Thursday, 20 January 2011

Trying not to get ahead of myself

I'm less tired now.

I did go to the doctor about the cough I've had for ages, and was offered a choice of over-the-counter medicine I hadn't considered, or antibiotics. I really dislike antibiotics so took the over-the-counter stuff and it is helping, slowly.

I haven't caught up on reading blogs; twitter is still the main touchstone with the online world for me right now. And I could apologise and I could feel guilty, but I've been practising again -- this is important -- and there is only so much time in a day.

I think the practising is what is helping most, really. I think Bach does me more good than cough syrup.

I am still getting other people telling me I have some sort of vocation to ordained ministry, as if I'm walking around with a big neon sign over my head that is plain for others to see but which somehow escapes my awareness. I don't understand, and I'm finding it a bit scary, in terms of what it would mean for me but also in terms of what it would mean for loved ones. So I played the "second-guess" game a lot, wondering whether people just see someone who is reasonably young, reasonably enthusiastic about God (and even, sometimes, church) and reasonably bright and thinks that means I should be collared... wondering how much of this religion thing is because some of my dearest, most admired friends happen to be priests... wondering whether the reason I don't see this is because it isn't there, or if it's because I just don't have a coherent enough definition of priesthood and sacrament to be able to identify it, or if it's because there's a big "NOT YET" that I need to wait out first.

Seriously, all this feels like stalling. It won't go away; it feels like I'm avoiding something, not like I'm making a decision. But the "NOT YET" is going to win for a least a while; as far as the C of E is concerned I am not even confirmed.

I don't play Bach a movement at a time or a page at a time or a bar at a time but one precious painstaking note after the next. And every note demands all my musical might, all my attention and focus and love. But playing one note at a time doesn't mean I'm not playing Bach; rather, it means I am.

So I guess I live one day, one breath, one note at a time, keep learning and growing, keep doing the work set before me, regardless of what some people say is just over the page.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Show me the manna

I'm still feeling very tired, more tired than I think I ought to be.

I had a conversation with a few different people this afternoon about churchy stuff -- feasts getting moved to Sunday so people will attend, multiple service times on weekdays, how to get people involved, why there is no secretarial support in a huge number of parishes, what to do about it all. It was a good conversation in lots of ways, but mostly I just feel tired.

My own experiences of church as a child and teenager were not exactly positive and it was the sense of unconditional acceptance, care and welcome that I found in some people (in person and online) and in some very special C of E parishes that really got me back to church. And as a result of this I tend to want to err on the side of making everyone welcome.

I'd like people to meet for the Office, or at least Morning Prayer, at Nearest Church -- partly because it would be easier for me to keep up that discipline if I were with others, but partly because of my experiences of being in different bits of London and not able to find any church where I knew this was happening, not being able to find people to pray with. My prayers alone aren't worth any less but there is something forlorn about trying the nearest two or three churches and finding that no, there is no official time for prayer on a weekday. I'm glad that where I live now there is Long Walk church to attend; I'm thinking about starting to cycle there four mornings a week, rather than just Fridays, because it would really be that much easier.

I'd like to keep the church building open if we possibly can. In London this means we need people to sit there; it isn't just the risk of things getting stolen that makes an unattended church problematic but of fairly wanton vandalism.

I'd like to see better service booklets, better pew slips, some way of combining all the paperwork so that juggling pew slip, service booklet and hymnal isn't so difficult. Yes, it would make my life as an organist easier (though I'd still need a hymnal separate from the other stuff), but the reason I feel strongly about it is that so many different printed bits of paper are a bit of a nightmare for dyslexics.

I'd like to see services at some other time, not just Sunday morning, for those who are working or have young families or whatever and just find Sunday mornings very hard.

We're a small parish with a small congregation. We might, if we're lucky, manage the "keep the church open" thing one afternoon per week -- in the summer. But the pew slips, the Office, the multiple services... none of this is going to happen, because we don't have the resources to justify it. We don't even have the good sense to work together with neighbouring parishes on most of it.

The question is, how far must one go to make people feel comfortable and welcome? It starts to get difficult, because not all welcoming measures actually work. Announcing all hymn numbers is something I very much favour, but we don't do that at Nearest Church because there is a concern people would find it patronising or that it interrupts the flow of the liturgy. Surely the flow of the liturgy should be secondary to making it more possible for everyone to participate, but not everyone sees things that way. And even if we had the budget to do the extra photocopying that would let people use one booklet instead of a bit of paper, a booklet and a hymnal, who would do the formatting each week when we already don't have any secretarial support?

I could do that, I think to myself. Except that I know I hate office work and admin of any kind, I barely stay on top of my own; I have little enough time as it is and any additional bits and pieces will eat into my earning ability; I am already doing a lot there. And Lord, I'm so tired...

And I also know that unconditional welcome is not enough. There is only one thing the church can do that will bother me more than being bossy and high-handed, and that's telling me that whatever I want will be fine! I need to be challenged. I need to be asked hard questions. I'm unusual in the degree to which I will seek these things out myself, but if church is always comfortable then we are doing it wrong. There should be discomfort, and if that means those who plan and lead worship have to put up with a bit of whingeing from those who are a little less comfortable with discomfort but need it all the same, then so be it. But I'm so tired...

Part of that discomfort for me might be in accepting that I can't just fix things by working harder. Part of it for someone else might be realising that if they don't get involved, the parish can't do the work we are called to do as part of the church. The difficulty is in discerning which is which.

My instinct always is to work harder, you see. What I can't tell is this: when I hold back, when I am cautious in getting involved, is that sensible conservation of my (already limited) time and energy? I'm so tired... Or is that scarcity thinking, a rejection of the abundance God promises?

I always want it not to be about the numbers. "Wherever two or three are gathered," I remind myself, it will be okay, this will continue, or something will continue, and I go back to bloodyminded counting of blessings, ignoring the grimness of churches that turn people away, people who hurt each other, starvation, disease, war. Two or three people gathered for Mass in a cold church redeem all that, I tell myself. And yet it is surely true that different things are possible with twenty than with two, it is surely true that three hundred could do more than thirty, it is surely true that five thousand were fed. (I'm so tired...) And so I offer up my five loaves and two fishes, and manage to feed maybe ten people, and I wonder what is not working. I'm so tired.

I'm thinking the brief vacation with Sweetie, starting tomorrow, is not coming a day too soon.