Sunday, 31 October 2010

The Big Silence (2)

Episode two of The Big Silence, BBC 2’s documentary about a group exploring the benefits of silence, focused on the five participants undertaking an eight day silent retreat. The programme observed the group go through an interesting arc from initial frustrations and rebellion, through intense emotional struggles to a variety of epiphanies.

During the first few days of the retreat several of the group found themselves rebelling against the silence: whispering in corridors; planning a ‘break out’ to a local pub; texting and phoning loved ones and chatting on walks around the countryside. Gradually each member of the group began to explore the possibilities of the retreat as they observed sustained periods of silence.

pine cone Several experiences from the programme particularly stick in the mind. One man picked up a closed pine cone from the grounds early on in the retreat and as the cone opened over the following days so he felt himself opening to his inner self and to God. One of the women sitting in silence with a retreat leader found herself turning her hands upwards and open in acceptance and offering. Two of the women wept together as they shared coming to terms with their hurt and anger over the death of their fathers. A man sceptical about visualising Jesus accompanying him on a walk shared his feeling that he had not walked alone.

As I watched this intimate record of peoples physical, emotional and spiritual wrestling, I was particularly struck by the importance of community holding each in their individual encounters with silence. I was also reminded of the value of the wisdom and discernment of those guiding the retreat; not least their willingness to speak difficult truths while allowing the participants to find their own way through.

The programme finished with the challenge of how each member of the retreat would take their encounters with silence, themselves and God back into their everyday lives. The trailer for the third and final episode of the series suggested this may well be the most interesting part of the whole enterprise.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

The Big Silence

Caught the first episode of The Big Silence last night. The three part series follows the experience of five ordinary people as they are taught the value of silent meditation by Christopher Jamison, Abbot of Worth Abbey. The theme of the programmes can be summarised as:
Silence is the gateway to the soul, and the soul is the gateway to God.
silence The series got off to a good start with some interesting insights into the faith and spirituality of the participants. One of the most revealing, though not surprising, struggles for the group was the challenge to listen in silence for a few moments to the noises around them. Asking the group to listen to the sound of a candle flame was one thing, getting them to listen to the sound of the stars was a bit of a stretch.

Early on the group were asked to find 20 minutes in their daily life to practice silence and it was sobering to see how hard they found this. Then they were off to St Beuno’s Jesuit retreat house in North Wales for an eight day Ignatian retreat. The trailer for the second episode suggests this was going to be a real challenge, though it also hinted at some profound and life changing experiences.

The programme is produced by the people behind The Monastery, the excellent series following the experiences of another group of people engaging with the life of Worth Abbey and broadcast in 2005/6.

To be honest, I find silence difficult. It’s easy to fill the day with noise, from the radio first thing in the morning to the iPod while walking the dog. So I’m looking forward to the rest of the The Big Silence and reflecting on the place of silence in my own life. However, it’s half term this week and the kids are already tearing up the house so not much chance of silence at the moment.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Beer and Bible

2011 is the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. In celebration the General Synod of the Church of England overwhelmingly endorsed a motion from the Diocese of Chelmsford expressing confidence in the Bible and encouraging the whole church to use 2011 to promote biblical literacy within the church and society as a whole.

Under the heading of Bible Year 2011 Chelmsford Diocese is committed to supporting initiatives to celebrate and teach the Bible throughout wider society. A range of initiatives for diocese, deaneries, parishes, schools and individuals are being developed.

clip_image002[4]One particular initiative, which I am coordinating, is Beer and Bible.  The aim is to encourage the reading of the Bible in pubs across the diocese. The vision is to have the Bible read in 200 pubs with a focus on seasonal times in the Christian calendar and particularly during Holy Week and Easter.

Though the aim is the public reading of the Bible, churches may want to use this opportunity to explore other activities and events in conjunction with this. We hope that Christians across the diocese will take up the Beer and Bible challenge and help promote this initiative in their churches, parishes, communities and most importantly their pubs!

