reviewing life

It’s been a wee while, but various questions people have asked of late have prompted a post, combined with a need to be reflective as my Episcopal review looms!

“Do you regret the move, after all the palava of the Women Bishop’s stuff and now the Gay Bishops headlines?”  has been asked in a variety of guises.  The answer is a resounding “NO!” – I have no regrets in moving south, despite much of the ridicule and bad press of the church, especially over the last 3 months.

Firstly – to put the record straight – Women Bishops have not been rejected by the Church of England Synod, but one form of legislation was voted down in one house of Synod, and therefore the motion to pass that piece of legislation fell – a form of legislation which gave concession to the “traditionalists” at both ends of the high/low church spectrum.  It hurt – greatly.  But as the issue of “how” lumbers on, I know we will get there, and probably with less concession than was offered.   As for the gay bishops stuff – a 15 month moratorium was lifted.  The status quo of the situation that existed when I moved here has returned.  I dont like it, I have no idea how it will be “policed or monitored”  –  I find the attitude which says we can dictate what two consenting, comitted and loving adults can do in their own bedroom to be extremely arrogant and distasteful, and damaging to those relationships and damaging to the church’s understanding of love.

No Church is without its controversy or its ridicule – and the bigger the church, the greater the controversy appears, and the ridicule is likewise magnified.    The church also has a reponsibility to speak against those things which damage the image of God’s love in creation, and often as a corporate body we dont get it right, or we challenge those things which seem inconsequential to the majority outside of the church.  It is not the role of the church to “please all people”, it is the role of the church to serve people by sharing God’s love.  Life is messy, and sometimes we get too caught up in the mess to see beyond it – this is as true of the Church as it is of individuals.  Unsurprising really, for the Church is the gathering and the structuring of those messy lives.

Its hard to believe I’ve been here 2 1/2 years already.  And I’ve found that being part of the CofE has opened up doors and vistas, opportunities for community and social engagement which were previously closed to me.  I’ve had fun, and flourished in the supportive (yes, really!) atmosphere of not only the team, but of this diocese.  Despite all its faults and frailties and frustrations, I have come to love and appreciate this dysfunctional and vast Church machine and all that it does and continues to do in the lives of so many people.

As part of the Curate supervision (yup, I’m supervising a Curate, and she is scarily good!), I’ve been reading “Ministry without Madness” by Gordon Oliver and I was struck by the descriptions or indicators of “madness” the minister may experience:

  • an increasing sense of disintegreation (feeling in pieces)
  • distorted perceptions of reality – often regarding other peoples motives
  • a sense of dislocation – being out of place
  • a fear of being misunderstood, unheard – feeling isolated  without hope of relief
  • feeling demotivated
  • feeling overlooked or undervalued – left in the loneliness of not knowing how you are regarded by those in oversight.

In my previous post, prior to being signed off – all of these were my reality.  It was messy, difficult and souldestroying.  I have no wish to hurt anyone reading this who may be associated with my previous job – there are those of you who were a joy to work with, and extremely supportive (both congregation members and colleagues in other charges – you know who you are and I love you for it!), but I found much of my previous job unsupported and unhealthy.  There was an extremly large dose of denial from all directions (including myself) about the situation I was in, and a distinct lack of help and support in dealing with it.  As I began to recover a sense of equilibrium and get back to a place where I could work and could begin looking for other opportunities, it became quite clear that I needed once more to be in a team, and do something quite different.

And it has been different. Varied, vibrant, supported and supportive.And now those descriptions by Gordon Oliver no longer resemble the reality I inhabit, and more importantly, they (or the fear of their return) are no longer shaping my hopes for the future.

Before you get to thinking that I’m stuck in some kind of fantasy where reality= all was bad, then I moved, now all is good; not everything has gone to plan, not every adventure of this ministerial life has had rosey tints and a wonderful outcome.  But thats ok – its been ok to fail, look back and learn without internalising it or being defeated by it.  That has been a huge lesson to learn.

No regrets. No fear.

Finally done it!

It was recommended years ago by friends, and suggested by the Ministry Development Officer in Glasgow before I moved last summer, and i have finally done it!

