I have been in County Durham for almost a month, I have explored many beaches, swum in the sea, visited Durham, taken a walk down the magical Castle Eden Dene and more. I have unpacked every box, hung pictures, cut the grass three times, and welcomed visiting family and friends. Visiting Circuit Stewards reckoned it looks like I have been here for years. The trauma of moving day feels like it is in the past, I have fixed the damaged canvas and the books are jostling for space on the shelves, there are shelves in the garage, so I am pondering bringing them in, not sure I can be bothered…
Oh and I have just about got my head around the crazy heating system, it seems to have about a dozen controllers, and I have an unconnected smart meter, if only I could get through to SSE to talk to them about it, three aborted attempts so far! Hanging on the phone for hours, waiting for my call to become important, I expect they will talk to me when they have decided that I owe them money! Of course along with everyone else I do have concerns about how much that money will be.
So, my welcome service is set for this coming Saturday at 3pm, the hopefulness with which I was asked if my family would be attending was sweet, but utterly unrealistic, I am quite simply not asking my children to bring their children to a Methodist Welcome Service, and we certainly aren’t going to play happy families for them, my one and nearly 3 year old grandsons wouldn’t appreciate it, my granddaughters have other things to do, and like many families we suffer from rifts and breaks etc, I refuse to say we are broken, we simply aren’t the lovely squeaky clean image that most church members long for, I wonder if they have ever seen a perfect family, and it they did, how long it took for the mask to slip? Note to congregations, lift the expectations from ministers families, and set them free!
That said, I am grateful that a number of friends will be joining me, some are relatively new, and others have travelled with me through the difficulties of the last 10+ years and know where I am coming from. They know me faults and flaws, and I will be grateful for their support again. I know that there are people praying for me, and am thankful for that.
I have other things to be thankful for, the location suits me well, though I have noticed how far north I am as the temperature drop in the evenings is noticeable now, the cats have taken to sleeping upstairs then, though they happily go out on the prowl, I haven’t noticed any other cats in the neighbourhood, possibly the proximity of the A19, but given that my two run if an engine starts I suspect they will stay well away from there, it is further away than the main bus root was in Blackpool and they survived that. They are 13, this is not the time to suggest to them that they might like to be indoor cats, also I’d like my furniture to survive a little longer.
This week I have looked at the readings for next week, reminding myself that with Thursday being the 1st September, with friends staying Friday and Saturday nights, along with the welcome service on the 3rd, that maybe getting ahead of the curve is a good plan. I’ve also put some dates in my diary, they are not daunting, and I suspect that I will settle into the rhythm of things, if there is one, as we are still very much in a post-covid situation,
To my joy I have 5 forms declaring me to be the appointed person- it actually says Responsible Authorised Person- to conduct marriages both a man and a woman, and couples of the same sex. I completely agree with these appointments so won’t be contacting the registrar, or the building trustees on that matter. I am so glad that I don’t need to conduct all of the conversations again, so grateful that I don’t have to meet yet again with animosity regarding who I am, though I did make a lesbian joke when discussing a particular application for marriage with one of my colleagues, I am not sure it was thought to be very funny. Note to self, check you humour! For those who know it included U-Haul trucks… second dates etc.
So, this is a beginning of sorts, but it is also a continuation, a continuation of a call followed through many ups and downs, from the point where I was once told that I had stolen, yes stolen, my now ex-husbands ministry, not by him, but by someone close to him. As we are very different people, and he is also in ministry, I would now answer such an accusation in a much more robust way that I did at the time, me feminism would definitely be showing. It makes me glad that I listened to the Holy Spirit and returned to a training weekend, having initially driven away declaring it not to be for me. I have pondered throwing in the towel many times, particularly over the last few years, the pandemic hit me hard, physically, mentally and spiritually, like many of the churches I serve I am emerging but have no idea if there is firm ground, other than in the trust that God hold it all, all of the turbulence, and all of the questioning, all of the change and all of the changes to come.
I am starting in a new direction on my continued journey of discipleship, looking to follow the example of Jesus who relied upon the Spirit and trusted in God the creator, giving us a pattern to follow, to walk through many little deaths and resurrections, becoming and being, running and stumbling. I have nothing to prove, I know my call, and will seek to live into it. I am not daft, I know there will be those who like me, and those who don’t, my predecessor was a much better pastor than I am, and I cannot be her, I am mission focused, and a big picture person, I will continue to be those, for that is who I am. We will get to know one another slowly, I trust that all will be well.
