New Collars!

Bobby and I both have shiny new dog-collars!

In the previous post, I promised I’d be back with a shiny new collar – so here it is! And as Bobs has featured so often in this blog I felt he also deserved a new collar  which he is also very pleased with but, as you can see he doesn’t want to risk over-exposure he is refusing to let you see his face!

‘Over exposed’ sums up how I have felt this week, wearing my collar for the first time. I was advised to ‘just put it on’ and keep putting it on without questioning it until you and everyone else around you is thoroughly used to the idea and only then start picking and choosing when to wear it.  This process is all  about me having the courage to embrace who God is calling me to be , it is not about inflicting that status on others (with the exception of 20 year old son currently living at home. Taken aback by the sight of me every morning in my dog collar, he has so far steadfastly refused to address me as ‘Reverend Mother’!).
At two moments this week it has opened interesting doors. On Monday I walked through our town centre for the first time and stopping to talk to someone I knew, the person next to her who was a complete stranger to me suddenly asked me to pray for her – not just a ‘say one for me’ type request but a ‘please put your hand on my shoulder and pray for me right here and now in the High Street’! So I did,  wonderful and terrifying at the same time. 
Then on Thursday we had Messy Church. Last month I’d held up my new clerical shirt on a hanger and pre-warned them that I’d be differently dressed this tiem. This was news to most of them as almost all of them have no other church connection and no notion or who I was or what I did. So we planned this month to have a big BBQ bash and appealed to all the kids to come in fancy dress, preferably in a working uniform so I wouldn’t be the only one dressed differently. The response was fantastic: about 50 kids turned up as nurses, policemen, firemen, super-heroes, skeletons and mad scientists… It was great fun. I told the story about the man who got into the King’s wedding banquet wearing the wrong clothes and had to be asked to leave and left them with the thought that being a Christian is all about accepting God’s robe of forgiveness and not just trying to look good by ourselves.  We had about 50 adults there and they were all really affirming and encouraging about the dog-collar bit, bless them.
So, so far so good, I’ve been warned that reactions are not always so positive I hope I’ll be ready for that if and when they come.

  For those of you not familiar with Anglican ceremonial: the stole is red because we were in the season of Pentecost for which the colour is red and it’s worn ‘Star Trek’ style because I’m a deacon not yet a priest. Trying to remember ‘right shoulder -left hip’ was a bit stressful until I hit on the children’s action song ‘I’m a little teapot’. This memory aid was, thankfully, only in my head while my friend Liz vested me with my stole! (Yes, Joy, it’s a stole not a sash! Her comment on this photo was ‘Miss World meets Songs of Praise!)
  Here I am later talking to another clergy person. Captions so far include ‘… when the baby comes up out of the water?’ and ‘when the communion loaf is this big? Other suggestions welcome.
Begs a caption?

‘Shall we dance?’ or ‘is knowing a vicar dangerous?’

I am about to go into pre-ordination ‘hibernation’ – (that would be ‘on holiday’ then) – and when I return to the blog it will be with a shiny new dog collar. Meanwhile I’ll leave you with this, as near as I can get to something as serious sounding as a manifesto, a kind of explanation of what I think I’m called to be/do and how that might affect you.  This is for you if you wouldn’t call yourself a believer or an active Christian and it’s especially for you if you are somewhat alarmed by suddenly having a vicar (ie me) in your circle of friends.

I think I owe you an explanation.

There you were ambling along through life very nicely thank you managing to keep to a minimum the number of ‘odd’ or ‘strange’ people in your life and then suddenly your mother/sister/friend/neighbour/colleague (delete as appropriate) i.e. me,  decides to become a martian with two heads.

Oops, sorry I meant  a vicar.

It’s just that when you answer the polite enquiry ‘what do you do? with the phrase ‘I’m a vicar’ you often elicit the kind of look you’d expect someone to give a martian with two heads.

So now that I am nearly one of these strange creatures (July 3rd is O Day), I thought it was time I explained myself.

And while I’m at it, I’ll try to answer some the other questions you’ve been too polite to ask, such as ‘what is my motive?’ ‘Are my intentions towards you honourable?’ ‘Am I out to convert you?’ ‘And will telling me to ‘B*gge*r Off’ be any worse than telling anyone else?

