Sunday, 30 August 2009

Church Search continues

Nearest Church was rather lovely again today; several people remembered me from my previous visit. They used a real hymnal this time. The sermon was... academic and rather dry but not uninteresting in and of itself, just not really theology. The musical director has all but offered me an informal apprenticeship and made it clear that his instruction is not contingent on my ultimately attending or being involved with that church; this is a very great gift.

I had a brief chat with the vicar and he seemed to understand that while I am interested in contributing musically wherever I end up, I don't want church music to be just another professional gig. That perhaps isn't the right way of phrasing things, because I certainly don't see teaching that way either and my best performances also have an element of spiritual engagement... it doesn't feel quite right to do any of it without some commitment to things more important than money and career advancement, and perhaps the best definition of "professional" should include that. We didn't get to talk long, because after a service on Sunday is not really the best time to have
a serious conversation with someone whom every single person there wants to speak to... he got pulled off to a meeting fairly quickly.

I think wherever I go it is going to be tricky to balance musical contributions with being part of a nurturing and challenging community. Not getting involved with the musical side of things is pretty much unthinkable, I may as well accept that I'll want to sing in the choir at the very least and probably do rather more than that, but getting involved... I don't quite have the right words to explain my hesitance. When I was growing up I was a) the minister's (step)daughter and b) always heavily involved in the musical side of things and that together with moving every few years (seven churches, I think, in 13 or 14 years, though some of the military ones might have blurred together a bit in my head) meant that I didn't participate so much in other aspects of church... looking back, it seems like I wasn't ever really in the position of being ministered to, of being led by others into a fuller or more conscious relationship with God. At some churches it was clear that both paid employees and volunteers very much did take ministry to one another as seriously as, for example, community outreach or leading the congregation in worship, but I felt I was always at arm's length because of family stuff. And at some churches that didn't seem to happen so well for anyone, whether they'd been there a long time or not, because there was a sort of imaginary line between the congregation (there to receive or be led) and everyone else (there to work) and I was not on the congregational side of the line. I'm not entirely sure why it works out that way in some places but I do not want to end up in that situation again; I'm not likely to end up isolating myself because of family concerns at this stage of things but if there is a very clear line between the congregation and everyone else and this is detrimental to the spiritual health of the "everyone else", I doubt I have the ability to change that kind of dynamic to something healthier by my own efforts. So I find myself in the position of trying to evaluate how the clergy and others involved in running services and other aspects of formal and informal ministry relate to one another, from the viewpoint of sitting in the congregation as a visitor, when the vast majority of my experience in church has been as a musician and general help. I've probably been not-in-the-choir in more services in London than in the rest of my life put together; I only started attending any sort of church service regularly in January, so that's not a whole lot of services. No wonder I'm not sure where to go!

On one level it seems selfish to worry about any of this rather than just giving what I can of my time regardless of whether I "get anything back". Surely participation should be its own reward and I should go where I am most useful and trust God to sort out the bits about meeting my needs... but I suspect that's too simplistic an approach (in a rather "I sent a rescue car, a boat and a helicopter, what do you mean I didn't answer your prayers for help?" sort of way). And even some of the most musically rewarding experiences I had as a teenager were not enough to address some of my theological questions or keep me engaged with church despite those issues.

Of course I have several advantages now that I didn't when I was living with my parents: aside from knowing myself a lot better and functioning much better in general, I am actually in a position now to leave a community if I'm not getting on with people or it simply doesn't feel right. And if I could back out of conversion to orthodox Judaism after putting in so much time and effort, I can surely switch to a different church to attend on Sunday mornings if I really need to. Maybe I'm just looking for problems where there aren't any (who, me?) because a supportive, welcoming and accessible community seems a little bit too good to be true and more than one is more choice than I've ever felt I had.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009


I'm concerned for my little brother.

