Learning to listen

Sometimes when praying the hardest part is being still enough we can actually listen to what is actually been said to us.

We are all so wrapped up in the intensity of prayer – are we doing it right? – have we prayed for the right things? – if we prayed out loud did it make sense?

If we are listening to others praying do we hear them? Are their prayers really what they mean? Do we understand what they are saying?

A Vicar, who I  have a lot of respect for once said in response to hearing my intercessions. “Why do you have so much detail in your prayers? God knows the small print stick to the facts.”

Wise words and of course that’s true but what about the congregation ? Would they know that my prayers for the village school were because a teacher was ill and ofstead was looming? Or that giving thanks for the good weather was really relief that we had managed to get the much-needed work done on the graveyard?

But that’s not the main place we need to be listening. Not only do we need to listen for God to talk to us and guide us in our life but we need to listen to each other.

There is non so blind as those we cannot see except in this case hear!

Did the lady praying for the Food bank really mean to prompt people to donate as stock was getting low?

Did the request for good weather at the fete really mean a request for help as the prospect of organising was becoming overwhelming?

Prayers are a cry for help not only from the Lord but from each other.

Five minutes listening to the someone over coffee at the end of a service can at times be a struggle, there are other people you may want to chat to, there are chores to do to tidy away the church but stop take that time. You may be the first person they have spoken to in days.

Don’t talk over the person in your prayer group or bible study class as you feel your point is more valid or more important. Slow down and listen.

Thinking things to do for Lent why not pledge to listen – really stop and listen to someone this lent. You have no idea who God is using to talk to you.




Shapes-“My Gifting for Ministry”

Sitting down to write this and trying to sum up the last few weeks and explain where this journey has taken me I am really not sure where to start but I know that I am  ready to write something as there are jumbled up thoughts flying around my head, jutting out at the most annoying of times, what did that mean? have I read that correctly? DID he really just say that? DID I HEAR WHAT WAS MEANT?

To explain somewhat I have had the dreaded flu/virus that has been doing the rounds since the day after boxing day. I spent most of the Christmas and New Year holiday in bed with a fever or coughing in a most un lady like way. Too exhausted to even feel sorry for myself, never mind read what I should be reading or thinking about homework.

We had an interesting piece of homework. No really it was.

Reading it at first it was a bit daunting but by the 2nd or third read through it started to make sense.

The aim of this exercise was to help each of us to  understand the unique “shape” God has made us in, the gifts he has given us and how he might want to us to be serving him. We were asked to consider our:

Spiritual gifts   (God’s unique gifts to you as a member of Christ’s body)

Heart’s desire (what motivates and excites you, what you most love or long to do)

Abilities          (your talents, knowledge and skills)

Personality     (your character, style, preferences, personal qualities and strengths)

Experiences    (your life experiences – both good and bad – and what you have learned and gained from them)

We were asked to consider  these gifts and how they affect the way in which we engage with our family, friends, job, local community and voluntary or leisure activities. Did our gifts enhance our faith or our faith enhance our gifts?


By answering the questions and digging deep, we were encouraged to ask others about how they saw you?

So I asked three people to help me out.

Two who are very dear friends, who are always there when I come up with a hair brain idea or fundraiser to support and encourage me. One lovely lady who I work with who I know had enough Christian depth to answer me honestly and with comprehension of the work I was trying to undertake.

Now this wasn’t an ego massaging type of exercise, it was a warts and all tell me what you think I am good at and more importantly what are my faults.

They didn’t hold back.

All three wrote honestly with compassion both my good points and then my negative points. It’s hard to read and digest as I don’t take compliments very easily tending to brush off comments with a joke or rapidly change the subject. I am a fan of team work and sharing credit for things or doing things  quietly without help not to be a martyr but because its just quicker to get on with things.

I was humbled by the detailed honestly, often about things I wasn’t aware or conscious I was doing. Now I am no saint (But then we all are really are we not?) but when people you love dearly say positive things about you that really means a lot. I am a firm believer in being an encourager as the world has too many critics already and I would urge everyone to be positive and have faith but I was still blessed by the response.

EVEN the negatives – I cant not say it was not hard to read these mainly as I knew they are true but as they came with an explanation as to why my friends felt I have  these negatives it made understanding them a reality to be faced, dealt with and to move on from. When things you are afraid to face are spoken and out there, they are already a step closer to being resolved .

We are all a work in progress which I guess is the point of this course.

Sharing our findings about our shape with our group was not the experience I felt it would be. Maybe not all of us gained as much as I feel I did from it or maybe they are already confident in who they are with Christ and didn’t feel the need to share or didn’t want to be seen to be weak. Personally I felt I was being judged by confessing my negatives and came away feeling very vulnerable, that I had opened up too much and that was not what was wanted. Maybe I was being over sensitive or maybe I am just forgetting this is my journey I just bump into others along the way.





