John 1:12 says, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.”  2 Corinthians 6:18 says, “And I will be a Father to you.” Galatians 4:4-7 says that “when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.”

But what does this mean for us? It means that despite any problems in our upbringing—I mean, no human parents are perfect—the adoptive parenting of God can be perfect and give us a great sense of identity and security.

As you can imagine, this reality should radically change the way we look at ourselves and other people.  If we can truly take hold of our identities as children of God we can stop comparing ourselves to one another.  We no longer have to regard one another as rivals.  We can take hold of the fact that God loves us regardless of what we do for a living or what we do in general, regardless of how intelligent we are, regardless of what we look like, regardless of the things people say about us, and regardless of our wealth and possessions—or lack of them.  This new way of looking at ourselves should give us true inner freedom and peace.

Like most people, I have to confess that I spend more time comparing myself to others than I should.  But this creates tendencies to covetousness, envy, insecurity, pride or worse.  In September I had a practice Bishops’ Advisory Panel and I have to say that at that event there was a strong sense that we were all “sizing each other up”, as the saying goes.  I know that to some extent, in such a novel situation with unfamiliar people, this is inevitable. Certain theories of group behaviour mention newly formed groups going through phases of “forming, storming, norming and performing” as they struggle to succeed in the tasks they are given. But, if not done in the proper, Godly light, this can lead to a great deal of unnecessary discomfort, and feeling either superior or inferior to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

 Because of the Coronavirus, my upcoming Bishops’ Advisory Panel, which will be in June, will not put any of us in situations of direct competition with our peers.  Just the same, I will still have a tendency to be comparing myself to some unattainable ideal.  On the other hand, I have to say that all the spiritual preparation that I have been undertaking has given me a powerful sense of identity in God.  After spending more frequent time with the scriptures and in prayer I am finding the peace of Christ a little less elusive, and, in fact, much of the time I feel an overwhelming sense of blessedness.  This means that even if I am not selected I will still be left with a strong sense of being the beloved, with whom God is well-pleased.  And I will have spent more time with Him than I would have in my past life. It has been worth every moment and this gives me great joy.

Kim Regan

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Pruning and Purple Socks

Hoping you’re all enjoying the garden whilst the sun shines and perhaps doing a bit of pruning?

I’m enjoying the daily reflections in Bible Reading Fellowship notes at the minute –( speak to Janet Neilson if you’d like a copy!)- and last Tuesday’s was based on John Chapter 15– Jesus the true vine .Verse 5 says;

‘I am the vine you are the branches. Those who remain in me and I in them will bear much fruit.’

You may be wondering where purple socks come into this !  Back in 2016  our very lovely minister gave me a gift of’ Holy Socks’ when I was having various cancer treatments. They are lavender with purple grapes on – my granddaughter Ellie was particularly impressed with the colour and subtle design I remember. I wore them to hospital on my chemotherapy days , and I have to say they are still going strong .They came with a card  containing a meditation on the vine, which has been stuck to the side of our piano .It is a very beautiful meditation which I’d better not  share for fear of breaching copyright rules but I’ve made up a prayer based on the theme;

Let me abide in the vine that is in you , my Lord and Saviour.

Let me give up my fruitless branches willingly.

Let me not fear your pruning, but look to bear more fruit .Amen.

In John 5 verse 7 Jesus promises that if we abide in Him and He in us , then whatever we ask shall be done . Fairly mind-blowing  when you think about it.

In the vine meditation abide was reflected on as being a very beautiful and peaceful word .It suggested that asking to abide in Christ is the best and only thing to ask for, as everything else will flow from that. It then ends the meditation reflecting that no effort on our part, no matter how great, will produce the peace of abiding in Christ –because it is a gift to us ,given already by the grace of God.

Looking forward to seeing you all again at St George’s – and showing off my socks!

Morag Ranson

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Ten days since I last shared my thoughts on lockdown, I would love to be able to tell you that I have achieved all the jobs that I’ve been putting off for ages, but I can’t. I have got closer with some things, but that major spring clean and repainting are no nearer.