I left home when he was just turning 11. We'd been close up to that point, because I looked after him a lot. But when I left he didn't have a computer of his own and couldn't type fast and so keeping in touch by e-mail wasn't really an option, and long-distance phonecalls were expensive (and meant I'd also have to talk to my parents). A couple of years later I moved to London.

My response to the environment in which I was raised was to keep my head down and stay out of the way, to be very very good in an attempt to control things so I could stay safe. I turned up to all my classes, was courteous and pleasant most of the time, did reasonably well in school despite spending most of the time I should have been doing homework sitting by myself crying. From the outside I looked like a "good girl", if perhaps a bit clingy and needy. I wouldn't like to say how much of that was due to nature and how much was due to nurture. Eventually--years after I'd left home--the depression was too much, some people were able to convince me to get help, and I've told the rest of that story here before, in bits and pieces.

My brother's response, once I'd left home, was to get involved with a rather rowdy crowd at school. Lots of partying. Lots of alcohol, lots of illegal drugs. Theft, dealing... My brother got into trouble. My parents didn't know what had hit them, of course. But he muddled through somehow and has stayed mostly out of trouble for the last few years.

He's just split up with his fiancée and spent the summer with his parents. And now he's off to the other side of the country to try and start again. He's excited, a bit nervous but very hopeful. And he should be able to do it: he's a bright kid, and a hard worker, and good with people. He's got a good qualification and he's good at what he does.

But I'm aware of how very vulnerable he is. I remember the way my world crumbled when my first love and I split. I know how I feel about myself after extended periods of time with my parents. I'm grateful I did not have to deal with both at once.

I'm also aware of how little I know this charming young man who I abandoned to a situation I couldn't bear to stay in. He's online these days, and I'm trying to get to know him again...that's going to be slow work. I don't see what else there is for me to do about it, from the other side of the world.

Besides pray, of course.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Where else could I go?

Sweetie decided late on Thursday night that we needed to get out of London for the weekend. I'm not entirely sure why, since he'd only just come back from Somerset and I'd been out to visit him there, but who am I to complain?

I had a truly wonderful time in a small East Sussex town that was an major harbour until the sea got some different ideas about the shape of the coastline. Lots of meandering over cobbled roads, a spot of window shopping, quite a bit of walking, and some very fine food have left me feeling much more relaxed than before we went. Sweetie certainly knows how to keep me in the manner to which I would like to become accustomed.

I did go to church on Sunday, leaving Sweetie to have a lie-in, and that was good, too. It was good to go to a church not having tried to look at a website beforehand, it was good to go and rest in what is becoming familiar liturgy, and it was wonderful not to be thinking about whether I could eventually settle there. My impressions were of a fairly average church, perhaps with a better-developed choral programme than some of the local ones I've been to in London (though August is never a good time to judge this, and I didn't get back in time for Evensong: walking on shingle is hard work and though there wasn't much where we had to use that rather than a path it was enough to slow us down). There were some people who were friendly and some who weren't. There were good bits of the sermon and bits that seemed a bit disjunct.

I feel rather envious of Peter, who seems to know that following Jesus is the only way for him, that only Jesus has these words of eternal life. Things have never seemed that straightforward to me. I can't put aside all that is good and beautiful in non-Christian faiths, and I am full of "what if" questions... what would have happened if I'd had a family where my spiritual questions were taken seriously? what would have happened if I'd been born into Judaism instead of attempting conversion (and deciding, in the end, that it was just too hard)? Would I be a lesser person somehow for being a cradle Christian instead of meandering my way to this faith through wilderness, not knowing even now whether I'll get there? Would I be a lesser person if I'd been taught Hebrew from a young age and keeping kosher and keeping Shabbat had been part of my cultural identity as well as mitzvot so that practice of Orthodox Judaism would have been, in some senses, easier than it was for me as a potential ger?

And I have to say, I'm not the judge of these things, but God is. And if God is loving and merciful, can it really be that a faithful decision, a perpetual striving to do the best I can with the information and resources I have, can ever be condemned? I owe God my entire existence and every joy or sorrow I've ever felt. If I do end up believing some version of Christianity it will only be because God has allowed it.