A variety of social networking sites and web pages are being set up to support this initiative and there will be a wide variety of resources and suggestions about possible approaches. Why not check out:
Twitter: Beer and Bible
Facebook: Beer and Bible
Diocesan Website: Beer and Bible
I did explore whether I could use part of my Continuing Ministerial Development grant to research the pubs of the diocese in preparation for Beer and Bible but with little success.
"If you are tired and downhearted, take a drink; but this does not mean being a pig and doing nothing but gorging and swilling... You should be moderate and sober; this means that we should not be drunken, though we may be exhilarated."
Martin Luther: Sermon on Soberness and Moderation

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Natwivity: Tweeting the Christmas Story

natwivity Here’s a great way to follow the Christmas Story via Twitter.

Natwivity writes: We all have fond memories of taking part in the school nativity play. Now here’s your chance to revisit the 2,000 year story – this time online.

From December 1st you can follow a day-by-day account of a nativity play on social media sites Twitter and Facebook. Known as the Natwivity, the online play aims to use the social media platforms to retell the 2,000 year-old story of the birth of Jesus.

Each day throughout Advent (1st December to Christmas Day), different members of the cast will tweet a140-character update. They include Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, the three wise men and King Herod.

By reading these daily tweets, followers can learn more about each character’s thoughts and feelings, from Mary’s angst as she rides on a donkey over the hills of Bethlehem right through to the night the shepherd’s saw their familiar hills illuminated by an angelic host.

The Natwivity has been made possible through collaboration between Share Creative, a creative design company, and the Evangelical Alliance. Huw Tyler, of Share Creative, says: “We want to tell the Christmas story, an amazingly exciting story in a way that is not only accessible, but is fun and relevant to today’s internet generation.”

Followers can read daily accounts by logging onto Twitter and clicking ‘follow’ or visiting the page on Facebook.

The play is suitable for everyone and begins on 1st December running up until Christmas Day.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Celebrating lay ministry

There are a few occasions each year that remind me of what I most like about my job as a diocesan lay education and training bod; this weekend was one of those times.

Reader3 Yesterday Chelmsford Cathedral was full for our annual Readers’ Day service. During the service we admitted and licensed fourteen new Readers to work in the diocese and we welcomed and licensed five Readers from other dioceses. It is always a great privilege to be involved in the formation and training of our lay ministers but yesterday was a particular joy because Sandra Sykes was licensed to serve in our parish. I have known Sandra for about seven years and it has been wonderful to see her flourish as a Christian and as a minister.

This morning we welcomed Sandra as a fully fledged Reader in our parish services and she preached her first sermon in that capacity. The sermon was excellent; encouraging and challenging, with just the right amount of personal reflection and plenty of application for the congregation. Part way through I found myself thinking how good it was just to sit and receive from Sandra’s ministry, as in the past when she has preached I have been listening in my training role and assessing her sermons. The confidence and passion with which she spoke bore testimony to her faith and commitment to study and training over the last few years. I’m sure what I and the congregation felt in our parish was mirrored in the other parishes welcoming their newly licensed Readers today.

There is a certain amount of uncertainty about Reader ministry in the Church of England at the moment, not least a questioning of what the ministry should be called. Yesterday was a great celebration and reminder of the importance of lay ministry, as we rejoiced with a group of people committed to their vocation as preachers and teachers. May the word of God dwell in them richly as they minister to his praise and glory.

Bishop Laurie Green (Bishop of Bradwell) and Revd Dr Martin Kitchen (Warden of Readers) with the newly licensed Readers in the front rows at Chelmsford Cathedral
Reader2The new Readers and their parish clergy after the service

Monday, 4 October 2010

Eschatological golf

I settled down this evening in front of the t.v. to watch the highlights of the final day of the Ryder Cup. This has been one of the most exciting tournaments I can remember, made all the more fascinating by uncertainties created by the extreme weather conditions. At the end the tournament came down to the last match, on the penultimate hole, as Graeme McDowell secured the point needed to give Europe victory over a hard battling United States team.

The great thing about watching the highlights was that I already knew the outcome and so it didn’t matter how close the U.S. came to ryder cupwinning. Even when it looked like Europe had blown their chances, when apparently secure leads faded away and Captain Colin Montgomerie seemed destined to miss out on glory once more, I knew that Europe would win. All very different from earlier in the day when I followed the match live via the radio and internet and the European team seemed determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. This is eschatological golf. Enjoying watching the game in the certain knowledge of the outcome.