However my main task this last week has been sewing scrubs for keyworkers. There is a website and a wonderful group of people co-ordinating the work, sourcing the material, thread etc and collecting the finished products. Although some hospitals are not taking anything made by the public, other places such as doctors’ surgeries, care homes etc are welcoming donations with open arms.

 I have lots of fabric as my mother in law was a sewer and an inveterate hoarder, a trait which she has kindly passed on to her son. So when we cleared her house out many years ago, I brought a lot of the fabric back here with me. She had friends who ran a fabric shop so would often buy random lengths to make a garment in the future and of course that fabric was never quite right for what was needed!

The instructions given by the Scrubshub were clear that any fabric had to be cotton or at the minimum 50/50 polyester cotton and washable at 60’C. So I heaved loads of hopefully appropriate fabric into the washing machine to see what survived and most of it did and my washing line looked very odd with random lengths and colours.

Next to print the pattern for the scrubs, tops and bottoms. I have a standard home printer that takes A4 paper and let me tell you that it takes 50 sheets of A4 to print the pattern and then a whole evening to stick them together in the right order and cut them out. Also I discovered that many of these lengths of material just were not long enough to make a complete top or bottom.

I did however have enough to cut out one complete set of large scrubs and so managed to make my first set. My second set were from a donated black bed sheet to make a set for Janine, our curate, as she is on the on call Chaplains’ rota at Stepping Hill Hospital and so needed appropriate apparel. That was much easier I’d made my mistakes on the first set and fortunately as we are not vastly different sizes, I could make sure it fitted. More sets will follow this week.

So although my house isn’t much tidier, my mind is happier as I feel that I am being useful.

Hazel Jenkins

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What does a good day look like?

Bishop Keith recently asked us to consider this question “What does a good day look like?”

I’ve been pondering that question and I thought I would share some thoughts with you.

Starting the day well: Waking up with unresolved worry from the day before is never a good way to start the day. So, I suppose starting the day well for me means ending the previous day well. The daily Examen is a good way to prayerfully reflect on the day that has gone: and it helps me end the day in peace.

Setting my mood to positive when I wake up also helps me have a good day.  I use Alexa for my morning alarm and it wakes me up each day with the song ‘Morning Has Broken’ instead of a shrill bell! I’m giving thanks and praise for the day ahead before I have even got out of bed. Of course, good coffee also sets me up for a good day ahead.

Spending time with those I love: Busy daily life means we can be with people we love without ever spending quality time with them. In our house, we try and cook at least one meal together each week and we go for a daily walk together. It gives us chance to talk and listen to each other without the distractions of daily life.   A walk in the countryside followed by a home cooked meal would be the perfect afternoon. My puppy adds lots of fun to the day too.

A sense of adventure: I like to have a purpose to the day.Learning something new or doing something different each day stops me getting into a rut. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, just something that excites me. Sometimes it’s just cooking something new or planning a holiday or trip for later in the year.

Prayer and meditation: Time for prayer sounds like stating the obvious but it can be very difficult to make time during the day – there are always distractions. Yet prayer is at the heart of everything I do and spending dedicated time in prayer is a real joy and privilege. For me, a good day would include spending time sitting under a tree in the sunshine meditating prayerfully on the Psalms and being open to the Holy Spirit through rich scripture.

Laughter: Laughing is good for your health – it’s official! Laughter is not just an expression of happiness and joy – laughing actually helps create happiness and joy. A good day always involves some laughter.  If you haven’t laughed today, find someone or something that will make you giggle!

What makes a good day?

As I ponder what makes a good day I can see a pattern emerging of things that matter to me most; being at peace, being with people I love, having a purpose to the day, having fun, and spending time with God in dedicated prayer but also going about my day prayerfully.

I wonder what a good day looks like for you, and how do you go about making that happen?

Janine Arnott

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