I am pretty sure that I am not the only person who puts undue pressure upon themselves, pressure to somehow be better, to be seen to be better, to be part of something. I know it’s crazy but I often feel like I am on he outside looking in, but then I have to remind myself, that this is where I like being. Take this weekend for example, lots of my friends are heading to, or already at Greenbelt, they are sharing pictures of their tents, looking forward to catching up, etc, etc. I have been to Greenbelt a few times, and it was okay… but I don’t want to camp, and while I could find a hotel the thought of driving in and out each day, and then squashing into tents to hear people talk about stuff I could comfortably sit in my garden and read about doesn’t thrill me! I am not criticising those who go and love it, but I am acknowledging that it’s not for me. As a deep introvert a quick catch up with a couple of people leaves me exhausted, the thought of more than that is utterly overwhelming. I love what Greenbelt stands for, but I don’t want to go, so why do I feel the pressure to join in???
The there’s personal stuff, four years ago I lost a lot of weight and felt good, I was fitter and smaller than I had been for years. The lockdown hit and I struggled physically and mentally, I wasn’t one of those who took up running, or even walking that much, living on my own meant isolation was extreme, despite the interminable Zoom meetings that broke into my days as we tried to answer endless unanswerable questions. There were times when I just didn’t know what to do when others were looking to me for answers. The I caught Covid, and it landed me in hospital, and set of gallbladder issues. The result I am struggling to get back to fitness and need to loose weight again, but I also acknowledge that I need to be in the right headspace for that, and that the mental health struggles began to outweigh the physical struggles, add to this the little voice withing that says, “you should be fit and healthy, you’ve let yourself go etc…” or ” you need to make better lifestyle choices”. The reality however is that I need at this moment in time to be gentle with myself, to allow myself the time and space to begin to recover, not to set a 3 stone weight loss goal and beat myself up for failing. It is the same with fitness, I want to be fitter, but to decide that I will train for a 5k, or similar right now would be utterly counterproductive! I may be there in a couple of months time, but now is not that time.
Other questions flood in, can I still do the work that I am called to? I know the answer to that is yes, and while September and October are always busy meeting filled months I know that I don’t need to chase myself in small circles to achieve things. I tell myself that I have nothing to prove, and yet somehow the subtle push to prove something creeps in…
What do I do, how can I be gentle with myself? Maybe I need to look to Jesus for my example, maybe….okay, I am looking to Jesus for my example, he was pretty good at taking time out, at making space for prayer and for being, his first call upon the disciples was that they would BE with him:
He climbed a mountain and invited those he wanted with him. They climbed together. He settled on twelve, and designated them apostles. The plan was that they would be with him, and he would send them out to proclaim the Word.
Now while I might enter into an argument about the fact that these were 12 men who were named, and that the gospel writer had excluded the women, etc etc, that is not the point that I need to take in right now, right now it is the call to be. I am called to BE! More than that I am called to be me! Right now I am a rather unfit, overweight introvert who is putting a lot of pressure upon herself to be something else, but I can be nothing but be me, and to take it from there. I can also acknowledge that it’s okay to be an introvert, and that I don’t have to enjoy festivals, or be in with the perceived in crowd ( this is one that I invent in my head) . I can and do enjoy discussions and debates on a smaller scale, crowds overwhelm me ant that’s okay, it’s okay to be me! I can BE, and start from there. The same applies to my desire to loose weight again, it’s no good beating myself up for putting in weight again, what I can do instead though is begin to make the choices that I know will make a difference, I am not going to wake up tomorrow 3 stone lighter, so I can only be where I am. I can BE me and start from here. The same goes for fitness, a 12 mile hike would likely finish me off right now, but I can be me, and starting from here I can build up my fitness. I can BE me and start from here…
I could keep writing myself lists of things I want to do, or feel that I ought to do, but instead I am going to choose to start my journey onward with being, and specifically being in Christ, where from a focused centre I can begin from a place of rest and acceptance, because it is okay for me to be me!
I am sitting at my desk looking out on a different view, I can see my neighbours houses on the edge of this small estate just off the A19 in County Durham, they are not on top of me, but they are there. In the evenings my front room is flooded with the light of a sunset, and I am getting used to this new home/ work space. I have a list of things to purchase, a washing line prop, having tried to use the washing line last night and searching for a prop, I decided to improvise with a walking pole, it was okay, but a washing line prop is on my list of things to buy, alongside toilet brushes, a lampshade and other random bits and pieces that might not spring instantly to mind. I have yet to check out the landline phones which are apparently in a box for me somewhere, and definitely need to replace my wireless keyboard, which does not seem to have survived the move ( yes I did check the batteries). Alongside these things I have a new fridge freezer, I haven’t had a free standing fridge freezer for 6 years, and keep opening the pantry cupboard expecting to find the fridge which is behind me!
I have been out and about too, enjoying the coastline, there are so many beaches on my doorstep, and it would be rude not to visit them, I may have been driving my Facebook followers mad by posting picture after picture, I am not bored yet, and have even been swimming a few times, having invested in a dry bag which keeps my phone, car keys and clothes dry while bobbing along behind me, I must admit I was nervous of it at first, but it works fine. There will be more swimming, as both tide time apps and a water quality monitor are now installed on my phone.
