Living Ministry

Desert Flower

The Living Ministry project is a Church of England project researching clergy flourishing. The project is exploring two aspects of flourishing: wellbeing and ministerial outcomes. The hope is that the results of this ten year study will enable the church to support the flourishing of the clergy, and of all people, better so that together we can live more and more of the fullness of life God invites us to. I think we are all called to flourish, to blossom into fullness of life. In a blog for the Living Ministry project, I reflected on human flourishing. To find out more about the project, visit the website at http://www.ministrydevelopment.org.uk/living-ministry-research.

Human flourishing is fundamental to Christian living. God has called each one of us to fullness of life, to be the best version of ourselves.  To be the ‘you’ God knows you can be.  For much of human history, the majority of people have lived hand to mouth in subsistence economies where the main enterprise of all was the survival of the group. Most humans that ever lived didn’t experience luxury, or substantial leisure time, or have a whole lot of choices about how to spend their lives. But even without those things there have always been humans who flourish.

Flourishing isn’t what we do when we have everything else taken care of; it’s not an icing on the cake sort of thing. It is fullness of life that comes from knowing who we are and whose we are.  It is about purpose, relationality, belonging and a whole range of other things that contribute to a meaningful life.  It does not require any specific set of circumstances, as the Zimbabwean author Matshona Dhliwayo says “If a flower can flourish in the desert, you can flourish anywhere.”

And yet there are so many things that limit our ability to flourish; sometimes the very things that should be life giving. Christian community should be how we flourish together, but the many pressures of church life and challenges of ministry can damage flourishing. And that isn’t ok. The Living Ministry project is a serious attempt to understand what supports flourishing in ordained ministry and what diminishes it so that as a church and as individuals we can make choices about training and ministry development that are more likely to encourage the wellbeing of clergy and of the whole church.

Jesus’ invitation to abundant life is manifested in the church but all too often, that isn’t what is heard by the wider world or indeed by members and leaders of the church itself.  Rediscovering fullness and flourishing and investing in the things that encourage them are vital to the wellbeing of clergy, the effectiveness of ordained ministry and the life of the church.

LH

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Formation

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‘Everything begins, always begins, with a lump of clay and me sitting by myself.’

 This quotation from ceramicist Edmund de Waal was positioned next to his sophisticated ceramic work Arcady in an exhibition of modern ceramics. At the entrance to the exhibition was a potter’s studio where  a potter was working at her  wheel;  hands, arms, floor, table, covered in wet clay. But as the wheel turned a pot was taking shape.

Clay is the most basic material to work with, dug up out of the ground, shapeless, ugly, but capable of being formed into something beautiful. Like God, potters make things that are both beautiful and useful out of the most seemingly unpromising mud. But clay is not just another medium: it  symbolises the origins of humanity and life itself.

‘I was first drawn to the basic, sensual pleasure of making – that simple enjoyment of squeezing a bit of mud and giving it shape.’

(David Jones)

On the shelves near the working potter were some of the pots made by children and adult participants  in the practical workshops (‘Clay Time’). They were lop-sided and lumpy, very different from the finished pots  created by the professional ceramicists.

‘To make pottery is an adventure to me, every new work is a new beginning.

(Lucie Rie)

 Videos showed the artists  making the works that were actually  on display. They worked with the clay with confidence, knowing both its limitations and its strengths: the clay, as it were, cooperating with the potter until the form was beautiful, as though potter and clay were in an equal,  covenantal process.  And if necessary  the pots were remade, not thrown away.

‘I become part of the process.’

(Hans Coper)

 Not all of the exhibits were pots. Some were architectural or sculptural forms. One display, by Jenny Stolzenberg was of many beautifully modelled shoes: a dancing  shoe, a T-bar sandal, a slipper. These were all modelled from from the shoes of concentration camp victims.

‘I can create beauty out of the unspeakable.’

(Jenny Stolzenberg)

 Edmund de Wall’s exhibit  is called ‘Arcady’ , evoking  utopia or Eden, a beautiful unspoiled place. It consists of  eighteen white porcelain  vessels of slightly different sizes and shades in a metal case. None of these pots can exist separately They belong with each other and they are placed in relationship with each other. Even the subtle shades of the glazes on the pots are in harmony with each other.

Originating from a lump of clay, each artwork in the exhibition had become so much more.  They were  creations that were beautiful in their  form, proportion and space. They were complete, satisfying, finished. They originated in earth, but belong to heaven.

“It’s an inscrutable material in the sense that it comes from earth but seems to aspire to something else. It seems closer to glass – closer to air – than the earth.’

(Edmund de Waal)

 ‘Shaping ceramics’,  was an exhibition of 13 ceramicists who were themselves, or were the descendants of, refugees from Nazi Europe, at The Jewish Museum London, November 2016- February 2017.The quotations are from the artists whose work was displayed.