One of my strong objections to Christian dogma has been the idea that Christianity is the only way to God, the idea that heretics and unbelievers and so on are condemned. What is the point of salvation if it is not universal? What is the point of mercy if it is limited? What is the point of lovingkindness if it is conditional? I cannot abide this idea that We Have The Answers And Other Faiths Don't. I cannot swallow the idea that anyone who is not God is in a position to judge any other human being as fit for salvation or not, whether that is based on their beliefs or their works. I cannot begin to explain how strongly I feel about this.

The only way I can see to think about this is a sort of language loop-hole, a sort of re-naming of most of the world. Kathryn wrote But, ultimately, it is the voice of Jesus who calls us - by whatever name we know him. (Emphasis mine). If Jesus is God, and if all that is good and right and loving in this world comes from God, then what we have here is an issue of nomenclature: what you call Jesus I call God and someone else might call Allah and someone else again might call "goodness" (without necessarily believing in a higher power at all), and maybe these things happened and maybe they didn't but we are all chasing after the same God whether we realise it or not.

Maybe Peter doesn't say, "to whom else could we go?" because only Jesus has the words of eternal life, but because wherever we turn to the words of eternal life we turn to Jesus in some sense. This isn't a "where else could we go?" when you are standing on an ice floe and all around you is the treacherous, deadly sea: this is a "where else could we go?" when you are surrounded on all sides by water and you are in the water and everywhere else you go, you are still going to be in the ocean. Elsewhere does not exist. You can call it what you like but it's still the ocean.

I had some sense of this, visiting a small congregation in a church building which once served a much larger town, being unwilling and unable to commit to the community there in any sense except the very vague one of singing with them for that short time, joining them for worship and then moving on. Wherever I go I am going to be in the ocean, incomprehensibly large, ultimately inescapable, of God's love.

Was there ever a happier way to drown?

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Spoilt for choice.

I went to Church-by-the-Station today.

I was not feeling very happy about this search for a church thing, before I left. I felt like going to Deacon Friend's church where I know I'm welcome in the choir and where I know I'm not going to be afraid of the clergy. But I wouldn't have been able to get there before the end of the service, as it's a 90-minute journey.

With that not an option I felt like staying home and singing instead. But that's never the same as worship with other people, and that won't find me a church.

So I went.

I am glad I went.

Like my visit to Nearest Church two weeks ago, this visit left my imagination alive with possibilities for getting more involved. The music director will be leaving in a few months, though the organist is staying on, and while I am perhaps young and inexperienced there is definitely scope for me to get very involved in the choral side of things should I so wish, without having to build it up nearly from scratch. There are some deaf parishioners and the entire liturgy was simultaneously translated into British Sign Language; when I spoke to choir members they said they hadn't done any choral signing, which is a shame. I bet it would be a possibility, though. The priest who had been doing the signing came and made the sign for peace at us during the peace, I tried to make it back at her but probably messed it up.

Church-by-the-Station is, er, right by Upper Suburbia Tube station. As such it attracts people from all walks of life who just drop in. It seems to take very seriously the call to serve the wider community. The sermon was relevant both to the day's readings and to issues which affect the community. Less of the liturgy was sung than at Long Walk Church and there were no smells or bells, but still processions. The blessing I received at the altar was long but full of almost-tangible warmth, I had a real sense of God there. That was true at Nearest Church, too, but not at Long Walk Church last week.

The choir and organist were very friendly; and again I had people taking my details, saying they'd pass them on to people who wanted music lessons. I ran into Networking Organist from Nearest Church and we had a brief chat about things, which was great.

I actually got a chance to talk to the Vicar for a bit. Or I got a chance for him to talk to me... he seemed very eager to tell me about the things the church has done for the community in recent years, very eager to reassure me that the three churches I have visited so far all work closely together, very eager to emphasize a strong commitment to arts ministry and to equality. Perhaps he was a bit too eager; why not let the facts speak for themselves? But for all that, he did seem to understand that I am looking to make a long-term commitment to a community and that it will take some time to figure out which is right for me. He spoke of the right place being the place that I find that I meet God.

