Sunday, 27 February 2011

Home away from home

Off I went to Leafy Suburb Church for Evensong tonight. As I always am, I was glad I went. Leafy Suburb Church has been special in so many ways.

My first piece of liturgical music was sung there by the choir, in honour of Ambassador for Compassion. The choir let me sing with them, too, and though I'm only there about once a month I feel part of things, part of a sort of community-within-a-community. It's not the belonging, I think, that gets to me. I think it's that I emphatically don't belong and yet am still welcome that's so powerful. I can't come to most of the rehearsals, I don't live anywhere near the parish, I can almost never be there for the main events of that church, and yet what I do have to offer is accepted, openly.

When I first spoke to the vicar about writing a piece of music I was so scared, so scarred by previous experiences. You know, I don't think I'd willingly spoken to a priest for years, never mind initiating contact. The first choir rehearsal I went to, to figure out what the choir might be able to do, I was so nervous, so unsure what to expect. At the first service I went to I was uncertain and uncomfortable, so uncomfortable about participating in a Christian act of worship.

And yet all along the way I have been met with friendliness, acceptance, love. That meeting with the vicar was exactly as informal as I needed it to be; that first choir rehearsal was entirely unremarkable. That first Evensong service was uncomfortable for me but it was somehow okay that I was uncomfortable, and the vicar said "God loves us to bits" in her sermon. The first time I sang in the choir it felt like coming home, and every time I go back I come away feeling a strange lightness. It's always bittersweet, knowing I won't be back for a month or maybe more, but I am always glad I went. And occasionally, I find the same feeling at other places. There were bits of Greenbelt that were like that, and K's vicarage is, and taking Communion for the first time in so many years certainly was, and I went to a midday Eucharist at a city cathedral a few weeks ago where I nearly cried with the sense of welcome I felt. But Leafy Suburb Church was the first and I guess that makes it sort of sticky, so that every time I go back I'm reminded.

I don't think that the issues with the letting agents are going to go away and I will still be mightily pissed off if I end up having to move -- either in the next month or two, or this summer after our contract expires. But I am much-comforted tonight by a small community in an unremarkable leafy suburb which, for me, has been a model of what church can be like, and which reassures me I have another sort of home than the sort over which letting agents and their ilk can have any say or sway.

Thanks be to God.

Saturday, 26 February 2011


We decided, more or less by default, to take a "gently gently" approach with the letting agents. Oh, the Scrabble magnets on the refrigerator say some pretty rude things about them at the moment, but we haven't written any exceedingly polite letters about our right to quiet enjoyment of the property, and we haven't rescheduled or cancelled the second inspection, due this weekend. We're trying to be philosophical about the "opportunity" to give the house a good spring clean. I'm mostly coping, but feeling stressed at times, especially the nights Sweetie isn't home.

Meanwhile, life goes on, Lent approaches fast, I have realised that I am working long enough hours to become inefficient and need to place some sensible boundaries on things. I'm looking for a new spiritual director, having spoken in some depth to people I consider spiritually astute about my experiences; I think I've found some good guidance on this, closer to home than I expected. I also realise I need to return to a regular journal-writing practice; not necessarily the public one of blogging each day, but some sort of time putting my thoughts into words. I've done this on and off for over a decade and I am always happier, healthier and more "productive" (though not always in ways that are immediately apparent) when I do it. Of course, correlation is not causation and it may be that when I am well I return to the journal because I finally have the energy to do so. So this week I've been writing in spare moments, and I think this is good. I will see where it leads.

I'm considering studying theology more formally, by distance learning. There's a course that might be suitable. I can't really justify it yet; my musical career (hah!) needs a lot of attention before I'll be self-sufficient and I can't really afford the money until then, but I'd love to do it.

I want to be planting my garden, it's planting time here, but I have to wait until I know whether we can keep living here. Still, I've done some things in containers. It's something.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

House and home

I dislike renting a house.

I dislike not being able to add solar panels, better insulation, windows that don't leak, floor materials that wear better, adequate kitchen cupboards that have doors that close.

I dislike knowing that if the landlord decides he doesn't want to rent any more, I will have to move.

I dislike inspections every six months in which a letting agent can decide to make my life difficult or easy based on the "condition" of the house. Inspections of any kind make me nervous anyway, due to unpleasant childhood episodes, but house inspections are frightening enough that I've wriggled out of being home for the last two, leaving them to Intrepid Anthropologist.

On Wednesday we had one such inspection. Previous ones had been all right, we aren't perfect housekeepers but the place isn't filthy, but I was still worried. And this man who didn't even give his name came into the house where we live, our home, and declared it unsatisfactory in all sorts of ways. He actually said "I don't know how you can live this way" to my face.

I repeat, we aren't perfect housekeepers -- but the place is by no means filthy, and we certainly aren't causing damage to the fabric of the property.

