Category Archives: Worship resources

weaving ourselves into a story

Today was a day of story-telling.  We’re a new team made up of members of older re-shaped teams, as well as completely new members.  One member was new today and some are new-ish.  But today was the first day of the team as a new team and we spent the day sitting in a relaxed environment trying to outline the key strands and influences of our own personal life-story and blended-in God-story. Part of the task was to explain how our life events and choices had led to this moment and to this new combination of human persons with a shared purpose.

During the stories people laughed, wept, shared confidences, marvelled, reacted, faltered, recovered, all reflecting their personalities in the way they rolled out their life story for display.  It was an act of trust and of self-offering.  We were each allowing others a glimpse of some of the most sacred encounters of our lives.  I noticed the word ‘God’ was hardly used and yet the air was heavy with a sense of God’s presence, his pleasure, his delight at the way his hidden involvement in our lives has brought healing from unexpected quarters.  It was like reading the Biblical story of Ruth – God is the agency who doesn’t need to be named, who is inferred in every breath.  Arriving home I felt as full as a sponge sagging with the weight of the water it’s carrying, full of luminous story.

The team has been brought together to help the churches within its circle of influence tell the story of God’s mysterious engagement in their lives and community.  It was right to start by weaving a floor of our stories as we create a space to work and worship together.  It was interesting to hear today that a local church leader did exactly the same thing recently with her leadership team, and said her church will never be the same again.  That carpet may become threadbare over the years and need repairing but in the meantime it will make a strong foundation for the team to gather now for action.

A prayer that has emerged from our thinking about story:

Dear God, supreme Storyteller,
our lives find meaning in the pages of your unfolding story.
By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,
help us to live the story of Jesus so others can see it,
to tell the story of Jesus so others can grasp it,
and be part of this new chapter you are writing
in your enduring love story to the world.

Blessing the apple trees after Paris terror

In this wintertime of violence and hatred

In this wintertime of bloody executionWassail 2014

In this wintertime of meanness and closedness

In this wintertime of ignorance and fear

We pray for a springtime flowering of tenderness and compassion

We pray for a summertime of leafy generosity and love

We pray for an autumn of crisp sweet fruit – the taste of justice, welcome and peace.

We ask you to awaken the apple trees to your call, o Creator of the seasons; bless them  and dress them with nourishing fruit!


Waking the trees

As part of my pilgrim role I facilitate the church’s partnership with the environmental group, Transition Portishead.  In North Somerset apples and the apple harvest are a big deal, and in the autumn there are apple-pressing events in various parts of the town.  Early in the year Transition members traditionally organise a Wassail, to wake the trees after the winter, and prime them for a good year of produce.  Recently I’ve been invited to take part and bless the trees.

Here’s the blessing we used this evening:

God of the universe,
Source of all life,
We come on behalf of all living things
in the darkness of winter
to ask for the blessing of new life.
God of life and love,
Goodness and grace,
Bless this tree and all the trees…
Fill their leaves with worship
And their branches with the dance of praise.
May they express your beauty in their blossom
And your faithfulness in abundant fruit.
Awaken us with the trees to hear your voice
And be obedient to your call.
As we taste the juice of the harvest,
may we know your fruitfulness in the whole of our lives.
In the name of Jesus Christ the Apple Tree.

A shepherd’s tale

Easy-to-organise last-minute creativity for a Christmas service if you’re pressed!  Goes well with Luke 2:8-20 (or radical choice – instead of!).

 “We’re the unsung heroes, you know…No one gives us the blindest bit of notice.  You’d think we were dirt, the way they treat us when we go into town…

 The wages are rubbish and when you think what we have to do…  Night shift in the freezing cold, wild animals on the prowl, and not a sniff of danger money…  Bored out of our minds half the time and scared witless the rest…  And in the day we’re at it non-stop – getting the maggots out of them, shearing them for market, hunting down the strays…  Oh, did I tell you?  We’re shepherds…  We provide food for that stuck-up lot in town, wool for them as can afford it, and lambs for sacrifices in the temple…  And all the thanks we get for it is the evil looks in the street… ‘Better stand down-wind of him…Cor, what a whiff!  Did someone let one off?’ 