On the whole I felt a lot better for having been to the service. It still really isn't clear where I will end up. But how blessed am I, that there are these three churches I could attend? All of them seem to be places that would nurture me in some ways and challenge me in others. All of them seem to have a strong commitment to serving the wider community. The degrees of inclusiveness vary a bit and perhaps aren't entirely clear but all of the congregations are at least attempting to engage with those issues on some level. And all of them are places where I could get involved with the musical side of things and make significant and useful contributions while learning an awful lot.

I guess the thing now is to keep going back and see what happens... see whether the sermons at Nearest Church get better, see whether the community at Long Walk Church is a little more friendly once you get to know people, see whether Church-by-the-Station really does walk the walk as well as talking the talk.

But I might go visit Deacon Friend next Sunday at Leafy Suburb Church, despite the journey, just to rest in something known, to comfort myself with the slightly-familiar, and perhaps by attending a service at a church where I know I won't be able to make a long-term commitment, turn off that part of my brain which for the last three Sundays has been evaluating everything as it goes by.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

There, but for the Grace of God, go I.

For the record:

I consider myself deeply and profoundly blessed to have grown up in a country where I had access to free-at-point-of-delivery medical care, and to have moved to another where this is the case.

I have multiple chronic health problems, none of which are all that straightforward to diagnose. Two of them require medication every day; a third requires regular use of painkillers (at this stage, over the counter doses of ibuprofen suffice). I have also had considerable mental health difficulties.

Without the NHS I could not afford my medication. This would seriously affect my ability to function and would mean I'd get more ill far more quickly than I will if I take my tablets.

Without the NHS I would not have had the medical attention which has made it possible for me to walk again, to play my instruments again, to finish my degree... and even if I had managed that, I would be living with the knowledge that eventually I will need prescription painkillers, and I won't be able to afford those, either.

Without the NHS I would not have been able to access treatment for depression; the different antidepressant medications I used to take would have been beyond my means and I certainly would not have been able to pay for the nearly three years of psychotherapy which were a significant factor in my recovery.

Without the NHS I would not have the contraceptive choices I have. I can't begin to catalogue the ways my life would be different if I had married my first boyfriend around a decade ago; I now know that my joint problems mean bearing children might cripple me. The thought of being married to that man, though I love him dearly, is not one that fills me with joy. The thought of being depressed and in constant pain and trying to look after children I can't really care for myself? Horrific.

There are ways in which the NHS has failed me. There are ways in which it has failed many. But I have a life in which I am able to work and play and laugh and love to nearly the best of my ability given my circumstances, and without the medical treatment I have had access to I would be miserable.

I love my life, I work hard, I try to make the world a little bit better and bring some beauty or love or laughter to those around me if I can. Without the NHS I could not. That's my reality.

I deserve to be able to do that. And so does every other human on this planet.

More bloggers on the NHS, and particularly its portrayal in US media:
Nick Baines
The Exegesis Fairy
The World of Doorman-Priest

Friday, 14 August 2009

Home again, home again...

Today I have been mostly playing one of those little games you get in the more expensive Christmas crackers. You know the sort: lots of square tiles that slide around, with one space in the grid free, and a picture printed on them, and you have to make them fit the puzzle.

Only I've been doing it with furniture and boxes, in three dimensions. Four if you count time... I'm not really meant to do any heavy lifting, and I have to take lots of breaks. But there has been progress and I don't think I've done myself any permanent damage.

I think we might just manage to make this work even with the Ghastly Items of Excess Furniture that the landlord is now refusing to remove. We might have to get rid of the Charming Cupboard that Intrepid Anthropologist bought, back when we thought various larger bits would be leaving in a matter of days or weeks. That would be a shame, but we'll cope somehow. Things are taking shape a bit and though there is still much work to be done I can see that I will have the music room ready to teach in by September.

