Tag Archives: Bath and Wells Clergy Gathering

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.

Riff on Galatians 3:28

Led to reflect on what had made the Diocesan Gathering so generative of rich kingdom-flavoured outcomes I realised how significant the underlying structures had been.  The whole gathering was shaped by a large team drawn from different parts of the Diocese in terms of theology, geography, and position in the hierarchy.  There were equal numbers of men and women, and throughout the conference they shared out the upfront as well as the servant roles.  The Bishop gave only a short opening welcome and preached and presided at the final Eucharist, modelling a  permission-giving and enabling leadership.

No one apart from the Bishop and one female member of the planning team wore anything (yes, this sentence does continue) that signified their status or churchpersonship.  We were all in mufti all the time, and I can’t describe how liberating that was.  We met each other as human persons, rather than meeting each other as signposts of particular theological positions.  It struck me how much our ceremonial clothes in the Church of England act like placards proclaiming our educational background, our interpretation of the ecclesiastical past, our current ranking in the Anglican Premier League, and the church tribe we align ourselves with.  Our vestments act as barriers to true encounter – they are all statement and defence and proclamation of power.

I can’t see how a congregation, church or Diocese constructed from such exquisitely shaded gradations of status and role, belief and belonging, will ever connect with a society discipled on the open-source, democratic, egalitarian principles of our time.  It is impossible to explain to those outside the Anglican Communion why it’s a social solecism for a clergywoman to wear cerise.  Or why pastors parade around in an academiBaKGAzWIEAA1Mkac hood.  Or why obligatory stoles can be replaced by a preaching scarf.

Could we simply go without the sophisticated, somewhat barbed language of vestments, and just talk to one another?!

I met a number of new colleagues at the Gathering and got to know them as people.  I don’t know what kind of churches they come from or how important they are or how much studying they’ve done.  I got to know them as fellow travellers, as colleagues, as brothers and sisters in Christ.  I enjoyed the freedom of ‘seeing’ them without having to put on institutional spectacles.

So here’s my attempt at a riff on Galatians 3:28 as it applied to the Bath and Wells Diocesan Gathering:

‘For here there is neither ordained nor lay, curate or archdeacon, conservative or liberal, graduate or non-graduate, charismatic or contemplative, low church or high church.  Instead, Christ is all, and is in all.’ 

In this regard the Gathering modelled a way of being together than offers hope for the future.  I’m grateful to all who made it possible and showed us ‘a more excellent way’.


Deluxe service

I’m not long back from the Bath and Wells Diocesan Gathering.

Three days of encounter, laughter, applied spiritual wisdom from varied speakers and sources, creativity in word, art, music, dance and (dare I say) theatre…  Worship, prayer, story-telling, carousing, and reflection.  It was great.

By the time of the farewell service of Holy Communion, the unseen bonds woven by a journey made in a spirit of openness and generosity were in place.  Consequently the symbolism of the whole bread divided between the many and the one cup shared had a power that was unusual in my experience.

As servants shortly returning to our posts, we were afforded – like long-neglected machinery – a deluxe level of service: nourished with bread and wine, sprinkled with cleansing water (lashed about by a determined bishop), oiled for our continuing ministry by our peers on forehead and hands (optional), warmed with the flame of a candle lit from a neighbour’s.  The sharing of the peace was characterised by a quiet tenderness; at other times a joyous spontaneity broke out in dancing and clapping to the spell of the songs.

Anglican worship at its very best.  Reconditioned, reunited, recalibrated, we set off for home.