So there we were this one time…  Sat round the fire with the usual bottle of something to keep the cold and the fear out, and then – there’s this other person there with us, talking to us somehow…and you could just hear a voice, inside you and outside you at the same time, if you know what I mean…  Of course you don’t…I know you don’t…you couldn’t unless it happened to you…And I tried to look at him but it was like he was made of light…really brilliant light…

He said about the baby…a special baby born for us…  ‘For shepherds?!’ I said, trying to make a bit of a joke of it, stop myself feeling so weak and wobbly.  ‘Is there going to be a posher baby born for society people?’  I still wish I hadn’t opened my mouth.  But he – she – it didn’t break me into a million pieces.  It said, ‘This baby’s for everyone, and will bring peace to everyone who worships him.’

And then there was singing.  No, not us!  But them – a whole load of them by now, a blaze of light and music like you can’t describe.  But it fills you with a joy and excitement so big you think you’re going to explode.

So we went to see the baby… he was easy to find, the only one in an animal shed – his mother had used her wits and made a trough into a kind of cot…God must have a sense of humour, I thought, to put his kid – if it really was his – in a baby bed like that.  And among the straw and cow muck – well, we fitted right in.  By the time we went back to the sheep, everything had changed.  God thought of telling me about his Son’s arrival.  He wasn’t the God I thought he was – he was much better.  Much more human.  Much more down-to-earth!  I could worship a God like that…”

Mary’s mum finds out she’s pregnant

Mary and her Mum Christmas 2013

Quick-and-easy (although best if well-rehearsed) sketch on newness and change for your Christmas service picking up Messianic prophecies…  Aftertones of weepy mother-daughter bonding sessions.  Goes well with the annunciation reading…

A: Mary….

B: What? (Muffled, sounds as if she has been crying)

A: I’m sorry I lost my temper. I shouldn’t have shouted.

B: indistinguishable noise – someone trying to say something, but too weepy to control voice.

A: I just… (long pause)…. Well, it’s just so unbelievable. It’s …not the sort of thing that happens.

B: (sniffing) Do you think I don’t know that?! I didn’t ask for it. It’s not something I want. (in a small voice) But it is something He wants. And it was so beautiful, what he said. I told you.

A: I don’t know how we’re going to tell your cousin. She and Zechariah’ve been trying for years and no baby. How we explain you falling pregnant…. I don’t understand why the Lord would give you a baby you don’t want before you’ve been with a man, but can’t give her a child when she’s decently married and so desperate to be a mum. Mind you, if she had a daughter like you she’d have her work cut out…

B: That’s not fair! When have I ever been in trouble before?!

A: Mary, why? Tell me what – the man…

B: …the messenger…

A: What the strange man said.

B: Mum, I’ve told you what he said. But I’ve been thinking… about some of the prophecies… ‘A virgin shall be with child and give birth to a Son and call him Emmanuel.’ I’m a virgin….. Mum, no, really, I know it’s hard to believe, but I swear to you… I am!

And there’s another one…. ‘a root shall come forth from Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of its shoots, and the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him’. We’re descended from Jesse, aren’t we? And from King David? Couldn’t it be possible? Possible this baby is God’s anointed one? Inside me?

A: I don’t know, Mary. I really don’t know…. I’ve been thinking about when I was pregnant with you. Your dad and I were so excited. We’d been together for a while, and things had settled into a pattern. We were ready for something new… Ready for a new phase of life. And we waited quite a long time before you came along, and didn’t dare imagine what it’d be like when you did. But once I was expecting, we were always imagining the future. Seeing you for the first time, holding you, feeding you… watching your dad teach you to walk, your first words… first friends, the games you liked playing… You weren’t even there and we were so full of hope for the future. And life seemed full of promise and possibility.

B: Are you going to tell me I’ve let you down? Because I can’t bear it.

A: … (slowly, thoughtfully) … No, no… I suppose I’m just thinking about the other stories in the Scriptures… all the baby stories. Moses was rescued from the Nile, Isaac was born when Abraham and Sarah were nearly dead, Samuel was born to barren Hannah when she did a deal with God… Somehow they all brought in a new era for the people of Israel. So it makes sense the Messiah might have an unusual birth. Tho’ I can’t say I’d ever have imagined anything like this!!! And with my daughter!

B: So you believe me? It’s important you believe me. I expect everyone else to think the worst, but I don’t think I can do this on my own.

A: You won’t have to, my love…. God will be with you. And I will. But it won’t be easy. When you’re pregnant, everything changes. Your body, family, your relationship with your husband. You have to make room for the newborn – not just in your house or in your belly, in your marriage too. It won’t be easy. Specially under the circumstances. But then, change never is.