I remain upset by the whole affair: there are many things I am willing to overlook, and I understand that the house will never match my conceptions of perfection, but to me, saying you will remove something and then changing your mind is a pretty serious breach of trust. And I don't deal very well with breaches of trust regarding housing. I've been trying to forgive, trying even to pray for the landlord and letting agent, and all I seem to be able to come up with is along the lines of "Please let them see that we are right, please let them stop being idiots and do what they said they would instead of fobbing us off with excuses..." And then I feel small and sad, because as far as trespasses go this is pretty small beans and I'm so awfully petty I can't even see past my own indignation. Maybe instead I should pray to have a more loving, less fearful heart, though it was wanting to give them the benefit of the doubt that stopped me asking them to put their offers in writing in the first place. More fool me, with a cherry on top.

I walked the mile and a half to Long Walk Church this morning to go to Morning Prayer and nobody was there; usually there is the vicar and two or three others. Door was locked, too. I hope they are all okay. There wasn't a notice on the door other than the usual one with times of services and prayers; perhaps the main noticeboard had something and I didn't see it. They don't have any way to contact me if things are canceled and may not have thought to anyway as I haven't been attending very long or very regularly.

With a bit of luck, by this time next week I'll have a desk.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009


I have been in Somerset, visiting Sweetie (who is here for two weeks of training) and having a bit of a rest. Yesterday I cycled about 12 miles, in beautiful weather, just because I could.

This time last year, vacationing in the same area, I had no interest in visiting various small country churches dotted around. This year year I am much more enthusiastic. The two I've visited so far were both unlocked, which is wonderful. I wish we could have that in London!

Sweetie is somewhat disturbed by how much I have changed, how much I keep changing, but remains politely tolerant. I can understand why it worries him. We've talked about it, of course, and we will again. But it will remain fundamentally unsettling for him. It's unsettling for me and I have at least some measure of trust in God, some embryonic faith that all will be well, some inkling of an idea that if I am honest with myself and with God I may still make mistakes but I will not go irretrievably wrong. When pressed Sweetie is a sort of theoretical agnostic and functionally he is atheist (though not anti-theist) and his beliefs offer him no comfort in the face of unpredictable transformation of one he loves dearly.

While I have been here there have been e-mails back and forth to the letting agent regarding our home in Upper Suburbia; the long and short of it is that the landlord verbally agreed that he would remove some items of furniture and is now refusing to honour that promise. This is very frustrating and disappointing. Regretfully the letting agents are accusing us, the tenants, of making things up regarding what the landlord had agreed to remove. I am unsure whether to let this go or whether to fight it tooth and nail. Either way it will be a challenge to continue making home there with this mess to work around.

I did have a chat with a new acquaintance who it seems will also be a useful contact, sending students my way when she hasn't the time for them. This is very good news indeed, it could give me a much-needed head start on that part of my career in a new neighbourhood.

While I am here I need to work on a job application. It's for a position which would give me a good chunk of hours and allow me to re-learn some things I've forgotten and broaden my horizons in a way which will be useful in further work. I don't know if it's the right position for me, but applying can't hurt. The deadline for applications is Friday and much of tomorrow will be taken up with travel so I need to have a think tonight about what to put in a cover letter.

Thinking about all this stuff doesn't seem like a holiday at all, in some ways. But yesterday I cycled, and I napped, and in the evening we went out to look at the meteor shower. And shortly I'll be off to meet Sweetie for lunch and then cycle to the sea-side, hopefully the rain will hold off until I get back.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Another week, another church

I'm looking for a church to attend regularly in the area I've just moved to, which I'm calling Upper Suburbia. Last Sunday I went to Nearest Church.