DS

Encourage Festival

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When employers ask you to fill out a section on an application form about your hobbies and pastimes, they want to get an insight into what sort of person you are. What you like to do when it is your choice, what you are passionate about, what you think is fun. I never really like that question because I feel like there is an expectation that you have really defined hobbies – whether it’s sky diving or stamp collecting at least those things are identifiable and have a name. What I actually love to do is spend time with family and friends, eating and drinking, listening to music, having “heated debates” in the style of Mrs Merton. And however you try and dress that up I think it makes you sound like a teenager. Say in a Kevin and Perry type-voice: “I just want to listen to my music. And I hate you” then slam the door.

At the beginning of the year we were talking about holding a Vocations event; something that would reflect our belief that everyone is called. We wanted it to be a way for us to encourage people to think about what they are passionate about and to celebrate what God has called us to, individually, and together. And we wanted it to be fun because living the life you are called to live is joyous, exciting, challenging, stretching and fun. So we thought about the things we enjoy. We embraced our inner teenagers as we thought about music, discussion, friends, food, drink, poetry, film, and decided that we would combine all of those things in a mini music and arts festival. A day of performances, speakers, activities that would celebrate the things people are passionate about. That would be a chance for people to share their vocation, whether it is to play music, write poetry, create good food or whatever it might be. Seeing other people being passionate about their work and their life is a great spur to reflecting on what we are each passionate about.

So the idea of the Encourage Festival emerged, and we are so excited about it! There is loads of information on the website www.encouragefestival.co.uk and we’d love you to come along and bring your friends.

LH

Poetry…

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It’s World Poetry Day. Whether you love, like or are indifferent to poetry, there are those who feel compelled to write it and whose words become a shared way of expressing something that otherwise is inexpressible. The poet Robert Frost said “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” There is a story I really like about a journalist asking the ballerina Anna Pavlova if she could explain the meaning of a dance she had just performed. “If I could explain it” she said “I wouldn’t have bothered to dance it”. Poetry (and dance) aren’t just alternative ways of expressing something, they are ways to express things that can’t be shared in any other way. They give us glimpses of truth that can’t be grasped in other ways. According to Plato, “Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.”

Poetry can be a powerful way of connecting with who we are, who we could be and what the world is like. Maya Angelou called the first part of her autobiography I Know why the Caged Bird Sings and in her poem “Caged Bird”, she compares the free bird “Who names the sky his own” and the caged bird who “stands on the grave of dreams”. The poem is a beautiful exploration of the opportunity and challenge of freedom and the constraint of being pigeonholed, or bird caged. Angelou writes that she knows why the caged bird sings, “The caged bird sings / with a fearful trill / of things unknown / but longed for still … for the caged bird / sings of freedom.

We are not constrained to what and where we are now. What we can imagine, what we sing of, what we long for are part of our reality. As someone who burst out of various cages, Maya Angelou expressed through poetry convictions that could not have been expressed otherwise.

Caged bird by Maya Angelou is at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/48989

LH and JH

Did you ask a good question today?

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Isodor Rabi, the  American Nobel laureate in physics,  famously credited his mother with his success.  When he came home from school she would always ask him, ‘Izzy, did you ask a good question today?’

We are inexorably moving  towards the busiest time for BAP conferences and their three interviews, based,  as all ordination  candidates know, on the  nine criteria. It can feel  a little bit like mugging up the answers for an exam; working out which topics will come up in this year’s  exam papers.

‘What questions are they going to ask?’

‘What answers will they expect me to give?’

‘I don’t know enough’

Candidates often worry that  they will be expected to have all the answers. Questions are dangerous, answers are reassuring: if I’ve  got the answers I will be OK.  In any situation it takes a lot of nerve to say,  ‘I don’t know. I’m still working on it’, because between the question and the answer is the time of uncertainty that  the poet John Keats called ‘Negative Capability’, that being in a state of ‘uncertainties, mysteries, doubts’.

At its best Christianity welcomes  both questions and answers. The bible has a golden thread of questions running through it.  A question even became the name of God’s life-giving food when the Israelites were starving in  the desert: ‘What is it?’

Easy certainties make us feel secure, but the visionary leaders of the future whom  we want to nurture and support  today are those who look beyond what is safe to what is still to be discovered. Not grabbing the  superficial answer like a life-jacket but thinking, ‘what does it mean for me?’, ‘how do I understand this?’  Cultivating the the mind-set that can question the tabloid headline, the current sound-bite, the presidential tweet.

For them a question mark is not a burden it is a liberation and  every  answer is a platform that enables us to reach the next question.

In ‘Benedictus’, his book of blessings,  John O’Donohue  gives a  A Blessing for a Leader, with the words,

            May you have a mind that loves frontiers

            So that you can evoke the bright fields

            That lie beyond the view of the regular eye.

How sad it would be if we thought there were no frontiers left to discover.

DS

Top Tips for World Book Day

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In celebration of World Book Day we thought we’d post some of our favourite books. Some are on vocation-related topics, most are thought-provoking if not plain entertaining and all probably for grown-ups!   So, from the Vocations & Training team here are our recommendations.

Theodora: actress, empress, whore  a novel by Stella Duffy.