Other trips have been out to Durham, to reacquaint myself with the city on my own terms, it is part of my recent history and holds some painful memories so I decided to go and expel some demons and make peace with it. It was never the city’s fault, but associations are associations!
Associations, are associations, in just under 2 weeks time I will be attending my welcome service, it will be the fourth such service that I have attended, the first three all involved my ex-husband in some way, the first as we were welcomed as Community Outreach Workers back in 2002, and the last when we were stationed in the same Circuit in 2012, there is some interesting symmetry that places this one in 2022. Here I come as me, and only as me, the me that I bring does not come with any attachments, no family, no significant other, I also come having worked my way through not only divorce but through having allowed myself to come to terms with my own sexuality, something I hid from everyone, even myself for so long. I would love to say that I am comfortable in my own skin, but I am not, not yet, even at the age of 60, but I am getting there. I am getting there… I am but when asked to write an introductory letter for the Circuit Newsletter I am stumped for what to say, there is much I don’t want to say, not yet, and I don’t want it to read as a “happy all the day” Christian cliché that would once have sufficed.
So, who am I here, I come as a Methodist Minister, a Christian Minister, but what does that mean, a blogging friend wrote recently of his foray into a Christian bookshop, and the problem that there was barely a book there that he wanted to read, he, like me, and many others is questioning the shape of this faith, and the lack of room for certainties once held. Like many he speaks of loosing his religion… quoting the lyrics from U2, and a song I return to over and over;
I believe in the kingdom come Then all the colours will bleed into one Bleed into one But yes I’m still running.
You broke the bonds And you loosed the chains Carried the cross Of my shame Oh my shame You know I believe it
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
I still haven’t found what I am looking for, and maybe I won’t, maybe the point is the journey, the search, the letting go of the black and white thinking and the certainties that religion once demanded of me, maybe that is why I prefer to think of myself as on a journey, each day bringing new discoveries, new mysteries, and new invitations to become, which inevitably means letting go of what was. Oddly I find it easier to contemplate the possibility of a virgin birth, of the incarnation of Christ in the man Jesus, and the death and resurrection of that man from a place of mystery and unknowing than I do when it comes to needing to somehow prove things, acceptance is enough, and there is freedom in that. That doesn’t mean that I believe in a literal 7 day creation, because it makes no sense, there is too much science to counter such a notion, and of course the glaring fact that the Bible, a mixed collection of literature begins in a poem! A poem, containing a myth, a myth that reveals a deeper mystery, the mystery that this wonderful, terrible universe is not a mistake, but a design, a creation sustained and held in a love that continues to declare “this is good” despite humankinds best efforts to wreck things.
Maybe it is humankinds tendency to wreck things, including my own tendencies that throw me back to that searching, a searching that somehow enables me to continue to have faith, a searching faith, that seeks the divine both within and without myself, if I am indeed good, there must somewhere within me be a seed, a kernel, of that goodness, the divine finger print, that breath that enlivens me body, mind and soul. Richard Rohr, speaks of finding contemplation, through a silent engagement with the soul within which allows all to fall into proper perspective, setting aside and notions of grandeur, or addictions to knowing and power, he says;
Ultimately, we do not earn or find God. We just get ourselves out of the way. We let go of illusions and the preoccupations of our smaller selves. As the cheap scaffolding falls away, the soul stands revealed. The soul, or True Self, cannot be created or achieved by our work. It just is, and it is already. The soul is God’s “I AM” continued in me. That part of me already knows, desires, and truly seeks God. Discernment of God’s will comes naturally to the True Self because here “I” and God seem to be one “I.”
Contemplation is a way to hear with the Spirit and not just with the head. Contemplation is the search for a wide-open space, a space broad enough for the head, the heart, the feelings, the gut, the subconscious, our memories, our intuitions, our whole body. We need a holistic place for discerning wisdom.
The effect of contemplation is authentic action; if contemplation doesn’t lead to genuine action, then it remains only navel-gazing and self-preoccupation.
He firmly believes that contemplation will lead to action because we will have found within a place of compassion, not only for the world, but for ourselves. As I ponder the letter that I need to write, maybe I need to begin with a time of contemplation, to find that place where I have nothing to prove, and from where I can offer simply what is.
I finish with the end of Rohr’s meditation;
I’m convinced that if we stick with it, if we practice contemplation regularly, then we will come to an inner place of compassion—for ourselves and for others. In this place, we notice how much the suffering of the world is our suffering. We become committed to this world, not cerebrally, but from the much deeper perspective of our soul. At this point, we’re indestructible, because in that place we find the peace that the world cannot give. We don’t need to win anymore; we just need to do what we have to do, as naïve and simplistic as that might sound. That’s why Augustine could make such an outrageous statement as “Love [God] and do what you will”! People who are living from a truly God-centered place instead of a self-centred place are dangerously free precisely because they are tethered at the center.