B: But this is God’s change. This is God fulfilling his promise to his people. Surely we can make room for God, for the new thing he’s doing. My baby is a new life, and he’ll bring everyone a future full of hope. The messenger told me not to be frightened, because God is with me. We just need to trust and believe that what happens is for our good. Whatever it is….
And by the way…

A: What?

B: The messenger said something else. A secret. About Elizabeth.

A: What? Tell me!

B: (Teasing) You won’t believe me…

A: I will! What is it? Is it…. Not another miracle baby?!… Mary!!! Please! Don’t be so mean…

B: She’s going to have a boy. She’s 6 months gone. Because nothing is impossible for God!!!

A: I don’t believe it. I really don’t believe it… It’s all too much (starts to weep)

B: That’s how I felt when the messenger left. Full of joy and totally wiped out!… Come on, have a hug. God thought so highly of you you’re going to be his grandma!!!! Now that should really make you cry!

Foreseeing: Mary pondered these things in her heart

Foreseeing: a Christmas reflection Luke 2:19

At the Bath and Wells Clergy Gathering Matt Harvey our poet-in-residence talked to us about the Norwegian concept of ‘kenning’.  I’d never heard of it before – the art of ‘describing a physical object in terms of its properties, abilities, attainments or effects’ (thanks, Steve Tilley).  I realised I’d written a kenning piece at theological college several years ago for Morning Prayer and I’ve adapted it today so it can act as a reflection for a carol service (you can use more than one voice if you like to give it more colour)…

Life giver bread breaker storm sleeper blame taker

Scroll reader mask exposer sheep steerer wave treader

Temple razer truth wielder light exuder crowd amazer

Life enhancer, drinker, dancer

Cross bearer dazzle wearer law lover wine renewer

Story weaver, hurt healer, death drinker, God revealer

Lone lamb finder, Satan binder

Sight restorer, desert victor, sin forgiver, hymn singer

Dawn-light pray-er, bondage breaker, bone straightener, peacemaker….

Bubbling up with joy river

Death defeater, grace ladler, never sinner,  heart burner

Tempest husher, Spirit breather, show stealer, table turner…..

Mary worships.

Baby cries.

All the future in their eyes.

To be a pilgrim

Want an updated version of ‘To be a pilgrim’? This was sung at my installation service in June 2011.  Feel free to use and improve if you wish – no copyright!

To be a pilgrim

Sent by the Father above
Jesus drew near us;
Journeyed with his people in love,
Chose not to fear us;
His great humility
And true simplicity
Are marks of what it means to be
A faithful pilgrim.

Now risen from the dead
Jesus anoints us;
Pours grace upon our head,
Calls, gifts, appoints us;
“Go, journey through the street,
Share me with those you meet;
I’ll come and wash your feet,
My fellow pilgrim.”

Lord, for the route unknown,
Send us your Spirit;
Guide us as we journey home,
Life to inherit.
Grant courage for the way,
Give wisdom what to say,
Fill me with love and strength today
To be a pilgrim.


Power in Weakness: Before a meeting

We seek health:
You bless us with aches and pains, reminders of our fragility.

We seek wealth:
You bless us with limited resources, to help us discover simplicity.

We seek strength:
You bless us with weakness, that we might depend on others.

We seek competence:
You bless us with mistakes, that we might grow in humility.

We seek a church building in excellent repair:
You bless us with leaks,
that we might reassess the church’s mission.

We seek a congregation made up of perfect people:
You bless us with flawed companions,
that we might see in them our own reflection.

We seek a meeting where everyone agrees with our position:
You bless us with disagreement,
that we might experience revelation.

We seek You, our God and King:
Wisdom beyond sight and rationality.
Bless us with your loving guidance here tonight, for Jesus’ sake.

Power in weakness: a reflection

I love the Biblical paradoxes.  The ‘power in weakness’ passage from 2 Corinthians 12 is has been on my mind this week, and this prayer is an attempt to  try to get my head round the wisdom in it.

We seek health:
You bless us with aches and pains, reminders of our fragility.

We seek wealth:
You bless us with limited resources, to help us discover simplicity.

We seek strength:
You bless us with weakness, so we know our need of others.

We seek competence:
You bless us with mistakes, so we learn humility.

We seek to be in control:
You bless us with disorder, good soil for growing trust.

We seek an easy life:
You bless us with problems, for a harvest of perseverance.

We seek to make others see things our way:
You bless us with the struggle for unity in diversity.

We seek a church made of perfect people:
You bless us with a church of sinners,
that we might radiate grace.