This novel is about Theodora, born in  500AD in Constantinople, the daughter of a bear-keeper. Before she was 16 she had been a prostitute, a dancer and had a daughter.  She may have been a spy, or a saint. She embraced Monophysite Christianity and lived an ascetic life in the desert. But when she was 21 she met Justinian …  This novel evokes the world of Byzantine Constantinople, exotic, erotic, and passionately religious,  and tells an amazing story of a woman who was destined to be Empress of the Byzantine Empire.    DS

 

Ottolenghi: the cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

A book of wonderful recipes, as are all of their recipe books. Yotam and Sami tell their own stories in the introduction to this book. Both discovered a passion for cooking as boys, both had to leave their homes in order to pursue their vocations. Yotam was at university studying literature and philosophy but decided to do a cookery course in London.  ‘I just need to check this out,’ he said to his mother, ‘make sure it’s not the right thing for me.’ Both want to share their passion for food and the joy of bringing people together.  DS

 

Do Purpose: Why brands with a purpose do better and matter more  by David Hieatt,  (thedobook.co)
A short read on why brands that have a purpose beyond profit matter more in today’s world. It has stuff to say about culture, managing time, getting started now rather than waiting, and how to look after yourself so you’re able to run the marathon, not just a sprint. There’s also some pretty good artwork to look at whilst you read.    JW

 

To Kill A Mockingbird   a novel by Harper Lee

I know it’s really unoriginal to say that TKAM is one of your favourite books, but there are good reasons why so many people love it. Amongst the many things that could be picked out, I will just say that I love the character of Atticus. His exploration of what it means to be a single parent, a lawyer, a man of integrity, a pillar of community, to do what is costly because it is right, to teach without being heavy handed, are questions that go well beyond Atticus’ own person and circumstances. That all of this exploration is both stark and hugely understated is why it is one of the best books of the 20th century!    LH

 

Angels and Men  a novel by Catherine Fox

 One of only a few novels I have re-read. Fox tells the story of Mara, a postgrad at Durham studying sects and cults and dealing with the loss of her sister. As Mara becomes part of a college community and begins to learn to trust and form friendships, lots of questions are explored about the meaning of life, love and faith. The book is quite atmospheric and whilst it has all the predictable ingredients of romance, obstacles etc. the characters are endearing and many of the themes really resonate for anyone who has wondered what God is like, and what that means for how we live.  LH

 

Another Day in the death of America by Gary Younge

Journalist GY goes in search of the 10 young people all shot dead – some by accident –  in a single day.  The shocking statistic is that, on average, seven children are killed by guns every day in America.   I hugely admire Younge’s decision to take on such a gruelling and sadly contemporary problem – the lack of gun control in the US.  The book shows Younge’s determination not to just get the facts, the ‘story’, like any good journalist but to analyse the ramifications for each family and in considerable depth.   JC

The Vanishing Man:  In Pursuit of Velazquez by Laura Cumming

NB second edition (paperback) is a must as it includes an important afterword

One of my books of the year 2016 –  a completely absorbing (true) tale about one man’s obsession with a portrait and his determination to keep it, exhibit it and prove it was by Velazquez. There’s no doubt that John Snare was a driven man but this riveting story is also beautifully told by Laura Cumming who persevered over a long period to assemble all the facts. (And for anyone the least bit interested in Velazquez himself then a fabulous insight into this artist as well.)   JC

Daring to be Different

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Lent, with its focus on repentance can also feed an inappropriate sense of unworthiness if we are prone to such feelings. Life’s experiences and the cruelness of people who have hurled stones of whatever form at us (often as a means of covering their own frailties and insecurities) leave us battered, bruised and lacking in the confidence to take the first steps into a new way of being. The story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) reminds us that God requires only one thing from us: to leave a life of sin. Whether that’s not going along with the crowd or not allowing the past to dictate our future, our vocations are most fully expressed in finding the courage to dare to be different in ways which are unique to each one of us.

Reflection (John 8:1-11)

She stands before us
this woman, and I use the term loosely.

She stands before us
her garments in disarray,
clothed in the shame we have laid upon her.

She stands before us
silent, and alone,
as our voices cry out for punishment
and our hands reach down for the stones that lay at our feet.

I see neither the face nor know the name,
only the feel of the dust on my fingers,
the jagged edges of the rock in my hand
and the burning desire that she should pay.
That she should pay for daring to step out of line.

Of course, her lover should have known better;
a prostitute’s fee, a loaf of bread[1]
but another man’s wife?
He’ll pay a price,
but not here, not now, not publicly.

She stands before us silent
her honeyed lips and her smooth tongue still.[2]
She’ll lead no more to the grave.[3]

And he stands before us
silent as he bends to the ground
deaf to the clamour around him.
And then he stands
upright and speaks….

And we stand silent
our lips and tongues still,
our hands dirty,
clothed in the shame we have laid upon ourselves.

Only our feet move.
And his words ring in our ears
‘go, leave your life of sin’.

[1] Proverbs 6:26

[2] Proverbs 5:3

[3] Proverbs 5:5

© Jeanette Hartwell