Retreat with the Northumbria Community was fantastic, and left me wondering why i had delayed so long.  4 days at Acton Home Farm (the new “Nether Springs” mother house for the community) made the 600 mile round trip worthwhile, to say the least.

Being immersed in  celtic prayer & “new” monasticism was a wonderful experience: being surrounded by God in the daily pattern of worship, work, solitude, community & study; the day punctuated by bell peals marking the beginning of prayer and for communal meals; periods of splendid isolation on Alnmouth beach, and the presence and wisdom of a retreat leader who looked into me and affirmed what he found, pushed me in interesting directions and guided my reading and meditation. (Thanks P!)

I went with my own agenda, with lots of questions to answer – the ones i’ve been struggling with regarding the transition from Scotland to England and the meaning of being “priest” in this context.  God had other ideas however, and my own agenda fell into insignificance as we talked and prayed around the journey of the last couple of years – into the wilderness and back again.  We explored those crossroads moments and the directions taken, seeing God’s hand in them, using the bad and affirming the good.  And we looked to the future – to where God may be leading.  Twas good stuff.  and I am thankful.

Father, bless the work that is done,
and the work that is to be.

Father, bless the servant that I am,
and the servant that I will be.

(from the Felgild Compline, Celtic Daily Prayer)

apologies…

to all of you who have been worrying that the lack of a blog may be a return to the difficulties of 2 years ago, I’m fine and having a blast in Englandshire. The lack of updates is merely a break to get my wee brain around the new stuff.  I’ve not got it all in a coherent enough place to blog it yet.

But life is good, the job is great (and busy!), and praise be –  yesterday  i got the whole of the way through the maze that is common worship without losing the place, getting bits back to front or sidelining the deacon.  It’s slowly starting to make sense, and soon i shall be playing around with it like a true pro  – scary prospect!

Changing identities

A few months ago when visiting and showing the Beardy One around Ipswich, i was asked (over the obligatory glass of vino blanco) how long i thought it would take for my identity to change.  At the time i thought it an odd question – it’s just me – who i am, how i react, what i think/say/feel. These things, these aspects of my consiousness are all intertwined, intermingled like a finely woven blanket. Each affects the other in the warp and the weft to create the picture that is Ali.  Maybe I didn’t quite grasp the subtlety of the question – for even at this stage there are slight changes to that weft – a different hue here and there.

Of course there are the obvious things – the stopping mid-sentence to correct a comment based on simple geography and tense: “we do it…” to “when in Scotland we did it….”  (that has happened a lot!), the smiles and “hello vicar” over the road at the shops from multitudious strangers, “Guess where the vicar’s from!” games with the P3’s at one local school (sorry – Year 3’s – there i go again!)  All part of the culture shift and re-becoming English after 18 years in Scotland. Not a rebranding or re-invention, but discovery and integration of the new.

It’s the not-so-obvious things which will take time to get my head around – shifts in understanding of my role within this community, in this team.  Some aspects are tied in with the “state church” stuff and the establishment (and still pretty alien), some with the sense of being a part of something much bigger institutionally.  The size still throws me a wee bit – at the clergy conference 2 weeks ago it was slightly overwhelming.  Now its just big, and I am a part of it.  Discovering where i fit in to this wider machine is part of the journey, and at the moment much is still shrouded in the mists of the unknown.  Whether or not it becomes any clearer remains to be seen, but there is fun and excitement in the discovery.

and so it begins…

its been a mad week or so, Alan being trusted to unpack the house while i dashed off to the clergy conference – a welcome escape from boxes, and a great opportunity to meet people (the Cof E is HUGE!  People keep telling me I’m in a small diocese, but i dont think I’ve ever  seen so many clergy gathered… ).  The content was largely fantastic – challenging, inspiring, entertaining.  Ann Morisy, Mona Siddiqui and Keith Ward especially (podcasts are available) – each offering their perspectives on where God is speaking in the world today – from the challenges of mission in a largely unchurched culture and meeting people on the edge of difficult times, seeing God in the challenges and choices, through the understanding of another culture and interfaith dialogue, to the wonders of science.  Each had energy and enthusiasm in bucketloads, and the coffeetime buzz was excellent.