I've also been going occasionally to Morning Prayer at what I'll call Long Walk church (it is just over a mile and a half away, and my joints are iffy). The vicar there is very learned, and I--tentatively--like his theology, insofar as we've discussed it. So today I decided to turn up at a Sunday morning Eucharist there and see what I got.

The service was lively and somewhat informal; lots of noisy under-fives were joining in worship and nobody seemed to mind much. I liked that. There were bells but no smells and all the doors were kept open the entire time (it's hot today so this is perhaps understandable) and that felt right, too. The building is newer than many churches, having been rebuilt sometime post-WWII, but though it's rather discouraging from the outside it still feels like a church on the inside.

Importantly, given my difficulties with Eucharist and inclusion, the service booklet said "all who wish to receive come forward", none of this stuff about being a communicant member of a Christian church or whether you normally receive Communion in your own church. It still didn't feel right, so I went for a blessing instead, and I'm now not sure whether that was the right thing. But it's good to know that it is being offered unconditionally.

The Eucharist itself was given in one kind (as opposed to Nearest Church which is still using both kinds and giving people the option of receiving one kind) and we were told not to shake hands for the Peace. It's the same diocese so I can only assume that the instructions on that level have been very much along the lines of "do what you think best".

The service booklet also used the Apostles' Creed as the pre-Eucharist creed, and listed the Nicene Creed and also -- get this -- the United Church of Canada Creed as alternate creeds which are sometimes used in that community. I grew up with that creed, alongside the more traditional Nicene and Apostles' creeds.

The booklet also explained in plain terms the significance of various bits of the service, which was nice.

The sermon was on the second paragraph of the Apostles' Creed. I don't remember it as well as I'd like, I'm writing this some hours later, but it was useful. To paraphrase (possibly inaccurately, before anyone goes accusing the good vicar of heresy), it said that the Christian faith recognises Jesus as being so incredibly attuned to and responsive to the will of God (the Father/Creator) that we worship him as actually being One with what is Divine. That's... the closest I have come to an understanding of Jesus' divinity that I can accept. There was also in the preamble a reference to the current Anglican Covenant nonsense and the remark that we already have a Christian covenant.

Most bits of the service, including the Lord's Prayer (but not including the psalmody, sigh), were sung. I don't know the mass setting, I assume there are various standard ones about. The hymnal was one of these Kevin Mayhew things full of ridiculously cringe-worthy theology and there were no dots for me to read but the hymns chosen seemed mostly okay (not so sure about the very last one with the syncopated rhythms but it might be better with a choir), weren't taken too slowly... the organist is not as virtuosic as the one at Nearest Church but does seem to be reasonably musical.

There was no choir but the service booklet mentions a 'music group' which sometimes sings an anthem. The congregation was much more independent and confident at singing, though, even if some of the notes diverged quite a bit from what the organist was playing.

The announcements did include things that make me think the congregation (or at least the vicar) are committed to both ecumenical and inter-faith relations in a way I approve of.

Afterward one person introduced herself, politely enough, and then flitted off and one person who normally comes to Morning Prayer said hello and that it was nice to see me on a Sunday morning. And then I quietly left. People weren't un-welcoming, as such, but either there wasn't tea afterward or nobody invited me...

Last week after visiting Nearest Church my imagination was alive with ways I could get involved and I felt very welcome. I actually skipped for a few meters on my way home.

This week at Long Walk Church some basic doctrinal issues seem to be closer to being resolved and the inclusiveness of the theology is good but I left feeling a bit flat and uninspired. And it IS a long walk, which could be a problem.

If I had only these two to choose from it would be a tough choice. The one that made me feel better was not the one that ticked most of the "I approve of this theology" boxes.

As it is I am wondering whether a possibility would be to attend Thursday morning Eucharist at Long Walk Church, and continue going there for Morning Prayer sometimes, but keep my Sunday attendance elsewhere. I'm not convinced that's the right thing either, though. Discernment is hard.

Thankfully I don't have to make a decision right away. Next Sunday I will try Church By-the-Station. It has by far the most active music program of the three, though as always, August is not a time when church choirs are at their best.