So what have I learned?

The first term seems to have flown by and we now approach Christmas and I feel a sense of loss not meeting every week. I have found some firm friends and enjoy the fact that we don’t always agree AND THATS OK.

During this term we have  been tested and challenged to see who we are, what our faith is and how we react to different situations. We have learned what boxes we should fit into, if we are a certain type of church or more importantly not to get stuck in a box.

All the time being gently nudged back to the bible and learning to look though fresh eyes at familiar passages. This for me has been my hardest struggle as I can never remember who said what when etc. On advice I bought a new bible specifically for this course and I have tried to keep notes of things that jump out or historic context or even the time of year this might be relevant. That has helped enormously and I have discovered that I have new favourite passages and books, something that has surprised me greatly. I am trying to be disciplined and read the readings in church with my bible in front of me and was caught madly flipping through the pages to write a note on a connected passage during a sermon – NO IT WASNT A SHOPPING LIST.

The most important thing I have learned and or achieved is to slow down and listen in our group. No really I have!!! I don’t have to keep the conversation going or be the first to answer to be quite and listen is ok – those in my group may find this hard to believe but honestly I really am trying! 🙂  Silence is acceptable.

I think I would be accurate in saying that everyone of us has taken at least one piece of information from our discussions that may be something we want to try to instigate in our own church as we have shared good practise ideas and failures too.

It has been quite clear we all need to work on our mission with youth but also not all of us do as much as we could to encourage men or cater for the elderly or disabled worshipers. This has proved easier for the large town based churches and they are blessed by good attendance and in general seem to find it easier to achieve fundraising or diocesan goals. Despite this, our rural churches are holding their own, finding other ways to attracted members and to in someway be a more inclusive and accessible part of the village.

We have been encouraged to learn and believe in our own theological opinions. To have the courage of our convictions. To be prepared to defend our Faith against those with different opinions. To this end I have been reading blogs, engaging on twitter, reading (well dipping in and out) of books on our reading list and others that have been recommended or taken my fancy in my pretence that I am  theologian. Some of the twitter feeds have been controversial, some have been infuriating, some have made me yell at my screen! BUT everyone of then have reassured me that  I am on the right track. God is a kind loving God who encourages and holds us safe in his arms even when we don’t deserve this.

Four weeks in I had a bit of a wobble – did I really have anything to contribute to this group? Did I have the talents that are needed to get to my end goal? Was I right in my end goal is that what is really required of me? I was a bit afraid, a bit uncertain was I just a huge phony? Have I been hiding behind church as an excuse not to face issues in my own life? ??

So with a brave face but a slightly heavy heart I went to session 5 which was “Learning to live well with difference”

We had our first case study.

Now I work with students studying to be counsellors and have had many a conversation with them ranting about a specific case study and had my own little chuckle with them as they  struggled with the black, white and grey of various situations.

Without going into too much detail, any worries I had about my ability  to engage with this course went out the window. I was so enraged by some of the possible outcomes suggested by the sheet and to be honest felt I wasn’t sure I wanted to be any part of that church if that was how it was going to react to the situation. It stirred up a lot of discussion and people commenting on similar situations in their own  churches and parishes, how they had handled the situation, what they felt should be done to prevent this happening.

I was so exhausted thinking this situation over and over even though I knew it was a hypothetical question and logic told me it was made up of several different possible situation.

After days of ranting in my head looking at all the different angles I took my outrage to my lovely Rector. He listened, smiled, smiled some more and said something very logical which I had thought but hadn’t really focused on.

Instantly I realised it wasn’t anything to be wound up by but was a way of being reminded of the passion  and the need to make sure everyone was cared for and being well treated that had got me into this course in the first place!!

Our final case study was approached with much more depth and theology by us all raising some really personal moments and forming us even closer as a unit.

My other stumbling block is off the cuff prayers that some people do with such easy and with such meaning.

Without offering, (See I am trying!) I was asked to pray. I must have been in the zone as I truly felt the prayers came from deep within and felt to me to be  a summary of the 6 weeks and how we had all grown together. I very much doubt anyone realised the significance of those prayers but to me it was a gentle shove a bit further down my path.

Home work has been issued for the break – What is the Shape of you???

Please tell me I am not alone in humming Ed Sheeran?

Christmas Blessing xxx

The first session……

So on a dark October evening,  I joined a group (one of three around the Diocese) of like-minded Christians in a church hall for the start of the autumn term.

Walking in I was immediately surprised by just how many of us there are and reassured by smiles that we all felt as nervous as each other.

