extraordinary encounters

DSC_0691 copyI often find being a priest in the Church of England requires you to be open to the unexpected. Over the last few years I have had a number of  unusual and extraordinary encounters. Interestingly a number of these have come when I am feeling weak and not at my best.

Today was one such day.
Today was a day that I did not feel ‘together’ for a number of reasons.
I usually always feel a fraud as a priest; but today was a day that I felt it more than usual.
This day was a day when I was not feeling particularly ‘priestly’ or useable by God or of any use to anyone.  Things did not seem to be in the right place.
It’s fair to say that I started my day on auto-pilot and was just sticking to my timetable.

This morning I arrived and left my first school that I am chaplain of as normal. This school is next to a major building site. The size of building site where workers are permanently in place to divert or stop pedestrians and traffic. As I was walking past the entrance to the building site the worker standing the gate asked if I was a pastor.

Now as I always where my dog collar when ‘on duty’ I think it is pretty obvious that I am a ‘pastor’ and often I make some semi sarcastic joke like, ‘No … actually I’m on my way to a fancy dress party …. ‘

Today I did not make a sarcastic quip.
Today I could see in this man’s eye’s a seriousness. A deepness.
He held my hand … for longer than feels acceptable … and he kept holding it as he asked me to pray for him for a variety of stuff.
So … there … on the street …. holding hands with this guy … I prayed … and … then …. he blessed me.

It was such a gracious and powerful moment and I don’t mind admitting I was moved to tears as I wandered on my way to the bus stop to get to my next school.

On the bus I reflected and wondered …. why …. why is it that when I feel at our worst … that it is then that I see God doing something …

I spoke to some people later who said I must have been in the right place at the right time to help this guy.

Actually …. I think this man was in the right place, and at the right time, to help me. That’s pretty cool.
Sometimes it is a real privilege to do what I do.

Dance Ecstatically!

dancers-graphicI have been enjoying being challenged (again) by the daily meditations of Richard Rohr this past week.

This last week Rohr has been writing about Trinity. I was particularly reminded by Richard of how history has often fed people the patriarchal / supreme monarch / critical spectator and disinterested image of God.

That’s not the image of God I hold. It’s not the character of the God I follow. Richard correctly points out that we become like the God we worship. If our image of God is a God who separates and is prejudiced and discriminates then we become that person too.

I have for some time had a real issue with Augustine’s theology of original sin. In my reading ‘the fall’ comes a little while after God looks at the world and says ‘it is good’ before then looking at humankind and saying ‘They are VERY good’.

How can Augustine describe something created by God, in the image of God, labelled ‘very good’ by God to be embroiled in an original de facto layer of sin?!

If we view ourselves as created ‘in sin’ then our image of God is bound to be warped. It is quite difficult to believe in a God who loves us totally if we are then expected to believe that God sees us as full of crap and sin and stuff! To me … that does not hold with being created in the image of a loving and caring and fully engaged with us God.

Because God created us…. we are all loved and accepted totally by God …. just as we are with no need to change or be anything else other than the people we have been created to be.

This weeks daily readings have reminded me of this stuff which can be quite difficult to hold on to in a society that judges us according to how we look, how hard we workand how much we earn.
Every Saturday Richard Rohr gives a task to help us bed the weeks meditations …. I looked forward to Saturdays and it did not disappoint!:

Practice: Ecstatic Dance

God cannot be known by thinking but by experiencing and loving. As you read about the theological framework and practical implications of Trinity, I hope you will take many opportunities to explore this concept in your lived experience.

Here’s one way you might play—with a childlike spirit—and feel Trinity’s flow in your body. You may even lose track of where you, the dancer, end and the dance itself begins.

Choose a favorite or new piece of music—classical, world, contemporary; anything that calls you to move!—and find a place in which you can listen and move without inhibition, barefooted if possible.

Allow your body to lead, following the invitation of the music. Let your mind take a back seat and tune in to the sensations of each part of your body.

Feel your feet connect with the ground. Let limbs and joints turn and bend as they will. Swing and sway your head, shoulders, hips. Sink deep into your body, remembering what it is to be a human animal.

Dance until you are pleasantly tired and then gradually slow your movements, perhaps to another musical tempo. Continue moving in smaller, gentler ways: breathe deeply, stretch your arms and legs, roll your head.

Come to a seated position and rest in stillness.

So …. remember you are VERY good …. created in the image of a loving concerned and very involved God ….


Ashing, Eating and Awesome

ashwednesdayToday has been a busy day, but one of those days where you feel good to be alive, thankful for beautiful friends and mindful of just the awesomeness of some of the things I find myself involved in.

The day started at our secondary school where I was asked to take an Ash Wednesday service. We offered ashes to the students …. and I was totally thrown to see so many, more than 100 in all, lining and waiting for me to ash their foreheads or hands while saying ‘remember you are dust and to dust you shall return …’ The atmosphere in the hall was one of great dignity, respect and reverence. It was a complete privilege to be part of such a great event.