(Later in the afternoon I went back to Long Walk Church for a music event; the vicar is also a musician and he and some other friends have published a songbook. I couldn't stay long because I had already arranged to go elsewhere to meet someone; I bought the songbook, proceeds of which will go to inter-faith peace projects in the Middle East. The songs are... not what I'd been hoping. The words are okay, some of the words are even quite good. The music is not in and of itself actively offensive, though none of it stood out to me as particularly good either. But just because you have the right number of syllables and the right number of notes does NOT mean something will be singable. That said, I was sorry to have to leave before the end as the talky bits in between songs were quite informative and the vicar has obviously put some thought and study into this. I had written most of this post in my head before I went back, though.)

Saturday, 8 August 2009

On a lighter note...

This is quite funny. And pretty much sums up how I feel about the proposed Covenant.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Getting tied in knots

Some time ago I wrote in a comment on this post on my own blog:

I'm not sure about the Eucharist being any more (or less) sacramental than the rest of life. But I recognise that humans often do better with ritual to elevate and sanctify the everyday, that taking communion is a sort of "practise run" for seeing what is holy in all things. And maybe that has value for me, too. Maybe it would help. But maybe it wouldn't.

I suspect the Church has got the wrong end of the stick on this at times, that God does not turn any away from the table on account of small details such as not being communicant members of a Christian church. But on the list of "things I'm willing to ruffle feathers about" it's very low. If I'm right, every time I eat something and remember that Jesus said "Do this in remembrance of me" I am taking communion, every time I receive anything in this world and remember that it comes from God I am taking communion. The Church can hardly stop me. It has no monopoly on access to God. While I would like to participate, while I might find it meaningful to do so, I do not _need_ to, not enough to bother trying to twist my beliefs to become a Christian by some definition I don't understand, not enough to challenge the established Church.

If I'm wrong, if the Eucharist has some absolute, innate holiness that sets it aside from life in real terms and not just human ones, then it's quite a bit more serious. In that case I should refuse to partake until all are truly welcome. If God's love is unconditional and God's sacrament is a way of receiving God's love then limiting access to that on doctrinal grounds is, in my view, not very representative of God in the world.

Most likely? I am working with a flawed, incomplete definition of "sacrament". So I'll try to learn more and if I change my understanding, what the church calls sacrament will still be there.

I'm struggling with this again. Or still. MadPriest has posted an excellent sermon for this coming Sunday.

I was baptised as a baby. I don't remember it, but given other baptisms by the same minister (I observed no shortage of these over the years) I can confidently say I was baptised in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

I was confirmed when I was 9 or 10 years old, I think. Maybe I was 11. In that denomination there was no bishop involved. Due to family circumstances I did not really feel like I had any choice at all about confirmation. It was something that was expected of me and to say "I don't think I'm ready" or similar would have had unpleasant consequences. I know I took classes beforehand. I remember nothing about them except that we had to memorise the books of the Old Testament, in order. For all I know I might have asked some questions, but I doubt it. It's very unusual for me to simply forget bits of my education like that; I can tell you some of what was on the curriculum in pretty much every other class I have ever taken, even if I don't remember the actual information any more. So... I don't really consider that confirmation valid.

Then there's the small detail of my turning away from Christianity for around a decade. I don't think that undoes the baptism, but I don't really consider myself a member of a Christian church. Maybe it's a grey area in some ways, maybe some do consider me Christian, but I don't.

The C of E invites all Christians who "normally attend communion at their own church" to receive the Eucharist.

The C of E is the closest thing to 'my own church' that I have at the moment. It's certainly what I feel most drawn to, despite all the various problems.

But, see, there are these creed things, and trying to believe them, wanting to believe them, doesn't make me believe them or even understand them. Singing does, but how can I claim to believe something if I only believe it when I sing? How can I become a member of a church that insists I do believe these things, and still keep any integrity? I don't think I can.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this post. I'm not excluded from the C of E because of my actions or sexual orientation or ethnic background or gender. I can hardly complain about being excluded because I don't believe the basic qualifying beliefs. It's fair enough, really.