After some prayers and an explanation  of the purpose of the course, to help people grown in discipleship and to perhaps find the ministry in to which God is calling them, we settled down to our first lecture.

Session 1: Making Connections

After reassurance there was no wrong answer  we started by discuss how our past experiences from all the different and varied church back grounds we came from might make for a fertile ground for us all to grow in faith. That to grown in maturity as a Christian we needed a two-way process with life influencing faith and faith influencing faith. In short we had to live our faith, not just turn up on a Sunday and by Monday be back to our old ways. It soon became clear that this course was going to challenge my whole way of living.

How do we use the bible? What is Theology? On what is your faith-based? How can that understanding grow?

My head was spinning.

THEN we were told we were all Theologians. ME!! the person who can’t quote anything or remember who said what when!!! A Theologian. DO be serious!!

But again I was told YOU are here to do theology.

An “ology!!” said the Maureen Lipman in my head.

And then the gentle reassurance. “Theology is faith seeking understanding.”

And it all made sense and as the night progressed it suddenly all started to slot into place. Understanding the context of the scriptures, the history and lifestyle at the time and then making it relevant to the here and now so that I could explain to people in a way they would understand and be encouraged. That  small voice whispered you could do that.

After a much-needed coffee break we split into smaller groups in separate rooms and headed off with our lovely mentors to discuss the evening further.

Now throw a group of very different people in a room who have never met and ask them to introduce themselves and to say a brief bit about their personal journey to date and you could get into a huge pickle. We might be all emotional and give testimony or stiff up lip and give nothing away but oh my, what a blessing our group are.

We did get a bit emotional, we did share very personal things quite openly, we did explain a little of our journey so far, but under our mentors guidance we all had a chance to speak, to express and to bond.

I came away from that first night so encouraged and enthusiastic and with some fab new friends. We all came from different churches with different styles of worship but we all have so much to give and share.

Never have Thursday evenings been so exciting!



Becoming Church Warden

Once I stopped laughing at the offer to take up the role of Church Warden, I mean was the Rector bonkers? Did he really think I could be THAT grown up? Apparently he did.

So off I went to think and pray about it.

I googled “What does a Church Warden actually DO?” and promptly scared the living day light out of myself.

So  I rang the previous vicar and asked for his advice. Suffice to say he wasn’t very enthusiastic and shed quite a lot of doubt on my ability, my commitment and if I was a strong enough Christian……. WELL that just annoyed me and after a further few days of prayer and silent ranting…. I said yes.

For the official bit I had to go to Rye to the lovely St Mary’s. Taken by the previous warden, to make sure I went, I was welcomed by the Archdeacon in, some very grand surroundings and if I am honest was rather emotional at the thought of following in the footsteps of generations of Christians all doing our bit to promote the word of God.

On the way back my predecessor filled me in on some of the “extras” and the village politics that everyone had failed to mention……..what had I done???

But as the weeks turned into months turned into years I discovered that I knew more than I thought I did. And while I may not do everything in the traditional ways our church had always done things, I could persuade even the most traditional of our flock to bend a little and even embrace new ideas.

I was encouraged to lead a very active role taking  responsibility for prayers, reading and leading small services. Slowly my doubts were replaced by confidence and I was no longer afraid to jump into conversation about being a Christian but tried always to lead by example stepping out into the village with confidence that the church plays a vital role in village life and really needs to be part of the village not a stand alone historical building.

When our beloved Rector announced to the full church he was ill and would be taking time to have some treatment, I saw with my own eyes (as did everyone) pure unadulterated faith. It was bursting out of him, exploding into the congregation, that he had faith in God to bring him and his family safely through this dark time. In his own quiet modest way, I suddenly saw such a confidence and declaration of faith I was humbled. Never did he show any fear, although I am sure there must have been times where he had doubts and worries.

If ever there was a sign of God’s love in action it was the way, we as a church community pulled together and rallied round to keep the status quo, to even grow a little in his absence and to make sure he had a vibrant church to come home to.

And he did and we rejoiced and slowly we returned to normal and that was where I hit my personal brick wall.

I think I had just done too much for too long in addition to being a Mum and working full time in a demanding but enjoyable job. The cracks were starting to show and I started to take a few things very personally.

It was time to step away and spend a bit more time being me and to find time for me to worship without the pressure of sorting, leading, being.

Simples! Or so I thought……..


Living Faith

So after a few heavy hints over a few years about doing more and listening to God’s plan and perfect time to become  a vicar – make the change you want to see by being the change – all of which I laughed at and ignored. “Flattered but not interested”  seemed to trip of my tongue quite regularly. None so deaf as those who don’t want to hear.