Let’s just deal with that last one first: ‘No, ordination does not equip me with ‘Darth Vader’ death rays to shoot from my finger tips at will’. Leastways, there is no mention of these in the order of service! Nor do I get preferential treatment when it comes to commanding lightning strikes. So you can carry on being as rude to me as you usually are without any increased fear of divine retribution.

So what’s my agenda? Am out to convert you?

Well, yes. Of course I am! Let’s be honest, if I didn’t think that knowing God as creator, giver of life, bringer of peace, justice, love, forgiveness and wholeness wasn’t  ‘a very good thing’ then I wouldn’t ever have chosen to complicate my life in this way.  And if I do truly believe that having God in your life is ‘a very good thing’ then I would be a very mean person not to desire that for you.

So yes, I’d love to signpost/direct/encourage/accompany/guide you on a journey towards knowing God better. That is one of the main things I am called to be/do.

But does this mean that every conversation I have with you from now on will include an explanation of ‘The Four Spiritual Laws’, a recitation of all 66 books of the Bible and an altar call?

Er… No! I think/hope you know me well enough by now.

So why not? Don’t I care enough about your eternal soul?  Well, yes, I hope I do but at the risk of sounding like a Beatle  it’s all about ‘Love, Love, Love’ (*sings* ‘All you need is love, do-be, do-be, do’). And imposing any of those things on you would hardly be very loving.  Jesus really only left the two commandments: love God and love other people. The fact that there are only two doesn’t make them easy, as they are pretty all-encompassing as commands go. But if it’s all about Love and if I do love you (and I do), then love is all about listening, accepting, seeking to understand. It’s not about barging my way into your spiritual journey. However, I’m very happy to be invited…

And I have to warn you that whether you like it or not, I do pray for you and people often find that strange ‘God moments of awareness’ start to happen when someone is praying for them. You might feel this is a subversive way of extending God’s influence over you and you’d be right. But no one has told me yet to stop praying for them (that might, of course, be because I’m not very good it!)

Occasionally, if you are in pain or acute distress or if you tell me you are about to do something wild and dangerous like a parachute jump, I may not be able to contain myself. I may just offer to pray for you then and there, on the spot!  You can say no, but non-believing friends who have experienced this would probably tell you a) it’s not painful b) it’s not embarrassing and c) it can’t do any harm (remember no Darth vader death rays?).

So humour me!

Actually I’m not being entirely honest about the’ no superpowers’ bit. The Bible does make it abundantly clear that I can’t even be a Christian let alone a vicar person without the infilling of the Holy Spirit of God.  Think of the Holy Spirit as simply meaning ‘the real, living and active presence of God within us’. The Holy Spirit does give gifts and some of these are supernatural,  but they are not given exclusively to vicar people, so your average Christian is just as able for pray for healing. What we all need to remember about the superpowers bit, is that it’s nothing at all to do with me and completely up to ‘God in me’ –  I’ll keep you posted on the miracle front!

Anyway I hope all that helps allay your fears and tells you what I am about. It was in fact a quote from someone far cleverer than me that got me thinking about writing this manifesto/explanation.  Brian Maclaren is writing about how and why we share our faith with others and he puts what we are about very beautifully. (Don’t be put off by the phrase ‘spiritual friendships’ it doesn’t mean a friendship consisting of ‘sung matins’ and contemplative prayer. It doesn’t mean avoiding doing  ‘unspiritual’ things like watching a movies, eating pizza or just hanging out together.  I think what he means is that a spiritual friendship will do all that normal stuff but won’t only do shallow conversations and superficial interactions but will also be prepared to sift through the crap of life with one another). Anyway he says it better than me so I’ll just let him say it.

‘If we engage in spiritual friendship with others, if we try to help others become disciples, we find our own understanding of what it means to be a Christian changing. We will see our lives as a dance to God’s beautiful song and we will feel it our incomparable honour through spiritual friendships to help others feel the song’s wonder and be swept up into its graceful beauty and resounding joy’.

So… shall we dance? I would be my incomparable honour to ‘dance’ you nearer to God.