And yet I feel left out. If the Eucharist is a rite in which we recognise and accept God's love for us, why do I have to be a member to partake?

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

That's more like it!

I hardly need link to it since very few of you will read this and not the Thinking Anglicans blog, but I'm very heartened by this response to the Archbishop of Canterbury's response to TEC's General Convention.

Monday, 3 August 2009

A Different Way Forward

MadPriest has come up with a lovely alternative to all this Anglican Covenant nonsense.

He writes:

I do have a solution. It's orthodox and as old as the writings of St. Paul. My solution has two directions.

Firstly, we should not hold so tightly to each other within the Communion. We should go back to the early church paradigm of independent churches - in our case this would probably be at provincial level. Each church, as it did in those early days, should exist within the culture of its own location. Not always aping that culture but always knowledgeable of it - especially in respect of its customs and language. All our missionary effort should be local and based on our relationship with the society we live in.

But, secondly, the sacraments of baptism and communion must be common among all the churches. All this rubbish about not sharing communion for whatever reason has to stop. All the baptized should be able to receive and/or be prepared to receive communion in any church. It is my greatest hope that one day this will be accepted by all Christians in all denominations.

In other words we should not seek unity through human constructs such as dogma and covenants. Our unity should be in our common baptism and our sharing in Christ's body.

The branches of the vine are in different places. But, no matter how far apart they are from each other they are connected to each other through the stem of the vine. Until we understand that the different parts of the universal church can only relate to each other through Christ - not through human councils, we will never be able to live with each other. We need to accept our human limitations and humbly allow God to heal us, in his own time, through the body and blood of his Son.

In other words - keep it simple, let it be, accept diversity and leave the hard work to the Spirit.

I name this solution - The Provincial Church Movement. I don't think anybody will be able to make PCM sound mucky.

You know, I'm very shaky on my doctrine... not entirely sure what I think about sacrament or how convinced I am of Jesus' divinity and really generally quite confused. But as a structure for the church, or even the Church? I'd accept that. I'd be up for participating, even based on my current very shaky understanding.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Just went to my first Sunday service in Upper Suburbia. There are a few different churches I want to check out... maybe shopping around isn't the way to go, maybe it's better just to plonk myself down somewhere and make the best of it, but several options look like they might be suitable.

So at Nearest Church, people were warm and welcoming. I'm not entirely certain what I think of incense and bells, but I appreciate that it is meaningful to some. They are certainly in the Catholic end of the Anglo-Catholic spectrum, but they also emphasize inclusiveness and acceptance on their website and seem to be fairly involved with other local churches. They have a cafe they've opened recently which is excellent (I've been twice; good food, cheap too, and absolutely no pressure from anyone: just a friendly community space). The sermon was meandering but thoughtful.

There is a hint of a Song-shaped hole in the music. Different people mentioned various possibilities for paid work, which surprised me a little; I'd been thinking of what I might be able to contribute, but had assumed there would be no financial compensation until after some years of volunteering or apprenticeship, because churches are always strapped for cash. The organist is lovely, has similar views to mine regarding teaching and performance, gave me a run-down of the local church music scene, and is happy for me to essentially use that organ--quite a nice one--to teach myself how to play and write for organs (a major hole in my background, especially in the context of writing for small parishes who don't have many trained musicians and may not be able to get the resources for SATB a capella but can probably scrape up an organist on occasion and probably have organs left over from a time when people spent serious money on church music).

And it felt so good to sing again, to sing in worship with other people. And to go up to the altar for a blessing... it's been more than a month, and I don't know if it's just me, just wishful thinking, a sort of psychosomatic grace, but it feels like something happens there. That's for another post, perhaps.

I don't know if this particular parish is the right church for me but I feel more confident now that church, more generally, is right for me.