Following this I visited another one of our schools to work with the pupil faith team. We have just finished writing the school prayer (we being the whole school community but the students in the main) and today we were planning an assembly in which we plan to introduce the prayer to the ret of the school community. Again, I was in awe of the ideas that these amazing primary school students were putting together.

I then popped to Stanmore to see one of my best friends who is currently in hospital. Her bravery and determination was just beautiful to see. She is a real inspiration to many, myself included and today reminded me that good friends are like gold dust … and we really should make more time to appreciate those special meaningful friendships.

The day ended with Agapai where we ate together, prayed together, watched this short video together and then chatted about Ash Wednesday and Lent. The evening then drew to a close as it had started …. with me ashing the people of Agapai with the same words I used in the morning … ‘remember you are dust and to dust you shall return’

Those words have hit me in many different ways today …
Saying it to over 100 energetic full or promise 11 years olds this morning was incredibly moving and quite choking ….
Saying to to the old lady on the tube who requested them after she noticed my ashed forehead and dog collar gave me an opportunity to hear her story and her desire to ‘go home’
Saying them tonight at Agapai with people I am getting to know and admire in a great ways hit me as a concrete way of serving those around me
Saying them tonight, to myself, at the end of the day as I write and reflect …. causes me to challenge myself and ask what is this Lent going to mean to me, and how am I going to use my life from now on …. because …. one day I was formed from ash …. so it follows one day I will return.

mind-ful (l)? launch

mindful-jpegTonight we ran our first Mindfulness Meditation session on the Peninsula. It’s great to be able to do this in partnership with the people of Now Gallery.

We used the John Main school of meditation and his use of the mantra or sacred word such as maranatha or metanoia.

This was the first event HTGP has done like this …. and there was not as many there as I thought there would be based on feedback …. but also there was not as few there as my worst fear would have liked me to believe.

Tonight was a good start which I hope we will build on … not so we look good or can say how many people we are serving … but because we genuinely believe this is what the people of the area need in their lives …. time to just be and discover or rediscover ‘stuff’. In the feedback slips everyone felt their stress level had dropped which is why we are there!

So …. if you feel you missed out … same time and same place next Tuesday!

centring transformation

centYesterday on my travels to see an amazing friend, while sat on the tube, I managed to finish reading Cynthia Bourgeault‘s classic ‘Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening

Ive both loved and be challenged buy this book … as well as wish I had read it back in 2004 when she originally wrote it. There are lots of books around on ‘Centring Prayer’, but in this book Cynthia has developed an amazing guidebook on how to actually practice centring prayer, and what to expect and how to deal with things when they crop up.

In her introduction, Cynthia says ‘I hope it (the book) will get you up and running in the practice itself. For me, after talking lots about it over the years and dabbling here and there, the reading of this book has been the catalyst and the help I have needed to change from my normal style of meditation to attempt centring prayer instead.

In particular, I have found the ‘bring meditation in your everyday life’ practice of the Welcoming Prayer to be helpful … in only a few weeks. The Welcoming Prayer is a method of consenting to God’s presence and action in our physical and emotional reactions to events and situations in daily life.

Cynthia explains this as a tool to help us make the transition from surrender as a meditative practice to surrender as a underlying attitude and practice in our daily life. It may not work for everyone but I have found it powerful in my daily living and dealing with situations. I could write out in more detail … but Pastor Katherine has written a good account here … and you could always go and buy the book.

As I say, the method may not work for everyone, we are all diverse and wonderfully made … but I have found that., for me, the practice of letting go through the welcoming prayer has been personally transformative in a very short space of time.

So … centring prayer …. this is a pretty powerful book …  why not go check it out!

Holy Ground …

collectionToday I am pretty proud to be a resident of GMV.
The response to our collection was amazing … we have too many bags of clothes to fit in my car, which is a pretty awesome problem to have.
People responded to the social media adverts but at least 3 sets of people walked past us and returned home to get clothes to bring to us to be given to refugees. I will deliver these clothes to GRACE this week so that that can happen.

Today showed that the people who live here want to make a difference. I think it shows that people here are concerned about the plight of their fellow humans and particularly of those that have been forced to leave their homes.

A particularly touching moment was when a man walked past and wanted to make a donation because he had once been a refugee from Bosnia and remarked how welcomed he had been made to feel when he arrived. I guess I wondered if he would till receive that welcome today in what seems to be our broken in a attitude country?!

But … today was good, today inspired people and the few of us from HTGP that were ‘out there’ in the cold have been encouraged too.

Tonight I spoke on Transfiguration and took the tack of not allowing ourselves to box God in. I felt the message tonight was that we were supposed to help spread Holy Ground and get the message of love and care ‘out there’ where the people are. For a coupe of hours today I hope that we did that.

Clothes collection

refugee-collectionOn Sunday, from 4pm until 6pm we, the local church (HTGP) are hosting a pop up drop off point to collect clothes for refugees. For a while we have wanted to do something real that will make a difference and help people who have been forced to leave their home.

We are collecting with and for a local charity called  GRACE … and of you are in the area of the Greenwich Peninsula please do come and see us with your clothes gift in the Millennium Village Oval Square.

The two pictures below show what we are collecting …





we hope to meet you tomorrow …