So while browsing the Diocese web site – admiring improvements in recent years I saw an advert for a  Mindfulness Day. Now this excites me the principle on being at one, in the moment, appreciating the positive. That might be a good use of a Saturday.

Click to book screamed at me on the Eventbrite page. And then I saw the dreaded fully booked sign. 😦

Really…. finally a course I want to do and its fully booked……

So I clicked to see other events in the area. VOCATIONS DAY. Laughing I had a good browse and ignored it. I mean why would I want to go there I don’t want to be a vicar!!!

Then the emails started – informative news letters, Faith magazine all with vocational red flag. That drip feeding of suggestions that God has a habit if doing to catch you unaware. He is not daft!

Then the icing on the cake – the final push – I finally listened.

An email from my Rector with the email from the Diocese suggesting they “encourage” people to attend. His email read…

“Just saying!!!!!”

I gave in. What did I have to lose? What harm could it do? At least people would stop hinting!


Turning up on that Saturday morning I was determined to go in with an open mind to think about everything that was said very carefully commit to nothing.

Anxiously I step through the door expecting the usual restrained C of E greeting.

I was hit with a wall of enthusiasm – a hand pumping smiley welcome. That in its self threw me. I had hoped to  sneak in the back, listen then leave without any serious interaction. But being pounced on by a familiar face dragged over to meet others and engaged in conversation and made to drink exceptional coffee?!?!! Was I in the right place? This was everything I had been saying the church in general was lacking enthusiasm, drive, encouragement.  I clearly wasn’t the only one taken aback but  as the room filled up and the day began I suddenly felt relaxed and as if I might just be in the right place.

I had read about the Living Faith course but hearing a more detailed account it seemed that maybe it was the exact place I needed to be. I mean what harm could it do? It would give me a chance to deepen my faith through scripture, to meet new people and I would be actually doing something for me for a change. As any mother will tell you that’s  a rare thing.

So I signed up. With my Rectors support, even if he did have a twinkle in his eye which seems to say GOT YA!!

How did I get here??!!?

I have always gone to church.

Even living abroad as a child we were never really “HOME” until we had been to church with our Grandmother. Walking into the familiar building smelling the polish and the flowers. Aged Sunday school teachers telling us how much we had grown, genuinely pleased to see us. It was an anchor, a safe haven, it was home.

During my childhood I didn’t really think much about God, we sang, about him, heard stories of his sons adventures, knew he was to be feared and obeyed but mostly I knew I was loved. That God took me as I am. That he was there to protect me from evil.

Then I discovered David Livingstone.  The story fascinated me. Imagine travelling as far as Africa to spread God’s word. How brave but there was the nagging doubt that maybe the people he visited didn’t want to be told of God? What if he had gone all that way and nobody listened to him?

Bringing this up with my dear, long suffering Aunt she pointed out  that maybe he had gone to talk about the Son of God, Jesus Christ who had walked and lived among us.

The penny dropped and I realised that was what I was missing. I was concentrating on God this great big all consuming power but not really including Jesus in the equation. Doh!!! I hear you groan but it was the 70’s and I was only little.

Living abroad strengthened my faith because I was surrounded in people who believed, had conviction and prayed. BOY did they pray! Shouting from minarets, everything in the Arab way of life included prayer and God, from the greetings to the simple saying Inshalla “God Willing” . Churches where we lived were packed to the rafters often with several services a day and ranged from Catholic, C of E, Missionary Baptists and services could be in a number of different tongues – Tamil, Hindi, Urdu and even English!

But my faith was private one. I knew God held me in his hands and that he was in my heart but it was my God, my faith and unless I was asked a direct question I didn’t try to expand on my faith. If I am honest while I read my bible I struggled with quoting or remembering what came from where and if I spoke out would anyone challenge me? Ask me something I didn’t know the answer to?

So I decided my way of showing my faith  was in serving. Always the first to make the tea, sweep the floor, tidy up after Sunday school that was how I would show my faith after all we are called to love and serve one and other! That was my excuse I stuck to it.

Life moved on and my faith never went away but I never really did anything to help  it grow, I just took it for granted that it was there and I maybe didn’t read my bible enough or pray as much as I should have but that didn’t matter. Or did it?

Then my world collapsed and suddenly I was a single mum going through a divorce hundreds of miles away from my family. My whole approach to church changed. I would bring all my hurt and anger on a Sunday morning and throw it silently at the cross and plead for some understanding, some help and the strength to get through the following week. On occasion I would sob through a sermon, or hymn but I would always leave with the weight gone from my shoulders and strength and joy in my heart to take on the challenges to come that week.

Slowly week on week I let my church family in and took so much strength and support knowing I had people to turn to.

Then the Rector came up with an idea!!!!!!!!!!

Did I think I might like to be a Church Warden?