Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Twenty years on – gratitude and hope

Five years ago today, I wrote a blog-post to mark the fifteenth anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. I was still pretty new to blogging and this seemed to me a good opportunity to capture some of the memories of that eventful and historic time and tell a story which deserves to be remembered. 

This year the Church in Wales decided to mark the twentieth anniversary of these first ordinations with simultaneous services in all six Welsh cathedrals. We live at the very southern tip of Bangor Diocese, so on Saturday morning DH and I set off bright and early to drive the 85 miles to our cathedral. Normally we would have revelled in the glorious scenery through which we were travelling, but sadly that morning it was almost completely shrouded in thick Welsh mist. Nevertheless we arrived in good time and at 11am the service began.

Of the original nine ordained in Bangor all those years ago, only I and three others were able to be there. One had died, one was ill, and two had moved out of the diocese, while the last was unavoidably absent. However we were strongly supported by the presence of many of the women ordained in the diocese since that momentous first ordination and we rejoiced in the fact that the new Dean of the cathedral, who presided at the Eucharist, was one of the original nine ordained in 1997.

Our bishop relinquished his normal position to act as deacon to the women who led the service and our preacher was an old friend from the campaigning days of the mid 1990s, who gave us a sermon by turns thoughtful, inspiring and amusing. The cathedral choir sang sublimely as always and the proceedings were filmed by BBC Wales who had also covered the service twenty years ago. As we met up with old friends after the service and exchanged reminiscences, it was hard to believe so many years had passed.

The following day I led the service at the same church where I had celebrated Holy Communion for the first time 20 years before and, thankfully, still with many of the same faces in the congregation. Now, as I reflect on the past weekend and the twenty years since the events it commemorated, I am filled with gratitude for the people I have known, the work I have been enabled to do and the deep enjoyment and satisfaction it has given me. And as I look forward to the consecration next week of the first woman to be elected bishop in the Church in Wales, I am filled with hope and encouragement for the future. Gratitude and hope – who could wish for more?

A memory of 20 years ago

Being welcomed by the Dean - one of us

Listening intently to the sermon

Celebrating the Eucharist together, led by the Dean - and yes, it's still the Christmas season.

The final procession - cathedrals love processions!

Together with our preacher, second from left

The Famous Four

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas peace

In this darkest part of the winter, at the end of what has been an extraordinarily turbulent and threatening year, I can’t think of anything we and our world need more than peace this Christmas. So this is what I wish you all, with gratitude for your friendship and the deep pleasure your blogs give me.

Here in our corner of Mid-Wales the baking is finished, the presents are wrapped, and the suitcase is packed, ready for an early start tomorrow, as we head off to spend Christmas with DS and his family. Wherever you may be spending your Christmas, may it be full of joy and peace.

Image:   Nativity by Duccio di Buoninsegna (c1255/60–c1318/19 Siena, Italy)
               National Gallery of Art, Washington, USA
Carol:    Stille Nacht
               Words by Josef Mohr (1792-1848)
               Music by Francis Xaver Gruber (1787-1863)

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Advent pause for thought

On this calm, chilly November afternoon I’m sitting at my desk in my warm, somewhat untidy study. Outside DH has been taking advantage of the dry weather to do some jobs before the sun, which has been peeping out intermittently from behind the clouds all day, finally sets. The house is quiet and still, as befits the beginning of what is for me one of the most reflective seasons of the church’s year.

The peace and quiet are very welcome after what has been a very busy and often turbulent year. At home it has been an unusual year, with none of our habitual peregrinations to Scotland and France, but with substantial changes, necessitating a lot of hard work, taking place here in Wales. In the wider world it has been a year of often shocking political upset, with both the EU referendum in Britain and the presidential election in the USA plumbing new depths of misleading and vitriolic campaigning, and their results plunging our two countries into deep and prolonged economic and political uncertainty.

Into this turbulence and uncertainty comes Advent, with its message of hope and expectation, reminding us that however dark things seem there is always the promise of light and new beginnings. For me, as for most of us, it will inevitably be a busy time, with cards to write, presents to buy and lots of baking to be done. Yet I will try to hold onto this still centre of quiet and hope amid the busyness and the darkness, in anticipation of the joy of Christmas itself.

One of the pleasures of writing my annual Advent Sunday post is deciding what music to include. This year I have chosen a poem written by my friend Christine McIntosh, set to music by her musician husband John, and sung by their church choir at Holy Trinity, Dunoon, Argyll. The exquisite combination of words and music captures perfectly the expectant, trustful hope of Advent. I hope you love it as much as I do.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

A flurry of endings

2016 is turning out to be a very different kind of year from its immediate predecessors. Apart from a last-minute dash to Scotland in January to make sure the house was protected from frost damage, we have remained resolutely in one place until my trip to Prague last month.

Instead of our normal travelling we have been involved in two very different journeys. By far the most significant has been the decision to sell the old house on the hill which was our home for almost forty years. It finally went on the market on the day before the EU referendum and three days later, to our complete amazement, we received an asking price offer from the very first people to view. We were very grateful for this gleam of light amid the profound gloom of the referendum result.

Given the state of the market, and knowing how long some local houses have been for sale, we had been mentally preparing ourselves for a prolonged and frustrating wait. Instead we have spent the summer dealing with all the myriad questions and details which accompany a property sale, which culminated this week with both us and the buyers signing our respective copies of the contracts. Completion will take some time, but the selling  journey has definitely reached its goal. 

The old house as we first saw it in 1973

The old house over 40 years later

Another journey which reached its goal in the last couple of weeks was the seemingly interminable saga of the conservatory. We started sending for brochures this time last year and the building work was finally completed in August. DH then worked like a trooper during my time in Prague, painting walls and laying flooring, ready for the specialist removers to dismantle his beloved snooker table, transport it down the hill and reassemble it in its new home. Since then I can usually rely on finding him in there whenever he isn’t in his usual haunts.

It’s too late now for us to fit in a short trip to France and we have too much to do to head north in November as we usually do. But we are determined that next year, come what may, we will once again be perpetually in transit.

Foundation trench heading for Australia

The walls rise...

And the roof takes shape...

He plays by day...

He plays by night...

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Despatch at the start of a journey

I’m sitting at my desk on a warm and humid day, the sky heavily overcast and thunder rumbling in the distance. Upstairs DH is snatching a nap after a very disturbed night. In the hall is a stack of luggage, waiting to be transferred to the car in a couple of hours, when hopefully the rain will have stopped. We will then head across to stay overnight with my mother-in-law, before DH drives me into Oxford to catch the coach for Heathrow.

Yes, after a static but very busy  summer, full of building works and house sale and interrupted by another debilitating virus, I’m finally on the move again. This time it’s not to France or Scotland, but to Prague, for a much anticipated and very welcome return visit to my friend Ricky Yates, the Anglican chaplain there, before he retires next year. I’m looking forward enormously to exploring Prague again and catching up with the friends I made on my previous two visits.

During my visit I will be taking a Sunday service in Ricky’s absence and on the other Sunday I will go with him to Dresden, where he leads a monthly service of Evening Prayer in English at the Frauenkirche, the world-famous symbol of Dresden reborn.  This time he has invited me to be the guest preacher, a hugely exciting, if rather daunting, prospect. Wish me luck.

I’ve spent a rather large number of hours in the past few weeks working on the sermons I will preach and now they are nestling in my new super-light suitcase, along with two complete sets of clerical robes, as well as an ample stock of more usual holiday wear. The freezer is full, so DH won’t starve in my absence, the hairdresser has again successfully tamed my unruly mop and I’m ready for one more adventure.