And so now we've had a nasty letter from the letting agents, saying there will be a re-inspection for which all of us must be present (why?), demanding various bits of the house are "professionally" cleaned (professional cleaners are, as my housemate points out, just people with materials, experience, and not much better career prospects), saying we must put the garden back in its original state (I've put in some raised beds for growing veg -- the plan is to take them with me when we leave -- on previous inspections they haven't been a problem) and so on. The letter is unpleasant in tone and it isn't even grammatically coherent.

I have a sneaking suspicion that what is actually happening is that the landlord wants the house back, he wants it back before the end of our contract, and the letting agents are trying to get us out by 5th April and have us clean the place from top to bottom first so they don't have to.

We do have friends who work in housing law; as I type this, Intrepid Anthropologist is on her way to visit them to discuss what is and is not reasonable and what part of the letting agent's actions constitute interference with our quiet enjoyment of the property.

But even if that goes well, even if we clean the place from top to bottom before the next inspection (5th March, at least we've got a bit of time, though it will interfere hugely with work), it seems likely to me that the letting agent would rather have us gone than keep us -- if we argue we'll be "problematic" tenants -- and we'll end up moving house again by this summer at the latest. And that, in turn, scares me. I cannot tell you how much I loathe moving house, and doing it because someone else has decided I must is very much worse than it being my own decision.

Your prayers, if you're a praying sort, would be appreciated.

I know that it is unlikely I will end up homeless. I know that even if I were to end up homeless I would, ultimately, be okay. Love is stronger than death, I keep telling myself, so this ought to be a piece of piss. It's a struggle to keep that in mind with this sort of upheaval looming. Emotionally I am veering between trying not to fret because I'm fairly powerless anyway, and a sort of paralysis around the things I can do that might make a difference (mostly, lots of cleaning) because they might not be enough anyway. Ultimately, I do not get to decide whether I stay here: someone who sees me as a source of income, as an object rather than as a human person, gets to decide.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Where I've got to

Does anyone know of any spiritual support resources or organisations for church musicians? There seem to be lots of things aimed at fairly keen laity, and lots of things aimed at clergy.

I don't want to be precious about it -- being an organist is not the same as being ordained and the amount of responsibility I bear is much less than that of the vicar. I am, in essence, a "fairly keen" layperson. But learning the music and leading choir and congregation in song is surely a different type of work, too, than reading or leading intercessions every few weeks or helping hand out pew sheets and hymnals. I don't mean to diminish the importance of these other things, but they don't require hours of practice on a daily basis.

All the resources I've found aimed at church musicians seem to be primarily geared toward musical training and certification. That's useful, but it isn't all of what I need. I've been complaining to a friend this week that it's quite possible to have a conversation about church stuff with most organists without anyone mentioning God at all. But we also tend to work in isolation, all being busy on Sunday mornings. Clergy have that problem too, but (in the C of E at least) there are various structures in place which increase their contact with one another. I only speak to other organists at all because I go out of my way to do so. I don't know any of them well enough to discuss matters of heart and soul. Gentle Vicar is wonderful but he is also my boss, overworked enough as it is, and not a musician.

My stepdad has had a bereavement. I find it incredibly difficult to pray for him, yet it seems like something I am meant to do. Mostly I try and quickly revert to just wishing he didn't exist and then I feel incredibly guilty for it.

Things are not going well with my spiritual director. I am thinking about other options, while trying to think of what I can bring to this relationship that might be constructive.

I have been talking about all this stuff to a friend of mine who I think would be a wonderful spiritual director, but who isn't in a position to offer formal direction for a number of reasons.

I am cycling a lot and my physical health is mostly good, though I am still very tired.

Gentle Vicar had surgery recently and so we have not had our mid-week said Eucharist since the first week of January. I miss it more than I thought I could; last week I had occasion to be in town at lunchtime on a weekday and went to a service at one of the city churches. The sense of unconditional welcome was wonderful. I'm not sure if I need to make a point of doing this more, or just find a way of hanging onto that feeling.

Always at church I am conscious that I am in a certain role, that to be a good organist, to serve this community well, I need to be gentle but firm, kind but truthful, that I need to listen to others, that I need to think before I speak and comment constructively or not at all. Communion is one time when all of that goes away and I am just there as myself, bringing with me all the cares and concerns of friends and community and family, yes -- I don't generally feel like I'm approaching the rail only on my own behalf, it's hard to explain except to say there's only one bread -- but it's a time when I'm there as me, not as The Organist; where I'm not concerned about trying to coordinate anyone else's responses.

The other time is when I'm improvising on the organ after the Communion hymn. Then I'm very much aware of the rest of the community, very much aware that what I do can support or detract from the liturgy, but I'm absorbed in the here-and-now of playing and somehow it works and even though I am quite clearly being The Organist, I am there as me rather than hiding behind a role.

Or maybe I just feel good after receiving Communion.

Or perhaps it comes to the same thing.