The only dissappointment was the section on faith and film – Richard Coles seemed to miss the brief (or the subtleties of the timeslot – post lunch, day 2), and it was a dark, heavy session.  Lots of conflict, masculine imagery and violence.  I’m not normally one to shy away from such imagery in movies, and i love a good heavy action flick, but it didnt seem appropriate or necessary in that timeslot or context.  Shame really, it could have been so much better.

Family arrived at the weekend, ready for last night’s licensing.  Fantastic service, Bishop Clive’s sermon was spot on, and the strangeness of some aspects was completely masked by the huge welcome both Alan and I recieved – not just the official welcomes of the dignitaries invited, but the smiles, the hugs from people we will slowly get to know as this place begins to feel more and more like home.  Anne Tomlinson, who was one of those who trekked from Glasgow  reflects on it here, exploring the symbolism of the service and its difference to a licensing or an installation in the Scottish Episcopal Church.   A few others from Glasgow made it down for the service, and old friends from far and wide were present.  There were people present from every major stage of my life since i was 19 – bizarre seeing them all in the one place, but in a very good way.

New Friends 🙂

Glasgow groupiesThe Glasgow contingent (or some of them) with Alan and I.

It was a great night, although a wee bit warm (we’re not used to the southern temperatures and climate!) but this morning back down to earth – team meetings, getting my head round the liturgies, arranging to spend time with a couple about to be married – the normal stuff of ministry to get on with.  This is where the fun really begins, and it is good to be finally here.

Landed!

This time last week, we said goodbye to a couple of good friends, and to our wee hoose in Glasgow.  After a mad dash down the A1, we arrived in Sunny Suffolk last Tuesday – exhausted and a wee bit grimey from the road.  Joy of joys we were met with smiling faces, ridiculously huge bunches of keys and some freshly made coffee.

Its been a strange week settling in and unpacking.  Bereft of broadband and satellite tv, and all too conscious that family and friends descend upon us soon, we have managed to get more or less organised – the box mountain has eroded, leaving piles of “stuff” wherever we turn, but slowly and surely the stuff is finding a home, and so are we.

So now we are surrounded by England flags, a strange mix of Suffolk and Essex accents (some of which are currently incomprehensible), strangers in a strange land.  But we have been made welcome, plied with alcohol, been fed and provided with an escape bolthole, had fun poked in our direction (and even one brave soul trying to organise me….).  Life is good.

Next Monday is the Licensing, and then the grafting starts in earnest. Tomorrow will see me gatecrashing the clergy conference (whilst the beardy one is left to continue unpacking), meeting new colleagues and being inspired by the speakers.  For tonight – back to the piles of stuff – see if they can shrink a wee bit more 🙂

Thanks to all in Glasgow for the good times and the good send off, and to new friends in Ipswich for the welcome so far 🙂

All good things…

only 2 Sundays left to go here in Glasgow.  Seven years suddenly seem to have flown by, and every so often I start wondering what I am doing leaving this place for the south of England.  Yes, the last 18 months- 2 years have been tough, marred by illness and lack of support from them that should know better, but i really am going to miss the people here, even the ones that wind me up something awful! (they know who they are :-))  There have been some extremely good times too, and there is sadness in moving on, but it is the right time, and the right place to move to.

The drama has continued to the end, with yet more hassle at Knightswood.  This time it comes in the shape of Vandalism – the Willful Fire-raising variety to be exact.  The Boiler, which has had so many plagues upon it over the last few months is now deceased. Defunct. Cremated.

Packing is moving on apace, and the diary for what comes after Glasgow is beginning to take shape.  Inductions into the inner workings of the C of E, the normal stuff of ministry to get on with (if there is such a thing), settling into a new area, new home and getting to know those strange beings south of the border.  I’m excited by the challenges of all that is new, reassured by all that will be familiar, and looking forward to being in a team once more – such luxury!

The blog will be sporadic over the next few weeks as we pack and then unpack.  then hopefully life will get back to normal